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.

Saturday, April 2, 2016


The loneliness of this pain is maddening
and I wonder what must be wrong with me
that I'm not over it, that I can't let it go,
that I won't fall in line with their happiness
that I am seeing things they aren't seeing
and wondering if they're right
and I hallucinated it all.

But the wound on my neck
still drips blood
and they still feast with
goblets overflowing