From the ages of 15-27, I was what you could call a conservative evangelical Christian — young earth creationist, being gay is a pysch disorder, miracles are real, the works. Or the faith, I should say.
I'm an extrovert processor and I do stand-up comedy, so my lack of faith is bound to come up in public and private discussions. I never bring it up to pick a fight, but more because it's a part of my story and thus a part of me and the way I view the world.
I'll never forget working at a church and staying up late Googling evolution, or homosexuality, or the effects of pornography. All the things I believed became harder and harder to defend and it was incredibly stressful. My type of Christianity had everything tied together in a too big to fail system. If one thing went, they all went.
Then, when I was 27, my brother, who was the light of my world and the best Christian I knew died of a heart attack while playing basketball. In the aftermath of his death, several members of my family stopped talking to me. Six months later, I realized that my wife didn't want to be married to me anymore.
Ironically, it wasn't even these big things that changed me, it was the small injustices around them. It was the neck pain I had on the flight back home, the bank account mix-ups, etc.. that made me rethink the world.
There is a dark lottery running through life that no one can predict or control. My faith, earnest as it was, was my best guess at how to manage the stress of unlimited choices and circumstances. That anything can happen to you. Your life is a number that can be called up for good or ill.
Through the loss, through the worldview collapse, I found something else out.
There is an absurdity to life. There is a constant joke hiding in everything. It's the best relief to what ails you. I'll never forget the day I had "the talk" with my ex-wife. I was devastated. I felt like I was nothing, I had nothing, and I was going to go back home a 27-year-old loser while she kept living with all her cool friends in Copenhagen having a ball.
I don't really need any type of reaction. I'm not mad at anybody (anymore). I didn't lose my faith because someone was mean to me. I stopped believing because my worldview imploded after personal tragedies. But even that isn't fair, the C4 had been planted in the building all along.
All I wanted was to walk around Copenhagen listening to Springsteen on an iPod mini and feel sorry for myself.
But what I didn't know was that the same weekend I split with my wife was the same weekend of the Copenhagen International Gay Pride Parade. Every street I turned on had a slow moving tractor trailer with gay guys throwing candy and dancing for enthusiastic crowds.
That is so funny to me now.
I don't really know what I believe today. Most of my prayers are sent up for people I need to let go of or at the West Ashley location of Any Lab Test Now. Whenever I talk about this to people who are currently church-going, there is a very predictable call tree of reactions:
The judge: These are the people who assume you walked away from the faith flippantly/you never were a real Christian to begin with, etc. These are the people who invite you to their church with the same grim reach as me when I give friends with bad breath an Altoid. No I insist, no please. Do this so I can find you less distasteful.
The savior: These are the people with decidedly more empathy from the first who make a mental decision to CD of the month club you back to God. They totally understand why you may have walked away, but they are going to chip away at you with kindness and keep inviting you to their trunk or treat church party despite the fact that you're a single 33-year-old man with no kids. They're like, "For real, think this through."
The equal: These are the types that I love the most. They realize that my experience with something they value is different from theirs.
They may have some long-term plan to bring me back to the fold, but they never show disrespect for my story. To this day, I have friends like this. I'm amazed how with no faith in common, we can enrich each other's lives despite the divide on something they hold as most important.
I can be your friend no matter what you believe. And that's all I expect and hope for from other people.