Brad Stevens : Austin, TX

My Spiritual Path
... A Journey of a Lifetime.

The journey to find one's spiritual path can produce deep feelings of fear and love. Sometimes when things are bleak, we humans have a tendency to question our spirituality. However, I have found a path that creates a deep sense of gratitude in times of personal challenges.

I grew up in a family who was being influenced by the organized religion of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC). When I convey my experience to others, many classify it as 'religious extreme'. Comparatively speaking, it was obviously so. The teachings of the church were quite poignant. While attending the church's Sunday School class as a child, I was taught that the CRC was one of the largest religious organizations on the face of the Earth. And, as for the other religions? Well, I was taught that most were going to hell ... especially the Catholics. Buddhists and Muslims? Don't even think about it ... they are already condemned to hell!

Our family's life revolved around the CRC. Church was attended twice on Sunday (morning and evening) ... prayer before and after each meal ... and, a reading from the scripture before we were granted leave of the dinner table. I was required to attend Cadets (a church sponsored military type of group complete with uniforms), Sunday School & Summer Bible School. My parents were so involved in the church, they had little time for us kids ... Elder one year, Deacon the next ... Ladies Aide ... Choir ... Song Service Leader ... Coffee Break ... Bible Study ... and on and on and on.

Since my childhood, of course, I've learned that the CRC is not one of the largest religious organizations in the world ... actually, quite the opposite.

Although they have made efforts to modernize and adapt, the teachings of the CRC continue to be condemning. That fact, combined with the continued self-education and enlightenment of the general populous, makes for no big surprise that the CRC's membership continues to decline.
I am the youngest of my three siblings. My mother once advised me that "we tried our best raising you kids; but once we got to you, we just let you grow up". I chuckled internally when I heard that statement. After all, since they were so involved in the church, they didn't have much time for anything other than 'just letting me grow up'.

Please don't get me wrong. Being involved certainly shows dedication; and, that's quite admirable. However, there is 'that line' that can be crossed. And, I felt as if it had been crossed many times.

That all being said, my parents brought me up the best they knew how. Many parents find it difficult to strike a balance between their church requirements and family demands. My parents were no different. I don't believe they consciously ignored spending the time that many other families would deem necessary to create family harmony. They simply believed that God was first in their lives. And, as such, time should be devoted to Him. I think they believed that God would bless our family and somehow take away all the problems that we faced.

Life at home was quite different than the time our family spent within the church building itself. God forsake us if we didn't appear as "upstanding members" of the church. Every effort was made by my parents to make our family appear as upstanding members ... no matter what kind of miserable life we were suffering at home.

When we entered the front doors of the church, one would think my parents had the best relationship in the world. They were actually kind to each other ... something I rarely witnessed at home. So, for me, going to church meant that I was able to be in an environment that felt somewhat warm and inviting ... simply because it meant that I was out of the environment of verbal, physical, and mental abuse; albeit just for a couple hours.

But, it also felt fake.

Our family had to put on a happy face, no matter what hell we were experiencing at home. For if we chose otherwise, we put ourselves at risk of being degraded or even threatened with excommunication. If we chose to seek guidance by fellow members and/or the leadership of the church, the gossip machine would surely be supercharged to deliver the goodies to all those who sought anecdotal gossip throughout the membership. And, it seemed like most every member of that church was looking for juicy gossip. I remember being privately questioned by other church members about my family. Even as a young child, I could tell the questioning was not the type one may ask out of concern ... but, out of sheer pleasure to solicit and spread gossip.
I wondered about this practice. The community of church should be such that a person should feel comfortable turning to fellow members for comfort in times of trouble and unrest. Why then did I not feel that comfort? Even though it felt good to be out of the hell of home, being in church also felt like I was living a life that was not my own.

Sermons from the pulpit were stunning. I remember thinking that there was no way that I'd ever live within the small little box, detailed with exacting boundaries of personal conduct that was being spelled out for our lives. Of course, if we failed, we could all just pray to God for forgiveness and all was forgiven ... at least for our 'minor sins'.

For those sins that were viewed by the church as 'not so minor', it was obvious to me that those sins were so frowned upon that no one batted an eye when church members spewed hateful statements about the 'sinner'.

Years later, I had a personal urge to find out if my personal experience with the Christian Reformed Church was unique, or one of commonality. Over the years, I have spoken to many others who were brought up within CRC families. Many that I spoke to had attended the very same church as our family (Hanley Christian Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan). I was stunned at the similarity in the stories of our upbringing. [NEXT - TO PAGE 2]

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Copyright 2000 BRAD STEVENS all rights reserved worldwide
Austin, Texas