I grew up going to church almost every Sunday. Our church was a loving community, although it certainly had its faults (they all do). Several years ago, I attended a different Christian church for a while. As you might know, each church has its own little culture, and I had important reasons for learning about this one. The people at this particular church were clearly not accustomed to having outsiders in their midst. These were the messages I received:
- you wear the wrong clothes
- your church is bad
- you don't follow our tradition
- you'll be an inadequate mother
- you're not a true believer
- you act weird
- you're going to hell
Maybe it seems too cruel to be true, but it is what happened. I had a hard time processing it (and I'm still trying to process it in some ways). At the time, being as naive and optimistic as I was, I thought, Well, they'll like me once they get to know me. Unfortunately, as it turned out, their attitudes were much more deeply ingrained than I thought.
What really confused me was that my church and theirs had very similar doctrines. I thought, This doesn't make sense. We both agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and our interpretations of Scripture are very similar. What's the problem?
The problem had nothing to do with teachings and everything to do with tradition. I don't think tradition in and of itself is bad, but if you turn it into your god I'm gonna get angry. At this church they hold up their tradition almost as if to say, "This is the ultimate standard. This is what saves." There were a number of small differences in tradition between my church and theirs. I thought, Who cares? These are outward things that actually have very little importance. They, on the other hand, were majorly uptight about it all.
I'm starting to understand that people who cling so tightly to rituals are ones who belittle the complexity of life by reducing everything to this or that, here or there. They won't accept obscurity because they're afraid of not having answers. They mentally filter contradictions so that they can have firm solutions. I think it's natural for anyone to think this way once in a while, but these people seem to take it to the extreme. It's a very small way to live and it's oppressive for someone like me because there's no room for dialogue. And I love dialogue, especially the intelligent kind. Accepting contradiction and ambiguity liberates us to be creative, to explore and experience the Divine. There is truth within paradox.
There are some of these traditional people still in my life. It's taken years for them to accept me as a fellow human being, for a lack of a better way to put it. And, quite frankly, it's been extremely difficult for me to love them like I want to. It's finally at the point where I receive eye contact and smiles from them, and even a little friendly conversation. It's a start, and I am thankful.
I think the spiritual abuse has negatively affected my faith in ways far beyond my comprehension, but healing is taking place and I have hope.