Losing My Religion

I didn’t drink, smoke, or experiment with drugs when I was in high school. I didn’t stay out past my curfew; I didn’t even have a curfew.  That’s because my adolescent rebellion took place between 9 am and 11 am on Sunday mornings.  That’s right; my rebellious teenage phase was that I went to church.  A Baptist church, to be precise.  I became a Christian the summer before my freshman year in high school after watching a particularly persuasive crucifixion video at a church camp I went to with my best friend.  My parents, both having rejected the Catholicism they were raised in, were not thrilled about my “conversion” but they allowed me to be active in the church and I went every Sunday and many Wednesdays and went on two mission trips to Mexico (oh yes. I was that girl).  I turned 17 in August of 1999 and I had been involved in my church for three years.

The summer I turned 17 the only requirement from my parents was that I was supposed to get a summer job and my mom was on my case about it the whole summer.  Instead of working though, I mostly slept in and watched reruns of Designing Women on Lifetime.  There is an Emmy-winning episode of Designing Women about World Hunger that involved a boy from Ethiopia whose family had died of starvation.  If memory serves, Suzanne was especially impacted by meeting this boy.  I think the end of the episode presented some facts about World Hunger and all of the Designing Women learned how horrible World Hunger is. And then everybody hugged. Well, I’ll tell you I had not been that influenced by a video since my viewing of Jesus’ crucifixion three years earlier.  I was struck with inspiration and decided that ending World Hunger was My Calling.  I went on the internet and researched World Hunger.  I printed out pages of facts and figures and graphs.  I decided that I would start a World Hunger fund at my youth group.  Later that week I went in to meet with my youth pastor, Rudy.  I presented him with a mini-presentation about why the youth group should start raising money for World Hunger.  I don’t remember exactly what organization I was planning on donating money to.  All I remember was that it went to “Africa” as though Africa were a small country, and not a massive continent. Rudy was skeptical about my plans though.  He reminded me of our African Children International sponsor child whose forlorn picture and thankful letter was taped to the back wall.  I fuzzily recalled the donation basket for him circulating at the end of youth group every Sunday.  I recalled looking into the near-empty basket and never putting any of my own change inside.  I convinced Rudy that my World Hunger cause would be different.  After all, I was on Speech and Debate!  I could write a persuasive speech and single-handedly motivate my peers to end World Hunger in Africa.  Rudy consented to let me try and we scheduled a Sunday for me to give a presentation to the youth group.

I made a little poster announcing my impending World Hunger Speech and placed it on the wall among the other posters reminding people to attend things like See You At The Pole and the wholesome paintball outings that I never attended because even though my youth group was my main social group, I wasn’t popular even there.  At home, I did extensive research on the broad topic of World Hunger.  I wrote and practiced a speech about how God has provided enough food to support everyone on the planet and there’s no reason that anyone should go hungry.  I rehearsed the speech for my tolerant parents, even though the discussion about God and my further in-depth involvement in church made us all uncomfortable.   But here’s the thing, at the same time that I was fully invested in my Call To End World Hunger, I was becoming more disillusioned with the church.  I had grown distant from the friend who had originally introduced me to the church and I was becoming tired of the social hierarchy of the youth group.  My critical thinking skills were also starting to kick in and I was becoming more aware of all of the values of the Baptist church that I didn’t agree with at all.  So by the time my appointed day to speak at church came around, I hadn’t been there for weeks.  However, I was still committed to the cause.  I dressed up and got to church early.  I came prepared with all of my materials and my speech on notecards.  I remember that Rudy’s topic that day was the Virgin Mary and how she was Awesome (Baptist youth groups think lots of things about God are Awesome).  Every once in a while, Rudy would notice me sitting there and he would say “Luci, I haven’t forgotten about you! Luci is going to talk about World Hunger today!”  and then he would keep going on about how Awesome Mary was and then he would call attention to me again.  Every time he mentioned me I felt dumber and dumber.  Everyone would look at me and I felt awkward and embarrassed.  I kept staring at my dumb poster with the stupid clipart of multicultural children holding hands around a globe.  My poster that was smaller than all the others on the wall.  The poster advertising my dumb cause that no one cared about.  Rudy went past the end of youth group with his excitement about Mary and promised me that I could give my speech the following week.  I never went back to church, and with the exception of funerals I haven’t set foot in a church since.   For years I blamed Rudy for my disillusionment with Christianity, but in reality I was looking for an excuse to give it up.  Because, like every other 17 year old, I was just looking for the place where I fit in and the Baptist church was not it.  And, by the time I was 17 I was starting to grow up a little, and didn’t need that adolescent acting-out anymore.

2 replies on “Losing My Religion”

I love this post. It’s so evocative of where we all are as 17-year-olds, trying so hard to be adult but drawing inspiration from the strangest places!

I attended Baptist church quietly for a couple of years, being very careful not to reveal my secret upbringing in an “East Coast liberal” church so out there that most Christian denominations have denounced it. It was fun, the people in my young adult worshippers group were pleasant and sweet, but I stopped going the day an early-20s man shared that he didn’t feel his late-teens wife was allowed to speak in church. It was a little too much.

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