I ran across the hugely-popular Top 10 Reasons Why Kids Leave Church, and I wanted to write an angry, “No, THIS is why I left” sort of article. Now granted, I didn’t leave church altogether, but I did abandon the sorts of churches which I believe the author of that article would espouse.
But I don’t hate those churches where I grew up, nor even those which abused me in more recent years. Many of the people in those churches were truly good people, if sometimes misled. But who isn’t? These were great mentors and leaders who, despite any faults they had, will always stay with me in my heart. To write such a post would make it seem that the people in those churches I left were all ignorant monsters, and they weren’t, though perhaps deceived at times.
These churches held fast to their traditional values, training their young ones to grow up to be just like them, to cherish all the same things which the previous generation cherished and to toe the line with regard to conservative Christian beliefs. Questions would meet with frustrated looks and perhaps a lesson on apologetics or a Bible verse which sort of applied. Really, more than anything, they want you to do things as they did — not because they’re evil people, but because that is what makes them comfortable, when everyone carries on the legacies passed to them from their elders.
In a sense, they remind me of hobbits, always leery of change, suspicious of outsiders, but generally good-natured. So long as things go as they have gone since time immemorial, they remain happy and content. But when someone in their midst doesn’t want to keep in step, all eyes to turn him — to me, as it were — and things may quickly turn sour. If you question even one thing, they say, then it’s a slippery slope which ends in moral poverty.
The free-spirited hobbit ignores such threats, but they are the sort of thing he expects if he intends to stay in the Shire. And so he ventures forth into the wild to confront the mysteries and dangers which life in the Shire seems to wish away. In leaving, he knows he has chosen a rougher path without the comfort and affirmation of his friends and family, but he knows that the Shire cannot endlessly keep the rest of the world at bay.
The Shire remains in his heart. The things he learned will always stay with him — but perhaps with a hint of sadness and sometimes even with anger. Yet this sadness cannot abate his eagerness to explore the world, to find out what is true and to fight in whatever small way he can against the darkness which threatens even the place which he now leaves behind. His sacrifice is total, but so, too, is his freedom.
And so it is with me. This is why I left the church as I knew it: I am but a hobbit who realized that the Shire was not the place for him. The answers I seek and the path I follow lead far beyond the edge of the familiar. And even if I were to return, it would not be as the same person who left.