Monday, October 17, 2016

Visions in the Space Between Asleep and Awake

The rain falls hard on wisteria branches hitting my window
the air is thick
and I cannot sleep but how I long to.

Behold, begins a familiar phrase.

I pull my pillow over my ears, I toss to the other side
as if that will help me get away from it.

I stand at the door and knock.

Asleep in bed yet somehow standing
I put my ear to the door and listen to
the rain and the presence of someone
I want to get away from and be near to,
warm yet strange
on the other side.

The rain outside
now trickling down my face.

I fling it open
and with it the scent of wet earth and damp floral perfume
the sight of the warm man in front of me.

"I'm not going to bow to you," I say
I refuse to life my eyes to meet yours.
This doesn't upset you,
as your kind eyes come down to meet mine.

Fine, I relent:
"Here are my tears.
Do with them what you can."

The rain continues to fall.

When I wake I ask
"Why do I dream of you?
Why at night to do you come to me as comforter and giver of beauty
when during the day
following you was a waking nightmare?"

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Heresy of the Flawless Evangelical Family

The filtered, the photoshopped, the contorted,
the tidy, the ironed, the all-in-a-pew with the painted on smiles:
incapable of giving life.

Show me broken like bread to feed the starving
The stretch marks of new life on a brave woman's skin
The wound that pours the blood that becomes the wine that leads us

Show me despair as the wine drips from brows
onto soil
where plants flourish now

Show me agony of pain and abandonment
Show me the joy of relief on grieving woman's face
that the final word is not over, or alone, but

If you want to be him like you claim
you don't hide your wounds--
You let others touch them. 
So they know healing is possible.
So they know of life on the other side of death.
So they know they are not alone on their path to

Friday, June 24, 2016

Untangling Emotions After Evangelicalism

Don't complain, someone has it worse than you. 

God is still doing good things with this situation, so just trust that he's sovereign. 

Don't rock the boat, Jesus submitted to the cross. 

You're a sinner who deserves hell, so anything better than that you should be thankful for. 

The heart is deceitful above all things, so you can't trust your emotions or conscience. 

We're all sinners, so you can't be furious with someone who has committed a heinous crime. 

Don't speak about it publicly, we don't want to scandalize anyone and make the church look bad. 

Anything above burning in hell is a privilege. 

Christians should be the happiest people in the world. 

Those are direct quotes.Variations of each one said to me and the friends I polled repeatedly since childhood. Numerous friends from various types of evangelical backgrounds heard this theme repeated over and over again: don't express your feelings, you don't have the right to do so. So if someone is inclined to say, "Not all evangelicals," hold your breath. It's certainly prevalent enough for it to be a pattern. 

I'm not writing to unpack theological reasons for why that's wrong. If you're at all familiar with the Bible, you can tell that Jesus felt: wept, raged, feared. Job wailed. David poured out every vengeful, every sorrowful, every guilt-ridden thought into verse. Paul never minced words. If you can honestly read the Bible and say to someone expressing a real, human emotion that that's some type of error according to Christianity, there's nothing I can say to convince you otherwise. But the point of my post is what one does after they've left evangelicalism behind. 

I had to be gentle, quiet. I had to trust my leaders knew what they were doing. This thought process extended from a fundamentalist Baptist church, to a conservative inter-evangelical college, to a conservative Anglican church. It was present in varying extremes in each place, but still present all the same. 

God put them in authority, and anyway we're all sinners so we can't be mad when they make mistakes

Mistakes is the key word there. People at the mercy of authorities are sinners, but those in authority are only making mistakes. The flock was entirely made of evildoers deserving of never-ending torture who had no right to complain, but the flock's leaders shouldn't be held accountable for mistakes.

Of course, yes, according to Very Right Doctrine (TM), these leaders are also deserving of eternal torment just like anyone else, but when it comes to the day to day working out of submission and authority, those who were to submit weren't allowed to be the ones reminding authority figures of how they deserved hell. 

The mistake of Baptist leaders for teaching me that the physical world was evil, to revile my body and to not care for the natural world, and to denigrate my womanhood as worth less than manhood.

The mistake of college administrators for creating a 10 year long pattern of poor financial and management decisions that led to misplacement of funds and firing of friends and beloved staff and then finally faculty, all the while telling unmarried students not to kiss because we shouldn't scandalize anyone away from the Gospel, year after year after year.

The mistake of Anglican leaders for not informing every single parent in the congregation when a man involved in the youth, children's and nursery ministry was charged with molestation of a minor or that a convicted sex offender was attending every Sunday (supervised by others, but parents not informed you know, in case they ran into the man outside of church walls).

It is horribly manipulative to remind those under authority of their status as sinners while those in power get to excuse themselves for their mistakes. I was implicitly and overtly reminded of my sinfulness while simultaneously reminded of how those in authority over me deserved my grace.

Evangelicals can't have it both ways.

The work of untangling my emotions about these issues starts with me crying loudly, "BULLSHIT." 

I had learned how to camouflage my emotions so well after years of this conditioning that when a friend of mine saw me say in an online message that I was angry, and then saw me in person, he could not believe I was angry. I suppressed my rage under smiles and obsequiousness, believing that to do otherwise would result in disapproval of a God who gave everything to me.

The real result was that my emotions come out sideways, in horrible, unmanageable ways. Freakouts, meltdowns, breakdowns, irritability at those who didn't deserve, over-reactions to relatively minor issues.
Because I had taught myself how to stuff down how I was really feeling so that I could be a good Christ-follower, so that I wouldn't be met with the criticism of those in authority that I respected.

Now, as an adult, I am learning how to listen to my emotions and intuition and to regulate them in a healthy way. I am learning to honor them when they alert me to red flags in ideologies, knowing that whatever formed me from the stuff of stars gave me my emotions not as a burden to beaten down, but as an integral part of navigating the physical, spiritual, and intellectual life.

When Jesus is asked who sinned, the blind man or his parents, it would have been the perfect opportunity for him to say that because of original sin, all of humanity deserves every ounce of suffering they receive and they should just take it without complaint, because God is merciful enough to keep us from the worst that we deserve.

Jesus doesn't say this.

Jesus never said that.

Jesus cared about injustice, and he said so. He was crucified for it, which I think stands as a sign to the rest of us rankled and torn apart and tossed aside by a church that blows out smoldering wicks: we, yes, even pagan me, may be far more like him than those trying to maintain the status quo of institutional Christianity by suppressing doubt, emotion, and questions.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Rage Better Left Said

The way so many of us were raised, I see it in our tight smiles and our sad eyes
stuffing down the real emotions, the real feelings
because if we expressed them we would be punished
all now tainted with fear of being reprimanded
little people not taught how to deal with big emotions
punished for not always being agreeable.

How can an emotion be inherently evil? 
When the little children came to Jesus, I wonder if he insisted they could only have happy hearts
like my sunday school teacher with the sad eyes and tight smile told me? 

I fumble, like a child,
trying to find the words for a rage
stuffed down for years,
terrified it will destroy me
terrified expressing it will result in only loss
it needs to rise out of me
inside me it has destroyed me
and it comes out sideways
in unpredictable ways
so I lose anyway.

I want to get inside it now
Feel it around me
Understand it
Follow it through
to its roots
and honor it for being the correct
the sacred
to injustice.

I want to inhabit it
as a feminine being
and claim the power
and agency that was denied me
by having my natural responses
pummeled into submission.

Rage is better left said
And the work of my adulthood
is finding the healthy, healing ways
to do so
dancing with the flames
instead of being consumed by them.

Monday, May 2, 2016

When Religion Is An Unfair Game

"be quiet
be gentle
submit and forgive
give us your heart
and we'll give you the keys."

these the words
you nailed again and again
into my tender skin

I thought we all bore
these same words on our hearts
but your game was played by different rules
as you riddled me with darts

"be quiet
while i scream
be gentle
while i tear at you
give me your heart
while i keep the doors locked."

these the deeds
you kept me trapped in
while you bloodied my tender skin

So I take ink and needle
and rework the words
turn quiet into confidence
turn submit into indomitable strength
turn forgive into never again
I reclaim the edges of my heart
with fierce lines.
I honor the limits and expanses of myself.
I fling open the doors.
I walk out.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Here On the Margins Where the Radical Work Begins

This has been one of those weeks where the pain of my former life, the life that I sometimes flirt with and try to rejoin, has seared through me again.

I highly doubt that I can be a Christian any more.

I'm not a big Lord of the Rings fan, but at the end of the series Frodo remarks to Sam that he can't go back to the Shire. Some wounds are too deep, and even though he was hurt trying to save it, it is no longer for him; he saved it for others, and he must go elsewhere.

I haven't saved anything for anyone, but I relate to the idea that even though something may be safer or better than it was before, the pain is too deep to go back.

An online conversation with a minister from a denomination I used to be a part of was a sure sign that I can't go back, that it is not for me. Assurances that this person cared and was listening fell flat as every other response indicated he wasn't truly listening, he was trying to cover over, to solve, to rush past, to minimize.

Once I found out his denomination, it was like a light went off in my head, allowing all the pieces of his thought process to finally make sense. I hate to paint with such a broad brush, but it's a pattern I've seen play out again and again in this group of pastors, to the point it's become a trope.

This is one denomination, though, one group of pastors, why should that influence me?

Because Christianity, as a group, but this denomination in particular, tends to attract people who want Very Right Doctrine (TM). Not people content with mystery, inclusivity, and open-endedness, but dogma, exclusivity, and clearly demarcated borders.

To a young ex-Baptist, it seemed like such an oasis, but really it was just a resting place in my journey beyond black and white thinking, not the destination. I was heading in the complete opposite direction of them, our paths just happened to intersect at a particular moment of time.

This conversation reminded me why this part of my journey is over. It is gotten to the point where I am speaking an entirely different language. We have entirely different and at times opposing priorities.

I don't care about churches surviving, creedalism, and hell. I care about people having spaces to be authentically themselves and to find true, soul-deep healing, wherever that may be. I don't think all doctrines are all right or all wrong for people at all times.  I don't believe in Hell. I have such a firm belief in the goodness of deity that I have hope that even if I am 100% wrong on all of this, being corrected by a loving deity is the safest place I can be.

Simply put, the debate on orthopraxy and doctrine is so far removed from where I am that I can't engage on that level. It's no longer important to me, so discussing religious trauma with someone who values those things above all else feels futile.

I don't ultimately know where I am going to end up. This is thrilling as it is terrifying. But it won't be where I came from.

I know I want to be on the margins. The sexual, religious, racial margins. That's where the real work seems to be happening, where people understand the pain of victimization, the frustration of dealing with moderates who want to maintain the status quo, and the drive to actually do something about it.

I'm not here for, "I care, I really do, but not yet, be quiet, take it slow, don't too much at once, we don't want to alienate those who aren't ready." I'm here for radical healing. I'm here for learning how I can be an ally for racial justice, not yet another lumpy white hindrance. I'm here for leaning how I can lay myself down to save our planet. I'm here for learning how to be the best bisexual advocate I can be, and how to stand with the lesbian, gay, ace, pan, and trans communities. I'm here for women and how we can own our emotions and fight for the equality that is ours. I'm here for animals who are being abandoned, abused, and neglected in our forests, homes, shelters, and industrial livestock operations.

I'm not here for maintaining any power structure as it is. Not churches, not the 1%, not governments, not political parties, not patriarchy, not white privilege, not human domination over animals and the environment.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Embracing the Mess and Celebrating the Moon with Friends

This week, I read St. Julian of Norwich, Starhawk, Adelina St. Clair, Pope Francis, Mark Shea, The Wild Hunt, the patheos Pagan channel, Jason Mankey, Melinda Selmys. If you're familiar with those people, that's a list of pagan and Catholic sources. I'm exploring all that was told to me was off limits and evil, and finding it isn't, and trying to figure out where I stand. My spiritual journey is messy, complicated, beautiful, maddening, healing, and my own. If there's some divine force out there (I believe there is), then I will have to answer to Her, and to no one else. In the midst of all of this, I planned a full moon ritual for this past week's full Pink Moon with my other pagan friends, and felt trepidation and excitement.

As Gemini, Fern* and I assembled our circle, lit candles, said blessings, and meditated, I was moved by how embodied it was, transcendent and earthly, the sacred in the spiritual and in the purely physical.

We connected to our spirits, to our bodies, to our emotions, to our intellect, through a series of meditations. We embraced our whole persons and bridged realms of physical and spiritual, and it was beautiful. There were stones, candles, incense, salt, water, fire, air, all sacred because of their inherent worth. And while I guided us because I have done a full moon ritual before, it was equal, with Fern calling and blessing fire and water (our Pisces friends Moonbeam lives too far away to do her element), Gemini reading her beautiful blessing and prayer to help closeminded, empathy-less religious people, and me reading an Earth Day prayer. No heirarchy, just us, friends, feeling our way through our first group ritual and making mistakes and giggling in addition to our somber and intense moments.

We poured open our hearts, were vulnerable, and yet in a safe, sincere space. We've walked a long, difficult road together. Even though not all of us are in the area at the same time, when we do come together we can create a safe space with each other.

Safe doesn't mean perfect. Safe doesn't mean we agree on everything. It simply means in our vulnerability, we can be honest with each other, and know that we each have empathy and love for the other.

I think this is ultimately my problem with attending church services, despite the fact that I am simultaneously drawn to a lot of Catholicism. I do not know those people on this type of level, and yet, I am supposed to participate in the intimate act of worship with them. After doing that with two very different types of churches and being burned, it feels far too vulnerable. Maybe there will come a day where it won't, but for so long my relationship to religious authority was so boundary-less. This was partly my fault: I was looking for approval and affirmation. But my flames of desperation were fanned by religious leaders looking for sycophants. But it means that the way I relate to Christian religious leaders is unhealthy, and I am working through that.

My friends and I are all coming at our spirituality sideways after years of trying to come at it from the top down or bottom up and make it look something other than it truly was, each of us carrying varying degrees of interest in integrating any elements from our Christian pasts and wondering what, if anything, we will carry forward.

Evangelicalism taught me to feel shame about the strange, seemingly contradictory directions I feel pulled. Despite having a holy book that said when we are weak, God is strong, the message was that any weakness of faith was a character flaw. It taught me that anything less than stalwart belief and carefully measured commitment to Very Right Doctrine (TM) demonstrated I was tossed by every wave, and thus "bad." But writing about my spirituality as it is, not as someone thinks it should be, is deeply therapeutic. It's a release of expecting to get good marks, validation, or affirmation for my spirituality, like I did for years and then spiraled when former leaders, mentors, and professors flipped out on me when I began doubting. I let their affirmation of me inform my self worth, and then was devastated when I discovered that their affirmation ended when I wasn't just like them any longer. I take responsibility for that; it was a coping mechanism I had picked up in a tumultuous childhood, but it did not serve me well.

My spirituality is not 100% any one thing, and I'm sure that would frustrate and annoy a great deal of people on every part of the religious spectrum, but I'm not here for them.

Ultimately and bizarrely (because all the evidence of my life should dictate otherwise) I have a deep trust in the goodness of Divinity, which is why I have such deep revulsion towards a lot of protestant evangelical doctrines. It's what is holding me steady, and I feel far more at peace than I have in years. Because I know that my intentions are to find the true and the beautiful, and I know that God will honor that. A good parent understands and is gentle with a child who is trying her best even though she is making mistakes, and I have trust that my Cosmic Mother feels this way about me.

It's a mess, a beautiful mess, it's my mess, and I am loving it. I am not sharing this to be lectured by those who have it all figured out (to those compelled to lecture, how is carrying that weight on your small fallible shoulders going?) not for pity (seriously, I'm not sad or anxious, I'm actually finally at peace), not for psychoanalysis (I pay a professional to do that), but so that others can know, it's okay if your spirituality is confusing right now. It is okay to explore and take time. It is okay to touch the wild things you were told were off limits and feel joy at discovering they actually heal a part of you. It is okay to authentically embrace the mess, and explore what tugs at you.

*Pseudonyms used to protect identities

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

We're Alive On The Other Side of Religious Trauma

Before the bottom fell out from underneath of everything, before the poor handling of a sexual abuse disclosure, I had left behind a church I had treasured because I felt like a sore, sorta-Catholic, liberal thumb, doubts racing through my mind, nicotine flowing through my veins, a small dose of Seroquel numbing me a little so I could function in society.

And I couldn't put it into words. And when I can't something into words, I walk away. I listen to songs on repeat. I draw bad pictures. I feel and try to find the way to verbalize it, and I know I will be writing about this time in my life for years because even this post barely scratches the surface of it.

What has happened since that departure, I would not trade for anything. I have grieved a lot, but I've also discovered what were my beliefs, and what I had parroted for approval. I may come back to beliefs I had only parroted, but when I do, it will be because I am convicted. I found a fellowship of bruised reeds and smoldering wicks who walked the path of the wounded warrior as well. They grounded me, gave me space to vent, allowed the emotions to flow uninhibited and helped me piece together the wreckage, and they continue to give me the room to be my odd, confused self (see: sorta-Catholic, maybe-Episcopal, quasi-Pagan, bisexual, feminist, democrat).

I then watched on the sidelines as others went through the same journey, albeit with entirely different situations. I saw pastors sic mentors on former students and try to remold them back into their image. It didn't happen to me, but I watched it happen to two people I loved deeply, and my soul was shaken. I saw friendships blow up, fade away, die. I saw people who had puffed themselves as parental figures become bent out of shape when their proteges left their control and contradicted them. I watched people from various backgrounds, various churches, running for their very lives. I felt like I was ringing a bell for friends and calling

sanctuary. Come in. Come here. We don't have the answers, but we have a sneaking suspicion things can be other than this. 

Explaining religious trauma can become complicated. To the unreligious, it seems silly. These stories, these people, got to you? And looking at it through their eyes, I can see why they may think that. But while they may hold religion as a silly construct, they have the ability to relate, because all of them also had authority figures in their lives. So, to the nonreligious, all I can ask of you is: imagine if your authority figures wanted to control the narrative, control your direction, accuse you of not being one of their children/students/whatever because you held a different opinion, and then cast you out literally or metaphorically. If you can fathom that, you can begin to fathom religious trauma.

To the religious but untraumatized, it seems like making majors out of minors, people hurt because religion was imperfect. But it went deeper and was far more pathological than imperfection. It was manipulation, control, lies, maintenance of the status quo at all costs, victim blaming, being told to deny emotions and intuition, and systemic verbal, emotional, psychological, for some even physical, abuse. To make it all the more horrible, the story of Christ was the justification (a story I hold out hope will one day be beautiful to me again, but for now I have had to leave behind).

It was the projection and protection of a facade, not a broken community dealing openly and transparently with strident dysfunction (we all have that in spades, I have no illusions otherwise). And it can happen anywhere. Labels like liberal or conservative, or Baptist or Anglican, tell you nothing, because they can just be the facade someone is hiding under to use a religious narrative to attract and control others and build up their own ego.

I sometimes wonder if the religiously untraumatized are also denying the experiences of the hurting because if they admit it, they may have to look at themselves: are they being traumatized, or participating in the traumatization of others? That's a terrifying thought. The answer to both might be yes (I know it was for me). Better to pretend it doesn't exist or insist the victims are exaggerating than face something like that, because when you face it, it will hurt like hell and your whole life will be turned upside down.

This bruised reed will be here when it does. We'll go get coffee and talk about it, curse the darkness, and praise God for the cracks in everything, because that's how the light gets in.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Two Catholic Boys With The Ugly Theology

A Pagan went with her husband to Episcopal church and afterward they had lunch at a Mexican restaurant next to two "very certain about everything" Catholic boys who had just finished mass at Our Lady of the Hills.

The Episcopalian and the Pagan tried desperately to tune out their conversation so we could have a nice, non-controversial lunch, but the boys pontificated loudly, and without a measure of compassion, about atheists, lesbians, transgendered people, and Protestants.

Episcopalian Husband asked Pagan Wife if she had indigestion as she furiously stabbed her beans with her knife. "Yes, you could call it that," she muttered.

If the boys could hear me and could pick up on my passive aggression, nothing about their countenance or the tone of the conversation seemed to indicate so.

I call them boys, because despite being at least 18 (probably around 20, really), they spoke about these big ideas of their faith with certitude, arrogance, and ugliness.

I saw my young Baptist self in them, which was annoying to be reminded of. How dare they remind me of me when I just want to eat my beans?

Pope Francis recently said that faith without mercy is an ideology, and I have to agree, no matter what that faith is, be it aggressive pagan shamans, self righteous Baptist girls, or Very Right About Everything (TM) Catholic boys.

This type of attitude, this certitude, is what keeps me on the outskirts of Christianity, peering in, as an ex-Protestant/ex-Evangelical. I peer in because the horror of the cross and the glory of the resurrection is alluring to a hurting soul. I pull that curtain back quickly because the attitude of the followers shakes me to my core. You can say that's wrong on my part, but it's religious trauma syndrome, it's real.  You can't claim that spiritual community is essential for faith development but then claim it has no responsibility for faith death.

Granted, this type of black and white thinking exists in paganism as well, but the great part about a disorganized religion (as many refer to Paganism) is that I don't have to listen to it.  The annoying part about those two Catholic boys was that I had to listen (the restaurant was full, no switching of tables was possible), and on a purely surface level, sure, everything they said was "correct" if you compared it to their cathechism. But it wasn't loving. It wouldn't heal a wounded soul. It wouldn't tell anyone about the balm their Christ offered.

I was upset because I had researched their religion intensely, and I knew the good parts of it, and I knew the parts of Catholicism that make it absolutely breathtaking, and here they were, ruining it with their certainty that atheists were dumb and sexuality was this easy, black and white thing they figured out in an hour over a burrito.

And I remembered what broke this Baptist girl apart, and it was loss, and grief, and pain, and realizing I had ZILCH figured out about anything, and I still don't have anything figured out, but I find balms where I can and hold on tight and imperfectly to love and mercy and I research everything in the hopes that maybe someday something will click.

As U2 sang, I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I'm worried that in this messy, spiritual journey that Christianity is my inevitable destination, and the reason that worries me is because, well, the Christian God had ample opportunity to help me stay but instead I left but now little pieces of it keep popping up everywhere. Where was this when I stopped calling myself a Christian? I wonder.

I hope that they too, will walk the wounded road. I don't want them to lose their Catholicism. I do not wish anyone the loss of their spiritual homes or the trauma of realizing the place that was supposed to care for their soul decided to trample it instead. What I hope life helps them lose is their certitude, and softens their faith so it has room for mercy and love above all else. I hope they listen to their pope.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Letting Go of Unnecessary Guilt

I have always felt tremendous guilt that my faith journey since college has been a series of ups and downs and vacillations and trying on of new things and taking off of old and then putting back on the old and trying combinations of the seemingly disparate and then discarding them suddenly.

My spiritual journey has been a run-on sentence of chaos, beauty, pain, contradictions, healing, peace.

And I am done living as if I should feel bad for that, for not being a shiny example of perfection and stability.

Because it's what happens when you're recovering from trauma.

Because it's what happens when spirituality is about radical top down and bottom up healing and not about impressing others.