Aug 9, 2021
God My Protector
When Rebecca asked me to share during our summer series on the names of God, my first inclination was to decline.
I’m deep in the process of deconstructing almost 60 years of Christianity, and I’m still in the early phases of reconstruction.
But I felt that perhaps someone needs to hear my story, so here I am.
In order to explain where I am today in my relationship with God, I need to provide context for the journey that I’m on.
I was raised in a very conservative Anabaptist denomination, which taught me that God was this angry, vengeful, wrathful deity who was sitting on his throne in heaven waiting to smite anyone who displeased him.
I call this God “The God Who Smites Me”.
We had to be quiet in church so we didn’t disturb God or make him upset.
And God was very much male, which carried through to the church leadership and into our homes.
Men were in charge of everything, and women were there to serve them.
This image of God was very useful in keeping us in line, but it robbed us of any true joy or freedom.
The people I grew up with in that church were miserable and oppressed.
I remember telling my mother once that it seemed like everyone was walking around with rubber bands wrapped around them too tightly; they were so tense and stiff.
By the time I was a teenager, I came to the conclusion that if
this is was what it meant to be a Christian, I wasn’t
I walked away from the church when I went to college, but deep in my heart I knew that I needed God in my life; I just didn’t know who this God was.
I strayed as far from my moral upbringing as possible, perhaps to test if God really loved me, or perhaps to just finally breathe freely after all those years of stifling rules and regulations.
But God didn’t give up on me, and I distinctly heard God’s spirit speaking to me one night when I had hit my moral rock bottom: “What are doing here?”
I felt like the prodigal son, who finally came to his senses as he was wallowing in the muck with the pigs.
Like him, I returned home and found a new family in a church that was primarily LGBT (we hadn’t added all the other letters yet back then).
They introduced me to a loving God who wanted everyone to be happy and have fun.
Unlike the angry God I grew up with, this God was more like a doting grandfather who let his grandkids do anything they wanted.
I call this God, “The God Who Spoils Me”.
I became a Christian in this setting, but it never felt quite right.
Many of the people in that church didn’t seem to behave in ways that I felt were “Christian” enough.
So after a while, a few friends and I left and started our own church, where we could do things the right way.
This led me to a fundamentalist mindset, where rules were important and everyone needed to get saved or else.
Our God was more loving than the one I grew up with, but he was obsessed with sin. I call this God, “The God Who Judges Me”.
We had a woman pastor and other women in leadership roles, but the toxicity of patriarchy still permeated everything we did.
I eventually left that church when I was relocated to Phoenix, where I landed in a church with a different God.
This God was all about the party in our worship services: he loved dancing and singing and banners and tambourines and spectacle.
I call this God, “The God Who Needs to be Entertained”.
Everything was based on feelings and experiences, and doctrine was something relegated to those dusty old mainline churches.
It was during this time that I had one of the darkest nights of my soul, and I found little comfort in the carefree attitudes of my church family.
My pain and suffering seemed to be an inconvenience to them, like a wet blanket, so I left.
Eventually, I ended up in a church where I was chosen to replace the retiring pastor.
The God of this church was very orderly and refined, and he seemed to like the old Baptist hymns the best.
Unfortunately, I fell into a hybrid of the previous iterations of church that I had experienced.
We had a God who enjoyed loud music, but was also obsessed with right living.
I call this God, “The God Who Is Confused”.
That church closed a couple years after I took over, mostly due to the fact that we couldn’t compete with the flashy churches that had all the bells and whistles.
Being totally deflated and feeling defeated, I began my years in the wilderness, aimlessly wandering from church to church, looking for a God that I could relate to.
At some point I gave up even looking, but I still knew that God was there in the background; I just didn’t know what to call this being.
I ended up finding my way to a mainline church where I was welcomed and affirmed, and their God was nice and loving, so I was okay with that until I moved to Houston and found HMC.
It was here that I finally found the freedom to unpack everything I ever thought I knew about God and Christianity.
I was introduced to a God who is concerned about peace and social justice and absolute inclusion.
So I entered into my deconstruction phase, which is where I am today.
I’ve had to question everything I ever thought I knew, and am slowly rebuilding my faith and doctrine.
But I still wasn’t sure who my God is, or what name to use.
It wasn’t until we had that basket on the alter last month with a bunch of names of God in it that I finally landed on the perfect name for God: My Protector.
As I look back over my life, I see so many times that God was there, watching over me, protecting me, secretly guarding my steps.
God saved me from fire, and water, and suicide, and AIDS, and multiple brushes with serious injury or death.
God also restored my fortunes when I had major financial setbacks or was taken advantage of by so-called friends.
God sat with me and wept with me during my darkest nights, and cheered me on to get up just one more day and try to make a go of it.
God was there for me when no one else was around.
One of my favorite Psalms is 27, which was read today.
It has several powerful images of God: stronghold, shelter, rock.
God is the one I can run to when life gets tough and I have no one else to turn to. God is there even when family or friends turn their backs on me.
I love the way this Psalm ends:
I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.
As far as God’s maleness, the more I learn about God, the more convinced I am that God is non- binary.
After all, we are all created in God’s image, so how can God be only male?
I’m becoming more comfortable using they/them to refer to God, but it’s a process, so forgive me when I slip into old patterns.
Thank you for letting me share my story with you.
I pray that someone was blessed by my meditation today.