Tuesday, March 26, 2013

my barbarous ancestors

On March 14th I received this email:
[non-essential portions removed for brevity]


[Denomination] President's Alert - Please Act !

Please read this important message. Please act!

Yesterday a group of 12 Lutheran pastors met to discuss and determine what we could possibly do in regard to a bill that is right now being presented and discussed in our Minnesota state legislature which will legalize gay marriage .  The way things are right now it is very likely that those in favor of this bill have enough votes to pass the bill.  The bill was approved in both the house and senate committees on Tuesday and it will radically redefine marriage for all Minnesotans.  If this bill is passed the state will impose this redefinition of marriage upon our people by force of law.

What is needed?  
First of all we band together in prayer, calling on our Lord to move and change hearts and minds of those that are voting on this important matter in our behalf.  
Secondly, we as a people must stand up and speak up for what we believe God has to say in His Word about this. 

Our state representatives and senators need to immediately hear from us that we stand in opposition to such this bill and encourage them to speak and vote against the bill. Use as many means of communication as you can to get your message to them.  Phone calls, e-mails and snail mails should all be utilized. If possible, talk to your legislators face to face in love.


I could talk about the fear just wafting off this letter. I could talk about how they made a mockery of their founding motto: Free and Living Congregations. I could rant about their language of "must" and "please act!" and generalizing every member of their denomination in the state of MN as believing what "God has to say in His Word about this." (about what, exactly? Gay marriage? Or legislating your religion?) Or I could talk about how they were either deliberately ignorant or deliberately LYING with the wording of "If this bill is passed the state will impose this redefinition of marriage upon our people by force of law."  WHEN the bill in question has language that strengthens and supports religious exemption, including exemption of goods and facilities. I mean, the gays can't even use your CHURCH BUILDING if you don't want that to happen. And "our people"???!! How much more tribal and exclusive can you get?

Personally, I believe in legislating against liars.* If Pastors lie to congregations, I think we should take away their right to speech. I mean, liars speaking is dangerous, right? And lying is a sin. And no sin is worse than another, so we need to legislate them all. And lying, well, that impacts everyone around you. It impacts the decisions of others and, in this case, impacts the legal rights of others. So why not? If we are legislating our version of morality now, why the f*ck not?

I'll tell you (my version of) why not.

I fell in love when I was 19. I married when I was 20. I was an ignorant, ridiculous child. And I married the love of my life and I never once had to wish for a marriage that would not happen because other people thought it was bad or wrong. I knew that my financial life and my future would be easier. I knew that I could visit my man in the hospital. I knew I could make legal decisions for him if he was incapacitated and he for me, without parental or other interference. I knew I could choose any place I wanted to get married and anyone who was willing could marry us. I knew that he got health care through work and that I would qualify for that as well. I knew that I would benefit from his pension, his social security, his estate, etc.

Never once did I doubt that it would happen, or it even cross my mind that anyone would be able to prevent it. No one could, really. I was an adult. I could decide if, when and whom I would marry.

I had this thing called FREEDOM. And like most people who have had freedom, along with privilege, their entire life, I never gave it a second thought. I had freedom to be stupid enough to marry at 20, and no one could stop me.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out the next part. 

In our "free" and democratic society, some people are NOT free. Why? Because a segment of a religious group deems that their choices are sinful, harmful, or not valid.

When it comes to marriage, they have no freedom. 

That, my friends, is a problem. 

It is especially a problem when you fight for and believe that your religion and religious preferences should have unlimited freedoms that are under no oversight. Despite centuries of documented abuses of all kinds.

(It is even more especially a problem when you are a church body with Free and Living Congregations as your motto.)

Freedom for you, yourself and those who sin like you, isn't actually freedom.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - Nelson Mandela

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.” - Thomas Jefferson

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." Martin Luther King Jr.

*shockingly, I don't actually believe in legislating against liars.

Friday, March 22, 2013

SAAW :: i freaking love my husband.

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week - The Last and Final Blog

Uhm, don’t take that as meaning this is the last and final blog I will ever write about spiritual abuse forever and ever. Amen. I think that might be impossible. I blogged my way through high school (proud former Xanga community member!) and blogged on the now defunct threeinonemakesfive blog as I was reliving my childhood and discovering you can be a Christian and pretty much hate dislike John Piper. I have hidden blogs and topical blogs and a website for my photos (at www.rachelserine.com) and no matter how many times I regret blogging and opening my big mouth and putting something down on paper (figuratively) I always come back.

Sorry. Tangent.

So. I took the first two of these SAAW blogs pretty seriously. Sometimes I take myself a little too seriously. So I want to lighten the mood just a tad here and let some other people do a bit of the talking.

First of all: moving forward.

Things I want to say about that begin with this: If you are not me, please reserve your opinion on whether I am moving forward, have moved forward, am moving forward fast enough. Also, a great list of what not to say to someone who has left the church. If you stop reading what I have to say and just read this, I won't be offended. I will be happy. It's important.

Thank you.

Second, when someone has been through religious groups that undermine your very self and existence, working through that can sure make a dent in your faith. Especially when you come from an “all or nothing” religious tradition. In the traditions that give ultimatums like “if creation was ever proven false, then we can not trust anything in the Bible” or “Every word is inspired and infallible” or “atheists are unhappy and depressed” the result of actually meeting atheists or talking to evolutionists is this thing called cognitive dissonance.

And if you’ve been taught it’s all or nothing and you run up against a huge, gigantic, crappy load of cognitive dissonance? Welllllllll... you have to pick. All? Or nothing?

I have dealt with that, for the most part. I get it now. I get that there doesn’t have to be all or nothing in faith and I’ve realized that there are all kinds of beliefs in the wider Christian faith community. But it was hellish trying to figure that out, and it was horrible being slammed and having my faith questioned because I was finally giving place to others and acknowledging they had faith too.

But I'm very grateful the variety exists. 

So while my religious experiences sure did open the door for me to realize the general harm that Christianity does every single day and give me cause to take seriously the words of atheists and agnostics, that is not the only reason I claim hopeful agnostic as my own. There are really, really good reasons to leave Christianity. Logical reasons. Sensible reasons. Irritatingly good reasons. I WANT to stay in the faith community. Because, well, community. But... good reasons itch at my mind. 

(And, seriously guys, it's really insulting and NOT helpful to say things like "Christians will disappoint you but God never will" and to comment and insinuate that your only problems with the Church are jerks-for-Jesus. Um. NO. Or, if you must, feel free to say it. Just know it's demeaning, and I will probably not give you the time of day.)

So I'm a heathen. And yet my husband will tell me that I am Christ-like. Or loving. Or inclusive. Or caring. And have a Christ-like heart.

Of course, he is a little biased.

But what I want to emphasize here is that if we’re going by “fruit of the spirit” measuring sticks, I am MUCH more a Christian than I was when I had the “right” doctrine. If we are taking right doctrine as the measure (and after years of study, hello - what IS that anyway??!!) then I am hopelessly lost.

But ya’ll. Understand this. Do not take that to mean you should try to bring me back. There is no words about Christianity you can say, no arguments you can make, no Bible verses you can throw at me right now that will cause me to become more interested in Christianity right now. Not. One. Thing.

And I know some people who read this blog probably want to do that very thing. 

(There's a good chance I have already heard what you have to say, already used it on someone else. Queen of apologetics, here. And what I have not heard, I am reading up on. I'm still learning - I just don't want to be other people's project. Enough with making people "projects" already.)

Even as a Christian, one of my pet peeves about us was we just couldn't leave people ALONE. Or let our faith actions do the talking. We thought we could good-reasons-hell-scare-theology-talk people into faith. Or that we had some right to ignore personal and societal boundaries because SALVATION, obvs! And if we were called on it? Then persecution! Obvs. :)

I have to say that if my Seminary-trained-husband can refrain, so can you.

Which brings me to my next little piece of moving forward.

Working out what it means to be a hopeful agnostic married to a still-fairly-conservative-lutheran. Who still wants to attend a church that gives exegetical sermons and doesn’t want to give UU congregations a chance. Who held me and challenged me through two rounds of spiritual abuse.

When I told him I was going to be writing about this, he had a good laugh. “What are you going to say? That our marriage is awesome? That it works? What is there to say? We love each other?” 

I have to admit that when I look back and think about the hours of warnings I heard about how difficult it is to be unequally yoked in a marriage, I have all the lols.

Not that I want to diminish the friction that can happen in a marriage where one person has faith/another does not, or one person loses their faith and the other keeps it. There is plenty of friction possible there! Especially when you are in the fundie mindset and freaking-the-heck out about how your spouse is letting sin into the house and what do you do if they don’t want to go to CHURCH and how can I convince them that Jesus is REAL and Christians are Right About Everything??!! Because without Jesus there is only sin and pain and injustice and darkness and HELL! (actual quote)

But it is not that way for us. Not. One. Bit. Somehow we missed the marriage-killing-condescension.

No coercion. No distress. Except when I have a moment of guilt over what he has given up for me.

Our relationship is better. It is better now. We have had a better year this past year than we have since our first year of marriage. Actually, better than our first year. Way better. The fights are better. And fewer. And the fights we have are not related to faith. Life is more fun. We are more honest. The sex is way better - and it was great before. Our marriage has, somehow, thrived. 

I could probably write pages and pages on why I think that is. But I’ll try to take a short stab at the foundation.

Respect. Contrary to Eggerichs’ stereotypes, I need respect as much or more than I need love. And he needs respect too. He thinks I’m smarter. I know he is wiser. We get that both of us have very good reasons for our separate beliefs. We don’t worry about whether we are going to convert the other to our point of view. We know we will take the kids to church, of some kind, because Husband wants them to share his joy and I want them to have a religious education. We won’t lie about our separate beliefs, or worry about where our children will fall on the spectrum of faith/non-faith.

Husband has never been that Christian who is scared of sin (in himself or others) or ever been swayed from the basics of “Jesus loves me this I know” and that is all. That is all he knows for certain, and he is humble enough to give others their space.

I’m learning a lot from him. (understatement of the decade!)

And he is the reason I do not hate Christians. I find fundamentalist evangelical christian faith to be prone to abuse, coverups, thought reform, tribalism, infighting and worse.

But I live with (even if it’s only 2 days a week right now) a wonderful person who happens to be a Christian. And he is the reason I still have “hopeful” attached to the agnostic.

I’m hopeful for Christians, and the Christian faith. I’m hopeful that more relationships between Christians and agnostics (and protestants and catholics and conservatives and liberals) can be as non-adversarial as ours. I’m hopeful that, as understanding of faith traditions grow, there may be answers to some of the unanswerable things that keep me from fully committing to the faith my husband holds.

Most of all I am hopeful for my little family. I’m hopeful that my children will see I love them unconditionally, and that their worth is not tied to their (emotional or actual) virginity. I am hopeful that husband and I can create a safe space together, and build a new and beautiful life. I am hopeful that we will discover new and really cool things about each other, now that we live without the pressure of conforming to preconceived and unilaterally enforced notions of good and evil. And I am hopeful that we will meet and learn from all kinds of people who we would never have known in our previous life.

I’m also hopeful that someday, when the wounds have healed, husband will be back in faith ministry of some sort. Because the more people like him there are in the faith community, the better it will be.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

SAAW :: i do not know

image by dani kelley

Today the prompt for the Spiritual Abuse Awareness synchroblog is to talk about the journey and the consequences, the healing. Friday is what I want others to know and moving forward. It is difficult to write coherently about each of those topics without the other. I just want to remind my (few) readers that none of these posts stand on their own - they are all part of this trifecta. 


When my husband and I were dating and during our first years of marriage, we did not have a clue how to fight. I couldn’t seem to argue without using the word “obviously.” I would say “obviously you just hate me” or “it’s so obvious that (x) is the correct way to see this!” When he first asked me to not use that word (and ditch the accompanying attitude) I had the hardest time understanding what the problem was. Hello, OBVIOUSLY I used the word obviously when something was only totally OBVIOUS. 


As you can imagine, most of those “obvious” things are beliefs or opinions that I no longer hold. Despite finally seeing the merit of making an argument based on, well, a good argument, it took me years to get out of the habit of using words like “obviously.”

The more I distanced myself from the attitude that things were obvious, the answers were clear, the more I was able to engage outside information. When discovered that spiritual abuse was actually a *thing* and I started to deal with instances from my youth, this inability to give up the word “obvious” was one of the first things I dealt with.

Needing beliefs and opinions to be obvious and clear, especially Biblical beliefs, was a definite result of spiritually abusive tactics.  Imagining that nuanced and vague Scriptures had absolutely clear and obvious applications - direct from God’s lips to my limbs - was essential to the control aspect of spiritual abuse.

My journey away from the language of obvious was still ongoing when I began healing. It took months after admitting to myself that spiritual abuse was abuse for me to come to terms with much of it. To talk with my parents about it, to cry about it, to discover that I had taken what I had learned and perpetuated it on others. It took me months to give forgiveness to those who had also been victims (like my parents, siblings) and to see spiritually abusive leaders as anything other than monsters. It took longer than that to begin to forgive myself.

In the midst of healing, I found new theology. A grace-theology, a jesus-only-theology. A theology I (somewhat arrogantly) called “confessional lutheran” theology. 

And I said “hello” to my good old friend, Obvious.

See, I thought I had found theology that suppressed spiritually abusive tactics, that helped me be free of them, that made it impossible for anyone to use the Bible to spiritually abuse anyone ever again. So I crusaded. I saw deviations from this theology everywhere and I began to be *that* faux-theologian - the one who can’t shut up about their preferred definitions of faith.

This theology was, technically, the theology of the seminary husband attended. And as I began my fight for this obvious doctrinal purity that was so obviously what the seminary needed, I found myself discovering spiritually abusive tactics everywhere. 

I found it in the seminary teachers, the Bible college teachers, the Bible college students, the seminarians, the doctrines at camps and retreats, the speakers at retreats, every day conversations and, worst of all, in myself and in my theological zeal.

I was so upset at the bad theology that had caused me to deal with debilitating shame, loss of self-confidence and anger issues that I failed to realize that good theology was no fail-safe against spiritual abuse.

A huge part of healing, for me, was recognizing the part that I had played in both spiritually abusive theology and spiritually abusive tactics and systems. I had perpetuated ideas of doctrine over person, perfectionism, image consciousness and unbalanced, elitist language. 

In many ways I have healed from my childhood. In general I do not stress over it on a regular basis. I do not feel animosity toward anyone, except when triggered, and I am consistently identifying poor reactions/self-harming practices that are based on lies from childhood and working through them with less anger and frustration and more self-care and forgiveness.
I have not, for the most part, healed from my most recent bout with spiritually abusive tactics. I still have a hard time acknowledging that the tactics in place were often abusive and I want to ignore the prevalence of thought reform. 

I think the most difficult part is that if I say about my childhood, “Gothard, Pearl, Phillips, Quiverfull, Patriarchy,” then I have a sort of stamped “spiritual abuse verification” card among most average christians, even conservative ones. It is understood much more widely how easy it is for the theology behind those systems to harbor spiritually abusive tendencies.

But (butbutbutbut) if I try to explain how there were the same tactics and processes in place in my “normal” conservative evangelical seminary environment, then I feel that I not only have to prove to myself over and over again that there were spiritually abusive tactics in play, but also prove to others that I had good reasons for my spiritual PTSD.

Of course, one of the consequences of my childhood is that I doubt myself, my instincts and my feelings (my wicked heart!) and my primary reaction is to trust those in authority. Because that’s what good christians are trained to do. Trust the authority of the Bible, trust the authority of your pastor, trust the authority of your parents.

Where I am in my journey, in my healing process, is learning that I do not need outside validation just to feel the hurts that I feel and to uphold the outrage that I already know is justified. I do not need outside validation or condemnation to determine the state of my faith or non-faith. I actually can make some determinations for myself without consulting a Christian authority on the subject. 

I wish I had a book to start in on how the Christian purity/rape culture messed me up in that area (of autonomy) more than anything else, and how that culture is alive and well and continuing to become more perverted on our old campus. But I can’t even start, because I would never stop.

What I can tell you now about the journey and healing and getting better is that I am doing all those things. Actively and passively, it is happening.

For my healing, what is most important is that my faith, my spiritual abuse experiences, are not everything. They inform my life but do not define it. For so long my life began with God and what I did for Him and ended with God and what I did for Him. I have been told that I am confused now. I know I certainly did not appear confused before, when I had this “coherent faith” ordering my life. I did not appear confused when I had the answers for all life problems. I did not appear confused when I was following company policies and procedures.

But I am actually less confused now. Of course I have more questions about faith, but I always had them, I just wasn’t allowed to admit them. Of course I have more animosity toward abusive practices, but that’s not because they suddenly became abusive or because I am confused about them. They always had been abusive and I am not confused that they are wrong. Before I just didn’t know they were harmful, or wouldn’t admit to it. I may not know what I think about god or faith or religion. But that is OKAY with me. I WANT it that way - at least for now. I am a better person for the questions and a better person for not knowing. 

I am less confused about myself than when I smiled and nodded at rape culture jokes. Or laughed nervously when others disparaged the “homosexual lifestyle” and I didn’t say a word because it would have terminated our future in the church. I am less confused now knowing the why behind the true me. I am less afraid to stand up and own my complicit behavior and my ignorance.

When we were in a place of learning about God, surrounded by People Who Love God and insulated from the evil outside world, I was confused and frustrated and angry and bitter and tired and depressed and lying and hurting. When I receive an email from that organization, I feel that all over again. When I see controlling and self-righteous leaders continue their behaviors unchecked, I feel that all over again. When I hear they are "praying for me" I am reminded of how that was a completely unsafe space, how I was a project and not a person, how your worth lies in how you can further "the Kingdom" aka the "vision" of the leadership.

Now those on the inside see me as in need of prayer, as an apostate whose life is ruined or wrong. Someone they would fix if they could, someone who has rejected God's truth.

But I am safe. I am secure. I am free to learn and question and choose.

My sin that is so great is that I do not know and I am not afraid to say it

And I don't think I can begin to explain how everything is so much better.


On Friday I will be linking up for the last section of the synchroblog. I plan on writing about what I want others to know about both moving forward from spiritual abuse and how it affected/did not affect my faith, and what marriage is like as a hopeful agnostic married to a devout lutheran.

Monday, March 18, 2013

religious glasses - spiritual abuse awareness week

I'm linking this up with other stories of spiritual abuse over at Wine and Marble. Go. Read. 

[trigger warning: self-harm, spiritual abuse, brainwashing, etc]

I remember every detail of that moment. My parents speaking, the cadence of their voices. Single lamp shining in the corner. The worn fabric underneath my fingers. My foot falling asleep where it was tucked under my leg. Most vivid, though, is the strength of the longing. I could see the knife in my mind. I could imagine myself walking to the kitchen, grasping it tightly. I wanted a little pain, a little blood. I wanted an external, physical manifestation of the hurt I felt inside. I wanted someone to see, really see. I wanted my parents to see. 

But I didn’t take those few steps. I stayed in my chair, gently rocking. Silent. Still.

I stopped myself because I knew it wouldn’t do any good. I knew they would pray for me.  I would be told depression is a sin, hurting yourself is a sin. I would be confronted, possibly repeatedly, my parents hoping for a change so I could be the person God required. The religious glasses would not come off. Not to see me. Not for any reason.

“God, you see my pain already. You said you would help me. Why, why, why can’t you do something?”


I grew up as a True Believer. I wore the religious glasses. I believed what I was told.

I was told that if you trusted God you would trust Him to give you the children you were supposed to have, therefore birth control was sinful. And I believed. Creation apologetics were woven through my day-to-day and I heard that if they were not trustworthy, nothing else could be true. Inevitably, I believed they were true. I was told that to glorify God I had to give all my rights to Him. So, as a feisty pre-teen, I prayed over all my books, toys, clothes. I prayed that God would take away my selfish desire to control my own life. And body. And future. I was told that rebellious older siblings would bring a demonic spirit of rebellion into the house and into the younger children. So I fought the devil. True Believers saved their heart - they didn’t have crushes or give away their emotions. That made them damaged and of less use to the Kingdom and unable to honor God. Therefore, when I fell in love I made every effort to force the poor boy to be The One. Because if he wasn’t, I was screwed.

Spiritual abuse is insidious. It accumulates deep in your soul and slowly leeches out, poisoning your heart, body and mind. It leaves you wondering if you truly hurt or if you are just living in unrepentant sin, have a demonic presence in your life, or perhaps are in rebellion. 

So I began to doubt this week that what I experienced even was spiritually abusive. Until someone from my past said to me, ...like I said, you won’t submit yourselves to the authority of God and so will not accept this.”  I saw clearly, again, the fruit that spiritual abuse breeds.

Essentially, in that environment, the only reason someone would not accept the “clear truth of God’s Word” was if they refused to submit. Maybe children were refusing to submit to parents, parents to God or wives to husbands. Maybe someone just had a “Spirit of rebellion.” Whatever the situation, submission was the answer.

It was the perfect catch-all. Someone doesn’t agree? Well, obviously they haven’t (as was also said to me) “let Jesus have every area of their life” and they just needed to repent. When you've been raised to doubt yourself, that tactic is a powerful bit of mind-buggery.

My parents, naturally attachment parenting before it was popular, were convinced by evangelical and fundamentalist leaders that their natural inclinations were wrong. So they believed and trusted. They were, after all, True Believers. They weren't about to go against the clear truth of Scripture!

My parents were my authorities, and they were taught that their authority was absolute. They were told they had the Truth, they were told that children should “obey right away with a happy attitude” or else they were in rebellion and their souls were in danger. Christian leaders were promising God’s blessings if they lived God’s way, but authoritarianism and perfectionism and demand for purity was not a recipe for blessings.

It was a recipe for self hatred, self harm.

My solution was to stay busy. I read voraciously and did the extracurricular activities that were allowed. My senior year I would leave the house by 6am and not return til 10pm most days. While I could not escape from 19 years of scripture memory, when I left home for the relative freedom of a conservative Bible college it was a welcome respite. 

And it brought me my husband. We had only known each other 20 months when I walked down the aisle on our wedding day.

When my family cornered me (twice) to confront me with my sinful decision to use birth control, when my Mom cried for the grandchildren I was “killing” and my Dad sat there, silent, and I felt the bile rise in my throat and my arms clench around my stomach, my man told them firmly to back off. That their place now was to pray for us, and that was all.

I once cried, expressing to him how frightened I was that maybe he would think I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, quiet enough, submissive enough, godly enough. And, oh, the relief when he looked me straight in the eye and said “the thought never entered my mind.”

And at that time I thought I was safe. I felt so safe. I thought I was safe from the hurts and I thought I was safe from the god I had once known. I thought I had found a God who only told me I was loved. I was okay. I could rest.

When our first child was born, I found the pace of my life had slowed down for the first time since I was 16. For once I had hours on my plate - empty hours. I would bake, I would clean, I would watch Heroes. Because I could

I would research. And connect. I found a community online unlike anything I had ever had before. People who had been through the same things I had, people who had come out stronger and found a loving and grace-filled God.

Because of them and their varied opinions, I learned like never before. I found myself becoming a liberal, social justice, peace-loving almost-pacifist who refused to spank her children and couldn’t help but be a feminist who supported women in all areas of ministry and mutual submission in marriage and marriage equality for all!

Why? Because Jesus. Because grace. Because my faith was suddenly my own.

So I started sharing. And discussing. And questioning.

But a conservative seminary is not the best place to have a Jesus-only revolution.

And by the time I really took the time to look up from my learning frenzy, it had already happened. 

I was no longer a christian. 

At least that was what was said. Many friends and acquaintances who had reveled with me in my Jesus-only joy, quickly turned when they saw the results. The gossip was so furious that I was warned about it by someone new on campus. Warned the very first time I met them.

I looked up from my learning frenzy and found that the people who claimed their overriding principle was that of free and living congregations, were perpetuating the same thought reform that I believed I had escaped. It was one person after another determining the salvation or rightness of someone else’s faith.

Being aware of spiritual abuse does not insulate you from the hurt when you find you are experiencing it all over again. Instead it means listening to a Pastor share a personal voicemail, then proceed to ridicule the person and denomination behind the call while a room full of leaders nod on in approval. It means sitting through a series on how to divide Christians up into levels, based on their actions.  It means physical trauma and PTSD-like reactions to spiritually abusive tactics. It means sleepless nights crying after you realize that your new safe place is becoming more and more like a spiritually abusive brainwashing center. It means leaving a room shaking after a group of women agrees again that “women are more easily deceived” and the real problem with our society is that men are not lifted to their “place of honor” and those who disagree were “destroying society.” It means being on the outside of those loaded language conversations. It means gossip, and people treating you as though someone has died.

It means watching a former friend preach about how, without his version of God, there is no goodness, no justice, no purpose for us. And other “christians,” those who support homosexuality, need to hear the gospel because they have no goodness, no justice, no purpose either. They are in darkness, just like unbelievers.

As a child I was taught that if some of Scripture is wrong, then none of it can be trustworthy. And that was (unintentionally, I believe) applied this way: If what I believe about Scripture is wrong, then none of it can be trustworthy.

As an adult I saw the lengths authorities and pastors will go to preserve that kind of faith. Placing doctrine over people is a part of spiritual abuse, but for fundamentalist authorities it is so much more. It’s the thing that will save their faith when it is on the edge. It is the thing that justifies hurting others for the sake of “Truth.” It is the religious glasses that turn depression into a sin requiring repentance.

I thought I could make it through the last year of seminary, for my husband’s sake.

But I heard “we are the only church in town with the TRUTH,” and I lost it.

So we left. 

We made the worst possible financial and career decision and the best decision for our family and left the Church in which we had spent a combined 40 years, the church that trained us both, the one we planned to travel with to the mission field.

Now I have, with the help and love of my husband, begun a new mission. 

I am trying to do what my parents could not do for me years ago.

I am taking off my religious glasses. I am trying to see, truly see, other people.

Beginning with the girl I used to be.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

valid happiness

I don't spend time on this blog writing about how happy I am right now.

Basically because that's not what this place is for. I come to this corner of the web to vent, to get it out! Then I move on with my life. The last thing I want or need right now is to make a full time job out of studying theology, the way I did a few years ago.

The second reason is because anyone who has been through this, who understands what I'm writing about, will understand how freeing and empowering it is to get out and how happy that makes you. Those who are still in and who believe I'm deceived or possessed or just bitter and frustrated - they won't believe me.

As was stated in a sermon by one of my husband's old friends, "without God there is no justice, happiness, purpose - there is only coldness, darkness, evil, sadness, etc."

When that is your view of the world, you can not accept that an agnostic is actually happy or at peace, or even has purpose, apparently. There is no room in your "worldview" for that.

So it can not be true.

I don't talk often about how great it feels to be out, how much more purposeful I am, how much better I am at being a wife and mom, how I don't need my anti-depressants like I used to. How the times I am unhappy, struggling and in a dark place are all related to god and the church.

I don't talk about it because I know that it isn't valid to those who would be questioning my sanity. It's beyond understanding for fundamentalists.

I posted this quote on my facebook page.

What is true is already so.
Owning up to it doesn’t make it worse.
Not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.
And because it’s true, it is what is there to be interacted with.
Anything untrue isn’t there to be lived.
People can stand what is true,
for they are already enduring it.
–Eugene Gendlin

I can stand what is true. I've been enduring it for years now. The truth, for me, is that my life in the church was rough. The truth is that staying in the church was destroying my heart, my mind and my marriage. I wasn't owning up to the truth of how I felt about the church.

I finally said "I believe the church does more harm than good in the world" and I still tried to hide in the culture I knew, even after I believed it to be harmful and abusive.

I can not do that long and survive. I couldn't live with myself, perpetuating a harmful lie.

But to acknowledge what was already true for me? THAT was freeing. Not any harder. Not any sadder. Not any worse.

It was better. It IS better.

Despite my reasons not to be blogging about the good parts of my life, I think I may need to change that. There are so many specific ways things are better, so many good things every day. I could write a daily blog about just that!

So. I guess we will see if I can maintain a bit of bloggy balance.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

no epic life

Theresa’s passionate, ideal nature demanded an epic life: what were many-volumed romances of chivalry and the social conquests of a brilliant girl to her? Her flame quickly burned up that light fuel; and, fed from within, soared after some illimitable satisfaction, some object which would never justify weariness, which would reconcile self-despair with the rapturous consciousness of life beyond self. She found her epos in the reform of a religious order…. Many Theresas have been born who found themselves no epic life wherein there was a constant unfolding of far-resonant action; perhaps only a life of mistakes… With dim lights and tangled circumstance they tried to shape their thought and deed in noble agreement; but, after all, to common eyes their struggles seemed mere inconsistency and formlessness; for these later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith and order which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul.
– George Eliot, Middlemarch

I first read Middlemarch in high school. It was not assigned to me; I think that year my only assignments were the dreaded Saxon Math homework and a few vaguely planned and never completely unit studies. I picked up the book myself, if memory serves, at the Library Book Sale. I remember clearly the feel of the paperback cover on my palm, the smell of the pages, the simple elation I felt as paragraph after paragraph opened new worlds.
I knew at that time that Middlemarch was special. It was a favorite book. It said something to my soul.
And to this day I can not remember one thing about it. The plot, the prose, the book that defined that year for me - gone. I can remember well the stories of books read even longer ago, quotes from stories that meant nearly nothing to me, but Middlemarch is lost.
And then I happened upon this. And Middlemarch lived for me again. 
The above quote and the following article (follow the link: please read) changed me forever. Not that the article itself was the cause of my change, rather the article was the link that completed a phase of my change. I have gone back, again and again, to read and re-read what so eloquently puts into words my journey, the hard-won truths of my life, the glaringly obvious ways I have been hurt and hurt others. The darkness and light that plague me incessantly and brightly illuminate how I had once been so different.
Most often I read that little portion of Middlemarch. Every time I read it something else causes my breath to catch and my eyes to water. I wonder, and berate myself a little, how I could not remember this. How could I have missed this? The truths it holds for my life are tantalizing and frustrating and oh so clear.
After almost a year of returning, little by little, to this quote and to the world of Middlemarch, I am persuaded that I do not remember the book because it was too much for me to remember. I was a child with a child's simplicity. We are all beaten in the fire of life, we are all shaped. We all start somewhere else, as someone else. I began very simply, in a simple life.
I had an ardently willing soul. I found my epos in the reform of a religious order. I knew no other path, I saw no other option, I grasped no other avenue for an epic life. Outside of my small world, there was only a damned life.
Perhaps now I have only a life of mistakes, lived in dim lights and tangled circumstance. Perhaps I have lost something, now that no religion determines my thinking* or forms my life for me. But, perhaps, this is the epic life I was searching for all along. 

*yes, yes, yes - religion and the religious culture i grew up in will always inform my thinking and life. i can not leave your culture and upbringing entirely behind me. but it is not "performing the function of knowledge" for me as it did in past years.