The first time I told someone I wasn't the christian they thought I was, I used the phrase "hopeful agnostic."
I chose the word hopeful because I still had hope that christians could be kind, wonderful, people. I had hope that some things in the Bible may be true and even more I hoped that some things were false. I had not yet given up on people or truth - even if my ideas of people and truth were not what I had been taught they should be.
I chose agnostic because I didn't know. I don't know. I don't know if god is there, or if he is what kind of god he may be or what name he may use or what he may or may not ask of me.
To me, hopeful agnostic is a very honest and hope-filled phrase. It means I'm searching and learning and that I can't restrict myself to beliefs that no longer ring true. It means growth and questions.
All good things.
I continued to use my preferred, helpful phrase while we moved from seminary to shunned status.
It took a long time for me to realize how others were seeing that phrase, and consequently, seeing me.
It seemed to scare people. It wasn't a phrase of hope, as I imagined it, but one of self-condemnation and, often, self-illusion. It didn't mean questions and learning - it meant demons were deceiving me, or I had fallen prey to "the world" and most of all (worst of all) it meant I was going to hell.
I don't think I even realized how far I had fallen from grace until the moment I realized how much my very existence scared the people who used to welcome me as their own.
I was already so far from being one of them that I couldn't even comprehend their fears, I couldn't even grasp the reasoning that led to their fears. That I should be afraid for me, or concerned for me did not even cross my mind.
In my mind I was not condemned. I was hopeful.
They saw me as if in a dark, needy place.
And for me it was different. For me it was the first time in a long time I was overcome by light. By peace. By hope.
You can't fight that feeling with circular biblical reasoning. Say all you want that it is because my heart has hardened or my eyes have been clouded or I am a fool or possessed by demons or have been enticed away by the lust of the eyes and the foolishness of my human heart.
But to finally have peace and some measure of joy? You can't fight that with doctrine.