They Said Walking Away from God was Impossible. Watch Me.

From the very beginning, they said there was no walking away. They said I was in the palm of God’s hand, and nothing, no power of hell, no scheme of man, could ever pluck me out. They said no matter what happened, even if I somehow (gasp) stopped being a Christian, if God wanted me, he would always find a way to bring me back to him.

From the very beginning, God was it. Being “on fire” for him, serving him, being a living sacrifice for him, dying to myself so that he would increase – that was always the only life worth living. That was the only life that was possible to live.

I was born and raised in a church that taught that I exist is to stroke God’s ego glorify God. It proclaimed that without a relationship with God, without completely surrendering and sacrificing your life to him, without killing the self you were before you dedicated your very being to him and begging him to break and reshape you according to his will, well, life was completely and utterly empty, void of meaning, dark. Worthless. (Cue the crashing piano.)

It painted non-Christians as unsafe, depraved fools, conspirators, and enemies. It said that these poor people were like clueless babies, and we, the enlightened and blessed, were to, ah …humbly preach God’s message. This way, they too could have the only thing that made life remotely worth living. (Misery loves company?) It said that nonbelievers knew, deep down, that God exists. Those atheists were just denying it because they didn’t want to have to give up their lives to God. Can’t imagine why not.

And those people who left? The people who believed for years and years and years, who studied the Bible and sang and tithed with the rest of us, who were even worship leaders or Sunday School teachers or pastors themselves? They were never true believers. Because no one could ever know the only True Love in the universe and walk away from it.

And even if they somehow did? Well, God would hunt them down, just like he did Jonah. He would shipwreck us and we would come back. Someone we loved would die, or we’d lose our jobs or houses or minds, and God would use it to show us just how very powerless and useless we were without him. How generous.

All my life, all along, the message was crystal clear. Since some lady at the beginning of time chomped on a forbidden fruit, obviously all of humanity was utterly depraved forever and deserved to be eaten alive by worms for the rest of fiery eternity. Duh. I was worth less than a used tampon by my very nature.

But God, bless his heart, had the generosity to get tortured to death on a dead tree, even though nobody even asked, thus saving us all from ourselves – all for the low, low price of killing our spirits and pledging to unquestioningly obey and serve God forever as his children, slaves, and bride all rolled into one! And this was the epitome of love, by the way. So much so that non-Christians didn’t even know what real love was.

I have decided to follow Jesus, I sang, over and over and over. No turning back. No turning back.

I’ve heard that C-PTSD is especially tough on people who have got no concept of themselves before their trauma. They lived in danger ever since they could remember. It was all they knew. 

For myself and others who were raised in Evangelical/Baptist/Fundamentalist Christianity, leaving feels impossible because we have no concept of being people without believing and living out all this crap. It’s like we get Jesus Juice through an IV.

And then we stop believing. And that alone is hell enough. It takes months or years and some of us barely survive. It’s been roughly 5 years for me, and I’m still barely surviving it some days. Just the mere idea that I once knew the “Truth” and walked away from it – I never once imagined that could happen to me. And besides, I knew nothing about the secular world. It was supposed to be dangerous and utterly empty and depressing and blah blah blah. Even if I wanted to leave, how would I?

But it turns out, you can stop believing. Your entire world can melt away around you. And for a long time, yeah, it’ll blow your mind, because almost everything you loved and believed in turns out to be a bullshit casserole – there’s layers on layers of just how fucked up it all was. And for so long too, you’ll be shell-shocked. Because you don’t know how to exist, how to LIVE, without serving God, thanking him for everything, constantly apologizing and afraid and guilty and alert. Because you weren’t supposed to escape. And there will be so many others you know who didn’t, so why did you? 

But you are here. Surviving. And slowly, like a thaw, you learn how to live. And how to leave. And oh yeah, it’s fucking terrifying, and you don’t know what the hell you’re doing. But there is a point, a constellation of many points actually, where you actually start to want to be a person and live without God. To own yourself for the first time. And you may not see it coming, but it happens. And you’re doing it, as messy and awkward and funny and hard as shit that it is. Look, Ma, no hands!

There is no one point when you simply leave. You’re always leaving. It’s the art of leaving. You leave when you drink for the first time and a girl puts her hand on your thigh. You leave when you wake up late on a Sunday and the birds are chirping and you got nothing planned. You leave when you pick up a new hobby, strike up a conversation, start saving up for that tattoo. You leave from breath to breath as you exist, as you do and recover and feel and build what you want. You leave by living. And it’s fucking awesome. Ex-fundies do the impossible every day. Call us stuntmen.

They said I could never have a fulfilling life without God. I say, watch me.

2017 Resolution: This Story is Mine, and God No Longer Gets a Part.

 

 

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in yet another Sunday church service, waiting for it to finally end because look, they had lunch ready and there were meatballs and listening to a pastor spout off about how porn is satanic makes a girl hungry, damnit!

But prayer time dragged on. And on. It was about that time in service when people were praying (and crying) on the floor, and there was this one person who was just going at it. Sobbing so hard. Minutes passed. I was a little freaked out. But honestly, more hungry than anything.

And then finally someone appeared in the front of the room. Hallelujah. Meatball time.

If only.

I wanted the guy to open his mouth and say, “alright, time for lunch, let’s wrap it up!” That is not what the guy said. Instead the guy said, “today, in this church, a boy was just saved!” And everybody clapped. (Except me. I shuddered and whispered good game, obviously.)

At that point I was still young and naive. I was still hoping that meatballs were gonna be a thing. Except that wasn’t meatballs coming round to the mic. It was a kid, the one who just got “saved,” and he was a complete and total wreck. He had a piece of paper in his hands. He stood in front of the mic and he opened his mouth and my dreams of meatballs and emotional stability for the day shattered into a hundred little pieces.

Dear God,” he said, “only you know how much of a piece of trash I am.” That was his opening. He was sobbing so hard he could barely whisper. As his “testimony” went on, sometimes he couldn’t even do that. He called himself a liar of liars. I was crying with him at that point. He looked broken. He looked so broken.

He spit out the phrase “Internet porn” like a knot of wet hair, and my mind flew back to the sermon we’d all just heard, the one where the pastor proclaimed that porn was under the cloud of Satan (wherever the hell that is), the one that I joked off in my head but had probably ripped this kid’s heart to pieces. That one.

This boy was breaking my heart. I wanted to reach out and hug him. I was crying and shaking. This boy, standing right in front of me, was so convinced that he was disgusting, worthless. He was so ready to enter into an abusive relationship with God, the kind that had almost killed me, that I’m still to this day trying to survive. He looked and sounded so broken, that’s all I could keep thinking. In that moment, I thought, he looked anything but free.

And as I was sitting there, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, brokenhearted, the founder of the church sprang out of her front row seat, took the mic, and said, “He is free now!” And everybody clapped.

She talked and talked on. She was talking about nonsense. The boy stood next to her, saying nothing, motionless, his head slumped to his chest, staring at the floor. It was like there was nothing in him.

At one point she said, “Let’s all sing Our God Is So Good!” And everyone sang, except me, who was staring at this woman by now with unmitigated horror and hate. Did everyone else in the room really think this was normal? They applauded this boy for saying that he was a piece of trash. Three separate times.

We eventually did get to lunch. I wasn’t hungry by then, but I still ate. At least one thing that day went right. The meatballs were great.

A girl struck up a conversation with me. She looked me in the eyes and said, “yes, before that boy got saved God saw him as trash, and even now that he’s saved he’s still a piece of trash.” On the way back I wanted to scream. PEOPLE ARE WORTH SOMETHING.

Which is, I think, what leads me here. Today.

It’s been months and months since something happened that rocked me to my core. I thought I was going to die. I’ve spent months since wishing that I did. I didn’t want to live. I knew I was going to get cut off from my parents for being a queer nonbeliever. I didn’t want to survive that. I didn’t see the point. 

But the day after that service, wanting to live came. I was sitting down with my eyes closed when it came. I was trying to imagine a future (an exercise in impossibility, it felt like.) But it came. It came without warning, like a riptide, from somewhere below my throat. It was visceral, sudden, full-bodied, and all of a sudden it was like all of my being was lunging toward that one image of my future self. And God, this sounds so corny, so dramatic, but I swear in those moments, I felt my future self touch me.

I want, I thought, a life without him.

A life in which God has no part. He has always been a part of this. He has been my father, my master, my owner. When he existed I belonged to him. There was no other reason to live. When he stopped existing, I felt like I did too.

I still carry him in my heart, my mind. Still talk to him, still make myself relive the horror he put me through, still get triggered by things that remind me of him.

Ever since that day at the pond, with Tyler Glenn blaring in the background, I wanted to leave him behind. But I didn’t know how. I didn’t know how to leave something that lived in my own head and heart. I didn’t know how to live a life without either loving God or mourning him. Without flashbacks and fear, longing and loss. 

But I’m ready now, I thought, sitting there with wanting in my chest. I remembered the boy, broken, in church while all of his supposed friends applauded him on.

I saw, there, that there is nothing left for me in church. I saw all of the pain and horror that I had been put through as a believer. That’s what I needed to finally hate him. To say, enough. To say, I’m leaving you, I am above you, I deserve and deserved more than you. To say, you are an abuser, and I will be bigger than you ever were. I’ll create a life in which you have no part, neither presence nor absence. You are no longer a factor. 

So that’s what I’m doing in 2017. I’m building a life separate from him. He always said I was nothing without him. So wrong. I am everything without him.

I will do what has to get done to survive on my own when my family cuts me off. I will try to recover – from depression, situational mutism, binge eating, religious trauma. I will do my best in school, learn because I mean it, work toward grad school and a social work license. I’ll have fun along the way, damnit. I’ll drink, love, hangglide, visit parts, play with dogs, wake up late on Sundays. If God was a “real life” abuser, this is the part where I set the GPS, pack the car, take the dog with me.

Take a good last look, God. I’m leaving. 

Life Update: I Want to Help People Recover from Religion, Social Work Style!

Alright, I’ve been sitting on this news for way longer than I’d like, but I’ve been so swamped lately that I haven’t had time to write it out. Finally, here it is…

I finally figured out what I might wanna do after college!

I want to be a social worker, combining clinical work and community building to help people who are marginalized.

Whether at a political nonprofit, and university with queer or non-white students, and community center with Asian Americans and immigrants… I wanna be a therapist and an activist, helping people heal, grow, organize, and work for change, so that communities can become better places for the people living in them.

This is… new for me. I was absolutely against looking into social work at first, actually. I’d just lost someone dear who was related to the field, and I’d always had a negative view of social work. But multiple different people told me, once I spouted off a few things I might want to do as a career, that that’s exactly what social work is! 

So… I started going to my university’s professional development center, talked to a career counselor, and after months of research and thinking and dreaming, here I am. Boom.

Here’s the best part: I’m most passionate about working with people who are recovering from or transitioning away from their religious communities or lives (GOD do I need a shorter way to say that!) I especially feel for young people like me who are trapped in religious environments and will be punished or disowned if they leave.

I’ve got dreams. I want to be a therapist, but I also really want to build a community of ex-religious people and organizations to help us. Maybe one day we could have a shelter for kids escaping abusive religious homes or cults. And an organization that provides both counseling and legal/financial/housing support for recovery and leaving. And so on.

This is how I’m pursuing that dream…

I’ve officially declared my majors, Psychology and Sociology. My university doesn’t have a bachelor’s SW degree, but Psych and Soc are just as well (and while I’m wary about majoring in Psych, I love Soc, which also just fell into my lap this semester.) 

Also… I finally went ahead and became an agent on Recovering from Religion’s Hotline/Chatline! I’ve been wanting to since last spring, but I didn’t feel ready til now, and I’m so excited. Hearing people’s stories, being there to support others who’ve been hurt by or are trying to live beyond their religions, that’s unspeakably awesome.

also applied for a fellowship with my university. I proposed internships about therapy with people exiting/recovering from religion, and the interview gave me lots to think about presenting myself for jobs, internships, and grad school in the future. People have lots of misconceptions about what “recovering from religion” might mean, lemme tell ya.

And of course, I am still co-running The Art of Leaving, a blog for people who are recovering from and building lives after harmful religions.

Finally, next semester, I just might start my own Recovering from Religion support group on campus.

I never imagined myself here, and I’m still wrapping my head around it

All this future planning and daydreaming and gushing is great, don’t get me wrong, but I’m still trying to come to terms with it.

Four years ago, God owned me. I was going to go to a Bible Institute for 2 years, try to figure out how God wanted to use life for his glory. I would’ve ended up in ministry or missionary work. Weeks ago, students from an Evangelical college came to sociology class, and I sat on one side of the room thinking how easily I could have ended up on the other.

Now I’m here. Struggling to survive. Barely hanging in there. Yet doing these things, nursing these dreams, to help other people leave the God I once loved with all I had.

I did the one thing I was never supposed to do. The thing I prayed and prayed I would never do. Leave. And now, I want to do maybe the most blasphemous thing I can think of… Help other people leave. I’m truly an elect gone rogue. 😛

This is where I’m at. Can I wrap my head around it yet? NOPE. But two things come to mind. First, a Nayyirah Waheed poem from Nejma.

“do not choose the lesser life. do you hear me. do you hear me. choose the life that is. yours. the life that is seducing your lungs. that is dripping down your chin.”

This is a life I can get behind. Activism. Community building. Counseling. Helping people find or create the power to build better lives. Micro and macro. Heretic helper. Apostate ally. Rooting for the marginalized. At a nonprofit, within a community, with a fox, in a box, these are my green eggs and ham. This is the life that is dripping down my chin.

And second, this inspiring piece by Yasmine, an ex-Muslim who’s got some serious heart.

“And we will pave the way. Every scar on our hearts, our minds, and sometimes our bodies, will be worth it, because the next generation of ex-Muslims will have it easier. We are making sure of that. They will never know what if feels like to be completely alone because we will reach out to them online, no matter where they are on the globe. They will never feel like they are crazy. They will never feel like they are the only one on the planet to ever feel this way. They will never feel like they have no choice but to follow the status quo. We will be their net. And we will be there for them if they happen to fall.”

This is why I blog, why I want to work with and for the ex-religious. Because no one understands the struggles, the victories, the needs, the wishes, of people who are looking to leave harmful religions like we do ourselves. Because no one will care to talk about or help us until we make the conversations happen. Because we stop feeling so alone/crazy/hopeless once we know that other people are going through this too, that they survived, that they’re there to listen.

We have to build our own community, across former religions, between former Catholic and cult, former Muslim and Mormon. We have to write our own blogs and articles, share our own stories, build our own networks. And that’s what we’re doing. 

That’s what I’ll be doing, too. I hope you’ll join me.

Rambly Thoughts on Survival in the Age of Trump

These past two weeks have been a doozy, hasn’t they? It seems like the night of Tuesday, November 8 was just the start of a string of terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. And this upcoming Thanksgiving week, for many of us who are closeted nonbelievers or queer people with very religious families or communities, is gonna be even more hellish.

I didn’t see what happened on Tuesday night coming. At all. I didn’t believe for a second that just over half of the people who voted would choose to put their confidence in a man who has openly and boldly run a campaign on anti-immigrant, anti-Latinx, anti-Black, anti-Muslim, and misogynistic (etc.) language, but is also woefully inexperienced and ludicrously inconsistent in the very policies he claims to pursue, and I mean ludicrously.

But as I sat with friends and fellow students and watched the map on the screen turn redder and redder and redder, I watched that faith slip away. Down to the very moment Donald Trump finished his acceptance speech, I hoped against hope that this was wrong. They counted wrong, or he’s about to admit that this was all just one big fat fucked up social experiment and then turn the victory over to Hillary.

But, as we all know, that’s not what happened. Instead, we woke up to what felt like a different world, and many people – people of color, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, sexual assault survivors, queer people, etc. – on my campus felt absolutely devastated. Before November 8, they believed that the majority of Americans would prioritize their lives and freedoms, that blatant and unabashed prejudice would be enough for make voting for Trump unthinkable. It wasn’t. Not only was their sense of safety lost as prejudiced attacks peaked around their country, but their trust in their neighbors was destroyed as well. Some people decided to cut out all relationships with Trump supporters out of their lives completely, losing childhood friendships in the process.

When I woke up on Wednesday morning, though, one thought in my mind stood out to me: I’ve been here before. I know how to do this. 

Losing trust in other people’s goodness? Knowing that friends and family value misinformation and lies over your liberty and equality? Feeling even less physically safe than you did before?

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

As many of you know, I was raised Evangelical. I was insulated in a very Christian bubble: taught to believe that nonbelievers are dangerous, foolish, and wicked, that life without Christ is utterly empty and worthless, etc. I could go on, but it’s a story I’ve told on this blog so many times already.

When I realized that everything I had been taught to believe, love, and trust in was not only illogical, but straight up abusive, my world came apart. I have been rebuilding a new one ever since.

One thing I realized, once I stopped drinking the Kool-Aid, is that I couldn’t come out and say it, or I risked losing everything. It was and is so painful to keep pretending I love a god whose loss I barely survived, whose loss I’m still surviving today. But I had no other options if I wanted to stay safe. If my parents ever found out that I was a nonbeliever, AND queer, I didn’t know what they would do, but I doubted it would be pretty and I did not want to find out.

All of that ^^^ makes for a hell of a week/month/summer whenever I have to head back home for a break. So when, after the election, people began asking “how am I supposed to sit across the table from people whose votes are an affront to my very worth as a person?” all I could think was welcome to the club! Let me show you around.

And when people kicked into gear, saying things like “we have to organize, we have to plan, we have to be ready for what’s coming,” I just thought about the escape plan in my head, the runaway packed and ready at all times in my closet, the ways I trained myself to be cold and unafraid and to do what must be done.

All this to say, in a new era where we have no idea what the President-Elect of the United States intends to do, what he will try to do, or what he will actually be able to accomplish (he’s already doubled back on several policies: for instance, now he’s cool with same-sex marriage and also Obamacare), I feel like I’ve got a little training. When you find out that people aren’t who you thought or hoped they’d be, when you can’t wrap your head around why they do what they do, when you don’t know what’s going to happen to you, this is what you do.

You process it all.

You let yourself grieve the loss of what you believed.

You stay critical of mainstream messages about your situation (like this is all solely due to white supremacy! and every single Trump supporter is a racist piece of shit!)

You remember, like your professor said, that accepting simple answers to complicated problems is just another form of ignorance. 

You try to understand, no matter how tough, where the other side is coming from, and whether any can be won over or helped to see the flaws in their thinking.

You do your research, triage, figure out worst-case scenarios (will your family disown you? // is Trump gonna eliminate the EPA, strike all regulations on coal and fracking, deport undocumented immigrants, block anti-discrimination laws for LGBT+ people, etc.?)

You plan, and do little and big work to survive (figure out the nearest homeless shelter and how to get there // donate if you can, call representatives, organize in your local area)

You stick with people who get what you’re going through, but don’t let it become an echo chamber.

What comes to my mind, in the end, is this: so far, I have a 100% survival rate. I have survived everything that’s come my way, more or less. I have survived it all. Even when I believed for certain that I would not. Even when I hoped and dreamt that I would not, because I could see no reason to.

This last bit is for fellow people who are scared, hurt, angry, etc. by this election. Queer, immigrant, non-white, survivor, whoever you are.

I’m still here. You’re still here. After whatever you have already been through in life – after it all.

We can survive this too. If you need help or a friend, reach out. If Thanksgiving is gonna be tough, brace yourself for it and come up with an emergency plan in case it gets to be too much. Allow yourself to feel what you feel, but keep thinking for yourself, in response to both what you see on liberal social justice-y social media and what you hear from Trump supporters around the dinner table. Think of what you can do to damage control what Trump may or will do, and start doing that; plug into community organizing groups, if that’s what you’re into.

So far, we’ve survived it all. People before us have survived far, far worse. This isn’t easy, but if you’re like me, you’ve been here before, and you’re still here. You’ll survive Thanksgiving, and you can try to survive this too. I know you can.

Life Has No Purpose, and That is Freedom: Vignettes from an Ex-Christian

It’s been years since that night. Those nights. But I still remember them, still turn the memory over in my palm like a small river stone: the bonfire bristling with thick snaps of sparks, soft crackles, insistent heat. The stars glimmering quietly in their shadowy seats up above the glassy black lake, among the silhouettes of towering trees.

There I was on the hill, surrounded by believers, the air laced with cricket song and sweetish smoke, the cold sliding down my throat. In those moments everything felt alive and thrumming, sacred and old. It was easy, then, to look up at the dark summer sky and see God. To feel him moving among us. To love him. Oh, more than anything, to love him.

It was so easy. Easier still to rise when the preacher called, pick my way down the incline and take a stick from one of the servers, stare deep into that flickering fire as I prayed for God to forgive me for not giving him my all, to help me do that now. Easiest of all to throw that stick into the flames, a symbol of my decision to follow God for the rest of my forever. He was my God, and I was his. We were the fire. All else was just smoke. 

– – – – – – – – – –

I was 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 then. In my life, I’ve thrown a lot of sticks into a lot of bonfires. Walked down a lot of church aisles, knelt on a lot of different spots on my bedroom floor. Growing up Evangelical, pledging my wholehearted servitude to an invisible being every few months was a given.

For little me, it quickly became a sacred and comforting ritual. Sit in a pew and listen to a sermon. “Convicted by the Spirit,” realize in horror and shame that I hadn’t been giving all that I was to God. Immediately come before him, “broken,” lavishing him with passionate apologies, praise, promises. Humbly ask that he “reveal to me his plan” and help me, despite my selfish, weak soul, to “live for him.” No matter the cost.

Vowing my eternal allegiance to the God of the Universe was easy. All I had to do was throw a stick into a fire. I watched it burn. Afterward, when I closed my eyes and sang, all of creation sang with me. What else was worth singing for?

– – – – – – – – – –

My knees to my chest, bare feet on the cold hardwood floor, I shifted a little. One of the legs of my bed was digging into my back. I don’t know how old I was – 14, 15, 16? However old, I was small. I felt small.

The words had been there in my head for I don’t know how long. Once, when I was younger, I was brushing my teeth when a centipede slithered out of one of the holes in the bathroom sink and I screamed. This feels like that. Like those words had been hiding, hideous and horrific, just behind the porcelain.

I knew what the words were even though I had never thought them. Now, it was time to think them. I put my hand flat against my bedpost to steady myself. The words spoke themselves. What if, they whispered. What if this relationship with God isn’t working. What if this relationship with God isn’t working because it was never going to work. What if He’s not there. What if heaven is empty. I sat so still. But no bolt of lightning came. No light erupted through the ceiling. No blindness struck. What if heaven is empty.

– – – – – – – – – –

I swing my legs gently, letting my heels bump up against the cobblestone ledge of Chapels’ Pond. The sky above me is a melt of blue, fletched with soft-edged clouds. I sigh and rub my eyes. I’m tired. I’m tired.

Behind me is the Christian chapel on my college campus. I just spent three hours sobbing uncontrollably in its sanctuary while my computer grinded out Tyler Glenn’s solo album, EXCOMMUNICATION. I burst out with bitter laughter when I got to “keep on living, keep on living, keep on living.” When I heard “I found myself when I lost my faith,” I lost it.

It’s been 2 years since I started college, leaving my family and church behind. But I haven’t forgotten the summer before I started college, the summer I realized – that God I threw sticks into bonfires for, he was a monster and a myth – and all the rage hate disgust confusion terror and desperation made a lump in my throat I couldn’t swallow. I also haven’t forgotten the summer before this year. Both summers, I stood in front of my bathroom sink with a cup full of chemicals on my lips.

I didn’t expect to last this long. There’s a little person in me who isn’t a fan of tomorrows. Now that God’s gone, for her, there’s no point in living. And even if there is, it won’t last long anyway. In the closet in my dorm room there’s a plaid red backpack. In my head is the length of time it’ll take to walk to the nearest homeless shelter from my parents’ house. After all, once my parents find out I’m a queer nonbeliever, it’ll be over. They’ll disown me. They’ve threatened over less. And once that happens, I’ll either die or finally down that Drano. I don’t want to survive. What purpose is there in living? God and I used to be the fire. Turns out I’m just the stick.

But as I sit at that pond, legs swinging, something begins to ripen inside me. Words swell up from a place I haven’t been in a long time. What if, they whisper. What if you’re right. What if there is no point in living. A bird swoops down to settle among the leaves. What if you don’t need a reason to live, except to just live. A little orange fish nips at a lily pad and the pond puckers with tiny quiet ripples. Would you ask a birch what it’s doing here? Would you ask the rain its purpose? Would you ask Jupiter why it spins?

What if you’re right. Life is meaningless. There’s no point in being here. There’s no plan for your life to be revealed, there’s no one to follow or serve, there’s no single sacred reason to keep breathing. The sky’s blue is deep as a voice now. You’re here because your mom had scientists cook you up in a Petri dish. There are no rules. No expectations. You’re here. You’re now. What are you gonna do with that?

And suddenly the backdrop of death I’ve been carrying around with me for so long falls away, and I see life, I see everything ahead of me. And it is vast and bright and beautiful. 

Whatever you want. You don’t have to die. You can plan to survive what your parents will bring you. Save up. Fight for your voice back. Recover from God. Change your name. Get tattoos. Forgive yourself. Wake up early. Sleep late. Skip math class. Go hang gliding. Learn the back handspring. Study Polish. Move countries. Make friends. Lose them. Write blog posts no one might ever read. Kiss a girl. Get drunk. Camp out in a national park. Roast marshmallows over the stove. Let people see you. Let people love you. Let yourself love.

I don’t know how to leave God once and for all. I don’t know how to make him leave me. But I want to learn, I think. I think I can try to learn. No matter how long it takes. How hard it gets. I have lost my God; I have lost myself; I have lost the fire, and the stars, the hill and the lake and the cold. Look at how little I have left to lose. Look at how much I have now to gain. I still have the smell of smoke on my skin. But maybe, just maybe, with time and a whole lot of fresh air, I could make my own sparks.

Cover image by ninniane of Flickr ]

When God is Love, but God is a Monster

[ Image is a meme I have seen in multiple places, but can’t find credit for. ]

What do you do when you love a monster?

(Cue In Love with a Monster by Fifth Harmony in the background… Zoinks.)

I’ve been struggling so much in the past month… a few things always on my mind, and of course, all of them have to do with God. It doesn’t help that Tyler Glenn’s been dropping a new song every Friday and his album (EXCOMMUNICATION) debuts on October 21. GDMML Girls, Gates, and Midnight all have me wrecked further than I already was.

So unfortunately I’m not feeling irreverent or cheeky today. I wanted to let you all know about the Ex-Religious Resource Directory I’ve been working on; celebrate me realizing that I want to become a social worker to help the ex-religious (it was so exciting); spotlight Tyler Glenn and how incredibly important his songs are to me from one non-heterosexual religion-leaver to another. But this is the post I have to offer you, here, today.

I don’t know what love is. To be completely honest? I don’t think it exists. And if it does, the last thing people should do is trust it.

I used to know what love was. God was love. God was the paragon of true love itself. God was the only person who would EVER love me fully and permanently. That was because God knew how ugly and selfish I was, am, and will be, and he still accepted me anyway. No human, even people who were supposed to love me like my parents, could ever love me like God did, because God was love. In fact, the only reason humans are capable of love is because even while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:8)

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:16)

I used to know what love was. God was not just love, he was Love. Love died on the cross for me and he died once more every time I sinned. Love shaped me while I was in my mother’s womb, knew me before I was born. Love walked with me beside still waters. Was with me through the valley of the shadow of death. Love restored my soul.

Love was there when I worshipped in a sanctuary steeped in silhouette and melody, the lights dim, my voice up, when singing praise felt as intimate and warm as resting my head in the crook of Love’s neck. Love was there at every single daybreak as the sun, eviscerating light, anointed my bowed head and gilded every holy page. Love was there at every funeral, during every test, through every night I lay awake with seemingly nothing but Love left to live for.

Love was sacred and looming. Love was gentle and furious. Love was more ancient, arcane, terrifying and beautiful than the whales that sang, the winds that whistled, the stars that hummed on frequencies the human ear cannot even fathom, as the whole earth sang for Love’s glory.

God was Love. Love loved me. And I loved him. Love was my everything. Love was the only Love there was, the only Love that mattered, the only Love that could be.

And then I started ninth grade. And I learned that Love…

Love commanded rapists to marry their victims and pay the victims’ fathers.

Love said to stone to death men who slept with men… their blood be upon them.

Love told the Israelites to murder every man, woman, and child of a people who did not worship him… but to keep the virgins for themselves. God killed the entire world because people weren’t good enough for him. 

Love struck a couple dead on the spot for lying to Peter.

Love caused the earth to swallow alive 250 men and their innocent wives, children, and servants… for daring to rebel against Moses.

Love caused a bear to fatally maul teenage boys for making fun of Elisha’s baldness. Talk about not being able to take a joke.

Love (in Jesus Mode) said he did not come to bring peace, but the sword.

Love will ship me off for an eternal dunk in the lake of fire, a place of wailing and gnashing of teeth, where the flame does not cool and the worm does not die, unless I give up everything I am, own, and care for to serve him alone.

And I still love him. And I don’t know what to do with that. Because God was love, but God is a genocidal, slavery-enabling, misogynistic, narcissistic abuser with a taste for blood. And I lived the past few years thinking I no longer loved him… but I do. It should be disgusting, shameful, a betrayal of my self and everything he and his people put me through. But I still love him: God, Love, monster, master, father, husband… the face hovering over dark waters, the blinding light and the rushing wind he has always been.

If that was Love to me so profoundly and completely for so long, then how can I ever trust what “love” is again? Is love even real? If it is, is it good? What is love?

I don’t know. Maybe someday, I will. But right now, I find that… hard to believe. Hard to even want.

Do you know?

How Christian Devotions Taught Me to Appreciate Myself

This week I want to share with you all a personal ritual that’s been really special to me in Christianity and out. Actually, I think I may have Christianity to thank for it. And so this post will be probably the first on this blog to talk about a positive thing that Christianity gave me, or strengthened in me!

The ritual I’m talking about is something called daily devotions. Depending on what sect of Christianity you come from, you might know what I’m talking about. Daily devotions are, to my knowledge, a pretty modern practice. Doing your “daily devotions” consists of a few things:

  1. Find a peaceful, secluded place away from people and noise (your room, the front porch, a lakeshore)
  2. Pray asking God to “open your ears” to what he wants to tell you in the Scripture excerpt you’re about to read
  3. Read an excerpt of the Bible – usually a chapter or two
  4. Read what your “devotional” says about it (a book that suggests a daily Scripture reference to read, and a few paragraphs on how to apply its lessons to your life)
  5. Think about the Scripture’s “application” to your life
  6. Pray that God will help you do it in the coming week

Daily devotions are a self-driven activity for spiritual growth, an independent Bible study – you decide when and where to do them, and the idea is that God has different messages for every person every day. It’s up to you to pick a reading schedule or devotional (there are tons you can find or buy for all demographics, from kids to middle-aged women), read it regularly, and actually strive to apply them to your life. 

The idea is that through devotions, you’ll grow closer to God. It’s how you’re supposed to strengthen your relationship with God. You retreat from the world to a peaceful place, you tell God your worries and thanks, your praise for him and your sins. You read about who he is. You meditate on who you are and who you aim to be. Then you go forward – with those memories and conclusions in mind.

Now that I’m no longer Christian, I obviously don’t do devotions anymore. At least, not with God.

As toxic as Christianity was for me, I can say that doing my devotions taught me the art of making retreats for myself. Because I’ve been struggling with a few chronic (and very existential) problems for most of my life, a huge part of my survival and recovery has been these “check ins”. The difference between devotions and retreats is that I do the latter by instinct, not by instruction. There aren’t rules. There’s no blueprint. Yet they’re more helpful to the person I am and I wanna be than devotions ever were.

I usually check in when I’m feeling totally overwhelmed. It’s not an intentional thing… I just feel drawn to find a place away from crowds, usually with a great view of the place I’m in, like a park bench or a third-floor room. I sit and think or talk aloud to myself. I go over who I’ve been, what I’ve survived. I check in with who and where I am now in recovery. And I let myself imagine the person I’ve dreamed of being for years… even though it’s almost impossible to do most of the time.

These check ins are a really awesome way to regroup. They also let me connect with myself. I see myself as more a team than one person, so instead of asking the Holy Spirit for help or praising God for what he’s “given” me, I acknowledge my own victories and learn to trust myself, again and again and again.

If there’s anyone I’m praying to now, it’s myself, and I have Christianity to thank for giving me that framework: withdraw, meditate, connect with self, think, thank, and resolve to be better.

Here are some pics of places I’ve gone over the last few months – a pond and the woods I visited before summer began.

As for devotionals, I make my own. AKA – I art journal! I like to say that art journaling is whining aesthetically, lol. It’s pretty self-explanatory: you journal through art, whether that’s collage, sketch, painting, watercolors, etc.

I use my art journal to vent and process things I’m going through, such as situational mutism and mind bugs from religious indoctrination. It’s free therapy… and it’s pretty! More importantly, it lets me put all the thoughts bouncing around my head down on paper.

My art journal is pretty sacred to me. I treat it carefully, and I carry it with me when I need some extra comfort. It’s the closest thing to Scripture I’ve got, and I write it myself. Check out a few spreads that relate to this blog:

That’s it for this week! If this post made you think about your own methods of meditation, or the rituals of prayer and devotions you used to have… if you have questions about art journaling or some of your own to share… go ahead! I’d love to hear from ya. Have a great Sunday, everyone!

The Emotional Work of Being Christian

Emotional work (work, work, work, work, work)

Hey all! It’s been a bit since I last posted – I moved back in to start my second year at college two weeks ago and it’s been pretty whirlwind, emotionally speaking. I finally found a sweet spot where I have both the energy and time to write up a post, though… a crisp autumn breeze is chilling the tea-colored light pooled on my windowsill, and I’m cozy in bed. I say let’s get started. (Yay for fall, btw!) 🙂

While I was settling in these past two weeks, I hit quiiite a few emotional snags along the way. College is great, but it’s been exhausting. I’m tuckered out to the point of tears every morning and night, and I thought there might be an official word to explain it. So I went Interwebs foraging on a hunch.

Here are the two words I stumbled across… emotional work.

My goal for this post is to touch on a few ways that Christianity forces believers into ridiculous emotional work  – but overall, I wanna give you an FYI on emotional work. Those 2 words are a great tool to recognize how “everyday life” tires us out! Without more ado…

What do the following situations have in common? On a bumpy flight, a flight attendant comforts freaked out passengers even though she herself is pretty damn worried. A waitress chirps out hello (and all today’s specials) to the new customers even though she craves a nap. A woman thanks attendees at her dad’s funeral without a chance to cry.

In all these situations, people are acting counter to their feelings in order to help other people. That’s called emotional work. In society, we do emotional work all the time: as part of our jobs (especially service-with-a-smile professions) and as part of daily life. The concept was first defined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in 1983, but it’s recently become well-known among feminists to explain how women are often expected to do a ton of day-to-day emotional labor on behalf of men.

In this post, however, I’m not so much interested in the emotional work that people do as women or as workers. What about the emotional work we do as Christians… and as sufferers of mental illness?

Christians (/religious people): the real MPVs of emotional work.

As too many of the followers of this blog know… take any crappy situation and throw Jesus in the mix, and you’ve got insta-shit. The same is true with emotional work. The kind that’d make Rihanna sing. 

 

We also know that Christianity spews a whole lotta “Jesus is the only thing in the universe that will give you contentment!! Everything else is completely meaningless!!” to sell itself. (I actually heard that today during church service. Almost verbatim.) Unfortunately, that belief has huge emotional costs, work-wise. Lemme rattle off just a few.

1. Deep acting: You should be happy. Constantly. Don’t worry. Don’t be sad for too long. And definitely don’t be mentally ill.

Because if Jesus is the One who gives you deep and everlasting happiness, and everything else is Bleak Suckiness like Christianity insists, then in theory, you should be pretty damn happy with Christianity. This is why Christians like Francis Chan preach that worry and anxiety are sins, or that depression is ungratefulness. If you’re still mopey after you get saved, that threatens the very heart of your religion.

So Christians tend to do a lot of deep acting. Deep acting is a kind of emotional work where you actually change your emotions for the sake of your situation. For example, you convince yourself that you’re happy or repress negative feelings because Christians are supposed to have “god-given joy” (aka, that divine happiness that comes from surrendering your entire being forever to God, which is so radiant that it brings non-believers to Christ. Or something.)

The problem with deep acting (and emotional work in general?) It’s fuckin exhausting. I mean, convincing yourself that you’re happy because your entire basis for understanding the world collapses otherwise… is some meta shit. Constant emotional work can make you physically tired, give you migraines and muscle aches, lose appetite, etc. It can also worsen mental illnesses you might have… and hence, a deadly cycle.

2. Self-sacrifice, Jesus/Others/You style: You volunteer to help others without taking care of yourself.

This belief deeefinitely does not make Christian emotional work any easier. Before all things, you’re expected to honor Jesus. Everything good you do is due to him, and you ought to vocally give him that credit on a regular basis. If you feel Jesus is calling you to do something for him (or your pastor keeps dropping hints), you put his desire above other people’s and your own.

Next, you’re supposed to look after others. It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, if you don’t like them, whatever – just as Jesus served everyone, so you should too. On a practical level that can get exhausting, because making sacrifices to help others, even if it’s not even necessary, becomes a cultural norm and a lifestyle. You might volunteer for church cleanup even if you’re exhausted. Or… to the relief of church staff everywhere… to chip in way more to the collection plate than your bank account suggests you should. The Parable of the Widow’s Two Mites, anyone?

And, of course, you always wave away people’s concerns, saying that doing this work for the Lord gives you the energy you need. This emotional work translates into physical labor too, roping you into more and more commitments, which makes it doubly exhausting.

Bah. And people wonder why pastors burn out.

3. You’re always putting yourself down to make God happy, because it’s all about God.

The heart of Christianity is self-denial. Sin is anything that makes God unhappy; people are inherently sinful. Awfully convenient, huh? In one respect, Christianity is BUILT on the idea that we should ALWAYS be doing emotional (and physical/financial) work to make God happy. If you don’t, you literally go to hell. Ya know.

What this means on a practical level is that you are always striving to make God happy no matter and very often DESPITE your own unhappiness. Time and again, Christians are told that God’s plans for their life come first, period. They’re guilted for wanting careers, lifestyles, hobbies, etc. that don’t fall in line with God’s will. Church communities make it a norm for people to put themselves down (“I am so wretched,” “I never learn,” “I can’t do anything without God,” etc.) – it’s in the lyrics of their songs, it’s in the testimonies they give, it’s in their prayers and conversations.

On top of convincing yourself that you’re happy and feeling bad when you aren’t… on top of throwing yourself into serving others and thanking Jesus… you’re expected to self-deprecate for failing to put God’s happiness first. It’s tiring shit, man!

If you’re ex-Christian (or ex-religious, since after talking with exes from multiple religions I’m sure we ALL have our own versions of this)… I hope you’re finding ways to recover from the chronic exhaustion that builds up from years of living like this. I hope you find “emotional labor” a useful concept for your own life. And I hope you find ways to rest up and shift some of the burden off yourself if you can!

If you related to anything in this post, feel free to comment below or share it around! I’d love to hear from ya. 🙂

My voice, my choice: Reclaiming speech from Evangelical Christianity and Situational Mutism

My voice has not been my own for way too long. I’m changing that.

 

When I was an evangelical Christian, I was taught that my tongue was meant to be an instrument of praise. As a social justice activist, my voice was supposed to be an instrument of power.

But situational mutism made both those expectations complicated. See, I have SM, a complex social anxiety disorder that begins in early childhood and makes me physically unable to speak in some social situations. As a result, my voice hasn’t matched up with expectations. In this post, I’ll go over just what I was taught about my voice, ways that SM made matters worse, and how I’m reclaiming my voice from all the shoulds.

Growing up, it quickly became crystal clear that meeting evangelical expectations was gonna be… tricky. See, when you have situational mutism, your voice does not belong to you. It belongs to your anxiety. Doesn’t matter what you want or what you need. Doesn’t matter how angry, frustrated, or crazy-making it gets. You physically cannot speak, and you don’t get to choose who, when, or where. 

I can’t count how much mutism has taken from me. Class discussions I couldn’t join, even when it hurt my grade. Questions I couldn’t ask, even if it meant I failed the test. “See me” notes on that test I couldn’t answer, even though I’d get in trouble. Jokes I couldn’t crack, help I couldn’t get, smiles I couldn’t offer, friends I couldn’t make. On. And on. And on. 

That wasn’t really gonna work for the Evangelical Christianity I grew up in. There, I was supposed to use my voice for “glorification” (aka kissing God’s ass – prayer and worship), “witnessing” (aka piling into vans to proselytize unsuspecting randos on beachfronts and in malls), and “edification” (aka encouraging my brethren to keep believing in God.) Gossip, cursing (like dang it), taking God’s name in vain (yep, including oh my gosh) were no-nos. My tongue could be as dangerous as a forest fire, and it wasn’t mine to use.

A little kid who couldn’t speak wasn’t gonna cut it.

Growing up, my SM was interpreted as selfish, standoffish, and sinful. Can’t really blame people for the second one, but the others took their toll – to this day, I still can’t shake the belief that being introverted or even just quiet is a personal crime. (Mix in the fact that I’m an extrovert who grew up sporadically mute and personality tests make for one hell of a party!)

I’ve been called a lot of things for going mute. Not to be dramatic or anything, but when people realize that you can’t speak, they lowkey stop treating you like you’re human. I’ve been called furniture, piece of furniture, dead piece of furniture, dead, timid, etc. I’ve had people do the mime or the robot and scoff when I didn’t smile at their ~original~ joke. I’ve had people scoff to each other about me right in front of me for minutes and minutes. 

Not having a voice has cost me. I wish I could say it got me out of trouble because, not being able to speak, I couldn’t say the things I wasn’t supposed to say anyway. As if. Wasn’t supposed to curse – too irreverent for that. Wasn’t supposed to gossip – too much of a drama queen for that. Contrary to what my SM wanted – to shut me up – as years went on, I found ways to start talking. I’m an I/ENFP at heart, and my ass was advocating before I even knew what advocating was. 

I told my church I had depression in my baptism speech because I wanted people to know they weren’t alone, that God was bettering me. I shared my testimony when I could get up the courage. I even managed to witness to one or two people at most, out of all the times we went out. As a social justice activist, that advocacy only grew. I went to protests, even spoke at one. I shared (and overshared) on social media. I was bolstered by the SJ idea that as an oppressed person, my voice would be heard and valued, and not gonna lie, after years of silence, I adored that newfound attention.

But evangelism and social justice activism have boxed me in too. As an evangelical, I grew up feeling incredibly guilty and fake for not being able to speak to my brethren or witness to my loved ones. As an activist, I saw fellow activists making social media posts that translated to “I see that [unspecified you] aren’t sharing my posts. You’re not a good ally and I’m watching you.” 

After a lifetime of being fundamentally misunderstood and sometimes blatantly mocked by people who can speak… after a lifetime of being told what to say… after a lifetime of being muzzled by SM…

I am done letting other people define my voice for me.

This voice does not belong to Christians. It doesn’t belong to activists. It doesn’t even belong to me. But I’ll be damned if I don’t own as much of it as I can get.

I have fought HARD for this voice. I don’t always like the sound of it. Sometimes it says dumb shit, cracks corny jokes, makes great puns. Every time I use this voice, I have wrestled and won it on loan from my anxiety. That precious time is mine to use. And I will use it.

I’ll use this voice to be joyful. Authentic. Snarky. Rude. Kind. Irreverent. I’ll use it to help, heal, share, and sing badly along to Disney soundtracks on Spotify. I’ll use it to advocate for and support adults with selective mutism. I’ll chatter too fast when I get excited (which is like, once a day) and whisper too loud during meetings. I’ll use it for whatever the hell I want, thank you very much. I got this.

This was mostly a cathartic post… obviously, I have a LOT to say after all this time 😉 but I wanna hear from you too. Do you relate to anything I wrote here, from evangelical expectations to wonky witnessing experiences to activism to SM? Let me know! Let’s make it a conversation. God knows I’ve got a lot to make up for! 

Fuck Joseph, Paul and Job. Dear ex-Christians, your struggles are valid.

As Christians we weren’t allowed to make hard times about ourselves. Well, fuck that.

This week, I want to take a closer look at how Baptist Christianity’s anti-self attitude creates expectations that suffocate us when we’re struggling.

It’s no secret to us by now that Baptist Christianity is pretty much synonymous with repression. I mean, worldview literally stresses that you cannot follow God without “dying to yourself.” That’s rough, buddy.

Growing up, I was taught that loving God means allowing him to control every imaginable aspect of my life, to the point where my very emotions could be sinful, from anxiety (didn’t I trust that God would take care of me?) to anger (how could I not forgive when God had forgiven me?)

Unfortunately, that repression really takes its time to shine when a Christian goes through hard times. The idea is that when you’re struggling in life, it’s because God intended it to happen, and you’re expected to deal with it and feel with it in very specific ways. Any other and you’re selfish and foolish. That’s based on the following 3 concepts.

  1. God never puts you through anything you can’t handle.
  2. God puts you through hard times for your own good.
  3. God puts you through hard times so you will learn that he is the only person you can depend on.

Tough times are not about you. They’re about God.

No matter what’s happening to you – whether you’ve fallen ill, lost a loved one, suffered a natural disaster, whatever – you are supposed to turn into a walking Gospel tract. 

God’s goodness is supposed to be so amazing that heathens will take one look, gasp, and say where can I get me one of those?! when they see how At Peace and Gracious your relationship with Jesus has made you. Because you’re not supposed to worry. You’re not supposed to be angry, or question, or get depressed. Not for long, anyway. 

Joseph, Paul, and Job: the Good Survivor Squad

But for the vast majority of us who can’t stuff all their feelings down and shove their questions to the side – well, we get blasted with the Good Survivor Squad, Joseph, Paul, and Job. You’ve heard about them in sermons about “rough seasons,” in meetings with your pastor or counselor, in brochures and devotionals. They’re the rock stars of repression.

Joseph is the Gracious and Wise Forgiver. He welcomes those who hurt him with open arms. He cries, but he claims it’s because he’s so happy to see them. He forgives, holds no grudges, and has no flashbacks. He says, “don’t worry. You may have hurt me, but God meant it for good.” He is at peace. 

Paul is the Modest Self-Suffocator. He acknowledges that his hard times happened, but never that they hurt him. He’ll rattle off all, like, 51 (random guess) of his near-death experience, then “yeah, whatever” them away since they’re, like, minor league compared to Jesus, right? He considers himself the lowest of the low. He needs some goddamn therapy.

Job is the Silenced Questioner. He responds to rapid successions of tragedy by worshiping God, but when he finally cracks, he gets angry, depressed, and questions God. However, he comes back around and “repents,” saying he despises himself for being so arrogant as to not trust in God.

Unfortunately, Joseph, Paul, and Job are all bullshit paradigms. They are who we’re supposed to be, but they are not who we are. We were supposed to trust that God would take care of us no matter how confused or hurt we were, to never blame him for our pain, to take it all with a smile and a “thanks be to God.” No offence, but that’s bullshit. 

This sucks. You’re allowed to say it.

I’ll admit it. I’m a Paul. I’ll acknowledge that things that’ve happened to me are, like… bad… I guess… but there’s no need to make a big deal out of them. I’ll stick a smile on my face and “it’s fine” it away. I get so uncomfortable when people call me strong or say anything that suggests my struggling is worthy of sympathy. Sometimes I even get angry. And that’s because little me, deep down, still thinks that hard times are not supposed to be about me.

Who are they supposed to be about? Beats me, cause I long stopped believing in Jesus. 

But you know, maybe it’s okay to just straight up say it. Whatever you’re going through, you can say it: You are allowed to make it about you. You are allowed to say,

Listen, this fucking sucks. This is not good. This is not meant for good. This just sucks.

You are allowed to be angry. You’re allowed to be pissed.

You’re allowed to be depressed. To worry. To cry days, to cry nights. You’re allowed to feel lost, unbearably lost, alone, unbelievably alone. You’re allowed to hate God. You’re allowed to wonder why. You’re allowed to swear. You’re allowed to not feel anything at all.

You can go through this without marketing it to people. Without smiling or dressing it up, without turning it into some inspiring story. You can not see the bright side. You can rely on friends and family, or just yourself.

You can. You are allowed. 

Those times when I say this to myself are the times when I write on this blog. And I’m now I’m saying them to you too. Your feelings? They’re yours. You don’t have to perform for anyone now. You can just be. 

So go be. 🙂