I grew up on fire for God. I also grew up in a church where my parents didn’t really agree with the Vicar. Sunday lunches became a regular opportunity to unpick the service moment by moment, examine the theology, question the format and style of the service. It was perhaps a little over the top.
But I credit those Sunday lunch debriefs for my ability today to hold faith and doubt together without panicking and throwing it all away.
Our family was actively Christian. We went to church every Sunday, my parents hosted a bible study in their homes and an after-school club for children. Each Easter was spent without fail at Spring Harvest, and as soon as I was old enough I was dispatched with my sleeping bag and oodles of excitement for the annual summer Christian camp where I’d dance and sing and raise hands.
I was entirely immersed in this Christian world and happy to be so.
I read biographies of Christians who’d gone to distant lands to do amazing and miraculous things. I had one of those long ribbons on a stick for doing awkward interpretive Christian dances in church. My music collection was full of DC Talk and Phatfish and Rebecca St James. I went forward to be “saved” multiple times at multiple events. Our youth group once created a massive banner saying “Heaven or Hell? It’s your choice” to hang outside the church for one of our youth events. I went on my first missions trip to France when I was fourteen and another to Trinidad when I was sixteen.
It was wonderful and weird. Many of my memories of my life from those years are happy ones that I remember fondly. Others make me cringe with shame to remember them.
But Oxfordshire is not the US Bible Belt, and there was a healthy dose of cynicism and doubt around the kitchen table. And of my school year of 150 students, just four admitted to being Christian. The rest looked sideways at me with suspicion if I so much as mentioned Jesus.
So I listened as much to Westlife and Stereophonics and Moby as I did my Christian albums. I went to house parties with my friends and got wonderfully tipsy on Bacardi Breezers and Smirnoff Ice. I kissed a boy in a dark room on New Year’s Eve. I cancelled my subscription to the US Christian girl’s magazine Brio when I judged it had become too fundamentalist in favour of reading the Saturday Times Magazine. And when I got to Uni, I joined the non-religious student advocacy society rather than the Christian version, because it felt a bit dumb to try and campaign against sweat shops with only a tiny percentage of the student body.
In the midst of all the parties and music and summer camps, I was figuring out what my own faith would look like. I was examining each part of my parents’ faith, my church’s faith, my school friends’ lack of religious faith – and wondering what I wanted to keep. Which parts were real? And most importantly, what of all of this was life-giving? Because that’s the part I wanted.
I was on fire for God but a seed of doubt had been planted and I am so grateful for that seed.
I’m grateful that it allowed me the empathy and perception to see how much harm we can inflict in the name of religion. I’m grateful that it gave me the cynicism to ask whether sex really was the most important issue we should be fighting against (it’s not). I’m grateful it burst the Christian bubble I was sometimes in danger of living in, to experience and understand the wealth of love and knowledge in the world. I’m grateful it gave me language for questioning and wondering and imagining a truth bigger than the one I can conceive of.
Mostly I’m grateful because my doubt taught me that faith is a journey, not a destination. And faith and doubt are never mutually exclusive. I hold them both in my hands each day, tenderly, with great affection, because they inform each other, they stretch each other, and they keep me searching for the One Great Love that my heart desires most of all.
Addie Zierman’s memoir, When We Were On Fire, releases today and I’m planning on downloading it to my reader just as soon as I can remember the password for my account. This is my contribution to her synchroblog today.