The first in what has the potential to become a novella length collection
"Church" is a loaded word for me.
"Church" to four-year-old me, where songs praised death and made heaven sound like such a wonderful place we should all just jump up and run to it right now because it's so beautiful, amazing, a place of wonder and glory and rapturous joy - oh to be dead and released from the sins of this world we live in - what a wonderful thing! Let's dance in the aisles at funerals, march around the church and praise Jesus for taking our precious sister in Christ home to be with you Lord! Hallelujah! I wish I were dead!
(Wait, what? What did you say? What did you hear, child? Oh my lord you poor little innocent thing what the devil are they feeding into your mind?!?)
"Church" to seven-year-old me, where Mom & Dad received more and more perfect attendance pins to add to the collection over their headboard, the dangling enameled ribbons of metal got longer and longer, where I cried and prayed at the altar to be saved, where I learned my parents could be taken away in the rapture and I could be left behind because I needed Jesus in my heart, and if I wasn't sure of my salvation he would come like a thief in the night, so I would wake up in the middle of the night terrified I had missed the rapture and check if my parents were still there.
"Church" to ten-year-old me, where I memorized Bible verses to win prizes and believed every truth that came from the word of God or whoever was preaching, where I learned that all my friends at school were going to hell, that Catholics worshiped idols and all other denominations were worldly and so could not make it through the gates of heaven, so when a friend at school was angry with me I fell on my knees right in front of her and everyone, crying, pawing at her feet, begging her forgiveness because if I had wronged someone I was sinful, and I didn't want to go to hell so I needed her forgiveness desperately because Jesus could come back any minute, any hour.
(Oh honey, you poor child [how odd she is]. Your friends at school are so embarrassed for you. Poor little crazy thing)
"Church" to thirteen-year-old me, where boys were cute and I got scolded for making eyes at them in service, so I learned liking boys was sinful. I learned to hide. I noticed the book in the Old Testament Bible, Song of Solomon, had a lot of sex in it. I looked at verses that had been preached from the pulpit and I read the surrounding chapters and found different meanings when read in context. I learned to read the Bible with new eyes. Church from then on became less frightening.
"Church" to the older me became more about just putting up with it till I was old enough to get out. I still enjoyed the music, but I began learning about love based on rock and pop songs when I would surreptitiously listen with my head on my clock radio speaker at night, and those songs told a tale now more compelling - what greater corruption of a coming-of-age Pentecostal girl is there than love and passion? I wanted to be a Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.
I also got passed an erotic novel from a girl in high school that taught me about all sorts of sex, oral and otherwise. "As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste." SoS 2:3
Sex and rock-n-roll had got firmly ahold of little ol' me (I was still scared straight of drugs since I liked being smart so much - study and smartness had loosed my bonds in that church prison of fear, and I sure wasn't going to lose an ounce of that brain that had freed me).
The last Pentecostal service I attended was May 18, 1986. Seventeen years was enough for me. I moved out of my parents home that Tuesday, the morning after graduation, and never moved back.
What is Life - George Harrison
Summer Breeze - Seals and Crofts
The Air that I Breathe - The Hollies
I'm Not in Love - 10cc
Baby, Baby, Don't Get Hooked on Me - Mac Davis
Make it With You - Bread
Ramble On - Led Zeppelin
Songs like these taught me - oh so quietly in the background, in the secret, private places of my childhood I could keep hidden away - romantic love held the promise of requited passion. Hope smoldered in my heart for years and was finally let loose in a firework explosion of teen passion. I began feeding my soul the rock-n-roll dream of love, loving easy and loving often. I freed myself from fear and pain with wild abandon.
And then god took away someone precious.
"Church" to 22-year-old me became where the deacon in the prayer room (not at my childhood church) paced nervously as I screamed at god and cried, why did he take my dear friend, my young 18-year-old summer sunshine ray of light friend, why did he have to die, why was I two thousand miles away, I loved him, why god, why did he die?, the deacon that did not know me, and did not try to talk to me or comfort me (Who is she, this mentally unstable woman? Is she on drugs? Are we in danger?).
The word "church" still pains me, thirty plus years later, but I am reconciling. Slowly. Oh so very slowly. Last year, as an exercise to understand more about my religious history, a question I explored was to discuss creeds or dogmas I've struggled with. I almost laughed. Part of my answer was "In the church of my youth, we did not recite creeds. Creeds were regarded with suspicion - they were the devices of man - and all those denominations that used them were going to hell..."
I tried to explain where I was coming from, I can write about it just fine, but the tears still bubble up too easy when I try to talk about it, and I get angry that I can't just talk like a normal person, and that makes the tears come faster, and I gulp and choke and .... sigh... When I try to share my story, I still feel like an odd alien stray pup that has shown up at the door, being viewed with confused curiosity, like they're wondering what to do with me and what on earth kind of food do I eat (omg why is she crying? What could possibly be wrong with this one?! Poor little thing).
My journey out of Christian fundamentalism has been a long one. It will always be part of my history, no amount of analysis will ever change that. But recently I've been reading some others' stories, journeys out of the fearful (and all too often horrific) prison of fundamental religion. I begin to share my story now in the hope that I might help someone else, make the world a little better, and in so doing, find healing of my own.
Part 2: Antidote