Confession: I Sometimes Miss Being Fundamentalist
My dad and I started cleaning out the garage this last week. With all of my moving around in my twenties, I’ve left a considerable amount of what can only be called junk in dad’s possession for storage. I spent my Saturday night taking home about seven or eight boxes of old books, college papers, and random stuff to go through and pare it down into things I want to keep, want to sell, or want to toss out.
In going through the boxes, I found old slippers, random papers going back as far as middle school, plane tickets so faded I can't tell what trip it was, and tons and tons of lanyards. In one box, which 22 year old me had cleverly marked “Dianna’s Sentimental Stuff – No Touchy!” I found a series of journals from when I was in high school and early college.
Next month will be 11 years since I graduated high school. So I cracked open the old journals – one of which was, naturally, Lord of the Rings themed – and started reading.
It’s been such a long time since I’ve so directly encountered that part of myself. I realized I no longer knew the part of me that wrote daily about her desire to evangelize and to follow God and about her struggles with obedience to God’s will. Even as I read and remembered events described and things that happened, I couldn’t help but feel like the Dianna presented in those pages was a stranger to me. I feel like I am two different people. One half of me is that past as a fundamentalist evangelical and the other half is the me now – the ultra feminist, book writing, confident in my sexuality, me.
Much of this could simply be chalked up to growth and maturity of being 29 versus 19. But I also know that time is not such a strict linear progression, and that the zealous believer I see in those pages is still a part of who I am – she’s just learned a lot more about compassion and grace and widened her views. I cannot fully disown the person I was then – because I still want to be her.
I miss the fundamentalist me.
To be clear, I don’t miss what I believed then about God and obedience and gender and all that stuff. I’m glad for the events that have shifted my ideologies and my beliefs, and I’m happy with where I am now. But as I read the earnestness with which 19 year old me approached her life and the Gospel, I found myself feeling conflicted. She was so sure, so deeply confident in her beliefs, if not confident in her social skills and relationships with boys (there’s a lot of griping about boys in these journals).
I feel bad for her, too, because she is so gripped by a naïveté that I know created embarrassing situations for her. I mean, she wrote love notes in which she compared herself to Cathy from Wuthering Heights, so there was not a great grasp of social cues and acceptable behaviors there. But she was earnest, she was so quick to trust and to love, and she felt so sure of what God wanted for her. I miss that earnestness, the certainty, the fervor with which I approached the world back then.
But something that also became obvious as I read: that Dianna was gripped by shame. The day after a celebratory, end of week dance at Girls State in June of 2003, 17 year old Dianna wrote of how guilty she felt that she danced to the song “Baby Got Back” and didn’t “shine for Christ” by setting herself apart. After returning from church camp in 2004, 18 year old Dianna wrote of how guilty she felt for not sharing the gospel with her best friends, of how she needed to let God speak through her, and how she was a sinner worse than all others.
A dozen years on, I can look at those pages and see the shame I felt then, the deep disgust I had toward myself positively pouring off the pages. And I recognize that these things are unhealthy and false and not of God. I can speak now with surety that the me of those years suffered deeply at the hands of a fundamentalist image of God who want bent on torturing me into obedience.
But I think if I disown that person entirely, I disown the good parts of me that are still learning, still loving, still open to the Word. I disown the earnestness that drove me to explore my faith more deeply and more zealously than ever. I cannot disown the foolhardy pursuit of truth that was part of me in those times – though I can disown the bad behavior that resulted from that pursuit.
It is deeply important, especially for progressives who have grown up in fundamentalist households, to grapple with who we were and who we are becoming. It is important that we own and discern the bad behavior and remember what was good about our selves during those times. Such understanding can only increase the grace we have for ourselves and for others who are in those positions.