I didn't go to church today. I was dressed and heading out the door to visit the Salvos at my local corps when it hit me - I don't know what the point of this is anymore.
If my goal is "to find a group of people living the life Jesus did", then for all intents and purposes, I've done that - five times already. Every church I've visited is full of people who are there to declare the name of their Lord, and offer Him praise.
I can write a list of ten things Jesus did while he was on earth, hell, I could write another twenty points, but does that make me a good judge of his character? Does that give me any idea what it means at all to live "like a Christian"?
I was Christian for ten years, from the age of thirteen. I joined the church because I already considered myself to be Christian. I knew there was a God, I knew He loved me and wanted to be a part of my life - so I actively sought out a group of people who would help me along my path to find Jesus.
Within months of joining the best church I'd found (I visited about four denominations with different friends before I decided Pentecostalism was the way for me) I'd been 'baptised in the Holy Ghost', evidenced by the speaking of tongues, baptised by full immersion in water, and been told that my mother and the rest of my family were all going to Hell. Unless I did something about it.
At this point, I began to question if this was right. This didn't match up with the God I knew in my heart. My mum was a good person, who did good things. I was no better than her. Why should she spend her eternity in flames, while I live in a castle with a golden path?
I spoke to one of the junior pastors about it and she said that while it was unfortunate, and seemed unfair, 'it was the truth'. When I accepted this answer, I signed up for ten more years of believing everything I was told - even when it didn't feel right in my heart.
It was a good ten years. I found people who loved me, an extended family who cared for me, wanted the best for my life. I found a purpose. I was special, called, chosen by God. I was a prophet, an evangelist, a disciple, a healer. I was a worship leader, a preacher, a person who heard directly from God.
But I never found peace.
In order to accept this new God, the one who allowed such punishment to occur, I had to place the blame elsewhere. It had to be my mum's fault. She was unrighteous, she refused to accept Jesus as her saviour. Maybe she didn't deserve Hell, but she chose it. In order to accept homosexuality as a sin, I had to believe that too, was a choice. Surely God wouldn't create someone with hopes and dreams and demand they live their life fighting against them. A God that creates us in His image wouldn't create us to suffer. So they must be choosing to be gay.
When you begin to see the world no longer as people - people who suffer, people who love, people who care, people who hurt - and only see them as sinners, it's hard to feel at home anywhere else except the walls of your church - with your people.
So what happens when you're betrayed by people inside your church? You have nowhere left at all.
When I was twenty-three, after a series of bad events, I found myself taking a month off church. I spoke to my pastor about it, I had regular meetings with her during this time, but I just wanted a little space, to find the God I'd known as a thirteen-year-old girl. After this month, I knew I wasn't a "Christian" anymore.
Ever since that day, when I was made to accept my family's eternal damnation, I'd accepted every other aspect of the Pentecostal faith. When I didn't trust my pastors anymore, I went back to the very beginning, and decided to trust that little feeling in my heart that says "this is right, or this is wrong". I started at the book of Genesis, chapter one.
Did I believe God created the world? I guessed so. I had no reason not to. I've never personally met a scientist who could prove to me otherwise, and surely the beauty of the world was enough to accept it was a masterpiece, not a random reaction. Next.
Did I believe that Eve ate the apple because the snake told her to? Um. No. I guess not. I'm pretty sure that if you said to me I could have anything I wanted, except that one, tiny thing, and you weren't around to keep an eye on me, my selfish human nature, my curiosity, my free will, would be enough to make me take a bite.
If you don't believe the world has an enemy, suddenly, there's no need for a saviour. Suddenly, Jesus didn't die on the cross to save me from Hell. Suddenly, Jesus died to teach me how to live. And this is a totally different ball game.
Skip forward five years, and here we are. One girl, who isn't prepared to compromise what she feels in her heart is right, seeing if there is still room for Jesus in her life. I no longer see the world as full of sinners, rather full of choice. And if your choice is different from mine, it doesn't make one better than the other, it makes it yours, not mine.
You see, I could find a church that meets the ten 'criteria' I set at the start of this exercise, but I still wouldn't join them. Not if the center of their faith wasn't love. Love that accepts all as equals, love that doesn't require a person to change who they are in order to be accepted.
Let's pretend (because I'd never be so arrogant as to assume I am) I'm right, and there isn't an enemy, a devil. Lets pretend for a bit it's just us. Then what is it that stops the world being like 'Heaven'? It's just us. It's our choices, our free will, our selfish human nature.
I'm going to keep visiting churches, but my agenda is clearer to me now: Find people who want to see Heaven on earth. Find people who use the teachings of Jesus in a real and relevant way. Find people who accept everyone, as they are. Find people who love.