My childhood did not prepare me for the world of social media. I suppose this is primarily because it, along with the Internet, did not exist on a public platform. Neither did mobile phones, WiFi, Netflix, and a host of much of the technology we engage on a daily basis. As an introvert by nature, raised in a conservative Christian blue-collared home, I never dreamed that it would ever be feasible to instantaneously reach every social circle I encounter, simultaneously, without the need to even roll out of bed and muddle through the conversational fore-play of small talk. So when technology offered me all the perks of subterranean discussion without the time-suck of pleasantries, I did what any other social introvert would do; observe first and then dive in deep.
Initially, my posts consisted of personal and family celebrations. I tested the waters with a few surface opinions to gauge my ability to referee debate between my immediate connections. And once the 2016 election was determined, I threw caution to the wind. As this may allude to my interest in politics, I assure you that politics only exposed a growing disparity in professed and evidenced faith.
An effort to call attention to this disparity felt like a noble and just cause for someone of my nature. So when a familiar and assumed ally responded to one of these such posts with, “Your posts are so full of hate,” I began to recognize the complexity and defensiveness of deep-seeded fear.
“Your posts are so full of hate.” This, a social media comment from a woman whose children I once babysat and attended church with tri-weekly, in response to an impassioned plea of mine for Christians to remember who they represent upon choosing to zealously defend a political identity.
“Hate.” The insult struck me like a spell similar to the Immobulus charm Hermione used to freeze the otherwise recklessly industrious Cornish Pixies in the movie, Harry Potter and the Chamber or Secrets.
Have you ever had a comment tranquilize you to the core and force you into an emotional catatonic shock, but spin-cycling in cognitive overtime? Hate, throughout my upbringing, was a word reserved for sin and Satan- and not to be tossed about offhandedly.
Yet, here was THAT word.
Being used to descrbe ME.
On a platform for my entire public social universe to read.
What was I missing? I had always deemed myself a peacemaker, which usually meant that I either kept to myself, or worked with disputing parties to establish any morsel of common ground. I considered peace-making my holy super-power. However, in weeks recently leading up to this (what I now have qualified as my spiritual-pivoting) post, I had begun to sense a fervent disturbance in my faith. In the vast ocean of life, I had been a sojourner intent on not making waves, but for works to happen through faith, God often rocks the boat.
I was born upon a large evangelical church cruise ship, per se. This ship boasted all the amenities of this sort of community, including donuts on Sundays, boutonniere adorned ushers, hierarchical infrastructure, regular intervals of prepared spiritual meals, community, and fundamentals that will ensure that none of your outward actions will cause you to burn in hell when followed without compromise. Our ship accommodated guest entertainers, a bustling youth program, and opportunities to financially support others who visit exotic and often dangerous places so that we could remain safely on the ship while still doing our part to influence far and away places.
It was shortly after graduating high school when my young ministry-bound husband and I began to question some of the staunch rules backed by our childhood denomination. Why no dancing or drinking? Why no tattoos when the scripture that also forbids makeup and poly-blend were so easily dismissed (circa Tammy Fay Baker). This act of looking beyond the boat to the horizon would be the beginning of our decision to disembark the comfort of the only vessel we had ever known. It felt fabulous to be afloat our own temporary vessel in search of a larger one we could join that better aligned with our newfound theological awareness. More on that to come.
Since my earliest years, God had served as the lighthouse in the distance, and religion was the God’s Little Instruction Book that ensured our ship would steer clear of any circumstantial mess that may impede our heaven-bound mission. I was a traveler grateful for a community who took the wheel so I could safely voyage without the trouble of minding the business of navigation. As a female, I was discouraged from taking on any worries of engineering or seeking to Captain such a vessel- that job solely belonged to men. My job as a female was to serve in any capacity that fulfilled a role to benefit children, music, food, or secretarial matters.
The act of leaving this sort of community (abandoning ship, if you will) does not come with fare-the-wells and duty-free souvenirs. We were served warnings regarding any notion to part. All questioning of any teaching qualifies as an act of defiance. (One youth pastor actually got fired from his position after filling in for the Senior Pastor one Sunday evening and encouraging the congregation to check all teaching against scripture – referencing 1 John 4:1.) We were encouraged to maintain the fundamentals of our denomination if we wanted to guarantee the backing of the denomination in our future ministry. We were told to avoid churches and people who could compromise our faith. So, our cautionary-tale lifeboat had become a direct target for those who feared how our departure would both draw negative social appearances, and also force each to acknowledge and defend undesirable discrepancies.
However, once one becomes aware of circumstances and evidence contrary to any core belief, one must choose to either turn a blind eye and in an effort to preserve ignorance and accommodate the comfortable predictability of corporate religion- or commit to follow truth in unmanufactured faith and serve God. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise later that upon making the attempt to point passengers of our old ship toward unobserved truth, the endeavor to sink our lifeboat would ensue. Religion designates the ability to navigate this sinful world within the confines of rules and fundamentals. The boundaries of religion are enforced with fear when man’s rules and fundamentals (no matter their original source or intent) fail to address humanity in all its bemused curiosity. For religious folk to look beyond or even consider the unpredictability of society at large, the innate fear response to fight or run often triggers. My blindness to the possibility that many professed believers prefer the safety and confines of corporate religion drove me to unwittingly disturb that ship and experience my first taste of how corporate religious fight provoked by fear guards its hidden fragility. In one post, meant to trigger my greater spiritual family to embrace human regard, I had exposed the weakness of this ship, and the passengers responded with a left-handed hook to the spleen of my spiritual core.
I admit that I tend to overthink insult, and (at this particular precipice of my existence) had undervalued the virtuosity of discernment. This form of sanctified enlightenment served up by Wisdom herself, would surface later as I chose to prioritize more of my identity in Christ, and assign a more appropriate portion of confidence in the religious church whom I had once deemed as practically inerrant as Holy Scripture.
Leaving corporate religion to walk in faith, I find myself having to grow muscles I have never before had to rely on. Scripture holds much more meaning than the confines of religious banter. Although the deep-seeded guilt of the religious life often threatens to paralyze this new boldness (or sink my proverbial boat), I find comfort in Wisdom’s teaching within Proverbs- and the encouragement of James when my own religion-bound brothers and sisters choose to sever ties with me as a conscious corporate liability. I do not choose to disregard an insult by one who is tied to fear and doubt- even when it accuses my intent as being “full of hate.” I choose to endorse this statement through the broader lens of faith by unapologetically admitting I am not full of hate, but without question- I am Eternally Provoked.