As a sort of introduction to this, my dad asked me to read You Lost Me which is a book trying to examine why those who were raised in the church begin to leave it once they're older. He asked for my thoughts on it so I'm turning it into a series of bloggies because I'm that selfish. For those who are unaware, my dad is a pastor in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and is a fantastic one, at that. Since I suppose that I am going to get analyzed throughout this book, I should try to explain why I left the church. Unfortunately, for him, I'm really terrible at reading assignments.
"A faith that matters, a faith that is worth anything real, or anything at all, has to be able to account for Jenny’s story. Her story, after all, is everyone’s story — the details of time and place may differ somewhat, but not the ending. You and me, and everyone we know, we’re all going to die. Hard. A faith that cannot account for this must give way either to despair or denial." - Fred Clark
I was eight years old when I first remember having a fear of death. I'm sure it probably happened before then but it's the first time that I remember being very afraid of it. It still brings back a vivid memory today. I was lying in my bed trying to sleep and my subconscious brought on a type of panic about what would happen if I didn't wake up. A punishment of eternal darkness and nothingness, where all I had was my dreams.
I remember my heart beginning to race.
I couldn't catch my breath.
The room began to spin.
I wanted to curl up in my bed but didn't realize, for sure, where I was.
I closed my eyes and my heart was in my ears. It was deafening, blocking out everything that I could hear around me.
It was for all intents and purposes my first panic attack. A feeling I would get all too comfortable with later in my life.
I got up from my bed and wanted to go to my parents' bedroom where I would be safe. I walked as quickly and quietly as I could. I remember having labored breaths. The tears were welling up in my eyes when I finally was able to ask my parents to wake up so I could explain why I couldn't sleep. My parents told me that everything was alright and that I shouldn't fear death because I was going to heaven. They prayed that I would be calm. Their faith seemed so sincere. It seemed so genuine. It seems that way today.
Their prayer worked. I fell asleep on the floor of my parents' bedroom minutes later. I would have this nightmare of death every once in a while. In fact, I still do. The only problem is, it takes me hours to fall back asleep. There's no reassurance that can get me to sleep any earlier. If my daughter has these same fears, I already know that she won't be falling asleep so quickly.
A non-public faith
"Christianity has traditionally held a high view of vocation. Christians believe that the artisan, tradesman or professional has the opportunity and obligation to glorify God by striving for excellence at his or her craft. The primary duty of a Christian plumber, in other words, is to be a good plumber. And the primary duty of a Christian artist is to be a good artist. This is true whatever one’s calling: doctor, lawyer, Indian chief, online copyeditor. This teaching goes way back — at least to Aristotle (as rechristened and adopted by Aquinas). But a competing understanding has arisen in American evangelical Christianity. From this perspective, the primary duty of every Christian regardless of vocation is evangelism. Everything else is just a means to this end." - Fred Clark
My dad is a pastor within the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). He is a great pastor, as far as I am concerned. My eventual doubts at my own faith and my departure from the church probably has broken his heart more than any of my other actions and I still feel a great bit of remorse for it. My mom also works for the church. As such, I was raised within the church. I spent a good deal of my time there. I volunteered for everything I could. I participated in every program. I showed my vast Biblical knowledge off whenever I felt like it. I enjoyed reading. Bible studies were just large book clubs. Church came easy to me. Faith was extremely difficult.
I had my doubts but knew I couldn't share them or who I would share them with. My closest friendships within the church were almost always with those who would show up week after week. If they had doubts, I never heard them. I'm fairly certain that they wouldn't feel comfortable talking about it with me, if they had. Perhaps they shared with each other, giving themselves an outlet. One that I didn't share.
I don't have the greatest grasp of how Christianity has changed in America in the last one hundred years. It always seemed to me that the role of Christianity in my parents' generation and their parents were slightly different. When I was growing up, especially in Nashville, going to church or having faith was just something you did. Where you went to church was almost a part of your introduction as a child, right after the school you went to. Friends from school were always invited to church if they stayed over on the weekends. It was a very outward experience. Instead of a personal experience with God, it was a very public and showy faith. You were expected if not required by the church to evangelize to your friends and neighbors. I was never comfortable with this. Those who know me in real life, know that I am not an outgoing person. I am introverted, racked with social anxiety, and am full of awkwardness. I never wanted to have a long conversation with anyone much less what they believed in. I was afraid that if I tried to convince someone that they need this faith. That my faith was right. In truth, I would be a terrible Christian salesmen.
I struggled with my faith everyday. Yet, I was told that I needed to evangelize and tell people that my faith was correct. It made me even more uncomfortable.