Staying Free

It’s been awhile since I last wrote. I spent part of this month at a regional field conference which kept me too occupied to check my e-mail regularly, much less blog. It was an extraordinary, intense, and gratifying experience, and it pushed me into making some decisions I have been dancing about the edge of for some time now.

I recently made the decision to become more open about my secularism, to stop lying by omission to friends and family, to stop deceiving people by passively participating in religious rituals like prayer, and to honestly answer people when they question my views. This decision to be honest led me to formally ask for my name to be removed from church membership, a request I was recently assured by my former pastor and friend, would be honored at the next church business meeting. This most recent decision feels like the final goodbye in a way. It makes all my other decisions more final.

A few weeks ago I wrote in “Taste of Freedom” that while I was enjoying my time at a public college, I was going to have to return to the Adventist university I originally attended to finish my degree. When I first moved to David’s campus I hated it. I hated the city, I hated the emptiness of the campus (I joined him in the summer), I hated how quiet everything seemed, how small the public library was, how hot and long the days were, how relatively lacking in culture the area seemed. Where were bookstores and coffee shops? Where were the vintage boutiques, and restaurants, and live bands playing in the in the square each summer evening? I wanted nothing more than to fast-forward to the day when I would move back to my old school, my “time off” complete, where I would finish my degree and graduate triumphant. By the time I wrote “Taste of Freedom,” however, I’d already begun to feel that my new environment, the public university where David is completing his degree, was a better fit for me scholastically and socially. So it’s taken me a long time to move forward with this decision, but here it is: I’m going to transfer to David’s school and finish my studies where I am now.

It seems like a small decision. People transfer from one college to another all the time. For me, however, my decision altered more than just the name of the school on my diploma. It symbolized my exit from the Adventist community for good. “Adventist” has always described my family, my education, my church, my culture, and even my home town. My family remains my family, regardless of my beliefs, and my “culture” will always be influenced by the church to some degree because of the role it has played in my life. In the last few weeks and in the month to come, however, I will have formally tied off my history with Adventist education and the Adventist church. Letters, transcripts, and applications have been sent. I only wait for finalization.

When I told my sister about it the other day her attitude was practically blasé. “It’s a rational decision,” she said, “The idea of you coming back [given the expense, with] most of your friends getting ready to leave or already gone, separated from David, no longer identifying as SDA, etc., makes returning here a little nonsensical…there is nothing wrong with readjusting your path.” I’m not as close to my sister as I am to Anthony, my brother, but she is one of the most clear-headed people I know. Hearing her affirm my decision was an unexpected shot of relief.

This affirmation, however, didn’t come until a few days ago. Weeks ago, in days immediately following my decision to transfer, I was in the throes of an identity crisis. For seven or eight days everyone who gave me reason to trust their ear heard my fearful ramblings about how school and community relate to identity, and how I felt I was losing mine. When one community so fully envelops your world and your sense of self, leaving that world behind feels like shutting a door on your old self, without full knowledge of the new one. Although, I suppose no one really knows their present self. That’s the puzzle of personal development, you only know how far you’ve come by looking backwards.

Having completed my week of panic, I realize my largest anxiety concerning my decision didn’t revolve around my identity at all. More significantly, I feared the combination of college transfer and membership removal would translate to old friends and mentors as a middle finger raised toward the community that raised me, and everything they stand for. I don’t want to hurt people, to seem ungrateful for what the church has given me, or to turn my back on the people who helped make me who I am. But even as I continue to value old relationships, I have to move forward as an individual. Changing schools is a very practical way in which I can invest in my future self. ♦

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