Instead of looking deeper to find truth, you tossed your faith away for something shiny and new. This will get old, too, you’ll see. You need to have stronger faith…

I understand that you’ve got issues with the doctrine, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Go to church and ignore the parts you don’t like and keep the parts you do. That’s what most people do. You don’t quit because you have a few differences of opinion. You’ll never find something that you agree with completely…

I don’t condemn you, I feel sorry for you for what you lost…

Deserter. You didn’t care enough. Didn’t look hard enough. Thought too much. Took things too literally. Didn’t read The Book right. Listened to the wrong people. Focused on the wrong things. If you’d just tried harder instead of quitting, but no…

You gave up.

I’m sure I haven’t heard it all, but I’ve heard enough. I am a true convert. I didn’t go from religious ambivalence to paganism; I went from singing in the church choir and handing out monthly Communion with a full heart to celebrating equinoxes and praying to ancestors with a full heart. According to a lot of Christian doctrine, I am the lowest of the low, not merely a heretic but an apostate – a defector. One who not only saw the light but was bathed in it and for some reason chose to wander “the dark” instead.

Funny thing, converting never felt like walking out. It never felt like quitting or giving up or tossing something away. I never intended to reject God. I still don’t feel like I have. Yes, my definition of the divine has certainly undergone changes as I’ve made the slow transition from an Abrahamic monotheist attending modern Protestant services to a polytheist seeking faith down old, near-forgotten paths. But there was never a point where I chose to turn my back on anything.

Conversion and rejection are not always the same thing. For many of us, we convert because of how deeply we care and how strongly we believe. Bear with me for a moment as I go back in time to a point about nine years ago and a silly (yet profound) moment that changed everything.

I’d been struggling with faith issues for years. What exactly they were isn’t the point so I won’t get into it, but I prayed nearly every night to the God of my childhood and asked for help. I wanted to understand how I could make something that didn’t make sense to me work anyway. How I could reconcile the doctrine I had been given with my own sense of right and wrong. But the same answer kept coming back to me:

You can’t. They don’t reconcile.

Being a good Christian girl who really didn’t want the angst of a massive shakeup in my faith, I ignored that answer and kept asking God for a different one. I mean, if the faith I grew up in was wrong [for me, anyway], what did that mean for the truths I’d built so much of my life around? Prayer, church, Heaven, these were things I believed in and counted on… where would they go? (Not to mention what would happen to the social order of my family and friends.)

And then there was the big question, the one that truly terrified me: If I sincerely question what I’ve been brought up to believe, will God still be there when I come out on the other side?

Don’t get me wrong, I have friends who are atheists, and I have no problem with that as it seems to work for them. I don’t think anyone gets punished for being an atheist. But for somebody who talks to God on a regular basis, the thought of losing that foundation is crushing. So many small miracles in my life become just a series of coincidences; something deep and magical that I have relied on becomes a mental delusion.

Yet through my fear I kept asking for a new answer, begging even. Maybe whining. And on this particular afternoon, I was alone in my little blue Focus, listening to music, waiting at a stoplight to make a left turn out of my neighborhood, and contemplating Life, the Universe, and Everything… and I got that new response:

If you don’t like these answers, quit asking those questions. Or buck up, have a little more faith, and take a leap.

Woah. Wait a minute. Have a little more faith? That’s what I was doing by ignoring Your previous answer. Keeping the faith. Clinging tightly to it, in fact, with a firm refusal to budge.

And here’s my moment of deep irony. Pop Christian musician Stephen Curtis Chapman’s “Dive” comes on the CD player singing,

But we will never know the awesome power of the grace of God
Until we let ourselves get swept away into this holy flood
So if you’ll take my hand, we’ll close our eyes and count to three
And take the leap of faith

Deep breath. Let go. Dive in. In that moment I followed the advice of a Christian singer and did what God kept suggesting: I allowed myself to convert. Because faith, for me, didn’t mean holding on when I didn’t understand. It meant believing the Divine was bigger than my understanding, held more love than my fear, and wouldn’t convict me of abandonment for trying to be closer to It.

I think this is why amid all the Biblical stories I still love, the one I just can’t get behind anymore is the garden of Eden. The way I see it, Satan isn’t holding that apple. God is. There’s this huge world outside of Eden created by divine power (through evolution), and sure it’s not always easy, but it’s there for us to explore. And, just like in the story, something divine is still there outside the garden waiting when we exit. It’s different. The rules change. Maybe we have to till our own food, and there’s less certainty and more chance for disease. But it’s still a good world, and it’s infinite in possibility. I like it out here.

Converts, I celebrate you for making that leap and taking that bite. I know how much steadfastness it takes to make progress in a world that wants to condemn your actions as a fickle desertion or tell you that Satan tricked you. But we know conversion is not about hate, it’s about love. It’s not about rejection, but acceptance.

Converting isn’t about apostasy. It’s an act of faith.