Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Equally Choked!

Leaving organized religion not only was a big deal in of itself for me, but it presented CGC's with several theological "challenges" as well. The main reason being that I left church and my husband and kids stayed. People within the system didn't quite know how to deal with this fact. It tweaked with their status quo...big time! The reactions ranged from people seeming shocked that we weren't both on "the same page" to some asking overt questions about it. They wondered how it was working out for us, was it a challenge?, were we both ok with not doing the same religious ritual?, (my words.) It became clear to me that people within the church simply weren't comfortable with the fact that I had left and my husband hadn't. It became clear to me that we had broken one of the cardinal rules of the church: Be Ye Equally Yoked.
It dawned on me that within church circles couples are expected to have the same expressions of faith, worship, etc. Heaven forbid that one would feel to seek God outisde of the church and the other remain within the church. I think people were surprised when I told them that my husband and I were perfectly fine with doing different things on Sunday. Honestly, after I left the church our marriage greatly improved. The longer I remained in the church system the more our marriage became, well, equally choked.
So where did the idea come from that husbands and wives need to express their devotion to God in the exact same way? I think the verse about being unequally yoked, (2 Cor 6:14), is the origin of this idea. The kicker is that this verse is talking about being unequally yoked with unbelievers! This has nothing to do with people of the same faith. I would even argue that this verse may not pertain to marriage, (but that is a whole different post.) Another reason I think people were in such a kafuffle over this issue goes back to the verse about wives submitting to their husbands, (Eph 5: 21-22.) I did some research on this verse, in the Greek, and discovered that the part about wives submitting to their husbands is only one example of submission. The verse begins with, "Submit yourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ." It seems to me that this is a mutual submission - wives to husbands, husbands to wives. In our situation I felt strongly that God had spoken to me that it was time to leave organized religion. My husband then submitted to me in my leaving. I then submitted to him staying, (I really wanted him to leave as well, but now have peace with the decission he made at the time.) If we hadn't submitted to each other I think we would have a boat load of tension and stress in our marriage right now!
All through my years of being in the church there was the unspoken rule that husbands and wives need to be on the exact same page spiritually: attend the same church, be involved in the same ministry, etc. I'm now seeing that this is not what God expects for me. There may be couples out there with the same calling of course, but I believe in many cases couples have various callings on their lives and varied expressions of faith. I wonder what would the church look like if more women stepped out of the box religion has put them in and into the ministry God had called them to...

Monday, April 26, 2010

True Confessions of an Ex "CGC"

So today I was out shopping with my kids for a teacher present at a local boutique in our lovely coastal town. This normal every day kind of outing turned into what felt like a covert operation in the end. It started out innocent enough. My kids and I were looking at beautiful local hand made jewelry in the shop and I was admiring some of the handiwork of one of my talented friends. I casually mentioned that I knew the jewelry designer. The store worker's eyes lit up and she asked, "Oh really, where from?" It just so happens that the designer is a Christian. My brain went into warp speed and I'm not sure if it was Holy Spirit or my quick deductive reasoning, but I realized that I was 99.9% positive that this person was a church going Christian, (CGC for short.) Normally my response would have been, "I know her from church friends." But instead my response came out, "I know her through friends." I felt this answer was honest, although not detailed honest, which isn't lying after all. Her response was an unenthusiastic, "Oh." Lucky for me my daughter didn't like the store wares, so we were off quickly. The lady pleasantly told me that if we didn't find what we wanted we were welcome to come back. In the back of my head I heard, "Not a chance in he** lady!"

When I got home I had a chance to sit down and analyze what had transpired. I realized that for the first time in my life I had zero desire to make a new connection with a possible CGC. I had no inkling of desire to further envelope myself into the Christian bubble so to I didn't. At first I questioned myself - was it really ok to not let this person know who I was? Does Jesus call us to be friend every believer we come across? I feel that as Christians we have a sort of false openness at times. Just because we have Jesus in common we are expected to open up every orifice of our being and leave no stone unturned. But is this really what Jesus expects us to do, or is this something the church has told us is "right?"

I have friends, friends who are Christians and friends who aren't Christians. I have deep relationships with some of these friends, (and yes, some of them aren't Christians!) They know the things close to my heart, my happy moments, my not so happy moments, and everything in between. When it comes down to it we humans were created with a free will. If Jesus doesn't force himself into our lives then why should we allow others to? Is it ok for me as a believer to have only one toe in the CGC community?

I have to say I'm quite proud of myself for the words I used today in that store. I think it was a small breakthrough for me. I drew the line for myself. I chose whether or not to enter into the Christian bubble, and right then I wasn't feeling it. Maybe the next time I will...but for today the store down the street will do. (Oh, and the teacher loved the present!)

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Like Poop Through A Goose

I guess you could say that my spiritual journey in the church has been far from ordinary. When I look back at some of the people God has brought into my life at key moments I am astounded. These are people who have radically shaped charismatic movements in the church's history. Interestingly, some of them have been the most unlikely characters. God seems to pick people like this to confound man's wisdom. Many have asked why God would use them for such great things; if the church were to choose great leaders they would not have been on the list. One of these people is Lonnie Frisbee. He was a wild hippie kid off of the streets of southern California who had a radical salvation experience and ended up in the forefront of the Holy Spirit's move in Calvary Chapel. When Lonnie showed up the miraculous happened - the Holy Spirit moved on people with such incredible manifestations as hadn't been seen since the early part of the century most likely. Lonnie was discipled under Kathryn Khulman and became the poster child for the Jesus movement. He even graced the cover of Life magazine.

But there was another side to Lonnie....a side that would leave a permanent smudge on his legacy. He would party on Saturday then show up Sunday and minister in the church. Then it was revealed that he had one foot in the gay lifestyle. I've read many sides to the story, and what I've assessed is that the church leaders of the time needed Lonnie regardless of his short comings. When he said, "Come Holy Spirit" all heaven broke loose. He was the show stopper, and for the show to go on he was a necessary commodity. Ultimately the church leaders curtailed Lonnie's involvement in the church. He was never able to rid himself of his demons and ultimately died of AIDS. In one book called "The History of the Vineyard Movement" Lonnie's story is relegated to a few pages in the appendix.

I met Lonnie at my church when I was in high school. Up until this time my church life was ordinary. When he showed up one of the things he said was, "The holy spirit is going to move through you like poop through a goose!", and indeed he was right. The manifestations that ensued ranged from people being thrown through the air and shaking like a thousand volts of electricity was pulsing through them to a person who sat frozen like a stone for hours while God spoke to her. No one could deny that God was present.

Lonnie took a ministry team to South Africa shortly after he ministered to our church and I was going to part of another team following. My passport was stamped and I was prepared to go, but it was around that time that Lonnie's ministry was coming to an end. I look back and wish that trip would have happened....The last time I saw him was in Kauai at a worship conference about three years later. He looked tired and worn - a shadow of his former self. I remember sharing with him what God was doing in my life and he replied to me, "It's a legacy." At the time I didn't realize how completely accurate and prophetic that statement was. I'm extremely proud to call Lonnie one of my spiritual fathers. Although I knew him only briefly his life and ministry had a profound impact on me. He showed me that God loves to use the nobodys and outcasts of this world to do the greatest exploits.

If you're listening Lonnie - thanks for rocking my world.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Identity: Ground Zero

So it's very late but I have some thoughts that need to hit the key board before they fly away into the night. I was flipping through the channels tonight and stumbled upon some sort of a random university channel. A professor of psychology was discussing the sociology and psychology of religion and its effects on identity. According to research and studies religion creates a strong sense of identity, community and "safety" for people. Those who are involved in a religious circle are far less prone to depression and health issues. Church and religion form a sort of mental safety net for people in which their identity is so deeply rooted that the dependence on them can lift and alter psychiatric problems, addiction, etc. The conclusion one might make in regards to these studies could be that in our religious communities we depend on God through one another, but I beg to differ and here's why. The study didn't include any Christians who were outside of the religious system. What happens if you take people out of these systems and leave them to rely solely on God? I would love to see a study conducted on Christians who leave the system and find out what happens to their identity at that point. I think that far more of our identity is enmeshed within our social circles that we would be willing to admit.

I began to analyze this fact and have been realizing that as a Christian my identity became extremely wrapped up in the church and my social network within the church. This is shocking to me because I have never been one to "go with the flow" and I pride myself on being an individualist....but I'm seeing that somehow, somewhere I traded in my identity for one that is not my own. The absolutely insane part of this whole thing is that we're bombarded with messages in the church about having our identity, "rooted and grounded" in Christ, but when it comes down to it the system simply will not allow us to do this! The unspoken rules of the Christian sub culture dominate. Our dependence is fully on one another for what to think, how to think, what questions to ask, and when where what and how we do everything - that we have bought into a herd mentality.

I'm going to change the channel now, (literally.) I flip the channel to watch one of my favorite shows of all time - Project Runway. For those of you who don't know I love to sew and design, and I adore watching design shows. The finale is on tonight, and three designers are competing for first place. They each have designed a clothing collection which will be shown at Bryant Park - one of the biggest fashion shows in the country. Although they all have a successful show only one person is chosen to be winner. The winner has not only had a successful eye catching show, but he pushes the envelope with his design and takes it up a notch. His line has matured and his designs are creative and innovative, (and incredible, I would wear any one of them in a heart beat!) The other designers collections are amazing as well, beautiful and well done - but they lack new inspiration and growth in the design. By taking his designs to "a new level" the designers clothes became distinct and individual. The winner said, "I'm a risk taker, I feel you have to push the envelope all the time, otherwise you're going to blend in." My identity is in the process of unraveling; the knots and tangles of religion are being slowly sorted out. I want to be able to go to Bryant Park someday and win...but for now I find myself pulling apart the knots one at a time...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

From the Outside Looking In

Since I've walked away from the church I'm beginning to see many aspects about the church culture I couldn't see while inside. For years I've heard the term "Christian sub-culture", and I knew there were things about us that were a bit, strange, but the reality of it didn't really come into full view until I was out. I think being inside the cocoon of religion keeps you from seeing how we really look to others outside...there is no way to see how we appear to the outside world until you're out.

One of the most obvious and disturbing things I see is that the friendships I had within the church were rooted solely in the church culture. Now that I've left I find that most of the friends I did have weren't really friends after all. Our friendship was completely dependent on the church setting. Although I have many other things in common with these people besides church they're not enough to keep the friendships going. I tried to keep connected with people, but what I realized was that I was putting out all of the energy to keep the friendships alive. It just wasn't worth the energy - it made me exhausted and frustrated. I battled with constant feelings of rejection. Friendships consist of a give and take, and I felt tired of being the one dragging along a one sided relationship.

I'm learning that there are huge risks associated with leaving, and one of them is loneliness. The church provided a social setting for me that I felt comfortable in. There was always a Bible study, small group, invitations to the church only elite potlucks and parties. Leaving it meant leaving all of that behind. The hardest part of it is I realize that those friendships I had within the church weren't built on the foundation of Jesus' love. They were social friendships much like the cliques in high school. When you leave you fly off the radar - you simply cease to exist.

Now I find myself asking this question: Who is my social Christian circle? Answer: I don't have one. I have a few Christian friends who are like minded; people who I know I'll be friends with for a very long time. People who are very out of the box non-religious folks. I can say crazy off the wall things to them and they don't cock their head to one side and say, "Yeah, uh huh..." or give me the deer in the headlights look. I have a few friends, (I can count them on one hand), who are still part of the system. Sometimes I wonder why they put forth effort to remain friends with me...but I'm glad they do.

Then I have friends who are not part the church. I refuse to call them non-Christians - that just sounds demeaning honestly, doesn't it? The Non people from the country of Non....come on, really? I used to see these people as a conquest, but now I see them as friends and I love being with them. They show me aspects of life that I've never seen before...and the really amazing thing is that they didn't give me the time of day until I was out of the system. I don't blame them one bit. I used to be scared of them,, terrified! It was as if they had a lethal disease I could catch. Their sin was contagious. But now I'm seeing that I'm just as much a part of humanity as they are. They're God's people too, and I feel honored that they give me the time of day. I see in them a part of life, beauty, and even God that was obscured from me within the church walls. They have been one of the delightful unexpected surprises waiting for me to discover along my journey and I feel as though I have only just scratched the surface of who they are.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bumper Sticker Sighting

Yesterday I saw these bumper stickers side by side on a car:

Coexist/ My Boss is a Jewish Carpenter

These two messages side by side send out a powerful message. Interestingly enough I have often thought long and hard about the Coexist one with regards to the church and how we live side by side with other religions. Do we exist peacefully along side of them? Do we love other Muslims, Hindus, New Agers, etc. with Jesus' love? How does he expect us to treat them? Just because we don't agree with their beliefs does it mean we can't still love them with Jesus' love, not condemn them, and maybe even become friends with them? Does Jesus call us to even more than coexisting perhaps? I feel like somewhere along the line we have driven other religions away from Jesus by our rules and regulations. Then we wonder why every religion is accepted in our area...except for Christianity of course. What went wrong and where?? Where's the love? Why do people hate Christians so much? I don't have all the answers on this yet, but I'm seeking God for His love and acceptance toward all religions...

WTF Would Jesus Do? Discuss

Monday, April 19, 2010

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

I'm sure many of you have seen Tim Burton's movie Alice In Wonderland which came out recently. I find the movie a remarkable analogy to my flight from the institutional church and my subsequent discovery of following Jesus outside of the church walls. After finally alluding the expectations placed on me by the church culture I've fallen down the rabbit hole and found myself on the strangest of journeys. I was raised in the church and have been involved in some kind of ministry for the past 20 years. Being removed from its structure and confines is quite a radical experience. You see, when a person falls down a hole without warning there is nothing to grab onto and no way to know how long the fall will be which is a most unsettling feeling. You hold your breath and hope it's not your last. I think I have just finally landed with a loud thud and am beginning to eye the little bottle on the table...

Since I was raised in church culture everything about God, Jesus, church, etc. was taught to me in strict rule format. "If you want to be a Christian you have to follow these rules." "Don't question what I'm saying; that would be rebellion. God hates rebellion." "Don't be depressed. Depression comes from Satan - don't give in to it." "Submit to your father, then submit to your husband. If you don't agree with them then follow along anyway", (i.e. you have no voice.) Choice was never an option for me. I moved from the church culture I was raised in straight into Bible school. Although I was already beginning to see some inconsistencies with the system I felt called into "the ministry." One day while sitting in my church growth class my teacher said something that I'll never forget. He said, "The state the church is in can be likened to fighting for deck seats on the Titanic." Those words kept coming back to me over and over again. I didn't fully understand what he had said yet, but my journey out of the system and down the rabbit hole had begun.

Fast forward fifteen years. The last church I attended was the third church in a string of confusing painful institutional church experiences, which I will go into more detail with eventually here. By the time I started going to my last church I now see that I had mastered going through the motions. I was involved with ministry and went on an international missions trip, but there was a part of me that realized things weren't working. Why? That answer is much longer than one blog post could hold. My hope is that in writing this blog I can help sort through the whys...

Anyway, back to the story. About six months before my departure I was beginning to feel done. I talked to my husband and told him something wasn't right. Some days I dreaded going to church and having to put on the happy church smile. We prayed, we talked, and the tension over my leaving increased. My last day there ended with me walking out mid sermon. I couldn't play the game anymore. I left crying and I looked at my husband and said, "I can't do this anymore." He finally agreed it was time for me to go. So I left, and I've never looked back once.

Since this time I've been falling down the rabbit hole. All of the rules, expectations and religion of church have been fading out of view. Some call it deprogramming, although I see it more as culture shock. I've come out of church culture and into freedom culture. I'm finding out that Jesus is a different person than I had constructed him to be. He is far more loving and accepting and much less judgmental and black and white. Organic church is the label many use for Jesus followers who have left the church. I prefer to say I'm on a journey to know Jesus more. I'm on an adventure following the white rabbit...where he's headed I'm not sure, but I'm going to follow.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Welcome to the Freedom Chronicles! My name is April. Here you will find the ramblings, thoughts, reflections and (hopefully) insights of a person trying to follow Jesus outside of the walls of organized religion. My journey has been a long one full of twists and turns I would have never imagined but one of great adventure and promise as well. If someone had told me 20 years ago I would leave the church I would have laughed loudly in their seems God has a way of taking us down the most unexpected of roads, doesn't it? The things in life which seem the most sure are bound to change and then some. These changes have brought me to a place of standing in wonder and amazement of who God is. Everything I learned about church has been thrown out the window and I've been launched into the process of rediscovery. So, please sit back and relax. Pull up a chair, (and put on your 3D glasses if you wish), and enjoy the movie of my life.