I had to. I had to save myself, my life, and the loving God of my mind. I could not find any rest in this vindictive meanie residing up in the clouds. This notion of this type of HE didn’t work for me. You see, I lived in an airtight bubble of a theology that blatantly and/or discreetly stressed that God is a) mad at us, b) sending us to hell, c) is waiting for us to screw up. This is a wretched theology that does not instill anything but fear and negativity, terror and anxiety. Nevertheless, that’s what I learned.
From the time I was a very small child, this ‘fear theology’ never seemed right to me. I still remember the uneasy feeling I got in a particular church building week after week. I recall the coldness in the air, seeping through the walls. I specifically remember looking at a bulletin board laying out the path to salvation. This included an upward dotted line, showing how, if you did the ‘right’ things, you would end up at the top, in heaven. This felt so off-kilter to me, even as a little girl. I remember my little brown eyes straining above to see this board which was at adult-level, but meant for kids. I knew nothing of grace and mercy, but my gut told me this theology was way off-base. You know when something just “feels wrong?” This board did that.
Things weren’t any better beyond the bulletin board. There’s no need for me to elaborate, just know that I saw things completely at odds with what I was being taught. This is a really good way to create confused children; tell them God wants them to be one way, then those same adults act in the opposing manner. As a highly sensitive kid, I picked up on these infractions, these inconsistencies. The message was, “God wants you to do this. Do this. We won’t, but you do this.” Therefore, I got baptized at 13 to get a fun pizza party. Because it was “time” to. Because it was “what I was supposed to do.” Did I honestly know about God at 13? Of course not. I was following some whacked-out, earn-your-way, bulletin board salvation routine. Pay your ticket to heaven by what you do. That’s what I gained from 18 years of this church theology. And it didn’t work for me. I suspected God and Jesus were better than this.
So I forayed into life, struggling with God images, rejecting God-love, and fighting to figure out who I was and who I wasn’t. I was involved with the wrong people, some also subjected to this conflicting theology who never felt they quite added up…others way too convinced they had conquered all the dots to reach perfection. But the resounding thing I found out “in the field,” was that everyone was hurting and searching. Even if they didn’t say it with words, they said it in their self-righteousness, their racism, their addictions, their self-hatred. They might work the steps, but they simultaneously rejected people who looked or worshiped differently. They might work the steps, but they simultaneously drowned themselves in perfectionism, work, shopping, and idolatry. Simply put, the bulletin board didn’t make them any better…it made their lives worse. Self-understanding? Absent. Awareness? Obsolete. Compassion? Present to a certain extent. I know this because at some point it was all me.
I had to endure so much gut wrenching anguish and loss to finally readdress my issues with my wacky childhood theology. Which I did. When I was 40. I long had abandoned the heated threads of hate weaving through the painful fabric I’d been covered over in. I was done with that ache. After so much loss, I decided life must be better than this God-talk cloaked in hell-hurt. So, what does one do? Enroll in seminary,
of course. Thank God I did. I finally met the God I had always felt connected to outside of that childhood wackiness. God was good. God wasn’t expecting me to work the steps like an exercise program. God wasn’t a jerk. God wasn’t yelling at me to get it right. God was….well….God.
Mercy, grace, compassion, tenderness…the visions we see of Jesus in the Gospels. The kindness we see of Jesus at every turn for the stranger, the foreigner, the sinner…this God was the God I could delve into life with. The God who loves despite, the God who loves anyway, the God who rejects none, the God who is filled with endless mercy. Yes! That’s the God I understand. And once I understood God that way,
it immediately made my compassionate heart submerge so that I could love people. When we can see God as love, it gives us a cue to follow suit; not as a dark, contrived demand, but as a communal effort to want to spread goodness and grace to all. God works in us, we work with God. This is so much more of a harmonious, beautiful way of communicating the graciousness of God than a construction paper bulletin board of have-to’s. The fact is none of us will ever measure up to Jesus, but we can all express his love and compassion for all people. And that’s how they will know us…”by our love.”