Anna Gazmarian | Longreads | October 2019 | 13 minutes (3,334 words)
I was raised in nondenominational churches filled with congregants who called themselves progressive for wearing denim on Sunday mornings. Even though we used electric guitars and fog machines, our congregation was made up of just under 20 families. We scoffed at televangelists, believing that our theology contained the real gospel. My life centered around Sunday morning services, memorizing scripture, and trying to understand the meaning of prayer. Before mental illness entered my life — before I became overcome with thoughts of death, and experienced what felt like God’s silence — faith equalled certainty.
When I was growing up, the popular boys in my high school youth group played in hardcore bands. The most dedicated musicians wore lip rings and gauges. They sat together in church and wore skinny jeans in sizes smaller than any I owned.
Davin, the most talented guitarist at my youth group, performed on Sunday mornings during worship services. He played electric guitar on the center of the stage and kept tabs on the church members who raised their hands as signs of praising God during services. He told me later on that the songs played during services were organized to elicit emotional responses for church members. Davin’s crooked teeth were covered with tobacco stains. He claimed that smoking with the baseball team was his way of ministering to his teammates about Jesus.
On Sunday mornings, he wore oversized hats over his straightened hair. The popular worship songs by Hillsong United featured lyrics about victory and following Jesus without doubt: When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace/For I am Yours and You are mine. Their level of certainty represented the type of faith that I wanted to achieve.