In less than a week, I’ll be moving. Not just to another apartment, or even another city, but to a different state. I’ve been to many states, and many countries--sometimes staying overseas for months at a time--but I’ve never made a permanent move to anywhere outside of California. The situation feels slightly overwhelming (as moving has a tendency to do) and at the same time I’m excited about the prospect of a new environment (Oregon) that is more similar to the one I grew up in than the one I’ve been enduring--sometimes gladly, sometimes not--for the last decade. Most of all, though, I am happily anticipating the creation of a fresh home base as a non-religious person.
Yes, for once in my life, the local community I seek will not be based on shared religious attachments. My days of church-hunting are over. On top of that, I will no longer have to go through the regular and inevitably awkward process, by which I am currently exhausted, of explaining to people that “I don’t really go to church anymore”, because they will already know me as a secular gal. Of course I do have some friends in Oregon who are familiar with me from my Jesus freak days, and I am incredibly grateful for their continued camaraderie, but despite this I think my vision of a new doctrine-free life still applies. I see this transition as more of a progression to the next act of my personal existence than a literal wiping away of all Christian affiliations, and I can’t wait to strike the set.
It would actually be sad, I think--not to mention incredibly disingenuous--to ignore and deny my Christian past altogether. I am not ashamed of it (for the most part) and, in fact, had I never been a believer I could never have de-converted from said beliefs and thus would have no story to share here. It’s just that, I’m really anxious to get to the next, post-Christian chapter. To turn the page and truly move on. I fantasize about the day when I don’t have to walk past the seminary I attended--which happened to be right next door to my most recent apartment building, go figure--and hope not to get roped into any friendly conversations with eager evangelists. I dream about a place where church-sponsored functions are not my primary avenue for seeing certain friends whom I originally met at said church, and where those aforementioned awkward conversations are quite likely to take place. I simply can’t wait to leave all that behind me (though saying goodbye to the friends themselves is not a fun thing to do.)
As a gesture of significant closure, I finally gave away my remaining theology books. There weren’t that many left, since I had only held onto the ones I still found intriguing as of the last time I moved--the ones that were more open-minded and “liberal”, that taught about theology and pop culture or theology and social justice. And of course it’s not that I’m not interested in pop culture or social justice anymore (quite the opposite), or that I’m opposed to being surrounded by worldviews different than my own. But that said, after all these years I do know the Christian theology inside and out, and I have thoughtfully decided to reject it, so to me there seemed a kind of uselessness in holding on to those texts. I hadn’t opened them in at least three or four years anyway; clearly the time had come to say ‘so long’.
Even more significant for me than releasing those seminary tomes, though, was letting go of the book that ruled them all. That’s right: the Bible. I gave away my last and most special Bible. Like many theologians, I used to have multiple Bibles--five or six, I think--featuring different translations for different uses. The one I’m referring to here--the one that was closest to my heart, and most full of my personal notations--was a small, almost pocket-sized New American Standard Translation. I think I bought it in college, though I can’t remember exactly. It had a Blues Brothers sticker, which read “We’re On A Mission From God”, plastered to (and starting to peel away from) the maroon faux-leather cover. What can I say? I thought it was clever. I also thought that that beautiful little book was a literal channel to God. I had underlined and highlighted the transparently thin, gold-edged pages nearly into oblivion, had cried into its pages, had taken it with me on travels around the world. And for all of that affection and adoration, that Bible spent the last four years living inside of a suitcase, where I purposefully put it so that I did not have to see it face to face.
I hid it for grief, because when you’ve grown up in the church and were as devout as I was for as long as I was, leaving is a small kind of death. I couldn’t bear to get rid of it, but I did not want to look at it. It could never be ‘just another book’ that sat neutrally on my shelves with Oliver and Zinn. What other book does one read bits of and take notes on literally every day of one’s life? Yet I couldn’t part with it either...until about two weeks ago. At that point, every other book I owned was either packed up tight in a taped and labeled box or sitting in a disheveled pile destined for Goodwill--every book except this one, which still felt like more than a book. I opened it up and fanned through its delicate insides. I looked at the margin notes, and remembered what they meant when I wrote them, and stood quietly in the reality that those meanings were indeed only memories now. I suppose I could have stood like that for hours, and it would not have been wasted time, that reckoning. But I was moving--I am moving--so I thanked the more-than-a-book for its service and tossed it on top of the discard stack.
My Bible’s at Goodwill now--or maybe even in someone else’s home. Maybe the folks at Goodwill decided to throw it out because it was so marked up. Honestly I wasn’t sure what the best thing to do was with a document so worn, but I figured that giving fate a bit of a chance with it was better than throwing it in the trash and having it take up even a little space in a landfill. Either way, it’s gone. For the first time in my life, I have no Bible. I spent my first two decades of consciousness pouring over this particular religious text--in fact, I probably spent more time reading the Bible than doing just about any other waking activity--and I don’t even own one copy of it anymore.
What did it give me, the Bible, that it took so long to let it go? Well, when it comes down to it, what did Christianity give me? The exploration of that question is what this whole blog is about--that and whether or not better versions of those gifts can be found outside the church--so I can’t exactly answer it in any easy and concise way here. But my experience thus far has been a deeply convinced ‘Yes.’ There are better paths to follow than the straight and narrow. And I’ll let you know how it’s going when I’m truly church-less for the first time, starting next week.