And now here's where I come in.
All that I have shared in previous installments I discovered late. But I wanted to share it first because it explains my own experiences. At the time, I was perplexed because I did not know all that history. I had no wish to perplex you. Cause precdes effect. That's why I'm taking this in chronological order.
You may dispute the historicity of all I have posted before. Feel free to do your own research. But from this point, I am no longer presenting research. From this point on, I am speaking as an eyewitness.
I was born in difficult circumstances. As a child, I concluded there was no loving God and went bitter atheist. Then an episode made my own faults clear to me. I understood that I needed saving from myself. And so I got religion.
I knew nothing about religion, and had no good source of information. I split the difference between Catholic and Protestant by going to a Catholic school and a Protestant church.
The nuns were simply insane. To be fair, they had some awful kids to deal with - but all their yelling and threatening and waving rulers really wasn't helping. I got the distinct impression that they didn't know what they were doing. Then they got mad at me and wouldn't even tell me why. How does that make any sense? To this day I don't what they were mad at me for.
My first Protestant church... call it the First Church of Nowhere. I think it might have been United Churches of Christ, but I'm not sure. I'm not even sure it matters. There was a Sunday school where they told dumbed-down versions of Bible stories for the kids. There was a main service with a whole lot of old ladies and their grandkids and scarcely anyone else. The kids seemed bored. The grandmothers seemed medicated. The sermons were forgettable. I certainly can't remember one. It all seemed nice, but rather dull and pointless. Was it God's will that I be here? And do what, exactly?
Then I was told that the pastor had secretly admitted he thought God was dead. This information did not come by reliable channels, but I was very young and I saw no evidence to contradict it. So I switched to a Baptist church.
I decided to give that Baptist church a fair shot. I was entering my teens, and sensing that what I really wanted was to be a better person. If I could be a better person, that would prove I was saved. And - bonus - I would be a better person. The Super Bibley Bible Baptist Church was all about that. And they really did seem to be nice people. The pastor was very earnest, and more than willing to give me advice on how to be a good Christian and how to deal with problems in my young life. Most of it was about not doing various stuff. The rest was too vague to be actionable. After a while I noticed that the not doing bad stuff approach wasn't helping. In fact, it was driving me nuts.
It wasn't just me being driven nuts. We'd have teen Bible discussions where they would tell us something the Bible said and then have us hop around the Bible to various seemingly random verses to "prove" it. I wasn't sure about those proof texts, but that was an awfully big book and these were the experts, so they said. But then one day something happened that made me doubt the discussion leader's mental competence.
It went like this: the leader told us all "no heavy petting!" Uh, okay. Then one girl asked: "what's heavy petting?" And he wouldn't tell her. He got all flustered and wouldn't discuss it. Why did he even bring it up in the first place? I watched this and it reminded me of those crazy nuns. Surely God can't be behind something this stupid!
I was also noticing a pattern. There were certain people who seemed more plugged in than others. They seem to have been involved for a very long time - as families, not as individual seekers from the big outside world. They seemed to view us seekers condescendingly, as if our only purpose was to help them pretend their church was seeking and saving the lost. I call these the church kids. There was no talking to the church kids. They understood nothing I said. They spoke only in platitudes. They were aliens to me, fresh off the flying saucer from planet Church. And I began to see why the pastor's advice never seemed to work. These people thought they had all the answers, because they didn't know all the questions!
At this point I was terribly discouraged, ready to give up. But I decided to give it all one last big try. A semester at Bible college.
The great thing about Bible college is you get to sample people from all the denominations, and realize that the churches are really all the same. The church kids are everywhere. And the rebels. And the neurotic legalists. And the holy rollers. All the same tribes, all the same types. And all the same platitudes in lieu of advice, making my life challenges worse. I learned some Old Testament history, and that was great. I read big chunks of the Bible, but it still didn't occur to me just to read the whole thing cover-to-cover. It's true no one encouraged me to. But it ought to have occurred to me. My own fault, that.
And the glimmers. Every once in a while, someone would show me something like the honesty, basic decency and moral sanity that the Bible depicts. But only glimmers.
After this, I more or less gave up. But I still knew I was not the good person I wanted to be. And still I remembeed the glimmers. I wanted to be a glimmer, but I simply didn't know how. And why only glimmers? Why so few? Why so scattered?
I could see plainly there was something wrong with churches. All churches. At this point, I finally read the entire Bible. It blew my mind. A lot of it seemed to contradict what I had been taught by professing Christians, but then they all contradicted each other. The cognitive dissonance overwhelmed me. There was a Power in the Bible, like sunlight through clouds, that wasn't even hinted at it any church teachings. But I was still missing half of the puzzle. Without knowing church history, I could not know why the New Testament Church, the body of Christ, didn't seem to exist anywhere, or what had happened to it.
So I drifted through life, not knowing what to do, how to connect with God, and not knowing why the churches were no help. Then I got met by someone from a restorationist movement. But I'll save all that for the next installment. And after that, the epiphany I mentioned.
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- This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Restorationism and Beyond.
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- This entry is part 5 of 7 in the series Restorationism and Beyond.