Ah, Doing. The third stage of Fusing. (Do read Part I: Believing & Part II: Learning, if you haven't). This is the stage where Kathy Escobar of Faith Shift said that a believer begins to actively serve, volunteer and participate.
And this is the time when the demands of the institutional church really started to mess me up.
After a few years of not giving up on God, my family and I came to a peaceful understanding about my faith, and I began the first few heady years being the best Christian girl you can be. I served in the worship ministry and women's ministry, gave up my weekends in the service of God and attended prayer meetings, home groups, seminars and bible studies. On top of that, I tried to squeeze daily devotions, scripture memorisations, bible study (even once embarking on a Masters of Divinity) into the already tiny amount of time left from my demanding career.
Kathy calls this time a fulfilling time, but it was not really that for me. I suppose for a few months, it felt great being a part of something bigger, but most of the time I felt like a hamster running in a wheel. I felt like nothing I did was good enough to gain the approval of the leaders of the church. I felt like a perpetual outsider.
During these years, I walked the party line, so to speak, and foisted the church's brand of certainty to reluctant listeners. I kept hoping that one day, I would finally get it and be like these happy, shiny people in church.
For one, I wrestled with the cognitive dissonance. The years away from church exposed me to a more intellectual brand of faith, and my job as a journalist taught me to be analytical and suspicious of black-and-white declarations. I had difficulties fitting in almost immediately.
Learning apart from the church meant that it didn't have time to indoctrinate me with what I should or shouldn't believe in. So, when I began serving in church, I found myself pressured to conform to its culture (which differs from church to church) and set of beliefs.
While I found myself immersed in a war of culture and tradition in the Learning stage, in the Doing stage I was deep in the war for my sense of self. The Institution was trying its best to file away my personality into a shape that it found "right".
Right meant that:
Gays made a choice to be gays. They are being rebellious.
The bible is the answer to everything.
A good Christian attends church services every Sunday, and to be without it meant a quick jaunt to apostasy and hellfire.
The more you love God, the more you will serve in church
All forms of sexual thoughts or inclination are evil - woe to you if you're single
Life will work out for you if you believe the right things. If you behave a certain way, say the right things, got prayed over by the right person, you will get prosperity, health and peace.
I found many of my conservative church's beliefs hard to swallow because of my liberal stance to many things. (Gays are okay. Sex is not a big deal.)
I was now being squeezed into a tinier, more limiting faith by my conservative, Pentecostal church.
Yet, I believed that I had no choice in the matter. After five years of not being able to join a community of believers, I was eager to get on with it. But, apparently, it came with a set of conditions. In order to be accepted, I had to sacrifice who I was, what I believed in and work to the point of exhaustion to gain the approval of the church's "in crowd".
The psychological pain of denying yourself to be someone you're not? That's not something I wish on anyone.
Yet, some may argue: You're an intelligent woman! Why did you allow these people to control you like this?
Kathy Escobar said something which resonated deeply with me: "Conformity is a strong motivator for participation in religious groups, and we will do all kinds of crazy things in order to belong."
Boy, did I.
"Crazy things" for me was to:
- Nod in agreement when my women's ministry pastor told me to throw away the 50 invitation cards I printed because I had the picture of a statue on the card and it could be construed as "idol worship".
- Stay silent when my gay friend looked at me, hurt, as my pastor called gay people "freaks" from the pulpit.
- Not speak out when I disagreed with the way the church manipulated people into tithing more.
In many ways, my "fulfilled" time during the "Doing" stage was very, very brief. I was into the Shifting stage almost immediately.
And it wasn't pretty.
Next in the My Shifting Faith series: Shifting: When it hurts to attend church (Feb 23). Do bookmark the blog series post schedule or subscribe to the blog to have the posts delivered to your inbox so that you do not miss a post. (You will also receive my posts outside the blog series.)