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My experience with Christianity…and where to go from here?

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I originally posted this in /r/christianity but figured friends here might appreciate it a bit more…

I wrote this up yesterday…I wasn't planning on submitting it or sending it to anyone, but I just felt compelled to post it here and get it off my chest.

I'm 33 years old. I was raised as pretty standard non-denominational Protestant – I went to church weekly, and "believed" as much as any other normal teenager did/does. I believed in the concept of God and Jesus, though never put much thought into either. I always did have some doubts, though – as I was constantly asking questions (never fully answered, of course) when I was finding discrepancies between science (creationism vs evolution, for example), but I always just defaulted back to "I'm a Christian."

I enlisted in the Marine Corps at 18 and found myself on a combat deployment in Iraq at the age of 21. I would say a little prayer before each mission, basically asking for protection. Then one day, our convoy was hit by an IED and we were engaged in our first firefight. After this event, I started questioning my beliefs – I was told God loved me and was on my side, but I knew that the people we were fighting believed the same thing with equal conviction. I did some deep soul-searching and came to the conclusion that there simply was no God, nothing sacred, nothing spiritual – I became a materialist, atheist, nihilist – whatever you want to label it. It was with this mindset I conducted myself for the next 10 years or so – "Good without god" belief, though I did find some solace in Buddhism as a means to work through PTSD and other issues I was dealing with; however, I never "bought into" the spiritual side of Buddhism.

Until 12/31/17. On that particular New Years Eve, we had a small celebration with some friends at an apartment in Seattle. One of our friends brought 'shroom' brownies – my first (and so far only) interaction with psilocybin. I didn't consume enough to experience any sort of visualizations or other such fanfare – just enough to notice, very particularly, how we were all on the "same wave-length" – to a degree greater than I had ever experienced before. This led me to begin questioning what psilocybin does to our brain, what consciousness is, what we experience as reality, etc. My wife and I learned how to meditate that May, and have since been meditating regularly twice a day.

Since then, while in meditative states, I've experienced and felt things I could never explain before. Energies, shared consciousness, etc. I really began to challenge my belief system, my concept of spirituality and reality, etc. I traveled to Pakistan for three weeks and Japan for a week, experiencing Islam and Buddhism in a way I had never felt before. I started studying Hinduism and the Vedas to understand metaphysics and energy. I lost myself in Gnosticism, Sufism, Mysticism, Shamanism. I started to think that maybe at the root of it all – all religions and spiritual traditions – there must be a singular truth that all of these people and traditions are trying to explain with the limited vocabulary we have.

This past August my wife and I traveled to Costa Rica for a meditation and yoga retreat – as well as an Ayahusca ceremony. Without getting into too much detail about this ceremony (though if you're interested, I have shared my experience in the /r/ayahusca here https://www.reddit.com/r/Ayahuasca/comments/cx2qv9/my_journal_entry_from_my_medicine_experience/ ). I was confronted with a force of humility, love, and spirit that I had never experienced before. Prior to our ceremony, I had been reading more books about spirituality. One of the things I wanted to understand was Christianity – this time, from my perspective. Not the perspective of the Church, not the perspective of the power structure – I wanted to explore, understand, and experience Christianity at its most basic and inspirational. Book after book left me feeling rejected – too much emphasis on the Bible, too much emphasis on "God the Father" and obedience, too much "external." I went into the ceremony still disappointed, but with a desire to continue seeking – and in the ceremony, I did find God – not the God I was taught about, thought about, nor the Christian God – but God as the universal consciousness, energy, love, etc. that is beyond human thought and word.

My wife and I went camping this weekend, and I brought with me the Gospel of Mary. I was hoping to find something in this Gospel that so far has alluded me – that is, the internal, experiential, universal sense of God that I have read about in other traditions but Christianity itself seems to ignore. In this Gospel, I was blown away. I found the words I had been looking for – that "the Kingdom of God is within each of us" – that God is able to be experienced by each of us, that there are levels to consciousness (metaphysics), and more. I finally found a "flavor" of Christianity outside the Mystics that I was able to relate to.

So here's the conundrum – here do I go from here? How do I reconcile the ideas and words of a Christ that I understand and found in myself and in the Gospel of Mary with a Church and institution that rejected these words? How do I reconcile a philosophy of "salvation from within" with an institution that preaches "salvation from outside." I feel as everything "mainstream" Christianity preaches and advocates for – at least from my experience and exposure – is antithetical to what Christ actually taught. Where is the message of self-fulfillment? Of finding God in oneself? Why the external worship of a "God" that needs to save us? Why the patriarchal structure? Why the rejection of the feminine spirit?

I'm not necessarily looking for answers – I'll continue walking this path on my own, finding Christ and God wherever and however they're revealed to me. I'm just saddened to finally find a Christianity that truly touches my soul – and to see it rejected so vehemently by the Church itself – in word and in action.

In love.

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