Category Archives: Christianity

torn

Standard

Nothing’s fine, I’m torn

I’m all out of faith
This is how I feel
I’m cold and I am shamed
Lying naked on the floor

Illusion never changed
Into something real
I’m wide awake and I can see
The perfect sky is torn
You’re a little late, I’m already torn

My grandparents are still in my old church; they, however, are in slightly more liberal branches of the denomination. A few days ago, my grandfather passed away and I went out to my old church for his funeral. Funerals in my old church are huge affairs–my grandpa was not a super wealthy man, and he was extremely soft-spoken, but somehow everyone in the community seemed to know him, and over 300 people came to the funeral. The funeral was at the church, so I had to sit through a sermon and talk to hundreds of people that I don’t really know but who know me as one of my dad’s kids who left the church. They’re really sweet people, but it’s an awkward situation all the same.

My old church is almost Amish or Mennonite in many ways. They wear head coverings, never let women speak in church, have strong family and church ties, often farm (it’s considered the most holy occupation…although not said in so many words), adhere to strict gender roles, eschew LGBT* folks and secular therapy. Baseball games and movies are forbidden, along with, in many cases, Facebook and internet. There is no music except ancient hymns, and any kind of musical instruments are forbidden in church. Marriages are arranged and things like a “holy kiss of greeting” are pulled from passages in the Bible with no regard to context or anything.

And yet, they’re really good at some things. They came together and brought food for my grandma and my family all week. They left work and school on a Thursday morning to attend a funeral and make a huge meal at the church to feed everyone who came. People in the church can travel across the US and find others in the church who will welcome them into their homes for the night without a second thought, even though they may have never met them. There’s a sense of community unmatched in what I’ve found outside of the church. Everyone knows what they are supposed to do, and you know your salvation is safe if you follow the rules (and repent after every sin). You don’t have to make many guesses because you just follow what you’re supposed to do. And they care for the elderly really well. I work as a nurse tech in a nursing home and I know how rare this is.

It’s not been easy leaving. There’s really great days, yes. Days I love. I am making plans and dreaming of a life I’d never have gotten to have in the church. But sometimes it’s overwhelming. After being back in my old church this weekend for just a few hours, all my insecurities and questions and that feeling of being utterly, completely, totally lost in a foreign country I don’t understand came rushing back. I almost couldn’t breathe. It was so strong. Part of me wants to go back. I know there’s problems, and I know I could never fully agree with them on many things, but I could fake it through the entrance process and then I’d have that security and unambiguity that I long for. Change has never been easy for me, even if the status quo was miserable. And the thing is, I keep telling myself that maybe the misery would be worth the benefits. I could probably settle down into being a wife and mom. I practically raised my seven siblings, and I can keep a house with the best of them. I could pretend to be ok with that, and get by. I could settle down and quiet my fears and anxieties and be reasonably happy.

But deep down, I don’t know if this would ever work. And I know I would probably regret some of it for the rest of my life. Being that fake to myself would be hard. It would get easier, but it would kill a tiny part of me too. I know I’m probably romanticizing it a lot, because…I know there’s issues there too. It’s so hard, so lonely, sometimes. I want to curl up in a ball and cry. Can I really make it? Am I strong enough to walk away from the cult and build a new life outside of it? I don’t know. Some days, I just don’t know.

Christianity and mental health

Standard

Recently Voddie Baucham, a respected homeschool leader, preached a sermon in his church on mental illness. (Here is the transcript, thanks to R L Stollar, who also wrote an analysis of the sermon.) I normally avoid evangelicals teaching about mental illness. I’ve been too screwed over, too hurt, too much more damaged when trying to seek help from them. I’d rather just avoid that conversation, because I’m still too raw. I don’t put myself into places where I have to expose a vulnerable part of myself to unsympathetic people.

What I’ve realized, though, is that to constantly stay silent in this area caters to both the power of the abuser and the pain of the abused. If I do not speak up, can I really be angry that only a brave few are calling these people out on their words?

I have a long and messy mental health history, including: hospitalization, treatment, antipsychotics, antidepressants, nouthetic counseling, secular counseling…you name it. I’ve been diagnosed with multiple psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety (those, along with PTSD, are the only ones that actually held water). I have a lot of shame about this, and rarely talk about it. I am well aware that it could affect my chances of working where I want to work or applying to residencies and programs. I don’t know how much it will limit me, but there is a chance. For all of these reasons, I choose to keep silent for the most part when there are discussions about mental illness and the church. I’m tired of being silent, though.

My first experience with counseling was when I was 16. I was a cutter, I had suicide ideation and an eating disorder, and I had depression and anxiety. The first counselor my parents took me to was a nouthetic counselor. (For those unfamiliar with the term, it is basically just a counselor that uses the Bible above all else, scorning secular psychology.) My counselor did, to her credit, completely discredit all secular psychology–at least at first. She did, however, use several questionable practices. She refused to keep confidentiality, relaying to my parents anything I said. She was highly codependent, allowing me to overstay my sessions and including me in her family’s life. She overshared her personal life. These were merely bad counseling practices, unethical as a matter of fact.

What was more insidious, and more dangerous, was her twisted ways of mixing the Bible with her counseling. She was the first person that I disclosed my sexual abuse to. While she originally seemed non-condemnatory and affirming, she soon began to twist her words. She began to tell me I had to forgive my rapist, to confess my sin in the matter (I was five when it happened, not that age matters). The “bible study” homework that she gave me increasingly focused on my attitudes and actions. I was told that if I received negative attention in the future, it would be due to the fact that I had sexual fantasies and read erotica. My questioning of my sexuality was immediately rebuffed. I was criticized for letting my “trauma” influence my worldview. I was required to report on the contents of my counseling sessions to my parents, not that it mattered, as they already got emails after almost every session with the details.

I spent a few months in a treatment center when my self-destructive coping mechanisms got to be too much to deal with. By the grace of all that is above, I ended up in an amazing, secular center. I heard truth about recovery, trauma, and abuse. Without going into details, I will say that it was a one of a kind education in mental health and wellness, and how to deal with trauma. I left it with the tools to build a healthier, happier, safer, and saner life.

But after leaving, I still had to fight my demons. I still struggled with shame that I had to take meds. I felt guilty that I chose to stop going to church, even as I knew it was the right decision for me. I faced judgment from my family. I eventually broke ties with that counselor for good, but even that left me with a nasty scar. I can’t discuss her much to this day. I keep that boundary for my own health.

Mental health treatment in the hands of unqualified people, especially Christians, is a dangerous, dangerous thing. Voddie Baucham is not even a counselor, but his words will hurt many people, and I am sure already have hurt those in his congregation that morning. I fully support a licensing system for mental health professionals, just like we have for medical professionals. You wouldn’t want anyone who called themselves a surgeon operating on your physical bodies, and you shouldn’t accept anyone who calls themselves a counselor tampering with your mind. It’s dangerous, and deadly. I tried to commit suicide because of the condemnatory messages I received from pastors, the nouthetic counselor, and other well-intentioned but misguided Christians.

We need to speak up. Mental health is still very much a stigmatized topic in this country, but it is exponentially more so in Christian circles. This prevents people from getting the help they need. Just this week, Leelah Alcorn committed suicide because her parents refused to accept her transgender identity and acknowledge or support her. Christian teachings on mental illness are actively harming people, actively leading to suicide, injury, and compounded illness. I could cry, or I could rage. I don’t know which I feel like doing. What I will continue to do is speak. I will not let my voice be silenced, and I will speak for the now-silent who could have had a chance for help if they had someone who listened to them and accepted them. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It can be treated, and there is help. And you don’t have to be a Christian to change someone’s life.

when you never have enough

Standard

I grew up in a home where we ALWAYS had enough. And more than enough. My dad had an amazing job which both allowed him lots of flexibility and garnered a more than ample income. We never lacked for clothes, shoes, food, a roof over our heads–or the optional things like gifts, vacations, tuition for tutorials, musical instruments. Despite all of this, I have grown up with a scarcity mentality, and it bothers me greatly. I mean, after all of that, I shouldn’t have a pervasive scarcity mentality. But I do.

Lately I have had some troubles at one of my jobs. The management and staffing are deplorable, we don’t have enough supplies, and several of my male coworkers have made sexually disparaging comments about and toward me. Additionally, I found out that we have several registered sex offenders in our facility, and one night I had my first experience (after a year in healthcare) with a coding patient. Needless to say, it has been stressful. I recently reentered the world of long-term care after taking a year long hiatus in which I nannied and worked in childcare. I’ve had my misgivings. As a result, I decided to apply at a home health care agency and see what happened. Which was a perfectly reasonable and logical move.

Except. I am currently working three regular jobs, and while none of them are full time I still end up with 45-50 hours a week on top of being a full time student. I’m on a full ride academic scholarship at my university, so I have only a few incidental expenses to cover since my scholarship covers room and board as well as books, fees and tuition. I don’t NEED three jobs to make ends meet. Some of my coworkers do, and I have the utmost admiration for them and the amazingly hard amount of work they do. But for me, I don’t need to do it, and it’s almost a little insane that I keep doing it. I didn’t need to apply for a new job, or if I did I needed to look at the very real decision to quit at least one of the jobs I currently have and focus more on one job.

I quickly got three call backs from the agencies I applied to. I went in for an interview at one, and they seemed likely to offer me the job. However, they weren’t open to working with my schedule because of school, and that was a no go. I had to withdraw my application, and I started freaking out because that likely meant they would never hire me. Reality was, it’s not in my field, it isn’t a job I will likely ever apply to again, they weren’t willing to work with my schedule, they didn’t pay great, I would have to drive and would not get gas compensation, and if I wanted to work in that field the demand is so high and supply so low that I would not have a problem getting a job with another agency down the road. But I was still freaking out.

After talking to a friend, I realized that I live my life like this. I stockpile food and snacks. I often have food go bad because I don’t eat it in time. I have enough soap and shampoo to last for the rest of my life, I think. At least several years. I collect books and paper, notebooks and pencils, pens, gloves from work, magazines and newspapers. I’m so afraid of not having enough that I always get more than I need.

I thought back to my childhood, and even though we always had enough, I remember my mom constantly holding the possibility of my dad losing his job over our heads. Then what would we do? she’d say. In reality, there wasn’t much of a chance of this, but we didn’t know better. We constantly heard stories of people not having enough to eat and how we should be grateful. My parents didn’t shy away from telling us stories of people who lost their homes or didn’t have food in the cupboards. They believed in exposing us to the more grisly side of life unnecessarily, for reasons I don’t know if I’ll ever quite understand (we also heard in depth accounts of torture and death of Christians for their faith, but that deserves its own post).

I grew up trying to reconcile the cognitive dissonance that comes from being told on one hand that if you work hard and are responsible, you will be ahead of every other non-Christian in the world who doesn’t (yeah, bs) and on the other worrying that your extremely hardworking father will lose his job at any moment. And that has left me with an insane fear that I can never work enough, never be busy enough, never be make enough money, to feel secure. I always feel like I could be/should be doing more.

Each day I am working to undo this dangerous and problematic mindset, although it’s been a hard road. I have to remind myself that people and mental health are more important than a padded bank account. I have to set aside time to take care of myself and tell myself that taking time out to read, walk, go out to eat or watch a movie (heaven forbid I spend money on myself) is not a crime or a sin. And for today, I think I need to quit a job.

I’m not a weapon

Standard

As a homeschooled child/adult/person, I’m really tired of being called a weapon. Last week I read an article that compared homeschooled students to “firearms in private hands.” I grew up hearing that I was an “arrow” in a “quiver” (Psalm 127:4), that I was a culture warrior being “equipped to positively influence the politics of tomorrow.” Look, people! I’m not a rifle or a pistol or an AK-47 or anything like that. The difference pertinent to this article is that I have a brain. All the programming in the world is not going to turn me into one, either.

Unfortunately, the idea of your children being culture-changers is inbred in Christian fundamentalism homeschooling circles. It’s everywhere. Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism writes about it frequently. It’s considered good practice, and often the reason that parents keep kids home. My parents kept us at home partly because they wanted to give us a firm foundation (read teach us to think exactly what they thought and be able to reason and argue and defend that mindset). They thought that this was their duty, encouraged by the likes of Michael Farris and others. Raise your children in a Christian home, teach them Biblical principles, have them memorize entire books of scripture, homeschool them, shelter them from any outside influence possible, and teach them that their role in life (secondary to their complementarian gender roles) is to propagate those beliefs in the world. If you do this, your kids will become perfect little clones of you, and they will “withstand the devil’s fiery darts.” It’s like a math equation.

There are so. many. problems. with this. It harms everyone. It hurts parents–they feel like they have not done something right. The gurus of their community promised perfect little clones, but now their kids are rejecting the values that they tried so hard to instill. They are thinking for themselves and choosing their own political standpoints. They may not go to church all the time, they may not be gender binary, they may associate with people from all areas of life and value their beliefs, and they may not homeschool their kids. Parents (like mine) end up feeling like they have failed at raising their kids. Unfortunately, this often morphs into anger directed at said children. I was extremely lucky that my parents did not cut me out of my family, even though they think I am probably not saved. Others, like Cynthia Jeub and her sisters, are not so lucky. Expecting your human children to actually be robots hurts parents.

It also hurts kids. Obviously. Now, while I totally believe that parents cannot turn their kids into robots, they can permanently scar them by treating them like cloned automatons or putting too much responsibility on them. Expecting children to be able to parrot arguments for pro-life and pro-traditional-marriage and other pet views of the parents only hurts kids. It only leads to cognitive dissonance when said children grow up and start to want to think on their own. While you can’t totally control your kids’ brains, you can screw them up pretty royally and give them what amounts to a diminished version of Stockholm syndrome by trying to control them.

I was trained to be a perfect evangelical Christian fundamental quiverfull culture warrior. I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes my parents did. I was going to change the world because I knew what was right (the Christian far right, of course) and I was prepare to defend it.

Only I’m not. And even as I have broken free from my parents domineering control, I struggle with the PTSD-like brain memories whenever I try to do something differently. I struggle with guilt because I’m not in church every Sunday, even though going to church is pure torture to me and not something that I am convinced is necessary or good for me. I have frequent crises of doubt when I realize that my more and more left-leaning views are only going farther and farther. What if I’m going to be eternally damned because I don’t believe abortion is sin? Or that all LGBTQI individuals are going to hell? I’m weighed down with guilt and shame, constantly reminding myself that I don’t believe that stuff anymore, but not yet able to freely move from under it.

I am not a weapon. While I know this, and am learning to live with more freedom from those expectations, it still haunts me. I hurt for the many still being raised this way, who don’t know that they have every right to an opinion and their own beliefs. For the sake of our children, quit treating them like robots.

when words choke me

Standard

I have a job interview on Monday. It’s the second one–they didn’t offer me the job at the first one, but they asked me to come back to do a drug screen and background check and bring copies of my licenses…it seems like I’m being pretty strongly considered. I have the availability, the references, the experience–and it’s not even a competitive job. But no matter how sure it seems, I am still now in the nervous not-yet place, the wondering if it will work (while desperately needing to get out of my current job…with my current boss).

Since I was nervous, I called some of my friends. My friends run the entire spectrum from strong there-every-time-the-doors-are-open Christians to strong atheists. I love the variety. However, having grown up in the former camp, I know EVERY SINGLE CHRISTIAN PHRASE out there. And having been incredibly wounded and trampled by the former culture, I physically gag when I hear those phrases. I can’t tolerate them. I have to dissociate, escape, shut the conversation down, get out.

For some reason, though, even among my much less Christian oriented friends (and mostly in the recovery community, it seems), phrases like “God’s will,” “pray about it,” and “let go” are common stock. People throw them around without even thinking about it. And for most of them, I am sure, it’s not a big deal. Those are normal, ok phrases not ridden with pain and memories and trauma. But I can barely listen to them without gagging up.

Here’s the thing: I want to take their advice, but the words hurt me so much. Sometimes I want to run and scream as far away from any words like this as I can. Instead, I shut off my phone, turn on a tv show, and crunch numbers. It’s calming. Not always helpful in the long term, though.

Christian words hurt me. The principle behind (at least some) of them, though, are pretty universally beneficial. Jesus is a good man regardless of whether or not he is God. I need to be able to separate the two, to practice not worrying and letting things go, without getting hung up on the religious history and tradition surrounding them. How can I do this? Will it just take time to detach the words from the memories?

For today, I will remind myself that people don’t know the emotions behind their words, and I will trust that what is supposed to happen, will happen.