Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's All in the (Renounced) Name... Or Not

[comment]  I don't know that you'll find as much relief in abandoning the label as you might think. ...[T]here is more than a rejection of a label involved, including yet another schism between you and the community of faith that, imperfect though it may be, has guided seekers for centuries. I just don't like accepting the hegemony of their "Believe this or you're out." I want to respond to them, "No, I'm not out, and you're not out, either. You reject me all you want: I'll not reject you."

Anyway, I'll say to you, "No, you're not out. Call yourself whatever, but you're not out, and Christ isn't done with you yet." :-)
No, I'm not Out but I want to be In in a whole different way.  You are a new reader so you probably haven't read enough of my story to know that I've already deconverted entirely about twenty years ago and only this last year and half come back to the Christian name.  So I know pretty much exactly what I can expect to find without using the label. 

It's not like I've been involved in a local church and been part of a physical faith community that I am now going to abandon.  This blog is my faith community and I'm not going to walk away from it.  Nothing external is going to change at all, nor is most of the internal stuff—I'm not leaving any of my barely-even-within-yelling-distance-from-the-box views on spiritual matters. 

The only thing that changes is the expectation I have perceived (most likely only from myself) that I conform to or rebel against conventional, stereotypical American Evangelicalism. Usually I like to live in that sort of tension—or, if like isn't quite the word, keep finding myself in that tension—but after all the work I've done this last year making peace with my demons, well, that sort of tension is just not something I am capable of thriving with for a while.

I certainly have HUGE issues left with Evangelical Christianity that will need to be addressed if I am to continue growing and not continue dying.  I am committed to working through them, eventually.  I want to exorcise enough of those old demons that I don't feel like I got kicked in the gut every time I hear my friend say, "Praise Jesus" when anyone else would say, "Oh, that's so great".

Should I have had any illusion about the existence of unexorcised demons, yesterday enlightened me!  My daughter's theater company rehearses at a local church campus.  We moms hang out in the church coffee shop.  A church member came in to solicit our attendance at a yoga class she is starting up during the rehearsal time.  I have been missing my yoga classes so I got excited—until she listed as her credential that she was Holy Yoga certified and explained how regular yoga is bad but Holy Yoga is good because there's all in English and with Christian music and prayers.  I heard her every word like a fist to the chest.  Yeah, I still got issues.

The whole point of the work of my last two years has been to tame the demons enough so that I can heal the schism between me and the two-thousand-year tradition of faith.  I have done loads of work finding out just what that ancient tradition is—since it is definitely not merely today’s conventional American Evangelicalism projected backwards in time, as I had been taught—I have spent thousands of hours reading hundreds of thousands of pages about the history of Christianity, theological history and debate, and the development of various streams of Christianity.  I probably have a graduate degree worth of education, if only I’d got academic credit!  
It is time for a “summer break” to rest and recoup from the work.  And as long as I continue to call myself Christian, I can't let go of the immediacy of the struggle.  After the hell of my last several years, learning to accommodate my hysterical illness, a need to rest is something I take very seriously.

This rest, different from previous times in my life, is one I can now take knowing that I have found a peace with Jesus and the Christian God that I never had before—as a Christian or as a heathen.  This is definitely giving myself a chance to "rest in the Lord" rather than a "shaking the dust off my feet" as it was when I ran howling into heathendom twenty years ago.

[comment] …as I read my comment again I'm afraid it looks like I'm dismissing the urge to step back and give oneself some breathing room, to distance oneself from harmful associations. I understand all that. 
But as you said, a lot of our healing can best be done in community, and I do believe that God has people within fallible Christian communities who can support and with whom seekers like ourselves can engage in the Christian mission of helping the hurting, etc. Here's the danger I alluded to: you might well be able to accept them if they're still calling themselves Christians, but ceasing to call yourself one might well sever some relationships or close some opportunities.
Ah, good, I was hoping you weren’t trying to tell me to “stay the course, fight the fight” without recognition of the natural rhythms necessary to success.  Because that would have inspired a whole ‘nother kind of sermon right back at ya.  Now I can address your larger point:  the mutuality of working, living, growing, and healing in community. 

I so deeply agree with you that I see your point as one of the rock bottom foundations of my continuing journey with Christianity—with or without taking on the name.  I have been deeply scarred, irretrievably bent/shaped/changed by Christianity. Learning to live with those scars, healing the remaining wounds, thriving in my own now-quirky way, is only possible by being in community.  In so many ways, deepest healing can only come at the hands of those that hurt—maybe not the exact people but those who represent them for me.  I cannot consider myself truly healthy until I can participate with my whole self in that community that taught me to be only part of myself. 

Finding myself, stopping the worst of the continuing damage, could only happen by stepping out of the Christian community and embracing heathendom in all its secular, passionate glory.  But having found that God is also a heathen, I needed to find that God could also be Christian.  That has been the great success of my last two years.  I found myself at a heathen as well, and will eventually need to find that I can be a Christian.  But that work is for the future.

For today, I have found it ironic—inspiring many a chuckle at myself—that, while I am demanding so insistently that I am relinquishing the name of Christian, I have subscribed to a half dozen new blogs (all overtly and directly Christian), started a new Pandora station on my iPhone (Mahalia Jackson), and also just bought myself a new Bible (that I’m actually reading without undue PTSD).  I may not claim the name anymore but I sure haven’t run very far away!


  1. I didn't have time to read the whole thing yet; but I couldn't help but say that I know exactly what you mean about the hearing "Praise Jesus" and other cultural Christian phrases. I have to constantly remind myself not to get judgmental as soon as someone makes those pre-packaged remarks and write the person off as shallow and ignorant. It's hard for me to remember sometimes that just because I've started looking further doesn't make me any less human than the people whose culture I've left behind.

  2. Duly noted and understood. It really bothers me when a newcomer to my blog drops in and starts doling out advice without being sufficiently familiar with my earlier writings and experiences. Mea culpa!


  3. I get that it's important to understand that " that God could also be Christian."
    And I do miss being part of a community.
    I'm not convinced that my healing won't be complete, unless I re-enter the religious world; at least in the sense of being part of any religious organization.

    I am finding community on the internet. I have friends who are believers . . . and I understand that no one has it all figured out . . .
    yeah, I guess if I was truly free, I wouldn't be troubled by the religiosity of others. Just not sure I need to spend much time around it.

  4. Steve,

    You know that I'm not rapping your knuckles too hard, right? You made some really good points--they just weren't relevant to me right now. But I like that you made them.

    There are so many people who've dropped in here who are doubting, questioning, not your regular in-the-box Christian, and I like the reminder that dropping out might not always be the best option. Certainly not the best option for the community at large. If all the doubters and free-thinkers leave the institutional community, those who are left will only grow ever more rabid and rigid.

  5. Pippi,

    Exactly. If I got all bent out of shape because of the discrimination, prejudice, and hypocrisy (among other things) of conventional religion, then makes me the hypocrite if I discriminate and prejudge based on cultural tics of the religion.

  6. Lynelle,

    I wouldn't have thought re-connecting positively with the hurting hand was a necessary step until just recently. I used to think, "just get out of Hell and move on". It is only now, twenty-some years later that I realize that I could't really move on. I only recreated variations on the same Hell in my life--different characters, same story. Until I can experience that story and all its triggers and hot buttons with compassion and forgiveness, I have not completely healed. Of course, complete healing can be the work of a lifetime, (or several lifetimes, maybe) with lots of opportunity to do good and be gracious while still wounded and scarred.

  7. Ahh .. love that last line. It reminds me of Nouwen's "wounded healer" concept.

    >>"Holy Yoga is good because there's all in English and with Christian music and prayers. I heard her every word like a fist to the chest."

    You will get to a point where you burst out laughing when you hear this kind of crap, rather than feel the fist to the chest. Honest. Hang on.

  8. DaveLou,

    Thanks, I look forward to having that ability. Too often I have no sense of humor at all--a symptom of my constant fatigue--and to think that I might someday even find the joke in what is now only pain is a good thing. I breathe a deep sigh of relief reading your encouragement.

    I have been reading some Nouwen and have more books on order. His writing seems to bypass my intellect and emotions almost entirely to drive directly to my soul.

  9. I completely resonate with these thoughts. Fundamentalism has left deep and lasting emotional issues, and like you, the very mention of God often gives me a physiological anxiety response. On a side note, I get you with the yoga- I actually just inquired yesterday about a yoga class. It makes me feel anxious to even consider a yoga class...crazy huh?

  10. Sometimes I run across a particularly healing song and feel compelled to share it with people who have been spiritually injured. Visit YouTube and search for Leonard Cohen's song "You Have Loved Enough." Most people don't understand the deep spiritual perspective from which he writes, so you may wish to ignore the images. Select the entry that has about 9,000 views - the audio is better, and in stereo. For anyone taught to work hard and get it right, this song is an effective antidote.

  11. Child,

    Yoga--so hideously misunderstood by Fundy-thinking Christians! My VERY fundy grandma told me in the 70s that yoga will open your mind for Satan to come in (since I already worried that Satan possessed me for my psychic capacity, this was no small threat). She told me a story about a yoga class my aunt had attended that ended in "lying around on the floor, emptying their minds", during which time a scary thing (the exact description escapes me after all these years) appeared to my aunt and she knew it was the Evil One come for her soul. Recently, I recounted the story to my aunt who laughed and said no such thing had ever happened to her.

    I credit yoga largely with saving my life about ten years ago when I had what was then undiagnosed but looks to have been Addison's disease (severe adrenal gland dysfunction, fatal if untreated). While yoga can't substitute for appropriate hormonal intervention, it can do wonders for reducing the load the dysfunctional adrenals carry.

    Yoga was the venue in which I accepted the wooing of God that I had fought my whole life. I had a teacher who created a sacred space in each class so that, for those so inclined, the yoga was a physical prayer, a song of the body sung to the Divine. The savasana (meditation) at the end was allowing God the space to sing back.

    I moved out of state and couldn't find a yoga teacher I liked that I could afford. When I could afford it again, I was already unbeknownst experiencing the early symptoms of my hysterical illness and the movements themselves became excruciating. I still miss it. It has been four years since my last class, almost 7 since the last class I took regularly. Sigh.

  12. Although I don’t identify completely with your stance, having never swung the pendulum all the way to the heathen side, I surely identify with much of what you are saying, including the feeling of being punched in the gut when certain statements of well-meaning Christians trigger stuff from the past that will probably always be with me in some form or another.

    Terry Gray

  13. Sandra, that was beautiful and very trasnparent..and I'd say you definitely have an academic degree in religious studies!


  14. DaveLou,

    Thanks for the Cohen recommendation. I'd never heard of him before but I really like this song. I'll be looking into more of his stuff.

  15. Hahaha! Sandra I am a naughty naughty girl. I just bought the Holy Yoga book around Christmas, for a very unholy reason. To leave lying around my living room while my Dallas Theological Seminary patriarchal missionary in-laws were visiting, just to rattle their cage.

    Ah, I amuse myself. n_n

  16. that's it, young lady! you march yourself right into your room and pray to God (heavy emphasis on that phrase) to forgive your wicked, wicked heart! :)

    Gah! Fundies make is so easy to yank their chains, ya know? They take themselves soooo seriously! I find myself still doing that--taking myself too seriously, I mean, and getting all defensive when my family pokes some fun at my fascination with all things religious.

    but good for you, Shadow, thanks for sharing the chuckle!