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This article describes various obstacles that I have encountered on my journey toward the goal of being right with the Lord.
Some of my early personal story contributed to problems I had with religion later on. I’ll start with a brief description of two incidents.
Insensitivity / “Holier than thou” attitude / Hypocrisy
I grew up in a small town. In fact, it was a one church town. The church was affiliated with the Conservative Baptist organization, and it adjoined our small dairy farm. In my pre-teen years, my younger brother and I attended this church some of the time and participated in several of their youth activities.
In the spring of 1962, my family and I were in a tragic auto accident. We had downsized our family car a few months before, from a 1957 Buick to a Renault Dauphine. Before the accident, we thought our Renault was a fun and economical little car. One Sunday morning, on a gravel back road that was about 1.5 lanes wide, we were hit head-on near the crest of a hill by a full-sized Pontiac that was going too fast and in the middle of the road. You can imagine which car got the worst of that. My dad got his left lower leg and ankle shattered. My sister had her face cut up and she still bears the scars. I had a cut on the inside of my lower lip. My brother did not have any apparent injuries. My mom died at the scene. I could supply a few more details, but that’s not my purpose here.
Being in a small town, where pretty much everybody knew everybody else, there was a lot of talk about this tragic event. Neighbors and friends, and especially my uncle, pitched in to help us keep the farm going while Dad was laid up. One day, maybe a month after the accident, the Pastor was visiting Dad while I was cleaning the barn with a hired man. The hired man told me that our Pastor had told the men assembled at my grandfather’s garage (the local men’s hangout) something like “If she had been in the church on Sunday morning, like she should have been, this would not have happened to her.” This was especially insensitive because the proprietors of the establishment were the father and the brother of the wonderful lady who had been killed. Within minutes after I was told this quote, I went in the house, hot under the collar, to have a word with Mr. Pastor!
When I came in the house, the Pastor started by inviting me to attend church. I told him, in no uncertain terms, that he would never see me in that church, as long as he was still there. Dad was shocked and embarrassed by my rude behavior. Up until then, everyone had protected Dad from the Pastor’s insensitive comment by not repeating it to him. After I spilled the beans, Dad understood me a little better, though he still didn’t approve of the way I lit into the Pastor.
With time, and perhaps with the wisdom that comes with age, I have come to the point where I better understand the Pastor’s remark, and even have a small bit of respect for the point he was trying to make. Even though I no longer remember his name, I have not totally forgiven him.
During those years, Pastors didn’t last too long in that little church. Several of them moved on, for various reasons. There was another incident, with a different Pastor, 2 or 3 years later, that contributed to my negative attitude toward religion. I heard some of the story at the time, and heard details later that highlighted the hypocrisy even more. I hadn’t returned to church, but I liked this new Pastor. He and his wife had about 4 kids, two of which were very flirty teenage girls who were about my age. I got on the edge of trouble when I let these girls drive one time, but that’s another story. There was another young man in town who took an interest in one of the daughters. They spent time together, including walks in the fields at our farm. Somehow, nature took its course, and the young lady became pregnant. There was quite an uproar in the church, and soon the Pastor and his family were sent packing.
The part of the story that I heard later was that the Pastor had a group of young people that he was preparing to be baptized. I believe it was on the evening before the baptism was to take place, that the Pastor was briefing them on how it should go. During this meeting, one of the Deacons came storming in and announced there would be no baptism. He stated that this Pastor (who had a daughter who had gotten pregnant out of wedlock) was not morally fit to baptize this group of young people.
Of course, not everyone in the church was that much of a hypocrite. I have the utmost respect for some of them and very fond memories of some who have now passed on. However some of them helped me to develop the attitude that led me to remark to my aunt and uncle (who lived across from the parsonage), that “Even God has better things to do on a Sunday than to attend that church.” My aunt got a chuckle out of that.
That church is still there. The current Pastor seems to be a fine man. Some of my close relatives and several of the home-town people that I knew and loved, attend there today.
A smothering welcome
After I graduated from the University of Maine, Sonia and I married and I started a job with the Federal Highway Administration. FHWA had a Training Program for new engineers, which involved moving around the country to varying assignments of approximately 6 months duration. While in Tulsa, Oklahoma, we joined a Southern Baptist church, and we both were baptized there. The people were nice and we liked the Pastor. Something that was important to me was that their beliefs, as expressed by the Pastor, were quite different than what I had expected a Baptist church to be. He actually said that people were encouraged to study the Bible and draw their own conclusions, with God’s help, about the finer points of what it meant. I liked that.
When it was time to move on to northern Virginia, we visited a Baptist church there. I’m sure those folks meant well, but after the service, they were all over us with their saccharin-sweet welcoming. I just wanted to get in the car and get away as soon as possible. We never went back.
Too many denominations
One of my frustrations with organized religion is that there are too many denominations, most of which seem to preach that theirs is the only path to Heaven and that all the others are going the other way. They can’t all be right. How would you tell who is right (or even close enough)?
In the last church I got much involved with, and in conversations with a good friend there, I learned that several churches in my area are now doing a better job of respecting each other, and cooperating on some things. I liked that church in many respects. Their music was well above average, too. Music is important to me. Sadly, my wife and I had an irreconcilable philosophical difference with them, so we left in 2014.
Women’s rights in the church
In the church we left, my wife had very strong objections to their policies and practices toward women. This church held to the conservative interpretation of several Bible passages regarding the role of women in the home and in the church. Women could not be pastors or hold certain offices in the church. At home, they were expected to be subservient to their husbands. I agreed that men and women should receive equal treatment by the church. I did some research and found the website of an organization called Christians for Biblical Equality. http://www.cbeinternational.org/
CBE has a document titled “Statement on Men, Women and Biblical Equality,” which can be found on their website. I read every bible reference from that statement, plus those that were given to show the church’s position. I prayed about this challenge and I had a private meeting with the Pastor. Of course, the church would not be changing its position just because of our objection. Meanwhile, I concluded that CBE had the right approach.
We have visited other churches since, but have not found one that had the right feel for me. Admittedly, we have been lazy about it lately. Another church has been recommended to me. We should check it out.
Churches can be all-consuming
One of my problems with churches, as well as some other social organizations, is that they can be all-consuming. Some churches want you to participate in their activities almost every night, twice on Sunday and often on Saturday, too. My wife and I are both somewhat introverted. We like some alone time, whether it’s alone together or alone apart. We also like the flexibility to go places and do things when the spirit so moves us. We do not like to be tied down to someone else’s schedule.
An inquiring mind/Skepticism
I am guilty of the sin that was the message of the Adam and Eve story. I have often tried to reason out for myself what is right and what is wrong, instead of relying on God to tell me. Therefore, I have eaten the fruit of the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”
Over the last few years, I have read perhaps 20 books on religious topics such as, whether the Bible can be trusted, was Jesus really God, whether God is real, what did Jesus really say, the “lost gospels,” etc. Some of these books are stored away in boxes in my garage attic, some are among the clutter in my home office, and several are in electronic form in my Kindle. I have also read most of the New Testament (some books multiple times) and parts of the Old Testament.
I guess you could say I have an inquiring mind. I don’t accept something as my belief just because somebody says so, because I read it in a book, or even just because the Bible says so. For me to accept and believe something, it has to make sense to me and “feel right” to me.
My inquiring mind has also led me to be somewhat of a skeptic. I even went through a period where I doubted that God existed at all. I felt that the Bible was not reliable because of so many translations and interpretations. Gradually, I came back to believing in God, but I’m not a Fundamentalist and I do not take a literal approach to my understanding of the Bible.
I have a rather laid-back and non-aggressive personality. I don’t like to be pushed and I don’t like to push others. I do not have the makings of an evangelist. Perhaps my best effort at fulfilling the “great commission” will be the act of writing and publishing these articles on the internet. If they are seen by a few folks, and actually help some of them to get closer to God, I will have done something toward spreading the Gospel.
I am part of the problem
As much as I hate to, I have to admit that I have created some my own obstacles to a closer relationship with God, and with a church. To some degree, I am selfish, independent, stubborn, lazy and anti-social. While I try to be a good person, I know that I fall short in many areas. God ought to just reject me unless I come around, right? Well, it doesn’t quite work that way. God hasn’t given up on me. He keeps calling. I have accepted His invitation, but I need His continual guidance to stay on the path. Sometimes I take a few steps off from it, and He must call me back again.
How do I deal with all these obstacles?
Over time, I have learned a few things that put me in a better position to deal with the obstacles I have pointed out.
In the past, I have let a few hypocrites and holier-than-thou church people poison my mind. I now understand that these folks do not represent the whole church. Some of what I see as holier-than-thou types really mean well and don’t realize they come across that way. None of us are perfect and we can’t expect church people to be perfect either. We shouldn’t even expect Pastors (and their families) to be perfect.
You should try to select a church carefully, from among those in your area. In my case, I would lean toward one that encourages individuals to grow and develop their own beliefs, within the overall framework of the church. They should be accepting and tolerant of other churches that share the same basic core beliefs, but may differ in the details.
We should try to welcome others, but not overwhelm them.
The women’s rights issue is one of several where there is conflict between some churches’ traditional biblical interpretations and the views now held by the general public. Perhaps gentle urging from within, using materials provided by organizations such as CBE, can help a church to adapt where that makes sense for them. You can’t expect change to happen all at once, perhaps not even in your lifetime. As in politics, there are circumstances where one might overlook a disagreement on one issue if there is agreement on the majority of issues.
A couple, or a family, has to be in control of their own schedule. It’s OK to say “no” to some of the well-intended invitations and urgings to attend all of the church’s events. Some may not agree, but I believe it’s even OK to do other things besides church. You have to find the balance that’s right for you.
While it may have made my journey more difficult, I believe that it is OK to have an inquiring and skeptical mind. When I do accept a belief, I hold it quite firmly, because I have tested it. With age, I have developed a sense for which things I can accept easily and which things I need to test more.
One of my good friends played a large part in helping me to come back to the Lord and to renew my beliefs. He was not pushy about it. If someone reads these articles, who has encountered a similar series of obstacles to mine, I hope my writings help them through. If I can help just one person, it will be worth the effort. If I can help two or three, or more, all the better!
Now, we get to the last obstacle, me. Perhaps that is the most difficult one. I am a long, long way from being perfected, but I have grown and made progress in my journey towards the Lord. I hope to continue to do so.
May God Bless you, Guide you and Protect you along your way!