I was not raised Evangelical from the beginning, rather, I attended an Episcopal school for ten years and a Catholic church on the side. My concept of religion involved larger-than-life crucifixes, polished wood pews, and kneelers that crippled me after a Rite II Eucharist service. When my aunt died in a tragic accident, my grief-stricken family changed their religious path. We began to attend my aunt's church, a different world of Christianity. Services were held in a large converted warehouse downtown. The sanctuary packed people in by the hundreds, then thousands, sometimes so many that the sanctuary overflowed into rooms where congregants watched the services on a television screen. It was a megachurch, one of the country's largest.
Our church had rules, and all of them came from the Bible, which was the pure, infallible word of God. Every single word was true. It called for all of us to be born again, to commit our lives to Christ and confess our sin before the congregation. Wash me clean, for I have decided this day to follow You, Jesus.... The pastor intoned that when we said this prayer, the angels in Heaven rejoiced. God would write our name in His book of life, and we would be "saved". My entire family said that prayer and attained salvation. I became immersed in the world that was our church. I began to speak the language of Veggie Tales, contemporary Christian music, "Praise God!", and life verses.
I cannot explain the sensation that came with being a part of this world. When I try to tell people about it now, I am often met with confused expressions. It is the most intense happiness you have ever felt, I say. You're almost always happy, and other people ask you why. No one has ever understood this, perhaps because they have not been a part of it. I experienced an inexpressible joy in that sanctuary, the kind of joy that made others wonder. I could close my eyes and go into a world where I was alone with the Creator of the Universe, a being who cared deeply for me and knew me intimately, in a way no one else could. God was my drug, yet the high could not last.
As I grew older and entered high school, I began to see the cracks in the seemingly flawless facade of this place. The hammer came down on the chisel again and again as I came out of my euphoria and heard things my heart would not allow me to push aside. Anyone not like us, who did not subscribe to our beliefs, was not saved. Therefore, unless they became like us, they would go to hell. This included my friends at school, my homosexual neighbors, and anyone of a different religion. Since I was a girl, they suggested I learn how to cook and clean now, in order to prepare myself for my future as a wife and mother. Dating was frowned upon. Secular music led people like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to carry out the Columbine tragedy. Homosexuals could become heterosexual, if they prayed about it. Women should submit to men. To truly love God, to obey Him, I would have to become part of this world completely.
I reached a point where I had to walk away. I never felt good enough for the God of this church. Not because I was a sinner, but because I could not subscribe to every unwritten belief and rule He seemed to require of me. I wanted to slip back into that euphoria and comfort, but it no longer fit. I shed that life as a snake sheds its skin. There were people there that I loved, and aspects of it I truly enjoyed. Prayer, Christian music, and a relationship with God came away with me. It was heartbreaking to walk away, but impossible to stand in that sanctuary and pretend I was the same girl who was on fire for Jesus. I lost the religious fire and dove into an expansive ocean of spirituality, where I could be free to explore my God and begin to know what it was like to believe as I chose, rather than how I was told. One could say I was burned by the church, and perhaps they would be right. Yet that burn has left an indelible mark upon my heart, and I will always be grateful.
This is my entry for therealljidol. Thanks to everyone who voted in the tiebreaker and kept me around! I hope to stay around even longer and continue writing. Please remember to vote for me if you enjoyed this entry.