I remember when this came out. It was one of R.E.M.’s biggest hits. I wasn’t listening to very much R.E.M. at the time, but I’d really liked them at an earlier time in my life. When this song came out, I was firmly entrenched in conservative evangelicalism, and R.E.M. was definitely on the “do not listen to” list. I know I heard the song because I still secretly liked them and couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with them. I understood the ban on groups like Red Hot Chili Peppers (even though I still liked them too), but R.E.M.? I didn’t get why adults were getting their panties in a wad over this. I got it in terms of that verse about only contemplating things that are holy, good, pure, true, etc. But … still … wtf? I didnt get it.
So I heard the song and loved it … but it scared me. Losing my religion. What would happen to me if I ever lost my religion? Where would my underpinings go? What would it look like to not have religion? It was a frightening thought. I was comfortable with my religion at the time … comfortable enough, that is. Comfortable, if I didn’t think to carefully or deeply.
In 1998, LightHusband had a back injury that threw him into a downward spiral of pain and suffering that would not end. It was a seemingly intractable injury that had no cause and for all intents and purposes, no cure. He ended up leaving the Army because of the injury after three years of doctor’s visits, two years on narcotics to control the pain, and several experimental courses of treatment that further aggravated his injury. At the very end of the journey we finally got a diagnosis … he is hypermobile and his ligaments had not held his sacro-iliac joint stable. The injury he had sustained is normally only seen in pregnant women and people who have been in front-end automobile collisions. In his case, it had been a repetitive use injury from wearing his drum for 18 years.
To say that I prayed during those three years would be an understatement. And yet, it would also be a lie. I prayed at first. I prayed as though my life depended on it … because in some ways it did. But my prayers did no good. They did nothing. They did not change our situation. They did not change me. They did not change God. They did nothing. Except create a very bitter knot in my heart. I finally gave up praying. I told my friends that they could pray if they wanted, but I was done. I left off the last part of that sentence, because it’s heresy in the conservative evangelical church. But I was done. I was too angry to pray. I just wanted to leave town.
I wanted to leave town. Leave the church. Leave this stupid God who does stupid horrid things like this. Or if he doesn’t do them, He allows them and doesn’t give us any answers. He allows huge tsunamis to rise up and kill thousands on a holiday. He allows hurricanes like Katrina. He allows babies to snatch our hearts and then they die without warning in the midst of the night.
John Smulo wrote a post several days ago asking about how do we defend God to our well-meaning friends and relatives who ask about this. Who ask how we can still have faith in a God who either does such things or allows such things and does nothing to repair them? As I tried to answer that question, I found I have none. There is no explaining why I still have faith.
I believe that I have lost my religion. But I still have my faith. Somewhere in the midst of it all … between then and now … I lost my religion. It’s in tatters. That has been a frightening thing. It’s also been sad. But I still have my faith in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.
Truthfully, what little I know of God does not give me the evidence to defend Him in the face of all the evil in the world. I have no “blessed assurance” that I’m going to some pearly gates when I die. I have none of that anymore. What I do have is this … the knowledge that there is a God and that S/He loves me and desires some sort of communion with me; indeed with all of us. I’m not certain what that communion looks like, but I’m damn sure it’s more than a cracker crumb and a dribble of grape juice. I do know that whatever S/He is, S/He is much, much, much larger than anything anyone of us can imagine. And Her vision of how justice will be played out is likely to be much, much different from mine … which is probably a good thing too.
I don’t defend God anymore. The way I figure it, if God really did create the universe She can defend herself. There’s not much I can say in his defense. Most people have made up their minds and legal arguments aren’t going to change them … hell … legal arguments rarely sway people in a court room, why should they work in a space as delicate as our beliefs about our origins. The thought is sort of silly.
Losing my religion … I’m slowly but surely turning my back on church as I know it. The church as described by Jesus in the Gospels is a beautiful place … a place I’d like to be part of. So is the church that Paul describes in his epistles. But once Constantine got his grubby hands on religion and the state took hold of things … well … I want to say, I never knew you. It’s not a place that has any room left for God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It’s a place that tears people apart, chews them up, leaders use their followers and followers use their leaders — all to their own ends.
I read the gut-wrenching article by William Lobdell from the LATimes and thought, “I get it. I understand what he thinks.” I’m not where he is, I don’t think I’d make the decisions he made. But I understand them. I understand that eventually you cannot maintain that level of cognitive dissonance between what Jesus teaches and what the church teaches and call yourself a Christ follower.
I have no idea where my journey will take me next. I am in the waiting place. I am waiting to hear from God about what to do and where to go next.