The question shouldn't have shocked me all these years later, but it did. I was taken back to another time, when I was an awkward school kid living on the west side of GR. A place where the next question after what is your name? was what church do you go to?
There was a moment of panic before I answered the person on the phone last week, as there always used to be. The truth never seemed to be the "right" answer when I was a kid. It always led to more questions, judgments, and often left me feeling like whatever I believed wasn't good enough.
Back when I was that little kid I thought it an odd question to ask someone what church they went to -- as going to church in my family was for big holidays only--otherwise we were up north at our cabin in the woods on weekends. Church was only a small part of who I was, so when I answered I was truthful and said I rarely went to church as I was out of town. That answer was clearly not the "right" one as I received so many of the oh you are one of those kids looks, I eventually began answering instead with the name of the church I rarely attended, First Park Congregational Church.
Unfortunately that only led to more questions like 'what denomination is that'? Are you a Christian or a Catholic? To little me, this was confusing. Church to me was a stale, old, scary place that smelled like old ladies perfume and where I had to sit still and quiet and try not to fall asleep through a bunch of mumble jumbo. I never liked it there. When I was old enough to get up and leave the main room for the kid classrooms partway through the service, I often got lost if I didn't have someone to follow. It was terrifying to my little self to be lost amidst the musty old smell and endless identical doors. The only part of church I even remotely liked was talking to people (my cousins and grandma in particular) after church in the big open room where they served punch and cookies.
What denomination was I? Clearly I needed to ask some questions because I didn't know what that meant. I made it a point to ask questions, and anyone who knows me knows I ask a lot of questions if I don't understand something. I asked for years actually. In high school I made it my mission to try as many of the local churches as I could to find one that seemed to accept me as I was, and that seemed to make sense. As I learned what denominations were, and saw how many different faiths, churches, and variations of beliefs were out there, I got overwhelmed with all their crazy "rules". Every time I thought I'd found the one for me, it didn't take long for me to realize that something was off.
We can't do that on Wednesday night as we have to go to youth group, no I can't play on Saturday as it it our day of rest, or it isn't right to mow your lawn on Sunday.
Well I can't go to the movies or listen to that kind of music, but I do it secretly.
Our church thinks dance is evil so we can't have a prom at our school, but our parents have a private party for us instead where we get to dance.
You have to accept Jesus Christ into your life or you will go to hell like (so and so). Do you want me to help you accept him into your life right now?
You must always pray before you eat.
Please wear a hat to church or you aren't allowed in. No, don't t wear a hat to church or anything jean-like, you have to wear your Sunday best.
I can't play on Sundays we have to go to church at least two times.
Please join us for communion, no--you can't have communion in our church unless you are confirmed.
Say the lord's prayer like this, not like that.
It is time to kneel, now stand, now sit. Oh, no we don't stand up for that part here.
It was all so confusing to me, and so unnecessary to go through all those rules just to talk to God.
My church is, and has always been, sitting under a tree, preferably in the woods, appreciating the natural beauty and getting as close to my Creator as I could. To let my mind empty of worry, fear, everything unnecessary and to just be, listening to the sounds of the forest and the voice of my higher self, the godlike part deep inside me. And to hear the voice of the God who lived in heaven outside of me. I knew how to do that. In my own way.
I didn't know how to navigate the unusually difficult organized religions of the city I grew up in. Over the years my answers to the eternal questions about my faith changed to announce up front that I was a Congregationalist and I attended First Park Congregational Church. I didn't say (only on holidays) or (that nature was my real church). I also didn't explain about the denomination or what other congregationalists believed, and most kids never asked. Maybe because I said it so matter-of-factly they thought they should already know what it meant. For those that were persistent, I told them it was similar to being a Lutheran because someone told me that once. I never told people I still didn't really know what it meant and how it was different from what they believed, or why it mattered.
I truly believe that my individual beliefs should not make me feel shame when asked if I am a Christian, whether I answer it yes or no. But by the clenching of my gut when I am asked to explain my beliefs even today, I realize I have old wounds that I need to continue to work through.
I hate should-haves. But I should have immediately said I wasn't going to answer the "Are you a Christian?" question to the person on the phone last week, not because I am ashamed of my answer but because it didn't matter in the context of what we were talking about.
You do not need to judge me, categorize me, pray for me, save me, or avoid me based on what I believe. I will not get you into anything "bad". How can I? I am just me. I believe what I believe and encourage you to believe what you believe, and if it isn't working for you, ask some questions, learn, grow, open your mind and find something that does.
Recently I helped open a little art studio called Soulistic Sisters because in finding other like- minded, open-hearted women who loved to create things, I found my tribe. My support. My circle. Their acceptance gives me the encouragement I need to keep asking questions, to keep learning and growing into the best person I can be. At our studio, we promote acceptance, diversity, and choose to empower each other, while being open to explore new things together. I have finally found the safe space and fellowship I needed 45 years ago when an impressionable and shyly unconventional girl was growing into her true self.
Our studio is not religious, nor does it exclude you bringing your religious beliefs to the table. In fact, all three of us who partner in Soulistic Sisters come from very different backgrounds, yet we wish to be inclusive and welcome any and all perspectives. We love to learn, and want to continue our growth in all directions. Your perspective, your beliefs should we ever choose to talk about it, are completely respected around our table.
It isn't about what you believe. It is about who you are.
So person on the phone...to answer your question (fully) now that I have time to think, here is what I believe.
in a higher power, in God, in a creator.
a piece of God lives within each of us.
in little and big miracles.
in the power of silence.
in treating others as you wish to be treated.
in angels, fairies and signs from the other side.
in the power of music to inspire.
that dance has the power to heal.
in your right to believe as you wish.
in my right to believe as I wish.
in the beauty of nature.
in the power of positive thinking.
in leading by example.
in the importance of finding balance.
in the necessity of every person finding their center.
in your unique beauty.
in my unique beauty.
you have the right to your beliefs and I have the right to mine.
that finding your creative side is a key to greater happiness.
happy is a state of mind.
yoga is a gateway to your higher self.
learning keeps your mind alive with wonder and awe.
the warmth of the sun is regenerating.
in the power of trees to heal me.
in setting intentions.
it is never too late.