fear and self-loathing and something new
I think I was twenty five or twenty six when I could admit to myself that I didn’t consider myself Christian anymore. Of course, I couldn’t admit it to anyone else.
I was terrified. I hated myself. I hated the people that I felt had destroyed my faith. I blamed our preacher and the churches. I was furious and afraid and some part of me still clung to the notion that hell was real and I had just purchased my one way ticket.
However, something had begun to happen. I was making friends outside of a set of people who believed as I once had. It was something I would never have done before, other than as an attempt to convert. I moved out on my own. I had a job that I had come to love and I was exploring who I was outside of what I believed.
I was happier than I had been in a long time.
I had put away all of my religious materials and gave myself six months to not read or study, to not consider, to live a life not based on myth and belief and fear. In those six months I became friends with people from a wide range of back grounds. Christians of many denominations, a couple of Jewish people, a Buddhist, a handful of atheists and agnostics, people who could talk about religion and faith without the hellfire and brimstone.
And then I met Max. Max was…a colorful character. He was mid -fifties at the time and he lived in the apartment complex where I lived. He was part hippie flower child, part Texas good old boy, part Native American nature guide. He knew so much about so many things. We met in the laundry room and struck up a conversation while he helped me fold sheets.
He invited me for tea later in the week, which he served in hand-thrown ceramic mugs while we sat on the floor in his apartment. He asked me questions I couldn’t answer, and gave me advice I will never forget.
He told me that no one could tell me what to believe, and that it was up to me to search my heart and my soul and define what I believed. He gave me three sheets of paper, and told me to use one to write down everything I believed beyond a shadow of a doubt. The second one was for everything I did not believe with just as much surety. The last was for the things I hoped were true, but had doubts or hadn’t made up my mind about.
Max told me to take my time, that I didn’t need to fill these pages overnight. That some people took a lifetime to fill them, that they change as we change, and that was okay. Belief, he told me, is a product of experience. If it remains static and unchanged, we are dying inside.
I had never thought about it that way. I took the pieces of paper home. They stayed blank for days while I considered it. The first thing I wrote down was on the “I Believe” page. It was “there is something out there”. It was the start of something new.