My baggage reads: I do not believe.

Everyone carries some varied degree of a weight around with them of their past experiences or actions. Before this weekend, I thought my load was pretty light. I’m not really a needy person, I’ve dealt with most of my childhood/awkward teenage years issues and accepted them for who they’ve made me become. However, several things and conversations have occurred that have made me reflect differently. 

This baggage is pretty stinking heavy and new. Religion-specifically church. I didn’t realize I still had issues until this week. 

I was at the hospital getting some tests run and they asked if I had a religious preference to keep on file. I cringed. Literally scrunched up my face and asked in a timid voice if I could say “no answer.” This should not be the reaction that I have to simple question like that. If I choose to publicly identify myself as Christian, or non-religious, or whatever—then I should be able to say it without getting a twitch. (Plus, it just irked me that the hospital wanted to know that…but then I rationalized it was probably something to do with in case I ever die while in their hospital, they would do their best to meet my religious rituals…and I thought it was nice, but irrelevant to me.)

This is hard for me though, because I don’t really want to identify myself with Christians to the world…because I feel like saying (especially in the south) that I’m pro-war, anti-abortion, homophobic, and that religion isn’t important to me-that I haven’t thought this out. Even though identifying myself is likely to gain more acceptance than not…I still get the creepy crawlies just thinking that someone might assume that about me. And honestly, to claim any other religion or atheism would be a lie…I am a Christian, I just don’t want to join the club. 

When I lost my religion (cue REM), I lost more than my faith system. I was so intrinsically wrapped up into every aspect of my religious dogma. So much so that I alternated between wanting to be an elder’s wife (perhaps a stoic honor in the church of Christ) and wanting to remain single and dedicating my life to the Lord’s work, like Paul. Every aspect of my being was to fall in line with how I viewed the text. I planned out my future career around it, and was even in the process of learning to speak Brazilian Portuguese to serve as a missionary when I realized that I could no longer pretend that I believed what was being said. My closest friends are neck deep in this culture and dogma. 

When I choose to believe a different path I lost my future career. I had spent years planning out my Brazilian stay, coordinating with temperamental Brazilian governments, and trying to assimilate as much as I could in my brief preparatory stay. While what I would have been doing, had I not chosen a different path, would not be something I would object to now (I wouldn’t be evangelizing), I could not let people who thought I was going to do that support me knowing full well that I could not disagree with them more. 

My departure from the dogma that I clung to so tightly for the majority of my life is still a bit of a secret. I have friends that run the gambit, there are those that know and accept (or not accept), there are those that suspect and are concerned, and there are those that have no idea. If some of these people found out, it would literally terminate those friendships (if you aren’t familiar with excommunication-that might not make as much sense). When I chose to leave that sect (or at least the conservative version of it) I in essence lost some close friends and caused a rift between others. 

Now, when I’m in church, feel the urge to pray, or the desire to have a religious community—I chastise myself. I perceive myself desiring shallow religion, a checklist, or a box to belong to. While that was the case right after I choose to leave that sect, I missed it, I longed to be back to my happy Christian, whole-hearted believing self….I sincerely do not believe that is what I want now. It may seem like on the surface that I want what religion often gives people-structure, but really I believe that I want to worship. I want to worship this or that way because it is beneficial to me and/or others-it meets a need.

I don’t want be so cynical that I deny myself my own religious desires because of how the majority may view me (Christian or non-Christian)—but at the moment, I am—because I’m carrying around a big, heavy baggage with the words “I do not believe like you do” on them…and it’s weighing me down. I am ashamed to talk to Christians about it, because I don’t think that the crucifixion was that important-and they are known to stone, you know. 😉 And I’m ashamed to talk about it with non-Christians, because there is a chance they will see me with the same cynical eyes that I saw Christians with when I didn’t believe. I feel as though, discussion of religion (with those outside of my circle of trust) is a long rabbit hole into which I fall through and end up being a mad hatter.

But the truth is…everyone has baggage, it’s just how we learn to cope with it, whether or not we try to hide it (or hide behind it), and if we let others help us carry the load. One of my favorite TV shows, How I Met Your Mother, has an episode in which they discuss this topic, in true form they highlight unseen things with large, overstated objects. In the baggage episode, everyone on the city street is carrying around a trunk or luggage with their issue clearly stated on it (the most humorous one being “Elvis is Alive”).

I realized this weekend what mine baggage says, and I’m learning how to handle it, and hopefully eventually let it go. Our issues are only things that we use to create a comfort zone between us and people to keep them out, keep them from reaching the hurt that we have experienced. 

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