I'm lucky in many ways. If I were still Christian, I would probably say that I've been blessed. I was lucky enough to attend a public school, whereas many of you out there attended Christian schools for your entire school career. At 11 years old, I was the kid in elementary school who was getting into trouble with some frequency. I was quite smart, towards the top of the class, but I got bored and stirred up trouble. It didn't help that I was excessively overweight (I actually weigh less today at 20 than I did then), so I was constantly a source of jokes for my classmates. And at 11 years old, my parents, who up until that point taught me Christian beliefs, never took me to church, decided it was time.
Well, the story goes better at that point actually. I made a few friends who accepted me, on my own I began to loose weight, and the Baptist church and God gave me a source of comfort if nothing else. I was saved at 12 years old and baptized. Many had bad experiences at church, but my experience was generally good. There were some sermons on how we were sinners and needed Christ, and told us all about the devil, but it was always backed up with a "but God loves you and wants to save you." It lured in the frightful 12 year old, as many of the youth of the church decided "on their own accord" to join the church. (Looking back, how many people under the age of about 15 can REALLY decide for themselves? At such an impressionable age, you could convince a child of anything. Only now in retrospect have I noticed how mind damaging religion is at that point in time.)
I spent a few years of my childhood, up until about 15 or so, taking in Sunday School lessons and sermons, learning all ab out God. At the same time, I continued to struggle with depression secretly. My parents would have done nothing but tell me how I needed to lay it all before God and he would heal me. I didn't want to hear that because I already was. As you probably know by now, it didn't help. I contemplated suicide at two different points in time. Throughout my life up until leaving God, these bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts lingered. Many times, I never considered acting on these thoughts, but they were there. "If I'm going to heaven anyway, why wait? What's the point of this life if the next one is so much better?" At 15, I began to "wrestle with God's will in my life" as well. I considered that God wanted something out of me, and set out to find out what it was.
Passport camp turned out to be the answer. To me, Passport was not what many have talked about church camp being. My parents gave me the choice of whether to go or not. The messages were always uplifting, we sang great songs, and a great bond with friends I have to this very day formed. The mentality of the group causes a very strong emotional experience, which I believe can easily be mistaken for a spiritual one. I went 2 years with the youth group. In the second year, at 17 years old, I participated in the Echo program of Passport camp, which is geared for those who feel that God is calling them to a life of ministry. The pastor gave the youth the Sunday's following Passport, and I ended up taking the sermon.
This was the beginning of my preaching. I preached on occasion, with increasing frequency, usually on the youth Sunday's, and eventually without the Pastor's supervision and even preaching on Sunday's when he had other obligations. At 17, 18, and 19 years old, I was told by nearly everyone who heard me that I had wisdom beyond my years and a "superb" understanding of the Bible. It was settled. I would go to school to be a preacher.
In my senior year, I was convinced I wanted to go to a Bible school. Living in North Carolina, Southeastern Baptist Bible School and Seminary in Wake Forest seemed to be the answer. I visited, and decided I would attend, but before deciding to go, another "blessing" in the form of two other pastor's convinced me I needed to go to a University and not a Bible school, as I would be challenged to think and not just told what to preach and believe. The decision not to attend the Bible school was probably the greatest I ever made.
It was off to Campbell University, where I am still a student, in my sophomore year now. I entered as a Religion major with about 15 others in that department. The Religion department here is considered by several students to be "very liberal" and "misleading and harmful to the minds of its students." However, at first, I loved it! I was on my way to a life of ministry. An introduction class to this department teaches the students to open their minds, reading different theologians, and learning how to critique what we hear.
We studied what religion meant for different people at different points in time, and read a few books such as NT Wright's and Marcus Borg's "The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions " and "Understanding the Scriptures." The books challenged me to consider why I believed what I did. However, I still had a great foundation for my faith and considered it to be growing stronger.
In my second semester as a religion major, I began to quietly question the faith. Why is it that so many people come away with so many different points of view? And what about the other faiths? It began to appear to me that everyone, at every point in time, bent religion to fit their own template. I won't go into any examples, as it has been gone into several times on this website. But I will say that I began to see the biases in everything from the Old Testament psalms, prophets, and the new testament gospels and letters. What made Paul right? Because he "saw" Jesus on the way to Damascus? And what decided what books would go in the Bible? A council, which choose the books in essentially a popularity contest. The thoughts were bubbling to the surface now, and towards the end of the semester, I was wondering what I would do with my degree in religion if I decided that the God I held so dear was fake....
Well over the summer was the time of revelation. After having to study for college, I decided to begin reading some atheist literature. I realized that the whole time, to me, the case for God was much like a court case. There were two sides, and for my entire life, I had listened to one side of this case. I listened to it's side, and what it thought of hte other side, and what it thought the other side thought. Finally, I decided to listen to what the defendant had to say and was amazed at how much SENSE it made!! Everything I thought I was the only person wondering about, it turns out people had been wondering the same things for years and realizing the same things I was realizing! Here again, I won't go into too much detail, but if you're a frequent reader to this site, you know the rest of the story. I tried to transfer to NC State. While 34 credit hours would transfer, only 12 would transfer towards a degree in engineering. Meanwhile, I gave up attending church, staying home to mow the grass or work on my car restoration project while my parents went to church.
At this point, I was more thankful than ever that I did not attend a Bible school, because I would have wasted an entire year, or perhaps worse, I may have never begun to question the faith. I may have continued on, as I did in the church for years and just take what I was fed. Perhaps I could have been a great preacher, as many in my church believed, or perhaps I could have wasted the entire year. At this point, I am a history major while going for a teaching certificate, and instead of finding the gloomy and oppressed world as I always thought it would be without God, I have found a happier, more thought provoking world. And back to the depression, I have discovered that I never consider suicide any longer!! When you quit living this life for another that is "promised" to you, it really reveals what is good in this life. You begin to look past the "sinful" lives of humans, and see the good in the world and not the bad. This life can be whatever you want it to be. And I still intend to use mine for a sense of fulfillment in teaching, but only now, it will not be in teaching about God, but about history and civics to high school students, and I am happier than ever with how life is turning out.