So, I left my small group. Yes, the one I started. It wasn’t because of the people – I love the people, and I’m not just saying that. I plan on staying friends with them, and doing fun stuff like hikes and night markets. When it came to the discussion part, though, there was a big disconnect.
They all go to church. One is even a pastor, for God’s sake. I don’t have a problem with that, it’s probably good to be close to people who are secure in their faith and place in the Christian community, but I’m the only one who isn’t. Like, not even close. I went to a Christmas Eve service, and I had to leave and sit in the lobby. Everything about it just made me want to run. The setup of the stage reminded me of my old church, and that brought on waves of sadness at how that community imploded and betrayed me. When the pastor started talking and using phrases like, “Forgiveness isn’t something you can buy on Amazon Prime,” I wanted to roll my eyes all the way back in my head. I got really hot, and walked around outside. It was raining, and the chill felt refreshing. I am not ready to go back to church. I have absolutely no desire to be ready.
I’m not optimistic about finding people who share my experiences. A lot of people who have had traumatic spiritual experiences just end up cutting all of it out their lives. I’m weirdly in-between, where I’ve cut out church and the conservative bent of Evangelicalism, but I do want friends who love Jesus. I’m desperate for people who will hear about I used to read the Bible because I believed if I didn’t, demons would overpower me, and really understand, because they’ve walked that walk. People who have had serious doubts about God’s goodness because at times it seems that mental illness has stolen every dream. Maybe I’m asking for too much.
On Tuesday, a group of conservative evangelicals known as the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood came together in Tennessee and wrote “The Nashville Statement.”
In the document, they came out against same-sex marriage, gender-fluid identity, and transgenderism. Not only that, but they asserted that anyone who disagrees with them is not a Christian. A section called Article 10 is the most provocative:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
If there was any room for misunderstanding, one of the authors reiterated what the group meant by saying, ” Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.”
He also said, “The Nashville Statement leaves no room for such revisions nor does it leave ambiguity on the question.”
What the hell. I can’t even…like…put my outrage into words. Who do these people think they are? Who has the authority to decide that a certain stance on an issue determines whether or not someone is a Christian? Are there any other indicators? What other disagreement could get someone kicked out of the flock unless they conform?
Interestingly enough, a lot of people who signed this statement have been very vocal about supporting Donald Trump. So…he’s okay because he doesn’t want transgender people to serve in the military? Is someone’s stance on sexuality and sexual identity the only thing that matters when it comes to being a Christian? The conservative evangelical obsession with it certainly seems to imply that.
Who signed this thing? James Dobson and Tony Perkins did. No surprise there. John Piper did, too.
At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.
The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.
Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.
Not too much of a stretch, right?
It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.
That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.
During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.
I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.
So we started our own small group. I talked about it in a past post, and now we actually did it. It wasn’t that hard to outline what we wanted. I have more “must’s,” than Chris, of course, but we both wanted the group to be a community that wasn’t about a church. It wouldn’t be based around all going to the same church, or going to church at all. We both wanted there to be openness and honesty. We didn’t want to be the “leaders,” and always responsible for content. I made a Meetup. com profile, and created an event. It didn’t take long for lots of people to “join.”
I knew right away that most of the people joining wouldn’t actually be in the group. I sent out an email that explained again that the group wasn’t just for socializing, and that we really wanted people who were committed to each other. I only got a few emails back. We ended up meeting with three people, and they were all a great fit. I also posted on Craigslist, and within 20 minutes, got an email from a couple who wanted to join.
We have our first official meeting on Friday, though we’ll just be having dinner, doing some ice-breakers, and talking about what we’re going to be studying. “The Bible” and how we read it comes first, and then prayer, and then some other essential faith tenet. I think sticking to the basics gives us a lot of breathing room and doesn’t lock us into something too narrow.
Chris and I feel really good about all this. The time was right, and God really showed up.
I write my prayers; I have trouble articulating them otherwise. I don’t share them. This one, though, I wanted to share. It summarizes what I’ve been feeling spiritually for quite a few years now.
I’m at the point where I don’t know if I would recognize Your voice if I heard it. No, that’s not true. Your voice is this quiet, in this room, as cars go by in the rain like steady white noise, like waves. What does the voice say?
I can feel myself become calm. My heartbeat slows.
I guess I’m just not sure if that’s “good enough.” Most of my conversations about You now are like seeping wounds, barely just scabbing over. I feel like all I have to tell people is how the church let me down, how Christians let me down, how the different denominations (Lutheran, Episcopal, Evangelical, charismatic) let me down. I don’t really have a silver lining. Is that because something is wrong with me?
I guess the one good thing from all that I can tell someone everything You are not. You’re not loneliness in a crowd of girls at a Christian retreat, or an angry argument over Facebook, or the agonizing fear of demons in every corner. You’re not silence from friends after a church collapsed. You’re not shame. Rage. Hate.
But…what are You, then? Am I starting from scratch? I feel like my insides are scraped clean, ready to be filled with…what?
Easter season is about rebirth, right? I guess that’s what I ready for.