Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A Rant on Christmas Day 2013

I was so happy to finally be able to go to Midnight Mass again.  I've been too sick to go for the last three or four years and I was excited to feel up to a late night in a crowd.  I began attending Mass about ten years ago when I missed a religious component to Christmas in our very secular household—I particularly missed singing all the Christmas carols.  I chose Mass over a Protestant service because there's lots of singing, praying, liturgy (that I can bring my own meaning to), and not so much preaching.  And generally Catholics really know how to enjoy the Baby Jesus and the Holy Family, Protestants tend to skip over Jesus' actual life—he was born so he could die, that's the only important thing!

Last night my 15yo and I went to a different church than we've gone to in the past, to meet up with a friend of hers.  The service was very much about the pageantry and spectacle:  the Knights of Columbus in full regalia, swords aloft, to guard the procession of the Bible and the priests to the altar; incensing everything; bowing, kissing, crossing, in front of statues, Bibles, Eucharist paraphernalia; the entire liturgy was sung, we bounced from seated to standing to kneeling to standing.  It was high drama religious theater.

Then the pastor comes down in front of the altar to preach and starts out with a slide of an Orthodox icon that he used to introduce his point in object lesson form.  Initially I was impressed because this guy was clearly reaching outside his own tradition in what he considered a broad-minded and ecumenical inclusion.  But then he veered off into his main point—the baby Jesus depicted in grave clothes and in a coffin, the Reason for the Season is Death and Ultimate Sacrifice (as if being born a human baby isn't a bigger sacrifice for a deity).  That God "loved" us so much that …blah, blah, blah, John 3:16…that God loves us enough to transform us (loves us enough to change us from our obviously currently unacceptable selves) if only we will let him.  Still the onus on us to DO something to "be reconciled" with God.

But truly, all that depressing theology aside, the bits of the homily that upset me the most, that I raved about all the way home (at one in the morning, to the annoyance of my totally "all religion is a joke" daughter) was the casual, almost throwaway references to the Culture War:  the priest opened his homily with "Merry Christmas! (We responded "Merry Christmas, Father") You can say that here.  Unlike Out There, like in the stores and stuff, where you might not be able to say it, here we rejoice that we can loudly proclaim the reason for our celebration…."  (Really?  There are places, stores or anywhere, where people are not allowed to say Merry Christmas to each other?  Where does this priest hang out?), and then later his patronizing tirade about an atheist conspiracy to evangelize our youth into atheism, by spending "lots and lots and lots" of money on "billboards around town, I'm sure you've seen them" that try to claim God isn't a rational proposition "when we all know, everyone knows deep in your heart that God exists."

Why?  Why make up shit like that? There are enough reasons that actually do exist, that are real problems faced by Christians even in a society that privileges Christianity, why make up stuff?  Although I admitted, that he probably actually believed it was true.  He seemed like a True Believer™ so he most likely didn't even think he was propagandizing. 

Which was probably the saddest thing I saw last night.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Trauma Therapy--Heavy Metal Style

A friend sent me a link to this song, thinking its story might find resonance with my story. He had no idea how right he was. Despite his trigger warning, I didn't expect how deeply into the buried recesses of my mind this song would reach.  I listened to it probably five times straight through before I could make myself quit hitting repeat.  Or, my hands were shaking so badly I couldn't press the button.  I didn't have the luxury of truly falling apart then. Ruthlessly shoving the response back into barely conscious places, I kept on with my week until I did have a few hours of uninterrupted time to allow the ripples of trauma to bubble up from their underground hiding places.

The migraines and gastric disruption that I had so recently learned how to (mostly) control came back and lingered despite my extra handfuls of pills.  Fatigue overtook me again no matter how early I went to bed.  Strange dreams echoed (barely) into my waking.  I needed to feel this song.  Hear this song.  Sing these lyrics. Scream these lyrics.

This song is mine, it owns me.  It cries the words I've never said, could never say.  It is the song of far too many, so many children grown to adult or even old age without the words to capture the ache in their souls. The smoldering coals of rage that lie waiting under the ashes of long burnt flame in so many hearts, branded on our bodies in chronic disease, mental disorder, addiction and social dysfunction.

This morning I put this video on constant replay for nearly two hours, until the shaking and nausea ended.  Even so, I was able to only barely more than whisper the words, though now they echo like a descant in the back of my mind. It still owns me.

I will sing this song, write this song, my story, until I own it.  Until I own it and can set it free.

Saturday, June 8, 2013


I lay in my bed and the darkness closes in.
The world around me silent
Only the chatter in my mind clamoring for attention.

Why didn't you
You should have
Did you think of
What about

I bolt upright.
No more! Make it stop!
I turn on the light.

The voices recede to quiet muttering
Until my eyelids droop
And I slide into sleep.

Screams and
And moans and

When will it end?  Will it
Ever end?

Morpheus, sweet Morpheus,
Silence the pain
And let me sleep.

And let me sleep.

(© 1987)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Truth and Reconciliation: a Beginning

(reprinted with permission) 

 Dear Sandy, 

As I was eating my brunch just now, I couldn’t get your blog post out of my mind. I really didn’t try too hard, realizing that stuffing uncomfortable thoughts, images, memories is one of the things I tend to do.  I decided to reread it, now that I am straight on whose words these are—not some author whose book I’d read and with whom I felt a certain pain, but my daughter … whose pain over this I was not aware of for I don’t ever remember hearing of these events … unless these were among those thought, images, and memories that I stuffed because they were too uncomfortable for me to live with. 

When I first read the post before brunch, I was struck by your description: "Men, however, especially with a liter or two of lager in them, were delighted to ‘talk about love’. And to fondle me, grope my breasts, and press their leering, beery bodies close to mine.” I had felt revolt that these half-drunk slobs would do such things to Rachel.  But as I reread it, knowing this is you talking, I am more than revolted.  I was ready to punch them in their red, inebriated noses!  “That’s my young daughter your treating like less than a human being.  You are just that—less than a human being—to act that way!” 

Then, the thought entered my mind, “And how many times have I thought of such things, without acting on them?” That is all part of the patriarchal culture I was reared in, and which I am having one hell of a time pulling myself out of for it is so engrained in my as an integral part of psyche! 

The patriarchal home in which you were raised was more subtle than those half-drunks, but no less damaging. My therapist and I have talked about the fact that I was abused growing up by my mother—emotional incest—and that has the same lasting effects that sexual abuse does. Surely the attitudes, actions, words, innuendos, double entendres, and the like, that were evident as you were growing up, were equally as damaging to you. 

And when I think that I was as responsible for this part of your abuse as were those intoxicated guys, I more than cringe! I get equally angry. My only excuse: I didn’t know better. I was simply repeating what I had experienced in my home growing up with a father who had wanted to divorce my mother after having more than one affair … even as he actively took part in leading worship of our fundamentalist congregation. 

Obviously all this is well engrained, not something involving just your, mine, and my parents’ generations. It goes back to the beginning of the church, back to its Jewish roots. Women are property … playthings. Oh, I never heard it put so bluntly within the church. 

No wonder you did not talk to anyone about this? The men in leadership would have been more blind than I, and the women had been beaten into submission to men since they themselves were children. That’s the way it was (and still is in many places). Surely this price was not to much to pay so that one of those slobs on the streets of Dusseldorf could find the “joys” that you had found in being a Christian! Did the mission leadership have any idea what was going on out there on the streets? And if they did, were they at all aware of the horrible effect it was having on the young women and teenage girls they were sending into the brothel, as it were, to surrender their bodies and souls for Christ? 

If you had said anything (it is probably just as well you didn’t!), you’d not have been “given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover. There would have been no sense of the fact that you needed “a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.” If you had mentioned it to me—and if you did, I (like the leadership) unconsciously considered it too insignificant to deal with or even remember—I would have had no idea that you needed to be “given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.” It would have all been off our radar screens; we would have seen you as less than dedicated. (God, did I really just write that about myself?) 

Oh, Sandy! What I’m experiencing as I read and write just now is so eye-opening.  And so horrifying. 

Ah, and when you realized you were being abused, you felt that you were cheating God by not being willing to sacrifice yourself—including sexually—on that so-called Christian altar. How often I’ve felt the same way, though not because I was sexually abused, just because I was not a good witness, I was not willing to die for Jesus.  And oh the shame that has grown within me. 

I have not resolved anything here, but I did not intend to.  I only want you to know that my eyes were opened if just a bit, that I’m willing to see some of your pain, that there is a new awareness of things relative to you, to the church, to patriarchal Christianity, to the homes you and I grew up in. 

All I can say is that I can pray for you as you enter your personal retreat next week, and I can pray with much more awareness than I could have an hour ago.  May the compassionate God meet you during your times of thought, meditation, relaxation, unburdening, and the like; may find healing. 

Sandy, my daughter, forgive me for all I have done, years ago and much more recently, out of utter ignorance and blindness. I love you.  I cry with you. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Will You Live for Jesus Today?"

(My response to "Why I Don't Witness to People on Airplanes" by Rachel Held Evans)

I abhor "evangelism", "witnessing", and whatever else people call proselytizing for Christianity. Now, in my late 40s, I am much more confident striking up conversations with strangers than I ever was growing up in Evangelicalism, but I'm also much less inclined than ever to sell someone an ideology they likely don't need and definitely weren't looking for before I crossed their path. I had my fill of the guilt trips for being a preacher's daughter who'd never "brought a soul to Jesus" and who couldn't work The Four Spiritual Laws into my conversational gambits. I'd had my fill of the guilt and subsequent doubting of my own worthiness and my own salvation long before I actually gave up the practice, though. Peer pressure, I guess.
But the real reason I stopped trying to "advance the Gospel" directly was my experiences as a summer missionary working the local beer fests for the annual evangelism push of a church in Dusseldorf.
Given no training or advice beyond a pick-up line ('Can I talk to you about love?") and a stack of church literature, I was sent out to the streets during the day and into the festivals in the evening. Not surprisingly, women didn't want to have anything to do with someone pushing religious literature at them and turned away before I could even get my line out.
Men, however, especially with a liter or two of lager in them, were delighted to "talk about love". And to fondle me, grope my breasts, and press their leering, beery bodies close to mine. The conditions of love they suggested didn't involve attending church the next Sunday.
Given my upbringing in the church, I was sure that there was something I was doing to entice them, that I led those men into thinking I was offering something besides Jesus. I was also trained that no price was too high, no insult too much, not when it was the Gospel. So I continued my duties, night after night at the fairgrounds, feeling ever more like I'd totally failed God.
Finally I broke down at a street theater evangelism at the end of the week. I walked away from my assigned task of working the gathered crowd. I sat down on a bench across the plaza, sure that I was cheating God--despite the fact that I was shaking, my teeth were chattering in my effort to hold myself together, and I could barely stand anymore I was so weak from the strain. I let myself cry for about five minutes, wrote in my journal about how unsuited I was for the Lord's Work, and worried that someone from the church would "catch me playing hooky."
It wasn't until two decades later that I realized how traumatized I'd been by the sexual assaults to which I'd been subjected, and that what I'd experienced had actually been sexual assault. Twenty years until I got pissed off that any young woman (or girl, we had teens on our team) should be sent out alone into partying crowds, that women are taught that we have to accept such insult, that it is our fault when men act disrespectfully. Twenty years before I realized that it had never even occurred to me, nor to my fellow team members (male or female), to inform the evangelism organizers of my experiences; much less to expect that I be given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.
But after that summer, I never again felt guilty about not "living for Jesus today".

Thursday, April 4, 2013

10 Things on Thursday

I am planning a solitary DIY retreat for the last week in April.  Here are ten things for my portable altar:

1.  An alter cloth (that will double as a head scarf when I am out in the sun)

2.  A few tea light candles

3.  A lighter

4.  A small abalone shell to hold the candle

5.  A found shell that reminds me of half a wing as a meditative focus

6.  A bag of Dead Sea salts

7.  A flask of whiskey (yeah, not really this one)

8.  Heretic Anointing Oil (my own blend that a local store makes up for me)

9.  A collection of prayers

10. A rose petal/white sage smudge bundle

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Weaker Vessel

I see myself
In the sight of men.

Men who exploited
My innocence,
My obedience,
My female body,
To gratify their own lusting.

To assuage the bursting ache of their own grasping for control, they used me.

Because of their use,
They despised me.

I am a
Walking manifestation of the
Evil they have been
And cannot acknowledge.
I must bear their shame:

It must be I who
Am too alluring
With my developing sexual body.

I who
In my very vulnerability
Should be protecting myself
And them
From their own over-reaching desires.

I am the one in the wrong place, in the wrong clothes, too weak, too alone, too silent.

I wear the mark
Of their transgressions
In my wounded eyes. 

I fear
The evil I must be
To have tempted those
In whose care I am
To violate their sacred responsibility.

The weight of their (my) shame weighs heavy on my soul.

(© 2013)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Living in the And

Lent has traditionally been understood as a preparatory time before Easter to participate in the sacrifices of Christ by making some difficult sacrifices of your own--usually involving some kind of fasting (no meat, no fats/oils, no sweets, hence the over the top revels of Fat Tuesday to mark the end of Mardi Gras--literally Fat Tuesday--with the sweet and fatty foods) as well as something unique to the penitent that is given up. By entering into the sacrificial postures, it is supposed to make you more aware of how much more Christ gave up to descend to humanity and be killed on your behalf.

I am not a substitutionary atonement adherent and don't observe Lent with those purposes. I see the death and resurrection of Christ as just another variation of the many springtime renewal stories. Every tradition has something that honors the Life Cycle springing forth at this time of year. Whether it is a Pagan celebration of Earth Day, Chinese New Year, Passover/Easter, everyone has some ritual of honoring that which died in order to generate the new life that sustains us through the coming year.

For me, personally, I am looking at the death of who I was (more accurately, who I thought I was) and the rebirth of myself into who I am becoming. It is a time every year when I consciously try to let go of habits of thought and pre-conceived ideas about who I am, of what I think the world is, of How Things Are. The Lenten period marks a space between the worlds, a gestation as it were between What Was and What Is. Yogis talk often about the Space Between the Breaths. a little death in the middle of the breathing that sustains us. Enlightenment, they say, is to be found in the Space Between, in the And of in-and-out. 

For me, Lent is a conscious Space Between last year and next year. It is living in the And. Recognizing a space between Ending what came before and Beginning the rest of my life.Therefore I take up practices for the Lenten season that will provoke my thinking into that death-and-resurrection, rest-and-renewal, sort of focus. Usually some form of meditation, some form of giving-up, some form of service, or all three.This year I'm attempting all three: a fairly rigorous dietary restriction for the purpose of clearing my mind and entering the hidden depths of repressed memories and emotions, a meditation on my old journals and (unexpectedly) the New Testament book of James, and a creative service by participating in the Religion-Free Bible Project and (hopefully) getting my Heretic blogging back up and running.

It is a hefty undertaking. More than I have attempted before. Given my health ups-and-downs (mostly downs) I don't know how much of my To-Do list will get done. But the honor is in the attempt, in the being willing to place myself in the space, to submit to the process, rather than the perfect execution of the tasks.