I grew up attending a Scandinavian Lutheran church here in the Midwest. It was there that I was baptized and confirmed. I attended Sunday School, went on retreats, helped with service projects, and generally had a good time.
While I was in high school, I became close friends with some kids from the local Evangelical church. I began to attend events and youth group with them. That was how I ended up wading in the American Evangelical culture. I had fun with them, but that was when I started hearing about lukewarm Christians, saving souls, rededicating your life to Christ, why other denominations aren't as good, etc. It sounded good at the time. I was on board. I was going to be a witness for Christ to everyone and show them all the error of their ways! Right? Soon I was listening primarily to Christian music, reading mostly Christian books, and spending most of my time with my Christian friends.
When it came time to choose a college, I could no longer imagine going to a secular school. After all, I need to be surrounded by people who shared my faith (or so I thought at the time.) So in spite of my mother's protests about our financial situation, I only applied to private in-state Christian schools. (A decision I amstill paying for, literally, to this day.) I had once dreamed of studying art and even had a professor from a local secular university express interest in getting me into their program. But the wider Evangelical world didn't seem to have much of an appreciation for much outside of the work of Thomas Kinkade. Besides, how could a good Christian attend drawing classes that would have nude models?? (Yes, I actually thought that!) So I ended up attending what I will from here on out refer to as Conservative Christian College studying youth ministry. Looking back now, my thinking seems a little messed up. But after years in Evangelical youth group culture, it made perfect sense to me to set my original plans aside to pursue a "higher calling."
My time at Conservative Christian College wasn't all bad, and I did make some great friends. But I never quite fit in there. There was always something restless in my soul. Even though I could agree on most theological points, once people talked about politics, pop culture, gender roles, movies, books, etc. it was obviously that we were on different wavelengths. The last semester there was one of the most difficult for me personally and rather than leaving me feeling like a well rounded strong Christian, it left me wondering if I could even call myself a Christian anymore because I wanted nothing to do with that culture.
After graduation I shopped around, trying a number of different churches. Deep down, I knew I still believed in God, so I couldn't give that up entirely. I never felt fully comfortable in any of them until I found my way back to my liturgical Lutheran roots. That's where I am now and feeling like I'm finally finding my place in this crazy world.
I write this because I need to write this. I need to release the toxic experiences that were poisoning my faith. I need to recognize the good things about it and sort out the bad. It's the only way for me to move on. I keep encountering people who like me felt wounded by their experiences in Evangelicalism. I want people to know that choosing to stay in that culture or reject God completely aren't the only two options. I want people to know that others feel the same way. A little Evangelical detox is not only good for the soul, but it's what saved my faith.