I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again:
Hi. I’m Steph Lenox. And I’m recovering from Bad Attitude Christianity.
I thought I’d spend some time expounding upon this previous theology of mine, so that we all can better understand the doctrinal underpinnings of so pervasive a denomination.
First off, it isn’t so much a denomination as it is a grassroots movement – largely unseen to most of us. Which adds to the charm. It appeals to the disillusioned, the over-churched, the kids who grew up in sunday school classes and youth group meetings. That was me. It takes root during teenage years, when our prevailing belief systems veer collectively into morose brooding and authority-questioning. It suddenly became clear to us that we are not feeling like ourselves, or looking like ourselves anymore. Flailing for a raft of belonging, we shoved away prior loves and institutions. Made sense to me. I was a card-carrying member of the teenage paradox. Except that I was afraid to do almost anything. I mean, I was too sarcastic. Ahem…
But the brooding suspicion that served me so well to individuate from my childhood self, started to trap me in my twenties and beyond. What I wore as a badge of honor had in it both good and bad. As a part of growing up, I had to decide for myself what I believed. It’s a time of thinking and wondering, of questioning and testing previously assumed realities. And this is good and healthy; and this is tumultuous and painful. But this brooding suspicion, without the force of curiosity, and the courage of making decisions for myself, just left me in a dark place of limbo. But it felt safe. So I stayed there, with a bad attitude, for far too long.
What did this look like? Sarcasm. And plenty of it. As a teenager, I knew that God was there, and we were cool, but I didn’t know what to do with his church. At the time, my family went to a church that was mid-sized and non-denominational. The smiles after service killed me. The pastor meant well, but was on another planet. Women’s ministry was an island of frilly Bible studies and snoozy tea parties. Youth group meant well, but felt like a hormone-charged pep rally for the great sport of keeping teenagers in church. All that excitement took so much energy. For a non-competitive girl, the games were an act of endurance. Some of the lessons sunk in, but I always had to be keenly aware of not looking too interested, lest I become more of a dork than I was. Sarcasm was my guiding light. It made me feel aloof, smart, and gave me a weapon against the crushing insecurities that came in the same gift basket as acne medication, deodorant, and waxing strips.
This sarcasm served me well, but as time went on, I found myself backed into a corner. God wasn’t real to me anymore. I felt alone. I had no close friends for years. I managed to marry a fantastic man, but I kept him at a distance. After all, it was this distance that had protected my budding self-image way back when. I was naturally a bit of an introvert, but I worked that angle so hard that I soon only felt comfort from my own company. Letting other people in was too threatening. Like, I had over-the-top violent reactions to people trying to get me to open up. What was at stake? What was I so afraid of?
I was afraid? No I wasn’t. I was SARCASTIC. And aloof. That’s right. Who said anything about being afraid? Not me…
(a few years of counselling later:)
Okay FINE. I was afraid of being vulnerable. And that’s where Bad Attitude Christianity started to show its hand to me:
Somewhere, I learned that sarcasm would protect me from rolling eyes and raised eyebrows. It also let me set my own rules, which I could shift and change at will, so that I could never fail at my own sarcasm game.
Note: FAILURE should be avoided at all costs!!!
Did I mention that perfectionism was a teeny problem with my worldview?
But, If I could never fail, if I could never risk the disapproval of people, then, it followed, that I could never try anything either. It forced me to stand on the sidelines and make snide comments about all of it. Which, eventually, made me resent the whole setup. I would despise people who I saw succeeding at the things I wanted to do. But I would never admit it. It just fed my general bad attitude.
Also, Bad Attitude Christianity didn’t let me get political. Or theological. It didn’t let me grieve the injustices of the world. And it didn’t let me discuss any solutions in these arenas. I complained about everything. I stood for nothing. I couldn’t feel excited about God’s goodness, mercy, grace, justice, salvation, or any of it. Excitement was an authentic feeling, and as such, was too vulnerable to show. Are you starting to see how screwy this is?
So, to recap: I was sarcastic, aloof, disconnected, lonely, a resentful perfectionist, and numb to the spectrum of authentic feelings: from tragedy to excitement.
This was the price to pay for the protection offered by Bad Attitude Christianity. It was starting to sound more and more like a crooked mob boss, buying off the police and imposing curfews to protect citizens from his own goons.
So, what did I do?
I had two kids in two years. My maternal instinct became the supreme bully in my head. I loved my baby girls fiercely. I read all the books, and charted their development online. I mashed their own baby food and fretted over their breathing at night. Doing the best I could, I drained myself dry.
Dangling by the end of my rope, one morning I tiptoed into a “mommy group” at a church that I didn’t even belong to. Bad Attitude Christianity clicked its tongue and rolled its eyes at me – hard. But I came all the same. I was desperate. And tired. More tired than I had ever been in my whole life, ever ever ever. Tired of the mob boss. Tired of the rules of sarcasm. Tired of the whole thing. Too tired to protect myself anymore. I walked into that mommy group, and cried. Most of the meetings that first year I cried. The other mommies cried too. We knew that God would pull us through, but had no idea how. It was our own AA support group for mastitis and sleep training, diaper rash and taping bible verses on the bathroom mirror. Slowly, I began stepping outside of the protection of Bad Attitude Christianity. What I found felt more painful, and more relieving than I ever had known.