Voyeur

It was really interesting looking at the #thingsonlychristianwomenhear discussions on Twitter today. Why was I reading that in the first place?

a) Because I was procrastinating and
b) Because even though I don’t go to church anymore and am probably a godless heathen in the eyes of several people who care about me–I’m still a voyeur. I like to check in with Matthew Paul Turner and Rachel Held Evans. I also read National Review and Christianity Today so that I can at least try to understand some things.

A lot of the experiences that women shared in that thread were funny/sad. Some were horrifying. There was a lot of kindness and support in many of the feeds.

I also saw a lot of the following types of responses from both men and women:

“Look at these evil liberals attacking Christianity” and

“Wow, the way you’re focusing on negativity is really divisive. We’re called to unify” and

“Well then you were in a bad church, my church would never do anything like that, that’s not widespread, it was your church and only your church.”

There are a lot of reasons why I left. Those are some of them. Did every single Christian I’ve ever met act like that? No! Certainly not. But those are attitudes I encountered again and again. The idea that anything critical is an attack, and the idea that by speaking out about a problem, YOU’RE the problem, and the idea that anything bad that happened to you is an isolated incident.

There’s an experience that I was repeatedly advised not to be open about. Why? Because it might have backed up negative things people already thought about Christianity. Because it might have influenced somebody who was on their way to getting saved and then because of me, they didn’t. Because that was focusing on negativity. Because I needed to be better at forgiveness. Because it’s not a widespread problem. Because sure, it’s really unfortunate that this happened, but remember, #NotAllChurches.

Please let me be clear, this is not an attack on your faith if you’re a Christian. If you’re still reading, it means you’re probably someone who’ s take would be of value to me. d I don’t think you’re The Enemy and I’m also not in, like, an Athiest Coven. Primarily because I’m not an Athiest and also because that’s not a thing. Why am I still talking? Because for some reason, I really want Christians to Understand.

I can’t speak for everyone who leaves or falls away, but I can assure you that I didn’t wake up one morning and say “I hate Jesus. I’m not a Christian anymore.” That’s not true at all. And I didn’t get lured away by something evil and shiny. I did not think, “You know what I want to do instead of going to church? DRUGS!”

I got really tired. I got really worn down. Maybe I allowed myself to feel that way because my faith wasn’t strong enough, or was never real in the first place. It was the seed that fell on the stony ground and made a good showing for a while, but not long. Those attitudes I mention were not in the hearts of the people closest to me. They were just…so big. They were All Around. I couldn’t remember a time without them.

Those ideas can exist anywhere, and everywhere, and they do. It’s not unique to Christianity: “any criticism is an attack” and “just stop talking about it and it won’t be a problem.”

I guess what keeps me up at night is that sometimes, I feel like I take a step back in the direction I came from, and peer in, because I am hoping it will have changed and it will be different.

I keep doing this.

I have been doing it for years.

That probably won’t change.

Light ‘n Fun Thoughts on Faith

Someone I love and who loves me dearly chose to share with me, recently, a fairly horrific dream that involved that person going to heaven and me going to hell. This person meant well. Truly. And that’s the thing. That’s what makes it worse.

So naturally, I took to the internet, but not the part people I know look at, to vent all my special feelings about. It’s kind of like a message in a bottle, I guess.

I did not go skipping away from the church and throw my hat into the air. I didn’t stop because I wanted to devote my life to some bacchanalian orgy. I left because I got hurt, a lot, usually by people who meant extremely well. My faith was the seed that fell on the stony ground. It grew initially, but there was no depth. Or it just wasn’t for me. There are a lot of ways to look at what happened depending on your worldview.

If anyone thinks that I don’t think about it all the time, that person is very mistaken.

I am so weary of people trying, at best, to bring me back around by repeating theological points that I already know–I fully understand the concept of Christ being the son of God who was sent to earth to die for our sins, I can easily recite various verses from the Gospels–and at worst, talking to me about Hell. I know about Hell. I began learning about Hell at a very young age. It was the reason I got “saved” in the first place. It was, if I’m being honest, the only reason. I am very afraid of fire.

People repeat theological bullet points to me. And people, who I do understand mean very well, talk to me about hell.

That’s it? That’s your argument? Fear? That’s what you want to use? Why do you need to use fear? Is that stronger than talking about who Jesus is to you and what you believe he stands for? It must be.

THAT IS WHY I DO NOT WANT TO BE PART OF YOUR DEAL. SHAMING AND FRIGHTENING PEOPLE TO PRODUCE A DESIRED RESULT DOES NOT SEEM TO ME TO BE A COMPASSIONATE OR MORAL THING TO DO.

Nobody opens with “The greatest of these is love.” Nobody closes with it. Not to me. Not ever. Not EVER. If you’re reading this and you do use that in your presentation, good. Great. Please keep doing it.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking “I’ve never once tried to frighten her about being hell-bound, who is she talking about?” Other Christians who are not you. So maybe you can talk to them. Maybe you can let them know that they make agnostics like me want to run screaming into the desert to eat locusts and figure it out on our own terms.

“But it’s important for you to fellowship with other believers.”

Well, I have panic attacks when I’m around too many of them at once so that’s actually going to be a hard “No” right now.

Oh, and one more thing, if you’re inclined to say of our current president “He might be a Christian, we don’t know his heart,” maybe you could also extend people like me the same generosity of spirit. Because you also don’t know mine.

The Best Time I Went to a Purity Seminar and Wished for Death

I was sixteen. I found the whole thing so embarrassing that I hoped I would just die. And then about seventeen years later I got cancer. GOD WAS LISTENING.

The thing is, I did say that I wanted to go to the purity seminar. I remember the day I saw a one-sheet about it in the church bulletin and shot my mouth off to my mother. And then about a month later, there I was, slouching and scowling my way into what counts as a mega-church in Visalia, wishing I hadn’t chosen a semi-goth look for the day because I could tell immediately that I was going to be regarded as a wayward youth. I didn’t think about this before. But I thought about it all during The Purity Seminar.

I know exactly why I said I wanted to go to the Purity Seminar. It was the same reason that I borrowed a friend’s copy of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” later that year. There were no takers and I wanted to feel better about it.

I’m disappointed in my teenage self for not at least making a grand and dramatic statement and claiming that I’d become a nun, but we weren’t Catholic and in fact I had a book by Josh McDowell in one of my classes that talked about why Catholicism was a cult (spoiler: everything that isn’t Evangelical Christianity is definitely a cult) and this is sort of unfortunate because I think in some ways, Catholicism might have really worked for me as a moody adolescent. My parents were really hesitant about having me go see a therapist, reasoning that I could talk to our pastor or maybe even just to God, and if I’d had Mary as an option it might have turned out differently.

I always really liked the idea of being able to talk to Mary. Mary had periods. Mary seemed like she might Get It. Also Catholics were cool with drinking and I heard rumors that they learned science very differently than I did. The grass is always greener.

The Purity Seminar was very pink. Lots of pastel decorations. Run by well-meaning people. The only moment that sticks out clearly, all these years later, is the moment during the anonymous Q&A toward the end where one of the questions was “What if you feel like God has a Princess for you to meet instead of a Prince?”

The answer wasn’t so much about the sinfulness of being gay, but how that was probably not the case because if you just look at the human body, God obviously designed us to fit together in that particular heterosexual missionary way. Several people looked my way, even though I hadn’t even asked a question and it was supposed to be anonymous. The Semi-Goth look made a real splash.

I don’t look back and hate the people who ran the purity seminary. I grew up in that culture and I understand where they’re coming from even if I no longer agree with it at all, even a little bit. I was pretty mad at them for co-opting Shakespeare’s Ophelia as an example of why you shouldn’t Do It outside of marriage, because the theatre kid was ready to stand up and scream “She went crazy and drowned because Hamlet broke her heart and she had to SHOW HIM, not because he broke her hymen!” I didn’t stand up and scream that. The Semi-Goth look was saying enough.

I remember surveying the girls there and being sad that some of them were so young. They had enough time ahead of them to be told what to do and what not do with their bodies, and it was one of the first nice days we’d had all winter. They should have been out playing with their friends, not in some room where a lot of grown women were talking about flowers and petals because of course we couldn’t just come right out and say “vagina.”

I can’t pick a specific moment in time when I started to become a feminist – maybe when I read “The Awakening” in college, because I’m all about owning my Basic properties these days– but I think that day at the seminar day might have contributed a lot. I’d heard a lot of my friends talk about wanting their husbands to have had some experience on their wedding night so that “someone would know what was going on.” And I didn’t think that was exactly fair, for a few reasons – one, I thought the people saying things like that would hate whichever girl or girls their future husbands “practiced” with, even if they didn’t know them. The idea that other women could exist simply for “practice” with our theoretical future husbands was disturbing, all alone.

But there was also this idea that I began to have, which was that I didn’t think I would really care if the guy I ended up marrying had sex before he met me. Even then, I was more concerned about, was he the kind of person who would pressure a girl into having sex? Would he be the kind of person who would make a girl seem like a slut when he talked about it afterward? And if I didn’t care if the guy I ended up with had had sex before, it didn’t seem like it was fair for him to care about if I had. As long as everybody was safe. As long as everything was consensual.

I told my mom I’d go to the seminar, and I borrowed “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” because at the decrepit age of sixteen, I’d come to believe that I would never find a guy who—it wasn’t that he couldn’t be into sports, he just couldn’t care that I wasn’t into them. And he didn’t have to be into theatre, he just had to think it was cool for me to be into it. I would want for him to read books. I would want for him to be nice to me. I would want for him to not act like he was in charge just because of being a dude. I knew for a fact I wouldn’t say “obey” in my wedding vows because that just never made sense to me as a thing that adults do for one another. Dogs obey.

And then I grew up and moved to New York and became a liberal and lost every single one of my morals that I’d never held particularly close to begin with. That’s not actually true. But I did start to figure out what I actually valued and what I did not.

I was afraid of sex, because of an incident that had happened when I was a child. But I’d only ever thought that it was wrong outside of marriage in the way that I thought anything I wasn’t allowed to do was wrong – I knew it was supposed to be wrong, but didn’t quite understand the reasoning. It was like not being able to do “Halloween” or watch “The Simpsons.” Because I’m Christian. My reasoning went no deeper than that.

And even I don’t wish to go in-depth into my personal sexual history on a blog, but it didn’t take me very long to learn that “sleeping around” was applied to a whole lot of situations that were nowhere near as exciting as they were made out to be. A friend of mine mentioned that his sister would stay at her boyfriend’s house more often than not. Another friend made a comment about him being fine with his sister “sleeping around.”

Staying overnight at her boyfriend’s house when they were in a committed, monogamous relationship was “sleeping around?” K.

Earlier this evening I finished listening to the latest episode of the Savage Lovecast, which routinely features many examples of callers who are “sleeping around.” And a lot of that wouldn’t be a great way for me to be, because it wouldn’t make me happy, but it’s not important for other people’s sex and dating lives to make me happy. It’s actually not important at all. I wonder how the Savage Lovecast might have sounded to me when I was sixteen and in the Purity Seminar. Probably quite interesting.

I had a long way to go, in terms of overcoming prejudice and judgmental nature and understanding concepts like cis privilege and white privilege – I am sure I still do – but even then, I think I just had the sense what whatever anyone chose to do with that person’s own body should be entirely up to them, so long as they were not using it to hurt someone.

I am sure Purity Seminars still happen. I am sure those creepy Purity Balls do. I am sure the focus continues to be on “Don’t do it!” as opposed to “Basics in how to respect other people.” And I chose to leave the church so it’s not like I have any right to influence how they do things.

I wish I could time travel to the day of the Purity Seminar. I would tell myself “Don’t do a goth look today. Don’t wish for cancer. And when you have your realization about what you think would actually make you happy in a guy? You’re actually right. And you’ll meet him in about twelve years. You won’t get married right away. You might not get married at all. But you’ll be really happy with him. You’ll love him a lot and he’ll love you a lot. You’ll enjoy watching soccer together and you’ll also got to plays together. He’ll be so proud of you when you finish the play it takes you years to write. He’ll be next to you at your first chemo and he’ll be next to you at your six month scan and he’ll be just as overjoyed that it’s clean as you are. He’ll love you and try to make you feel beautiful even when you are bald.”

The TL;DR of that is “You will meet a guy who stays with you even when you have no hair.”

I mean, what else would a sixteen-year-old possibly want to hear?!

Agnostic Bible Study

 

I’ve taken a poll among various Christians in my life, told them about how it seemed right and fitting to me to listen to some guy on Youtube read the Gospel of Mark on Christmas Day as I was making a pie (it turned out well and I for me I do feel like the ability to make a good pie crust is up there with the time I got my MFA and the time I didn’t have cancer anymore, just like a serious Monumental Life Achievement) and apparently the next one I should try is…Luke!

Reading/listening to the Bible is an odd thing for me to be doing, primarily because I’m not a Christian. I’m not anything, really, other than a person who wishes The Force was real. But I did grow up going to a very conservative Evangelical church. It’s called Calvary Chapel. People who go there seem to really like claiming that it is non-denominational. Calvary Chapel has a big focus on Hell, and The Rapture, and The End times, and other things that I’m still terrified of if I’m being completely honest, even though there is sadly little else about the faith I was raised with that has stayed with me. It’s not rational for me to be afraid of those things after leaving the faith because I decided it didn’t make sense for me. But I’m also somewhat afraid of zombies, and I hold my breath on bridges and in tunnels so that things won’t collapse. Being afraid of The Eternal Fires of Hell is different than being superstitious, sure. But maybe they’re somehow related.

I reached out to a handful of Christians in my life in the days after the election. I wanted to let them know that I saw them responding compassion and grace to all kinds of angry people, and that while I didn’t share their faith anymore, the picture of it that they were presenting to the world was something really beautiful, and something that I respected, and something that I was glad for them to have. These are Christians who – I mean, I don’t know for sure who they voted for. I just know for sure that they don’t discriminate, that they display seemingly endless generosity, patience, and kindness, that they are the kind of people who sacrifice for others often and sometimes in big ways. My heart was very hard in those days after the election, and these the people who made me want to figure out how to stop being so angry. Look at me. “My heart was hard.” Still using Christianese.

And then there I was, on Christmas Day, making a pie and deciding to listen to Mark. And I’m sure that some people would say “Oh, God was leading you.” I’m not interested in arguing with them. For me it was more that I realized how angry and vindictive I’d been feeling towards Christians across the board, in particular because I decided that they were a bunch of hypocrites who were misinterpreting and cherry-picking their own holy book. And then inner me was like “Okay, you haven’t read the whole thing, either. Be able to back up what you say if you feel that way about it.”

And so I listened to the whole thing from start to finish. It was only about an hour and a half. I was astounded to discover that I wasn’t bored. Making a pie might have been part of it. I’m ADHD. I hate doing one thing at a time.

But I could not have been more surprised that I thought it was interesting, that I thought it had a pretty good structure, and that I thought several of the characters were fairly well defined. Jesus is…kind of funny. At least the way Mark tells it.

So I’m give Luke a try next, because I’m interested to see if I’m interested. I was never all that interested before. Just afraid. Which, it turns out, was not a great base for a deep and enduring faith.

I obviously have to be very careful who I chose to share this with, meaning that strangers on the internet can know about it but it’s nothing I’d discuss with my parents as they’d likely get excited and think I’m going to start going to church again, when I am most assuredly not because I like my Sunday mornings as they are. On the couch, with my man, listening to “StarTalk” and enjoying the scones we just made.

Is there a point to my revisiting a few books of the Bible? Maybe. Maybe not.

I’ve been called an “angry atheist,” which is untrue, because I’m not an atheist. I’m just not that confident. That was another one of the problems I had with the faith I was raised it. When I started learning a bit about what it meant to be Catholic, Mormon, Jewish, Muslim, etc. – as soon as the concept of faith as something you could chose made sense to me, it made sense to me that you could choose wrong. You could absolutely believe something, and just…Be Wrong.

I am angry about some things. That part is accurate.

Who knows if reading the Bible a little bit will help?

Probably not Leviticus though because fuck that guy.