photo © 2004 Phil Whitehouse | more info (via: Wylio)
One of the coolest things about Twitter is that I’ve made some great new friends, people I never otherwise would have met. But I’ve also connected with old friends. One such person is Nean Burkholder, a girl I met at Messiah College. When she sent me this post, I knew it would be one that you guys would enjoy.
I recently watched the movie “Saved!” with a friend. While he laughed at the ridiculous portrayal on the screen and couldn’t really imagine it as anything but fiction, I sat there in fascinated horror as my high school was depicted on the screen. This surreal caricature was funny to me too, but very differently – in the way that one grows up, looks back on one’s life, and is “embarrassed” by silly things that once seemed “normal.”
I’ve seen those kids, taught those kids, and I was one of those kids. Deluded into making choices based on arbitrary rules and not on reasoning skills. Censored and sheltered from anything that contradicts the established religious philosophies and values.
In a society with harsh consequences to anyone who doesn’t stay inside the lines, I became an expert clone. I learned the language. I went to every prayer group or outreach, even when it meant giving up my lunch or weekend social time. I led worship in chapel. I was terrified of allowing my humanity to slip and become one of the ostracized or condemned rebels.
I learned to mask my depression, because it was a “sign of sin in my life,” and a symptom of not trusting “the joy of the Lord as my strength.” I learned how to gossip by “sharing prayer requests” and how to condemn and judge someone by “expecting accountability through loving confrontation.” Moral superiority is, of course, far easier than confronting any sort of hard truth, and I became a master of avoiding confrontation, and never expressed any of my concerns or doubts. It’s hard to argue with “God says…” or “Jesus is THE way.”
My faith was real, and I really was a “good, Christian kid,” but the truth is things just weren’t fitting in the little boxes they were supposed to and it all started to look like hypocrisy to me. So, I learned that too. I stayed involved in all the things I needed to in order to prove my “worthiness,” and even helped plan our senior class mission trip. And I was master of deception for a while.
But the “silent rebel” could only stay silent for so long. When my high school bible teacher dubbed me “Miss Attitude ‘93,” because I dared to have a thought of my own and voice it in contradiction to his opinion, I claimed that title with pride and it was the beginning of my “fall from grace.” I stopped caring what the church and its leaders had to say. I turned my back on organized religion and its rules for how to talk to God.
I hit the point that a lot of people do, I got mad at God. I kept acting the part, but inside I was screaming. This was really all God was? A list of rules, boring meetings, and endless “sacrifice of your own desires” that’s never enough?
I’ve grown. I’ve changed. I can look back on my Christian education and see all the benefits; I’m truly grateful for my basis of faith and bible knowledge. I can appreciate my parents’ sacrifice, and the difficult responsibility that was given to my teachers. I’ve seen how things look from their sides too. And I can’t fault any of them for making choices based on what they believe. And that may be the most important thing I learned and incorporated from my time in Christian schools: the necessity of personalizing and owning what I believe.
I’m not mad at God anymore. I learned how to reconcile my love for him and my frustration with and semi-rejection of organized religion. I’m still involved in Christian churches, but if my high school teacher only knew what he started. If he could see me now: Mystic Christo-Pagan with flavor from nearly every major world religion… Oh… wait… I think we’re Facebook friends. I guess my cover is long blown.
Nean is a stay at home mom of two and a writer in between. We met at a Christian college, sharing a few classes discussing how to be a “Christian” writer. She met her husband at said Christian college and acknowledges that if she had to do it all over, she’d still choose that school. She’s spent the last decade evaluating every facet of her faith, leading worship in genuine relationship with God, exploring world religions and adapting practices and beliefs that resonate with who she is. She still wears the badge of “Miss Attitude” with pride.
Check out her blog HERE
Did you grow up attending a Christian school? How did it influence the person you have become?