Finding My Voice

I pulled out of the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement (and Christianity as a whole) in the fall of 2011 – that’s roughly thirty one months ago. My beliefs have changed so much during that time frame. Who I am has changed, and I’m very thankful for that fact. I’m happier. I’m healthier. I’m more confident. My spirituality is more fulfilling. I’ve found my voice and am no longer afraid to use it. Life is better.

Christian fundamentalism greatly stunted my personal growth. I’ve only recently realized how greatly it stunted my ability to use my voice. For starters, fundamentalism did its best to prevent me from developing my individuality. Self-aware individuals don’t conform to rigid rules and certainly don’t do well with one-size-fits-all doctrine. Individuals realize the world doesn’t fit into a box. Individuals use their voice to ask questions. Questions are dangerous if they remain unchecked. A child may except pat answers, but when that child grows up, his questions will not so easily be set aside. Fundamentalism prides itself in having the answer to everything, even if that answer is “God’s ways are not man’s ways” or “God knows best.” Receiving an answer like that was very unsatisfying, but it usually was enough to shut me up because I didn’t want to appear to be questioning God or the authority of the person whom I’d asked. Asking too many questions got you in trouble or, at the least, caused people to find you annoying and troublesome. I asked too many questions anyway, though, and didn’t get enough answers.

I can recall puzzling through matters of theology as a college student. Homework assignments designed to help me better understand my faith only made it more puzzling. One particular event stands out in my mind. I had been studying the arguments for and against predestination and free will and thought I’d had a breakthrough moment of understanding. I wanted to share my discovery with other people so I did my best to put it into words (which was long and complicated to do) and then put in Facebook. Immediately I got backlash from fundamentalist friends who disagreed; ultimately I chose to take down what I’d written. I saw then and there that a hole-proof, Biblical argument that reconciled predestination and free will didn’t exist. That was one of many things that I realized was not as hole-proof as fundamentalism declared/needed it to be. My faith was crumbling,
not being strengthened, and I began to realize why hyper-conservative fundamentalists declared higher education to be a “tool of Satan” used to pull young people away from their faith. I was not involved with Satan, though, and had only studied at conservative Christian educational institutions. My fundamentalist faith was not holding up to the thoughts inside my own head, and there was nothing I could do about it.

Eventually I had to start telling the people around me that I was no longer a believer. My voice was a squeaky whisper as I fearfully undertook the task of breaking people’s hearts. I put on a brave face, tried to protect myself by putting up a wall of defense, but nothing helped. I could no longer believe, could not live a lie to please people, but couldn’t bear to cause the people I loved so much pain and confusion. The year during/after my exit was messy and painful for all involved. I felt desperate for independence and a chance to discover the rest of the world, and in my desperation I made some bad decisions (my first marriage being one of them). Mistakes added to the pain and confusion, but through it all I began to find my footing and realized how strong I was – not how strong a deity or religion could make me. I found a place where I could blossom, a partner who supported me, and a faith community that was safe and nourishing (Unitarian Universalism). Finding love and support has given me the confidence I need to start using my voice.

I recall one conversation with my mother sometime after I had left fundamentalism: she asked me not to become an activist. Turns out the term activist made her think of 70’s era feminists like Jane Fonda. I know very little about Jane Fonda, but I’m aware that some of the activism of days gone by left a bad taste in many people’s mouths. Feminism and environmentalism both got a bad rap in IFB circles, and since those are two of the most well known areas of activism, I guess many fundamentalists assume activism is crazy, despite their very active attempts at proselytization and protecting themselves from what they considered to be infringements on their religious rights. IFB told me to speak out about salvation so the world would not all die and go to hell, but it cared very little about the worldly state of humanity and the Earth. Humanitarian efforts were seen as secondary (at best) to missionary work that resulted in conversions. I was always troubled by this, and wanted to involve myself in something that sought to help others at whatever level they needed help – not just their souls.

I guess I’ve always been an activist at heart. I don’t like sitting idly by when I see something that is needed, but years of doing just that must be overcome. I’m finding my voice and have lots I want to say. I don’t have the courage to speak very loudly, and the thought of public speaking still terrifies me, but I’m finding ways to use my voice. This blog is really what got me started; I needed to tell my story, and in the absence of an existing audience I made the web my audience. There are other things I’m passionate about, and I’ve been able to use the web to help me speak out about those things as well. Now that I’m a member at my local UU church, I think I will quickly find new ways to speak about what is important to me. I don’t have a special story, but I do have my story. I don’t have great ideas or even unique ideas, but if I don’t speak my thoughts I remain part of the silent majority. I want to bring about change, not remain silent while the world dies around me.

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(Real) Love Conquers All

I suppose there a lot of other things I could be blogging about right now – like Doug Phillips being sued for molesting his children’s nanny, or my current perspective on Easter – but tonight I write about love.

 

I’ve written some about my first marriage and how IFB shaped my view of love here, here, and here. My first marriage tanked pretty quickly. I had no prior experience with an actual relationship, thought you were supposed to marry your first love, and believed that there would never be another person who would tell me he loved me and wanted to take care of me. I went into the relationship with a very low level of self-worth, which turned into me letting my then-boyfriend-and-eventually-husband push me into things I wasn’t comfortable with as well as letting him run me down and treat me like a child (not that children should be treated that way). I had gotten myself into an abusive relationship with a racist, misogynistic, mentally ill guy who believed the world was run by lizard aliens called the Illuminati. Yeah…. He was an expert liar and I was blinded by love, only to be blindsided by the craziness after we were married. After a few months of abuse, an opportunity to get out came, and I chose to leave. As hard as it was at the time, I’ve never regretted my decision and am so thankful to have my life back. Other ex-fundies have talked about experiences like this and refer to marriages like mine as “starter marriages,” because so many ex-fundies lack the real-world knowledge and experience to start in healthy relationships.

When I left my first marriage I was terrified of my ex, had even lower self-esteem than before, and was struggling with depression. Love had betrayed me. Marriage was supposed to be an ultimate goal that, once obtained, meant you were safe for life, but my marriage had dissolved due to things I had never dreamed possible. I lost a lot of things in that relationship, but the experience I gained changed my life for the better. I knew I would never marry someone without living with them first – no more prudish views about what I once considered a pretend marriage. No more promises made about abstaining from sex before marriage – sex was great and even sacred, and it didn’t make sense for me to hold back that part of a relationship until after I had married someone. The legality of marriage was huge and scary – something I didn’t fully grasp until my name was legally bound with the name of someone else whom I needed to divorce. For awhile I toyed with the idea of never entering into a legally-binding marriage again. A couple’s commitment to each other was sufficient for me, so why add the hassle of getting married? What was so important about this marriage thing anyway? Was it outdated and unnecessary? 

Then I was swept off my feet by someone else (also an ex-fundie). The origins of our relationship are complicated and tangled, but that’s not relevant to this post. We went through the gaga-eyed honeymoon phase like every couple, but on the other side of that phase we were still happy and very much in love. We had our issues, like learning how to communicate with each other effectively, but instead of him shutting me out or me burying my concerns, we figured it out and our relationship grew stronger. He has built me up, piece by piece, until I’ve reached the point I’m at now. I’m finding my independence and am becoming confident in who I am, what I can do, and how much I’m worth simply because I’m a person. I have built him up as well and helped him find balance in life. We truly function as a team, which means so much to me. We have found the meaning of love and are living it out one ordinary day at a time.

He and I were married this past weekend through a beautiful (and legal) Celtic handfasting ceremony. We debated whether marriage was relevant to us (he had been married once before as well). We decided the positives outweighed the negatives and began to plan our wedding. Along the way we added to our family (he has a son we are raising) and announced to the world that we were expecting a baby (it’s a boy!). Pretty much everything about our wedding was non-traditional, from the ceremony to my baby bump that made me feel like a goddess at the wedding. Neither my husband nor I went into the ceremony expecting it to change our relationship. We’d lived together for over a year already, so why would a ceremony change anything? Saying our vows in front of a carefully-selected group of people, surrounded by symbols of love and support, we both found ourselves forever changed. It was a beautiful experience and has added to the bond we share. My faith in the concept of marriage has been renewed, and I’ll probably write further on the this topic in the future.

A thought that has come to mind in recent days is this:
My heart is not a bag of Skittles that is capable of being emptied. My heart is capable of an infinite amount of love.

The bag of Skittles analogy is one I picked up at a fundie camp during my teen years. It was a lie, but I didn’t know that then. It was only after I hit rock bottom and then found love again that I realized how amazing my ability to love is. Love grows and changes and can be spread out across your whole life. I love my parents and many people from my past. I love my husband. I love his son. I love the son that is growing within me right now. I’m growing to love people in our new community. All this love and no worries about an empty Skittles bag.
Love conquers all.

Trying to Get Out of the Mud of IFB

The road to recovery out of fundamentalism is long and painful. Sometimes I feel the pain more keenly and I wonder how people who didn’t start as fundamentalists became fundamentalists. Why did my parents, for example, pick IFB as the place to get involved and raise a family? They both have alluded to troubled pasts, particularly during their college years, and seem to carry continued guilt from whatever went on; I think perhaps fundamentalism offered them a way to absolve their sins and feel forgiven. Once we kids came along, I’m sure they thought that they were doing us a great service by raising us in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” because we wouldn’t be exposed to all the stuff they were exposed to in the past. They probably hoped our lives wouldn’t get screwed up because we would be raised in church, in the Bible, etc. I understand wanting to do the best you can for your kids, so I won’t fault them for their good intentions, but I must say that things didn’t work out as well as they’d hoped.

I am 100% certain that being raised/heavily involved in the world of IFB screwed me up in numerous ways. Many of the things that I struggle with today or have struggled with in the past I can easily trace back to something I was taught or influenced on by a particular teacher or pastor within the IFB. Here are a few things that come to mind:

  • Constant preaching about the end times, the rapture, and how terrible the current state of the world was = anxiety about the future and an impending sense of doom, distrust of humanity, “whatever will be will be” attitude towards the condition of the Earth, our government, and all global affairs.
  • Vilifying of self, self-awareness, meditation, personal experience, any spiritual experience considered Pentecostal = hatred and distrust of self, anxiety and depression, sense of disconnect and confusion, inability to relax and simply experience, need to control/fear of losing control.
  • Rigid rules and strict discipline for not adhering to the rules, rules for everything, persons in authority often needed to assert authority in heavy-handed ways = control issues, fear and suspicion of authority figures in general, and a constant need to defend myself/stay on the defensive.
  • The state of childhood viewed as a lesser state of being, children as willful brats deserving of punishment (even hellfire), adults put so far above children as to allow for easy abuse of power, children should always be obedient, happy, and controllable = I viewed the jump to adulthood as important and sought to reach it ASAP, I internalized the negativity towards and treatment of children as the right way to do things, I have a hard time not thinking I am obligated to control the behavior of children simply because I’m an adult and they aren’t.

Between the rules, the teachers, and how authority was or wasn’t used, the atmosphere of the church school I attended (all the way through) was hardly one of love and Christlikeness. Church/Christian schools don’t have very good reputations, though. Kids can be so awful to each other, as can teachers to kids. I think it was within the realms of school that I learned to keep up a constant defense. I worked hard to control myself and my surroundings to keep myself from messing up and becoming the subject of ridicule. I was an A student, so teachers rarely had reason to ridicule me; it was the other students who seemed to thrive off the misfortune of others. Leaving yourself open, relaxing, just enjoying life and who you really were was a recipe for being torn apart by the other kids. So, I closed up and learned how to put up walls. By the time I hit fourth grade I discovered the pain of betrayal, ridicule, and being left out; I graduated from that school still feeling those some things. How might I have turned out differently if I’d gotten my education in a different setting – one where religion and hellfire weren’t mingled with rules and expectations?

The part of myself I’ve lost that I mourn the most is my ability to let loose and open myself up to whatever I choose. We start that way as children, and then along the way we learn to avoid pain and shut ourselves up – perhaps more so when religious fundamentalism is involved. I never considered myself a control freak, but I’ve discovered that I do in fact have trouble with needing to control things. In highschool and college (and sometimes even now) I always wanted to know things, have the right answer, be right because it made me feel like I had worth. I went from a carefree child to an anxious, somewhat controlling adult. Why? Someone who struggled with a similar problem recently helped me a shine a light on at least one angle of things:

“My ‘need to be right’ and ‘have control’ was very much linked to the ‘God-Pleasing’ of the IFB as well as the concept that ‘If you are not right, you are wrong and God can’t bless you.’ We control because we fear the future. Wow!!! The whole fundy thing is about being terrified of God and who controls the future?? God does! So….they try to control God!! We controllers try to control in order to please God and earn His blessings for the future. This is actually Greek and Roman belief — not Judeo-Christian.

Regardless of who had what beliefs and when, I think she makes some excellent points that I had never considered before. I particularly like the part where she says, “We controllers try to control in order to please God and earn His blessings for the future.” As a Baptist I felt huge pressure to be perfect, to do a million different things to better myself or others, to find God’s will and do it, etc. Trying to do everything that was deemed good and even necessary was impossible. So you better get control of your life and your time and make sure you can give a good account for it one day to God, lest he call you a bad steward of his gifts. Huge pressure to do everything, and to do it right… very easy to get burnt out and stressed. I still struggle with feeling like I should be doing something productive all the time, must be multitasking, otherwise I’m wasting time and being lazy. 

I have goals I’m working toward. I have spiritual paths that call to me. I have so many ideas and hopes, but until I can relearn to relax, let loose and let go, I will stay stuck in the mud of the past. Through introspection and writing posts like this one, I feel I can begin digging myself out and moving forward. In fact, I hereby make letting loose and letting go my main goal for the coming months. Onward!

New Life

At the end of December my partner and I confirmed that we were expecting a baby; we were both overjoyed! Now, 11 weeks into the pregnancy, I’m finally emerging from the awful symptoms of the first trimester. I don’t feel like I’m in survival mode all the time now, which is wonderful. I’ve been able to enjoy reading and thinking during the past week or so, so hopefully my creativity is returning and I’ll be able to write more. The reading and the thinking has certainly taken a new direction due to the fact that I’m pregnant.

I’m assuming that my parents as well as my partner’s parents are hoping that this new addition will magically transform our hearts and we’ll come running back to the fold. The thought of getting involved at a local progressive Christian church has briefly crossed my mind, actually. Not because I want to be involved in Christianity, but because of the community and support such a church would bring. We’re far away from all family and friends of the past, and our lack of community is scary to me as I imagine life with a new baby. There’s a great UU church we’ve attended a few times… but we haven’t been able to attend very frequentlye. We keep missing services due to sickness, morning sickness, weather, my partner’s work schedule, etc. I sincerely hope that things will improve as we draw closer to Spring. Speaking of Spring, it’s fun to think about how the baby will be growing inside me right along with the growth of Spring, and then be delivered towards the end of the growing season in August.

So yeah… a new baby definitely has me thinking about my community, my home, my family, our spirituality, what the future looks like… so many things. I know this pregnancy will be life changing. One way it is already changing me is by reshaping my spirituality and refueling my desire to learn more and grow. I think I know where I’m headed – to a point – but my IFB background is holding me back. It’s so hard to let go, let loose, and simply feel and do things… because of fear. The IFB instilled within me many fears, one of the chiefest being to fear what other people think. My interactions with other Baptist kids (school, camp, and college) taught me to fear how I look and whether or not what I’m doing will seem stupid or silly. Now I still battle with fearing what others think, how they’ll see me. I also battle with a fear of not being in control, which is heavily tied in with my fears about how other see me. Early on I did my best to hide all tears, possibly even all emotion, in public because it opened me up to ridicule and pain. I never liked being asked to do things out of my comfort zone because I feared failure, feared how I would look. I missed out on a lot of opportunities thanks to all this; it’s only been since I left Christianity that I began finding the freedom to loosen up and have fun. I look forward to being further changed by the experiences of this pregnancy, giving birth, and holding my baby.

Article from Elizabeth Esther and My Experience with Fundamentalist Christian Camp

The false, glittering promise of Christian conferences by Elizabeth Esther

I know exactly what she’s talking about, and I’ve never been to a Christian conference (unless a ladies’ retreat counts as a conference). The Christian camp I attended and worked at for several years created the same environment Elizabeth described. Everyone was on some kind of high by the end of a camp week, and as a worker you hit high after high throughout the summer, only to pack up and go back to reality in August. So many people I knew – both campers and staff – went home after their time at camp and crashed. They had made friends, made decisions, felt the rush of spiritual experience… and then when they went home it was gone. They eagerly came back the next year, hoping to regain the spiritual ground they had lost and yet again strengthen their resolve to do better. The term “camp decisions” exists for a reason….

Christian camps seem uniquely geared towards creating this phenomenon: campers/staff are completely bubbled in from the rest of the world, repeated doses of indoctrination through devotions and services, and everyone is tightly bound by strict rules and expectations that further the sense of being in a bubble (like the military, you always have someone to tell you what to do and where you can and can’t be, etc.).

Now that I think back, I know a lot of fun was had at camp, and it helped me grow as a person in many ways, but the world of fundie Christian camps is not a healthy one.
As far as fundie Christian camps go, the one I was involved in was pretty lax. The insidious ideology of fundamentalism still held sway, though. It was at camp that I first learned the Skittle analogy (don’t give out pieces of your heart because eventually you won’t have anything left to give to your spouse). It was at camp that I first witnessed how unhealthy and manipulative Christian romantic relationships could be – sadly what I witnessed turned out to be very normal amongst fundie Christians. Camp heavily reinforced the concept that men were lustful animals and couldn’t control themselves, so as a female I had a duty to watch out for them. Camp also instilled the burden of winning lost souls to Christ and a serious interest in missions work. At least once a week a salvation message was preached, sometimes complete with hell and brimstone imagery and fear. Staff was told to pray for the souls of the campers and we were often required to pray together out loud to that end. Praying aloud was not very comfortable for me, but I quickly learned that fundie Christian ministry didn’t care about what you were or weren’t comfortable with – you were supposed to want to do it all and if you didn’t, you probably weren’t right with God and were being selfish. Another thing that stands out to me was the spirit towards working hard. If we weren’t always ready to do more and more, whenever or whatever, we were treated poorly and shamed. I’ve always been a hard worker (all my former employers will attest to this), but sometimes things were asked of me that were inappropriate for my age, maturity, skill, or physical strength and if I questioned anything or brought up my concerns I was shut up. I saw it happen very frequently with other staff members too. The man who was most guilty of treating the staff (and even campers) this way turned out to be patriarchal, hierarchical, narcissistic, controlling, and had obvious anger issues. Now, none of that is necessarily unique to fundie Christianity, but I lay the blame there anyway because this man made things out to be spiritual matters, where he was right because of his position with God and others were wrong because they were in lesser positions or out of line with the Bible, etc. It’s very demoralizing when the staff all knows their boss sees them as inferior and will always treat them as such and even go so far as to belittle them.

Anyway. Fundamentalist Christian camps and Christian conferences… just don’t go. The high isn’t worth the crash that will ultimately come.

Fundamentalist Christianity And Self Injury

I saw something tonight that took my breath away. This:

 

This was a trigger for me – it triggered past pains, memories, smells… bad stuff. I personally know seven people who used self injury at some point in their lives. All of them were/are fundamentalist Christians. At least four of those people harmed themselves for reasons almost identical to those reasons listed above with the picture: feeling worthless, guilty, and in need of punishment. Those feelings (and self injury) are certainly not unique to fundamentalism… but fundamentalism creates the perfect environment for them to thrive. Fundamentalism is a world fraught with rules, judgements, punishments, rules, expectations, hierarchy, and did I mention rules? 
For the person who went all the way – attended church, went to the church school, the summer camps, fundie college – the amount of judgement and negativity that was faced is astounding. 
  • In church – hearing terrifying messages about Hell and all the people who would be going there (what child wouldn’t want to pray a prayer to get away from that?); that we deserve punishment, fiery death, and pain because we aren’t good enough for God (without Jesus); hearing Sunday School lessons about those terrible little children who mocked God’s prophet and were then mauled and eaten by bears, or of the many people God told the children of Israel to slaughter simply because they weren’t Israelites and worshiped the wrong god(s); women must behave differently and be submissive to men because Eve screwed up in the garden, not Adam; repeatedly hearing that we can do nothing good as humans because we are nothing, and all that we do is filthy rags because we are vile, “dirty rotten sinners” “but for the grace of God.” 
  • In church school – further ingraining of the teachings from church; teachers, preachers, special speakers railing at you about the evils of things as stupid as women wearing pants; getting a terrifying sermon on sexual sins as a sixth grader who didn’t even know what sex was; struggling with fight-or-flight through the messages of special speakers in chapel as the screamed and yelled and acted like angry devils. 
  • In camp – God is powerful, we are weak, so stop trying to do anything out of your own strength because you don’t have any; wait for God’s will, because your life will be terrible if you miss out on it; don’t let yourself have romantic feelings for many people because your heart is like a bag of Skittles (if you keep giving pieces away there won’t be anything left for your future spouse); guys/men are dirty-minded, lustful animals and us girls have to take every precaution possible to keep the guys from having any trouble at all with their minds.
  • In fundie college – further ingraining of all the previous messages listed above; the people in authority matter more than the people beneath them; us young adults are actually very immature fifteen year old kids who need our hands held and someone constantly telling us what to do, where to live, who we can and can’t date, etc.; that people who fall outside the box of acceptability must be crushed and broken, with no regard for their personal well-being (all in the name of love and turning someone back to Christ).

And I could go on and on… but that’s enough. Anyone see a few things that might lead to depression, feelings of guilt, or a sense of worthlessness? Anyone see why women in particular might come out of all this feeling broken and insecure? 

I began this post by saying that the image about self injury was a trigger. Cutting is the form of self injury I’m most familiar with because six of the seven self-injurers I know cut themselves. One cutter was a close friend of mine in college. I still remember the day I found out she had literally carved the word love into her arm – I felt sick and cut a class because I needed the time to process what had happened. I told her to come to me in the future if she felt like cutting, because I thought that maybe I could help save her from the pain. Other friends I made while in college struggled with cutting as well, and I jumped into trying to help them with their struggles as well. Not the smartest thing I could have done, but I was naive and thought that I could “do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Instead of saving people, I found myself completely overwhelmed by this new world where people weren’t always happy and everyone didn’t have a happy ending. Then my health crumbled in the face of an unknown illness (eventually diagnosed with fibromyalgia and lots more) and I found myself in a black hole of depression. I wanted to try cutting, but a promise made to a friend held me back. I found other ways to hurt or punish myself, though, and it felt good. In a world where I was suddenly in control of nothing, I found a way to control something. At one point I discovered I could get a high off of not eating, and since it was my body that made me so sick I thought it could use some punishment. Then I started hearing and seeing  death and suicide in things around me, and I prayed for God to kill me. I wrote a poem around that time that illustrates a lot of things:

It is cold, terribly cold.
I am tired, no strength left.
I must push on.
I must fight through.
I must prevail.
It is always with me.
Escape has been forgotten.
I embrace it when I awake.
I tuck it in at night when I sleep.
It is my constant companion.
The battle is long.
I am weary and worn.
Is there an end?
I fight on.
But what?
The enemy is cold.
The enemy is weariness.
The enemy is pain.
The enemy is without name.
The enemy is within me.
 
I have wept for this enemy.
I have bled for this enemy.
Sweetness has been lost.
Sharpness has been gained.
Perspective has changed.
Where was I in the beginning?
Where have I been?
Where am I now?
Where am I going?
Where will the battle end?
Will the battle end?
Will I push on?
Will I fight through?
Will I prevail?
Will I win?
The cold enshrouds me.
The weariness encloses me.
The pain envelopes me.
A veil lies over my face.
Who can see me through this veil?
 
Who can see past the pall over my visage?
Who sees through to the hidden man?
Who will melt the ice seeking to encase my soul?
Who will lead me through this valley?
Who?
God is light.
God is love.
God is strength.
God is all knowing.
God is.
God will take my hand and lead me.
God will thaw the ice and warm my heart.
God will see what I hide from the world.
God will see the truth through it all.
God will.
God sees where I have been.
God sees where I am.
God sees where I am going.
God sees what I have lost and gained.
God sees.
God knows my enemy.
God knows my weakness.
God knows I have fought.
God knows the outcome.
God knows.
The cold still grips.
The weariness weighs heavy.
The pain gnaws and bites.
My enemy remains nameless.
But God is, sees, and knows all.
That is enough.
I will push on.
I will fight through.
I will prevail.
God will grant me victory (even through death).

I wrote that December 31, 2010. At that point in time I was still clinging to the concept that only God could save me and fix any of my problems. Everything and everyone else had failed me at this point, so I thought God was my only hope. A few months later I began to discover that what I needed lay within myself. People weren’t the answer. People with fancy letters attached to their names and lots of schooling weren’t the answer. Not even the God of the Bible was the answer. I had to learn that happiness, strength, and so many other things I needed were inside me all along. Had I been instilled with that mindset (at church, school, camp, and college), instead of being bombarded by my supposed worthlessness and inherent evil, I don’t think I would have ended up in that hole in the first place. How many of my friends who have struggled with self injury would have found themselves in a different place if their churches, schools, and families had not broken them?

For all the fundie folks (formerly or current) out there who have struggled with any form of self injury… know that you have inherent worth, you have immeasurable strength, you have unlimited potential for good, and that you can be happy. What you need lies within you.

Link & Some Thoughts About Fundie-land, Romantic Ideas, & Quiverfull

And this, my friend, is what the world of fundie/Baptist/uber-conservative/homeschooling looks like, as told in Jane Austen speak.

Seriously.

In a small Baptist church like the one I grew up in, the matchmaking that goes on is insane. I can’t tell you how many times a lady from church (or one of my girlfriends) came over to squeal about a young man who had started attending or was visiting, especially if he was the child of someone in ministry. The important credentials were always his education, how he was serving in ministry, what his plans were, how he was dressed (better be a suit or something nice!) etc.; if he could sing or play an instrument he got bonus points. Guys weren’t viewed as potential friends, they were viewed as potential mates. It was all very silly and unhealthy, and I can see that now, but at the time it was both thrilling and embarrassing to be involved in this world. At the time it seemed romantic, probably because of stories like Pride and Prejudice. Indeed these views of male/female interaction, courtship, love, whatever lives on through literature and films that depict patriarchal views/society as romantic, beautiful, classy, proper… you get the idea.

As a young girl I read extensively and came to love the world I found painted in stories like The Secret Garden, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Little House on the Prairie, and many other stories that were set in the 1700-1800’s. I came away with a very romantic picture of life during those time periods – beautiful women, smiling children, lovely gowns, daily tea, flower gardens, walks through countryside…. This picture stuck in my head as some sort of ideal to look back to as “better” and to try to recreate in my own life. The fundie views on homemaking as the supreme calling of all women fit right into my romantic views and personal desires. So, when I read books like Stay in the Castle and Created to Be His Helpmeet in high school and college, I was easily drawn into the mindset of the Quiverfull movement. Be a lady? Look, sound, and act beautiful? Keep a perfect house for my husband to come home to every day? Bear my husband lots of smiling, perfect little angels? Take up ‘lady-like’ arts such as sewing and needlework to ensure my family is well-clothed? Do all this in an effort to further the Kingdom of God? Count me in! Or at least that’s how I felt at the time.

Apparently the images/ideas of this romantic world also appealed to my dad (not sure about my mom), because when I was probably 16 or 17 he loaded my brother and I down with books from Vision Forum‘s catalog for Christmas. Another family in our IFB circle had fell in love with many of the Vision Forum products and had introduced us to the catalog at some point. Eventually we began getting our own catalog (as well as the No Greater Joy Ministries catalog, which enforced the same principles), which we pored through eagerly, thinking of Christmas to come. When Christmas came it brought the book about etiquette I’d always wanted, this recording about courtship and what to look for in a future husband, and some other books from Vision Forum. My brother received some manly books that were also from Vision Forum (I don’t think he ever read any of them). He seemed to like the concept of the father being responsible for the daughter’s spiritual well-being until that responsibility was passed on to a husband. He also seemed to like the concept of courtship and seemed very disappointed when I nixed that and other ‘noble’ notions of patriarchy he tried to implement. My father is not a patriarchal man at heart, though; he’s far too kind and loving to be that sort of person. For this I am thankful.

I personally am very content to live a domestic, stay-at-home-mom kind of life. Honestly, that’s all I’ve ever wanted in life. Very little in this world is more beautiful to me than a mother loving and caring for her children; I doubt that will ever change. In the past year I have become a stay-at-home mom/homemaker, and it is the most fulfilling (and challenging!) things I’ve ever done.  But… I see no reason to decree that lifestyle as the only valid, fulfilling option for girls to choose. It’s not right to do that to anyone, regardless of their gender. This conviction was one of the things that drove me away from the Quiverfull movement. Because I read a variety of books – a variety which included some modern, feminist ideas and stories – and saw through the examples of my parents and others that patriarchal notions weren’t the only way to find happiness in life, I was able to escape a very scary ideology.

Be careful what you teach your children – it will quite likely damn or save them.

A Disturbing Picture of Love

A friend posted a link to this family’s blog post. I do not know the family, but I’m a sucker for pregnancy stories so I decided to check it out. It was very sweet and exciting to read until I got to this part:

Dear Itty,
The pregnancy test confirmed that I am pregnant…but probably with only one baby. We’ll never know if it is #6 or #7 who lives on within me, so we have decided to call you Itty. And today, although we are so delighted to be housing and mothering Bitty, we want to say goodbye to you.
Itty, I never had the chance to tell you in person, but there is a holy God who made you—at a level much higher than the scientists who joined sperm and egg in the lab. This God loves you very much, and He put His stamp of affection on you by creating you in His own image! His ultimate desire for every person is to be with Him, enjoying Him and worshiping around His throne (which is like a huge and fancy high chair). But we are all born into a disobedient family, even you, Itty, who will never properly be born at all. So God sent His Son Jesus to live a perfect life and be killed as a punishment for the sins of those who believe in Him by faith—making it possible for us, though we are not holy ourselves, to be together with our holy Creator God. That delightful, sunshiny presence that you now bask in—whether as an embryo or as a full-grown person I do not know—is this loving God, who has brought you near to Him by forgiveness through Jesus.
We love you because He first loved us. We wish that we could have had the chance to meet you and see you grow… Goodbye for now, Itty. We love you and miss you already.
love,
Mom and Dad

I’ll get back to this letter in moment. First, let me say this:

I’m all too familiar with the ways Christians often speak of God. People plan things and then add the statement, “if it’s the Lord’s will.” People say they are incapable of doing anything good apart from God. Literally every part of their life is dominated by their God. I myself used to think and live like that. Being able to pass off responsibility onto cosmic forces of good or evil is very easy and more comfortable than taking personal responsibility. If you do something wrong, you can blame it on your old sin nature and the Devil. If you do something right you say God helped you and praise him for it. Why? Because you know that we are all incapable of doing the right thing apart from God because we are evil and sinful and he alone is good and holy.

I now take issue with this mentality. Individuals are left powerless – incapable of doing anything themselves – and that is bad. Powerless individuals can’t take responsibility for themselves and their actions. These individuals may have trouble making decisions in the first place, because they have told they are incapable of doing anything correctly by themselves. Children raised in this atmosphere will probably have a harder time adjusting to the so-called real world, because it takes confidence in your own abilities to be able to succeed. I personally have struggled with this mentality. Women in particular are put into powerless positions in many Christian teachings/circles, so we women are hit even harder.
_____________________________________________________

Now, back to the letter I quoted above. Does anyone else find it highly disturbing that most of this letter is dedicated to informing Itty that he/she would have been born into sin and gone to Hell if not for this amazing God who had his own son die instead? This letter is like a mini-sermon to a dead fetus, whom they believe to already be with God. They want to say goodbye, but they do it by talking about God rather than all the things they would have done together as a family or how much they would have loved Itty. In regards to love, they state, “We love you because He first loved us.” That particular phrase disturbs me more than anything else they say. Why? Because the Christian concept of love being totally dependent on being saved by Jesus is so… wrong. Most of the world is unsaved. Guess what? Most parents across the world love their children.

As an IFB Christian, I was confused by the concept that we Christians had a monopoly on love. Teachers and preachers told me it was so, but all I had to do was look around me to see it wasn’t true. In fact, many people of the world seemed to have a much better grasp on love then the saved people I knew. This observation has held true, as I am now one of those people of the world. Christians tell their kids they will go to Hell if they don’t accept Jesus into their hearts; they see this as the most loving thing they could do for their children. I (and most other people) see that act as horrendous and far from loving. Tell a small child they are inherently evil and incapable of doing good? Tell a small child they will burn in a lake of fire for all of eternity if they don’t say the magic words? Sure… that’s gonna be wonderful for their little developing minds and hearts. I’m sure they’ll have wonderful self-images when they are older and faced with the stresses of life. No!

I’ve always struggled with feelings of worthlessness, insignificance, being unable to do anything right, etc. I still struggle with those feelings today, but, since leaving Christianity I have seen great progress in this area. I’m not the only ex-fundie with this experience – the web is full of their stories. There are plenty of other people with the same story that may or may not have a religious background. If a child grows up constantly hearing that he is evil, bad, or unable to do things right, it will impact how he views himself and his own worth as a human. That’s just common sense. I personally came out of IFB Christianity with a damaged perception of children. I was taught at church and school (not so much at home) that even little babies were sinning because they cried when they didn’t need anything, because we are all inherently bad from day one. I realize now that this teaching is horrible and total bull… but it is ingrained in me nonetheless. I am actively seeking to unlearn these harmful teachings and replace them with positive things.

The image of love portrayed in Christianity is disturbing and I’m glad I’m no longer a part of that world.

Previous posts that are relevant:
Article: I Love You and You Are an Abomination
Love… Or Is It?

Sunday Morning Musings

Sunday was supposed to be a day of rest for Christians, but for most of my 20 some years as a Christian, Sunday was far from restful. The day started out with my family scrambling to all get showered, dressed, and out the door in time for Sunday School (at 9:45). Three out of four of us were not morning people. My mom tried to have a special breakfast for us on Sunday mornings plus she needed to prepare the lunch we would eat after church, so she had added burdens that required more time and less sleep. Getting out the door was incredibly stressful and hardly helped at least me to be in the right frame of mind for spiritual things. The Sunday events at my home church consisted of 9:45am Sunday School, an 11am service, 4pm teen meeting (for the few years we had that), 5pm choir practice, and a 6 pm evening service. The 11 service often ran until 12:20pm or later, but we didn’t get home until close to 1pm because we socialized with friends. By the time lunch was made and eaten, there really wasn’t much time left in the afternoon. We made the best of it, though, by taking walks, playing games, or watching something together. As we kids got older we discovered the joys of Sunday afternoon naps. Some families didn’t allow any activities on Sunday (based on Old Testament principles); I was very thankful my family wasn’t that hardcore. When I reached college I did begin to question spending time on non-spiritual things on the Lord’s day, but quickly abandoned my questions.

My Sundays in college were rarely restful. I chose to attend churches that were at least an hour away all four of my semesters. The first two of those semesters were spent at a church where I did what I could to help the pastor by teaching a Sunday School class, knocking on doors (even in the snow), and working on whatever odd projects came up. The next two semesters I attended a different church, largely so I could be with some new friends that I had made. We spent our afternoons crashed at the pastor’s house, at a nearby mall, or otherwise having adventures together. It was during this time that I began to question how conducive to a day of rest the model of church I was used to actually was. My friends brought this up and I found myself in agreement; if one of us was sick or just feeling wiped out we chose to come back early or, rarely, skip church altogether. The college would have never approved of what we did, but to an over-tired (and very ill, as I was experiencing a mystery illness that would turn out to be fibromyalgia) college student, it hardly seemed important. My body, mind, and spirit needed rest; God had commanded that we observe a day of rest, so I rested.

After I left college I returned home to be with my family. My illness kept me miserable 24/7, so I missed a lot of church, particularly Sunday mornings (mornings are the worst). My parents couldn’t understand and gave me a very hard time about how much church I missed. It became a source of stress and pain in my life and put a kink in our relationship. I spent the time sleeping (I suffered from killer insomnia at the time), doing personal devotions, or listening to the church service being broadcasted online. I discovered that I felt more spiritually refreshed when I had the time by myself than if I attended the Sunday morning services. One Sunday morning in particular stands out to me. By that point in time I preferred to use the ESV translation (my background was militant KJV only). I sat outside in the sunshine with my Bible, a journal, and a cat to keep me company. I read the beautiful words from my ESV Bible and then wrote in my journal. I encountered the Divine that day in ways I’ve rarely felt in a church setting. It was so perfect and healing to my soul. I tried to tell my father about it, but he did not share in my excitement because he felt I should be in church on Sundays. A few months after this experience I left my Baptist beliefs and Christianity as I knew it.

I still attended church as I was able, at least for awhile. I grew up in that church and its school, so it was a huge part of my life. I remember the Sunday my father told me I needed to leave the choir because it was hypocritical to be up there when I didn’t believe what I was singing about. I knew he was right, but I hated to leave because singing in the choir brought me such great joy. Church services became fuel for what I wrote on this blog; what I heard brought me to anger and disgust. The awkwardness of being an unbeliever amongst fervent believers also made it hard to enjoy church. Very few people knew my lack of belief at that point, and I was deathly afraid of how they would react to me if they did know, so did my best to smile and nod and maintain my secret.

When I moved away from home and was no longer pressured to attend church, I found great relief in spending my Sundays as I saw fit. There was no rush or bustle, no need to dress up, no shouting preacher… it was nice. I did try to keep the principle of a day of rest because I thought it necessary for maintaining good health. I toyed with the idea of a low-tech or no-tech day. I spent time outside when I could; Nature has always felt like a spiritual place to me. I also spent time exploring new ways of viewing spirituality through a variety of books. I never wanted to attend church again – I was tired of oppression and embracing my freedom wholeheartedly. I discovered and claimed the title spiritual but not religious; I was definitely still spiritual but wanted nothing to do with organized religion and churches. Things went south with my then-husband, I moved back home for a time, and I was again thrust into the world of busy, Baptist Sundays.

When I left home the next time, I remained content with church-less Sundays for several months. I didn’t spend much time looking for the Divine at that point, but eventually found myself on the path of searching once again. I found spiritual connections in discussions with other people, time spent outside, books and the internet, and within myself. I found the Divine in everything if I took the time to look for it. I also found spiritual healing. With healing I found I was ready to give church another try and began looking for an acceptable church. I became familiar with Unitarian Universalism (UU) many months ago, but never had the courage to attend; I was also afraid of the concept of church and what it might entail. A few weeks ago I found a local UU congregation that fit what I was looking for and found the courage to attend. It was wonderful! I’ll have to dedicate another post to tell you about it. Anyway. I was missing the community that comes with church, the experience of group singing, and hearing words of inspiration. I have found these things again, but they are better than they were in my Baptist church back home because there is no judgement present. There is no pressure, no negativity, no guilt-tripping about lost souls going to Hell. There is support, love, and acceptance. I didn’t attend the service this morning because I needed the rest, and that’s totally fine – nobody will get on my case. My spirituality is my own, and the UU church respects that. I am pleased to be reclaiming my Sundays, church and all.

How IFB Has Shaped My Life: Part One

My IFB background has shaped every aspect of my life thus far. I used to accept fundamentalism’s dictation of my actions without question. Those days are long gone, of course, but fundamentalism is still doing its best to shape my life. Being raised in a lifestyle that involved attending church three times a week (and more if there were revival services), attending church-school five days a week (K-4 through 12th grade), and being heavily involved in the church and school as a family did an excellent job of instilling IFB principles into my very person. I attended and then worked at a summer camp run by Baptists; I then went on to a Baptist college where IFB principles were further entrenched into my thinking. When I made the decision to leave IFB and Christianity as a whole, I did not fully understand how much my former beliefs would continue to impact me in the future. Perhaps the largest way it has impacted me is in the areas of relationships, love, and marriage.

Conservative Christians focus on keeping themselves pure, which usually means no sex before marriage. My seventh grade Sunday School teacher had us (all girls) sign slips of paper promising to keep ourselves pure before marriage. At some point during my teen years my Dad took me out to a special dinner and then had a brief, awkward conversation with me about keeping  myself pure before marriage. I promised him that I would and he presented me with a purity ring. Camp speakers and staff spoke extensively about young people keeping themselves pure, lest we give ourselves away piece by piece until there’s nothing left for our future spouse. I took this phrase to heart and prided myself in the fact that I had not dated a long string of guys. I wanted to wait for the right one and date only him and then get married and live happily ever after. Doing things correctly was supposed to guarantee a blissful marriage, after all. Prior to leaving IFB, I had assumed I would meet a wonderful, Christ-centered man and then we’d embark on some dating/courtship hybrid that would end in sappy vows at the altar. My own parents had both dated and done things the “normal” way, but I knew that Dad hoped I would choose the courtship route. He bought into the concept of a father is responsible for daughter until he hands that responsibility off to her husband at the alter. I didn’t like or accept that at all, though, and he didn’t really push it. I think he’s too awesome of a guy to truly buy into male headship/ownership of females. He certainly never treated my mother like he owned her. Anyway.

In college I spent a lot of time reading and praying about godly standards for relationship. Sermons, chapel messages, classroom discussions, dorm discussions, and dorm devotions were full of thoughts and mandates about purity, dating, marriage, etc. In that sort of atmosphere there was no escaping the fact that most people are or will be in relationships; if they aren’t presently in a relationship, they probably wish they were. I was no exception and sincerely wished for a relationship. When I voiced those thoughts to friends I was told that I should be making the most of my singleness by serving God. “Serving God” meant focusing on prayers, reading my Bible, and working in a ministry of some sort (so I wouldn’t get discontent and go off on my own and find a suitable partner instead of waiting for God). Whole books and special studies are dedicated to using your single years for God’s glory while you wait for God to bring you a spouse or, heaven-forbid, learn to accept that you’re meant to focus on God rather than a husband. One pamphlet floating around amongst Baptists is particularly disturbing – Stay in the Castle. It tells the story of a King (God) who had a daughter (you). The daughter was told that her knight in shining armor (your husband) would come on a special, unknown day and seek her hand in marriage – she just had to be patient and wait. Well, the daughter, like any curious young woman tired of being locked up in a castle, slips off to the village one night and falls in love with the excitement going on there. The commoners aren’t so bad – she even meets a nice boy. She and the boy fall in love and decide to be married, despite her father’s sad disapproval of her defiant choice. Some months later, as her back aches because of the child she is carrying in her womb, she sees a glowing knight ride up to the castle, only to be sent away because his princess didn’t wait for him. Talk about emotional manipulation! Do what your father (earthly and heavenly) tells you so you don’t end up married to a poor drunk, lest you bemoan carrying his child and missing out on the life of luxury you should have had. Christian literature on relationships is pretty awful, in my experience, and any claims of Christian psychology should be viewed with great skepticism. Anyway. These things illustrate some of the major influences on my understanding of/views on relationships.

When I made the tumultuous decisions to leave Christianity, one of the first things I did was stop “waiting for God” and start to actively seek out a relationship. I met a man – who was not a Christian – and we began dating. He seemed to be everything I thought I wanted in a partner – smart, funny, kind, ambitious, confidant, etc. He was also my first real boyfriend, so I had little-to-no previous experience with a dating relationship. I knew that the relationship standards I had been raised with were not the norm for other people. What was the norm for “the world” ???? I had no idea. My new boyfriend  expected hand-holding, hugs, and kissing from the start. I was reluctant and taken aback by his expectations, but wasn’t sure if they were truly unreasonable or if I was just a prude. I looked to my Dad for guidance here, but he seemed to be of the opinion that my boyfriend’s way of thinking was not cause for alarm (which really surprised me and still seems odd to me now). I tried to ease up and relax some, but I did maintain certain boundaries. The boyfriend wasn’t particularly thrilled but agreed to respect my decisions. The way he treated me was far from respectful, but at the time I didn’t see it. He pushed and pushed to break down any barriers I set up. If I wasn’t as cuddly as he wanted me to be he’d pout and lash out at me verbally, telling me how things should be. If I became upset and later felt bad (which was often), I would apologize for being such a prude and then he would comment about how benevolent he was to put up with me. “Most guys would have already raped me,” he said, “but I’m was glad I’m not that kind of guy.” Being talked to like this made me feel like I was beholding to him for being so nice. I figured that, if other “normal” guys were like what he described, I must certainly have a good boyfriend. He was good at manipulating me, obviously, and was very clever with his words. Too clever, actually – he was/is a habitual liar and told me fantastic lies from the start. I was surprised when I discovered some of the lies he told, but the reasoning he gave for telling those lies seemed acceptable so I pushed it off as something normal people must do. He said and did a LOT of things that I pushed off as normal because he was very good at presenting himself as a relatively normal guy… and because I didn’t know what normal really was. He wasn’t normal, though, at any level. I would not discover just how abnormal he was until after we were married.

Looking back, I wish I had dated around in high school and in college so that I could experience what it was like to be in a relationship long before it actually was important (think marriage-important). Granted, my opportunities for dating were pretty much non-existent and guys didn’t seem interested in me. I didn’t even have great friendships with guys once I started to “grow up,” because friendships with guys were taboo. Being able to be friends with a guy is tough for me to this day. I was raised to think that if a guy was being more than polite it meant he was interested in you, romantically, and if you were more than polite to a guy you were showing your interest and being a bit forward. I had a few male friendships in college, but they were all with fundamentalists so that did little to help me gauge what was normal and acceptable in any sort of relationship. At least one of those male friendships was of a very close nature, and should have been helpful to me. It was very hurtful, though, to my understanding of the dynamic between a man and a woman, particularly between marriage partners, because of how he treated his wife (who was also my close friend). Verbal abuse and manipulation were very prominent in his relationships with other people – doubly so with those who were close to him; it was those very things that finally ended our friendship. But I didn’t learn from that experience, I guess, because I jumped right into a romantic relationship that was fraught with the same verbal abuse and manipulation I had previously escaped.