Flashback Post: Leaving The Fold Pt.3

*For longtime readers who were following the "Leaving The Fold" posts about my deconversion, I know I left ya'll hanging back in October. Since then things have "unfolded" enough for me to complete the series (for lack of a better word), which will conclude with new posts on Thursday and Friday. But for any newcomers or those who need to refresh their memory, I've decided to re-post the first three parts. Read parts 1&2 HERE and HERE.  Part three's below. 

"I'm don't think I'm going to go to Chicago," I said as we lay in bed together watching The Golden Girls. "Why not," he replied with a little apprehension. I had been feeling down for the past few days, a change in mood that had not gone unnoticed by my boyfriend. Actually my emotions had been in flux ever since it was announced the community choir I played for had been invited to Chicago to sing. My first thought of course was "Oh snap! Free trip!" But that parade was quickly rained on when I remembered my belief in God had gone the way of the dinosaur. Usually I could deflect and say nothing was bothering me, but nights after we had choir practice left me particularly vulnerable and conflicted about my infidel status. So I decided to come clean.

"Because I'm an atheist," I said, looking at Rose tell some ridiculous St. Olaf story while the gravity of my words sank in. My shoulders seemed to have lost about two tons of weight as I inhaled what felt like my first gasp of air.

"A what?" he said, turning to face me. "Kevin are you serious," he said, looking at my face to see a 'gotcha' smile pop up any moment. "Yes," I said firmly, looking him in his eyes. "See I knew it was something," he said. "I really wish you would've told me this after Chicago."

And with those words, a long conversation about my disbelief, what it would mean for my future involvement in our community choir--a group I'd been in for years--how my deeply religious parents would react, and so on. Things got tense when he said he felt sorry for me that I didn't believe in God and that he "didn't hate me" for being an atheist. To which I sarcastically snapped "Well that's mighty big of you," and made it clear in no uncertain terms that the last thing I wanted or needed was someone loving me out of pity.

After talking it out some more over the ensuing days and weeks, we came to a realistic, if not perfect understanding about my lack of faith. At least in private. In public I was still playing for both the community choir and the youth choir at local church, where I'd been for nearly a decade.  But for the most part, I felt a tremendous sense of relief and somehow continued to mentally comparmentalize the fact that I was a nonbeliever who played church music for gospel choirs. The fact that the trip to Chicago fell through (church drama! Gotta love it!) helped keep my head in the sand.

Cognitive dissonance is one resilient bitch though, and within a few months, the old feelings of guilt and uneasiness about my dual existence began to resurface. You think I would've learned the pitfalls of living a double life after all of my closet drama, but old habits die hard. But I was about to get a reminder of just how far removed I was from my former fellow believers....

I knew he was about to go there. I could tell by the direction his words were going in, talking about how we as a society had forgotten about God and veered away from biblical teachings (or something along those lines chile...I'd often be so busy disagreeing with and countering everything he was saying in my head that I barely remember the sermons). But it still stung when he brought up New York's decision to legalize gay marriage. In an epic Southern preacher drawl his voice boomed "God saaid that marriage is supposed to be between a MAN, AND A WOMAN!" Of course the church mothers and other congregants shouted and clapped in solidarity.

For whatever reason I felt betrayed. Before that day I'd never even so much as heard him mention the word gay. While the remark didn't carry the same sting it would have had if it reached the ears of the frightened, insecure 16-year-old I was eight years ago (plus I've heard MUCH worse), I naively assumed his neutral status equaled pro-gay. Obviously I was wrong. But what was worse was that while every fiber of my proudly gay, godless self was screaming for me to get up and leave, the professional musician/fearful approval seeker side of me sat there and merely folded my arms. I did nothing. I said nothing, and berated myself for it for days afterward. Everything I preached and ranted and raved about online, I couldn't follow through with in actual life. The incident made me realize that deep down I still didn't feel I deserved to be my unapologetic, authentic self. That everyone else was allowed to do and say and be who they wanted to be, but I wasn't.

Today however, I took another step towards that goal. But it wasn't easy. In the past few months, the youth choir, which for years had languished with only four or five member, has expanded to nearly a choir stand full of altos, sopranos and tenors, allowing me and the choir director to finally try some vocal and musical techniques that we've previously had to go without. A small part of me thought the Almighty was giving me hints that I needed to recommit myself to the fold. But after yesterday's rehearsal, it dawned on me that it was really just my ego and love of music that kept me coming back. Oh, we're gonna be a beast now! Everybody's gonna come and see us! Everybody and their mama will wanna hear us! And we can do this song, and that song.... those were my thoughts. Notice how God or ministry wasn't in any of them? That's what being a church musician had been for me, and now it longer was. I didn't believe, I just loved playing music.

To make things better worse, the pastor offered to raise my monthly salary for the first time ever. On top of those events, during today's service three kids got baptized, three people joined church, the pastor gave me a personal shout out for my perserverance and the youth choir gave possibly its best performance EVER. I felt like the Devil himself . Up until the benediction I fought with myself, weighing my options. My first thought was to tell him my weekend job was requiring me to work every Sunday, and I wouldn't be able to play for them anymore, while option two was to simply come clean and give my resignation.

After church I asked the pastor if I could speak to him in private and confessed. In a way I chose option #2. I say in a way because I didn't bust out and tell him "I'm atheist now and I'm quitting." I said I'd been doing lots of studying/reading for the last seven or eight months (which is true) and was not sure about what I believed right now. I said it was a spiritual thing and that I didn't feel right continuing to play for the youth choir and accepting the pay raise with all the questions I had right now. He repeatedly asked if he or his wife had done anything to offend me, and I assured him that wasn't the case (which is true--aside the gay marriage thing, I've never had a problem with them). We arranged for me to play until December, exchanged a few words, mostly about what my mother was up to (he'd worked as a sub at her school) and said goodbye. Then I left without looking back.

I thought I would feel elated after I told him. Sort of like this:

See how I work Madge into any situation! A true diva lover makes a way outta no way! But I digress.
And in a way I do feel elated, or at the very least relieved. I didn't want to continue to do something I no longer believed in, and that I consider in some ways harmful, so I quit. It made sense. Mostly though, I just feel weird about the whole situation. Part of me feels like "You idiot! Why the fuck would you turn down a raise and quit when the choir is finally starting to take off!" Another part of me feels so horrible. I could tell he looked so blind sided and confused while I was trying to explain it to him why I needed to leave. After I got in my car I had to fight the urge to call him and tell him I was just talking crazy, that come January I'd be there at ten thirty sharp. At times during our conversation he looked so vulnerable. His face seemed to say "What do we do now?" Hopefully I'll feel better in the days to come. But right now I just feel shitty. Of course there's still the task of breaking the news to the fam....