“I would rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in church thinking about the mountains.” ~ John Muir
I was born and raised as a Christian. Southern Baptist to be exact. When I was 17 years old, after spending most of my life in the church, I realized that I didn’t disagree with what was being preached—but I did not completely agree with it either.
When I was 17, I became very ill. I had to finish my senior year of high school from my bed as I was in and out of the hospital for six months. My doctors could not figure out what was wrong with me (I was finally diagnosed with an autoimmune disease).
Before the illness struck, I was heavily involved in the church and it wasn’t because my parents were making me be involved. I would wake up early on Sunday mornings to make it to Sunday school, which was followed by church service, then some Sundays I would be back at the Church by 6:00 p.m. to be in attendance for evening worship. I tried to make it to Wednesday night worship as much as I could. I attended youth group events and trips and thought that I had surrounded myself with the most amazing and Christ-like group of friends.
After becoming ill, I was very disappointed when a week went by and I had yet to hear anything from anyone in my youth group. The week turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into half a year.
During my six month illness, I was only ever visited by the Pastor of my church. None of my fellow youth members visited or checked on me, none of my Sunday school teachers, none of my youth leaders. I was stripped of my health and all of the people I expected to be there for me the day I became ill.
After I got better I decided to return to my church. Upon arriving I realized that I was sick for so long that by the time I returned, my church had gotten a new pastor and other new staff members. As none of the new church staff knew who I was, I was forced to remain seated during “welcoming.” For those of you who are lucky enough to not know what welcoming is, it is a time in the service where all of the church regulars stand while “visitors” remain seated so they can greet you (aka stare at you). As I sat there that Sunday morning being stared at by the new church “regulars” and occasionally being greeted by an elder making certain that I was saved so I didn’t burn for eternity in hell, I felt what it must be like to be someone not raised in a Christian home getting a glimpse into Christian life.
And it didn’t feel welcoming or loving at all.
It was weird. It felt like the church had become a secret club that I was not invited to. I felt so uncomfortable that I snuck out the side door before the actual sermon started. And this is when I began wrestling with my spirituality. I realized that I had grown up my entire life in the church and I wasn’t even sure what it meant to be a Christian.
According to church guidelines (at least Baptist Church guidelines) to be a Christian you have to ask Jesus Christ into your heart and accept him as your Lord and Savior. Seems simple, right? But no, it’s not that simple. Attending church (for me, at least) brought on a whole new slew of issues and things to be annoyed about.
You see, some people that go to church obtain a complex and think that they can condemn others that “sin worse” than they do to hell. They begin gossiping on the way out of church service about what so-and-so was wearing and about how so-and-so has missed two services in a row. They go to Sunday afternoon lunch, and as someone who has worked in restaurants for four years, I speak for all restaurant workers in saying that church people are always the worst of customers. And I feel like this is the view most people have of Christians—that they are close-minded, judgmental, and cliquey. And this is the area I feel like us, as Christians, need to work tirelessly at changing.
In my experience with church people, I have found that they form exclusive groups and judge other church members on their attendance records. I could go on forever about my personal experiences with the church and church people, but I will cut to the chase. I came to a point in my life that I hated the church. I didn’t know if I even considered myself Christian anymore. I didn’t know if other people had arrived at this confusing place in their spirituality, and I felt that I would be looked down upon if I opened up to anyone else about my inner struggles. I didn’t know what I believed or who I believed in anymore.
After wrestling with my personal spirituality and salvation for the past five years and exploring different ideologies, I have finally come to a place where I am not embarrassed to say, “I’m just not sure.” And I think other spiritual souls need to become comfortable with being in this place as well.
I do consider myself a Christian. I am a Christian because I have to believe that we are all here for a reason. I have to believe that there is some sort of higher power that has made a plan and a purpose for each and every one of our lives. I believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross to wash all of our sins away if we accept His love. I also believe in science, but I have to believe that some power made science, just like I have to believe that some power made me and you.
So, to me, being a Christian has actually turned into something very simple. I just want to be a good person. I want to show others love and respect. I want to be the person that people feel like they can talk to about anything without me passing judgment.
I have a hard time agreeing with the more radical Christian beliefs in that they grant themselves the power to condemn groups of people to hell. Jesus was a man that surrounded himself with “the scum of the town.” He befriended thieves, prostitutes, and murderers. He still showed love to those that stoned him. So, to me, being a Christian is simply trying to show others love. To be kind and understanding. To be respectful of people who think differently than I do. To try to refrain from speaking negatively of others. To help people. It has nothing to do with church attendances, memberships, or even being the leader of your Bible study group.
If the people we surround ourselves with are not happy when they are around you, then we are not doing our job as Christians correctly. Let us all find it in our hearts to love every kind of person on this Earth. Let us learn to be selfless and stop being so self righteous. Never let us cause anyone to feel judged or belittled when they are around us.
Let us become educated about other religions so that we can respect them. Just as we long for respect as Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics and many others also long for and deserve the same respect.
I am a Christian. But a very bad Christian at that. Just like everyone else, I make mistakes. I make bad decisions. I disappoint my God daily—but the great thing about the big guy upstairs that I choose to worship is that He is understanding. He knows he made me imperfect. Just like He knows that He made you imperfect. He knows that I can have the mouth of a sailor. He knows that I have a wild side and often find myself making stupid decisions without weighing the consequences. He knows I have an immature and inappropriate sense of humor. He knows all of my flaws and what I choose to believe is that He loves me the same despite them—just as I choose to believe He loves all of you despite your own beautiful quirks and flaws.
And as a Christian, I believe that we are supposed to try to live our lives like Christ. So I pray that we choose to try to love everyone despite their mistakes. Yes, we will fail at this time and time again. Especially me, because a lot of people have the power to constantly piss me off. But, God knows my heart and He knows your heart and I choose to believe that He is working on me and you daily so that someday, He will eventually guide us all to our full potential.
Yes, I am a Christian. No, I do not often take part in organized religion and I am banking on my God being cool with that.
“Above all else, love each other deeply. For love covers a multitude of sins.” ~ 1 Peter 4:8
Author: Emily Cutshaw
Apprentice Editor: Mercedes Trujillo / Editor: Travis May
Photo: Fiona Shaw/Flickr