• Jessica Morgan McAtee

Reason to Believe

Though I was raised in an American Protestant Evangelical church tradition, I could never fit in or “get it right.” I tried relentlessly to be better or to believe the things they taught, but many of them didn’t make sense to me. I saw contradictions and inconsistencies that I couldn’t make peace with.


I wanted to believe the things they said, but my mind and heart simply wouldn’t let me. The dis-integration ate away at me. If I was honest, it seemed like this religion simply wasn’t for me.


Over the years, I joined Bible studies, but always felt like an outsider, and was often excluded and shunned as one too. If I was honest about my questions, it didn’t go well. Time and again the “Christian women” treated me as a project or as a failure, not as an equal. The judgement was palpable.


I left that religion behind. Yet, there were parts of it that were worth saving.


Somehow, I never lost faith in a good God, a loving ground of being, a good creator who is for all humanity and connects to each and every person in their own way.


There is a God that is for me[1]. They did speak of him on occasion but I believe it because I have met him. Better yet, he met me. Since he is the benevolent force that breathes life into the universe, he kindly sent me a life-line.


I trusted that I was connected to that God. And it turns out I (always) was.

By the way, so are you.



A little-known fact about me: I love Rod Stewart’s music.


It started in my early 20s. Even though most of my friends listened to more, ahem, age-appropriate and hip music, I was always mysteriously and shamelessly drawn to Maggie Mae and other Rod Stewart songs.


I still can’t help but dance and smile when I hear that Celtic melody. My friends kindly humored me, but they really found it strange that I preferred this over other hits and artists in the early 2000s.


One year, on my birthday, my cousin called me with good news. He was in town at a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub and there was a Rod Stewart impersonator singing! He told me the guy looked and sounded like the real deal.


I immediately dolled up, grabbed some wild friends and headed to an amazing night of British rock sung by a tacky and pretend Rod Stewart with his shirt half unbuttoned.


It was awesome.




For the next decade my friends and I would follow this impersonator around the county and imbibe at pubs where he played. We were forever young in a group of elderly folks, but we danced and drank and had the best of times kickin’ our hot legs and waking up Maggie.



I was usually the orchestrator of these outrageously corny nights, roping my friends into another (of the exact same) show. He and his sidekick, Larry, knew us well because we were regulars. It was a wonderful chapter in my life.


At this point, by churchy standards, my days had become largely secularized with no organized religion or faith communities. This wasn’t because I was anti-church. It was because I could not find a place where I was accepted or could be transparent about who I was.


I prayed regularly and trusted God heard me. There was always a reason to believe[2].

One Saturday night, I decided to try, yet again, to find a local church and make some “Christian friends.”


In retrospect, this was only a guilt thing. I LOVED my secular friends and they loved me. However, the religious voices I was raised with said that because my friends weren’t the correct kind of Christians, they were somehow inadequate.


Though I hadn’t been to church for about 10 years. I decided, wearily, to give it another shot.


By chance, I happened to live just a few miles from the church I attended as a child. They were having a women’s event on a Saturday night, and I mustered up the bravery to go back to church and try to make new friends. I had been out dancing on bar tops and boozing in clubs following a fake Rod Stewart among other heathen-linked behaviors. Hopefully they wouldn’t throw stones[3].


I was so nervous. I was going alone and wishing that some women would kindly befriend me.


The first part of the night was a purse swap. It happened in a big room with tables and food that was designed for mingling. I smiled meekly and tried to make eye contact with people. I was terrified. It seemed like most of the ladies already had the friends they wanted for the evening and nobody invited me to sit with them or chat in their small group. Also, I didn’t know about the purse swap, so that was another embarrassment. They were probably not trying to be exclusive, but it felt hurtful and lonely. Talk about feeling awkward and unwanted. It was horrible.


On top of my misery, I kept lamenting that my bestie had invited me to her house, 3 hours away, on this same weekend and instead I told her I was going to try to meet new Christian friends at this women’s event. You know, I was trying to do the God/church thing again. It’s not that I wanted to do this, it was mostly a shameful penance attempt for my long hiatus.


For the record, she is still my dear friend and they don’t include her either.


During the purse swap I was regretting my decision. Fighting back tears, and angry at myself for even thinking that I could belong somewhere like this, I forced myself to go to the next part of the event: Praise and Worship.


For this portion of the night, a live band played churchy music and hundreds of women stood, arms raised, as if at a sing-along-concert and praised their God.


Since I didn’t attend this church, and hadn’t gone to church in years, I didn’t know the songs. They didn’t have the words printed out or on the overhead screen, so I was feeling really left out. The dejected pain inside of me was welling up into a tangible lump in my throat. I was about to burst and leave feeling really stupid for thinking God was going to meet me or help me make church friends.


I felt so alone and rejected by Christians and by God. Again. I guessed I just wasn’t made for church.


Then the music stopped and they began to play a new song. It was a “secular” song! This was a song that had never been sung in this church before (I later found out). I could not believe what I was hearing. This song was not a hymn, gospel melody or praise song, it was Rod Stewart’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You.” I was overwhelmed.


Of course, I knew this song, even without overhead lyrics! I began to jump, raise my hands and sing out loud. It was miraculous.

I knew then that God had not forgotten me. To this day, when I hear that song, it reminds me that God is in everything. He can use anything to connect to us. It is silly to divide music, artists, places, activities and especially PEOPLE into categories like “Christian” or “Secular”. Let’s not do that anymore.


God can be found anywhere. We all find our life and existence in God[4]. We are invited to share in a genuine relationship with the mysterious[5]. This is true life, age-during[6].


As I drove home that night, I felt such relief and joy. I never made any new friends but I knew God was near.


The next morning was Sunday. I attended that same church and I asked the lady who had directed the songs the night before at the women’s event why she sang such an out of place song. She said she had been out running errands that day and a quiet voice in her heart told her that she was going to hear a song that day that needed to be sung at the event.


She also has a relationship with the mysterious.


She heard Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and thought for sure this was the song, but an inner voice said it wasn’t. While getting her nails done, she heard Rod’s “Have I Told You Lately That I Love You” and the voice confirmed it. I thanked her for following her Guide and told her it was for me.



That church didn’t end up being a good fit for me. I never met new friends and soon I stopped attending. However, I had a life changing moment there that I am forever grateful for. I bless that place and the people. In that moment, the Universe aligned using whatever it took to show me that someone is listening. It combined the artistry of God’s son, Rod, to reach me. I am grateful that he wrote that beautiful love song. It reminded me that I am not forgotten. Now, every time I hear that song I smile with God because it’s officially our song!

Today, my theology is so much bigger, fuller and more loving. I don’t divide people into “Christian” or not. Things aren't so much sacred or secular as much as they are all one big picture that the Creator is working for our good. Everyone is a child of God, as far as I am concerned. We are ALL made in God’s image[7] and we ALL reflect that in our own unique way[8].


I never want other people to feel left out, unworthy, uninvited or lesser than, the way I used to. I don’t treat them as projects or failures of faith. In “doing unto others what I would have them do unto me”[9] I now lean towards inclusion. God will do the rest.


I no longer consider myself a Protestant Evangelical because, as always, I simply cannot be aligned with many of their key doctrines. They don’t allow people like me in their group, and I am finally and genuinely at peace with that. I bless them and all they’ve taught me. I know they too are included in God’s mystery.


I believe that God is Love[10]. I can see that active living love in everyone I meet if I am looking for it.



God’s in my heart, He’s in my soul, He’ll be my breath should I grow old, He is my lover, He’s my best friend,

Jessica

[1] Romans 8:31 [2] See what I did there? It’s a Rod Stewart song. [3] John 8:1-11 [4] Acts 17:28 [5] John 8:12 [6] John 10:10 [7] Genesis 1:26 [8] Matthew 5:16 [9] Jesus said this in Matthew 7:12 [10] 1 John 4:8

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