The Road Taken- Sex and Waffles Triumph Over Church
As with many ex evangelicals, my journey out of faith took me on a path down the left-hand side of the religious spectrum. I was raised in a conservative church where I was taught to believe Jesus was the only road to salvation, gay people were evil, most rock music was evil, feminism was evil, most things beautiful in the world were evil…etc, etc.
In college, I asked questions about my faith that couldn’t be answered, or rather, I didn’t like the answers to. I was also asked questions to which I didn’t know the answer. I learned to see the LGBTQ world as wholly human. I learned to see women as equal to men. I learned to listen to music without wondering if Jesus approved. All the while, God smiled down upon my developing enlightenment. My projection of god did, anyway. I wrote about that here. And here. Basically, god changed along with me right up to when I stopped believing he existed, leaving me looking straight into a mirror.
Two roads diverged in my deconstruction, and I took the one without the speaking in tongues.
At the end of my college days when I was heavily involved with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), a lot of us became disillusioned with the mainstream evangelical church scene. Feeling like white-centered Calvary Chapel-style church culture was too watered down a version of Christianity, we gravitated toward different church experiences.
Some headed to charismatic churches like the Vineyard where performative worship was supposed to reveal some kind of deep-rooted stirring of the holy spirit. This was made evident by occasional gyrations, shouting, barking, and writhing on the ground but mostly just silly jumping and dancing. For those who didn’t have race or social justice on their radar, these churches were a next-level experience. How could anyone care about racism when the holy spirit can literally, if fabulously, inhabit your body to make you jump up and down and do Richard Simmons impersonations? For me, it was way too self-indulgent and focused on a personal experience. If charismatic people see the world as broken, their way of dealing with it is to feel warm and fuzzy. No thanks.
Liberation theology and postcolonial views made more sense to me and my friends. In this broken world, we understood that for Christianity to work as designed, it had to bring actual healing and reconciliation. Black churches understood this better than any others and had a decades-long history. MLK wasn’t writing to them when he wrote Letter From a Birmingham Jail. We visited black churches and enjoyed them, but I never felt like it was for me. I loved being handed a tambourine as the worship band launched into a song. I loved the music and the celebratory vibe. I even enjoyed some of the sermons, which was something because I had come to despise that part of church.
But I felt like I was invading a sacred cultural space that didn’t belong to me. Even as I marveled at the bass lines, the choir harmonies, and the elation of feeling like I was part of a gospel concert, I knew deep down that this was not my place. I would be either appropriating a deep-rooted culture or I would be “Columbusing” it, claiming to have “found” a truer version of church that already existed long before my searching ass walked in. At the time, I couldn’t verbalize these thoughts. I just knew instinctively that I didn’t belong there.
Two more roads diverged in my deconstruction, and I took the shorter one.
When I could no longer abide protestant church and culture, I went to a liberal Episcopalian church here in Pasadena, All Saints. There is a saying amongst us ex-evangelicals: The Episcopalian Church is the last stop on the journey of faith.
All Saints is a wonderful place. They are truly welcoming and inclusive. Going there was a revelation. The liturgy felt grounding and freeing at the same time. No more “Jesus is my bruh” theology. Episcopalian theology was rooted in Catholic traditions with none of the guilt. And All Saints brought in every voice imaginable to speak in church.
As the liturgical experience and the elation of sitting in traditional pews and kneeling beside LGBTQ attendees became normal to me, I started to feel something. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I was glad this church existed. They do so much great activism for social justice. They teach love and acceptance in this fucked up world. Awesome. But, so do my friends and my community.
I had made peace with church for the first time in my life. And I wanted to go home.
I wanted to sleep in on Sundays. I wanted to snuggle with my kids and then get dragged into the kitchen to make buttermilk waffles and coffee. I wanted to blast James Brown and dance with my kids. I wanted to tinker with home projects. Depending on what went down the night before, Sunday morning sex can be more glorious than any experience with the holy spirit. (this was long after the kids stopped coming in to wake us up) The last thing I wanted to do on a Sunday morning was get up, get the kids up and dressed, and go sit in a pew for an hour or two.
Two roads diverged in my deconstruction, and I took the road out of religion altogether.
One of the most memorable sermons I heard at All Saints had the rector talking about a passage of the bible that he didn’t believe was authentic. “There’s no way Jesus ever said this,” he said smiling. I don’t even remember the passage. It just hit me that the bible is not only errant (as opposed to inerrant), it is fatally flawed to the point that I find it useless. In that same sermon the rector spoke of the legitimacy of muslim and buhddist faiths. This didn’t bother me, as it would have in my evangelical past, but it did make me wonder what I was doing in church at all. If it didn’t matter which church I’m sitting my tired ass in, I would choose my house.
So I did.
The exit from All Saints was made slightly awkward by my daughter joining the children’s choir, but the image of her in a flowing robe singing at the All Saints Christmas service is a lovely memory that marked the end of my church-going days.
It’s been 12 years since I’ve attended a Sunday church service. There’s a part of me that revels in the freedom of my Sundays, even to this day. Maybe the silver lining of a youth and early adulthood shackled to church every Sunday is the sheer bliss of knowing I will not be going to church this Sunday. I’ve heard about atheists gathering on Sunday mornings to sing songs and listen to someone speak. I think they’re fucking nuts. Not going to church is such a huge perk in not being religious anymore. Also, I don’t define myself by what I don’t believe in. That’s just me, though. Ok, one last curious sideways glance at the Sunday Service atheists.
As I look back at the roads taken and not taken, I can see a straight path right out of church. But unlike Frost, in his oft misinterpreted poem, I would not like to return to those crossroads and take the other roads that led back to church. Nope. Waffles, music, and sex will win every time.
Author not pictured