In reviewing my last entry, I am left with the impression that it was a bit melancholy. To balance that a bit, I thought I should write a post-deconversion entry.
All of us, at a summertime party, have played volleyball with “that guy.” The one that shows up with the shirt “Winning isn’t everything—it’s the ONLY thing.” The one that brought his own volleyball. In its own bag.
That guy fully intends the guests to play as if the World Cup, the Superbowl and the World Series are on the line.
“Well, gee. We’re playing backyard volleyball, don’t ya think—“
“Look! The game has rules. We have to abide by the rules, or it isn’t a game anymore, is it? Our point!”
“That Ball was IN!”
“Uh, it hit outside our string—“
“But the string is crooked! We need a tape measure! I can show that your side is smaller than our side! And why can’t you have proper lines like a regular volleyball court?”
“Because normally we have a patio set—
The phrase “There is truth in every jest”? With him it is only about 1% jest. Every “funny” (in the loosest term) comment is made with a stinging bite:
“My grandmother can hit harder than that!”
”You call that a ‘spike’? Might as well hand them the ball!”
“I hope you serve hot dogs better’n you serve a volleyball!”
Worse, that guy is invariably pretty good. He played in college or the city league; most likely his team will win—thanks to his brilliant moves. We know the afternoon will be spent with his regaling us play-by-play with his dazzling performance, and repeated articulation as to our pitiful efforts.
If you dislike playing with that guy as much as I do, then you would like playing volleyball at our parties. We use two shoes for a back/side line. Long ago, among my friends, we agreed that bickering over whether a ball is “in” or “out” is destructive to our friendship. So we play by the rule, “if it is close, it is in.” The instant a person starts to debate about whether it was in or out; that means by virtue of the argument itself, it will be considered in.
We don’t care about double hits. If two people dive for the ball on the same team (since that cracks us up) we always let four hits go. If you flub a serve, you get a do-over. If your eight-year old wants to play, they are welcomed in. (That guy would tell his child, “Let the adults play. You go play with the other kids.”)
Most likely the eight-year-old will be up on someone’s shoulders so when someone conveniently tosses him the ball he can make a fabulous spike which will be fantastically missed by the opposing team.
Oh, we still have rules. Once the ball hits the ground; that is a point (otherwise we might never rotate.) And if it goes in my wife’s tomato garden; that is most definitely out! It would still resemble a volleyball game, of sorts.
2 minutes after finishing the game, we could tell you the score. 10 minutes later, the best we could do is say which team won. An hour later, all we would remember is that we played. (And who made dives, ‘cause that always cracks us up.)
I have played volleyball with that guy. I have been in situations where I was that guy. I have played volleyball casually. I will take casually every time. To me, deconversion is playing life like a casual, backyard volleyball game.
As a Christian, I wanted to get it “right.” One of the terrible dimensions of having a God who sees the past, present, future, as well as your thoughts, motives and possibilities, is that I was in constant danger of not getting it “right.”
Part of that was “morally” right, but we had the Bible to guide us, so most questions could be resolved by its review. No, by “right” I mean what do I do on a Saturday morning? My church was having a clean-up day, my (unsaved) neighbor was roofing his garage, my daughter has a soccer game, and I wanted to read a book.
Growing up in a Baptist church we were taught at the young age; “If you want to have joy, you must put Jesus first, then Others, then You. J-O-Y. Jesus, Others, You.” I crossed off my reading a book—I got it that this would not be right.
But in putting Jesus first, did he want me at the church, or helping my (unsaved) neighbor? And others? Is that my neighbor or my daughter? Do I put more money in the missionary fund, the building fund, my children’s college fund, or my retirement fund? Do pray that a person gets well, that their sickness causes someone else to be saved, to be released from their pain?
While I thought practically I had Christianity well in hand (I knew the rules); pragmatically I was not so sure—how well was I at following the rules? I got the distinct impression, as I made my choices, that sometimes God was cheering my picking the best route, other times he was shrugging because I had done O.K., just not the best, and still other times he was clucking his tongue, correcting a situation where I had chosen the worst possibility imaginable.
In talking over with my friends, I found that we ALL were walking our way through Christianity as best we could. We all were making choices that we were a bit uncertain as to whether God was smacking himself on the forehead, saying “He did WHAT?” or God was smiling with approval.
Of course, my deconversion brought me to sharply focus whether I even had Christianity or theism practically correct.
I could no longer find grounding for where the line was, let alone if I was hitting the ball in or out, or even if there was a ball involved!
Afterwards, in reflection, I found great peace.
What is the score?
At the end of every game there is a score. A win or a loss or a tie. For the first time in my life, I could play volleyball just to play volleyball. I could study theism just for the pure unadulterated love of the study. I didn’t have to worry about whether this person’s theism was correct, or that person’s was incorrect. I could study it for what it was—not where it fit in some paradigm of correctness.
In the same way I can enjoy life. The here and now. One thing that Christians who believe in an afterlife will never be able to fathom (I’m sorry, they just can’t.) is how much we enjoy the few years on earth with nothing but nothingness after death. Because this is no longer a game where the score is not everything—it is the only thing. Where I have to fight for every point, and argue for every bad call, or I have to push myself to the limits just to get that ball across one more time, in the hopes of the final call the referee points to me and says, “You win!”
I can actually take a break, go get a drink, sit in the shade, and not worry about a few points this way or that. In the end the referee will not say a thing. I can play, enjoy the game, and not worry about the score.
This is no tournament. This is a summer afternoon which to enjoy the sun.
You can be on my team
Now, when you miss a point, or make a bad serve, I can laugh with you. You are human. I expect you to make a mistake or two. That is what makes the game interesting. If we all played volleyball perfectly, nothing wonderful would ever happen. Think about it.
It is our human frailties and mess ups that allow us to love, and communicate and enjoy each other and the human experience to the fullest.
When you screw up, or offend me, or call me names—it is not an “affront to the almighty God.” It is your humanity. It is who you are. I may not appreciate it. I may ask you to stop. But I am not assuming some mantle of a higher authority and indignantly proclaiming you are a sinner.
I enjoy people so much more. I enjoy interacting with them so much more. I want to play volleyball with all of ‘em.
I can play my game
I can finally allow my mind to think. I do not have to twist and mold some thought to make it go away. I can dwell on it, and contemplate it, regardless of where it leads. If I have doubts—that is a signal that perhaps something is incorrect. If I have questions—I can ask them. If I want to read another person’s point of view—I am allowed.
If something makes more sense to me, I do not have a creed or a doctrine that demands I suppress it. I can fully imbibe.
I still play volleyball. I still play with most of the same rules, even. My morals haven’t changed a bit. But now I play with freedom and abandonment that makes the game enjoyable.
Do not get the impression that I felt inhibited or repressed by Christianity. Not at all. I enjoyed that game, too. I just had no idea that someone would introduce a new set of rules and I would enjoy this side as much.
I was a happy Christian. I was a miserable deconverter. I am a happy deconvert.