God stopped mattering to me when I was 15. That was the year when I heard my Grampa Busse preach for the first time. Both of my grandfathers, as well as several great-grandfathers and great-great- grandfathers were ministers. But I only knew one. Grampa Busse.
When I was 15 Grampa and his second wife came to visit us. Both devout preacher's kids, my parents rebelled against religion in their 40's, parting company with the Southern Baptist church of my childhood. But their search for a new church home was sporadic at best, and they hadn't been attending any one church with any regularity. However with my grandfather in town, we got up on Sunday morning and went to the last church they'd visited.
It was a new church start and it met in my high school. Unfortunately the worship time had changed and none of us knew it. When we arrived and found no worship service in progress guilt reared its head. We had demonstrated to my grandfather that we were merrily strolling down the path to Sinnerville with a rest stop at Heathen Junction.
So we came back home, proverbial tails between our legs, all dressed for salvation, but with no place to go. But my Grampa, who as a pastor had a tent revivalist penchant, saved -- no pun intended -- the day. He just happened to have a tape of a sermon he had preached recently with him.
We listened. It's challenging to articulate what I felt in response to his preaching. Fear, sadness, anger. Even the fieriest of fiery sermons in my tradition had not prepared me for his vitriolic pounding of the pulpit. I no longer remember his text but I remember that his sermon became a raging rant, a diatribe, an angry, judgmental lashing out.
It scared me. It angered me. It represented everything I'd despised about church, religion, God. No matter how often I was taught in Sunday School that Jesus was our Good Shepherd who loved us and died for our sins, the greater lesson I ultimately received was that God must matter to me because if God didn't I would roast in the flames of eternal hell. God mattered because if not I would be punished.
And in my adolescent rebellion, which was taking definitive shape and form, I thought, "To hell with hell. If I'm going, then so be it. This is not a God I can live with or claim." That day, after his sermon was finally over I sat at the top of our stairs and cried. I was done with church, with religion, with God. I was done.
I was done. Until I wasn't.
It turns out that God did matter, does matter in my life. I had to own up to the fact that I had become completely lost before I could be found. I also had to realize that God wasn't going to matter to me in doctrine. God mattered to me in relationship. God found me, I turned back to God, however you want to phrase it, through the outstretched hands of others. People who loved me, who accepted me, who welcomed me, who saw something in me I hadn't yet recognized in myself.
God matters to me in relationship, in community. God matters in the stories each of us brings to the community, and in the story of God that is all of our stories. God matters to me because I believe that I was claimed by God in love -- a love of compassion, justice and grace. I rediscovered God's love in the love I received from others. And the response I believe I'm asked to give back to God is one of love. I do not think that God wants me to live in terror of damnation for not getting it right, but to love with all my being, even though I love imperfectly, because God loved me first.