Monday, March 9, 2015

12 years a Christian

Today is an anniversary for me - 12 years since I became a committed and practising Christian. I had been raised in a Roman Catholic family, but hadn't given religion an awful lot of thought since leaving home in my late teens.
I had met a life partner, had children, bought a house, gotten married (in that order) without religion in my life.
I had probably always believed in some greater being or force, but had not given it a name.
I had dabbled with paganism (I loved nature and the seasons, still do), flirted with Hinduism (I enjoyed Yoga, still do) and set foot inside a church once in a blue moon (I liked the peace and serenity, still do).

Then, in my mid-thirties, I had a conversion experience. One evening. Alone. In my kitchen.
It was a very personal and precious moment, so I am not going to blog about that. But I want to reflect on the last 12 years.

I started going to a lively evangelical free church - 'Bible-believing', 'spirit-filled', with energetic worship and long sermons. It took a pretty literal interpretation of scripture. Creationism wasn't openly mentioned, but seemed to be covertly implied; homosexuality was frowned upon (in the 'Hate the sin, but love the sinner' kind of way); women had an inferior role to their husbands.
I was never comfortable with those things, but for a long time felt I could hold that tension and accommodate the differences.

In the end it wasn't the differences in opinion which drew me away, but the fact that having different opinions was discouraged. If one had a question, there was only one answer - that of the pastor/leadership.

I can't function like that. In fact, the worst thing you can do is to tell me what I can/cannot believe.
Atheist friends have taught me that our convictions can only be our own. We hold them, we own them and - if we are honest with ourselves - we review them regularly.

I demand for myself an immense level of freedom. The freedom to mull things over and choose for myself my very personal path.
Some call that cherry picking. I call that being true to myself! :)

I find beauty and meaning in all sorts of religious and non-religious traditions, practices and ideas.
I have found a home (for now at least) in the Church of England in a church where nobody tells me what I can and cannot do, where I am respected and appreciated as I am and where the congregation is very active in social justice and in the local community.

Has becoming a Christian made me a different person? Yes and no.
Many of my values have always been there.
Genetically determined?
Implanted during childhood?
Willed by God?
Who knows.

But I find that my faith crystallises certain values out for me and has become a permanent framework to remind me to strive to be a better person. And yes, I believe to strive to become the person God wants me to be.
Principles like forgiveness, perseverance, grace and patience are things which my faith constantly calls me to do.
To not give in to bitterness, anger and cynicism.
To hold onto hope and trust and love. To believe in a better world and our (god-given) ability to build it.

My faith has changed over the years and it will no doubt continue to change. It seems to mature and become clearer and sharper. The more questions I ask and the more difficult conversations I have, the more I understand what it is I believe and why. The more comfortable I also become in being clear and honest about the many things I don't understand.

Despite it's tricky connotations, I have always found the description 'being born again' quite accurate.
Choosing to become a Christian and essentially follow the teachings of Jesus was a fresh beginning and a commitment for me. And one I have not regretted in 12 years.
If you are one of those people who have honed and sharpened my faith, I thank you for your companionship.

Whether you are a Christian or a follower of any other faith or none, I am glad to know you.