By: JANA GREENE
My first exposure to religion was as a child was church, like most folks. My grandparents, who had custody of me for a while, were very religious people.
Religion is confusing because it really looks so dissimilar to what I now practice, but it was even more confusing as a kid. In the Baptist church we attended, red was the predominant color. The pews were red. The carpet was red. The embellishments on the pastor’s robe were crimson, as was the cloth over the altar. Still when I let my mind wander back, red is all I see.
Red is what I associate with church, and also sitting still in “big church,” and watching the grown-ups line up to eat the body and blood of Jesus, which was not alarming at ALL to a five year old. I was not allowed to partake. I must be too bad to participate in this ritual.
“It’s because of the blood of Christ,” I learned at Sunday School. The red signifies blood, and to a child who was afraid of her own shadow and full of anxiety, that really tripped me up.
Then I learned it is because I was so bad that I needed to bleed Jesus dry. And that he did it for me, because my heart was deceitful about all things. The Little children who worshipped may have been “red and yellow, black and white,” but it was because of the blood that we are precious in his sight. Every single person was born bad…. a sinner.
Was I a sinner? I did sneak a Mr. Goodbar from my grandmother’s secret candy stash drawer. Also, I really loved music. Did I love music more than God? You must love God more than ANYTHING. And if I did love music and climbing trees and eating candy more, did that mean I didn’t love God enough? Did that blood not cover me? What about the time I told my grandfather “no” when he asked me to do something?
And again, every week, I’d traipse down the hall of the church to Sunday School, excited for the crafts and terrified of the blood.
I learned a lot of things in church through the years. Multiple denominations. I’ve attended many a covered-dish dinner, and youth group activities. But it was what I observed, not was taught, that did the damage. It has taken me years to say the words “religious trauma” in the same sentence. It sounds awfully dramatic, unless you’ve had it instilled in you from birth and it’s all you know. And unless you were born with the anxiety level of a gerbil on crack naturally, and ergo: Your faith naturally becomes FEAR BASED.
Love everyone, but don’t be “yoked” with unbelievers. Yes, even though Jesus chose to yolk-out with the undesirables of his day. Don’t bother asking about this hypocrisy, because questioning God is tantamount to signing your own passport to Hell.
And Hell is what kept us all reined in, because it gets really hot in Houston in the summertime, but HELL IS HOTTER. And it’s forever. It’s suffering forever, so get your sh*t together, chir’ren!
And you must learn the “word of God,” i.e., the Bible. Never mind that the Word is actually a person, and not a historical text translated and translated again, and written by sinners just like you. But again, don’t question it.
Learn all the Old Testament Bible stories at Vacation Bible School! Here’s a synopsis of the acts of a “loving God” that I learned in church:
God-sanctioned gruesome deaths and horrific murders in his name. Including the death of infants. I learned that sometimes God tells you to murder a person you love more than anything because he is testing your faith. Yikes.
He caused a flood to “reset” the world with good people, all the while drowning hundreds of thousands of souls who didn’t make the cut. All the animals too, except for the ones on the ark.
“Thou shalt not kill” and “Thou shalt not steal,” were the rules, except buying and selling human beings as “servants” was sanctioned, and how they should be treated by their “masters” was also covered. So being either a slave or a master was completely justified.
Oh sure. They START with Jonah and the whale, because who doesn’t love marine animals? And camping out in a fish til you learn your lesson is much preferable to many of the other stories I learned. Those stories were:
Misogyny. Human sacrifice. Sexual violence. Infanticide. Genocide.
God caused a bear to maul 42 children, although admittedly, I didn’t learn this until middle school when I was already afraid to exist, so bears were whatever by then.
I kept finding out how harsh the Creator of the Universe is, yet how incredibly loving and inclusionary Jesus is. But they are the same person. So figure it out, kid.
In short, everything that Jesus was NOT, God was.
Jesus is who I called on when there was violence in my home. And there was, a lot. He was who I wanted on my team when I disappointed God. I could imagine getting to Heaven and spending the entire hereafter hiding from God behind Jesus’ robe, on account of surely he will smite me.
Even as a youngster, I fell in love with this Jesus, who caused the crimson tide in church, but also gathered the little children around him.
He had stern words for the religious of the day, which is REALLY confusing, because the religious are who I was taught to look up to. Jesus was hugs and kindness, while God was retribution and violence.
Jesus is who I conjured even when I was three, as one of my first memories illustrates. My parents were screaming at one another, and I hid in my toybox, shoving aside the toys and making myself small.
But I knew I wasn’t alone. I knew that kind and compassionate Jesus was hiding with me. I just knew that I knew, and I didn’t feel alone. I still never feel alone because I feel his spirit.
And I knew the God figure who was stuffed into a toybox with me giving me my first taste of spiritual peace, was not into mauling babies via bears or drowning his own creation.
Our religion, however, was about practicing 10 rules, being at the church every time the doors were open, excluding people who didn’t believe like we did to keep ourselves spiritually “safe,” and joining committees as adults.
So the genesis of my faith has been reconciling a belief system that never worked for me, because the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are the same God, just in vastly different moods because of something called a covenant. God is in a much better mood in the latter, even as it is draped and ensconced in red, focused on blood and sin; and making sure you presented a Christian front to everyone “worldly,” (even as not really following the creed of Jesus at all.)
It’s easy to lose the Jesus in the rituals and rules.
That’s not my faith anymore.
Hi. My name is Jana and I am a follower of Christ. I am still in love with him and try (and often fail) to emulate his actions instead of striving endlessly to please a God who – let’s be honest – cannot be pleased.
I’ve been threatening to write about my deconstruction / reconstruction experience (including the banishment of a literal “Hell,” inclusionary salvation, and all sort of other things I thought would doom my soul when I was younger.)
So here is part one, friends.
Peace be with you.