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Why I Went Back To Church (Even Though I Don’t Know If I Believe In “God”… Yet)

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*I just wanted to start this post by saying that this post has been a year and a half coming. I finished writing weeks ago – right before it all started spiking here in the US and distancing efforts were began in earnest. We held off posting this because we were (and likely still are) all consumed, like most of the world, with the tragic state of things. But I suppose now is as good a time as any to talk about a higher power, our existence, and purpose. Of course, the irony is that I can’t go to church for a while, but that doesn’t negate my feelings and thoughts on the subject. Here goes…

Plot twist in the Emily Henderson story. After being raised Mormon, then spending 25 years agnostic, I have found myself wearing an ankle-length skirt, carrying a bag full of coloring books and snacks, sitting in a pew surrounded by stained glass. AND LIKING IT. What most of you have been wondering (and asking on social media) is, how the hell did I get here? 

Well, a long-winded analogy seems only appropriate to help explain. Here’s how I look at it: Spirituality (and religion) is like exercise or playing a sport – you can dabble in it (the occasional hike), join a local team (a casual church), or dedicate your life to playing a professional sport. Some people like to do it on their own (the rock climber?), some need a group to stay motivated, some like a friendly coach, and some might prefer or need a strict regimen with a lot of discipline and punishment (NFL player). YOU GET IT. There are a million different ways to exercise your body and get those endorphins (if you are even into that) and finding the one that works best for you is the challenge. I think it’s the same with spirituality. There are too many “religions’ and non-religions to count, all with pretty much the same goals – to add or find a larger meaning to life and enrich our day-to-day while we are here. 

I grew up LDS, aka Mormon. I left when I was 15 for the reasons that most people do – I didn’t identify with the conservative values, felt like there were a lot of hypocrisies, and didn’t feel seen as an individual who had a lot of questions that never could be answered. I also likely wanted to act like a normal teenager and make choices that weren’t aligned with the LDS doctrine, because as some of you might know, Mormonism is strict. But mostly it’s because I never really believed in God, which made all the above even harder. In all honesty, leaving the church didn’t feel like the hard part. But upsetting my parents was. Looking back now, I realize that rejecting and feeling rejected by something I’d known all my life, during such formative years, was perhaps traumatic and certainly skewed my view of organized religion. Not to mention affected my relationships. I wasn’t “kicked off the team”. I guess I just didn’t want to play anymore. I could write a whole book about that, and I realized it would be a big question in the comments so I wanted to address it. However, it’s not the point of this post. 

So most of my 20s and early 30s were spent without religion, having no spiritual life, which seemed fine because it’s really easy to not have something that you never had before. Plus I was a bit angry at organized conservative religions and really wanted no part of it. When people said “I’m not religious, but I’m very spiritual,” I thought it was BS because I didn’t know how to divorce the two. I didn’t realize all the options that are out there. I’d think, “so you believe in what??? Spirits?? What does that even mean??” Now, I know. 

WHY DID I START THINKING ABOUT CHURCH? 

In my later 30s I softened and started to see more of the good that churches can do – including the LDS (although their support of prop 8 set me back a lot). I started thinking about church probably for the same reason a lot of people do: The longing for community, to connect deeper to others outside of our bubble, to find a potential higher power for guidance, and to know that there IS more than just “this.” Also let’s not forget the nostalgia for an easier life, fear of how to raise our children to be good, the desire to help others, and generally help to be a better person. I look at my siblings and parents and I can’t help but think “gosh, Mormons are just the nicest people,” and clearly I want that part for my kids. 

Let me be clear, you don’t need religion or a church to do any of those things above, and many people would argue that there is more harm done with religion than good (I think the singular, and extreme view of the world is what causes problems – the interpretation of religion, perhaps not the religion itself). But historically, that small building in the middle of town could also help provide a lot of those things (when done right). “Working out” on my own was clearly not working. I needed the right “team,” the right church, one that was open and accepting, believed in science, but does that even exist anymore? 

Most importantly I started wondering why we were here. The whole meaning of life thing, and thus began my existential crisis. I couldn’t get my mind around the idea that if one of my kids or Brian died, that was it. No way. I knew that if/when that happens I’d search for answers which prompted me to find them earlier. Also, surely I’m here to do more than just play with pillows and beg for a “swipe up”. I certainly didn’t think that church was going to be THEE answer, but I knew that it was one way that was clearly popular, and one that I was very familiar with.

But I didn’t believe in God or Christianity. I believe in equality and science and radical inclusivity. Also, I was generally nervous to be in a room where another flawed HUMAN BEING MAN might tell me how to think or what to believe. I just couldn’t . . . yet. 

But I still had to find out the meaning of life, obviously. 

So I began my detective work to “find my purpose” and shopped around for the type of spiritual “exercise” that hopefully checked all my boxes and got me a bit closer. 

I listened to podcasts: The Liturgists, Super Soul Sunday, Goop. I read 7 Steps to Spiritual Wellness and Many Lives Many Masters amongst MANY OTHERS. I saw a spiritual counselor and mediums (tarot and palm reader), did sound baths and reiki. I tried meditating and read more about Buddha, and modern-day prophets like Gandhi and MLK. I even became more open to the idea of Joseph Smith – yes, the 14-year-old that founded the Mormon church. In my mind all of the philosophies don’t negate each other, you don’t HAVE to choose one, in fact, it’s my assertion that they are just different access points to the same higher power/s. 

I believe in it all, total religious fluidity, and think there are many different “languages” (or types of “exercises”) because there are many different types of people and we all communicate and function differently. You might see this as a cop-out or even offensive if you believe more singularly – that there is only one true religion – but in a subject that has zero conclusive answers, who is to say anything is off the spiritual table? 

So I suppose at this point I was spiritually lubed up and emotionally ready to step into that door because most of my individual research didn’t yield the community and service aspect that I craved for my family. I still wanted a physical place to meet, an organized way to help, and maybe I could connect more with others outside my bubble instead of me just complaining to my friends or shouting at the stars. 

But before we go further here is a little video I made, talking out loud about my feelings…

So where did I go? What church did I choose? 

**First off, this goes without saying, but I feel like I have to state it – I’m not supportive of any organization who interprets their doctrine to make people in any way feel bad about who they are or their choices, who supports political causes that exclude or seek to take away rights from people. It has to be progressive. For me to attend a church I need radical equality, Evolution is going to need to be recognized as a thing, and anyone can marry who they choose and all families are celebrated. Also, don’t lecture or tell me how to think*

My friend Suzanne was also searching for lots of answers and guidance and as raised Christian herself she felt the most comfortable going to a Christian church. She invited me and I was excited to go more as an anthropological study, definitely unsure that I would “fall” for Christianity. I didn’t the first time around, so why would I now? But the church was a 10-minute walk and only a 1-hour service. It felt like a healthy risk for a good story. 

I prepped myself and dressed in what was almost a sister wife costume and my former church “uniform” – a cute, ankle-length skirt, modest white blouse, and a bandana headband. I didn’t know that at most progressive churches you can really wear ANYTHING. We shuffled in and found an empty pew while the kids focused on their wrapped peppermints (Candy!). The pastor (Bishop? Reverend? Priest? I didn’t know) was wearing a plaid button-up, slacks, and sneakers. Neither hipster nor formal. As he spoke he reminded me so much of my older brother – genuine, funny, self-deprecating, relatable, inspiring and very, very caring while being seemingly unjudgemental. 

As the music started, and we were asked to stand up I held Birdie like a security blanket, swaying with her in my arms, singing in her ear the new words displayed on the projector screen. It was uncomfortable how comfortable it was.

I thought, “I can’t believe I’m at church
And I like it.” It was shocking, but not surprising.

The tears came, as they are right now. I guess I was overwhelmed, maybe by “the spirit” (I’ve heard of that:)), more likely nostalgia. I was my mother. I had done all the things – packed a “church bag” full of snacks and coloring books and yelled “kids get ready for church!” as if they even knew what that meant – they had never been. I found myself shushing them gently the same way my mom shushed us. I was dying to listen to the pastor, as likely my parents also did the bishop 30 years ago, because now it mattered to me. I didn’t hate this nostalgic feeling, because the intention behind all of it, 30 years ago and now, was good. My parents had good intentions and so do I, despite all the mistakes I’m surely going to make when my children are teenagers. The sermon made me ask myself some hard questions in such a non-judgemental and casual way. There was this undeniable sweetness and earnestness from the few people who were there. 

Why this church?

I suppose I found the type of “spiritual exercise” that works best for me at this point in my life. Let me explain. 

I’m going to continue with my sports analogy, because now I’M READY TO HIT IT OUT OF THE PARK. This church is the super fun “community softball team,” with a really nice encouraging coach, and people of all different levels, that accepted me for my average talent but eager demeanor. It’s an “anyone can play” team. This isn’t dissimilar from growing up where I played every sport with such enthusiasm, despite my undeniable mediocrity. And every single year, I won the – I kid you not – “best attitude” award. I’m the exact same here. I’m not necessarily GREAT at the game, but I really, really, really want to play because it makes me feel good and for whatever reason, I will give it my all. 

I like having a team because I’m not that disciplined on my own – I’m too scattered and get bored so easily, I won’t push myself on my own and I’m pretty social (as you can guess). I need a coach who encourages and teaches, but doesn’t yell, lecture, scream or make me feel bad when I mess up (or when I don’t show up). He wants me to be better and gives skills, tips, and tools that help, but no extreme punishment when I fail. I like teammates to share in the same experiences and I respect that some people are going to take it more seriously, be amazing, and leave me in the dust – I literally don’t care. You do you. I just want to set aside some time to be with them and my family, work on what I need to work on, and share some values. Basically, I want to “exercise” and leave feeling really good, taking that experience throughout the week.

This church is new and un-organized in the BEST way. It’s full of people that are in our community, yet outside my normal social circle, and it’s so refreshing. It is earnest and sweet and there is zero dogma and indoctrination (thus far). I told the pastor the second week (when he asked) that I didn’t believe in a “Christian God, per se.” He smiled and said, “I get that,” and then joked, “well …. at least not yet” with a proverbial wink, which was actually very funny and we both laughed at the challenge. I was totally accepted there even though I couldn’t and can’t say that I take Jesus as my Lord and savior. And I’m not sure I ever will. It just felt like you could be the worst version of yourself and still be accepted and loved.

I also really ENJOY learning about history. Despite your spiritual beliefs, a lot of what is in the Bible happened historically (with different versions obviously – no one REALLY knows) and I was gripped with a “what is going to happen next” curiosity, as if it were the hometowns of The Bachelor. And by the end of the never-long-enough talk, the sermon is always brought back to 2020 and how the message could somehow pertain to us now. We always leave wanting to be a better person in some way, with more introspection. Suzanne and I usually have a 2 hour debrief about what we learned, and how we are going to take the message into our lives, as I roast my Sunday supper chicken and sip orange wine or prosecco.

This church also cares about local causes and has provided a place for us to volunteer and help the community. This was one of my original drives towards a physical church versus just practicing my own spirituality. Of course, ideally, we’d be doing it more on our own, not needing the reminder or someone else to organize. But again, like working out, with busy lives it’s easy to forget this. There is some accountability, but most importantly it’s nice to do it TOGETHER. It’s very bonding for a community, hell it’s what makes a community. We aren’t perfect and I’m not saying that I’m using all my time to help others, but it’s more top of mind with more real opportunities.

Wait, What type of church is this??? 

The third Sunday I jokingly ask Suzanne “What are we again?” Oh right, Presbyterian (reformed). Now I currently don’t necessarily identify as being a Presbyterian, nor am I baptized (or however you become an official member). That may or may not happen. If you want to know what makes them different from other Christian sects here is my very rudimentary understanding (approved by our pastor): 1. Reformed Presbyterians let women become pastors and elders. 2. They accept science (evolution) and approach religion with what they say is a more intellectual viewpoint (like I said, so much history is taught). 3. They have open books and you know exactly how and where your donations are being spent, which is inspiring and makes you care more. But beyond that yes, it’s more progressive, with very little shame or emphasis on guilt, no “going to hells,” etc. It probably helps that the Pastor is in AA, so there are a lot of great messages from that philosophy.

Do I believe in God now?

I believe in a higher power that I have a strong connection with, which does give me a sense of calm, guidance, support, love and yes meaning. I also think that we are all connected, including animals and even plants/our soil, which has given me a much greater sense of connection to the earth and empathy. There is something bigger and greater than me, and I feel that pretty solidly in my soul. 

However …. 

I still struggle saying “God” in the Christian sense, and often transcribe “God” to “universe” or as my brother does “GOOD” in my head when it’s spoken. I think the easiest way to explain it is this: I’m open to it all, but Christianity is my “Native Language” – it’s my “way in,” because it’s close to how I was raised (Mormons are Christians). It’s comfortable and easy for me, but as I said earlier there are so many others “languages” that you can also speak (Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism – ANY and all of them that I’m forgetting . . . .). I don’t believe it’s the only true religion, it’s just culturally the easiest for me to identify with. 

I hope that saying I don’t believe there is only one religion or one God isn’t offensive to those of you who have more of a singular view, that is obviously not the intent or the *spirit* of the post. Spirituality is so individual and cultural, and I think whatever feels good, gives you a greater purpose, and helps you find meaning is right for you. Again, it’s a type of religious or spiritual fluidity that is working for me.

And listen, some times it gets too “religious-y” for me and that’s ok! I am at a church after all. I just think “this part isn’t for me” and then I listen, without judgment. It’s a lot to go from being agnostic for 25 years to attending a Christian church, weekly. I’m making small steps with an open mind and I’m sure as I learn more about Christianity and that undeniably great guy Jesus, some sort of faith will grow. I’m totally open to it (honestly I think I just need to understand the story more to “get” the story of Jesus, and our pastor agreed to give me some one on one time to ask all my questions).

Are we raising our kids religious?

Mostly we are doing our best in every way, and certainly not relying on church to teach them morality just as we don’t rely on their school teachers to teach them how to behave. For now, they are coming with us and enjoying it, but I’m nervous, Brian even more-so. It seems so far that they are just learning a simpler version of what we are learning. Hopefully, they are just taking away the idea of being kind and helping our neighbors, loving our enemy, etc. Although I know that there is a level of conditioning that is really hard to avoid in a church when you are so young. I try to casually ask them about what they learned and if they have any questions, without being too weird about it. Birdie just likes to color the cartoon angels, but Charlie sits with us in the service and listens to Every. Single. Word. It’s both impressive and kinda scary, fearing that he’s too young to hear the grownup bible stories (guys, the old testament is not G rated, and yes we had to leave once during the service where we learned about why it was called “Passover.” He got scared of blood on our door). 

When Charlie asked me point blank if Jesus really came back from the dead, I said “I don’t know, bud. These are all stories that a lot of people believe are true, and you can learn and think for yourself. Ask all the questions you need and maybe someday you’ll decide if they feel true to you, too.” He accepted that answer, as I wiped the beads of sweat off my brow. I truly think we should foster the openness to faith, and create a space and conversation for their potential beliefs, inspire hope, etc. I personally don’t actually think telling them that these are the facts and that they have to believe helps them develop a healthy sense of spirituality in the long run. I resented that as a child and teenager, and I don’t want to repeat that. 

We want them to enjoy it, not have it be forced upon them and Brian and I are even remodeling the kid’s ministry rooms to be more fun and inviting (coming to a blog near you soon) so it injects the new church with good energy. (See? I’m an ENTHUSIASTIC player.)

What does Brian think? Does Brian Henderson go to church?

The back story. Brian has always been a pretty atheistic, barely admitting that maybe there is something out there, referencing “science” all the time and needing “proof” (boring). His “know it all-ness” has infuriated me at times and we’ve actually had so many heated “debates” and wine-fueled fights about it over the last 10 years. How does HE know there’s NOTHING? 

So when I first started taking the kids he was psyched to get 2 hours alone on a Sunday morning. He would listen to podcasts, clean the house, and watch sports. Then I’d come back in a GREAT mood and make us all a huge Sunday supper of roasted chicken and farmers market veggies. Yah . . . he loved “church,” with no intention of ever going himself. 

But he wanted to participate in the service projects and knew that it was important that we do it as a family. Turns out he enjoyed the people, pastor, and the work. In fact, a couple of months ago our family spent the entire Saturday with some other volunteers cleaning and organizing the kid’s rooms. Not only did Brian not complain about how he was spending his weekend, but I could see that he really enjoyed it. This has continued and the past couple of weeks he has spent a large portion of every day putting down Flor tiles in the new kid’s spaces so the church didn’t have to hire someone. 

He’s opted to come to the last two services and really enjoys the conversation – it’s thought-provoking and historically so interesting. Don’t tell us (or our kids) how to think or believe, but it’s hard to argue with inspiring people encouraging us to be less of an asshole, love more, and feel more universally connected. Knowing that something great exists beyond you, is good for all of our souls (and egos). But spiritually he’s still up in the air, but becoming more open.

How do our friends feel?

Ha. Well, it’s funny. They are watching from the bleachers, nay, across the street inside a house peering out behind the curtains, mostly thinking it’s weird and scared that we’ve changed and become super conservative. After over 10 years of friendship, it must feel odd to text “Brunch?” And get back “Sorry, going to church!” I try to explain it, but it always feels like I’m proselytizing and that’s not what I’m trying to do AT ALL. I also find myself feeling defensive. It’s kept kinda quiet here in LA (by others, not me), with people sharing political views and educational philosophy much earlier than mentioning any sort of church affiliation. I think there can be a lot of judgment about religion and “church,” mostly because of the stereotypes. The ones that say churchgoers are extremely conservative, hate gays, love Trump and hold “you’re going to hell” signs on street corners. Sure, that exists, but definitely not the case here. After years of angrily arguing about how some Christians are the least Christ-like, I’m relieved to finally be exposed to so many Christians that indeed are carrying more progressive views and are so open, loving and inclusive. It’s so refreshing.

Since I’ve spoken openly about going to church, people will perk up and say “me, too”. There are a surprising amount of “secret Christians” in LA (that’s what I call them). The irony is thick – that they/we are fear being judged out in society, as others do when they are in a church. Extremism in every religion is what people fear, me too, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, I know some Mormons that believe wholeheartedly in the gospel but disagree with a lot of the interpretations of the doctrines that human men have put into place. This blew my mind – that you don’t have to buy into the whole thing. You can believe in the macro but know that some of the man-made rules and rights restrictions are perhaps not for you. I will pay $500 to anyone that can explain why they forbid drinking coffee but encourage diet coke. These kinds of inconsistencies distract (and taint) the entire religion, but I respect the individuals who are progressive enough to realize that there might have been a “language barrier” or a “lost in translation” issue with some of the doctrine from God to prophet. 

But again, this post isn’t about why I left the Mormon church, it’s why 25 years later I’ve found myself in a church at all. It’s still shocking to me, and yet somehow not at all. 

Would I ever go back to the Mormon church?? 

While I have truly endless appreciation for how I was raised until I was a teenager (#mormontil15) I don’t identify with how conservative it is. I do however realize that no one does service and gives back more than the Mormon church – they just don’t shout about it. They do SO MUCH for so many, locally and internationally, and for the most part their intention is wildly pure. I am a highly positive person, with a crazy work ethic, and a very good moral compass because I was raised Mormon by people who dedicated their lives to the church (could be anecdotal, but those are the facts). But until the church can accept gay marriage, encourage more questioning and curiosity, and allow flexibility in rules then I know I won’t be able to make it my community. I’ve talked to the big guy about it, and he’s fine with me 🙂 My beef with religion has truly been more with the conservatism/extreme teachings.

This post felt premature to write. I’m only a year and a half in and I’m just learning my “spiritual language,” I’ve just joined the team. Plus I have a lot of residual religious resentment that I’ve had to work through. It’s creating a pretty big hurdle for me to dismantle or jump over. So while I’m comfortable at a Christian church I still have some triggers. I suppose that’s why it’s shocking, that after all that injury, I’m back up playing again at all. And writing this post over the last couple of months (the first draft was 23 pages) helped a lot. 

So that’s where I’m at, March 20, 2020. I go to church and I like it.

For someone who apparently LOVES a cheesy long-winded sports analogy I find it hilarious that I can’t handle the word “journey,” but I suppose that’s what I’m on – a spiritual journey. And in five years this might be a completely different post. But using that analogy truly helped me understand where I am spiritually and why I am currently choosing the experience that I am. And that is a keyword for me – “choosing.” It’s my choice. It’s my kid’s choice. And sometimes you need to sit out an inning, bench yourself, or play something different altogether. I think we are ready for this modern version of religion – less polarizing, extreme, and dogmatic and shift it to more acceptance, community, connection, and love. I think that generally, it’s the human beings that have corrupted religions because we are all flawed and full of fear. It’s a hard jump to make to let’s say, still support the LDS church when their doctrine doesn’t support gay marriage. But there seems to be an increasing amount of people who are seeing things this way – interpreting it for themselves, translating it to 2020, and leading with progressive kindness, rather than just sticking to laws that men interpreted from their god. 

So have I found my purpose? Do I know the meaning of life? Maybe. I’ve definitely made some shifts in my career to ensure that I can focus on what I think my “calling” might be. Again, you don’t need religion to help you come to any of these decisions or make any shifts in your life, but it helped me think more macro. It helped me look at things with a lens of longevity and purpose, and there can be nothing wrong with that. 

Maybe someday I’ll be ready for the big leagues, but I’m pretty happy here, showing up when I can, and asking a ton questions to myself and others. Sometimes just getting out there and playing feels really, really, REALLY good. 

So, guys, that’s me, in this very moment quarantined up at the mountain house, thinking about bigger things. Now you: What spiritual team do you play for? Did you grow up going to church? Are you too someone who never thought you’d go back but find yourself craving it?? Would you go back? Did this infuriate/enlighten you? Have you also been seeking some of the same things? I’d LOVE to hear it. 

**Any discussion about religion will be inflammatory, thus my apprehension of posting this for over a year. I realize that for a lot of people religion has caused them so much rejection, pain, and trauma, not to mention wars and genocide. But for others, it has brought nothing but joy and security. It seems to me if something can be so polarizing it’s likely because it holds a lot of emotional stake, and therefore is worth a conversation. I hope this can be a productive dialogue, where we can be open to other’s viewpoints and grow by appreciating other’s views. Don’t waste this opportunity to connect by adding fuel to a negative fire. Instead pose questions, and thoughtful open opinions (like I know you will). 

Fin Mark

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Alison

Hi Emily, I am a huge fan of yours and I have read your blog for years. I have been anxiously awaiting this post because I had just no idea what it would say. I’m in the category of “NFL player” Christian, having grown up in the church and later worked at my church for several years and now live overseas working for a church here…I’m all in! Your story is extremely encouraging to me because of countless conversations that I’ve had with other Christians or on our church staff whether or not “un-believers” or “not-yet-believers” would feel like they are welcomed in our church. It’s a very uncomfortable question to wrestle with and I am grateful for your story to know that it’s possible and to hear from you what exactly those things were that made you feel welcomed wholeheartedly. I think it’s a very courageous choice for you to be in this phase and I hope that others will be encouraged to “try” church without feeling like it’s going to be an extremely pressuring environment…maybe it’s helpful to think about dating the church/Christianity without feeling like you have to marry it 🙂 Thank you for sharing your heart… Read more »

Parah Coffey

Hi Emily, I too am a huge fan of yours and saw you win the design contest years ago, also I’m in the NFL. This is such a beautiful post and it was so good to hear how you felt going back to church. I was reared in church, but sat on the sidelines until I was in my late 20’s and then decided to actually play on the team. I’m a very happy team player now and in my late 60’s so I’ve been on the team for awhile. I hope you grow and find a place (position) to play and it sounds like you’re well on your way!

Thank you for sharing such a heartfelt, deeply personal post. Lifelong Catholic here, and so much of what you said resonated with me. The Catholic Church has done so much wrong, but has also done a lot of good in the world. There have to be systemic changes. But I feel that my individual church I go to is welcoming and inclusive. It doesn’t preach on laws and rules but rather on doing good in the world (taking “church” beyond the walls). And some of the most wonderdul people I know are Catholic. I love the sense of community and the sense of refuge. Now, having said that, I rarely talk about my faith because of my similar experience that some Christians can hide behind their faith to judge and shun. I take what works for me and realize that won’t work for everyone. Thanks again for sharing.

Sarah

I was raised going to church, and loved it. But when I went to college, it seemed like everyone on campus who went to church was so preachy and self-righteous and overzealous…it felt performative, and I hated it. It turned me off of even just wanting to go to church for years. Fast forward a decade, and, like you, my husband and I have felt that pull to find the community of church again. It took over 7 months of trying different churches every Sunday. Finally we found one near our house that felt right. The second time we went, we realized the church does a monthly “gospel Sunday” where the service is led by the huge, amazing gospel choir. At the end of the service, they asked us to stand up, walk to the center aisle, and all hold hands, and we sang “We Shall Overcome”. It was so touching, and obviously such a close community of people, everyone leaning on each other and singing this wonderful message together – it made me weep. (I’m tearing up again writing this!) The woman next to me, a total stranger, noticed my tears and smiled at me and wrapped her arm… Read more »

Molly

Awww…! Now I’m tearing up. Feel like I went to your church, too. Thanks!

Denise Myers

my FAVORITE part of this story is when you talked about how you and your friend actually discuss the sermons afterwards. As someone who has been a Christian almost my entire life, I know that many of us go to church and walk right out without a second thought of what was said. The times in my life that I have spent discussing and talking through my faith, my beliefs, my doubts, my fears, with my church friends are the best times of my life. Living my life with them has been everything to me. But there have been so many times when I have not done that…. Just went along with the routine of going to church because that’s what you’re supposed to do. So, how awesome to be reminded the purpose of going to church! There is a promise in the Bible that says if you look for God, you will find Him. I believe that for you. Thank you for sharing!

Jeff

This was AMAZING. So happy you chose to write this and it is so absolutely relatable. I just recently started going to church again in my mid 30’s after a LONG period of just showing up for Christmas Eve service with my parents– not because I had some philosophical falling out with religion but more because life got busy and I felt uncomfortable as a single adult showing up to something that felt geared for families. I also came to the dilemma of “is this really all there is?”. I hope I can find a similar sense of peace as you seem to have found.

Brie

I love that you shared this. As you mentioned, religion can be a polarizing topic, so I hope that you are met with love because that- love- is the basis of my Christian faith. May God continue to guide you and your family as you navigate this journey. <3

I didn't grow up going to church until friends invited me to their youth group in 7th grade. 20-some years and two kids later, I desperately love Jesus but have wandered from my home church after the leadership changed. Reading about your journey inspires me to live-stream a church service tomorrow to explore other options for us so that we can actually find a new church home after this social distancing ends.

Danielle

I can totally relate and I’m sure many others can as well. I was raised catholic and definitely wish they were less conservative in many ways, however going to mass reminds me what is important in the world – family, giving back to those less fortunate, and treating others with love and respect. Living in NYC for 10 years can make you forget that, going about your busy life with distractions every day, and sometimes need a reminder to take a quiet moment and pray for those you love and strangers that need it. 5 years ago the church brought me my now husband who happened to be there only because a friend of his had recently passed away. We met that day, got engaged after a mass 5 years later, and then got married at that church. We are always kind of afraid/embarrassed to tell this story to our liberal, hip New Yorker friends but other times we are proud. Our priest there is young and progressive and always ties the homily back to modern day as well in a very relatable way and in these trying times is even doing Instagram live masses. The music is performed by… Read more »

Sara

Spiritually lubed up is officially my new favorite phrase.

Great post too 😉

Jill

Thank you. I appreciate your thoughtful post and your honesty and your courage in sharing your thoughts.

Victoria

Fascinating!

Not religious, never have been. I do feel a pull toward ‘community’ and church is the, hmm, default? place for community. But I hate organised religion for the damage it does, the supreme hypocrisy and the yelling outside clinics.

Really interesting reading though. You wrote it well and balanced. I think I’m more a Brian, show up to do some good (halftime oranges?), but I’m not getting on the field.

BJ

The Unitarian Universalist church may interest you!

M

Maybe consider a Unitarian church? There’s no Jesus, just a spiritual, open-minded, inclusive group of folks getting together to do good.

Elisabeth

Halftime oranges! You just described me — non-believer but spiritually curious and always down for some social justice/action. Thank you (and Emily) for the extended metaphor — it’s giving me some new understanding.

Jenn B

I was also going to recommend Unitarianism if you hope to avoid the baggage. It’s so nice to be part of a community with a wide range of ages and backgrounds.

Kelly P

Haha – yes! Halftime oranges! I finally find where I fit in this whole analogy.

Sara

Loved this and resonated so much with it! Thank you. The group “house” for organizing our political and ethical commitments is so key, right? As you say, I’m sure many people can do this on their own, but it’s a powerful thing to be part of an organism bigger than ourselves. My church’s weekly soup kitchen was transformed into a robust brown bag operation in about nine seconds this week, thanks to folks knowing immediately how to reach out and organize. Much love and support from this “secret Christian” in another big city. xx

Venita

What a great post! Thank you for sharing your “journey” with us. I’m team Christian all the way, been carrying that church bag of snacks for years. I loved reading your perspective, as it is similar to many I love and it helps me understand. ❤️

Jj

Thank you for sharing this story! I think many of us struggle with organized religion (especially if like Emily we self-identify as progressive or liberal) and yet have some beliefs or wondering or recognition of a spiritual part of us, and of life. I used to worry about these questions for myself until someone told me, “doubt is a form of faith.” By that definition, I am full of faith! This is an individual journey but I am thankful for the faith I do have, even if it is as small as a mustard seed sometimes.

Marie

Wow just wow! Thank you so much for sharing! I was raised in the Church of Christ and have been a “Christian” since I was 12. Now in my late 30s, I’m struggling with what my actual beliefs are. I’m tired of being told all the time that I’m doing it wrong. I’m tired of every sermon or class telling me I’m going to hell. I need hope. I need love. I need people who truly care about others and want to help, not because they are trying to convert someone. There are so many rules in this church that are pushed as if they are straight from God, but it’s actually years and years of tradition and doctrine. I really appreciate your perspective and share so many of the same thoughts. ❤️

Lindsey

Hi Emily! I love your vulnerability and your willingness to really think for yourself and not just do something because your parents did it. It feels like you are being very authentic!

Amy

Hello Emily,
I’m so happy you are searching. I encourage you to read the Bible to find the answers you are looking for. The King James Version that you may have grown up reading is difficult to understand. I enjoy the New Living Translation and The Message Version. They are the same story but translated in a more modern and easy to understand language. I am so thankful I have come to know God as a personal friend through reading letters from him, the Bible. God bless you as you continue your search! ❤️Amy

patty

Wow, lots of mental gymnastics going on here. I guess that’s what you need to do when there’s no evidence of something.

Keri

Rude

Elisabeth

Patty. I’m an atheist, too, but it’s pretty darn cool of Emily to share her own spiritual “journey,” including all the parts that aren’t totally figured out. In fact, that “not-knowing” stance makes me relate to and respect a person (any person) even more. We don’t need religion to help us to understand that before we comment, we should consider whether a) it’s true, b) it’s necessary, c) it’s kind.

sarah

Patty – It can be argued that it takes more mental gymnastics to believe we are here because of an accident than we are here because of a Creator.

patty

I encourage you to educate yourself on scientific principals and the origins of the universe. Stephen Hawkings, Einstein, Neil Tyson deGrasse are all good places to start.

Jess

Patty, I don’t believe in religion, particularly, but first, none of said scientists can /prove/ exactly when and how life started. Nothing explains the “switch”. All we have is theories.

Also, being rude and patronizing about any topic doesn’t make you any superior. Just a regular jackass.

patty

I’m for realism and rationalism. When I see someone spreading magical thinking as if it’s based in reality I speak up. If that makes me a jackass, okay.

Cheryl

Humans endowed with specific knowledge, confined to the realm of current science are hardly the end all be all to a soul search. If I want to buy a house, I use a broker. If I want to feel better, I go to a doctor. If I’m looking for spiritual nourishment, the last place I’d look is a scientist. I might use the scientific method to test different spiritual practices. I’d try prayer, meditation, test it myself. Only through personal experience can you truly know something intangible for certain.

Sarah

Assuming we came here buy pure coincidence, one that caused this so perfectly attuned world and gave us exactly what we need to survive and reproduce. Now, science claims we are made of chemical particles. If so what is one’s subconscious made of, and how can you explain your own dreams?

Margaret Pycherek

Lots of mental gymnastics needed in science, as well, to theorize, extrapolate, cross-reference and prove/disprove. I, like Emily, crave community…but like Brian, am still not ready to join a team. However, I won’t begrudge a human being the desire for community and comfort. As Muriel Rukeyser said so eloquently, “The Universe is made of stories not atoms.” I hope everyone finds the story that gives them peace in these turbulent times.

Julie

This was a very interesting read. Love your work and love following you. Thanks for being so vulnerable. So very brave of you. Like you said, not very “typical” in the LA world. I am in no way trying to start a discussion or argument, but was wondering if you could define, what “religion” means to you? I am asking that in the nicest way possible like we were best friends just sitting and sipping a latte together. I know what it means for me and am just curious as to how you would define it. Keep seeking!

Hannah friday

Thanks for sharing Emily! I really love how you were open about your “journey,” as there is so much confusion and stigma out there with Christianity. Jesus was (and still is ) the master at “radical inclusivity”…he kindly accepted everyone when he was alive, regardless of their different religious views, gender, or socioeconomic status. I believe he still does this today. He sees the questions, the hesitency, the hurt…and he accepts and loves you as you are. Once I realized I could actually have a relationship with Jesus (and kick the religious “dos” and “don’ts” to the curb) my life has never been the same.
Side note…you mentioned your calling…but I think you can definitely live out your calling in any career. Bringing joy and order through design is a beautiful gift, and God can definitely use you to make a difference in the world through it! ( Blog posts like this, for example). Thanks again for your transparency and inspiration! ❤️

Megan

Thanks for sharing your story. I am a member of a Unitarian Universalist church because I like that I don’t have to believe in a specific doctrine. They encourage spiritual exploration and emphasize community. If any of you are “spiritual but not religious” you might want to check out a UU congregation. Belief in a god is not a requirement, or even the goal. I go to church because it makes me feel connected to something bigger than myself in this crazy world.

Laurie R.

Hi Megan, Just thinking as I read your comment. I found it Interesting…if you don’t believe in God, what else is there to believe in and worship? Why worship the universe(the creation) when you can worship the Almighty Creator who holds all power and created all things? Just a thought, created things have no supreme power, only God has the ultimate supreme authority and power. I know many people look to the universe, or creation to worship but what can those things do for you? The God of the Bible created all things, he is the giver of life, loves each one of us and wants to have a personal relationship with us. It’s not about religion, religion is tradition and rules of men. God’s word the Bible tells us everything we need to get to know him on a personal level. A church that bases its beliefs on the Bible is everything you need. God is simply amazing and has done so many incredible things for me. I encourage everyone to get to know him. You will see as well what an awesome, loving, powerful and holy God he is. No judgement for anyone here, just genuinely asking questions… Read more »

Shannon

You’re so wonderful! Thank you for (yet again) being so honest and open and thoughtful and smart and showing us something us a perspective that I truly haven’t read like this before. I grew up Quaker (Christian but v social justice oriented), and haven’t gone in years (mostly because everyone is really, really old), but I’m feeling inspired to revisit after reading this post! Also–love the 3 minute video of you talking to just us 🙂

Shelley

What a thoughtful and honest post. Thanks for sharing. Your openness to faith and to others’ faith is a beautiful thing.

Jennifer

“When Charlie asked me point blank if Jesus really came back from the dead, I said “I don’t know, bud. These are all stories that a lot of people believe are true, and you can learn and think for yourself. Ask all the questions you need and maybe someday you’ll decide if they feel true to you, too.”

Thank you, Emily. My daughter occasionally goes to church with my in laws and I never know what to say to her when she comes home with questions (I consider myself agnostic). This is a beautiful, respectful answer that I will definitely give her going forward. This whole post resonates with me as I personally search and question, especially in these last few weeks. I would definitely be interested to read the long version of this post if you were to post it.

Stefanni

Emily, thank you so much for this thoughtful, honest, and encouraging post. I was also raised in a very conservative, but not Mormon, church. I also saw all the inconsistencies and as I have grown older ( much older than you!) I have been so discouraged about the state of Christianity. But people like you are giving me such hope! We all can embrace the mysteries of God. He meets us where we are and loves us totally. I believe that he is using you “for such a time as this” , as he did Esther, to be brave and speak truth. Thank you for this post—it means so much to me and to others.

Nora

“We can all embrace the mysteries of God”. Stefanni! I loved this. I am a Christian and have spent the last five years learning that my value (and everyone else’s value) is completely separate from what I DO and what I don’t DO. My value exists because I AM. Thank you for your encouraging and inclusive comment.

Molly

Born a Catholic, will die a Catholic. Just don’t go to church. Too much bad stuff going on. My husband and I tried another darling little church in the California wine country where we used to live. The 12 regular congregants warmly welcomed us with open arms. We were feeling all fuzzy. Right up until the Baptist minister started vehemently yelling about how all gay people were going to burn in hell. I’m not gay, but I will defend to my death the rights of others to live their life in peace. When we moved to the East Coast, we went to mass three times in a small, darling little white steepled church. We were feeling all warm and fuzzy. Right up until the Catholic priest started telling all 12 of us how wrong the doctrines and beliefs of all the other churches were. And right up until the male priest seemingly flirted with some of the husbands. I’m all for gay Catholic priests, but really, at church? We now live in a dry county. As in no bars. (Yet the wine and cocktails flow at fun, delightful parties!) But churches, wow, have they got churches here. Haven’t worked up… Read more »

Andrea

This was so good. Thank you for expressing exactly how many people feel about religion. Wanting a little bit, but not all of it-I feel the same way you do. As a parent now with two young children I feel like I need to do something and do a little dabbling in churching (after soo many years of hating being forced to go to Catholic mass and religion classes) I completely reject any kind of conservative teachings and I do not want to engage in passing judgement on anyone’s lifestyle or choices. Maybe a cool Presbyterian church would work for my family too! I mean…when the pandemic is over. Whenever that is. Stay safe!! ❤️

Allie

This post was so encouraging! As a life-long Christian, it’s my hope that more people will see the church and its members as grace-givers.

We learned about ancient Egypt in 4th grade. At a sleepover with my bestie we giggled about how silly it was that people believed in the gods and I went “ooooh” and realized there are many religions who all feel they’re “right.”

I do miss the community of religion, the aspects you share. But I’ve gone back a few times with my mom (Methodist, which isn’t crazy conservative but bit progressive either) and I cannot handle it.

Christianity and Islam are aggressive religions, wanting to make you “join their team” and very forceful (in my experience) on the “rules of the game.” Buddhism, Hinduism, etc are friendlier – join us if you want, we’re here for you! Then Judaism is the exact opposite: “you can’t join our team.”

In lots of major cities there’s something called Sunday Service I’ve been meaning to try. It’s all the community elements minus the religion. Instead of sermons related to the Bible, they bring in guest lectures from local colleges to share on an interesting topic, kind of like local TED Talks.

Mutmainah

Sat on this a minute because I didn’t want to counter your claim that my religion was aggressive with aggression and I can’t discount your personal experience. However, seeing as I’ve scrolled through a good chunk of the comments section and this is the only mention of Islam so far, I don’t want this to be the last word on things. So, here goes…

Muslims view Islam as a complete way of life. Hence, the insistence on the “rules of the game” Rites, ritual, tradition, good works on everything from what we eat to how we travel are all aimed at fostering taqwa (god-consciousness) even in the mundane. We also believe that “there is no compulsion in religion” (this is a verse in the Quran) and thud view proselytization and conversion in all their messy complexity.

I’d implore you to consider the implications of describing a religion already so maligned in the larger culture as violent and extremist as “aggressive” and the opposite of friendly. I doubt this was your intention but felt a little PSA was needed.

Jem

I think you could replace Islam with evangelical Christianity and the same paragraph would be true. They also believe it is a way of life. That doesn’t make it “less aggressive”.

Joy

Just like some denominations of Christianity do not represent all or even most Christians, the same goes for the branches of Islam.

Lauren

To be fair, it’s an overgeneralization and a mischaracterization of Judaism to say it’s ‘you can’t join our team.’ Jews are happy for people to convert, we just don’t ever go out seeking conversions or evangelizing.

Lisa

Wow, it’s hard to know how to respond to this post. Today’s culture wants to create their own truth and most people tip toe around the truth for fear of offending anyone. I personally want to surround myself with people who care enough about me to boldly but lovingly speak truth into my life even if it’s not necessarily what I want to hear at times. For those genuinely seeking the truth, we need to look no further than Jesus’ words: “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 Ironically, you said that you want to be “the worst version of yourself and still be accepted and loved,” and that is precisely what Jesus offers us. We are saved by grace alone no matter how ugly our sin, our past or future mistakes. He paid the price and we are offered salvation despite our constant shortcomings or how many times we screw up. What a great comfort to be so fully loved! Lastly, please don’t be fooled into thinking that by not teaching your kids what to believe that you aren’t teaching your kids what to believe. I… Read more »

Jean

Agree.
2 Timothy 4:3 “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” Keep seeking – reading the Bible and praying for understanding. John 3:16

Alison

Wow. This was/is so beautiful! Thank you. My husband and I are pastors in a reformed Presbyterian Church (yay for women elders/pastors!) and this is our vision for our amazing community. Everyone on the team, all different perspectives, learning and growing together. I have a lot of peace with the doubt and a lot of hope in the grace. Thank you, sharing this with everyone I know! Xo

Megan

I was raised Catholic. In my family, we were given the choice of whether or not to confirm (at 17 years old). My sisters and I opted out. At 40, my “religious distancing“ (humor me) is still painful. I was devout in the sense of feeling connected to and a friend of God, Mary and Jesus (Joseph be damned). I adored the stained glass, incense and hand shakes of “peace be with you.” When I learned that my church thought that my Auntie Mary Jean should go to hell because she loved a woman and that science was not to be believed, I was out. I’ve explored religions, cultures and philosophies in an attempt to connect to that higher power. I miss it. Nothing is as accessible and reliable as my before bed convos with imaginary people in the sky (I mean this genuinely). And, yet, my moral compass says that the financial, political and lobbying power of the Christian church is harming more than its helping. I’m torn. “I believe in a higher power that I have a strong connection with, which does give me a sense of calm, guidance, support, love and yes meaning. I also think that… Read more »

Julie

Megan, You might want to check out Father Richard Rohr. His Franciscan alternate orthodoxy is very much in line with some of the things you are saying.

Emily, I read every word of this post….so well written and funny. And, I can completely identify with you. Thank you for including your readers in your journey. It took a lot of guts to explain all this and you did it well!

Oh no. In my previous comment I suggested “Sunday Service” as a non-religious community but I meant Sunday Assembly! Apparently Sunday service is a Kanye West thing….ha!

Also I should have said thank you for this post! It’s refreshing to hear and it’s good to know there are churches out there who are redefining what religion means and how to practice the true elements of love, service and community.

Helen

Thanks for the correction! 😉 Was about to look up this fascinating concept.

Beth

Emily, thank you so much for sharing this. Your open, honest, still-in-progress point of view is refreshing! I’m a Christian and very much so believe the church is meant to be a place that welcomes and loves all unconditionally (in sentiment and action). Happy to hear about the meaningful experience you’ve had so far. Love to you and your family as you explore 💙

Laura

Emily, this post was truly brave. I am a Christian who grew up in a conservative denominational church, then considered myself an evangelical, but now have deconstructed a lot of what I was taught and examined if what I was believing was truly Biblical or just an interpretation of that. I too have enjoyed the Liturgists podcast and the Robcast (have you listened to that yet?)

Right now my hubby and I go to a church called “Journey” and do believe that we are on a spiritual journey. We have changed our thinking on so many ideas of Christianity — and now instead of believing that we are growing in faith to “know God better,” we are seeing that as we grow our view of God expands and we can’t possibly know all the answers.

Your church sounds great and I’m glad you’ve found a place with open hands and hearts.

Emily

So interesting! I had a similar experience, but with the Catholic church – even left at about the same age. About three years ago my husband and I started attending (and eventually joined) a Unitarian Universalist “church”. I think if you’ve found a spiritual home that’s fulfilling to you that is fantastic and you should stick with it, but just wanted to throw the name out there in case you’re still doing independent reading because they practice/teach pretty much exactly what you describe thinking. Non-dogmatic and pulling from lots of traditions (what they call the six sources). Every week I can feel good saying with everyone else “Love is our doctrine, the quest for truth our sacrament, and service is our prayer.” About sums it up! (Again, not a recruitment attempt, just an FYI if you hadn’t run across it yet.)

Karla

I was raised Methodist but I was the quiet kid who sat in the back and observed. I saw lots of hypocrisy among my peers and the adults that didn’t match the words/lessons that we were being shown. It’s been a long journey but I’m now mostly just incredibly spiritual and very comfortable there but I do still read my Bible and often use its verses to convey my thoughts as it is familiar to me. My favorite Bible story is of the Tower of Babel in Genesis when God scatters the people across the earth and confuses their language in order to keep them from trying to build a shortcut to Heaven. It makes me think of the game ‘telephone’ that we played as kids and how after some research so many of the worlds religions are so similiar at their core. I can see how we got here and it is why “love your neighbor” is the second most important commandment.

I love that you shared this! Thank you so much for taking the time to write it all out—and in such a thoughtful & sensitive way. So happy for you and your family that you are finding a community to be apart of. I think that’s the very best part of a religion (and truthfully, oftentimes the only part that keeps me in)—the people. Finding like minded people who help each other, keep tabs on one another, and want to do good is such a wonderful benefit. Thanks again for opening up. I’ve been a big fan of yours since Design Star and love when you share. Sending lots of love in this crazy corona virus chaos. ♥️♥️♥️

Abby

Thank you so much for sharing all of this. It is a gift to be invited in to someone’s journey and as you’ve mentioned snippets, I’ve been intrigued. I’m one of those NFL Christians that’s all in (really, probably minor leagues/farm teams/whatever the jr version is called.) The question for me is: How can I help the world have hope and pursue truth? I find my answers in the Bible, and on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights, and then try to take those responses out into the world with grace and love. There’s no way that this sentence won’t sound cheesy, but I will be praying that you find truth in your journey!

Lauren

Emily, THANK YOU for sharing this. Your story Truly resonates with me and likely so many others. I’ve been on a similarish journey wanting to dip my toe back into church, even considering catholocism (bc if Richard Rohr does it, maybe I can too)? I appreciate your openness and honesty and search for more and really I just wish that more people in the world were like you so I could have one of them as my best friend.

Carrie Klein

Hi Emily,
It was so encouraging and exciting to hear of your decision to investigate the church again. I also grew up in the church in the Baptist denomination and consider my parents role in introducing me to God through our church as the best thing they’ve ever done for me. They modeled their faith, but gave me space to question and make it a faith of my own. Losing my mom to breast cancer at age seven became the real point at which I seriously considered God because I was told that’s where my mom had gone to be with Him in heaven. God has since healed me and grown me in ways no earthly person or thing could ever do…and since then my relationship with Him has grown into by far the most important part of my life. The best gift you can give your kids and yourself, I believe, is the opportunity to learn and grow in the love of God. I am confident you will find Him to be worthy of your investigation. He will prove Himself to be way more than what you’re hoping He is.

Emma

Hi Emily! As always I appreciate your thoughtful vulnerability. I’ve always thought you’re an exceptional designer not only in that you make spaces beautiful but strive to make life more beautiful. This was so interesting to me! I related in a similar but different way. I probably came at church from more the angle Brian did. I wasn’t raised going to church and knew fundamentally nothing about it until one day I ended up in a catholic mass with my friend when I was 16. I felt like it was a foreign language and my feelings of “being on the outs”, which I had built so much resentment towards throughout my childhood was only made worse that day. Quickly the bit of curiosity died and I had resolved that anything relating to God was nonsense. Now, being from a very (now I know culturally) Christian area, I wanted to at least be informed in my claims against Christianity. So I started reading the Bible so I could refute Christianity as an informed atheist. Now as I read the Bible and learned and consulted different resources and pastors, started going to church and “doing Christian things”, about 2 years later I… Read more »

Katen

My thoughts exactly. There has to be One Truth. That’s why it’s called Truth. Search for Jesus and you will find Him.

Alesha

I love how kind thoughtfully you put your convictions out there!

Jess

I really appreciate how kindly you put your thoughts and feelings here. My issue with “there’s only one truth about who God is”, personally, is that if religions are correct in the existence of a higher power, then doesn’t it make sense that all roads lead to Rome? In my understanding, it’s not a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s just that God can be known by many names, reached by many roads, as long as heart, intention and love are pure and good. So if a person does not have a religion, but is good and loving and kind, then I’m sure God will be loving and forgiving as well. Would it matter to a loving, graceful God that a person that lived life kindly and humbly believed in ‘the wrong faith’? Or called God by another name? It doesn’t sound right to me. I don’t know if there is a God. And I don’t need to know. I fully embrace that not-knowing is one of the most fundamental parts of my life. I choose to do good and to love as much as I can, as many people as I can, because I feel like that’s… Read more »

Lashley

Well I could (should?) write my own 23 pages on the topic, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I was full NFL level Christian for a long time, transitioning from a more conservative evangelical upbringing to a more intellectual, reformed theology as I went through college and adulthood. I was happy in my imperfect (reformed Pres, actually) church, but then church leadership learned that I’d moved in with my then-boyfriend and it all sort of fell apart. I was suddenly just ignored, when I had been given liturgical duties most weeks, and my guy, who had been curious, felt like he was seen as some kind of “bad influence” that i needed to be saved from. So, we moved on, got married, had our kids, and are just out here trying to teach kindness and equality and all the things you mentioned. It’s strange since it wasn’t really a “crisis of faith” that sent me away, but the result has been one. I don’t know what I believe now. I do miss the music though.

Susan

Church music touches me deep down in my soul. Sometimes I smile, sometimes I cry, and sometimes it sends my mind wandering….

I have been waaaaiiiiiting for this post and am here to learn about the whole journey! Thanks for being so honest and vulnerable. Any talk about religion is SO scary. Especially because of the stereotypes that come along with it. Can’t wait to see how it all ends 🙂

My husband and I grew up in Orange County. He was raised in a practicing Catholic household, I was raised in a non-religious household (the kind that judged anyone that was a devout believer, because Science people!). About a year ago, we moved to a small coastal town in Northern Indiana (about an hour outside of Chicago) to be closer to his family. While my husband is now a non-practicing Catholic, his family is still practicing (they’re Irish!), and so we find ourselves at a lot of Catholic events. We also made the decision to enroll our daughter in a Catholic school, first because the public school system here needs improving, second…it’s literally down the street from our house, and lastly it’s the same school my husband went to when he lived here. Not to mention it’s a historic two story brick school house with a bell tower – I mean it doesn’t get more charming than that. Anyway, as I’ve gotten older, my contempt for religion has faded (I highly recommend reading Philip Pullman’s young adult series, “His Dark Materials”, which oddly enough was life changing for me in regards to how I view religion, and yes there is… Read more »

Antonia

Hello Emily.

My heart was so warmed by your honest post.

I was raised, and am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

While reading your post, and watching your video, I felt impressed to share an experience I had.

A few weeks ago, I attended a women’s conference, not of my faith (I was the only Mormon there, lol.). As I sat around the table, sang evangelical songs, and prayed with amazing women, the thought kept coming back to me, “Oh how we need each other!”

One woman, sitting at our table, didn’t “belong” to any particular faith. She was searching, just like you. I had the distinct impression, “Any place (faith), she lands will be part of her journey. If she finds it here, she’s one step closer to knowing God (or a higher being), and feeling his peace and love.”

Wherever we are at, in our journey, we need each other.

Thank you for being vulnerable and honest, on a subject that’s not always easy to navigate.

Continue sharing, it’s part of your journey.

Katie Thalman

Love this!!!

Katie thalman

Emily, I don’t know you personally, but I’ve gotten my hair cut like you 😊! (Side note: my hair isn’t as thick and luscious as yours so it’s not quite as cute, but I’m still glad I did it 😉) I just want to tell you that I’ve watched and learned from your decorating, etc. the past year on Instagram and have honestly always seen so much light in you! You are darling! I loved reading about your journey today and loved hearing that you are gathering more light along the way. It’s such a blessing to walk in less darkness in coming closer to God! He is the Light and Life of the world. He’s always there. It’s up to us to *choose* to come nearer. And yes, our choices are a gift! Keep sharing your light! I’m brighter because of how you share!

Benita Fox

Thanks for sharing something so personal and something that is met with soooo much resistance by most. Church is really not a building but people. While you are still hesitant about God here is the thing. He accepts us where we are and he never forces us to do anything. He just softly Cal’s us and draws us. People will always try to Interpret him and they will get it wrong. Here is something to look at in Christianity there is a clear line drawn between pre Jesus and post and he marked the shift from keeping the law and relying on the spirit or holy Spirit which came upon his death. His life was example of how to live. He never judged. If a person asked what they should do he clearly spoke truth. He hung out with those people of his time who were rejected lepers, tax collectors, prostitutes. He loved. So keep reading and studying. We are all in a journey and only God knows our true self and that is what he appeals to. Welcome back to the game (using your analogy).

Rachel Braithwaite

Antonia (and Emily), I too am an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have to say that as I started to read Emily’s post about returning to church, I was filled with dread because I had a feeling that she had been raised LDS. So many people who have left the Church bash the Church and are critical of the members, leaders, theology and practices. But, Emily didn’t do that. Instead she shared HER journey, HER path to understanding, HER experience in searching. You’re so right . . . we are all on a journey and we need the support, not the criticism of each other. As women. As sisters. As friends. As mothers. As daughters. I would no more think I had the right to criticize my Catholic, Jewish, agnostic, Muslim, atheistic, as I have to criticize my LDS friends for their varying degrees of faith and practice. We now, more than ever, must support each other in our search for peace and happiness. In turn, our world with be a better place. Emily, I am not sure if you will ever read this, but thank you for not blasting the LDS church.… Read more »

Elda Scott

Emily, what a beautiful story. I love the sports analogy! I’m a cradle Catholic and love my church family. I feel so loved, inspired and “full” when I step out of mass on Sunday. What I have learned after being raised in church but not having a spiritual life until I was in my 30’s is that I can’t expect the “religion” to fix me. I have to do the work, to contribute to my team to get the most out of the game. Church is an active experience!
“inspiring people encouraging us to be less of an asshole, love more, and feel more universally connected“ Yes!
By the way, I love atheist conversion stories. One of my favorites is Jennifer Fulwiler. Check her out. Funny, smart, good stuff.
Peace be with You. 🙂

Kel

“We always leave wanting to be a better person in some way, with more introspection.”

That’s exactly what religion should do for us.

My religious path is very similar to yours though instead of going back to church I ended up going deeply into Yoga – the Gitas, Pantajali, etc through the Art of Living. It has become the community that I have missed from my younger church going days.

My kids weren’t raised with Bible stories but interestingly my son played God in his high school musical, Children of Eden. His impression – why does the devil get such a bad wrap for getting Eve to eat an apple that gives her wisdom while God was the one who sent them from paradise instead of forgiving, as well as destroys the people with a flood and is constantly punishing his children? I never even thought of it that way even though I had heard those stories so many times.

Patricia

I’m a lapsed Lutheran, stopped going to church in college. Like you, it was a lack of faith. Over the years, I’ve shifted to “open minded”. There might be something greater in the universe. I do believe there are many paths to the light.

Natasha

I grew up in the Presbyterian Church (St. Andrews in Newport Beach if you’re ever down that way!) and agree with everything you have said here. I always loved how the minister would tie things back to modern day. I would have to imagine that especially during a time like right now, that it’s especially comforting. Finding the right church (clergy, congregation, etc) is really important…loved this post, thank you!

Stephanie

I’ve always had a casual relationship with church. I go with my parents sometimes for high holidays and every once in a while when something is happening in my life and I need a boost. My husband is an atheist and has no interest. I’m baptized Anglican and have never felt too much pressure to attend because my parents also believe you can be spiritual without attending weekly. At this point I’m so unsure on how to introduce my children to church, how to involve them and how much. All I know is that when I attend, I leave feeing GOOD. Lighter and happier. I might not believe in all the teachings, but I want to believe that this life isn’t it, that there is something more.. and I think for now that’s enough?

Emily

Cradle Episcopalian here! While I was raised in the church and still attend, I totally understand your apprehension about organized religion. I live in an area of the country that is heavily conservative, evangelical Christian and growing up I knew so so many people who were incredibly hateful or just completely misinformed and ignorant about the rest of the world. Their pastor said anyone who drank wine or did yoga was going to hell so they would go to church or work and just spout hate at people. My mom was more religious but when she died, my agnostic father faithfully took us to church each week. Sat in the back pew and participated in all the service projects but kept the religion part fairly at an arm’s length. Now as an adult, married with kids, my husband and I try to take the kids to church each week (we’re batting 50/50). Fortunately the Episcopal church is pretty good about encouraging openness and love (and female priests!) Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, likes to say – If it’s not about love, its not about Jesus. Such good advice for all of us, religious or not. If it’s not about love… Read more »

Francoise Wolfe

Enough preaching ya’ll.
I was raised Catholic and never believed a word they tried to brainwash me with. I don’t need a God or religion to remain strong. I can do it on my own.

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