As I am opening new doors, I might as well open this floodgate. After a lifetime journey with religion, I am still far from my destination. However, I do know that I am currently residing on an island unavailable for colonizing or evangelizing. This island is a safe place I found after battling the raging seas of religion, specifically Christianity. So, let me tell you how I got here.
I was born in the sea. My parents were both Christians. As I grew up, we would sporadically attend church. The church we went to was a half-an-hour away so it wasn’t always easy for us to attend. Often I wouldn’t want to go. The worst part was waking up on a Sunday and not quite knowing if we were going to church or not. I remember no longer asking and just waiting until around 9. If it made it to 9:30, we weren’t going. Part of not wanting to go was needing to dress nicely. Back then, I was under the impression that little girls wore skirts and dresses as nice clothing. I hated it. Not only did I not feel comfortable or me, but when I came home I couldn’t just go out and play. I had to change into clothes to play in, not to mention I wanted to get out of those clothes as soon as possible.
I never attended Sunday School, I preferred to sit and listen to the sermon. I rarely found the material really inspiring or life-changing, just interesting. As a kid I was still learning how the world worked, and what this sea contained. There were people of various levels of experience with this sea. Ultimately, it seemed like those who were most experienced did their best to show the way to the others. While I was attending this church, I was also attending a Lutheran school. Our religion class was filled with memorizing bible verses. We were taught JOY (Jesus, Others, You) not YOJ (You, Others, Jesus). We were supposed to serve him and love him above all else, and then others, and then yourself. Doing anything for yourself was considered selfish and wrong. It wasn’t considered humble, and that sacrificing yourself for others was the right thing to do. Doing the right thing will bring you joy, they said.
When my dad got diagnosed, he became more interested in Christianity. This was to be expected when you are suddenly facing your own mortality. We went to church more, and when we didn’t go to church, we had family church at home. He was convinced that it was all real. I have no doubt he is in the heaven that he thought he would go to. His death played a major role in where I am today in several facets of my life. People would say that “He is in a better place now” and “He’s in heaven now with so-and-so”. That helped me realize that people use religion as a coping mechanism, for our mortality and our grief.
In the military, I used religion as a coping mechanism. Mainly, it was a great escape on a Sunday where either we would have to be cleaning or we could go to church. We got to go somewhere else, sing and forget about training for awhile. I spent the majority of my first basic training reading a small new testament bible. I made it through to Romans.
In college, I sought out an organization. I was drawn to the Navigators because it was a close-knit group who would remember your name. After a year, I drifted away. I didn’t feel like everyone else. I didn’t hear God, and I struggled with prayer. They wanted you to pray aloud with them, and I never knew what to say. It felt silly, asking this “omniscient being” for anything. If God was truly all-knowing, then I wouldn’t have to say anything.
After the Navigators, I met someone who went to a local church in Duluth. I grew to love the people of this church. I found Firebolt a home within the church. I found friends and a community. They did their best to help me through my battle with mental illness. After several months, I soon found that they didn’t have answers to my questions. I tried to challenge them, and to their credit, their faith in what they believe was so strong that they just didn’t have answers for me. They believed unquestionably, and that was what they strived for. As a skeptic, I was trying to fit in this puzzle that I didn’t belong.
As I grew in the comfort of my identity, I found that there was no way that I would be welcome in that church for much longer. They don’t accept my sexuality. I came out to a few of my closer friends within the church and soon found that even though they still love me, they don’t love my lifestyle and cannot accept it. I knew that other members of the church would not be as kind to me. Knowing that soon enough I will be out in the open with my “lifestyle”, it became clear that staying there would just be a detriment to my life. That was the last church that I stepped into.
After so many years of battling the sea, trying to find my way, I was exhausted. I gave up on the sea, and it left me washed up on this island.
Since then, I have flourished without religion. I know to some it may be scary to hear this, and you may not want to believe it. How could someone find Joy without Jesus? What kind of purpose do I serve? Clearly, if I went back, I would no longer be bisexual or have a mental illness (this is sarcasm for those of you who actually think that). You can think what you want, but if you’ve seen me lately you would know differently. Sure, I still struggle, but it is getting better every single day. Recently, I have people who come up to me and tell me how much happier I seem, how more comfortable I look. I’m the happiest I ever remember being. This is because I am true to myself and I am learning to take care of myself.
I don’t know if I will go to heaven. I don’t know what happens after we die. I don’t know if God exists. I do know that there are great people who believe they know all of those things. I also know great people who believe they don’t know all of those things. I wholly support you in whatever you believe as long as it pertains to you and not your views on others. For now, I’ll stay on my island of peace, away from the sea that caused much turmoil and seasickness.
Thank you all for reading, and for continually supporting me on my many journeys.