As I grew, the doubts, confusion, and questions
continued. I remember as a teen going to leaders in my church
and asking questions about the confusing messages I read in
the Bible. The violence of God in the Old Testament, the
contradicting ideas, and all those people who didn’t believe like
us destined for hell. It’s a really big world out there, you know?
The dismissal of my questions, non-answers, and admonitions
to just have “faith” were totally unsatisfying. Were these
leaders afraid of such questions?
I enjoyed several close friendships with peers in my
church. We had a lot of fun on mission trips. I saw the lives of
others up close and fell in love with a little boy that I taught in
Vacation Bible School in the Bronx. I smoked my first and only
cigarette, played a few games of spin the bottle, and felt a bit
of freedom, but mostly guilt, while doing so. I laughed a lot
with my fellow youth group friends on these trips and
sometimes enjoyed our twice weekly gatherings. I got to sing
in choirs, and that often made me feel happy. There were a few
Sunday School teachers and one minister of music that I truly
loved. They modeled grace.
But it was also very confusing. At one particular youth
retreat, the explicit teaching was to have a closed mind. I can
still remember the visual props that had bright yellow warning
road signs with the precise message “open minds-closed for
repairs.” Having an open mind as we headed toward higher
education and beyond was discouraged and warned against.
Fear overpowered any messages of grace.