In my desire to find this merger between maintain my faith and feeling comfortable with who I was, I hit a lot of bumps a long the way. My ability to make the decisions was compromised on some level and through a complicated series of events I fell into a crisis (The crisis deserves it's own post, so I'll just leave it at that for now), that shook me up pretty bad. I took on all blame for what happened and I was sick to my stomach, with feelings of pain, regret and general lack of any kind of self-acceptance. I can't really describe to you how bad I felt then, but looking back it probably was similar to some sort of depression. I had just come home from college for holiday break at the time and this didn't help because I felt very alone. There were no classes or distractions to drowned out my negative feelings. Naturally, I sought refuge by attending a new church group. At this church group a woman prayed for me - and, no lies, I experienced this "Epiphany" or existential experience...I know it sounds a little ludicrous but I felt as though a physical burden had been lifted from me and that new life was brought in. At this time, I very much believed that this was God was working through me in a powerful way to reshape my then then fragile belief I had in him.
Naturally, this was a bit of a turning point in my life and I decided to set aside much of what I was considering as doubt and move forward with Christianity. Due to the nature of the experience and the issues I was struggling with at the the time, this turning point didn't just encourage me to continue with Christianity I knew but to redefine it for myself. Basically, I was able to let go of some of the "judgement" and expectation aspects of the faith and attempt to come into my own a little. I slowly walked a way from a ministry I was involved in and I like to say "I dabbled in Catholicism" for a while. Compared to my previous version of Christianity I actually found Catholicism quite accepting and more compatible with science. They would sometimes get together and talk their faiths and there was room in these discussion for people to have different expressed views. I actually found it slightly uncomfortable at the time, but also likable. The group I was involved with was quite welcoming and I even went on a mission trip with them. My "epiphany" happened one short semester before I was done with college, so my contact with the Catholic group diminished when I was done with school.
Post college, I struggled to find myself. I didn't feel at home in my career despite having loved college and my degree program. I continued to look for fulfillment via church groups and Christianity and found a church that was extraordinarily social indeed. They had put a call-out for people to start social groups at the church and I decided to start something I called "coffee-colloquium". The goal was to bring people together to discuss important issues within the Christianity at large and share our unique ideas...it was perhaps a bit reminiscent of my experience in the catholic group. The group had somewhere between poor and no attendance the entire time I hosted it, which was at least a year. While I didn't take it personally; I did take it as a sign that there was marginal room for that type of discussion within the boundaries of church and it made me question my role in "church" as a larger institution.
At this time, my interest in other viewpoints continued to grow. I also felt that a belief that was untested was not worth anything, so I began to consume information in various ways. Most of my "seeking" continued to be done through internal sources, but I found that I was getting more liberal on what I would accept. One book that crossed my path at a Christian book store no less was "I Sold My Soul on Ebay" by Hemant Mehta. In it, I found myself agreeing with many of his insights and as a result decided to check out his blog. This was at a time was I trying to figure my views out. I would spend an hour listening to NPR and then and then (try to spend) an hour listening to Right-Wing talk radio. I was trying to let all sides have a voice.
For reasons I hope to go into later, I found most of Hemant's blog rather benign. It was interesting and curious, but didn't really strike at my faith. It wasn't until a post about a study where prayer was being shown to be unhelpful via statistically relevant data that I actually "cracked.". Previously, it had been easy to write off many of the scientific claims as biased or wayward... but with my engineering background I knew statistics couldn't lie. The study followed a group of patients and in the cases where prayer was used, the group of patients declined in health (as opposed to increase). I just didn't understand why a god wouldn't heal people on average statistically. Obviously, I understood at this point that he let some people struggle... but why wouldn't he help people via prayer on average. It frustrated me and I couldn't let it go. It drove me to read more and more...