Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Leaving Home

I have been a Baptist since I was eleven when I was dunked.  I walked away from church when I was a teenager unable to reconcile my thirst for knowledge, especially science, and my church's admonition that questions were a sign of lack of faith.

I went on the receive a Ph.D. in chemistry at twenty-five.  I spent the next four years working and learning about other great religions.  Of all I studied, I had the most affinity for a form of Hinduism that was prevalent in northern India.  Still, none made me wish to practice their faith.

I was an insatiable science fiction reader at the time.  I still love the genre.  I had read the Narnia Chronicles as a child, but had ignored the religious implications.  Now, I found the science fiction trilogy by C. S. Lewis and read all three books.  I found another one of his books, The Screwtape Letters, in with the science fiction at a used book store.  I bought it and read it.  For whatever reason, the book turned me back to Christianity.

I was not that sure I wanted to be a Christian, but I decided to give it another try.  This time I chose the most liberal Baptist Church in my city led by a brilliant preacher.  I joined a study group of people my age led by a philosophy major.  Our discussions were wide open.  Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis was one of the books we studied that year.

By the end of that year, I was sure I wanted to follow Christ.  I have never regretted that decision although I have come to regret remaining a Baptist.

I helped start a new Baptist church that was to be a "grace" church emphasizing God's love and mercy and essentially non-denominational.  Over the years as it became a mega church, my church has become less open and more conventionally Baptist.  Four years ago,  members who I mistakenly thought were friends, considered my bout with clinical depression a failure of my faith, not an illness.  I learned that the one thing Baptists are most afraid of being asked is for money to help one of their own who is having problems with mental illness.  As my pastor (he had retired because of health reasons) often said, "Baptist shoot their wounded."  These friends thought by not helping me they were making me to stand on my own two feet.  Were it not for an ex-Mormon friend and a Catholic therapist, I would be dead.

I have made many mistakes in my life, but the biggest was trying to stay in that church.  I went home most Sundays and cried.  Finally, my car got totaled when I was rear-ended,  I could not afford another car, so I stopped going to church.  My church was a long way from my home and the city bus services did not run out that far.  I know, this looks suspiciously like divine intervention to keep me home.  No one called or inquired why I stopped coming to church.  The church I helped found thirty years before did not know that I existed anymore.

After a few months, I was removed from my Sunday School class' email list.  I had not asked to be removed and had stayed in touch through that email.  If I had not been seeing a therapist, I would have killed myself that day.  He forced me to face the reality that I did not fit in that class and shared few beliefs with them.  He urged anger instead of grief.

A year has gone by without me attending church except for the few occasions when I have taken my aunt to an activity or service at her very traditional Baptist church.  The people there are quite wonderful and have taken her in, accepted her autistic son, and helped her financially.  They are less affluent than most in my church, but more generous.  However, women are second-class members and the sermons leave me cold.

Photo by jeffk
After some searching and  a great deal of prayer, I realized there was not a Baptist church in this city that I wanted to attend.  I began looking for a better fit for me.  I think God has guided me to such a place in a Christian (Disciples of Christ) church.  I have been attending a downtown church with a small congregation and  a woman pastor.  If all goes as planned, I will join on New Year's Day.  I will no longer be a Baptist.  I will have left home.

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