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!

 

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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.

Crazy.

Love?

 

Boundary Crossing: Learning to Claim My Personhood, Power, and Free Will After Evangelical Christianity

Quite a few months ago, I made a post about how profoundly and insidiously Christianity had indoctrinated me to believe that I was created to live on the sidelines, to feel chronically undeserving, to make myself small, to die to self. Christianity took my personhood away from me.

I said that when I came back, I’d have some ideas on how to take charge in my own life and see myself as just as worthy as everyone else. It took a while, but I’ve got ’em!

In the last few months, I’ve learned so much, changed so much, and claimed so much more power in my life. Shit’s wild! And a lot of it, believe it or not, started with astrology! That is a story for another time (there is a whole series of posts that could be made about how much astrology has helped me see myself, realize shit, and heal.) Star teachers.

Story short, I had this HUGE HUGE HUGE realization about boundaries. And you know what? It turns out they have a LOT of damn power over me. But all of my freedom, all of my joy, all of my healing, has ALL COME from crossing those boundaries. And so I chose to start pushing myself every day to cross more and more boundaries. That’s how I’ve started learning to take charge in my life, to go from an outsider to a life liver, to claim my full worth and power as a person just like you.

To me, anything involving me reaching beyond my own self and interacting with other people was crossing a boundary. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t party, don’t dance in public, don’t shout hi from far away, don’t talk to that person in line, don’t ask if your friend wants to hang, don’t eat in front of others, don’t ask for more, don’t ask if they can plug in your computer, don’t blow your nose, don’t raise your hand, don’t be a burden. These were all things I found so hard to do, on top of speaking, which situational mutism already made so difficult.

Not only this, but in the smallest ways, I acted as if I had no free will. No power to change the world around me. When I got sick, I used to never take medicine. When something was bothering me, I didn’t realize I could literally just move the chair. My entire mentality was shaped by the idea that I couldn’t let my presence be known and I couldn’t change my own life, only let my life happen to me.

And when I asked myself where these boundaries come from and why they had so much power over me, I saw a whole constellation of perpetrators. My church, and my social experiences due to situational mutism, taught me that I should not interact with other humans. Show the world I exist. Move and be seen. Take up space. Own myself.

  • I grew up in a church that taught me to be “in the world but not of it.” Maybe that’s why I felt so alone and distant even in crowded rooms… the idea that I don’t belong here, that I’m not actually “one of you.”
  • Francis Chan’s Crazy Love taught me that I am minor, a prop, an extra in the movie of my own life (because it was all about God, and I needed to die to myself.) I wasn’t used to the idea that I had agency in my life.
  • Situational mutism cut me off from connecting with other humans because I physically couldn’t speak, which reinforced my feeling that I didn’t belong and wasn’t truly a part of social life, and made social boundaries way harder to cross.

But the biggest factor was that I believed, deep in my heart, that other people did not want to talk to me, to feel my presence, to hear my thoughts. That interacting with them was a burden. That they thought I was boring. That I deeply wasn’t worth their time.

When you grow up being taught that you exist to serve God, that you should die to yourself and pray for who you are to be broken and remade, that you’re an extra in your life because it’s God’s world and you are nothing…

how do you unlearn it all? How do you start living better?

I realized that night just how much I had let invisible boundaries between myself and others cut me off from so much human connection. From life itself! But I also realized that in the past 6 months since I had come out, been cut off, and seen my very soul transformed day after day, so many people had shown me they REALLY wanted to know me, to spend time with me, to hear me. 

After I cut off last March, I wrote that I was “Finally. Unbelievably. Terrifyingly. Thrillingly. Free. It feels like the tenderest most beautiful sentence I have in me, an iridescent thing, full of shock and grace, thrill and terror.”

And I understood for the first time that ALL of the freedom I have found in the past 6 months has been because I crossed boundaries that Christianity set for me. I made more secular friends and learned to set up hang outs, I had sex, I drank (and got alcohol poisoning), I got propositioned, I went on dates, I joined Tinder, I smoked, I went to a friend’s birthday party and drank and danced in public without a thought for the first time in my life, I walked into a tattoo shop (and ultimately got a sick ass tattoo)…

Crossing boundaries is liberation. It is life. It is joyfully laying claim to who I rightfully am. To all the possibilities that may be and that I may be. Crossing boundaries is saying, YES, you are worth it to me, you are iridescent and exciting and dimensional and worth it, you this experience, you this friendship, you this human being. It is jumping in to the pool of life, peeling off from the sidelines and finally becoming part of everything. It is a release of all I never allowed myself to be, all I was never allowed to be, and saying, I see you. I acknowledge you. I forgive you. I embrace you, in all you are. It is deep life, life up to the earlobes, life dripping down your chin, life settling warm and circular in your belly. It is saying yes to yourself.

So how did I put crossing boundaries into practice?

First, I decided to every day do something I would never have done before. This was hard, but having the last 6 months of boundary crossing behind me — safe, thrilling, life changing — kept me on it. I decided to have myself purposefully cross boundaries now. And some were so small! For example, I called out a friend’s name when I saw him walking further up on the hill — something situational mutism had always prevented me from doing. And I’m not gonna lie, I got a shot of adrenaline just from doing it. Another time, I decided to say yes to going to a concert on a first date with a girl I liked. This was in a way less scarier than speaking, but very new.

Every time I did something I never would have done before, I showed myself it was safe to do it, and I became a new person for that new experience. I was changing how I was experiencing life. While it may sound small, I’ve been noticing in very real ways that it’s easier for me to start conversations and to just say whatever is on my mind. It’s been one month! That much recovery. 

Second, I realized that sometimes you don’t wait for the right time, you make now the right time. I had just watched a movie in class that struck home how important it is to follow your convictions with action, otherwise it’s just words. And suddenly I realized, I don’t want to be — I CAN’T be — the kind of person who isn’t deeply authentic anymore. I HAVE to live my own truth because at the end of the day I am accountable to love and fulfill me, and that is by being authentic. I CAN’T allow myself to not do what I want to do and feel I should and can do. 

So, I decided that I would start going by the name Maxwell (Max) in real life. I had been dreaming of this for YEARS, but my parents threatened to cut off tuition when I tried. Now that I am financially self-sufficient, nothing was holding me back other than waiting for the right feeling. But fuck that. I was just gonna do it. It’s been scary, a little awkward, and hard — but I decided, sometimes you gotta change your own life. It’s no one else. It’s gotta be you. At the end of my life, do I want to say I had courage, or I allowed fear to keep me from being a free spirit? This is my life. I’ll live it.

At the same time, I decided to call my first politician about something political. I’d been wanting to and feeling I should do this since Trump got elected, but fear of phone calls and lack of knowledge always stopped me. And finally, I decided to call the pastor at the church back home. I’d been wanting to do this for a long time: confront the church with how they’d hurt me, and start a conversation about how their teachings affected people. I’d been waiting for a right time too. But I wanted no more waiting. Even though I had no idea what I’d say or where this would go, I knew my soul wanted this, it actually felt there was no other way events could transpire.

So I did all of these things. The call with the politician was awkward with long pauses and my heart was beating a million a minute. Starting to transition my name has been awkward and hard too, believe me. And I did end up telling my story to the pastor, and it was hard and monumental, and the deacons heard it too but turned down my request to speak to the youth group. But I did it.

Third, I kept reminding myself that I had power over my own world and showed myself love by pushing myself to act like others valued me. 

I used to get up and plug my own computer in because I felt I couldn’t burden my friend who was sitting right next the outlet to do it. Same with getting napkins, shutting off the light, just so many trivial little things. And I only realized this wasn’t “normal” because my friends would point it out, a little offended or confused.

I learned to make a joke out of it: “oh yeah. Free will. It exists. Free will who? Never met him,” I’d quip to myself. And I’ve accepted that acknowledging and learning to use my own power (from taking medicine to making a phone call to asking a simple question) is a journey I advance every day.

I’ve also pushed myself to believe that others value my presence and my words. I’m not too much, I am wanted. I even reached out to make a new friend this month, which is revolutionary for me! 

LONG long post, but I have so much to share about this part of my life and I’m sure I’ll be back for more. If you have any thoughts or advice you wanna share, pipe up! Maybe I just rambled this whole time, or this situation is very specific to me, but I’m hoping that someone out there can relate to something in here. I’d love to hear it!

Still Rebuilding: When Christianity Robs You of Your Very Personhood

There’s this lie.

This lie I was spoon fed from birth. A lie they put in an IV drip, one I carried with me always, until the lie became my very blood. A lie that lives, still, at the very center of me. Of everything. This lie:

At my heart of hearts, I believe that I do not deserve to exist.

But this lie is really made up of many littler lies. Lies in the form of sermons and scripture, bible stories, song lyrics, prayer sayings, Christianese lines. I broke these down in a draft of a letter to my church. They taught me I have no right to exist. I learned that and more.

1. You taught us that we were tiny, insubstantial, miscellaneous compared to God. That we were utterly worthless and wicked and we should be so so soooooo grateful that gosh, wasn’t Jesus just SWELL for deigning to even notice that we existed?

I learned that I was unimportant (unless it was to God) and that having any sort of pride or understanding of my place in the world was foolish and shockingly arrogant. I feel like I am forever part of the background — never part of real life or relating to other human beings. I am always on the sidelines socially, and I keep myself there because I haven’t realized that I deserve and am entitled to more. I feel I do not belong and am only allowed to be there.

I am situationally mute — I have a hard time speaking and interacting with other people — because I feel like I don’t have the right to participate in life. The rest of you are main players, and I am an NPC, a non-playable character you walk up to to get info or some useful trinket from and then continue on your adventure. I am part of the background, and not the action, the real, complex, hands-on act of relating to other human beings.

And that is because I was taught that I am literally part of the background in God’s universe. My church got into Francis Chan’s book Crazy Love when I was in early high school, and I adored it. I read and reread that book word for word so many times I still have it memorized. Looking back now, every word makes me sick and enraged.

“I am still dumb enough to forget that life is all about God and not about me at all …

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 when 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.” (pg 42)

Francis Chan went on to say that this movie is life, and to describe anyone who thinks that their life is about them as “delusional.” Today, I still operate like I am an extra who appears for two-fifths of a second in the movie of life, except everyone else is a main character and I am not.

2. You taught us that everything good we did was God through us, since we had died and Christ was living through us. All that we were was our sins and our weaknesses. We gave credit for everything good, admirable, or unique about us to God, saying it was not us.

I learned to mentally separate all of my strengths, uniquenesses, and goodnesses away from my view of myself until my self splintered. I now see myself as multiple selves. When people compliment me, I feel like they are talking about someone else, because I’m so used to thinking that it is literally not me. I am going to have to reconcile these parts of myself now, incorporate myselves back into a healed whole.

3. You taught us that we did not belong to ourselves. That the REASON FOR OUR EXISTENCE was to serve God. Forever. That we were to be his literal slaves. And on top of that, that we should be OVERJOYED for the chance to be, and that this was our entire identity. Nothing else mattered.

I learned that I only existed to serve other people, and that my own desires, ambitions, and joys did not matter — in fact, they were foolish, dangerous, and arrogant. I learned I had no right to prioritize myself or want anything for myself. The thought of telling people when something is painful, uncomfortable, or less than I deserve is utterly terrifying because I was expected to THANK God for all of my suffering. It was there to make me rely on him and realize just how lost I was without him and I was literally supposed to rejoice in it like Job did, like Paul did. Suffering was a natural part of life and what I deserved in the first place.

4. You taught us that we needed to actively deny our desires and ambitions, because only what God wanted mattered. Our career interests, our thought life, the movies we watched, the people we befriended, how we spoke, it was all up to God, not us. We would be what God wanted us to be in life to further his kingdom.

I learned that it was selfish to want things, and that I had no right to do so. I find it extremely hard to communicate what I want. In a world where everything is about God and you are meant to reduce yourself down to nothing, I was encouraged to stifle my own desires. In fact, these things were foolish, selfish, even evil. I find it humiliating to admit I want things with other people now, from friendships to sex — and a little scary, because I can’t help feeling like someone will come punish me for daring to think I’m person enough to want things out loud.

But altogether, these are basic parts of human existence. Having a place in the world, understanding what you’re worth and what you deserve, expressing what you want. This is what being a person IS. My church’s Christianity wanted me to stop being a person. It literally wanted me to become nothing so God could have all the glory. It wanted me to exist as little as possible. To believe I didn’t deserve to exist.

Believe is not even the right word. Know is better. It was taught, the way a woodpecker teaches wood to make way for its beak. Until it was as familiar as skin: I don’t deserve to exist. I don’t exist. I don’t exist like you do. I’m 20 years old, and I am realizing that I believe this for the first time.

I think this lie was pounded into me so hard that it went straight through me.

daughterslave

  • Luke 17:10: “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”
  • Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
  • Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
  • John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

This is not the first time I’ve written about how horrific Christianity can be to self-esteem. But it is the first time I see just how insidiously and viscerally it has affected me — like corkscrewing the middle out from me. I don’t believe that I deserve to exist. I don’t believe that I am entitled to taking up space, having strengths, wanting things out of life, or being a person in general.

This kind of thinking is insidious. It eats you like acid. It breaks you down little by little, saying not just “you can’t want things” but “how DARE you want things,” not just “don’t think you have a priority in your own life” but “don’t be SO DELUSIONAL as to think you have a priority in your own life,” until your self-esteem dissolves away. 

Growing up, I was taught that these beliefs were ultimate good, ultimate truth. 

Right now, today, I see it for what it is. I think it’s deep evil. I think it’s a sickening, horrifying lie, and it enrages me that people in my church (and around the world) are still being taught this. Little kids are still being raised like this, still having their hearts and minds broken down until they find themselves where I am: 20 years old, and realizing for the first time that they don’t feel like they have the right to be a person.

But there is a person inside me, a self that has been hidden for a long time. A self that some wise and desperate part of me managed to secret away from the all-consuming destruction that my Christianity wrought. The person I would’ve-could’ve been if I hadn’t been indoctrinated, abused. The person I still am at my heart of hearts, and one day will be inside and out. A self I am reconciling with, apologizing to, learning about, and falling in love with.

This self loves me. This self I meet in my inner world, in woods fragrant with moonlight, jasmine, shifting murmurs and movement, in parking lots, in palaces. This self knows who I am and what I deserve. We’re going to work together to learn how to exist with boldness, pride, joy. To really take up space. To take part in life, to be a main character.

I am going to spend the next few weeks thinking about what it means to be a person. This status, this act, this way of living life itself that I’ve been denied for so long. That I am going to reclaim, “little by little every day, little by little in every way.” And I am going to come back and share what I learn with you all.

Then I’m going to do a scathing chapter by chapter review of Crazy Love, because FUCK that book.

(Edit 8/6/17 for grammar/link colors)

Living with Our Parents’ Blame: A Love Note to My Fellow Prodigal Kids

It’s been four and a half months since I came out to my parents. Four and a half months since I spit out the secret I’d been carrying like a poison pill under my tongue for years. Since this whole crazy, dangerous, exhilarating, beautiful adventure — life — began.

Four and a half months, too, since my parents cut me off. 

A lot has happened since then. But I’m not here today to tell that story. People like me, people from extreme religious families who’ve been cut off (or cut themselves off), we’ve all got our stories. No, I’m here to talk about how we can cope with the other story.

The story our parents tell about us.

We have all heard this story, too.

To be cut off from your family because you no longer live by their traditions — it’s a type of life like no other. Some of us escaped abusive religious houses. Others stopped believing in our family’s faiths and either spoke out or were found out. Some came out with a gender or sexuality different from what was accepted. So many reasons.

Some people might find this strong, inspirational, badass (AND IT IS thankyouverymuch!) But many of our families see us living our truths, choose to cut us off, and then paint us as the villains. They come from places where religion or conformity is everything. If you leave or reject the faith, it doesn’t just mean you’re going to die, it means they’re bad parents. They question everything they thought they knew about themselves and us. They feel as if we have died. That is their side of the story, for many. Yet it sounds like:

“You are so selfish. What you are doing is filthy.”

“You are killing us by rejecting our faith/by living your truth.”

“What have we done to deserve this? Why are you punishing us?”

“We have done nothing to you. This is all in your head.”

“Your mother won’t stop crying.”

 

The other day I read this article by a Christian mother who cut off her gay son. It pierced me right through. This is the part that haunted me.

Perhaps I am writing this is [sic] for myself more than for those who are reading. I have not seen my son in nearly two and a half years now and there are days that the pain is just as fresh as ever. Until now, I have kept this pain inside and shared with only a couple of my closest friends. I am not sure that a day has gone by that I have not shed tears. Sometimes it is a single tear and other days are gut wrenching cries of despair. I have pulled into my driveway with tears blinding my eyes, only to find myself literally screaming and wailing in grief. I’m devastated by our loss; his loss.

I know this is how my mother feels, too. I know she cries every day. I know she looks me up obsessively online. I know she calls around asking after me. She texts me asking why are you being selfish and I taught you right from wrong and we only want the best for you. Saying as a mother I have rights to you and you do not, saying I miss you so much, saying can I please just see you, please, please. Saying come back home

After I read that article, I carried the pain of knowing her pain around with me all day, red as hot iron at the bottom of my chest. I have no regrets about telling them who I am. I know so much of what they do and say is inexcusable and horrible. Don’t get me wrong, I know what living this truth is gutsy, pathmaking, beautiful, real; I know it’s right.

And yet I can’t help seeing their side of things. Their story. Which is that their daughter, who was once obedient, loving, and madly in love with God, has told them that she’s the type of person God used to sentence to death. They feel that I have died. They feel this means they failed as parents. They fear for my very soul. They are terrified of my Chinese grandparents and church finding out.

And I know I am not the only one who has felt this too.

 

So I’m saying this for all of us — every apostate I’ve met online and in person, every apostate I’ve yet to meet, every apostate yet to be (welcome to the club, prodiguys and prodigals) — because someone who gets it needs to say it.

Your parents are not hurting because of who you are.
Your parents are hurting because of who they are, because of how they see things, and because of what they cannot see.

Their pain is not your fault. Not your responsibility. Even if it brings you down, know that it’s not on you.

Religious mindsets and groups can blind so many people. It can become someone’s whole identity, and when that happens, going against the grain can make you feel like you’re losing your entire world. So they choose a god or gods over us. So they do what their leaders and texts say they should do.

That is what’s killing them, what’s hurting them, what’s causing them grief.

Not you. Their faith. Their tradition. Their fear. Their belief. Their conformity. Their lack of experience. Their inability to have an open mind. 

What they can’t see is how kickass you are. How much it can take for someone to be open about who they are and what they believe despite the costs. How much resilience and courage you have. The fact that you are creating an example of what it means to live life with joy, risk, strength, and above all, TRUTH for other people. The fact that you showing them who you are can actually be interpreted as an act of love, because if you didn’t care, you wouldn’t show them.

I see that, and I’m mothafuckin proud and glad you’re out here, cause we’re all out here, even if we don’t all know each other quite yet. There’s a lot of us, even if many of us are silent — which is why I’ve decided not to be.

Maybe one day your parents and mine will come to see how much we bring to the world. But for now, we’ve got to know it for them. And I’ll know it with ya.

I Didn’t Fall From Grace, I Leapt to Freedom: Ex-Timony of a Half-Disowned Bisexual Apostate

It’s funny. If you had sat me down 5 years ago and told me that one day I’d be a blasphemy-loving bisexual apostate who had finally come out to her parents, gotten cut off, and called it all the best thing to ever happen to her, I probably would’ve laughed. Or cried. Maybe a little of both.

Certainty

Just picture it: high school aged me, little pink Bible in tow, memorizing Scripture verses in our church’s “Approved Workers Are Not Ashamed” Friday night program like any other week. I was not a picture of joyful heresy.

Back then, see, Jesus was still my everything. I was still eager servant to the God of the Universe for my forever and ever, still believed that was the only right and happy and good way to live in the first place, as my Chinese American Baptist church taught. I still sang songs like “your will above all else, my purpose remains: the art of losing myself in giving you praise” with all my heart. I still got down on my knees weekly to rededicate my whole soul to God. And so on and on.

All my life, too, I’d heard of the fabled fallaways, apostates. I could never understand how anyone could know the indescribable joy and peace and hope of Christ, live a life for Him … and leave. For what? Nonbelievers were supposed to be dangerous, blind, with empty lives not worth living; atheists were all secretly miserable. My greatest wish was that I never became one of them. At annual summer camp, I sang “I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back” with tears in my eyes.

Doubt

Maybe that’s why, when I began to have my first doubts in high school, I never saw it coming. I still don’t remember when it happened, or how, or what even did happen — my brain has blocked those memories out. Was it conversations with kids at school — exposing me to a world beyond my insulated church? Websites, videos, or just a slow, wordless dawning that came naturally with my age? I don’t know.

But it began a tug-of-war that lasted years: the ever-echoing could it all be wrong? locking me in a spiral. Every week, seeing the moral and logical discrepancies in what I’d always taught was the only accurate, just, and fulfilling belief system in the world would push me to my breaking point, and I’d think “screw it all” for a few short hours until some sermon or song lyric would “convict” me to return to God on my knees.

Hiding

By senior year, I had somehow reached the point where the terror of hell and wasting my salvation couldn’t chase me back to the foot of my bed in prayer anymore. I no longer believed. I had also realized that I was bisexual. That brought a new all-consuming problem: I couldn’t let anyone find out. 

My parents, while they loved me, could be controlling, punishing, and zealous. I didn’t know yet that it wasn’t normal, but I did know it wasn’t safe. I had no idea how my parents would react if they knew I was bi and a nonbeliever, but it could be anything from getting disowned and kicked out, physically punished and trapped, sent to conversion therapy, and so on. 

So I passed my time in fear. The summer before I went away to college, the pressure of having to keep pretending I believed to everyone I’d grown up with, singing to a God I loved all my life but who never even existed, and keeping my sexuality and true beliefs a secret, all 2-3 times a week, got to me. I nearly attempted suicide a few times, but I made it to college — a liberal, Jewish-influenced university 5 hours away.

College changed everything for me. For the first time, I could say my secrets aloud. I had a lot to learn; I didn’t know who Drake and Beyonce were, I was afraid of alcohol, I didn’t know how to hang out with people. But from the very first moment, I was free to be who I’d always dreamed I could be, beneath the secrecy and fear. I went from a situationally mute high schooler to someone friendly, energetic, open-hearted, and involved in more activities and activist leadership roles than I could remember.

I continued living a double life at home, though, and it was poisoning me. Every time I went home for break, I wondered if I’d come out the other side. Having to keep pretending at church was hell, and I’m not made for hiding. I would revert to the small, powerless, trapped self I’d been, and my Christian indoctrination would rewrite my brain. I almost tried to kill myself one or two more times, and I realized in winter of freshman year that my parents could find out my secrets at any time because of short fiction pieces I’d had published. 

So I started preparing for the day my parents found out. I knew at the very least they would stop paying for college, and if it happened over break, I’d be trapped with them. So I called local shelters, memorized crisis numbers, packed a runaway bag with me at all times, and went to the campus Bible study, which was even more toxic than my church and originated from a cult. When I went home for the summer after freshman year, I truly thought that I would not make it out alive.

But I did. And even this brought troubles with it. I had not expected to survive and for the last half of 2016, I wished I hadn’t. I didn’t know what the point was. I felt I’d been lucky for having kept my sexuality and disbelief a secret for this long, and it was just a matter of time before my parents found out, I was disowned, homeless, and had to drop out of college, and I thought I would kill myself or be killed when that time came. I also didn’t know how to leave Christianity behind fully; my double life kept me anchored still in that world. What did life as a non-Christian even look like?

Healing

But something happened on Christmas Eve of that year. I was desperate, drowning in the memories of how I lost my God, my self, and my family, friends, and world without anyone even knowing, and close to suicide. So I called the Trevor Life Line. A woman picked up, and we talked, and for some reason, while I was sitting on my bed with that tear-streaked phone, I understood why leaving and living in the aftermath of my fundamentalist religion was so damn hard. I saw my past self, everything she had gone through. I saw my past glowing like a path. 

I can’t explain what came next. I think of it like a fever break, forceful, sudden, and thorough as first hail, tongue of fire, riptide. I started healing. Apparently the term for this is post-traumatic growth: a phenomenon where, after trauma, your view of the world and your self evolve into appreciation, openness, adventure, spirituality, and gratefulness. And in the mountains by Vegas as the year turned 2017, that began.

I spent the next few months coming into myself. The world exploded into a wide-open kaleidoscope of possibilities, adventures, opportunities. I realized that the idea of a conventional life: 9-5 job, stationery, family and retirement, bored me. I wanted experiences out of life, and there were so many fewer rules than my religion had led me to believe. I’d discovered absurdism, the idea that life has no inherent meaning, in the autumn, and it didn’t depress me — it excited me. 

And then came March 19.

Leaping

This day, like so many other events in my deconversion, I cannot fully explain. Here, too, it’s like there was something wordless, instinctual, and invisible in me, guiding. It knew, I think. It knew that I deserved more than the hiding I’d been doing for the past five years. It knew that if this new self was to keep growing and healing, the hiding had to stop.

And so, during a late-night routine phone call with my parents on Sunday, March 19, I ended up telling my parents that I was bi and a disbeliever. The whole thing was surreal, none of it planned. It just happened: halfway through the conversation, something unknown in me reached a tipping point, and the words forced themselves out of my mouth.

After all this time hiding, I had never imagined I would be the one to tell them, to bring the consequences I was terrified of down on my own head. My parents told me they were no longer paying for college. They asked what they had done to deserve this.

But it happened. After I hung up the phone at 2 am, I curled up and cried into my stuffed panda. And one minute later I straightened myself up. I breathed deeply. And I launched into action. I told my suitemates next door what had happened, I emailed every university employee I needed to, I paced the common room floor, feeling the carpet under my bare feet, drinking in the redness of the dull EXIT sign.

Everything was a thousand times more real. I knew what lay ahead would be grueling. I knew the person I would’ve become if the phone call never happened would never exist now; instead, there would be a new one, called on to survive all that was coming.

And yet, when I woke up in the morning that same day, all I felt going forward was a deep peace. As I told friends, professors, financial aid advisers, and bosses what had happened, I did it with grace, humor, and that peace. I didn’t know if I would still be able to go to college or have a place to stay come summer; to be honest, I’d never imagined this ending anywhere but with me as a homeless dropout. And yet, in this new reality, I knew I would find a way to be okay because I had me, the me I’d been healing and growing into since Christmas Eve.

So I did all the things I needed to do to stay in college. I filed my first tax return at 5 am on a Wednesday. I wrote a 13-page letter to the financial aid office, appealing for a grant of independent status by describing my abuse and trauma narrative with details I had never told anyone before, hoping they would consider it “bad enough” for me to be allowed to try to pay for college by myself. I got a 4th job and started waitressing with no prior experience during finals season. I started a fundraiser for summer living expenses that went over its goal in 3 days. 

And through it all I found more love, support, and grace than I ever expected. From all sides. I found out I had friends who were working through college as independents and got advice (and my 4th job lead) from them. The financial aid adviser turned out to be queer with abusive parents just like me, and my academic adviser, a wonderful man with a husband, went through the same thing himself in college. My supervisor at work and my therapist advocated for me. A friend from high school shared my fundraiser on Facebook, and ex-religious friends from online, readers of my poetry and short fiction, and people I hadn’t seen from as far back as fifth grade donated and encouraged me. I made new friendships and deeply strengthened and restarted old ones.

Freedom

After it all, just before finals, I heard that dependency override to the financial aid office was accepted, and I applied for financial aid. What I heard back still floors me.

I won’t need to pay for any tuition out of pocket, other than the usual loans I’ve already been taking. I’ve been given free on campus housing this summer through a job (in the financial aid office!) with someone who’s been unbelievably generous to me this whole way. And with my new waitressing job? I am gonna be okay. 

But I’m so much more than just okay. I am thriving. On a level I’ve never seen before. 

I enjoy going to work because I love the people I’m with. I make good money on my tips, and I’ve heard that I’m good at my job for someone who’s just started. Waitressing is throwing all the areas of situational mutism that I need to recover in my face, and while it’s definitely hard, I’ve grown so much as a person just in the past 2 weeks.

I’m planning to get the blasphemous badass tattoos I’ve dreamed of this summer, and I may finally change my name to my preferred, Max. I’m going to sharpen my harp skills at a Renaissance music camp on full scholarship for a week. I’m hanging out with friends, making new ones and learning to connect.

I’m going back to my old high school, empowered by finally being out, to make things better for LGBTQ+ people, while I also organize Asian American advocacy events, plan LGBTQ+ resource improvement at my university, and try to build community and resources for people who are recovering from and transitioning out of religious communities just like me. 

Life is an adventure now. Life is open, and full of possibilities, and while the world can be sketchy and complicated as hell, I’m all in it now, and it in me. I wanna travel, to live an unconventional life, to become and grow and heal every day. I am not just the person I always dreamed of being as a closeted, scared, traumatized born again Christian kid … I am becoming someone I didn’t even know I could be, and falling in love with them.

Before I lost my faith, my self, my world, I was supposed to go to a Bible Institute. Become a missionary, live my whole life for Jesus. Now, I’m a soon-to-be-tatted bisexual apostate, financially independent from her family, recovering from situational mutism, depression, disordered eating, and religious trauma, and an aspiring community/clinical social worker dedicated to empowering ex-religious people. I never saw this coming, but I’m so happy it did.

There’s a poem I read today that I think sums this all up. Fittingly, it’s “Autobiography of Eve” by Ansel Elkins.

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first
radical road out of that old kingdom
toward a new unknown.
When I came to those great flaming gates
of burning gold,
I stood alone in terror at the threshold
between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake—
at once alive in a blaze of green fire.

Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.

I leapt
to freedom.

 

Backing Slowly Away from Hell: Post-Traumatic Growth and Deconversion

“Sometimes you can only find heaven by backing slowly away from hell.”

Carrie Fisher quotes are a great start to any blog post, amirite?

Seriously though, I’ve got that quote up on my dorm room wall in red-orange pen, complete with a grinning skull doodle that I like to think Carrie would’ve appreciated. It’s there because it’s a really great way to sum up how my deconversion from Evangelical Christianity, and my struggle to survive in a new and godless reality, has been for the past five years. Backing slooowly away from hell, and a damn deep tan to go with it.

See, I was raised an Evangelical Christian, and being born again, being on fire for God, being in a singular and transformative and divine relationship with Jesus, that was everything to me. It’s what I based my imagination of the future, my goals, my social life, my thoughts, my speech, my daily routine, my values, my beliefs about the whole world, all around.

And then in high school, over a slow and shattering period of time, I quietly lost my belief. I realized that what I’d been taught wasn’t just wrong, it was toxic. But when I lost my belief, I lost my God, and I lost my very self. I went on pretending I still believed, not knowing how my parents would react, and the added agony of hiding it all meant that my relationships with my best friends, my church family, and my parents withered away.

I went to college. I was struggling with depression, dissociation, situational mutism, social anxiety, and the trauma of growing up and emotionally leaving the community and lifestyle that I was still physically trapped in. And then I met a man we’ll call Jonathan. And I loved him – human to human, I loved him, because he showed me love and grace, and with him I healed. He was there with me when I became obsessed with my spiritual trauma, when I went full hermit and descended into my depression and disordered eating. He saw me, witnessed me, and he was with me, unlike anyone I knew before.

And then he left. He left his job at my university right before the summer of freshman year, a summer I fully believed I would not survive, because I was going back home, and I expected the pain of hiding my loss to kill me. And that summer was hell. There was a pain, and an agony, and a redness in me, day after day. It also hit me that if my parents found out I was gay and godless, I wasn’t guaranteed safe, so I packed a secret duffel bag, memorized shelter numbers, planned out bus routes. Some days I was drowning in that red pain, because when Jon left, it was like he had died, and I had died with him. After all, he was my therapist, so I didn’t know if I’d ever see or speak to him again.

But I did survive that summer. In fall semester of sophomore year, I had to deal with the unpleasant, unexpected surprise of, uh, still being alive. Fall semester was another type of hell. I was alive, but I didn’t think it would last. There was something coming that I’d have to survive and I didn’t see the point of trying. I couldn’t see a future. Almost everything I’d believed in and loved had been a sick lie. I had lost myself, but never gone about creating a new one. I stayed in my room. I started compulsively visiting the nearby chapel, crying my eyes out, asking aloud how I was supposed to leave God behind when I had no idea how or what that even looked like. Winter break, I almost killed myself.

And then 2017 came.

And I don’t know how to explain it. I don’t know how to make a story out of this. I don’t need to, I think, or even want to, really. But it was like the breaking of a fever. And suddenly, I began to heal. I can pick out touchstones in that process now, small moments when my direction changed:

After the summer, like a cool slow breeze, I began to allow myself to imagine a future. It started with a 3-second byte: me, holding a mug, walking into a room in a cardigan. And it grew, very slowly. I wanted to do social work, help other people who were struggling to recover from their faiths like I was.

Before winter break, like lightning, like a rushing tide, sitting minding my own business in my therapist’s office, I wanted to live again, and I swear I felt my future self touch me. Out of goddamn nowhere. 

Moments after the clock struck 2017, I felt like my spirit pivoted, and all the hells I had been through were behind me. I was facing forward. I didn’t know how to live without God, to make a life despite the fact that I’d always heard that non-Christians were miserable and purposeless and destined for destruction. But hell if I wasn’t gonna try. Because I was tired of wasting away and hurting and feeling so damn lost. I was done with it.

It’s February now. And it’s still so hard to explain – but my God, I think I want to live. I am changed. Where I once believed that my only purpose in life was to glorify God, now I believe that life doesn’t have a purpose at all, and it’s incredibly, gloriously liberating. Absurdism freed me. I have learned how to love and let go at the same time, and while I will always miss and cherish Jon, after months of processing and hurting, I know I am a different person because he left, more gracious, more inspired, more tender. And I’m figuring out who I wanna be through who I can be, discovering just how damn much I love the idea that life doesn’t actually have as many rules as I thought.

I was thinking about all this last night – how I am changed through it all, miraculously, unbelievably, because I never saw any of this coming. It just happened to me. Again, like a fever breaking, like a chemical reaction. Old bonds were broken, new ones formed, structure reshaped and properties transformed… it’s a whole new look, boys. I feel brighter, cleaner, fresher. I feel renewed. I feel alive.

It turns out that this type of change is called post-traumatic growth. I stumbled on this idea by complete accident this morning. Post-traumatic growth is a positive change experienced as a result of the struggle with a major life crisis or a traumatic event. According to the Posttraumatic Growth Research Group, it’s got 5 major areas: awareness of new possibilities in life, warmer relationships and kinship with suffering people, a sense of personal strength, a greater appreciation for life, and a change or deepening in spiritual beliefs.

While people who go through trauma can face post traumatic symptoms, including PTSD itself, they also change, they grow. And that is true for me, so true. I feel myself, my own spirit, changing shape and color and tenor. I would never want to relive everything I went through. But I also know that I am healing, and that I have learned invaluable lessons from some (not all) of the ways I was hurt.

Don’t get me wrong, it was hell, and I’m not in heaven; I’m not glad I went through any of it. But I am really starting to like who I am now. I’m excited to see who I’m becoming. And I hope that you out there, you hurting/suffering/lost person, will find growth in your own way too. Even if you have to back ever so slowly away from hell to feel it. It’s the only reason this happens in the first place.

And don’t forget, if you’re already backing slowly away from hell, try and make s’mores while you’re at it.

Stray Thoughts in 2017: Being a Person, Community, Unexpected Good, and Loss, Like a Peculiar Fruit, Like Something Burning

Hey, we’re officially two months into 2017! So far, it’s been a mixed bag. A lot of great. A lot of no good, very bad nights and days, with the kind of trauma plot twists that are so horrific that all you can do is laugh. And a lot of unexpected good in between.

I thought in this post, I’d just mention a few things on my mind lately. Because there’s no one huge topic I want to write about right now – just a couple competing issues orbiting me like moons…

Just for some context, 2017 is a big-ass year for me. I’m now working 3 jobs (it sounds like a lot, even if it’s only 6.5-10 hours a week, and all very chill). I’m involved in leadership and community on campus like always. And I’m also taking the enormous step of trying to recover – from situational mutism, from depression, from Christianity, of trying to turn on my heel away from everything that has shackled me for so long and just peace on out into a better life. One that is both hell and heaven to make.

Been thinking lately about how to be a person. It’s probably no surprise that with everything I’m doing lately, I burned straight out two and a half weeks in. Right now, I couldn’t tell ya what kind of place I’m in, but it’s not where I was. I’m realizing that I don’t know how to relax, have fun, and casually exist. So my life right now includes a lot of me saying “nah” to commitments I would’ve jumped on before. “Fuck it” is the power phrase of the day.

Been thinking lately about belonging to a communityFor quite a few nights, I was really messed up (we’re talking suicidal), freaked out that the communities I’m in now would turn out to be toxic just like my church was. That I’d lose this home too – the first home I’ve had since I lost my church, everyone I loved and trusted, and the person I was. And that I’d just keep going through life finding and waking up to and losing homes. 

And then I realized that I’m thinking about people and communities all wrong. Can you guess who the culprit is? (That’s right. It’s Christian indoctrination. Gold star.) I guess if you grow up being taught that people are divided into groups of goodness, joy, love, and safety vs. wickedness, blindness, deceit, and danger, well. Let’s just say I never explicitly realized that humans are not whole good or bad.

But they are flawed – sometimes inexcusably, sometimes not. And that’s up to you. You decide who you want to stick around, who you want to stay the fuck away from, who you enjoy for the time being. Just because someone turns out to have fucked up, or to do something wrong or that you don’t agree with, doesn’t mean you have to shun and condemn them. All this time I thought I did. But instead – you trust your heart, but keep your eyes and ears open to the person in question, to other people’s experiences with that person, and to your own blind spots. Love wisely. 

Also been thinking about unexpected goodnessThe first week back in college was amazing. Recovery felt like it was going great. Then came the second and third weeks, and just… WOW. No. They were horrible on my mental health. But the Monday of this week, it was unexpectedly so easy to be a person and to work toward recovery, it felt like. And quite a few people care about me, it’s been revealed to me, in ways I didn’t expect, from places I didn’t expect. And I’m taking note of that now. I’m lucky and I’m glad.

And I’m thinking about how what I’m going through now is survivableI know that to other people it might sound crazy, but in the end, it’s chill. Just today, for example, I found out that the church that I have to go to in order to keep my family thinking I’m still a Christian? Yeah, it was founded by a former cult leader. And that’s just the most recent plot development with this situation. But my response was to just laugh. Honestly still is.

Thinking, last of all, about loss. So strange, going through hell yet knowing that you would not exist like you do now if you hadn’t. I lost someone, and I miss him in many ways, but they are littler and fewer and easier to breathe through as time goes on. I know that his sudden leaving was something I had to survive for months and months, that left a mark which shaped the body of the spirit I have today.

And I will always miss him and wish he hadn’t left and hope by some chance he’ll come back to work here, but I also have learned in the raw agony of losing him how to love and let go in a dozen different times and ways, to do life while knowing he’s out there doing life too, and that hopefully he’s happy-healthy-safe-secure as he does it —

And one day, maybe as we do life in separate parts of this planet, our paths will cross and we will do a little of our lives together. I know he’d like that. I didn’t make what he said up. I won’t forget it. And when that time comes, I’ll come look him up.

Strange, how the loss of another person will morph and ebb in you as time goes on, how it changes shape and taste and shrinks and rubs away at the edges, like a peculiar fruit, like something burning.

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.