I was raised in a Christian household. We attended church every Sunday, and I was also a regular attendee of Sunday school.
But I didn't really get it.
I'm a naturally inquisitive person, and my childhood was no exception. I asked questions all the time and was often criticized for it by my teachers. Apparently mine wasn't what anyone expected a "childlike faith" to be.
High school really challenged me.
First off, I had a major falling out with my youth group. One Wednesday night, our youth pastor presented a topic I didn't quite understand - or at least I didn't understand the way he presented it. When I raised my hand to ask a question, I got a shock:
Look, this is the way it is. If you disagree or just don't get it, then you're going straight to hell and that's a fact. Don't try to argue, don't try to change the subject.
I was mad. I didn't understand his lesson, and my attempt at asking a question was met with not just condemnation but damnation. I pushed back and actually voiced my confusion and my frustration that he was ignoring my question.
Eric, you're no different. This is a simple message. If you don't get it, then you have some serious problems in your life and obviously don't know God.
Apparently I didn't.
That was the last night I went to youth group. I stopped paying attention to sermons on Sundays and would skip as often as I could find an excuse.
I didn't consider myself a Christian any longer.
I realized at about the same time that all of my opinions about the world were heavily rooted in conservative Christianity. Political stances, social opinions, my outlook on other races and people groups - I had accepted what mainstream Christianity taught without asking why because I was so busy asking about theology.
A guy in my English class pushed back pretty hard on one point in general. He and I were assigned to debate one another, and for some reason I let him pick the topic. He wanted to debate homosexuality and the related laws in Oregon. I was laughably unprepared.
His arguments were well thought-out. Mine typically devolved into "um, just because." He won the debate (obviously), then approached me later after class.
"Why are you so afraid of gay people?"
"Because it's unnatural. They might want to do something to me. Shouldn't I be?"
"Even if you think it's gross to see two guys kissing, there's no reason to be afraid of it. You're not interested in them, so they're not going to try to kiss you if that's what you're worried about. How does two strangers living their lives affect you?"
It opened my eyes into just how one-sided my opinions had been in the past. Recognizing the closed-mindedness I'd embraced for so long helped me break it and begin to move on. As a result of that particular discussion in class, one of my best friends came out to me that year. After other friends saw me not reject him, they started coming out as well.
Juxtaposing my previous fear and hatred of homosexuals with the fact that several of my friends - all good people I cared for and respected - were gay broke my world apart. From that day forward, I've questioned every single opinion I've formed.
Including the one that drove me to abandon the church of my youth.
The girl I was seeing at the time was a very devout Christian. I felt bad for essentially lying about my beliefs (I still went to church with my parents when forced and publicly labelled myself as a believer because it avoided the awkward "what changed" questions), so I wanted to write down an explanation of what I believed and why.
I started with a single line: "there is no such being as God."
What followed were 10 pages of detailed analysis of transcription errors in the Bible, lack of historical corroboration, major missteps by the Church[ref]The big "C" refers to the global body of believers, not to one brick-and-mortar fellowship in particular.[/ref] in general, and the political closed-mindedness and coldness towards others perpetuated by the rigid conservatism of Christianity.
I felt it was a good explanation, and I was ready to both give it to her and to my other friends as a final "out" of the facade I'd been wearing.
Then she dumped me. It wasn't necessary any longer.
But another friend invited me to a concert. It was for a Christian group I'd used to listen to, and he intended it to be an end-of-our-high-school-career celebration. Since this group was the same group who'd performed at my first ever concert, I wanted to go for nothing more than spending time with friends and the nostalgia of seeing the group perform again.
I forgot how edgy their music was.
Their sound was a mix of hip hop, rap, rock, grunge, and threw in a bit of metal every now and then. Their lyrics. For the first time I actually listened and heard the pain and the struggle in their art. How they were setting themselves apart from the world while also blasting through it and playing with a very worldly sound that appealed even to people like me.
For the first time I realized I wasn't alone in asking questions, and started asking again.
For the first time I recognized that, as I'd been wrong about so many things before, I might have been wrong again for the past three years.
For the first time I understood that not every minister or pastor agreed with the youth pastor who'd condemned me for asking a question.
For the first time I heard an audible voice cutting through the music saying, "I'm here. I'm real."
I took this renewed sense of curiosity to college. The same friend who'd invited me to the concert challenged me to seek out Campus Crusade when I made it to school. I did, and was far less than impressed with their approach and the number of superficial people in the organization. I wanted something deeper.
I decided to attend the campus "club day" to see if there were any groups I could meet with to get my questions answered. Unfortunately, I got dates somewhat mixed in my head and showed up at the student union a day early.
Oddly enough, the leader of Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship had also gotten dates mixed up and was the only table set up in the union. I helped him load everything back in his van, and we went for coffee. Unlike pastors in my youth, Jack was willing to say "I don't know" and dig deeper into questions for me.
Had my friend not invited me to that concert, I would have stopped asking questions entirely.
Had Jack not shown up on the wrong day to set up his booth, we'd never have met and I'd never have gotten many of my questions answered.
These two unrelated and unlikely coincidences started stirring something inside me, and I started reevaluating the 10-page denouncement of faith I'd written in high school. I realized that faith isn't something you just accept. It's not something that just happens.
Faith is a choice.
I will never have all the answers, and even if I could have all my questions answered I'll never know all the questions to ask. We look at the world through eyes of imperfect beings with partial information. Making decisions based on that information, and being willing to revisit those decisions when information changes, is the only way we can resist being paralyzed by the sheer amount of information we don't have.
I choose to follow Christ. I choose to study the Bible. I choose to live my life in such a way as to be an example of Christ in the world.
I don't have all the answers, and probably never will. I could be wrong, but I choose to walk confidently that I'm not and choose to seek out both knowledge that strengthens and challenges my belief so I can have a fuller picture of the world around me, my faith, and how the two blend together.
If you're a believer, I'll invite you to church with me. If you're not a believer, I'll invite you all the same. I'll also invite you to coffee afterwards so we can discuss your thoughts, your questions, my thoughts, my questions, and come to an understanding. I will always continue seeking after truth; doing so from the position of a man following after Christ is the way in which I choose to do so.