I was a Cradle Conservative Evangelical

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Erin Thomas -Cradle Conservative3By Erin Thomas | Twitter: @erinthomas_123

“I was an atheist before I came to Christianity,” Pria said, sipping on steaming green tea. “My parents were atheists, so we all were atheists. But then something happened in my dad’s life and he started searching, y’know?”

“Uh-hmm.” I sipped on my apple cider.

“Anyway, I was about 11 when our whole family started going to a Lutheran church, and that was that. We were Christians. We got baptized and my sister and I started taking confirmation classes.”

“And how was that for you?”

“Ummm, different,” she shrugged “I mean, what do you expect? We went from there being no God at all—or even a possibility of God—to learning about this guy in a beard named Jesus. I think my faith started academically. I needed to learn to grow into the faith part of it. My sister was only seven so she seemed to accept miracles and stuff a lot more easily.”

“And now?”

“Now …” Pria’s voice trailed off. “Now, I’ve been through liturgical training, charismatic highs, and monastic lows.”

“Monastic lows,” I interrupted. “I like that.”

“… and now, I don’t know. I’m supposed to feel my call to ministry all the time, aren’t I? But I’m beginning to think that a piece of the atheist hasn’t really gone away. I think part of me really doesn’t buy into the God thing. I feel like a liar and a thief.”

“A thief?”

“I’m supposed to be offering people the message of God’s grace. But … I seem to be arguing more and more for keeping faith alive in my life than anything else. Look at what religion–all religion–is doing in the world. God has a part in that? God had a part in shredding his own kid to death just to make a point? This is faith?”

Pria’s voice began to tremble. Tears welled up and spilled over her lashes. I could only sit there quietly. I knew her pain all too well. Some people identify as cradle Catholics, others as cradle Lutherans, and others as cradle Anglicans. Pria was a cradle atheist.

Me?

I was a cradle conservative evangelical–Salvation Army to be exact. (Followed by various Baptist churches, Full Gospel churches, Christian and Missionary Alliance churches, more Baptist churches, and Evangelical Free churches.) I had run the gamut.

And I left.

For reasons that run deep and painfully, I left the traditions that taught me a literal seven-day creation, a literal and inerrant interpretation of the Bible, and staunch authority on all sexual matters. I left the praise bands and worship teams, the grape-juice-instead-of-wine for communion, VBS programs, teen missions trips, and spontaneous prayer. I tell people I left God.

I didn’t leave Jesus. I still needed him.

But I’d had enough of conservatism to the point where God simply didn’t exist anymore. I was done. People were often cruel and I came from that tradition of cruelty.

The story of how I entered into a local Lutheran parish and eventually became a Lutheran seminarian is long and fraught with trauma and absurdity. I kept returning to Kathy Escobar’s book Faith Shift, wondering what was really going to happen to me. Hell? Was I going to burn in hell? Am I fake for being in this alb? What’s a cruciform?

Even now, as a I study a maddening course in Greek and practice homiletics and prepare to be a student chaplain on a hospital ward, I wonder if I’m a strong enough believer.

Believer?

How evangelical.

In the beauty and good order of the Lutheran liturgies, I miss people calling out “Amen!” or “Hallelujah!” (Whether it’s Lent or not.) I miss some of the cheesy praise songs, the guitars, and being able to sing lots of songs during a service instead of a few pre-selected hymns; I miss being able to pray what God whispers to me while praying the words we all recite together projected on a screen.

You can take the woman out of evangelicalism; but you can’t take evangelicalism out of the woman.

Like Pria, my upbringing shaped my faith and will always shape my faith for the rest of my days. I am learning to make peace with that, and even find genuine beauty in it. The journey is profound, but it is exhausting.

For all who have experienced such earthquakes, I stand with you. I will sit down beside you. When the doubt and fracturing simply will not cease, I will fall down in the dust with you. During our cradle shifts that remake who we are–that transform us again into newer and newer creations–we learn that not all people will continue to love us or want to be in our lives; we will grieve the good parts of our traditions; and we will stumble around in the dark trying to find a place to stand on as all we used to believe falls away.

We are the mustard seeds. Even as the smallest seed aspires to be one of the greatest of garden plants; it aspires to be nothing more than what it is–a mustard plant. We, the ones shifting from our cradles into a new life, might not know quite what we are (yet), but we do know that we want to be who we are to the core.

With that small natal seed being nourished from within, we can be assured that our journeys will be ones of stunning and profound faith.

________________

About Erin:

Erin ThomasErin Thomas is a Masters of Divinity student at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, intern hospital chaplain, and reluctant mystic. She’s also blogger, poet, and proud auntie to three adventuresome nephews.

 

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  • Lisha Epperson

    Hi Erin,
    I loved reading this. We share so many threads of connection. I just completed my second year of seminary after a seismic shifting of faith and have found a new home in the Episcopal church. Everything is deeper and wider now…and faith, isn’t done with me. I imagine it isn’t done with you either. Many blessings.

    • I love that: “…faith is never done with me”. Peace to you on your journey, friend. Cheers!

  • I borrow Philip Yancey’s phrase to describe my journey: “recovering fundamentalist.”
    What a joy to discover so much Light and Life alongside all the Truth.