I have mentioned this earlier but it needs to be mentioned again; The church loves the potential, not the person. This was originally said by my wife and is such a succinct summary of our church experiences that I often find myself quoting her in an attempt to keep conversations shorter than the few hours it seems to take to unpack the inevitable ‘why’ questions that would pop up. In addition to that observation we have also found that there tends to be a honeymoon period when one starts regularly attending a new church before the church’s behavioral compliance kicks in and a line is drawn. It all seems so conflicted, contrary, contrasting, and contradictory that one is left confused at best.
At least that has been the languaged summary of my emotional experience of church to date.
Back then, in the context of the story, after having left the cult – sort of – and we began our journey back into the larger church community, I had no language at all for my various experiences. Instead, I opted to keep my mouth shut until spoken to and my opinion was asked for, which wasn’t very often.
And the church loved me as a result.
I became involved with sound and other Sunday morning ‘duties’. My wife got involved in some various ministries and together for a season we ran the youth ministry in the church. It wasn’t that these things were insincere – for the opposite was true – we – I enjoyed what I was doing and poured myself into it all. I loved the feeling of belonging somewhere, experiencing the intimacy and connection that naturally comes with being a part of a larger group of people. We made some good connections with people and some relationships were formed – dare I say, even friendships.
But, and this is a loaded but, a but shared from a place of reflecting on it all, trying to make sense of these experiences in someway that translates into words on a page, from the place of today, writing about yesterday, which always skews things, regardless of how hard I may work to reflect the moment in the moment.
My but is convoluted and I apologize for that for it captures a dance between my old self, walking through the emotional experiences of having left a cult, but being relentlessly pursued by the cult leader, now entering a larger church community and figuring out how to ‘be’ in this place, while licking my circumstantial wounds – a result of walking that dark valley path for the previous few years – all without a larger church community in which to find strength, perhaps, from. The dance is between my old self and my new self, as my old self provides the emotional experiences and my new self provides the language. It is like cheating on a test, but perhaps this is the best that any of us have – the melding together of past events – our emotional experiences, mixed with today’s language of those experiences.
I have worked hard over the years to find a way to have both my emotional experiences and the language that accompanies them, come together in the moment, but the results have been horrible. Apparently, the church loves my potential, until they hear me speak and then they love my departure.
So how does this translate back to the me in this story who had re-entered the larger church community, dodging bullets from the cult leader who was focused on shaming me back into submission to him?
It reveals a contradiction. A brokenness within me that took years to heal – years to find the language to understand what was going on. Years of feeling gross and yucky inside, upset with whatever had just happened but feeling like I had no choice in the matter. Then, on the flip side, years of enjoying those honeymoon moments with the various churches, of feeling accepted, loved, appreciated, connected, and part of an intimate community that at times would reach out and care for me and for my family in very real, tangible ways.
It was enough to make the sanest man crazy.