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.