"Guest Post: Syl’s Story" (cartoon by nakedpastor)
This is the caliber of some of my readers. Syl responded to me by email after she had read one of my posts. I invited her to share this on my blog, and she left it as a comment on yesterday’s post Are You a Spiritual Refugee?. I again wrote her and told her that I meant would she allow me to post it as a guest post. She gave me her consent.
Her story, though profound, is not unusual among my readers. So so many would identify with a relate to what she writes:
I was and IDP and then a refugee.
Yesterday’s post took me back to a long-ago incident. I wrote down my thoughts about it but hesitated to share it here. However, it applies to today’s post as much as to yesterday’s – maybe even more:
What might be called my first “psychic break” from the Christianity I’d been immersed in for several years came when I was 20. I’d returned home from almost a year on the road with a gospel choir because my dad had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. No, the trigger for this change was not the fact of his illness. Yes, I did go through an emotional “if only” syndrome: feeling that if only I’d been a better daughter it might not have happened – yet at the same time I recognized that as an irrational but common emotional reaction. I also flirted with the idea of trying to bribe God by making outlandish promises if only he’d perform a miracle – but knew that was also an irrational but common emotional response.
I didn’t believe that either God or the devil had anything to do with it – or karma or luck or anything mystic or magical. Bad things happen to good people. I believed that what mattered was how we reacted to things and that God was there to comfort, support, and provide guidance – not to wave a magic wand and make it go away. I believed that prayer was most beneficial to the one who prayed – it wasn’t an incantation or spell that would change the external world or alter God’s mind, but would instead change the person praying. Praying wasn’t about getting things – it was about seeking wisdom. It wasn’t about “God change them” but “God change me”.
I knew my outlook was different than most of my Christian acquaintances, and radical to the crowd my family and I fellowshipped with. We belonged to a mega-church that was on the cutting edge of the apostolic, headship / submission, and prosperity fads that were becoming all the rage. I’d had well meaning church members try to fit me into their one-size-fits-all box many times. But as annoying, frustrating, and depressing as that could be, as mind-bending, manipulative, and confidence-destroying as it was, I hadn’t considered leaving. But when Dad got sick, I saw and felt the response of these “good” people for what it was – cold, hard, rigid dogma utterly lacking in compassion, empathy, or any type of wisdom or truth.
You see, the verdict was that it was all Dad’s fault. Not because he’d smoked a pipe for years (although he’d quit at least five years earlier) or that he breathed Mom’s second hand cigarette smoke for decades. Those were, actually, very likely real, physical contributing factors. But no, that wasn’t the problem (except to the extent that smoking was considered to be a sin and therefore placed the smoker outside of God’s protection). No, the awful sin that caused this terrible calamity was much worse. It wasn’t even that Dad had married Mom – a divorcee – all those years ago. Of course, that certainly didn’t help things – it wasn’t the proximate cause, but was evidence of – well, something. I’m not sure what, but it was enough to prevent Dad from becoming a deacon. Never mind that Mom left her first husband for reasons that would make most “good Christians” cringe. Ignore the fact that Dad embraced not only his wife, but adopted her child as his own, fathered two more, and had been, by that time, married for almost 30 years. That he’d married a divorced woman made him unworthy of acting as a leader in the church.
So, what was the really awful thing that placed my father out of God’s protection and put him in a position of vulnerability where Satan could smite him with a brain tumor? Why – hold your breath – he and Mom did not regularly attend a home “cell” group and place themselves under the “covering” of a “shepherd”. Oh, on Sundays they both taught Sunday school and attended both morning and evening worship services. Dad was an usher, and entrusted with processing the collection (he was a financial comptroller by profession). They also attended Wednesday evening worship service. Dad was also a troop leader in the church’s version of Boy Scouts. They hosted weekly bible study/fellowship groups. And they varied their attendance at a couple of different home groups. They also more than tithed. But they hadn’t bought in to the latest fad for micromanaging church member’s lives. They said the pastor was their pastor and God didn’t require them to submit to any type of “covering” beyond his grace. That was the great sin that, according to far too many of those “good” people, landed Dad in the ICU.
Those who believed that rubbish were quite vocal about it – and not only to each other in their own homes or at church. They phoned Mom and told her what they thought. They said it to my face in the hospital. And I realized that they were far more lost than anyone they’d ever consigned to hell – hard-hearted, blind, doing wickedness in the name of good.
I remember sitting outside in a garden next to the hospital, realizing that I’d come to an intersection. I had nothing in common with most of the people I’d been going to church with and little in common with the remainder. I knew that I would never again try to be what was expected or to fit in with them. I knew I had a choice – I could squash everything good and alive and hopeful and creative and unique about me and pretend to be like one of the group, or I could resolve to be true to myself and what I knew to be right.
I’d like to say that at that point I left the church in general and began walking a very different path, but that was a long evolutionary process. I did leave that particular church – reluctantly, and not immediately. Even then, I didn’t give up my membership for years. It was more than a decade before I left church behind entirely and still more years before I realized that what had been faith had metamorphosed into something entirely different.
Thanks so much Syl for being so kind and open as to share this amazing story.
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