Sunday, July 08, 2007

Faith, Interrupted

My name is Deana, and I am a new Christian.

Well, there was that time I got baptized at age nine. And the time before and after that during which I was raised in a group of believers known as the Church of Christ.

The Church of Christ is a small group, really. Only two million strong and in a steady decline for a number of years now, the Church of Christ is a speck in the vast arena of world religions.

But it was my heritage, my culture, my life, my world.

My grandfather started preaching for churches of Christ in southeast Texas in the 1930s. If you've visited a Church of Christ in Beaumont, Port Arthur or Nederland, he probably had a hand in starting it. (The white congregations, at least.) Then my dad was a youth minister for a long time -- one of the very first paid youth ministers in churches of Christ. I was raised in close-knit congregations in which my parents were always involved in what we called "church work" -- a term that included, but wasn't limited to, teaching Bible classes, cooking in the church kitchen, picking up neighborhood kids for VBS, visiting the sick, helping the poor, comforting the broken-hearted, sweeping the fellowship hall floor.

My faith was very cut and dried. The Church of Christ, as I understood it, was New Testament Christianity restored. We were the only ones doing it right, and if everyone in the world would just join us, we could all go to heaven together.

But as fate would have it, I started growing up. And with growth came questions, doubts, struggles. We only did the things that were outlined in the Bible, but for me, it wasn't lining up so neatly anymore. Why didn't we fast? Why the emphasis on church buildings? Why the big deal over instrumental music, when the New Testament didn't even mention the issue?

I began the excruciating task of dismantling my faith.

I started to peel away the layers -- the things I thought made up my faith but wasn't so sure about anymore. Worship must be done exactly the right way or we are all going to hell. Strip. Godly teenagers do not go to prom. Peel. The Methodists down the street are no better than the heathens who gather in the biker bar at the edge of town. Rip.

This process took years. And it wasn't fun. The easy, comfortable faith I had always taken refuge in was replaced by fears, doubts -- even anger. But the layers kept coming off until, about a year ago -- when we began to attend a church without "Church of Christ" in the name for the first time ever -- I arrived at a clear, warm place. Like the first day at the beach after a grueling year enclosed in a school building. And suddenly I am brand new -- like a neighborhood kid who just got invited to VBS and is discovering God and church for the first time.

The problem is I've spent so many years deciding what my faith is NOT that I'm not sure what my faith IS.

But I do know this. After all that time shredding, ripping and tearing away, I am left with this: Jesus is Jesus and God is God. I guess I can just rebuild from there.

Or maybe I won't.

Maybe that's all there is.

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  • At Sun Jul 08, 02:01:00 PM, Anonymous Mia said…

    I know how you feel. I was also raised in and still attend the Church of Christ. My father is a preacher. I have been taught all my life that we are the only one's who are doing it right. As an adult, i have questioned to myself why we do it this way, when the bible doesn't really say how to do certain things. The church i attend pretty much condemns anyone who doesn't do it "our way" (including the other Church of Christ a couple miles away who does things different than we do and are going in a different direction). It has made me not like my faith at times (like when i got married and i had to find a church that would allow me to play a dvd of instrumental music because some churches will not allow that at weddings even). I don't know who's right or who's wrong, and i don't try to say i do. I really enjoy your blog, and i like what you have to say. Thanks for saying what you feel, and keep it up.

  • At Sun Jul 08, 05:37:00 PM, Anonymous Jared Cramer said…

    This is a great post, Deanna. I grew up in the Churches of Christ as well, did an undergraduate degree in Bible at a small Church of Christ college and then an MDiv at ACU. After my first year of the MDiv, though, all the questions, doubts and disagreements came to be too much and I gave in and entered The Episcopal Church. I'm now a little from a year away from ordination to the priesthood in that tradition and have found my own new faith to be a tremendous blessing

    All that to say, enjoy your new-found faith. It's a beautiful thing indeed.

  • At Sun Jul 08, 06:31:00 PM, Blogger Keith Brenton said…

    I remain a friendly alien within the Church of Christ where I contentedly work. I believe differently. I am unorthodox. Beyond my blog, I do not teach my different beliefs. I continue to worship and work where I do because I have grown to love this community of faith, these people of God, more and more for about 23 years now. I can worship anywhere and work wherever they'll have me. Every time I think about the ways God is working among them - with all of the differences, strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, gifts and callings among them - I feel kind of new again, too.

  • At Sun Jul 08, 09:07:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'm glad you are who God made you to be. You never give up, you just keep following God's path for the life He wants you to lead. Twisting and turning, through unexpected ups and downs. I love that about you!!

    On a completely different subject: I read one sentence in the ACU Today, "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." and thought... that has to be Deana. Sure enough it was. Am I your #1 fan, or what??? This is the second time I've done that.

  • At Mon Jul 09, 08:21:00 AM, Blogger KentF said…

    Deana - wonderful thoughts you've posted that I can totally relate to. Usually I come here for a laugh and maybe a zinger or two, I dunno, something about the pink format....

    But, this one really hit home. It's beyond odd to me that, while our oldest daughter is loving ACU, we've left the CofC. My journey of ripping/tearing has been highly similar to yours - though I'll say womens role in ministry has been much higher up the ripping dis-assembling food chain for me. I actually didn't know it at the time until we placed membership at a Christian church that has women elders, teachers and ministers. What a blessing it has been to have half of your membership actually free to worship and serve God freely without the yoke of sub-servantism! Thanks.

  • At Mon Jul 09, 10:33:00 AM, Anonymous Angie said…

    My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins are all members of CoC. We have elders, deacons, song leaders and even a preacher in the family. I am the first one to leave and go somewhere else. My Mom has given me the hardest time about it. I have had to free myself from the guilt and all of the things I feel like where programmed into my head since I was born. But once I really started reading the bible for myself and thinking for myself, I realized that there were many things I do not agree with. I refuse to spend my time trying to save all the other Christians who are "doing it wrong" when I should be focused on those who don't even know Christ. I refuse to argue over what we should and shouldn't do in the worship service. I have seen too many CoC split over silly little issues. And then there is the music. This Sunday in church I head Blessed Assurance for the first time with muscial instruments. It sounded like a whole new song.

  • At Mon Jul 09, 10:44:00 AM, Blogger elizabeth said…

    I have gone to the C of C my entire life and have never heard that we were the only ones doing it right and were the only ones going to heaven.

    The first time I ever heard someone say that was toward the end of high school and it was someone (a total non church goer) asking me if I felt that way, which I thought was the craziest thing I ever heard.

    I have always been surrounded with Christians doing the best they can and interpreting the scriptures the best they can while extending grace to other Christians going to different churches. Like my dad always said, "Billy Graham isn't the enemy!"

    I am saddened that the church I love has a tainted reputation. Then again, my aunts and uncles who are Catholic feel the same way about their church!

  • At Mon Jul 09, 12:57:00 PM, Blogger Liane Jerry said…

    Interesting comments on faith. I grew up with an atheist father and a COC mother. I was baptized in a COC when I was twelve. My comment isn't about COC so much as a comment about "religion". So many try to put God in a box, a place where He makes sense in our world. I have discovered that God is bigger and beyond women in leadership or music during worship or only the KJV is the "real" Bible. My breakthrough came when I decided that I knew only two things for sure 1) God is good and 2) He is good ALL the time. Once I decided to make that stand the rest has been easier. I leave it to God to explain Himself. He is perfectly capable. I would love to talk more about this. It is probably my favorite subject.

  • At Mon Jul 09, 01:48:00 PM, Blogger Paul Fagala said…

    Wouldn't it be nice if we would ALL take off the designations and just be Christians? Seems like that would be something that would please God to no end. I have come a long way in my journey as well. I came from a Church of Christ that believed that their version of the C of C was the only ones going to heaven. I remember driving by C of C churches that had Bible classes, paid preachers and (gasp!)kitchens in the building and feeling sorry for them that they were going to hell and didn't even know it. I have learned as I have grown up to put my trust in God to perform his saving acts instead of the name on the sign in front of the church I attend.

  • At Mon Jul 09, 02:03:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Deana - I have found in my personal spiritual journey, that whenever I am ready and willing to stretch and grow, God is faithful to "allow" (force!) me to do that! Almost every time it has been after difficult circumstances, and it has always been moving me toward spiritual maturity. I remember feeling the same way you seem to be feeling right now about 5 years ago. God also used a new church home to grow me... I have learned so much more in the past 5 years than I did in the previous 10 years of being a new Christian. What freedom there is when we allow ourselves to be open to His truth unclouded by our opinions and what we've always known.

    Maybe it's like Christian puberty? Perhaps a growth spurt and new "development" :-) God is Good...and His Word is so necessary during these times. We should wake up every morning as a "new Christian!"

    Thank you for sharing your growth!


  • At Tue Jul 10, 07:47:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post Deana...I totally relate...and still attend a church which does not have C of C in the title BUT it is... and at 52 I am thinking of moving on...The problem with C of C theology is that it doesn't work when you aren't insulated...or if something goes wrong (eek) divorce. Love your thoughts and your blog.

  • At Wed Jul 11, 02:38:00 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    Oh my! You're going to hell! Oh no! You must turn back, turn back, turn back before it's too late, the end is nigh!

    ...just kidding.

    Me, too. Organized religion isn't doing it for me right now, but every so often I dip my toe back in to see how it -and me- are doing.

  • At Fri Jul 13, 06:16:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I like this post, Deana. You touch on a few things that I've struggled with for YEARS. Maybe I'll e-mail you privately.

  • At Wed Jul 18, 07:44:00 AM, Blogger marcia-marcia-marcia said…

    I can't give an exact percentage, but my colleagues tell me that the students at ACU are no longer mostly COC. Around 50% of students claim the COC at their denomination of choice.
    I've even read a blog by an Episcopal theology student attending ACU (Episcopchick...or something like that).
    She's an amazing person...I know her personally b/c she is in the ACU band AND a knitter.
    Faculty at ACU, however, are still required to be active members of the COC even though our student body is shifting.
    You should post more on this generates lots of discussion!

  • At Mon Jul 30, 05:10:00 PM, Blogger TCS_Architect said…

    I haven't stopped by your blog in a long, long time but did so tonight and saw this post. I have a very long pedigree in the CofC and when we left at the end of last year it at times was not pretty. some people don't even realize how they sound and others know exactly what they are saying.

    But the good news is a man I respect much and think of as a spiritual mentor told me that there are lots of people out there who love God with all their hearts and love people like Jesus. I still as I know you do love people in the CofC but at times someplace else is like breathing fresh air for the first time ever.

  • At Fri Sep 14, 01:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Deanna - I also grew up in the COC, my family heritage in it goes back generations. Disenchantment with the church is normal and expected at some point when we begin to own our faith. We are all flawed at best. Love God and your neighbor as yourself (enemies included). You know. That is what keeps our spiritual balance as we trace the steps of Jesus.

    God's best to you.


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