Tag Archives: religion

WTF, Nashville Statement

Read a summary of the Nashville Statement here


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.

 

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what to do when old memories resurface

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.

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.

Screenshot 2017-06-14 at 1.36.12 PM
My corner of the NWC dorm. That big squared blanket is now primarily Chris’.

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.

small group

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.

rainy day prayer

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?

Peace, peace.

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.

In Weakness

I had a short conversation with a friend the other day about giving God credit for stuff, and using that as an explanation for His existence. I’ve heard that argument a lot, where a person is able to forgive someone after years of resentment, and says it wouldn’t be possible without God. They overcome some challenge and point to heaven.

My friend is skeptical, saying that it could just be that someone matures and grows, and that they could just as easily give themselves credit for that change. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, because a huge reason why I believe in God is because when something seems impossible, it still happens. I really can’t give myself credit for certain things that I’ve come through. For me, “progress” and “maturity” are not linear. One week I’m doing really well and being productive, and the next, I’m afraid to go to the grocery store again. Old habits die hard, and the brain has a real hold on certain habits. There’s only so much it can change, and in certain situations, it reverts backwards. It’s like emotional time travel. 

Basically, in my experience, growth doesn’t really build up, at least in the darkest moments. When it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and I’m waking up from a nap, a stress dream brought on by an onslaught of recent deaths still burning in my mind, I might as well be 16 again. There isn’t anything in my body to help me, it’s low in protein, low in vitamin D, and there aren’t any reserves.

That place has always been where I feel God the strongest. My own brain and body aren’t a distraction because they’re so drained and shriveled up, like raisins. And this isn’t a dig on my abilities or self-esteem; if will power was enough, I would be a lawyer/best-selling author. I have will power in spades, but when your body is chemically-designed to fight you every step of the way, it just isn’t enough. I wouldn’t trade in that weakness, though, that fragility. Like I said, it’s where I see God the most. When the darkness gets dark enough, it becomes light.

So, that’s how I know God exists. It’s more convincing to me than any amount of apologetics or intelligent design arguments or whatever else someone can dredge up. Proof is carved in my bones and melted into my blood. It’s tied into the messy neurons of my brain. His strength – not mine – what keeps my lungs inhaling and exhaling when even the most primal animal instinct of survival is fading. 

—-

Psalm 139: 12
Even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

2 Corinthians 12:9-11

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

5 Things Church-Goers Should Know About Former Church-Goers

1. We don’t want to be invited to church

The reason we aren’t going to church is not because someone just hasn’t asked us yet. We’ve already been there, we know what it’s like. I have this thing where I go to small groups (I’ve been to, like, two) and see if the people are actually invested in people, or just getting people to the church. The first group was structured around the sermons, so right off the bat, it’s clearly intended for people who already go. For one of their outreach things, they went to a grocery store and handed out gift cards, but also included a church business card. It was a PR move, not a service project. It wasn’t about building relationships or meeting a real need (I’m sure people appreciated it, who knows what their stories are, but if the church really wanted to make the most impact, they would not have chosen a grocery store in one of the wealthier areas of town), it was about drumming up attendance. So, long story short, don’t invite us to church. Invite us into your lives. There’s a difference.

2. We didn’t necessarily stop becoming believers when we stopped going to church

When someone stops going to church, there’s an assumption that they’ve lost their faith. However, that is not necessarily the case. A person’s faith can actually become stronger when they leave church, because they’ve realized their convictions are not hinged upon going to a building every week, and that staying in a place where they don’t belong is harming their faith. I’ve never stopped loving Jesus.

3. Church PTSD is a real thing

Yes, someone’s experiences at church can be so bad, they start to manifest PTSD symptoms. People have been physically assaulted at church by church leaders, they have listened to damning sermons, they have been betrayed and abandoned by trusted mentors, and so on. That is trauma, and trauma has consequences. Going to church feels dangerous. It’s not like I can should just shop around or that I haven’t found the “right one,” it’s that the whole concept of church, the rituals, the decor, the music, the language, reminds of me all the bad things that have happened. Anxiety kicks in. Panic. My body is literally telling me to run.

4. We still want a community

It’s really hard to find a shared-faith community that is not a church. Right now, I’d say it is impossible. While the concept of “church” literally makes me want to throw up, I still want to find the people who love Jesus, but are having a real hard time justifying it. I still want that spiritual “mentor” of sorts, who I feel knows more than me, but still asks the big questions and doesn’t act like they have all their shit together.

5. We want to talk about why we left church

I guess I should really just say “I” want to talk about it. I’m sure there are lots of people who don’t want to talk about it. I just know that it’s kind of a weird moment when people have asked what church I go to, and I say that I don’t go, but Chris does, and they don’t ask why. Sometimes I offer a slew of reasons unprovoked, but they don’t dig deeper. They probably don’t want to be nosy, but at the same time, if you’re a church-goer, you should really be interested in why people are leaving the church in droves. The worst that could happen is the former church-goer saying, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Image source: http://www.sbts.edu/blogs/2016/05/06/should-i-leave-my-church-8-critical-questions/

faith is just letting go of the horses

Screenshot 2016-02-03 at 6.35.08 PM.pngSo much of my life has been about control. When I was young, strong emotions scared me. They were like wild horses that had been leashed to a cart that I was riding in. If I wasn’t able to rein the horses in, they would take off, hurdling me towards some other unknown doom.

Trusting God and control do not well together. Jesus wants to take the reins, but I’m white-knuckling it, telling him, “No way, man. You’re going to take me someplace weird, someplace I don’t know, without signs. And these horses. You don’t know them like I do.”

Depression is a wild one. You would think he would be an old mule, slow, but Depression doesn’t work that way. This guy wants to take us all off a cliff. He is bent on destruction and he’s very hard of hearing, so no matter how often I tell him that it’s okay or how loudly, he never quite believes me.

Anger comes next. I’m not even sure she’s a horse. She might be part dragon; that would explain the smoke. She snaps at the other horses and wants to trample everyone in our path, even the people I love. She wasn’t always this hard to control, but as I get older, she’s getting worse.

The third horse is Anxiety. He’s very skittish and gets sick to his stomach a lot. He will slow down whenever we’re heading into a new place, and he’s terrified of strangers.

And then there’s Fear, Anxiety’s mother. Fear is the oldest, and her eyesight isn’t very good anymore, so she’s very paranoid. She looks a lot like Anxiety, but don’t be mistaken, she’s much different. She’s a leader. She’s not as unsure as Anxiety. Fear can pull this thing in any direction she wants.

—————–

There’s been one thing in my life I have had the most troubling thinking about letting go: Yoshi, my dog. It’s been a very real possibility three times in my life. The first was when we were trying to crate-train him, and he barked all night. The second was when we moved to an apartment and he hated it so much that he developed severe separation anxiety, and would bark all day, bothering the neighbors. The third was very recently, when Chris was waiting to hear about a job that would take us out of state, and not necessarily into a position where we could take Yoshi back from Chris’ parents.

Thinking about giving Yoshi to a shelter literally made me feel ill. I couldn’t sleep at night. Whenever someone brought it up, I dug my heels in. I didn’t even want to consider it. It was too much to bear.

Then the new job became a real possibility, and I had to face it, because I knew if it came through, but we wouldn’t be able to keep Yoshi, I would have to let him go. Chris really wanted the job, and I couldn’t tell him, “Wait for something else, one that lets us keep Yoshi.” Chris loves Yoshi, too, but in the end, we both knew it was ultimately my decision.

I would lie awake at night, my emotions running through my veins like fire ants, like wild horses. This was when I prayed, though it really just seemed like a form of a panic attack. I would focus on the one thing, on my desire to keep Yoshi, and lay it before God.

Lay your burdens before God. 

I’ve heard that phrase my whole life, but I’ve never really known what it meant, exactly. I do know, or at least, I know what it means for me. It meant letting myself feel the stress, the fear, the anxiety, the anger, with the intention to expose it all to God. He sees everything, but there are times when we hide ourselves, like Adam and Eve did in the garden. We don’t want him to see. This time, though, I wanted Him to see it all, in its shredded, blistering wreck. I went over and over my one prayer again and again, from all angles. My wish broke down piece by piece, from, “I want to keep Yoshi” to “I want to not feel sick when I think about letting go of Yoshi,” and finally to, “I want to be able to go of Yoshi.”

And there were still more layers, because I knew that I had faced this twice before, and both times, I had gotten to keep Yoshi. I didn’t want this to be a test, where I faked letting go with the expectation that God would “come through” at the last second. So I prayed for that, too, because pretending to let go and letting go are completely different things.

I don’t know how long it took, or when it even happened. That’s the most important part of the story, though, because it proves that it wasn’t anything that I did. I made a choice, yes, to even try to let go, but I can’t explain the actual thing. Three things happened:

  1. Chris got the job.
  2. It was better than we could have imagined.
  3. We are able to keep Yoshi.

——————-

The horses are calm. I look at Jesus, shocked, and see how he handles the reins. His hands are rough from years of taming these creatures, strong, and supremely more experienced than mine. Where I frighten them, He soothes them. Where I am lax, He is firm, and where I am brutal, He is gentle. We are far from the cliff, from the places where their hooves catch on stones, and where there is no grass or fresh water. Something else is different, too. He has brought His own horse, a breed I don’t recognize, and a color I’ve only seen in that moment between sleep and awake. It is leashed to the front of the cart, leading the others so confidently, it’s like they’ve become one body. When I ask what His horse’s name is, it all makes sense.

“Love.”

 

 

With Unexpected Speed

I did not expect to be dealing with all this so soon.

I had recently passed my two-year anniversary and was looking out the car window at the blur of fields and barns. Occasionally we would pass clumps of trees, but they would fly by so fast, it was like they had never been there at all. When I tried to focus on a small detail like a single branch or house in the distance, it would immediately bleed into the oddly-linear hues of gray, green, yellow, brown, and blue. My mind was wandering. It had only been two years since I signed a piece of paper, said goodbye to my dog as he left for his new home with my in-laws, and woke up a married woman. In a lot of ways, it seemed like yesterday. However, it also seemed like forever ago. In those two years, me and my husband have dealt with mental breakdowns, horrendous medication withdrawals, a crisis of faith (ongoing), employment turmoil, sexual identity questions, loneliness, relationship doubts, and looming financial challenges. I was not naive when I got married. I knew all this and more was part of the deal; I just didn’t expect it all to happen so soon and so quickly.

Isn’t marriage supposed to have a honeymoon period? You know, that brief time when everything is rose-colored and you’re just happy to wake up next to your person every morning? I’m not saying I’m unhappy to be waking up with my person, but there was never a time when that happiness wasn’t mixed with anxiety and questions chewing on my brain like termites.

Is my unemployment a burden to this clear-eyed, optimistic, occasionally goofball-ish man I’ve yoked myself to?

Will the pharmacy screw up my medication again and disrupt my entire week with crippling muscle pain, headaches, and frantic doubts about everything? Are those bone-shaking doubts just symptoms of an unstable mind, or legitimate concerns I should be listening to?

Should I have gotten married when I did? Am I too young and immature? 

Will I ever be in a place to have kids? Do I even want kids? What happens to us if I don’t want kids? 

Even before we got married, we were faced with having to give up our dog Yoshi and the distinct possibility he would never be adopted. Thankfully, Chris’ parents took him back to Indiana with them, but that raises its own issues, like feeling the self-inflicted internal pressure to make enough money to get a place where we can take him back.

Do other married people have these problems? I’m sure they do. And I’m positive that couples have faced worse unemployment, worse debt, worse mental illness, and so on. I want to always be aware of the privilege I have, but I’m selfish and self-pitying. I see other couples with Instagram-perfect lives and go between feeling glad I’m not a fraud, and then furious that we’re not them. I see other couples having or planning babies, and I’m flabbergasted that they aren’t freaking the f*** out every minute of every day. I envy identity/orientation confidence. I envy white-picket fences and Tuesday date nights and dishwashers. But mostly, I fear.

I fear I will never be happy at the same church as my husband.
I fear 9-5 jobs and “work shoes” and imperfect bosses.
I fear eternal debt.
I fear little pink capsules and inefficient pharmacies.
I fear loneliness because I don’t dare get close to other women.

I fear God and His timing, which is so unlike our own, that to Him nothing is “unexpected, “too soon,” or “too late.” 

Heartbroken by the Church

Screenshot 2014-10-27 at 3.50.08 AM

I’ve known for a long time that I’m bitter about the Church. The last church I went to consistently went through a lot of big changes very quickly and left me feeling abandoned and betrayed. It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It was a bunch of little things. I was disappointed in the direction (or lack of direction) I felt the church had. There was a lot of division about things like worship, prayer, and leadership. People left. People got hurt. In the end, it just became a building.

It isn’t just the one church I’ve been heartbroken by. It’s the Church. I’ve always had trouble with the Christian community and feeling like I fit in. Youth groups and Sunday school were agonizing for me on a social level. I never felt spiritually challenged or like issues that I was facing (like depression and anxiety) were being addressed at all. It seemed like curriculum for teens was based on gender stereotypes and the idea that young people have no attention spans or interest in depth. It didn’t really change as I got older; so many small groups for women met during the day and centered around motherhood or crafting. There’s nothing wrong with that, don’t get me wrong, but it is limiting. It just serves to confirm my long-held anxieties about not fitting in.

Those anxieties have gotten worse. Politics has been the defining battleground between me and the Church. I’ve discussed this a lot on my blog, about how religion and politics become one and the same, about how I’ve been personally attacked by people I trusted just because I don’t agree with their ideologies. These are fellow Christians. These are fellow Christians who do not see a problem with either directly or indirectly questioning my devotion to the faith based on my political beliefs. I may disagree strongly with conservative Republican ideas and question why people agree with them, but I would never- and have never – judged someone’s Christianity based on those ideas. It is a repulsive attack. I know I’m bitter about it. I know that holding on to bitterness hurts me, but I’m not holding on to it intentionally. It has become sort of this weird shield against getting too close to being disappointed by the Church again. If I expect people in the Church to judge me, I won’t be surprised. I don’t know how to find the balance between not getting hurt and not being bitter.

I’ve also been heartbroken by all the people in the Church who don’t say anything about the attacks against people who have different political beliefs. These are the people who don’t stand up against ostracization and subtle segregation. These are the people who think that ignoring someone’s beliefs is the same as accepting them. For me, my political beliefs are directly influenced by my faith, and I want people to know why and still respect me and see the value of our differences. I’m practically desperate for that acceptance. I think it’s why I’m so insistent on still dealing with people who have shown they aren’t going to open themselves to new ideas, who see my beliefs as dangerous or ungodly. I still want a church family, after everything that’s happened, but I’m terrified. I can’t tell who is going to be responsive to my beliefs or who will shut me out, either because they think I’ve strayed from the faith or because they just don’t want to deal with the conflicts of iron sharpening iron. There is no defining characteristic of that sort of thing. And in my experience, churches are more likely to be filled with the kind of people who would attack me, so is it any wonder I’m really cautious?

But I’m also really lonely. I thought it was possible to stay strong spiritually without any help from other Christians, but I was wrong. God help me.