"We are deeply saddened that you have thereby separated yourself from the visible church, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation." So ended Form 2B, a Word document emailed to me in regard to my soul about six years ago.
After printing out this certificate of dismissal from the church of my youth, I didn't know where to file it away. In the back of my Bible? In the fireproof box under my bed? I folded it and carried it around in my shoulder bag for several weeks, pulling it out now and then to make sure I was reading correctly.
I tried drafting various Form 2Bs for other parting occasions: We are deeply saddened that you have left this political party, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of social progress. We are deeply saddened that you have separated yourself from this company, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of gainful employment.We are deeply saddened that you have chosen not to patronize this Denny's, outside of which there is no possibility of enjoying our delicious Grand Slam breakfast. We are deeply saddened that you have separated yourself from this relationship, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of love.
Sometimes I can smile, shake my head at this ultimately impotent piece of paper, this well-intended warning of eternal perishing. But every so often I'm still anxious, fearing that Form 2B has been faxed to heaven, where Jesus will locate my name in the Book of Life and blot it out with his decisive red pen.
Looking back on some of the messages I received and what I recorded around the time I confessed deep doubts and was threatened with excommunication (before instead being sent on my rebellious way via the gentler Form 2B), several patterns emerge, including repeated invocations of a certain namesake.
A cousin wrote to warn me of my peril: "The very first temptation to
mankind came when the serpent said to Eve in the garden, 'Did God really
say?' Eve questioned what God had said and decided to live and make
decisions apart from his Word. I pray that you will not make the same
A friend forwarded me a note from her mother, who was praying
for me at the time. "Today, as I've thought about and prayed for Evie, I
was struck by the thought that another voice is playing a role here. I
thought of Satan's words to Eve in the Garden and was overwhelmed by the
thought that Evie is being faced with the same battle. Trusting that
Evie is born again, as I believe, then is the huge voice of doubt and
accusation coming from the Serpent? Is Evie able to identify Satan's
voice?" I neglected to answer these questions. I was not confident that I
could identify supernatural voices, having never heard one before.
A loved one told me one day, "When we question God, we become like
Eve. And what in the world would have ever led you to see the Bible as
fallible, after all you've been taught?" She was upset, hurt, and I knew
it was not the time or place for me to give a list of reasons. But I
did have some. "I don‘t mean to be hurtful," I said, "but there are
things I'm not convinced of, and it would be dishonest for me to pretend
that I am." She softened for a moment and assured me that she was
simply trying to be honest about what she believes to be true. "But it's also God's truth," she added.
Another family member told me he'd thought more lately about my name, Mary Eve, and how Eve was the mother of sorrows and Mary the mother of hope. He hoped that one day I'd mirror Mary more than Eve, though I've been "Evie" from day one. I watched his beloved face crumble, telling me this. Mine did too.
More than half a decade later, I'm far from knowing what to make of it all. I know I was loved and am loved still. I continue to feel a lot of guilt over leaving the tradition in which I was raised, and I still have great regret for becoming a source of pain I'm powerless to soothe. But I also still think I had to leave.
In the biblical account of Babel’s creation and collapse, the human remnant aspires to survival and even success, and a steeple takes shape above the landscape. Call it pride, hubris if you will, but see too it is human potential at its peak. The all-wise Adonai, seeing this, registers unusual surprise and concern.
"Nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them,” he concludes, then proceeds to confuse the language of the people. Understanding fails and the community is undone.
Construction does not end overnight but scatters to the ends of the earth, each pinnacle mimicking the gesture of the ill-fated original—come, come here and be secure. We live in its wake, in places splintered between hope and disappointment, clinging for life.