At the moment, the sun is shining and I’m a few miles in on a casual bike ride. I’ve stopped at a restaurant for a little light lunch before heading out again. And just a few hours ago, I ran into a familiar face from my old life as a religious believer.
Regular readers of this blog may recall that the last day I ever attended church and took communion was seven years ago. As it happens, that was on Memorial Day weekend, 2009. Of course, I no longer believed at that point, but if I’m going to have a solid anniversary day for my apostasy, it would have to be this holiday.
My former church, the Independent Apostolic Lutheran Church, has a rather unconventional church schedule. Whenever I try to explain any of the unique or even general characteristics of my old church, I found that I often just glossed over the fact that they didn’t meet weekly in the same building, because that just got way too confusing, especially since it wasn’t an aspect of the faith that was especially scaring in my new life. It was just a weird quirk of how they operate. In a nutshell, the different congregations work in concert with one another, each building hosting services over the course of a weekend on a designated weekend of the month. But every year on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, all the congregations would get together at a pre-determined location for a giant church weekend, with more than 1,000 people in attendance. So when my ex-wife still had hope that I would turn off my brain and begin believing again, she thought that this festival of a religious gathering would be the perfect time and place to rekindle the flame of my incredulity. From her perspective, if this didn’t make me believe again, nothing would. And she wasn’t far off; Memorial Day weekend is always the epitome of emotional piety, and if you’re of the mindset to accept it, it’s incredibly infectious. The only problem, the thing she couldn’t understand, was that I just didn’t buy it anymore. I saw through the smoke and mirrors of what was being promised, so the magic trick of making humans immortal was no longer one that I was going to rejoice for.
Ever since I left, Memorial Day has been a weekend in which I’ve felt nostalgic. Sometimes happily, but mostly painfully. Though I consider leaving the church the best thing that ever happened to me, it wasn’t without its consequences. I lost nearly ever friend I ever had, and I barely speak to most of my family anymore. And besides that, I still deal with the emotional scaring that resulted from years of derogatory church preachings, namely that I’m lowly scum that isn’t deserving of anything in life. I equate it to a battered-girlfriend syndrome, where the abusive partner keeps her with him despite his continuous beatings because he’s convinced her she’d be in an even worse place if she ever left him and the modicum of support he does give her. So often when I remember the days of my old life, the memories, subconscious or otherwise, of the worthlessness that was drilled into me comes flooding back. And I don’t even have to be recalling the old days for this to happen either.
But not this year. I’m not sure exactly what’s happened, but I barely saw this weekend approaching. And even on Saturday, right in the thick of it, it didn’t feel like Memorial weekend, so to speak. It’s just been a weekend. So when I was having breakfast this morning, and a familiar face from the church came up from the basement of the place where I’m currently renting a room, I was doubly shocked! “Oh right, it’s Memorial Day weekend, and he was going to need a place to stay over these few days,” and of course, “How does Curtis know the people that own this place?” We chatted a bit, caught up while I sat there in my sweat pants over a plate of scrambled eggs, and I found out how he ended up there this morning (besides his day job, he’s been a musician during some of his better years, and the guy who owns the house acted as his sound guy for awhile. Small world).
Once he left, I explained to my landlords how we knew each other, which turned into a conversation about some of the less flattering aspects of my old faith. They had read this blog before, so fortunately I didn’t need to explain too much. But through it all, I still find myself looking back at these old times rather objectively today. I’m not feeling bothered by the depressing memories or abusive mind-prisons of the church. Maybe it’s the beautiful weather, but my biggest concern at the moment is getting back out on my bicycle to enjoy the sunshine as it basks our little corner of the world with warmth to begin the summer season.
I think it’s safe enough to take this as a sign that I’ve put some critical distance between me and my former abusive partner, Jesus.