As far back as I can remember, I felt that I knew God and saw his love in my world. Church attendance was never an optional activity, and though the churches changed over the years, my three siblings and I were in church every Sunday and we knew that God was a big part of our lives.
My grandfather was a Nazarene pastor. To this day, he remains (at age 96) one of the best models I have of a godly man, full of love for God and for his family, and compassion towards everyone he meets. The Nazarene church is a very conservative denomination--no drinking, no dancing, no playing cards, no going to the movies, a strong emphasis on the altar call experience, and an apparent certainty that their church knew the way to a holy life (and most other churches did not). My parents both grew up in that church; in fact, they met at a Nazarene college. The long list of prohibited activities did not make sense to them, and they found themselves questioning their church's attitude towards other people and its approach to social issues. However, my parent's quiet rebellion was carried out within a framework of respect that helped set the tone for my own spiritual journey.
Throughout my youth, I veered back and forth between churches with approaches that seemed difficult to reconcile. Of course I went with my parents as they joined a Methodist church, and later became Presbyterians. However, many things in those worship services struck me as impersonal. How could a pre-printed prayer in the bulletin express to God my own thoughts and feelings? I was constantly drawn to churches that seemed "more holy", like the Nazarene church I first experienced. People in those churches knew God on a personal level, and actively sought the feeling inside that validated that personal relationship. Yet when I heard an altar call, I often felt insecure about whether my last moment of 'being saved' had actually taken. Maybe I needed to try again! Moreover, the Nazarenes believed that after salvation came sanctification. Somehow, God would (I thought) instantly make me a non-sinner from that time forth. I never seemed to achieve that, no matter how earnestly I prayed.
In addition to my inability to become a perfect person, I was troubled by the lack of tolerance I saw in people in those churches. I had seen respect for other people and their beliefs as perhaps the most important quality my parents valued. Yet I saw people unwilling to believe that anyone could be a real Christian without the same experience they had. I saw people who fervently believed that no one who was a true Christian could possibly hold different political views from them. And I saw suspicion towards higher education. Could God really be unable to handle humans learning more about science and evolution than was specifically stated in Genesis?
This is what I now believe: I believe that I have a personal relationship with God, the three-in-one, that Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and that I do not need to judge other people's relationship with God; I believe that God calls me to respect and love others and to care for them, and that I do not need to judge the only valid way for others to do that; I believe that God created the universe and everything in it, and that He has given us the intelligence to learn more about it all, though we may never fully understand. As Laura Palmer prays: "I am thankful that You are God, and I am not."