Monday, April 30, 2012

From Minister to Atheist

I saw this link from at least three different sources today.  Including someone who I thought shouldn’t have been shocked at the story. Here is my response:

You can't believe that a church would treat the clergy this badly? You, who have yourself been the recipient of similar if not so public abuse? You, whose own son was thrown out of more than one religious job for absurd reasons and with likely illegal process?  Every member of your family through several generations has been boxed in, closed down, and shut out of Christian ministry positions, and this story surprises you? 

In my almost three years since coming back to Christianity, I have heard dozens of similar stories: ministers living a lie to keep their job or telling their truth and losing their credibility and their livelihood. I have at least three friends on Facebook (that I can think of off the top of my head, probably more if I were to go look at my not-extensive friends list) who were thrown out of their positions of ministry with public acrimony. This woman's story is tragic but mostly for its ubiquity. No one shoots the wounded like Christians. 

I long to create a sanctuary for precisely these kind of hurting souls. I have wanted to minister to the ministers (while I was in the Christian world or to other secular ministers when I wasn’t) for as long as I have thought about "what I want to be when I grow up" but I was told explicitly and implicitly that there was no call for such a mission and if there were I was unqualified to fill it. 

But the stories are coming out now. The need is desperately real.  I ache with knowing that I could have helped so many people just like this woman over the last few decades but I myself was dismissed, boxed in, and shut out of organized religion. 

And people wonder why I cringe at calling myself a Christian, why I don't go to church, why I blister tirades at religious incivility and bigotry, and wince when they tell me I need to forgive and listen to God more. 

Yeah, I was listening to God, and my God-given reason, when the church marginalized me right out the door. But now there is the Internet ... and I have a blog!

I'm not as angry with you, dear friend, as it might seem. I am angry at intolerance and prejudice, rudeness and contempt from people who claim to follow a prince of peace who said famously, "your fidelity has saved you; go in peace.”

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Being Eeyore: When You Are a Melancholy Child

Recently I was talking with someone who asked if I’d ever struggled with depression.  I chuckled ironically and replied, “Eeyore is my patron saint.”  Gloomy, broody, shades-of-grey melancholia has been my gift/curse for as long as I can remember.  For my sixth birthday, my father bought me a stuffed Eeyore because it reminded him so much of me.  I treasured that little donkey for years because he understood me.  Though I lost his pinned-on tail more often than I repinned it. And, eventually, to my continued regret, I lost the animal himself.

When my friend asked if I’d ever been diagnosed with clinical depression and I said, “no, but only because I never went into a clinic for a diagnosis.”  Growing up fundy Christian, we had a horror of both depression and psychology.  “Just give it to God,” I heard, “depression is only the prideful ego holding onto willful selfishness.”  And the only cure preached was a deeper commitment to “submitting to God’s Will” because the Bible says that True Christians will always have joy, which was interpreted to mean being “cheerful and joyous at all times.” 

I faked it as best I could, but still found myself in pastoral counseling with my father as the pastoral counselor (who thought that was a good idea?) and when he gave up in frustration, I was sent with my despair to the senior pastor.  His answer to my 12-year-old inquiry, “how can I ‘love my neighbor as myself’ if I don’t love myself?” was to turn Jesus’s lesson on its head with an explanation of how hating myself was actually a good thing and loving others more than I loved myself was really what the Bible meant to say.

About the same time, my school started a series of suicide-prevention public service announcements and I began to wonder why Christians didn’t just engage in mass suicide and be done with it.  If physical life was just something to be endured until the “race was won” and we achieved our “eternal reward,” then why go through the rigmarole of petty humanity at all?  I determined then never to marry or have children and thereby tie myself to mortal life since spiritual eternity was all that mattered.

Existential angst has been the descant my soul sings against the dueling melodies of fundamentalism and secular materialism.  Both church and culture insist that melancholia and pessimism are wrong, real downers, and avoidable character flaws if only we Grumpy Gus’s tried harder to be happy (or, more recently, would take our  pills to change our obviously pathological brain chemistry).  When I first heard of existential philosophy, a rush of gratitude flowed through me—I wasn’t flawed, deficient or sinful!  Many brilliant mental giants asked these same questions I labored with.  My euphoria was short-lived when I recognized that both religion and psychology still saw them as something to be fixed, saved, analyzed. 

Years later, when I went on to college and studied psychology despite the tut-tutting of my family and church, I came across a little statistic that made me chuckle: depressed people have a more accurate perception of reality than non-depressed people.  So, I realized, happy people were just lying to themselves in order to feel good.  That made so much sense!  If my experience of the world were normal, I couldn’t understand how anyone kept getting up in the morning.  I began to understand that what I’d thought for so long really was true—they were all faking it, but the primary people they were lying to were themselves! 

I felt vindicated but no more able to jump out of bed and be a good little cog in the economic wheel than ever.  I continued faking it, only with the self-knowledge that I was faking it.