Photo by me from my archive.
Dear future self,
Do you believe in God?
I have to admit that I have my difficulties.
I grew up believing in God. Not that long ago, I opened my very first diary to a random page and read about how grateful I was, that I always had God to talk to.
Then my education made me believe that there was no God. I came to the conclusion that God, or any kind of belief, was used to explain things we couldn’t explain ourselves yet.
But bit by bit, science would come up with explanations for everything, so there was no need for a God.
Yet, I also grew up in an extremely liberal church community. I started running children’s and later youth groups for the church community when I was 14 years old, and continued to volunteer there until I left for college.
I loved the responsibility that I had there, and that we had the freedom and funds to do whatever creative project we wanted.
As a teenager, I had a key to church and could always take my friends there to play pool or table soccer. There wasn’t much else around, so that was actually something we did.
But church for me seemed much more like the only social infrastructure than it being about religion or God. There were a few bible stories here and there, but nothing that seemed like more than an interesting story from the past.
The actions of the people who worked there full time were all about love and compassion and providing a safe space for those who didn’t have anywhere else to go, though.
They always made it a point that no one had to believe in anything to participate, everyone was welcome, no matter how troubled or not. Everyone was accepted and loved.
I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I had that, when I was growing up, and that I had these lovely, honest, engaged, good people around me when it came to make decisions about the rest of my life.
I’m crying now, thinking about how much more desperate and lost I would have been as a teenager without it.
When I went to the US, I had my first bad experience with church. The first service I went to, I was told that homosexuality was a sin.
I was kind of glad that I encountered that in the first service, so I knew right away where I was and that I couldn’t trust them.
I’ll go with James Baldwin here:
“If the concept of God has any validity or any use, it can only be to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God cannot do this, then it is time we got rid of Him.”
― From The Fire Next Time
I thought so then, it’s all that has ever made sense to me, and I agree with that now.
I guess I would add that God can do anything, it’s the people who limit and discriminate.
When I moved to Ukraine, I encountered another church that wasn’t only racist and sexist, but also basically told people to accept their suffering and fate in this life to find a better life in heaven.
I was furious, I still am, and feeling all of my emotions come up as I write this, I think I will have to write more about my experiences with Church and Christianity in Ukraine at another time.
I’ve also seen people, who had suffered immensely, from drugs, alcohol, depression and found help and peace in both of these congregations, in the US and in Ukraine.
There are always multiple sides to every story – yet I simply cannot trust an institution that does not accept all people as equals, implores fear and preaches hate and separation.
They might be good in some ways, but they could be so much better.
Returning to Germany after a year in Ukraine, I started my University eduction and found no place for religion or spirituality in my life whatsoever.
A lot of the liberal education system seemed influenced by the idea of ‘religion is the opium for the masses’ and not good for anything.
I can’t tell you how often I was shamed for saying that I had only positive experiences with the protestant church in Germany, and that I don’t even know if I would have survived being a teenager without it.
Getting higher education and believing in God seemed to contradict itself, and as somebody who was the first generation in my family to be able to attend University, I mostly just tried to fit in and somehow make up for not knowing all these rules that seemed so obvious to others.
It mostly made me quiet. I watched, I felt silenced, but I didn’t agree. Yet, I also wanted to finally belong somewhere.
On top of that came the German Nazi history, in which spirituality played a big role, so it wasn’t only church as an institution, which was too complicit in WWII with the Nazi regime, that was bad, but also everything spiritual because that was potentially fascist.
We still have so much work to do, to get over that collective trauma.
I was never a fan of that kind of black and white thinking, though, and what was said simply didn’t feel right. Yet, I wanted to belong. Yet, I felt more comfortable there than I had ever felt anywhere.
But I was never fully myself.
I experienced being singled out and shamed when I did try to bring up my own experiences and beliefs, and I suppose that is what makes it so difficult for me to come to terms with my beliefs now.
I’m afraid that I will be excluded and ridiculed by people that I love and I’m also afraid that people will be happy, who’s God or Church I can’t agree with.
It’s so difficult to be true to yourself and to live in a complex, layered and hurting world.
Most people I know avoid the term God. They speak about the life force or the universe or Chi or Energy. Sometimes they say God, but even that seems somehow shy, as if with an apology. Though that might be my projection.
I do believe it’s all the same, I do think everyone should use the term or idea that speaks to them most, that works for them.
But I am tired of my own fear of exclusion. I’ve been watching myself censor myself for so long. It takes so much of my energy. Energy that could be put to much better use.
I would love to be able to speak to God again, like I did when I was a child and a young teenager.
But the walls of shame I built and kept up for more than 25 years since then, will take some love and patience on my side to dissolve.
And hopefully, I will find some kind support on my way from my community this time as well.
Dear future self, how do you feel about all of this now?
Dear Reader, what are your experiences?
I wish you a wonderful day. May you be brave and true to yourself and feel loved and accepted exactly as you are.