Lisa Birch

Feb 27, 2019

6 min read

Retelling the same story in a new context.

As a teenager I was very religious. Many Christians don’t like the word ‘religious’ because it a) implies works, not faith; and b) it implies that we follow strict rules (ya know, having to go to church every week, living by moral codes, taking the Bible literally). But it was the religion side of things I liked. I love routine and I loved going to church and being part of what seemed like a secret club. We have our own jargon, events, pop culture (music + movies), and a very similar viewpoint.

As a young adult my views changed and were much broader. Plus, I was less religious and stopped regularly attending church while still feeling very much connected to Christianity, the mission of Christ and sought many of the attributes that we aspire to.

But as an adult, and now as a parent, I see that there were many weird and wacky choices made for me, or for other people, or by other people which were so out of line with community expectations in the here and now. I’m not the only one, my friends and I have had extensive discussions about some of the trippy things we experienced in our little corner of the world.

What to do with that once it’s processed though?

I have talked some of this out in therapy sessions. I have books. I’ve read memoirs of lapsed Christians (or people on the fringe of the church) and felt a real kinship with them. My group of friends have had hours of sessions just talking this stuff out, and the conclusion we often come to is, ‘I can’t believe that THIS happened. But, I kind of can too.’

I think that in any group — a church group or an organisation that is recreational or faith-based — has the potential for things to go wrong. And thank goodness there is change, and that we are seeing post-evangelicals rising and telling their stories, or just groups of friends comparing notes about where things were a bit pear shaped.

For the sake of this post, I’ll briefly explore some of the weirdo stuff that happened to me. Other people have much better stories, but hey, they aren’t for me to share.

Super-cala-freaking-too-long conferences
I did a couple of youth conferences and they were so good at the time (AT THE TIME) but actually pretty bad. For one, we had to line up at 9am to get seats, worship started at 10am, followed by a morning session, lunch, another session, a four hour break and then an evening session. You were expected to sit with hundreds of other stinky, sweaty teenagers for worship, an offering sermon, another worship song and long sermon, and then an altar call/dedication and then some more worship. Those conferences featured pastors telling us to drink lots and lots of water, and I’m assuming this is to prevent heat stroke or similar.

The worst thing about experiences like this was that it was a lot of emotional manipulation, lots of stuff about how we aren’t good enough (but can be with God’s help) or we should want to live entirely for God, or we should rededicate our lives to Him AGAIN because maybe the first time didn’t stick. Also, mood lighting and no windows. It was like a casino but no cheap snacks.

Freaky weird “boyfriends”
When you’re a Christian girl who loves romance and is slightly boy crazy, it’s understandable that you’ll attract weird people. And let’s be honest, a lot of church people are a little kooky. We are all a little broken, or looking for acceptance, or maybe just looking for a girlfriend.

The problem in my life was that I felt like each boyfriend I dated (there were a handful) I felt like I was supposed to be intentional about ‘dating’. Intentional means that dating should lead to marriage, which works, sure, but probably not when you’re 16 (though shout outs to everyone who married their high school sweethearts, lucky you). There were many reservations about my selected boyfriends, but I think the trickiest thing was that people in my life were quick to say they didn’t think me and whoever were a good combination, or they didn’t like them, but there was never a reason that was specific.

(Also, when I was engaged briefly at 16 my church was angry that we didn’t consult with them first. They had no qualms about a 16 year old getting engaged though.)

Losing the big V is something YOU MUST REGRET (except outside marriage)
I cannot tell you how many times I have sat through long sermons, testimonies or read long real-life stories about people who lost their virginity and regretted it. Church isn’t a sex-positive place unless you are married. You seem to be slightly let off the book if this stuff happened before you were Christian, but, whatevs.

What changed all of this for me was becoming good friends with someone who had done the deed, had a child and was like ‘no regrets’.

Because I was the first one in my current friendship group, everyone knew, so fortunately I had been the one who has been informed when the V has been lost. And who is happy? Just me, I give high-fives.

Slut shaming is a thing (but ya don’t even have to be getting any.)
There was a book that inspired many other books about sexual purity and a LOT of people in my life read it. Funny story: I had heaps of these books when I was regretting, you know, actually being slightly human, and a friend of mine borrowed them, lent them to someone else who took them interstate. It’s all good, I never wanted them back.

I digress. Here’s some basic stuff I got in trouble for:

  • saying I got a new outfit (bad because shouldn’t want to attract men with nice clothes, and this one had nothing sexy about it)
  • wearing clothes that were too tight (though no one had a problem with me wearing the shirt that said ‘I WANT YOU to go away’)
  • flirting, and by flirting I don’t even mean saying anything remotely raunchy or suggestive, and there wasn’t even any physical touching (I have NEVER forgotten this, and I can tell you the whole monologue word for word)
  • going out with a boy who wasn’t Christian
  • going out with a boy who was Christian, but too new to the faith
  • actually existing because I’m a woman, and therefore a temptation for people to have impure thoughts…. *makes that face with one squinty eye and one big eye)
  • being take out of church services, or being spoken to after church services to be queried about if I was having sex (uhh, no, not at that point) or being told to stay away from certain people (though not always for my own good, possibly for theirs, but again, no explanation) or being told I have ‘a problem with liking boys’ (not a problem now, seeing as I specifically like men, but hey, whatever)

Weirdo crap you have to do at youth group
Amongst making kids drink a Happy Meal (smashed up in a blender), weird games involving sitting on other people (how was this okay when there were people of the other gender involved?!), listening to why you can’t have sex yet or going to a funeral home (the event was called ‘do you know where you’re going?’ and my mum banned me from attending), youth group was actually pretty rad. It was the highlight of my week.

Having said all of those things, there are heaps of awesome things about growing up in church. You make friends for life. You get to experience inter-generational friendship. You learn a lot about history and life in general from sermons and preaching. Also, you can gain mad skillz you couldn’t do easily. How many musicians started by singing in church? Countless, you say, and you’d be right.

And maybe I’ll make a post about the awesome stuff soon, but for now I just had to get that out of my system.

Where I stand with God now: 100% all in.
Where I stand with churches: 100% unsure.