One of our members, Pam Werner, posted this on her blog yesterday and it got quite a bit of attention. I thought it was an excellent post that we could use for our Saturday Spiritual Supplement. I really like how she took all the negatives and turned them around into positives. What do you think?
One year ago today, I told the story of my experience at Mars Hill. I did so from a place of confusion, vulnerability and fear. I did not understand what had happened or why, and I was not quite sure what I was supposed to do with that experience.
Up until that point, my church experiences had been pretty positive. It was the thing I centered my life around, the place I made my friends, where I found purpose and meaning for my own life.
Today, as I reflect on my experience I see that in comparison to many others (Andrew, Erin, Kip, Paul & Jonna Petry), I was fortunate. I left quickly, and managed to avoid church discipline (because we refused to meet with leaders). I understand why some might think that I have an ax to grind, that I am “bitter”, or that perhaps I am making a bigger deal than need be made.
If that was the end of my story, I might agree. It is not.
My experience at Mars Hill and the loss of the friends I made was confusing and painful. I did not understand how Christian people could treat each other that way. Or how the hunger for power could overshadow friendship. I did not understand how people could cut friends out of their life for no good reason. And for a while, I believed that it was one bad experience and that I should just put it behind me. That is what I intended to do.
When my now good friend, Andrew, told his story, I realized that things were much worse than I had imagined. I received story after story similar to his. As if those stories were not enough, the thing that really did me in was the comments I received and the attack on my personal character and questioning of my salvation. Have you ever been called Satan first thing in the morning?
My Mars Hill experience was the first domino in a series of events that began the deconstruction of my faith. For someone who had a blind faith, the deluge of questions was alarming. What did I believe? What could I no longer believe? How do I get over the wall (see Stages of Faith)? Why isn’t this working for me anymore? If God is good, and all powerful, why doesn’t He take control?
There have been so many losses. How do I begin to recover? I must name them and grieve them.
I have lost my “rose-colored glasses”.
I have lost the belief that Christians play by a certain set of “rules”.
I have lost my sense of certainty about theology.
I have lost the feeling of belonging as an insider.
I have lost trust in leadership and become suspicious.
I have lost my desire to be in formal ministry of any kind.
I have lost my desire to attend church.
I have lost respect for an entire set of theological beliefs.
I have lost the belief that church friends will stick by me no matter where I am in my walk, and not judge me.
I have lost black and white thinking and the surety of absolute truth.
I have lost the feeling of being truly known by friends and feeling the freedom to just be me, whoever that is, today.
I have lost community.
I have lost my place of refuge.
I believe that acknowledging our losses is not enough. What have I gained? When I sift through the ashes, what beauty do I find?
I have gained an “underground railroad” of sorts…people who have been or are on this journey who understand me and are safe.
I have gained respect for other theological viewpoints.
I have realized that we are all wanderers, and that nobody knows all the answers.
I have gained confidence in my ability to discern the guiding of the Holy Spirit just as well as any leader, elder or pastor.
I have gained compassion for those that consider themselves outsiders and unaccepted by the church.
I have gained new perspective on political and social issues, such as women’s issues, gay rights…and that to be Christian does not mean you must be a republican.
I have gained friendships with people whom I may not have become friends with (and would have previously judged)…and my life is richer for it.
I have gained respect for my own opinion and feelings, even if someone whom I want to validate them, won’t.
I have realized that being a part of Christian Culture is much, much different than following Jesus….and I have chosen the latter, whatever that may look like and whatever it may cost.
I have gained unity in my marriage and the connection of having a shared viewpoint and experience.
I have gained the conviction that women should be free to use their spiritual gifts and be treated EQUALLY in the church…even if lots of people don’t agree.
I have gained the empowerment to teach my daughter that she can do anything, and that God is not limiting her simply because she is female.
I believe that God is with me, in the depths.
I believe that He LOVES…more than I can fathom, in ways I cannot describe.
His GRACE is boundless, infinite and for all.
I believe that He wants us to be FREE. Not just from sin and death. From religion and guilt. From trying to live up to others expectations or rules.
I have learned that I am STRONG.
I have learned that I am BRAVE.
I like myself so, so much more now.
So as I reflect today, I realize that Mars Hill was The Best-Worst Thing That Ever Happened To Me.
I am finally grateful. I would not give it back and I would not go back to not knowing. It was a catalyst to becoming a person I actually want to be. I am more compassionate and empathetic, I am less judgmental, and I am most definitely more loving. If that is what it took, today, I can say I am grateful.