"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: January 2019

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Whitney's Story

This was submitted by a thoughtful, expressive young reader. I'm so impressed with this latest generation and their ability to see past all the arbitrary divisions defended by their elders, to celebrate in one another those universal human values that transcend culture. If you'd like to share your story, send me an email at extoots@gmail.org. Thanks! --Free

I left the FALC when I was sixteen, almost three years ago. This is my story.

As a child, Sunday evenings made me nervous. The mornings were pleasant enough—Mom baked desserts while my siblings and I finished our homework at the table, counting down the minutes before a pie was pulled from the oven. If it was warm outside, dad pumped our bicycle tires with air and sent us down the driveway with a wave. 

An hour and a half before church started, we started getting ready. That’s when my stomach started feeling queasy. What would I wear? Who would I sit by? What if my only friend wasn’t going?

Often, we arrived at church an hour early to visit with the elderly folks. I usually spent that time camping out in the bathroom, biting my nails in anticipation.

Because I attended a school with no classmates from church, I had no friends at church. I was ignored by the girls at Sunday School. It didn’t help that my parents forbade us to wear necklaces, bracelets, or rings, the only jewelry allowed in church. We also weren’t allowed to curl or straighten our hair. Trust me, this did not help with my middle school desire to be popular.

If I was considered peculiar by my Sunday School counterparts, I was an alien to my schoolmates. At least I could relate somewhat with those from church; at school, I was the only one in my grade who’d never seen "Lion King," let alone never watched TV. For this reason, I went out of my way to make friends with the foreign exchange students who seemed as lonely as I. This would be one of the best things that ever happened to me. I met Inka, an excitable and trustworthy girl from Finland who taught me my first swear word—and it was in Finnish! Another friend, Sofia, warmly shared her culture over bowls of Ecuadorian potato soup. 

I believe it was because of these friends that I am now out of the church, and for that I am grateful. At first, I was shocked at what they told me—movies and nail polish seemed like off-limit conversation topics, but later I welcomed their information with quiet satisfaction, ticking off the movies I’d seen at their homes, say, or knowing what a condom was, or learning how to make the sign of the cross over my head and chest. We talked about world poverty and fate, of divorces and religion.

Two years after my last foreign exchange friend returned to her motherland, I began paying attention to the sermons in church. I mean, seriously paying attention. It was a sort of revelation that may only come once—you know, when you’re looking around, thinking, “does everyone actually believe all this?” The minister, as usual, talked about how we were the one true faith, but this time I couldn’t stop thinking about my friends—one a nearly devout Catholic who was thousands of miles away in Ecuador, who literally didn’t know the name of my church. Granted, I’d heard those lines hundreds of times, but somehow the “world,” as it was talked about, seemed a dear friend, and the stakes appeared much higher for my “worldly” friends. Something wasn’t right. 

I’ll spare the details of my leaving—it was a brutal affair, and I’m not quite ready to talk about it. I will instead remark that I’ve repaired the relationships with most of my family members. Life isn’t such a chore as it once was. The church was my whole life, and I walked away from it. There’s still a scar, and I suppose there always will be, but hey—I’m okay with that. I had a great childhood and wonderful parents, truly. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything. It’s beautiful, haunting, and I’m drawn to it. Makes for a great writing topic, too.

I feel I’m a much more spiritually inclined person than I ever was in the church. I no longer have the propensity to shy away from a stranger who’s overtly Jewish or Muslim. At the moment I’m into authors and theologians like Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans, who argue that the Bible isn’t too big that we needn’t talk about the parts which trouble us.

I once broke fast with Muslim friends who never once looked at me the way I used to look at them.