Shame to Self-Love: Finding Joy and Making Hope 1 Year Since I Came Out

TODAY MARKS ONE WHOLE YEAR since I accidentally Kool Aid Man’d my way out of the closet… and into life on the other side!

Stairway to Heaven in Porirua, New Zealand, last Friday!

In the year since, I have watched myself go from the tyranny of shame to the peace of self-love. From fear to truth. From loss to family and love.

I wanna say FUCKING. THANK. YOU! To every single person who has been here this last year. You’ve become a family where I could not find one. You’ve made me laugh til I couldn’t breathe. Given me grace (and hugs, air mattresses, and job tips). Made me remember what it feels like to be loved. Filled my life to the brim with meaning.

I guess that’s why I’m writing today. I want to share the journey with you. What I’ve learned. How I’ve grown. To say to the people in similar spots who I know are following along, here’s a little light along your way.


Shame estranges us from ourselves

For so much of my life, shame ruled me. It dictated how little I deserved, what was not allowed, who I could not be. My church planted its voice in my head: you are not your own, die to yourself, decrease so God can increase.

Shame said, don’t dance. Don’t listen to non-Christian music. Don’t make plans for your life beyond God’s. Don’t try clothes on. Don’t even be around people who drink. Don’t ask for what you need. Don’t take medicine. Don’t speak your mind. Don’t even speak.

So from an early age, I became estranged… from myself.

I buried the truest parts of who I was. The voice that told me what I wanted and what I liked and most of all, what I needed. I wanted to be a passionate Christian, a “good woman,” a respectful daughter. So I sold my truth to expectations and banished my original self… without even realizing that’s what I was doing.

Shame is the child of fear. Fear that you will not be or are not being enough. Fear of judgment, retribution, rejection. Fear of being seen as you are.

Shame makes us think we can’t say yes to the things we want or no to the things that hurt us, until we can’t even hear our own voices anymore.

Shame is so powerful because it replaces what you really deserve with what it demands. It sets rules based on how others see you, robbing you of the reality of who you actually are and can be.


A million every day miracles

When I lost my faith and realized I was pansexual, the weight of knowing I could not be who I was without facing the manifestations of my family’s shame — pain, fear, and ultimatums — threatened to suffocate me. Unable to be open, my relationships disintegrated and I felt like no one in the world knew me. 

Until the day came when the only thing that would save my life was the truth. And dear God, I had to save my own life. So I did. One year ago.

After that, I had to learn that truth was also the only way to live it.

I had to come to terms with how much the shame of my religion, gender, and family culture heartbreakingly took from me — then make amends. Learn to hear what I want — once a crime, now my joy-bringing salvation. And love myself so much that I value the happiness I deserve over what other people might think of me.

I follow myself past programmed fear, through the awkward clumsiness of a million first times, and to the joy and peace that put a knowing smile on my face every time I say yes to who I really am. Trying on a shirt. Going to a club. Saying hi. Walking down the street. Healing my relationship with myself and evolving into who I am takes place in the form of a million every day miracles.

I have followed the pull of my heart to fun. Curiosity. Joy. Newness. Love. Trust. Healing. Growth. Firsts. (Also, not gonna lie, lots of times to Marshall’s. THE DEALS THOUGH.)

Today, I pole dance for fun, do tai chi, dabble in yoga, read tarot, drink vodka, study abroad in New Zealand, love shopping, create family, will legally change my name to Maxwell Aravis-Grace Tang in July, and generally break shame’s rules one “yes!” at a time.

I have so much further to go, but I am so far from where I used to be.


Max Goes Godless is no longer about leaving, but living

Last week I got to hang out with Lilia Tarawa, who’s made a thriving life for herself years after she left the Gloriavale Christian Cult with her family. Not only is she warm, confident, entrepreneuring, and gorgeous, she uses her story to bring people hope through her Ted Talk, her memoir, and her social media.

I got a signed copy of her book and a facial!

That’s what I wanna do with this crazy story of mine now. Be a hopebringer. 

I get more messages, emails, and comments from people every week about my story: “me too.” “I wish I could do that myself.” “You make me think it could all turn out okay.”

I started this blog 3 years ago because I had nowhere to speak my mind. I vented, I grieved, and I worked out old teachings in my posts, unraveling lies about who I was and the world I lived in one by one.

But I’ve been out for 1 year, and my life is no longer about leaving. It’s about living.

So, this anniversary marks a shift for Max Goes Godless. I’ll be talking much more about new experiences. Lessons for freedom. And celebration of the liberation that comes with authenticity. Even when it means leaving. Risking. And building a new life. And yes, I’ll still write about the important work of healing from doctrine. Not enough of us talk about it.

You can find me on Facebook, on Insta, and hopefully in a year, even giving a TedX Talk. Telling truth. Making hope. Sharing what it means to follow your true self into a new life.

I once was lost, but now am found.


So this is what I’ll leave you with…

You are you.

Yes, even the parts you were told you should not have. Yes, the parts you were judged or punished for showing. Yes, the parts you tried to hide away.

There is so much in this world that tries to define who we are. For our parents’, our culture’s, our community’s, our faith’s reputations. To keep tradition without rocking the boat. To follow the carefully prescribed lines of gender, life path, and even hobbies.

I know how hard it is. I know there are prices to pay. I paid them.

There is profit, too. More than you might ever believe. More than you can imagine.

What would it feel like to allow yourself to pursue what you want? To decide that the joy and attempt is worth fear and risk? To come face to face with the person you always were and recommit to giving them all they deserve?

It’s March 19, 2018, and I’m here telling you: you wouldn’t be the only one. ❤

– Max


Max Goes Godless … ON INSTA!

Hey guys! 

One of my biggest inspirations, Lilia Tarawa (who left her insular Christian cult and is now thriving and an entrepreneur), uses Instagram for her own blog posts about her journey. She interacts with readers a lot on Insta, and that’s something I’d really really love to do more of with anyone who resonates with what I write.

So… I’m super excited to share my new Insta with you! If you’re gram-savvy, you can give me a follow at @maxgoesgodless. This is stuff I haven’t written or shared on my WordPress blog here, so it’s totally new and more bite-sized.

I’m actually having a lot of fun just telling stories about my journey as an ex-vangelical there. Less coming up with good titles, finding cover pictures and researching links and more talking straight from the heart. This is the kind of briefer, story-centered stuff I really wanna do more of on this blog. 

Samples for ya: 

(The line spacing gets messed up on WordPress, but if you head to Insta it’s more readable, I promise!)

Ohhh MAN. I started this blog, Max Goes Godless, in high school… maybe 3 yrs ago now. What a different place. I’d lost the faith that formed the bedrock of my soul, family, community & church, realized I could be attracted to people of any gender.. and I could tell no one. 🐉 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I had anger then, grief too. But I started this blog, I wrote and wrote and poured my heartbreak & healing into the only place safe to speak the truth. MGG is now a place I deconstruct all the harmful stuff Evangelicalism taught… and celebrate the crazy life & healing that living authentically & unapologetically has brought. 🐚 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ And you guys answered. Many have seen me through trauma / healing / coming out since the beginning. Some of you I’ve just met. But you’ve shown up. Comments, emails, messages… all of it. So. many. more than me. 👣 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ 3 yrs later I’m starting this Insta to put my heart out there in visual form. I LOVE LOVE LOVE hearing from ppl who read my posts, relate and talk back… I KNOW so many others have ex-faith stories of their own, and I hope thru this, you will find little ways to share them with me. Comment, DM, repost. I can’t wait to hear from you. Cheers to what speaking the truth brings us all 💞 #butnowamfound #exvangelical #itsokaytogo

A post shared by Max Goes Godless (@maxgoesgodless) on

JOY /// OK REAL TALK if you asked me today, I would say *this* has been the happiest moment in my life so far. YES. This grainy ass, low quality, screenshot of a Snapchat picture has captured my greatest night of freedom and joy yet 💁🏻‍♀️ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ This night was close to Halloween… my first semester putting myself through college, since I came out the previous March. My healing & growing game has leveled up insanely since then. But THIS little house party was a huuuuge leap for me. 🎃 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ See I grew up terrified of alcohol and believing dancing in public was vain and sinful. We weren’t supposed to drink… I even avoided bourbon chicken. So loud ass secular music and dancing in front of people and ALCOHOL?! Newbie TO IT ALL. The old ingrained fear & shame voices had so much to say. 👽 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ But I went. With glitter in my hair, my skeleton skateboarding into flames tarot card tattoo with the phrase SHIT’S WILD peeking through sheer black and a rainbow flag in hand, I found the vodka, my friends, and I danced. Didn’t think about it just did it. 🦄 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ That night I watched the video this pic comes from again and again in disbelief. THIS WAS ME?! I looked so. Goddamn. Happy. I think my greatest challenge in growing into who I truly am is releasing 1,000,000 lb of fear and tension. THIS was what I needed to do. THIS was freedom. 🤠 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ What’s your release? Your happiest moment? What memories do you use as a lighthouse to keep moving toward who you truly can be? #butnowamfound #exvangelical #itsokaytogo

A post shared by Max Goes Godless (@maxgoesgodless) on

On Fire For God: Crazy Love Review Ch 4

“set a fire down in my soul
that I can’t contain and I can’t control
I want more of you, God
I want more of you, God…”

One among hundreds, I closed my eyes, tipped back my head and let the music wash through me. The power of the melody made me feel like Alice in Wonderland, standing bigger and taller with every minor chord. I felt the bass reverberate in my bones, like a heartbeat that swelled through the whole room. And in my chest, I felt my soul reaching out, out, out… for God, for his love, for his presence, for our forever. 

That was what I wanted, more than anything in the world. God. 

I wanted to be head over heels in love with him. So in touch with him that unbelievers sensed him in me the moment I opened my mouth. And so invested in him that it transfigured my whole lifestyle from the inside out.

Because if it was real, it’d change me. If it was real, people should be able to tell me apart from the non-believers. I shouldn’t be just like everyone else. I should be supercharged with his love… his crazy love.

I wanted to be on fire for God. No wonder I got burned.

“Profile of the Lukewarm”: Chapter 4

When I skim Chapter 4 of Crazy Love, memories of nights like the one above are what come swimming up. We (me and the Asian Baptist circle I ran in) called these nights “revivals.” Revivals were intense. They’re the closest thing I could get to a real concert as a sheltered born-again. Think dim lights, rooms (or stadiums) full of (usually teenaged) Christians, minor chord melodies and repetitive lyrics, and spontaneous, often-pleady prayers to God to “light a fire” in the room. They were supposed to inspire Christians to recommit to living out and believing in their faith.

The sermons were big on taking a long look at your life. Was there anything you were holding back from God? Any doubts? “Little” sins you let slide? My faith loved claiming it was real special, even the only true and life-changing religion out there. It needed the facts to back up its big talk. If we were really Christian, everyone should be able to tell. We should be so full of passion, kindness, optimism and joy that people noticed something different and wanted it too. Walking salesmen.

This is the sand Francis Chan builds his house on. Remember, his revolutionary idea is that God is way more powerful than American Christians think (Ch 1), we are actually so puny and mortal that even stress “reeks of arrogance” (Ch 2), and that being in love with God is necessary (Ch 3). If Christians really believe the Bible, and the Bible says God’s insanely powerful yet loving, then they oughta start acting like it, Chan says. In Chapter 4, he finally gets to the details… by telling us what real Christians don’t look like.

These Christians are “lukewarm.” For a subculture that has an entire section of music specifically for revivals and runs on a frankly weird desire to be set on spiritual fire, lukewarm is the last thing you wanna be. Chan explains why: 

Jesus asks for everything. But we try to give him less. Jesus said,

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.” — Luke 14:34-35

Jesus isn’t just making a cute little analogy here. He is addressing those who aren’t willing to give everything, who won’t follow Him all the way. He is saying that lukewarm, halfhearted following is useless, that it sickens our souls…

How would you like to hear the Son of God say, ‘You would ruin manure?’ (81)

Every time I start wondering if maybe I made up how weirdly intense Chan is, he comes through with the new evidence. High-demand religion, anyone?


Chan insists that if Christians really believe in their God, they gotta live like it. And he has a specific idea of what that’s supposed to look like. To him, it’s adventure. It’s financial sacrifice. It’s radical. For some reason, American Christianity adores being edgy. Being uncool and unpopular has this reverse luster of being cool via the good ole martyr complex. Chan is all aboard this train.

In his words:

So there is an incalculable, faultless, eternal God who loves the frail beings He made with a crazy kind of love. Even though we could die at any moment and generally think our puny lives are pretty sweet compared to loving Him, He persists in loving us with unending, outrageous love.

The only way I know to respond is like the man in one of Christ’s parables:

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
— Matthew 13:44 (65-66)

Unsurprisingly, a lot of what Chan is gonna go on to push for in the next chapters revolves around money.

LUKEWARM PEOPLE tend to choose what is popular over what is right when they are in conflict. They desire to fit in both at church and outside of church; they care more about what people think of their actions (like church attendance and giving) than what God thinks of their hearts and lives.

LUKEWARM PEOPLE probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong.

Yeah, we all know Christians like this, and it’s a great point that hypocritical Christians do damage to their own reputation and church PR. That’s one of the things Chan wants to correct.

LUKEWARM PEOPLE don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want only to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it; they’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one.

… Is this… surprising to Francis Chan? If you wanna set up the universe so people get horribly punished for doing one thing wrong, uh yeah, people are gonna wanna avoid it. That’s part of what people are saying is wrong with our prison systems and spanking (punitive justice), and why restorative justice (confronting offenders with the people they offended and repairing those relationships) is getting more popular. If God set up the universe so sinners had to confront the consequences their sins had on other people, instead of going to hell, maybe people would be truly sorry for their sin. Hell ain’t justice.

LUKEWARM PEOPLE say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives.

Again, high-demand religion anyone? Chan’s belief that anything less than total submission to God is arrogant and foolish crops up everywhere.

LUKEWARM PEOPLE give money to charity and to the church … as long as it doesn’t impinge on their standard of living. If they have a little extra and it is easy and safe to give, they do so. After all, God loves a cheerful giver, right?

I also don’t get why Chan finds this surprising. People are wired to do what’s comfortable. The difference between me and Chan is that he believes people are obligated to give everything they have to God, because none of it can belong to them. It’s like a slave mentality. 

That’s probably why he seems so put off by the idea of Christians living comfortably. It seems too selfish. As if they believe they have a right to possessions and comfort. But in Chan’s world, God has rights to everything. People are not even entitled to feeling stressed out without Chan’s judgment that this “reeks of arrogance.” 

Chan wants American Christians to quit hypocrisy. To be such authentic believers that they sell their stuff and even move. To live out their intense faith.

I’ll see you next time, when Chan finally explains to us what his vision looks like!

P.S. I’ve a month behind on reviews because I moved from Boston, Massachusetts to Wellington, New Zealand for study abroad a week and 1/2 ago! It’s been crazy preparing and non-stop exploration, great company and good fun, but I really want to stay consistent with you guys (especially since more and more of you keep contacting me) so I’ll be back on the weekly schedule from here out. Check out some of my fav photos so far:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


I Am That I Am: We Are So Much More than What People Think of Us

The “lessons” we learn about ourselves

The deepest lessons we learn in life aren’t from the classroom. They’re not on paper. Not even in the field.*

Instead we learn them from each other. From how others treat us. These lessons can happen in the moment, between the lines. Sometimes they’re explicit and outright. They can be enriching, affirming, warming… or damaging, painful, self-diminishing. Through the way others act toward us, we learn what they think of us. So often, we believe that what they think of us is what we really deserve — even without realizing it.

A friend chooses to spend time with you and listen to you in your darkest times: you learn that you’re worth patience, compassion, care, and listening, even when you can’t give  back. You have value beyond what you have to offer. You’re more than your usefulness.

You find out that the loved one you trusted lied: you learn that others cannot always be trusted. You were taken advantage of.

Your daughter runs out of the house when you get home from work to jump into your arms: you learn that you’re loved and wanted outright. You are missed. You’re wanted near.

Your mom shakes her head and says, “why can’t you act more ladylike?”: you learn that being ladylike is what you should be doing, and whatever you are doing is apparently not that, because your mom thinks it’s wrong.

These lessons sink deep into our shoulders, run with our blood, settle under our tongues and charge our very movements. We carry these lessons in our bodies and in the way we react to and approach the people around us. They prompt us to become freer, less worried, more secure, happier, or more on edge, afraid, guilty, hobbled. The lessons that hurt, we learn the hardest. And a lot of the time, we don’t even see ’em. We take them as gospel, as truth, as lived knowledge, and in doing so, surrender so much power to false and limiting ideas of who we really are.

I grew up with lots and lots and lots of these soul lessons, like we all do. The lessons I wanna talk about today are the lessons I learned about my very self, because I have a hunch that you reading might have learned your own too. I am unlearning them. I hope you’ll find what you need here to start unlearning yours too.

Making saints and exiles of ourselves

When I was growing up, the people around me had a lot to say about who a person should be and how they should express that. Back then, it seemed so simple, even beautiful. We were Evangelical, and all our identity was in God: his servants, his bride, his children all rolled into one. Our purpose on Earth: to bring God glory, please him, and expand his family. We weren’t meant to try to be anyone other than who God wanted us to be, his specific blueprint for each of our lives, our epic role in his story of millennia.

I “knew who I was in God” and that was all that mattered; being anyone beyond a submissive, pious, cheerful, wise, grateful helper (as a girl, this of course was my future role) was “foolish”, “vain”, “empty”, and “arrogant.” When I did things unexpected or unapproved of, my mom would say, “I know you, and this isn’t you.” 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Growing up, I hated who I was, because I thought that the girl people saw WAS who I really was. It turns out that I had situational mutism, a severe anxiety disorder that begins in early childhood, and where the sufferer isn’t able to physically speak (or even nod, smile, make eye contact, etc.) in certain social situations. SM sidelined me in life. I spent so much time on the periphery of rooms, aching to be a part of conversation and fun and friend making, but every time a joke or hello! or comment popped into my head, it stayed locked in the cell of my vocal chords. So I unintentionally formed a reputation as that really quiet religious girl — the one who didn’t talk or smile back.

This was a powerful lesson I learned day after day for years. One that I am still-unlearning: that I am not “one of the rest of you”, that I’m “a piece of furniture” (as one person sometimes called me), that I am on the outside of life looking in.

That’s why I loved the lessons that my religion taught me about who I could be. Self-improvement is built right into Evangelical Christianity. It’s called “sanctification.” It’s the idea that, from the moment they believe, anyone who becomes a Christian automatically begins an eternal process of becoming a person more like Christ: full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. They are becoming saints — sanctified. 

I cherished this promise. I drank up the peace of its reassurance. Sanctification was a guarantee that no matter how lonely or inferior or awkward or unkind or quiet or not-enough I felt, or how many bad habits I couldn’t break, I only had to wait and trust in God, because he would change me.

But there was a dark side to sanctification. Sanctification wasn’t just God working in me continually to change me for the better. I was supposed to become more like Christ by becoming less of my original self. Scripture said there was no good in my original self, and I could never, ever hope to change myself; only God’s power could transform a wretch like me. In fact, all the language about “being made new” was violent. Visceral. I was supposed to die to myself. To kill my “old man” (not my dad, my old self!) so God could create a new one. Carve. Mold. Break me to make me. Christianity asked me again and again to extinguish and empty myself from existence.

And so, without even knowing, I sent my original self into exile.

And, ya know, that is what you do when you believe the “lessons” people give you about how little you are worth, or how little you can accomplish, or that your rights matter less than theirs — you send yourself into exile. You push yourself away. You learn to see your true self as enemy, as other, as dirty secret. You stop listening to yourself. You agree with what others say about you and become the enforcer of their underestimations, their deliberate hurt and their misunderstandings.

This is what I did. These are the lessons that Evangelical Christianity, and the consequences of my situational mutism, taught me.

  • That I had no right to exist. By rights, God could have destroyed us all, but he didn’t and I shouldn’t forget it.
  • That I couldn’t make myself a better person. Only God could do that. I had no power, creativity, or rights over myself. I shouldn’t try to be anyone beyond what others had in mind for me.
  • That the only way I could be redeemed as a human being, after being born so flawed I deserved eternal torture by default, was to put my original self to death. That my authentic self deserved violence and silence.
  • That I should continue being unnoticeable, invisible, unheard — unwitnessed for who I really was.

I took these ideas and believed them, and because I believed them I forced my original self, my authentic, vibrant, free-spirited, friendly, warm, cheerful self, into exile. I shut out her voice. I fell out of touch with what and who I really wanted. And I tried to flinch and dance away from any action that might lead to people judging me as too much or not enough for the box they had constructed for me. I allowed myself to believe that who they thought I was — that religious, timid kid cut off from conversation and human relationship —  was all I could be.

I can’t emphasize enough how deeply these lessons affected me on an almost cellular level. I grew up cut off from what I wanted, because wanting was vain and selfish, and because of this, I had unwanted sexual experiences. I gorged myself on food, then tried to whittle myself away in shame for expressing an appetite for life. I felt chronically unwanted or separate even around friends. I avoided mirrors. I didn’t take medicine when I got sick or get food when I was hungry. I didn’t even realize I could move chairs out of my way. I didn’t reach out and make friends. I didn’t know how to connect with people because I was disconnected from the self I really had to offer. I didn’t speak my mind or pursue what called to my heart. I wasn’t living.

Because when I was told that I didn’t deserve to be and create my authentic self, I believed it. I thought that these “lessons”, which were really other people’s projections onto me, were the truth of who I was and who I could be.

Maybe you grew up hearing the same sort of thing too. Maybe you’re from a religious tradition — Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslim, Jewish, and more — that told you, you are not good. Be less of you so you can be better.

Or maybe you weren’t religious, but you were still told that the way to be better or good was to be less you. Because of your family. Your culture. Your gender. Your abuser(s). Maybe you weren’t outright told “die to self”, but you still felt you had to shrink. To be less you. Less authentic. Less here. Less loud or quiet. Less rebellious, awkward, clumsy, forgetful, unphotogenic, distinct… human.

  • The oldest child: be responsible, don’t play like the younger kids do, be an ambassador for the family name over your own, others first.
  • The girl: sit up straight, cross your legs, wear skirts, don’t cut your hair that short, don’t play in the mud, like dolls, want babies, please men.
  • The survivor: your abuser’s right to express their frustration toward you trumps your right not to be hurt by them, their feelings matter more than your pain, be still, be quieter, don’t disagree.

Radical acceptance: finding myself in a fitting room

I let other people’s expectations of me become my limitations. As long as I did that, I could never be anything more than what people imagined me to be. But I’ve come to realize that my imagination is way better than any of theirs.

The lessons I was taught were dead wrong. To heal, I had to realize just how wrong they were. I had to apologize to my original self, the one I sent into exile, who I was supposed to kill and be less of, for everything I believed about her. For all the things that happened to me because I believed them: letting so many people take advantage of me without taking action to change my own circumstances. I would never have believed them if they hadn’t been taught to me, so they are not my fault; but only I can change their effects now.

I realized this in a fitting room in TJ Maxx. Retail therapy, y’all. 

Trying on clothes was really painful growing up. In a world where I felt so controlled, the fitting room was our little secret between me and the mirror, a magic little box where I could indulge in clothes I’d never wear outside it. It was like trying on selves and futures, but guilt was my constant companion. Hot flashes of shame coursed down my back when I stood in front of the racks, wondering, will people think I’m trying to pull off being someone I’m not? 

But when I became independent, I got to take myself shopping, and over time, with effort, the shame melted into the background. So that’s where I found myself, in a fitting room in TJ Maxx with clothes I didn’t even know I liked. Trying them on felt like a laugh of relief, like breathing fully after a life of shallow gasps. The old lessons in my head said, this isn’t what people are used to. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. You look ridiculous. 

But I’m strong enough now to know my instincts and even sometimes what I want… and I knew that this? This was what my original self liked all along. People not being used to this didn’t mean this wasn’t me. It just meant that now it was time to show them who I really was. If I liked it, if I wanted it, if I found it pretty or meaningful or funny or cool, I wouldn’t vet it anymore to sniff out possible judgment, criticism, or shame. Instead, I would accept it all, radically, along with any judgment or labels that came with it. 

That changed everything. I bought the clothes. I showed them to my roommate, laughing, but unapologetic. And as I wore them, I still heard those old lessons, the ones that pushed my original self down into exile all that time. But I didn’t listen to them. Instead I realized that there was a whole other way to be me right in front of me: to acknowledge other people’s judgments of me without letting them change me.

All this time, I allowed other people’s expectations of me become my limitations.

I can be aware of what people will think of me without apologizing for it. I can say to the world, this is who I am, take me as you will. No more allowing other people’s reactions to me to define me, to shame me, to burn me.

It’s time for me to be playfully, gleefully, freely me, without apology. To take back the power I gave other people when I allowed their idea of who I was to dictate who I was. People make judgments. It’s what they do. I can’t change that, but I can take the power back from them by no longer reacting to them.

I am no longer defining me; I am living her.

1: Me and my twin, original-selfing from the start; 2: back when we were still believing and living in Christian conditions; 3: a year ago, look how much happier we are as college heathens!, and 4: a low quality pic of one of my happiest moments. This is who I am: glitter in my short hair, dancing with a rainbow flag, and my ink showing through.

Survivors, questioners, nonbelievers, humans, this is encouragement I have for you:

Don’t let people’s expectations of who you should be limit who you really are.

Don’t keep believing negative “lessons” about who you are and what you deserve — indoctrination, cultural norms, family dynamics, gender roles, abuse, everyday human hurts. They are not an authority. They’re a projection. Take your power back from them.

Allow yourself to imagine who you could be, beyond what you’ve always supposed to be. Get back in touch with who you always were. In all their awesome, kickass, nerdy, cool, inspiring, relatable, human glory.

All of this makes me think back to one of the names of God. It’s a pretty badass story. Moses asks God what name he should call him by to his people. God says, “I am who I am.” I used to find this so confusing and mysterious, but now, as an unbeliever, I actually find it awesome. God didn’t define himself. He said, I am that I am. I am who I am.

That is what I’m saying now. I am that I am. In these clothes. This style. These words. These actions. These vibes. I’m getting there. I’m daring to imagine and become a person so far beyond anything God and other people had in mind for me. And I’m no longer giving power to the “lessons” about the powerlessness and limitations that my self was meant to have. I take that power back: I am that I am.

When we realize that negative “lessons” are just expectations, underestimations, miscalculations, on other people’s part, and that who we are goes beyond anything anyone else can define for us, we take back our power. We set the standard for how we should be treated with compassion, vision, and love for ourselves, no longer allowing others to teach us the baseline of what we deserve. We bring our original selves out of exile and make them sacred. Make them heard. Make them real.

Let’s finish with words from 3 of my favorite healers: Kirsten (The Crazy Herbalist), whose articles about plant allies and the role of stories in healing from trauma changed everything for me 2 years ago; Lilia Tarawa, whose style, love for others, and joy in a free life makes my heart sing; and Nayyirah Waheed, whose poems make me feel called out and called in at the same time.

The cultural stories which ask us to be smaller or other than who we are are not acceptable. The violence done to us without our consent is unacceptable. The lack of collective support many of us feel is isolating and a very real thing. Long live the resistance and the resistors and that small but so potent voice inside that knows something else is possible for us.

Transforming trauma is about re-writing our stories, releasing the lies that have permeated our cells and finding new songs. 

For Survivors, by Kirsten

you were born for you.
you were wanted by you.
you came for you.
you are here for you.
your existence is yours.
― Nayyirah Waheed, nejma
Here’s to finding new songs. Here’s to visions. Here’s to yes.
*You might notice I adapted the beginning of this post from the end of my last one, a review of Ch 3 of Crazy Love by Francis Chan. Is that like outfit repeating but for blogs? It felt so natural writing it, I realized it was actually meant for this one.

“In Love with the One I Fear”: Bringing Abuse into Christianity (Crazy Love Ch 3 Review)

This week we’re looking at the third, and maybe most humanizing, chapter in Crazy Love. It is also named “Crazy Love,” and I mean, it’s not wrong. This chapter is a gold mine for a conversation Evangelicals really need to have, but it’s also heartbreaking. Got daddy issues? So does Francis Chan, and “Crazy Love” is about how he tried to create a better mindset for his relationship with his Heavenly Father after living in fear around his own father. Yeah, this one’s real. Grab a blanket or a beer or curl up with a pet, lads, ’cause Chapter 3 goes in.

If you’re new to the party, Crazy Love is a book that calls for American Christians to revitalize their notions of who God is (our breathtakingly powerful Maker) and live a radical, sacrificial, crazy-in-love-for-God life to prove it. Published in 2008, it swept through American Christian communities right onto the New York Times Bestsellers ListI’m taking Crazy Love chapter by chapter to deconstruct the beautiful and the toxic in Chan’s ideas — and see how they echo larger issues with American conservative Christian theology in general.

This week’s theme: Evangelical Christianity’s “personal relationship with God” is just Christians reproducing the cycle of abuse in their own lives on a cosmic level. We deserve better.

Francis Chan opens the chapter with the claim that most American Christians miss out on what God’s love for them really is for a lot of reasons. For him, it was his relationship with his own dad that tripped him up. This is his story.

dad and DAD

The concept of being wanted by a father was foreign to me. Growing up, I felt unwanted by my dad. My mother died giving birth to me, so maybe he saw me as the cause of her death; I’m not sure.

I never carried on a meaningful conversation with my dad. In fact, the only affection I remember came when I was nine years old: He put his arm around me for about thirty seconds while we were on our way to my stepmother’s funeral. Besides that, the only other physical touch I experienced were the beatings I received when I disobeyed or bothered him.

My goal in our relationship was not to annoy my father. I would walk around the house trying not to upset him.

He died when I was twelve. I cried but also felt relief.

The impact of this relationship affected me for years, and I think a lot of those emotions transferred to my relationship with God. For example, I tried hard not to annoy God with my sin or upset Him with my little problems. I had no aspiration of being wanted by God; I was just happy not to be hated or hurt by Him.

Don’t get me wrong. Not everything about my dad was bad. I really do thank God for him, because he taught me discipline, respect, fear, and obedience. I also think he loved me. But I can’t sugarcoat how my relationship with him negatively affected my view of God for many years (54).

This is the thing about Francis Chan. 

I was talking (/ranting/trying to laugh about) Chan with some apostate friends a while ago, and one of the topics that came up is how weirdly, aggressively submissive and self-diminishing Francis Chan’s theology is. Then someone brought up the idea that the only way someone gets to thinking this way is if they’ve been through so much shit that these ideas really do seem normal. 

If you’ve been reading along and wondering how in the hell Francis Chan could react to the God he describes in such mind-bogglingly dehumanizing ways (calling humans puny and undeserving in response to a magnificent Creator and universe, saying that we are extras in life and delusional to think otherwise, describing stress as reeking of arrogance), this is why.

Francis Chan never explicitly characterizes his experience with his father as “abuse” in this book. I don’t know if he has in any sermons he’s given. It seems clear as damn day to me that this was abuse, and I don’t think anyone reading this would disagree. In fact, I’m pretty sure Francis Chan would agree unless he has issues with how loaded the word is, because on some level, he knows this was wrong and that he did not deserve it.

Because he didn’t. Knowing how fucked up Chan’s theology can be, having studied and loved and tried to live out his writing in this book, all I feel reading this is just sad. Our ideas of the world are founded on our ideas of who we are. I wish so badly that Francis Chan would know that he deserves better. At the end of the day, Chan is just a guy with fucked up experiences who tried to break the cycles humans use to hurt each other and create a more loving, authentic Christianity. He just never actually got there. At some points he gets SO CLOSE and then swerves right into a toxic extreme. This is just another example of what I mean.

In Love with the One I Fear 

If I could pick one word to describe my feelings about God in those first years of being a Christian, it would be fear. Basically, any verses that describe His overwhelming greatness or His wrath were easy for me to relate to because I feared my own father…

Most Christians have been taught in church or by their parents to set aside a daily time for prayer and Scripture reading. It’s what we are supposed to do, and so for a long time it’s what I valiantly attempted. When I didn’t, I felt guilty.

Over time I realized that when we love God, we naturally run to Him — frequently and zealously. Jesus didn’t command that we have a regular time with Him each day. Rather, He tells us to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.’ He called this the ‘first and greatest commandment’ (Matt. 22:37-38). The results are intimate prayer and study of His Word. Our motivation changes from guilt to love.

This is how God longs for us to respond to His extravagant, unending love: not with a cursory ‘quiet time’ plagued with guilt, but with true love expressed through our lives. Like my little girl running out to the driveway to hug me each night because she loves me.

Fear is no longer the word I use to describe how I feel about God. Now I use words like reverent intimacy. I still fear God, and I pray that I always will. The Bible emphasizes the importance of fearing God. As we talked about in chapter 1, our culture severely lacks the fear of God, and many of us are plagued with amnesia. But for a long time, I narrowly focused on His fearsomeness to the exclusion of His great and abounding love. (56-57).

For some parts of this I’m following Chan, and then others he just totally loses me. Some of what he says just seems to directly contradict past chapters and the nature of his theology itself. Chan writes that “true love” doesn’t come from guilt, it comes from straight up wanting to love. I’m behind that. His comparison of loving God like his daughter runs out to jump into his arms is adorable. He actually describes how the birth of his daughter changed what parenthood and love was for him later on.

I just wish Chan actually wrote that idea into his actual theology. He has self-awareness without the follow-through. That is where people get hurt.

I’m gonna guess we all agree that fear isn’t healthy in ANY relationship. Actually, that’s not even a relationship at that point, it’s just a power dynamic, and abuse is nothing without a power dynamic. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our parents’ and grandparents’ generation in America tended to have more authoritarian or just plain abusive upbringings (Dad rules the house), but believe in a God who echoes them. I think people will create relationships according to what’s normal or instinctual to them.

Maybe that’s why Chan says he thinks we shouldn’t love God out of guilt even though in the last 2 chapters, he just told us:

  • “But know this: God will not be tolerated. He instructs us to worship and fear Him” (28)
  • “We cannot escape Him, not even if we want to” (32)
  • “But to put it bluntly, when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards. When we disagree, let’s not assume it’s His reasoning that needs correction” (34)
  • “But then there’s that perplexing command: ‘Rejoice in the LORD always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (41)
  • “Why are we so quick to forget God? Who do we think we are?” (42)
  • “Don’t let yourself forget. Soak it in and keep remembering that it is true. He is everything” (51)

Yeah, you’re right. No guilt here. No. Guilt. Heeere.

The Office… my first love. Fact: I once wrote a 4000 word paper about Jim and Pam’s relationship for high school. 

It turns out that Francis Chan doesn’t think we shouldn’t fear God. He actually believes we shouldn’t JUST fear God. That is where he loses me.

It feels like he just gets so close to unlearning shitty relationship dynamics (you’re not supposed to be afraid of your dad and you’re not supposed to serve, worship, and never question him), but he isn’t there yet. I was rooting for him to get somewhere good, and then he served up the last paragraph. It makes me wonder how he went through the whole editing process without stopping and going wait, uh… maybe I’m just reproducing the heavy-handed fear and control bullshit that my dad made me think was normal in the theology in this entire book. 

I don’t judge him for not completely getting rid of his FLEAs, and I want to treat his experiences with respect and sympathy, but I WILL hold him to task for the consequences that abuse-flavored ideas have had for other people.

Recently, out of a desire to grow in my love for God, I decided to spend a few days alone with Him in the woods… I had no plan or agenda; I just opened my Bible. I don’t think it was coincidence that on the first day it fell open to Jeremiah 1.

After reading that passage, I meditated on it for the next four days. It spoke of God’s intimate knowledge of me. I had always acknowledged His complete sovereignty over me, but verses 4 and 5 took it to another level: ‘The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.'” 

In other words, God knew me before He made me… (57-58).

You know. Just a guy. In the woods. For four days. With a Bible.

In our skule?

This is right in line with the all-consuming control that Chan teaches God has over us. For Chan, this is comforting, beautiful, and celebration-worthy… and it also leads him to belittle humans. Again.

If Francis Chan grew up being shown that he was worthy of love, would he still grovel so much at just the thought of receiving it? If he’d realized it and started changing how he thinks now, would he? What is he passing on to his congregations and his kids?

This is the God we serve, the God who knew us before He made us. The God who promises to remain with us and rescue us. the God who loves us and longs for us to love Him back. 

So why, when we constantly offend Him and are so unlovable and unloving, does God persist in loving us?

In my childhood, doing something offensive resulted in punishment, not love. Whether we admit it or not, every one of us has offended God at some point. Jesus affirmed this when He said, ‘No one is good — except God alone’ (Luke 18:19).

So why does God still love us, despite us? I do not have an answer to this question. But I do know that if God’s mercy didn’t exist, then there would be no hope. No matter how good we tried to be, we would be punished because of our sins.

Many people look at their lives and weigh their sins against their good deeds. But Isaiah 64:6 says, ‘All our righteous acts are like filthy rags.’ Our good deeds can never outweigh our sins.

The literal interpretation of ‘filthy rags’ in this verse is ‘menstrual garments’ (think used tampons… and if you’re disgusted by that idea, you get Isaiah’s point)… (60)

HE COMES SO CLOSE TO RECOGNIZING THAT HIS CHILDHOOD IS STILL AFFECTING HIS THEOLOGY. So close… He says that when he was a kid, offending others led to punishment. He could have said after that, and that was wrong, and that really hurt me, and I realize that I don’t deserve punishment, and it’s not something we should keep believing in our relationships with God today.

But this is not something Francis Chan seems to have worked out in his life this far. I understand that. I get that this shit is hard to work through. I get that you can go on believing so many awful things about what you deserve without even realizing it’s not normal. That’s why therapy is so helpful. 

“So why does God still love us, despite us?” BECAUSE YOU DESERVE IT! This just screams to me that Chan hasn’t resolved a lot. I hear a little kid talking in that sentence. Someone who hasn’t learned that people don’t love you DESPITE YOU. People love you BECAUSE OF YOU. That’s not how love works. And it breaks my heart to hear this grown man say this sincerely not knowing the answer. Crazy Love is a manifestation of Francis Chan not understanding that love is better than that.

Heal, dammit! HEAL!

It makes total sense to me why Chan might still believe this. With the father he described, I’d expect that he felt like his existence was not wanted or welcomed, it was tolerated. If you live your life in fear and on edge, trying to be less of a burden so the people who say they love you won’t hurt you, and only being touched when you’re getting hit, you’re gonna feel like people permit you to exist and that you are the problem. If they love you, they love you despite you. And that’s fucking heartbreaking. He deserves so much more than that. I did. You did. We all do.

The thing is, Evangelical Christianity is tailor-made for abuse survivors. If you are coming from a world where being controlled, tolerated, loved despite yourself, and hurt because of yourself was normal? Evangelical Christianity is the most natural thing in the world to fall into, with the added bonus of a promise of someone who will love you no matter what.

Related: Seventy Times Seven Times Shall You Forgive Your Abuser
When God is Love, But God is a Monster


What gets me MOST in this damn chapter, though, is that Francis Chan has heard this argument. In fact, he ADDRESSES IT. And then he swerves again! It’s like a practiced move at this point! The mental gymnastics on this guy…

Do I Have a Choice?

While I was speaking to some college students recently, an interesting twist on the contrast between our unresponsiveness and God’s great desire for us to come up. One student asked, ‘Why would a loving God force me to love Him?’

It seemed like a weird question. When I asked the student to clarify what he meant, he responded that God ‘threatens me with hell and punishment if I don’t begin a relationship with Him.’

The easy retort to this statement is that God doesn’t force us to love Him; it’s our choice. But there was a deeper issue going on, and I wasn’t sure how to answer it in the moment.

Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I would tell that student that if God is truly the greatest good on this earth, would He be loving us if He didn’t draw us toward what is best for us (even if that happens to be Himself?) Doesn’t his courting, luring, pushing, calling, and even ‘threatening’ demonstrate His love? If He didn’t do all of that, wouldn’t we accuse Him of being unloving in the end, when all things are revealed? 

If someone asked you what the greatest good on this earth is, what would you say? An epic surf session? Financial security? Health? Meaningful, trusting friendships? Intimacy with your spouse? Knowing that you belong?

The greatest good on this earth is God. Period. God’s one goal for us is Himself (59-60).

  1. “The greatest good on this earth is God.” Uh, source?
  2. WHAT DO YOU MEAN THAT SEEMED LIKE A WEIRD QUESTION? Being forced to love and serve someone is so natural to you that you had to ask him to clarify?
    God, this reminds me of the time someone asked him what he thought of homosexuality and he ended up saying we should excommunicate divorcees too. You know. To make it fair.

    Channeling April Ludgate’s face while I write this entire review.
  3. “The easy retort.” Oh yeah. We’ve never heard this one before. I think I know how it goes: well actually now God gave humans free will because if He just made us worship Him then we’d just be robots and that’s not true love, so you can choose whether you want to go to hell or not. You’re literally saying that if Door A has serving, loving, apologizing to, and being loved by an invisible man for eternity and beyond, and Door B has a modest helping of eternal torture, that Door A is a choice? It is a free choice in the same way coercion through violence gives you a “choice.” But it’s not a healthy, loving, or remotely fair one, and it’s not something you should be teaching children is okay or the way things are. Why isn’t THAT obvious. 



Is Francis Chan’s answer REALLY that “courting, luring, pushing, calling, and yes, even ‘threatening'” is just an ass-covering move so no one can say God isn’t truly loving?! 

I CANNOT wrap my head around the fact that Chan is trying to tell us that God threatens us with hell and punishment if we don’t serve him forever because he loves us? That is THE wildest take I’ve heard on “I hurt you because I love you and I know what’s best for you.” What that’s saying is, “I already decided that I’m what’s best for you, so I’m gonna give you the choice to worship, fear, and love me, but just to encourage you to do it, I’m gonna make the other choice hell.”

If he sincerely believes this, his idea of love is shot.

Christians can do better. Christians MUST do better. Break the cycle of abuse. Throw out abusive ideas of love. Change your relationships with God.

What happened in this chapter — seeing how Chan’s ideas of love got fucked up and how he tried to course correct, but still ended up in such a bad place — was awful. Sometimes it was incomprehensible. Sometimes I felt nothing but sympathy.

The deepest lessons we learn in life are not in the classroom, on paper, even in the field. They are the lessons we learn from how others treat us. These lessons slip under our tongues. They seep deep into our skin, permeate our blood, sink into our very marrow. We live them out on a cellular level. We carry them like air in our lungs.

The lessons that hurt we learn hardest. We cling on to these, sometimes without even knowing, because facing the possibility that they were wrong and therefore that we were wronged is so scary. It can upend our whole worlds. To understand that you didn’t deserve to be treated that way. To realize that that person who said they loved you, never really did. To know that this pain could have been avoided, or that you were so cut off from your own self, you didn’t even know the pain was there.

From what he shared, the lessons that Francis Chan learned growing up were that he was tolerated at best. When he was touched it was to be hurt. To be beaten, yelled at, made fun of, isolated, blackmailed, spied on, physically hurt, violated, humiliated, deprived, gaslighted, limited, as a person — it all says one thing to you. That the other person’s feelings matter more than your pain. That they come first. It is the ultimate dehumanization. They have the right to express their anger, righteousness, frustration, annoyance, and tiredness by taking away your right not to be hurt. 

No wonder Francis Chan still believes that humans are worth so little. No wonder why he thinks love only happens despite you, not because of you. No wonder why he thinks someone who is bigger than you wins the game, so don’t ask questions, never forget how small you are, and never stop serving him.

No wonder why his love needs fear. No wonder why his love is crazy. After all, that’s abuse in the most callous words. Crazy love.

How many more pastors, Sunday School teachers, parents, and ministers reproduce this hurt in their own theology? How common are these ideas in Christianity — that you should be so lucky that God (for some reason you can’t comprehend) deigns to care about you, that you should grovel in gratefulness for his love, that you should fear him?

How many people believe this stuff? How many people start to think this is how their human relationships should be too?

When you bring abuse into religion, you don’t just make it normal. You make it sacred. You make your own god an accomplice in your abuse. You self-inflict. You are helping no one. You are healing no one. You are changing nothing. You’re just preserving the game. You’re just dropping the burden on the next generation. You’re just continuing to allow yourself to hurt.

I know it’s hard. I know that taboo and silence and culture are all accomplices in preventing us from even admitting we need to heal, nevertheless healing. I know not everyone can go to therapy, not everyone can even find it, and not everyone has even realized the stigmas against it are wrong. I know calling things abuse or toxic or unhealthy or undeserved in our lives means seeing people in our lives in a different light, and even having to confront them. I know it means having to confront ourselves. 

Nevertheless, go forth and fix your shit. 

Because your kids deserve better. Because your congregation deserves better. Because YOU deserve better. Because it’s worth it. Because you can’t keep going like this. Because it’s wrong. Because love can be so much more than crazy.

Here’s to everyone out here who’s already trying. 

Christianity is a High-Demand Belief System: Crazy Love Review Ch 2

We’re digging in to the second (and in my opinion, the worst) chapter of Francis Chan’s Crazy Love this week! 

For anyone just joining us, Crazy Love is a book that calls for American Christians to revitalize their notions of who God is (our breathtakingly powerful Maker) and live a radical, sacrificial, crazy-in-love-for-God life to prove it. Published in 2008, it swept through American Christian communities right onto the New York Times Bestsellers ListI’m taking Crazy Love chapter by chapter to deconstruct the beautiful and the toxic in Chan’s ideas — and see how they echo larger issues with American conservative Christian theology in general.

This week’s theme: traditional American Christianity is a high-demand belief system that takes an emotional and psychological toll on believers.

“You Might Not Finish This Chapter”: Francis Chan Gets Existential

If there’s one thing Francis Chan is good at, it’s accurate chapter titles. Chapter 2 is called “You Might Not Finish This Chapter.” If that sounds weirdly morbid (or… self-defeated?), well, the whole thing is intended to be a giant reminder that you are, ya know, gonna die someday, maybe-even-like-today. But hey, at least he’s not trying to mislead anyone.

If you were hoping for a chill chapter review today, sorry, guys, this isn’t our week. In fact, this is probably the most wackadoodle chapter to unpack. So grab a seat and a snack! We’re delving right into Francis Chan’s, uh… death complex.

chan 2.jpg

Our hero Chan pulls no punches from the start. He’s out here gettin’ all existential and we are coming with: “You could die before you finish reading this chapter. I could die while you’re reading it. Today. At any moment” (39). (Francis Chan: king of casual.)

Okay, yeah, Chan says, you probably just think today is an average day. But did you forget how lucky you are that your kidneys function? Because not everyone’s do.

What about driving down the road at sixty-five miles per hour, only a few feet away from cars going the opposite direction at the same speed? Someone would only have to jerk his or her arm and you would be dead. I don’t think that’s morbid; I think it’s reality” (40).

Yeah, we know, Francis. We know.

That’s what the first section of the chapter is all about — a nice little primer that, as James 4:13-14 reminds us, “You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (40). Cheers! 

Chan is just getting started. The next section, in a kind of weird topic switch, reexamines how Christians should approach stress and worry (I wonder if he was feeling either one after what he just wrote.) Chan tells an anecdote about how he developed heart palpitations a few years before writing, reaching a peak around the busy Christmas season:

“But on Christmas Eve the issue intensified so much that I told my wife I would go to the emergency room after the church service. During the service, however, I surrendered all of my worries and stress to God. My symptoms slowly went away, and I never went to the doctor” (41).

If you’ve ever had a Christian relate an experience where they Jesus-ed away their medical and emotional problems and proceeded to tell you to do the same? Roll your eyes with me on the count of three, because that’s exactly what Chan is about to do. He calls up Philippians 4:4:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again. Rejoice!… You’ll notice it doesn’t end with ‘…unless you’re doing something extremely important.’ No, it’s a command for all of us, and it follows with the charge, ‘Do not be anxious about anything'” (41).

Yeah, that’s what I need when I’m stressed out. Someone commanding me to rejoice. Next time I’m anxious someone should just come up to me and command me to just “like, stop, brah!” (They have a surfer boy voice in my head.)

These verses, Chan says, transformed his outlook on worry. And I don’t mean to keep quoting at you guys, but I have to quote this next part because I’m afraid you won’t believe me.

Worry implies that we don’t quite trust that God is big enough, powerful enough, or loving enough to take care of what’s happening in our lives.

Stress says that the things we are involved in are important enough to merit our impatience, our lack of grace toward others, or our tight grip of control.

Basically, these two behaviors communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust God because the stuff in my life is somehow exceptional. Both worry and stress reek of arrogance… Why are we so quick to forget God? Who do we think we are?… I am still dumb enough to forget that life is all about God and not about me at all” (42).

Far be it from me to not take this seriously, but honest question: does Francis Chan know how to… like… chill? His ideas about stress are stressing me out.

But the hands-down WORST part of this chapter comes directly after. In fact, it’s infamous to me. This is an idea that had a tremendous impact on me in high school. And so much of my life is about unlearning everything Chan wrote to follow. He switches gears again, from worry and stress to the idea that your life does not belong to you. This wasn’t a new ideaat all, in my faith. But I had never heard it this way before.

“Suppose you are an extra in an upcoming movie. You will probably scrutinize that one scene where hundreds of people are milling around, just waiting for that two-fifths of a second where you can see the back of your head. Maybe your mom and your closest friend get excited about that two-fifths of a second with you… maybe. But no one else will realize it is you. Even if you tell them, they won’t care.

Let’s take it a step further. What if you rent out the theater on opening night and invite all your friends and family to come see the new movie about you? People will say, ‘You’re an idiot! How could you think this movie is about you?”

Most Christians are even more delusional than the person I’ve been describing. So many of us think and live like the movie of life is all about us… From start to finish, this movie is obviously about God. He is the main character. How is it possible that we live as though it is about us?” (42-43).

To Chan, it was absolutely ludicrous for anyone to think that they were the main character in their own life. Reading this, I thought, I was just another player in his cosmic chess game, one more supporting character in his epic of millennia. This is why stress and worry were so intolerable to him: being stressed about something means it’s a big deal to you, and you are not a big deal, how could you forget it? He put it all together for his final conclusion: that you should use your “puny” human life to serve God for the two-fifths of a second you’re here. No pressure! Be happy!

chan 3
Anyone get the reference? Throwback to Vine? Anyway, this is how I imagine the little Francis Chan in my head growing up.

Francis closes out his points with 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So whether you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (44). Because:

“Frankly, you need to get over yourself…

To be brutally honest, it doesn’t really matter what place you find yourself in right now. Your part is to bring Him glory — whether eating a sandwich on a lunch break, drinking coffee at 12:04 a.m. so you can stay awake to study, or watching your four-month-old take a nap.

The point of your life is to point to Him. Whatever you are doing, God wants to be glorified, because this whole thing is His. It is His movie, His world, His gift” (45).

High Demands and their Emotional Toll: Let’s Talk About It

WHEW. Francis Chan is back at it again. This is SO MUCH to unpack. 

chan 4
Watch Schitt’s Creek!!!

“You Might Not Finish This Chapter” exemplifies so much of why I believe that Christianity is generally a high-demand ideology. If you’re wondering where “high demand” is coming from, “high demand religious groups” (HDRGs) is another phrase for the much more loaded term “cult.” No, I’m not calling Christianity a cult, but I did find “high demand” to be an awesome description for my problems with and harm from it. Because that’s what it all boiled down to. Demand.

“You Might Not Finish This Chapter” is gob smacking full of demands on believers’ emotions, and guilt, urgency, and insecurity are the muscle behind it.

They sound harsh, maybe even radical, but they are just the natural progressions of ideas that are fundamental or typical to Evangelical Christianity: you are small and your life is fleeting, your life’s purpose is not about you but glorifying God and converting people, and mental illness is your fault.

Demands that you not forget how your life can end at any moment, because “you are a mist.”

Demands that you stop worrying, because it “reek[s] of arrogance.” Because how dare you fear that your responsibilities are bigger than God’s power to see you through them. Because how could you be so “dumb”?

Demands that you realize that your life is just two-fifths of a second of the back of an extra’s head in the movie of life. That you are not the main character in your own life.

Demands that you do absolutely everything, even “eating a sandwich”, to bring glory to God. Because you’re nothing. It’s all about Him.

THAT is what I mean by high-demand. The demand is high because the stakes are. High-demand belief systems and groups rely on black and white thinking to enforce their demands. A faith is high-demand when it says that you are so inherently awful and immoral, from birth, that you deserve to be eternally tortured — unless, of course, you dedicate your life to serving a magnificent God into infinity… and beyond (with the two-fifths of a second you have on Earth!) That is why you should be the joyful slave of God and keep remembering you and your life are puny. The concepts of total depravity, hell, eternity, and being controlled by either sin or God are high-demand. And they are all traditional beliefs of Christianity — even more moderate kinds.

High-demand belief systems and groups are harmful because of the effects their demands have on people. Whether they’re a religious cult, a family, an athletic team, a community under political police, etc., you can see the psychological and even physical damage that demands do to them.

I read this book when I was in high school and loved it so much I still have parts of it memorized. This chapter was my favorite. 

So when Francis Chan wrote that we could die at any moment and that should change how we live — to serve God in everything — I tried to do that. Not even 18 yet, I prayed for God to remind me my life was just a mist. I had no idea how to eat a sandwich for the glory of God, but I sure tried! I believed the sole purpose of my life was to lead other people to God, that I was a vessel for God’s desires. I planned on going to a Bible Institute for 2 years and becoming a missionary, not because I wanted to (I actually REALLY didn’t), but because a preacher said that anyone who can be a missionary should, and I knew that I couldn’t run from God; he would just find me, break me, and bring me back to Him, like he did to Jonah. When I left the faith, I struggled for 2 years to see the point in living until I realized you make your own. I couldn’t even walk outside at night because I was afraid God would strike me dead.

When Francis Chan wrote that stress and worry reeked of arrogance, I felt guilty whenever I was anxious because how dare I not trust God enough? When I realized I was struggling with depression, I asked to go to the doctor, who gave me Bible verses on index cards. I wasn’t getting better because I wasn’t reading and praying on them regularly. Obviously. This part of the chapter sounded so suspiciously close to the illness denial and shaming that is so prominent in American Christianity. Another demand: don’t be sick, or you don’t really believe.

How many of you guys out there have been told you’ll be divinely healed if you just Jesus hard enough? That your mental illness is a sin? Your medical illness is a punishment? You have no right to distress? How many other people have lived in guilt and shame for not being able to believe their very human pain and fears away?

But when Francis Chan wrote that I was not the main character in my life, the most damage was done. I didn’t even know it had affected me until years down the line. I was frustrated with why I felt so powerless to change my own life… like I was a Non-Playable Character in the video game of my life… like an extra. And then suddenly, in a rush, I remembered Crazy Love… and it all made sense. I was literally taught that I am an extra in life. Extras have no agency. Their lines and movements are scripted. They are to be glimpsed but not seen, heard but not listened to. 

For a long time, I moved through life like I could not change it, like believing that I was important or wanted anywhere was ludicrous and arrogant. I never realized that that was how Chan believed we looked to God. I was not important. In fact, my life was a mist, humans were puny, and my role in life was the equivalent of two-fifths of a second of the back of an extra’s head. This idea filtered out to every area of my life. When things got in my way, I didn’t ask them to move or do it myself. When I got sick, I didn’t take medicine. When I wanted things, I was terrified of admitting it; nothing that I desired mattered. Only God’s did. I had to know my place.

That’s what I mean by high-demand. Demands backed by guilt (“Why are we so quick to forget God? Who do we think we are?” (42)), urgency (“You could be the next person in your family to die. I could be the next person in my church to die. We have to realize it. We have to believe it enough that it changes how we live” (51)), and belittlement (“What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes'” (40), “The point of your life is to point to Him” (44)). Demands that take a toll on us because if we don’t fulfill them, we’re being arrogant and not knowing our place. 

Demands that can leave us obsessive, lying awake at night, burned out from the pressure of trying to serve others, look happy, and constantly deny ourselves, silenced with shame and guilt for feeling worry or stress, reduced to minimal self-esteem, or even traumatized. I write a lot about all of this. I believe that a lot of high-demand religious groups and systems, including traditional Protestant Christianity, but also including the LDS, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Catholics, Ultra-Orthodox Jews, and conservative/fundamentalist Muslims can suffer from very similar things. I’ve heard it from so many other bloggers and young people at this point that I know it’s a phenomenon.*** 

chan 5
Always worth a rewatch, but maybe even more after this doozy of a chapter.

The unofficial takeaway is that Francis Chan needs. To. CHILL.

But I’m glad he put down his ideas to paper. Because they are a great window into how Christian ideas can put enormous pressure on believers. How high the demands can be. And how they manifest in believers’ lives. But there are so many more than remembering you can die at any moment, being happy all the time and believing your stress away, and understanding you are an extra in your own life who should serve God in every moment (thank you, Francis Chan, for these absolute gifts.)

What demands did your religious beliefs or group put on you? 

How did they impact you?

What similarities can we find between us? Can we support one another?

I think we start by talking about it. Giving ourselves permission to name it. And sharing our stories with each other. So that’s what I’m trying to do. Put it out there. In all its long complicated mess. It’s not easy, breaking stuff like this down… but it’s worth it. And I know I’m not the only one. 😉 

Chapter 2, check. I’ll see you guys next week!

*** PS: If you’ve never heard of Religious Trauma Syndrome, I really recommend you look it up! Valerie Tarico and Marlene Winell, both experienced professionals who work with people who’ve left high-demand religions, are proponents of investigating the psychological harm that comes from HDRGs and putting Religious Trauma Syndrome in the future DSM. And they explain why fundamentalist Christianity can be so damaging to people so clearly!

And I can’t seem to find out who coined HDRG, but Colleen Russell, LMFT, CGP, is an experienced therapist in the field with an excellent article on HDRG characteristics.

Crazy Love Review Ch 1: Please Stop Calling Humans Puny

We’re diving in to Chapter 1 of Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love this week: “Stop Praying.”

In case you missed my intro to Crazy Love last week, it’s a book that calls for American Christians to revitalize their notions of who God is (our breathtakingly powerful Maker) and live a radical, sacrificial, crazy-in-love-for-God life to prove it. Published in 2008, it swept through American Christian communities right onto the New York Times Bestsellers List. Millions of people have read Crazy Love, and I got to hear from some of you on Facebook and in the comments last week. Thank you to everyone for sharing your own thoughts and experience with the book! Seriously, it’s amazing to hear the beginnings of a discussion… I can’t wait to see what you have to add. 

I’m taking Crazy Love chapter by chapter to deconstruct the beautiful and the toxic in Chan’s ideas — and see how they echo larger issues with American conservative Christian theology in general.

This week’s theme: the harm that comes from calling humans puny in response to a mighty God.

“Stop Praying”: Tremendous God, puny humans

Francis Chan opens with a passionate preface, and I pulled this quote so we can get an idea of the writer’s own purpose…

This book is written for those who want more Jesus. It is for those who are bored with what American Christianity offers…

I believe He wants us to love others so much we go to extremes to help them. I believe He wants us to be known for giving — of our time, our money, and our abilities — and to start a movement of ‘giving’ churches. In so doing, we can alleviate the suffering in the world and change the reputation of His bride in America” (21).

Tall order, but sounds respectable, doesn’t it? From the start, Chan plays on the common knowledge that many Americans believe that Christians don’t live up to what they preach. That if God is really as life-changing as Christians claim, Christians’ lifestyles should go from “lukewarm, halfhearted, or stagnant” (22) to an undeniable display of God-driven service in the eyes of nonbelievers. In contrast, he paints a picture of “lives of risk and adventure” (21) that start by “address[ing] our inaccurate view of God, and consequently, of ourselves” (22). 

“Stop Praying” is the first step in that paradigm shift. “Stop Praying” is about reexamining what the Bible says about God, and what that implies about how crazy big and powerful he is. According to Chan, this realization should humble us beyond measure — the God of all things deigns to love and die for us?! — so much that we understand we owe Him our whole lives in service. Crazy Love’s call to paradigm and lifestyle shift rests on this notion.

And oh, did it ever stop me in my tracks. This is the chapter that blew the doors off my perception of how “big” God was. It’s also the chapter that blew the doors off my perception of how “puny” (38) I was supposed to be in contrast.

Chan starts out by having readers put down the book and watch a video, “The Awe Factor of God.” In it, Chan pulls a Neil DeGrasse Tyson for 3 minutes, narrating a zoom-out from planet Earth all the way to clusters of galaxies. Back in the book, he asks us readers why God would create all this. To Chan, the answer is, “perhaps God wanted us to see these pictures so that our response would be, ‘Who do I think I am?'” (26).

Chan goes on to a thrillingly beautiful description of God’s creations. As a Christian teen? I was obsessed with this passage. I read it ’til I could recite it. I watched that video on my bathroom floor til I cried. Chan dropped facts about the smallest details of creation: how many muscles are in a caterpillar’s head, or species of tree in a square mile of Amazon jungle (27). Chan wrote of a God who was creator of laughter, spider silk, goosebumps, and yes, galaxies. It was an effective reminder that if God was Creator like I was raised to believe, then he was unfathomably more brilliant, artistic, and original than I ever thought. It filled me with awe and inspiration.

This is why I find it so heartbreaking and hard to understand why, in the next paragraph, Chan would conclude that the span of creation means “know this: God will not be tolerated. He instructs us to worship and fear Him” (28).

Reading this now, years after deconstructing my faith, I mourn that this is Chan’s gut response to seeing the universe God supposedly created. Not that we might see ourselves reflected in the terrifying, breathtaking majesty of space as fellow creation or even simply that through it, God tells us about who he is and how powerful he is to care for and love us through it. It’s about self-deprecation. This gut response drives all the rest of Chan’s theology, ultimately so damaging to my own self-esteem.

Chan does it again in his next section. Loving God should be natural, he writes, and when it’s not, it means we’ve forgotten he’s the Creator. We need reminders, just like he’s reminded of how lucky he to be with his wife. Touching, but then he again puts love and fear side by side: “Because we don’t often think about the reality of who God is, we quickly forget that He is worthy to be worshipped and loved. We are to fear him” (30). 

So Chan sets out on a quick refresher on the attributes of God. 

  1. God is holy.
  2. God is eternal.
  3. God is all-knowing.
  4. God is all-powerful.
  5. God is fair and just.

In his definitions, Chan drives home that God is dimensions beyond our comprehension. We just can’t even. Some of this could inspire someone to joy or peace, thinking that a God who is huge beyond compare loves you: he should never stop having your back. I can no longer believe in a being that too good to be true, but I respect how hugely healing or comforting this could be or is to other people.

Instead, Chan writes, “Can you worship a God who isn’t obligated to explain His actions to you? Could it be your arrogance that makes you think God owes you an explanation? Do you really believe that compared to God, ‘all the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing,’ including you?” (34)

Chan concludes his chapter by imagining the events of Revelation 4 and Isaiah 6, where John and Isaiah, respectively, have fantastical and terrifying visions of what God’s throne in heaven looks like. Once again, instead of focusing on God’s strangeness and might, he turns his awe into self-belittlement:

“The appropriate way to end this chapter is the same way we began it — by standing in awed silence before a mighty, fearsome God, whose tremendous worth becomes even more apparent as we see our own puny selves in comparison” (38). 

The take home

Wow. Chan tells readers to take a breather after that first chapter, and I don’t know about you guys, but I need to… just not for the reasons he’s thinking.

Reading back on all this, I cannot believe the feat that Francis Chan accomplished by constructing a notion of God with so much potential to bring people wonder, peace, and joy… and then used that wonder, peace, and joy to break them down instead. See that? You’re puny. Who do you think you are?

I can’t make this up: he even wrote, “when you get your own universe, you can make your own standards” (34). It strikes me again and again how thoroughly Chan seems to be so un-self aware of how his “radical” theology discourages people from asking questions and finding worth in the grandeur of God without putting themselves down.

It’s taken me a long time to deconstruct my faith. I know some folks out there who’ve deconstructed their faiths and say that the universe does make them feel that humans are tiny and ineffectual in contrast. My view’s the opposite. I see the universe and I think of how incredible it is to be alive, how lucky we are to exist alongside it all. We are all welcome to our own interpretations of what it means to be here!

Where it gets red-flag dangerous is when people start to see people as truly unworthy. This is what Chan believes. Humans do not have the right to question God: “When we disagree, let’s not assume it’s His reasoning that needs correction” (34). Humans should understand that none of us are good. Humans should stop forgetting that God is so huge he automatically deserves our worship, love, and fear. Silly humans. Who do we think we are.

Can you see how poisonous it could be to someone to believe this, nevertheless be raised in it as a child? Imagine what it might do to their concept of what they’re worth? Can you hear how imbalanced the power dynamic is, that you are not even allowed to question God’s decisions? How can you love and respect a God whose rules are the rules simply because he’s bigger than you?

How Chan can promote a movement of Christians alleviating suffering and helping one another when he has such a low opinion of humans is beyond me.

Chan’s views are blunt. They were blunt even for my church. But we can’t pin it all on him. The idea that God is so big, therefore we are so nothing, is woven into Christian culture. How many times have you heard this Christianese:

He must increase, but I must decrease (John 3:30)
Apart from God we can do nothing (John 15:5)
Who are we to question God? (Job 38)
JOY: Jesus, Others, You
Who am I that the Lord of all the earth would care to know my name…
Who am I that You would be mindful of me…

The idea that people are little, powerless, have no agency, have no right to question the ~way things are~, is woven into Christianity through the very concept of original sin. Really? We are so inherently horrible, from birth, that we deserve nothing more than being tortured for eternity? I heard pastors even use a baby’s cry as a metaphor for sin.

I talk a LOT on this blog about all the harm that Christian theology can do to people’s relationships with themselves and the world around them. With all of that said, I think there is a way Christianity could stop that harm. Of course, I think you’d need to completely drop the concept of original sin itself to get there, or at least totally revamp it.

But here’s something I think is more feasible for Christians right now. Maybe this is still too radical. I’m not telling Christians what to do. I am making a plea from someone who loved, lived, and left it all because of this very thing.

Don’t take Francis Chan’s path. Don’t point to God’s size and wonder and go, that means we’re puny and are so unworthy of God’s love that we should grovel and remember how lucky we are all our lives. Point to it and say, that means God has our backs. That means some of that same potential, creativity, love, and brilliance is in us.

If God loves us while being that big, it means he doesn’t love us DESPITE it. It means he loves us because we DESERVE it.

I don’t know about you guys reading it, but that is a Christianity I could get behind. That is a Christianity that would build people up. That is a Christianity I might not have left.

So, that’s Chapter 1, and I promise that’s the least I can possibly go on about it. 😉 Wishing you guys a warm January so far… it’s been bomb cyclone weather over here in Massachusetts and I am FREEZING! Making hot chocolate and feeling love for all you, my recovering/transitioning/crossroads family. Stay tuned to read me share how I had to learn to live out my better self, I think you guys will resonate with it… til next time!

This one was extra long, so… pictures!


Crazy. Love?: First Review of Francis Chan’s Book, Crazy Love (and What it Reveals About Conservative Christianity)

If you were holy rollin’ like me in the late 2000s, you might have been part of the Francis Chan craze that swept conservative Christian circles across the nation — and the New York Times Bestsellers List.

Some of you might remember him. Tall, slim Chinese American guy with a book that took conservative Christian church Sunday Schools by storm. It was called Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God. Chris Tomlin, a darling of the contemporary Christian music world, did the forward, for chrissakes. And the book, well, it was supposed to awaken a revolution.

In some ways, Crazy Love WAS revolutionary. It was a bold, fierce, scolding reminder that if the Bible was completely true like Evangelicals insisted, then its God was inconceivably more powerful, beautiful, awe-inspiring, and terrifying than the American church currently acted. It urged Christians to embrace a new idea of what Christian looked like: to fall madly in love with such a god as this, and to live radical lives to prove it. “Because when you’re wildly in love with someone, it changes everything” (back cover.)

But it was so much more than even that. Because to Chan, if God was that unspeakably enormous, it followed that humans owed everything in service to him. Chan took conservative Christianity’s fondness of servitude and self-deprecation and burst out in full-throated insistence that anyone who thought God didn’t demand their obedience was absurd: “Can you worship a God who isn’t obligated to explain his actions to you? Could it be your arrogance that makes you think God owes you an explanation” (33)?

Chan came out and said it: all the toxic things conservative Christianity already believed about humans, but 10x more blunt.

  • He proclaimed that in the movies of our lives, we are extras in one scene with “two-fifths of a second where you can see the back of your head” (42).
  • That worry and stress “communicate that it’s okay to sin and not trust… [and] reek of arrogance” (42).
  • That no matter how good you try to be, your deeds will be like “menstrual garments (think used tampons)” (60).
  • That God’s “courting, luring, pushing, calling, and even ‘threatening’ demonstrate his love” (62).

In Chapter 3, Chan described the abuse he suffered under his own dad, and struggling to heal his ability to imagine a non-abusive love with the Heavenly Father. In Crazy Love, he then goes on to construct a dynamic between human and God that is horrifically abusive. The title of his next heading is “In Love with the One I Fear” (56). And that, I think, sums up the book. 

There is SO MUCH about broader conservative Christianity’s problems that we could talk about here. Crazy Love is, after everything, a perfect lesson, a magnification, of the psychologically toxic ideas conservative Christianity teaches about humans. Mental illness and basic human feelings are made into sin. Your life is not your own, and you’re insane to think otherwise. Don’t just understand you have no choice but to be God’s slave, you should be OVERJOYED for the opportunity. God is so amazing, you’re pathetic, Jesus had to die for you, and you just keep forgetting. Abusive dynamics are dressed up as the ultimate love. 

Crazy love.

In fact, skimming the book, this is some of what I can talk about in this review:

Chapter 1 (Stop Praying): Chan says that Christianity’s God is beautifully incredible (and this is where my love for God came from; the accompanying videos shook me), but turns this around to say he’s so big you have to worship and fear him by default, and for you to question the order of things is just arrogant. Like a fire devouring what it burns on, God’s greatness runs on humans’ supposed patheticness.
Chapter 2 (You Might Not Finish This Chapter)Chan showcases Christianity’s fondness for “death scare”, aka trying to worry people into accepting the message faster by reminding them how short life is and that there’s a chance hell could be real.
Chapter 3 (Crazy Love — so well named)Chan proposes that people being afraid of God isn’t right. You have to love AND fear him, then it’s fine. He writes about his experiences with parental abuse with seemingly no self-awareness about creating a new abusive dynamic between himself and God.
Chapter 4 (Profile of the Lukewarm)Just a straight up list of what American Christians are doing wrong today.
Chapter 5 (Serving Leftovers to a Holy God)Chan convicts lukewarm Christians with Biblical backup that God thinks they’re evil, so useless they’d ruin manure, and wants to spit them out. God demands everything you have.
Chapter 6 (When You’re in Love): By making your entire life about making God look good and realizing how tiny you are, you will become free, because that’s what love does. Here we see the language getting as intense and weirdly sexual as lots of prayers and CCM: “Be all in me. Take all of me. Have your way with me” (111).
Chapter 7 (Your Best Life… Later)It’s foolish to seek fulfillment outside of God, and the only way to please Him is by total surrender. You should give up your time, income, job, and entire lifestyle to advance God’s kingdom.
Chapter 8 (Profile of the Obsessed)A list of what people who are “obsessed” with God do: love everyone who hates them, put God’s kingdom before their very safety and lives, connect with the poor, look weird to mainstream society, are intimate with God, live thinking about heaven, can never be humble enough and take slavery as joy.
Chapter 9 (Who Really Lives That Way?)Inspiring stories (including his own megachurch.)
Chapter 10 (The Crux of the Matter): So how are you supposed to change your lifestyle? Pray about it. God will tell you. 

Why am I doing this?

I spent 18 years, from birth,  in the world of Evangelicalism. When I think back on what it was like, I see magic. I smell campfire smoke, wild, tangy and familiar as my own blood, hear the thick snaps of sparks and the wind in the darkness as I pledged myself to a whirlwind romance, an all-out pursuit of a god who held me in everything. I see the morning light falling in meek golden bars against my palm as I turned the pages of my devotional, the red spotting my knees from praying so long on my bedroom floor. But most of all I remember the feelings. Our congregation, our family, in the dim warmth of the sanctuary, one in minor-chord melody. The explosion of emotions in my chest when I stood in a lake with storm rain lashing my face as I begged God to show me his. My heart, on a Sunday morning, full to burst with sensations I could not name.

So I called it love. 

Crazy Love was a huge part of helping me see it. This magic I called love.

It has taken me so long to see the crazy.

LOVED this book. I read it again and again in my head, and every time I was interrupted I went back and read the whole chapter again. I watched the accompanying videos over and over on my bathroom (and bedroom) floor until I cried. Skimming it now, I walk the paragraphs as familiar as streets from my childhood.

I loved Chan’s understanding of how amazing God was. I never saw how deeply his conclusions about what that meant for us as human beings fucked me up. Until now.

And I still have this book, because when I left and lost my faith, I held onto it as proof that I wasn’t making up everything I had believed and the passion with which I believed it. Now, it’s time to make use of it.

This review is my hope to make it up to myself. To honor the awe and beauty and glory I saw in everything God, could be and the love our relationship could have. To explain myself forgiveness for all the reasons why this cosmic romance, electrified by Chan’s Crazy Love, turned so abusive that it destroyed my very concept of self. And to open this conversation up to others. Your stories, your feelings, your adventures and your hurt. To talk about what it is to be in crazy love.

When I was looking up Francis Chan videos to share in this intro, I came across a Ted Talk by a woman who’s now one of my favorite humans. Her name is Lilia Tarawa, and she left Gloriavale, a Christian cult in New Zealand. When she speaks of the good memories of her upbringing, you should see the smile on her face. But just a few minutes later, her voice breaks as she describes the pain of the dysfunction, trauma, and abuse that came with them. I hear echoes of my Christianity, and Crazy Love itself, in her story.

How beautiful and radical Francis Chan’s idea of God was, the God of E-minor and pine needles. And how fucking terrible his view of humans is, that believing means “beating your body and making it your slave”. How it all went so very wrong. How it hurt me beyond belief. And I’m writing this because I bet there are others out there too.

See, Francis Chan has a huge influence. In 1994, he founded Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California. Crazy Love, published in 2008, sold over 2 million copies, followed by Forgotten God and Erasing Hell. By the time he left in 2010, it was a 4000-member megachurch, and by some accounts, a cult. He is Chancellor and Founder of Eternity Bible College. He has spoken at major conferences to tens of thousands, and he now leads We Are Church, a San Francisco-based network of house churches. His ideas have reached so many people.

Other than other Christians put off by Chan’s radicalism, I have not found any articles about how Crazy Love hurts. No one is talking about it. So I’ll start. I invite you to follow along. And, maybe, talk a little about it too.

I’ll try to post one chapter a week, 10 in total. And all of them, I think, are just already-toxic ideas and tendencies in conservative Christianity taken to the extreme.

Francis Chan’s book is a perfect example of so many of the more “mainstream” Christian ideas that hurt human self-esteem, minds, and hearts. And I mean to drag every one out into the open.

So, here we go. This is Crazy Love.





I went to visit my grandparents in Brooklyn this weekend to see them for the first time in almost a year. It was hard for a number of reasons, but mostly because I haven’t seen anyone in my family for nearly a year. Nearly a year since I came out to my family, nearly a year since they stopped paying for tuition at my college, nearly a year since my independence became my liberation.

I consider myself estranged, but it’s complicated. Complicated like, in the process of cutting myself off from the two people who are the problem, I had to cut myself from two people who aren’t. Complicated like, that’s why I traveled for 7 hours this Saturday to see my grandparents for the first time in a year.

I’m not going home for Thanksgiving — which is partially why I took that trip. My grandparents don’t know what happened. They don’t understand the particulars of my parents loved their church more than they loved supporting me where I was at. All they knew is, I hadn’t been back in a year and they didn’t know if I would be. So I went back. 

If I could have my way, I wouldn’t be back for Christmas either. Maybe I won’t. I told my grandparents I would, just for that day. But the reality is, it would be like stepping back into the past, into everything I ran from, everything I’ve worked for years to mentally escape and paid for to physically escape. Into a room full of people who never really met me,who only saw the girl I was when I was still trapped, still brainwashed, still desperate and hurting and hoping. Such a timid, standoffish, limited girl. That is not who I am anymore. That is so far past who I am.

In the eight or so months since I became independent, everything about me has changed. It feels like my whole soul gets transfigured in a new way every week, and it’s liberating as all hell. My outlook on life, my life itself, is so radically different. But going back threatens to strip it all away for the time while I’m there.

On the bus back, watching the buttery yellows of the sky melt into raw pale blues behind the dimming silhouettes of houses, I reflect on what I’d do this time around if my past came back at me for a second round. If someone was on top of me I’d fight dirtier. If I ran away again, I wouldn’t come back. If I threw a punch I’d make sure it was a knockout. If I snuck a vitamin into the toilet I’d remember to flush. If they turned on those cameras throughout the corners of the house, I’d smash ’em. Shit like that.

But the reality is back then, I didn’t have any of the power I have now. None of the perspective. No money saved up. No distance. No one willing to help me when shit went down, because shit had not gone down yet. No, it was just me, just me and a duffel bag and a map of the roads to walk down when my parents’ home became a home to them alone. The way it went down is the only way it could have gone down.

I’ve recovered from so much more than I ever imagined. There are still some knots to tug at, though, reminders of how powerful old ghosts can be even when you’ve banished them from most parts of you. I still feel a shot of terror as I flinch when my roommate walks in the door. I still angle my computer screen away from corners of the ceiling. I still have trouble setting down my phone, and the password is twice as long as average. I still cry and feel violated when sex hurts. I still have flashbacks. I still feel unbridled bouts of rage when I see the people involved in my former high demand religious groups. I still have trauma anniversaries — including Thanksgiving and Christmas season itself — times when it feels the past all congeals together and comes rushing back to swallow me whole, to forget who I am, to forget that it’s over.

I still have that duffel bag packed. It’s in my closet. Part of me thinks it always should be. I should never forget what I came from, it makes all this joy and freedom sweeter — and realer. It represents so much pain, so much fear, so much from the long stretches of time I thought I was going to die. That suffering is still the most familiar thing to me. Sometimes it is even a comfort. It is what I turn to. It is what I know.

Because it IS all I knew. At least two Christmases, I was suicidal. Thanksgivings, too, I was forced into traumatic situations without exception, and I was always with my family when it happened. I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to become that person again. I rooted out most of the psychological toll it all took on me. But at times like those, it comes roaring out of the corner. I feel engulfed in despair, in horror, in disempowerment. It feels like it’s still happening. I almost forget the person I am now.

Winter holidays are hard for me. I’ve set down a lot of the baggage digging deep into my shoulders, but I still have a duffel in the closet.