I wrote that in my journal about a week ago. Its been true every day since.
I had a lot of panic at church Sunday evening. I felt like a fraud just being there. It was especially hard that there were some very churchy people there using language about God that I’ve mostly abandoned. My anxiety was high. I spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I couldn’t eat. I wanted to say something but I couldn’t. I hoped to be able to sit down with our pastor this week, but she’s busy. Such is life. I haven’t even talked to Ace about it. Maybe this will pass. Maybe it won’t.
I do know cognitively that my life is safe. I believe now that my friends are my friends regardless of my spiritual beliefs. I could tell them tomorrow that I’m hindu now and most of them would say “Tell me more about that” and that’s what I need. Thats what we all need. I believe the same thing about my spiritual community. I would still be welcomed no matter what I believed as long as I’m open to listening to everyone else at the table. My amygdala isn’t so sure though, its terrified. My brain remembers last time I shifted my faith, just a little bit, and I lost almost everyone. I didn’t just loose them, but they hurt me in the process.
Right now Christianity (even “good” Christianity) is making me uncomfortable. I just don’t believe in a God as personal as the Christian God. I don’t believe in a God that speaks real words directly to me.
Yet, I still believe in something. I believe in energy and oneness. I am solidly not an atheist. But yet, its hard to consider myself a theist, thats too concrete. If I had to peg myself down in the moment I could call myself a mystic. I feel comfortable with that. But tomorrow is a new day and tomorrow that may not fit quite right anymore. And I’m ok with that.
I also feel as if maybe I’ve finally completely deconstructed. Deconstruction is a popular term among progressive Christians. It is the disassembling of your former (often evangelical or fundamentalist) theology over time. I spent years studying and building that theology, but I started on a foundation handed to me by someone else. Heck, the whole house was handed to me and I just spent all that time replacing the windows and remodeling the kitchen. I kept the parts I liked and changed what I didn’t. It was an important part of my life. But I didn’t build that house and more recently I’ve been taking it apart and now there is really nothing left. Just the ground beneath my bare feet.
So here I am with my theology gone, dust in the wind, standing on the bare ground wondering what is next. Wondering if I even need a house at all. I’m not even sure how I got here. I didn’t consciously do this. I just looked around and noticed it was all gone. And honestly it scares me. I’m very used to having a theology. Yes, its changed drastically over the years from biblical fundamentalism in high school, to a slow shift to more progressive Christianity, but this is new territory. I’ve had times when I’ve doubted. This doesn’t feel the same, this is true and complete deconstruction. Its all torn down.
What’s left for me right now is seeing something more in all that is.
I love the night sky. I love learning the names of the planets and the stars. I love telling random people “See that bright star, its actually Jupiter!” Kids especially are receptive to this. They love watching the International Space Station pass over as much as I do. Many of my adult friends just don’t care what that speck of light is called or how far away it is. I do. And in those billions of tiny specks I see something bigger than myself. There is something more, something spiritual. Looking into the stars stirs it inside me. Every night I go outside and its cloudy, which is a lot, I live in Portland, I am disappointed that I don’t get to have that moment of true awe before I lay down to sleep. Even here in the city where I get to see two dozen stars half the night of the year I’m given an overwhelming sense of wonder each and every time. The moments I get to get out to a truly dark sky are utterly overwhelming for me.
I see something more in children as well they are the most amazing complicated fantastic people. They come out of the womb with a sense of wonder unlike anything they will experience again. Everything is new. I wish I could stand the loss of sleep that having a baby involves just to watch those first two years again. They are utterly beautiful. I see something more that just cells at work in children. There is a spark of something more, something spiritual. Every child I meet has that spark, even the ones who have needed to hide it to keep it safe. Its still down there and I still see it.
I love and study science and the more I do, the more I see something more, so no I’m not an atheist, but right now I don’t believe in God either.
I’ve read (or started reading) some books this January as part of my effort to read more. I’m going to give you some short reviews of what I’ve read so far. I’m also going to include my last book from December as well a few books I didn’t finish and I’ll describe why in the post. I’m simply going to do this in the order I read them and give some thoughts on each. Also I’ll post Amazon links for each book, but I highly recommend you use your local library or support your local independent bookstore (or even any physical book store) if you are able. Here in Portland, I love shopping at Powell’s Books!
Pale Blue Dot Carl Sagan
Pale Blue Dot is a classic astronomy book written by the legendary Carl Sagan. Carl’s contributions to modern astronomy and cosmology can not be understated. Just take a quick glance at his Wikipedia page. He was the face of science to millions of people and for a very good reason, he knew what he was talking about, and was passionate about it. In Pale Blue Dot he is able to communicate the history of our understanding of the cosmos in a way that connects with the average person. This book is written for everyone, not just us geeks and nerds. It is a bit dated, as many of the “future” space programs he describes have already happened. But that is amazing in itself, as he accurately predicts sending rovers to Mars and our current race to send humans to Mars.
The book is based off the Pale Blue Dot image, which wouldn’t exist if Carl hadn’t insisted on it. He wanted to show the world the largeness of space and the smallness and vulnerability of Earth. With the image and book he succeeds in doing that for the average reader. I utterly enjoyed this book and could not put it down. It was extremely fascinating and I greatly deepened my own understanding of human efforts to learn about space. If you are a fundamentalist Christian, or believe strongly in a personal God that created the Earth just for us, this book will challenge your faith a bit, but it does so in respectful way asking big questions that each of us should absolutely take the time to ponder. If you have never read this classic and are at all interested in science, go read it! What are you waiting for?
A Universe from Nothing dives much deeper into one area of cosmological science than Pale Blue Dot. It gets deep in the physics of how the Universe came to be, as best as we can currently understand. And as far as I understand this book is very current and is based on some recent breakthroughs in our understanding of physics. I love cosmology and physics, but I’ve never taken any classes on either outside of high school, so my knowledge isn’t very deep. I was able to understand the concepts laid out in the book pretty well thanks to the wonderful illustrations. If you are curious about the age, formation, and shape of the universe and how we came to our current models, then you will enjoy this book.
My only complaint is that the author, Lawrence Krauss, is extremely snarky to the point of being rude. I was upset at some of his comments (added in parenthesis) throughout the book implying that all people from certain states are clearly idiots due to their substandard education, and insinuating that people with any form of faith or belief in a greater power are also clearly misguided fools (the Afterword by Richard Dawkins should have tipped me off). The book overall had nothing to do with belief or atheism, but he added that in here and there and I think it detracts from the book overall. Despite that I’d still highly recommend it to someone with an interest in cosmology or physics.
As a Portlander its very hard not to love this book. Author Jeff Speck consistently hails Portland as one of the best examples of walkability in the United States (alongside New York City). This book is really aimed at city officials who are using flawed logic and and outdated regulation to design their cities infrastructure, but anyone who cares about transportation, climate change, or local politics should read this book. It outlines in ten very clear points what to change and work on to make a city more walkable and how important that is to the health of individuals, a downtown’s economy, and our global climate.
Some of the changes Jeff suggests are ones most people would immediately agree with and understand, like valuing bikes, and making sidewalks feel safe, others are little outside what most people would consider good city design, removing lanes, allowing mixed use lanes, and avoiding one way streets, but the author very easily and strongly makes his case for each idea and gives clear examples of it working. The book is written in a way that is very inspirational, and I’ve started walking much more becuase of it (and in the cold wet winter)! Another book I could hardly put down and a good read for anyone living in a city or decent sized suburb (which is almost all of you).
I could say a lot about this book, but I will do my best to keep it to a few paragraphs. First the good. Gretchen starts the book by recognizing that she’s not living life to the fullest and pondering on what she could change to feel happier in her daily life. She doesn’t want a radical life change, but wants to find more happiness right in her everyday, her home, her kids, her job, her friends, etc. This is a noble pursuit and one I think more people could benefit from. I was laughing so hard and how she went about this goal by making charts and action points. At one point she has a conversation with her sister that was a little too real to me, where her sister called out her very strange way of categorizing life and happiness into a “resolution chart” to be worked though. I wondered if she was an INTJ like me, as I would do something like that. I totally got it, and I have a feeling if I explained a project like that to my sister I’d get a similar response. Gretchen’s personality is similar to my own and I loved that.
The book is organized into months, as she decided to focus on a different area of her life each month. Some of these spoke more to me than others, especially the ones focused on relationships. Her goal to nag her husband less and her resolution to have more fun with her kids are both things I immediately felt I could do as well in my day to day life. Her style of writing is engaging for the average person, but the book is a bit longer than it needs to be. I found some chapters to be a bit repetitive. I also found the book hard to stomach at time becuase of how privileged she is. She lives in a walkable area with lots of family and friends nearby, she has a well paying flexible job and is able to buy things to help with the project. I don’t have a lot of those things and struggle to afford groceries right now, so I found the chapters on money and work to be pretty frustrating. Her advice is great, if you are in a similar enough life situation. If your income isn’t high enough there are lots of suggestions she makes that you simply won’t be able to do right now, and to her credit she acknowledges that. Gretchen also comments on how she’s never had to deal with mental illness, which was another hang up I had, as someone who’s experienced long bouts of crippling anxiety, happiness takes on a different meaning these days.
All of that being said, I was inspired enough to write down a few of my own resolutions after reading this book, so the outcome was overwhelming positive for me despite the frustrating parts of her story of privilege.
My resolutions were: have friends over for dinner at least once a month (and build relationships), work on Stronger Skatepark every weekday, focus on the positive, talk about the negative only if you are seeking to help improve something, be active (exercise) everyday, ride my bike when it is a practical option (instead of driving), listen better and focus on what other people are saying, write, track my food.
This was a random find at the library (where as all the previous books were on my reading list). And the first chapter captivated me, but the second lost me. This a deep book, written for those with a deep understanding of language. Steven knows his stuff, to a level thats hard for me to comprehend. I could never diagram sentences in school, and this book gets pretty deep into sentence structure and how we somehow intuitively know which verbs work in which constructions. One of my skills is exactly what he describes. I’ve always had a knack for writing in a readable way, I just know how to do it. I was never taught. When he starts to explained each type of verb and the way researchers came to understand how we use them, I checked out. I deeply wanted to keep reading and understand but I was getting so little out of so much time put into it, that I decided to move on.
I’ve heard Peter Enns speak on Podcasts before and I always love what he has to say about the Bible and Faith. He is a wonderful scholar and speaker and makes the Bible accessible to us crazy progressive Christians who sometimes struggle in our relationship to this text. I loved the beginning of the book, he tells his own story of doubt and how that changed his life and put his career on a new track. Peter then explains how our obsession with working out perfect beliefs can actually be damaging to our faith in the long term (which I’ve experienced first hand), but I found the book over all to be slow moving, and just barely scratching the surface of so many things I had already worked though that I got bored. I read half the book and kept saying to myself, “Yeah… and?” becuase I felt he could have gone so much deeper. I felt similarly about the last Rob Bell book. I want books that challenge me to think in new ways, and this just didn’t scratch that itch for me so I returned it only halfway finished so I could move on to the next book.
This book would be excellent for someone who is just starting to question fundamentalism, but doesn’t want to give up on Christian faith completely. I wish I had this book in 2008 or 2009 it would have been perfect as I was first doubting the things about God I had been taught were facts, that really stand on shaky ground. But its ok, its ok to not be sure of everything involving God and thats what Peter is trying to communicate to people.
One of the things I decided to do when I took up the challenge of reading more (a goal of a book a week) was to give myself permission to stop reading books that weren’t grabbing my attention. I didn’t want to waste time feeling bored and stuck and I ended up doing that with two books in a row! But I’m so glad I did becuase Ace and I recently had a date night where we spent the evening browsing at Powell’s Books flagship location, which they claim to be the largest bookstore in the world. I found a lot of books that grabbed me, and bought two.
The book I’m currently reading, How God Changes Your Brain, has me in its clutches. I can’t wait to get back to it. I wouldn’t be so excited to read today if I hadn’t let go of the books that I wasn’t finding fun. I would still be bogged down in The Stuff of Thought dreading my next reading session. So give yourself permission to let go of things that aren’t serving you, its ok to admit that a book (or movie, or habit, or practice) isn’t for you right now. It makes more space for wonderful things that can make your life better!
I remember the first time I thought God wasn’t real. It was during a period where I watched someone extremely close to me suffer for an ongoing period of time.
I was attending Bible college at the time in a suburb of Chicago, the same suburb my grandparents lived in. I’ve been very close to my paternal grandparents my entire life. I was their first grandchild and much to my grandmother’s delight I happened to be born with female genitalia. Much to her dismay I wasn’t much into anything girls are “supposed” to be into. Luckily she would have many more granddaughters who appreciated her gifts of frilly dresses much more than I ever did. Despite that struggle between us, we remained close. Her and my “papa” often took the place of my father after he passed. We spent many weekends at their house so my mom could enjoy being an adult and get a break from the hard job of being a single parent.
One day my grandma suffered a heart attack that led to her hospitalization. There were all sorts of complications from her heart stopping for so long and she was in terrible shape. She needed a breathing tube and the tube didn’t allow her to talk. She barely had the strength to move. The whole, very large, family rushed to be with her and Papa at the hospital. We didn’t know what would happen, but we knew her death was a real possibility. The wonders of modern medicine helped her to hang on. But it wasn’t the same.
She was there enough that first day to communicate that she wanted to hear a song, and I used my brand new iPhone to download the song that named the same as her, Jeanne. My middle name, Jeanne, was given to me by my dad to honor his mother. I don’t know if she was named after the song, or if she came to appreciate it later. I don’t even remember who the artist was. It was an old song, but as we played it for her she cried and smiled. Even though she couldn’t speak she was still there.
The hospital stay was not short though, it stretched on and on and on. I was going to school about a mile away, so I would spend my lunch with Papa eating in the hospital cafeteria. Sometimes one of my uncles would be around as well. I was the only grandchild who was there day in and day out becuase I was in the neighborhood several days a week.
As the weeks went on she suffered another heart attack and lost more of herself. I was now going to see her and Papa during lunch and skipping chapel as much as I could to visit as well. By this point most of my small school knew what was going on and had started praying for her, my family, and myself regularly, as had my church, as had everyone who knew what was happening. We were all praying, and everyone was offering support. But she just. got. worse. She suffered slowly, and for a very long time. The weeks turned into months and I started going to visit less becuase it tore my soul to pieces every time. I started begging God to let her die already! No God I could believe in would allow this suffering. “But everything happens for a reason” people said. Bull. Shit.
There was no reason for this. This was senseless ongoing suffering of someone I loved dearly, and her suffering lead to her husband’s deep suffering. Watching him watch her, knowing he was praying for a miracle might have been even worse. I fully questioned God’s existence, but I couldn’t tell anyone at my Church or School that.
I had to listen to their prayers and watch them be unanswered, until finally, she passed away. I had never been so glad for someone to die in my life. And I feel horrible even typing that now. The weight of watching her suffer so much was not something I was ready for at 21 years old and it was the first time I started to really have deep doubts about this faith I had been sold. Where was God in this?
This song always brings me back to this experince.
What Sarah Said
Death Cab for Cutie
And it came to me then
That every plan
Is a tiny prayer to father time
As I stared at my shoes
In the ICU
That reeked of piss and 409
And I rationed my breaths
As I said to myself
That I’d already taken too much today
As each descending peak
On the LCD
Took you a little farther away from me
Away from me
Amongst the vending machines
And year old magazines
In a place where we only say goodbye
It sung like a violent wind
That our memories depend
On a faulty camera in our minds
And I knew that you were truth
I would rather loose
Than to have never lain beside at all
And I looked around
At all the eyes on the ground
As the TV entertained itself
Cause there’s no comfort in the waiting room
Just nervous paces bracing for bad news
And then the nurse comes round
And everyone lifts their head
But I’m thinking of what Sarah said
I feel extremely fortunate to have found a church community that feels safe to me. I know that this is a big struggle for people who have left their church or plan on leaving. What next? Is there a place for me? We worry about this as we exit. This is why back in Illinois we created our own place. Most of the churches in our area were evangelical or catholic. We didn’t feel like there were any safe churches, but we still wanted that type of community to be a part of our lives, so we formed it, and invited people to join us.
It was wonderful, it was beautiful, it was downright fun. But it was also hard, stressful, and tiring. Without a denomination behind us we weren’t getting paid. In fact it cost us quite a bit to host Mosaic every week. Soon we had a baby and it made everything harder. We knew we couldn’t keep doing it. It was especially hard for me, an introverted, stressed out, new mom. I just couldn’t handle the amount of work it created in our home.
When we decided to pack up and move across the country we also decided to end Mosaic. It was a hard choice but it was clearly the right one for my sanity. It also happened to work out that a large core of the people attending were also moving away to other parts of the country at the same time.
When we moved to Portland we took a break from church for a while. I had zero desire to go within 1000 feet of a church and was again questioning everything I thought I knew about God. I was starting to doubt God was real. The only overtly spiritual element to my life was occasionally listening though an entire Gungor album on a long drive. Those solo worshipful experinces kept this tiny spiritual lifeline alive for me. I didn’t know who God was, or what they did, but I was pretty sure there was something more still out there.
Eventually we decided to actually look around for a church. We found a few we were interested in and visited. Those visits were hard. It took a lot of courage to go though those doors. We visited a UCC church and the people there were so kind, but we knew before the service even ended it wasn’t for us. We visited another church that met in a bar, ok thats kind of progressive, but it really wasn’t anything different from any other evangelical church besides the location.
Two churches and I was done. I just couldn’t do it. The one in the bar was trying to recruit me for ministry after only being there for 20 minutes, ughh… I was not ready for that.
I gave up. I was pretty sure we weren’t going to find a church where I felt safe. I still had my car rides with my Gungor albums, the only “Christian” music I could stomach anymore. That was enough “church” for me.
Then one day, 3 years after we moved to Portland, on a typical trip to the grocery store I was stuck in traffic and looked out the window of the car to see a sign that read “Sellwood Faith Community.” I wrote before about how I went home and read the whole blog that night.
I wanted to visit right away. I was too excited to wait long! The fact that they met in a house and not a church was huge to me. By this point in my life I had started having crippling anxiety attacks. It got so bad that a few months later I had to leave my job and get in therapy. It was a really hard time for me and my family. Going into a church building was too much, if this community had met in a traditional looking church I wouldn’t have gone. So for me, a huge element of the church being safe was the fact that it was a house church.
They also met over dinner and had a real group discussion (the bar church claimed to be discussion based but, disappointingly, was not). This was also big for me. I was not ready to sit down and be preached at. I had done that before, I was trained to preach myself. I’m not much into preaching anymore. Another element of safety for me was the lack of preaching.
A factor that surprised me was how wonderful it has been having a female pastor. I wasn’t specifically looking for that, and it didn’t seem important at first. Now I feel like having a female pastor has allowed me to feel more like I matter. I don’t feel like she is an authority figure trying to reign over my life, which is how I so often felt with all the male pastors from my past. I don’t think every male pastor is like that, but for me, a female pastor has helped SFC feel like safe space.
I didn’t walk into SFC and have this glorious moment where I knew I was at home. I walked in and had a panic attack. I came back and had another panic attack. Some weeks I had to work super hard to not have to run out the door. I felt for sure these people were judging me, or would turn on me at some point. At first I was worried about every word I said. Would I say something too conservative? Did I doubt too much? Was it ok that I was super unsure about God these days? Was it Ok that I wasn’t a democrat? Would they think we were insane for being Unschoolers? I was terrified of doing the wrong thing, or thinking the wrong thing. “Wrong” thinking was what led to me leaving my home church.
It was weird being part of community that held so many opposite beliefs of our old community. It has also been strange being in a space where differing thoughts are valued. It has been extremely difficult to learn to trust a religious community again, and I can’t say I even do trust them 100% yet. But I’m getting there. They have been gracious, welcoming, and kind. They are loving towards my son, who might not receive the same treatment in a typical church due to some of his developmental and behavioral characteristics. This is obviously extremely important to me.
I’ve heard people say things like “Trust God” or “Trust the Universe” when it comes to finding the right church, the right space for my business, the right friends, or even the right employees. Its been true in this case. Sellwood Faith Community (a United Methodist Church) came into my life at the exact moment I needed it and I met this community of wonderful, passionate, loving, patient people. This is my safe church. I can’t tell you a single denomination that is “safe” becuase safe is going to look different for you. You might need pews or a particular style of worship or some other thing. I would say at minimum a safe church is a place that doesn’t ban any questions or concerns. It is a place that accepts you and all your baggage and all your doubts and struggles. What that looks like in practice is going to be different in each community. I found a safe church, and I think safe churches are becoming increasingly common across the country. Keep an eye out and you might find one.
Thank you Eilidh, Jeff, Paige, Kat, Micheal, Austin, Maddy, Chris, Travis, Jeff, Amanda, Colleen, Aric, Stacia, Curran, Avery, and others that I’m know I’m forgetting. Thank you for accepting us right where we are. You have helped me heal in more ways than I can accurately express. You have succeeded in being a safe place for us and I love all of you.
My last post really seemed to connect with a lot of people, I got several comments on facebook and private messages about it. So today I’m going to write about how I came to end up in the Assemblies of God in the first place. Oddly enough it was not the church I was raised in, but I came to find myself in one as a teen. Lets start at the beginning.
I was raised Roman Catholic. My parents both came from large Catholic families who followed many of the Catholic traditions. We went to our local Catholic Church on and off throughout my childhood, but pretty consistently from ages 5-12. After first grade my Mother even pulled me from the public school and sent me to the Catholic school that was associated with our Church. So from second grade onward I was in deep by no choice of my own. During my childhood years I didn’t care all that much about religion. I certainly believed God was real, and believed heaven was real but, beyond that I didn’t think much of theology or Church, it was just another thing I had to do every week that took away from time I could be doing fun things. It assuredly wasn’t as annoying as school.
As I grew older I developed more interest in spiritual things, and wanted to know more about this God thing. In 8th grade in my Catholic school, I had an experience that to me, proved the existence of God. I’m not sure I want to tell that story publicly, as I know it can be explained away by statistics, and its really only meaningful to me. It wouldn’t hold meaning for anyone else. I’m just including it as an important part of my background story.
I had that experience right around the time my family officially quit going to Church. My Mom was dealing with her own faith and at the time I didn’t care enough to do anything different from what she decided.
We moved to a new home so I could continue going to Catholic School for high school (becuase my mom was so disgusted with the public schools and saw this as a better option). I went to a large Catholic High School for my freshman year and then begged my Mom to leave. That was one of my worst years of school. Everyday I was met with bullies, and judged by kids who were more rich than I was. We could afford to go there, so we were well off, but most of the kids who went to the school were from the richest families in the area. I didn’t fit in. They didn’t get their moms old beat up car at 16 (like I did) they got new BMWs at 16. My only friend at that school was Joey, the only other super dedicated skater at the school. We both lived to skate and would skate together after school every chance we got.
At this point in my life skateboarding was my religion. It was everything. It was how I didn’t go crazy from the bullies and from the teachers and the awful school work that was either far too easy or far too hard. There never seemed to be any work worth doing early in High School. But still I had a desire to search out spiritual things. I didn’t like Catholicism anymore. To me it was all show. God might be real, but Catholicism didn’t seem like a great way of learning about him to me. Catholics seemed to care a lot about making a big deal about being Catholic, building fancy buildings, putting expensive robes on the clergy, and not much else. I didn’t see a faith that translated into anything of substance in real life.
For my sophomore year I transferred to Woodstock High School. It was my first public school experience in 10 years. I would have been a total mess if I didn’t have skateboarding at this point. I didn’t have any friends besides my friends at the skatepark, and now I was going to to a new school where I knew literally no one. Starting at WHS I became friends with a few of the new freshman, since I had to go to the same new student orientation as them. Overtime my friendships grew with a handful of these people mostly though our involvement in the music program. One of those people was my now husband, Ace.
At the same time my younger sister, Sam, was making friends of her own, and eventually she was invited to this local church youth group. All I knew is that it was one of those weird Christian churches that listens to that crappy radio station and raises their hands when they sing. I was super judgmental at the time. Over the years Ace eventually got involved in the youth group as well, and had become one my closest friends. Early in my Junior year of high school, they (Sam and Ace) finally convinced me to not just drive them to Youth Group, but to go with them.
The first time I went I sat quietly in the back judging everyone. I counted how many people raised their hands during worship and went home and had a good laugh with my Mom over it. But soon enough I went back. The people were nice, the games were fun. They may have some silly beliefs (most of which I didn’t understand at all), but I was hungry for meaningful relationships and this place seemed to have that in abundance. Soon enough I found myself bowing my head during youth group and silently praying along with the “Sinner’s Prayer” I was 17 and saved.
Everything changed. And I mean everything. I went in really deep really fast. I found my best friends at youth group. I joined the worship team. I was volunteering right away, and eating up everything I could about Jesus and the Bible. God was finally accessible and I was hungry for spirituality and couldn’t get enough. Everyone that knows me knows I go all in all things, sometimes too much (who needs a raised bed, how about 1000 sq. ft of garden!?), and this was no different. The youth group filled some deep needs I had for love acceptance, and spirituality. It gave life a rhyme and reason, it gave me hope, it gave me answers.
My Mom was not excited about our new found faith. She thought believing the old testament was literal was insane. I was happy to find any apologist I could to back up my new found beliefs. I was 17, I was pretty sure I knew how the world worked.
Below are some pictures of some of the youth group from the summer of 2004.
My friend Jon and I, not sure what we are doing.
Ace being pensive against a post.
Playing games outside.
My sister (right) hanging out with youth group friends.
I was soon working at our Church in a few different capacities and even getting a paycheck for doing childcare. I was spending less and less time at the skatepark, since it had been sold to a new owner and I had lost a good percentage of my friends there. Youth Group and the Church it was a part of was my new family. I didn’t end up in a fundamentalist, pentecostal church becuase my family was a part of it, I ended up there becuase they were meeting my needs for love, acceptance, and spiritual longing.
I’ve been binging the “Ask Science Mike” podcast over the last few months and I’m almost caught up. Recently I listened to episode 79 where someone asked about recovering from spiritual abuse. They explained how they suffer from an anxiety disorder and how things associated with Christianity now trigger panic attacks, including the Bible and corporate worship.
I used to think the terms “Spiritual abuse” and “Spiritual PTSD” were pretty silly, now I see how well they fit what I’ve been though. I’ve been at the point this person was at. There was a point when going into a church caused immediate panic and I still don’t feel comfortable inside a church.
When my faith started to evolve I started to lose my community, I had inklings that things weren’t right. I was uncomfortable in my church. I learned that the love of these people, who I saw as family, didn’t work the way I thought it did. They professed God’s unconditional love and claimed to love people in a similar way, but they didn’t. Their love was conditional, and my evolving theology moved me to the outside. I was moving away from fundamentalism and so they began to see me as the other and treat me as the other. I remember the times that people in our church were honest about struggles and were punished for it, removed from their teaching positions, removed from the worship team, taken aside and told to watch out, be careful, your on thin ice for saying those things…. I was good at avoiding being one of those people. I was good about being quiet about my disagreements, becuase that church, and the kids in that church were my life. At that time I still very closely believed what they did, but I had changed my views on the end times, I didn’t believe homosexuality was a sin, and I was leaning towards universalism. I had stopped talking about the end times and hell at all in kid’s church. It didn’t fit with the God of Love I knew. At first it was easy to just avoid the topics I didn’t agree on.
Soon though I couldn’t even stomach the model of church we had. We had an increasing number of outside speakers coming in speaking things that I was astonished my pastor allowed. Things from prosperity gospel to banning openly gay people from the church grounds. How was he not stopping this? Not only was he not stopping it, he approved of it. My heart was shattered. It destroyed me, but not all at once.
I found myself invited to a very small conference for “emergent church” leaders. A fellow student at my Pentecostal bible college had invited me. He had noticed who the rabble rousers were who thought boycotting Pepsi becuase they supported gay marriage was insane. He was starting his own church that looked nothing like a church. Where juggalo kids sang secular songs together, and read poetry, and had dances. I thought it was beautiful, while at the same time I was becoming increasingly disgusted with the church I found myself working in. A church I had helped found. A church in which I had built the entire children’s ministry basically by myself from nothing.
This man invited me to this conference, Ace came with me, as well as one of our closest friends (at the time). We saw what others were doing, and heard their ideas of what church could and should be, and that was it. That was the weekend I knew I had to leave. I couldn’t do it anymore. I hadn’t lost my faith, but I knew my faith wasn’t the same as my churches, it was evolving and it would keep evolving, and I knew I didn’t fit.
My two young close friends and I decided to bring all our grievances to our pastor directly, we really wanted to do this the “right” way. I now know there is no right way to tell a spiritual man you think he’s not doing what God wants, but it was the best idea we had. We even wrote out our main points and read it to him. He was clearly upset during that meeting around his kitchen table, but he held it together. That was the moment I lost my spiritual family. He had called me a daughter many times, but on that day it ended. I wasn’t following his leadership anymore, and he didn’t outright freak out or anything, but I still remember the look in his eyes of anger, hurt, betrayal. I was going to be his prodigy, to get ordained and go out and start the next church. I told him that night that I was going to leave his church after Christmas and that the three of us would soon be starting our own church. I was 24. You don’t start a church at 24 in the Assemblies of God. You are rarely a given a senior pastor position at that age. I had yet to even finish Bible college. I graduated from my Pentecostal Bible college 6 months after I left my Church. I just wasn’t Pentecostal anymore.
Despite the clear negative feelings from the pastor, his wife, and the other church leadership, they did their best to act in grace. They said they would support us, they did a big blessing on our last Sunday. They told us we were all on the same team. It was all show. It was all lies. The worst thing was that I believed them.
One of our best friends choose to stay at that church, he had gone to Assembly of God Churches his whole life, he loved playing on the worship team. He was the obvious choice to take over leadership of the worship team when Ace left. Yet, the Church decided to give it to someone who came in right as we left, when our friend was there from the beginning. That broke our hearts too, but what could we do? Soon we heard worse things, they were praying for us “To get back into the will of God.” Ouch. How was that support?
The following February we started our church, Mosaic. We built it around all the ideas we came up with that weekend months earlier at the conference. We had an open house everyday from noon-midnight. We ate dinner at 5, and did discussion and a few songs at 6. Many of our friends who hadn’t gone to a church in years were excited to come. It grew and slowly we found our groove. We had fantastic discussions, people were venerable, people aired their doubts, atheists came in and challenged us, we responded with love, they thanked us. It was beautiful.
When we would run into members of our old church around town, we would be excited to tell them how Mosaic was going, they had no idea what we were talking about.
We found out that after those couple of prayers for us to “Come back into the will of God” we were essentially erased from the church. Our ministries had been drastically changed to look like typical evangelical ministries. They didn’t care about supporting us, they just didn’t care about us. Our names were not spoken anymore. I had lunch with another friend who had left that church when she moved, she was now going to a satellite campus of a mega church. I was excited to reconnect with her. I was excitedly telling her about what we were doing with Mosaic when she snidely remarked, “Well I’m glad your have fun.” Her voice was so thick with attitude and disrespect I still hear it echoing to this day. That remark hurt deeply.
It didn’t stop there, becuase young adults we knew from other local evangelical churches were coming to Mosaic (mostly high school friends of ours) word was getting around what we were doing; we didn’t believe in hell, we didn’t say the sinner’s prayer with people, we let everyone have a voice, we sang “weird” songs. What we were doing wasn’t that weird in mainstream Christianity, and not strange at all in progressive Christianity, but to evangelicals it was clear, we had started a cult. That was what was going around. Which is hilarious becuase Pentecostalism (basically fundamentalism + speaking in tongues) fits the criteria for a cult much more closely than our little ragtag group that had no single consensus on belief. We were young people, most of whom believed in a Christian God, but didn’t really know much beyond that. We were much better at knowing what we weren’t. We had yet to be fully exposed to all the streams of Christianity and Deism and Mysticism that were out there. We were still pretty darn normal from a mainstream Christian perspective. If only they knew what I thought now!
This experience of leaving my church, losing my community, and having my community who I thought loved me turn against me, was the second hardest experience of my life, the only thing that beats it is loosing my father at 4 years old, these things, still hurt to this day. Losing my church, hurt about as much as my father dying, thats how deep it goes. There are days when I feel like I’ve really made peace with that part of my life. I’ve wrote about it on this blog. You can go read it. But there are times when it still hurts, and discovering all these other people like me though Ask Science Mike and The Liturgists podcasts has me re-experiencing and reexamining these wounds.
I was spiritually abused, both within my church and after I left it. And it messed me up. It messed up every area of my life. I’m finding healing though a few things. First, having my son. Having my son has taught me how to love like nothing else ever has. I thought I loved kids, then I had my own baby. I know we are biologically wired to value our children over ourselves. I know that our DNA wants to continue replicating and the best way to do that is to have kids and protect their lives at all costs so they can have kids of their own. Yet there is still something spiritual about raising a baby. He was not an easy baby, I met the edge of sanity many times, but each time I just learned how to love a little better. I’m still healing and learning how to be a better person though my son.
Secondly, I’m healing though telling my story. I didn’t realize it at first, I picked up that realization when I read “Finding God in the Waves” a few months ago. I’ve told my story so many times to so many friends, I even tried to squeeze the whole story in when I met Mike Mchargue here in Portland back in November. I hadn’t planned on doing that, but when it was our turn to meet him, it just all started coming out. Its part of my larger story of my life, an important part, and I’ll keep telling it.
Finally, and possibly most importantly, I’m finding healing though my new Church home. I had given up on finding a church, and I wasn’t sure if I even believed in God anymore (thats for another post), when I saw a weird sign, “Sellwood Faith Community.” It piqued my interest, and I went home and googled it. I found the pastor’s blog and I read almost the whole thing that night. “Ace she’s like us!” I just kept telling him. I couldn’t believe there were weird people out there like us, who were Christian but welcoming of non-christians, who saw value in a nontraditional gatherings. They, like Mosaic, ate dinner together on Sunday nights and had discussion. I have more to say about that in another post as well, but for now I just want to say that finding a church that accepted us right where we were at has helped me heal in ways I didn’t expect.
Spiritual PTSD is not crazy, its real, and I went though it as well. I’ve been though some extremely difficult times, and so many of them were related to the way I was treated by my Spiritual community. No one should have to experience that and I’m glad so many of our friends left the church before getting to that point. I know there are others from our own community that have felt what we have felt, and to them, and everyone else who has experienced this kind of trauma I say; keep going, there is healing, it might not be in a church, or it might be, follow what feels right, talk to other people, and keep moving forward. It will get better. If that means not going in a church right now, or hiding your bible in closet or even throwing it in the garbage, thats what it means. God and the Church and the Bible will still be there if you ever decide you want them. Take time to rest, take time to read, take time to just be. You will be ok someday, and if you look around enough you can find a spiritual home if you need it. Its ok to not be ok. Its ok to not know what you believe. You are enough.