I still believe in God. Not in that cosmic intangible spirit in the sky that Mama told me as a little boy “always was and always will be.” But the God who still warms me, even if I no longer regularly attend church.

OPINION

I believe in God. The God I see in the serenity of a new golden sun, rising above a rippling blue lake as a cool, late-summer wind blows. The God I feel in the still of a late night, or while walking along a nature trail, or soaring on a jet above majestic clouds. The God who sometimes shows up in subtle ways in the midst of my daily mundaneness.

I cannot see Him. I cannot hear Him audibly. But I feel His presence, sometimes weighing like a father’s hand on my shoulder. Sense His still small voice speaking to my spirit, comforting me in difficult times. Reminding me of the lessons of faith singed into my soul by a lifetime now of relationship with the Creator–rather than religion.

And yet, laying down my religion for my faith has been a tedious journey. But old habits die hard — ritual Sunday morning church attendance chief among them.

On Sundays these days, I opt for Starbucks. For maybe a ride on my Hog on a country road. Or for the treadmill. Sometimes I visit a church or two I like. But mostly, I abstain.

I am a recovering church-aholic.

Mine is an unenviable journey, even if it has led me to a newfound freedom on a still unfolding, nonlinear faith walk.

My awakening to the existence of — and belief in — God occurred as a child with my mother in my bedroom with my little sister. Then came the years spent in Sunday school or assorted Bible studies.

At 19, I accepted Jesus as my savior. Not at church. But at home in the bathroom while kneeling over the bathtub, saying the Sinner’s Prayer. Such marked the beginning of my personal faith walk.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, it also set me on a collision course with “religion.” For the more I moved toward relationship, the more I moved ultimately away from the institutional church, which I once believed indispensible to salvation.

Perhaps I was always a church misfit.

I was told that I “think too much.” Asked too many questions.

And I eventually got the sense — rightly or wrongly — from my experiences as a member at churches throughout my adult life that most pastors I encountered preferred male members of the church to follow their lead — spineless and speechless. To be perhaps a quiet, cookie cutter Christian, responding from the pew on pastor’s cue rather than being mutual accountable brothers, knit in ministry.

It didn’t matter that I spoke in tongues as the Spirit gave utterance, knew church speak, danced in the Spirit, and spat “amen’s” and “hallelujahs” with Pentecostal cadence as the grandson of a pastor. Or that I was a deacon, then a minister who adhered to doctrinal protocol, attended at all services, Bible studies and mandatory services and functions. (Phew!)

Truth is, in becoming a Christian — or Christianized by the institution — church became more a place and less a gathering of believers. Christianity became more about religion and less about relationship.

And church membership was hawked as a key to salvation, even if many find it to be a barrier.
About 12 years ago, I left church, finding in it no place for me. But I have found my faith and no better place for worship, except in His presence — wherever that may be.

I still believe.