Tuesday, April 10, 2012

What if.....

This post is part of the April Synchroblog.

The question presented for the synchroblog is: What if the resurrection of Jesus was a hoax?

Well, the first thing that came to mind is that if he was not raised, he was not the Messiah - not the Christ. This would mean that everything from Matthew to Revelation (in the Bible) would be bullshit. There would be no room for the idea of viewing him as a good teacher, just not divine. Why? Because he made it very plain in the words attributed to him in the Gospels that he was the Christ and he would be raised. So, either he did not say those things and his followers made that part up, which would bring into question all quotes attributed to him, or he actually did say these things, in which case he was either a manipulative opportunist undeserving of being followed or he was a lunatic with delusions of grandeur whose teaching would be dangerous to follow. He said he was God, after all....there is not really much wiggle room here if truth is at all important. As C. S. Lewis pointed out in Mere Christianity, Jesus did not mean to leave any room for viewing him as just a good teacher.

But I want to take this in to a little more personal direction. If the resurrection did not happen, then I would not be here. For me, it is about more than  teachings and doctrines and theologies and debating - not that I can't get into that at times - I can go all theonerd with the best of them. No, for me, it is about him being there in the middle of the night when the demons want to torment a 9 year old girl. It is about knowing him more and more - and being known by him more and more. It is about him being a real, living, speaking person here, now in this present time. Forget following his teachings as a good moral code for living. For me, he was/is a here and now - front and center - holding my hand in the dark so I could/can sleep, singing softly in my ear to comfort - constant presence in my life.

Simply put, if there was no resurrection, then he would not have been there holding my hand and comforting me while I walked through the hell that was my childhood/early adulthood. And if he had not been there, I would not have survived. So - Jesus not raised? I would not be here. If he was not raised, I would not have seen him and I would have succeeded in taking my own life. And I think that is the most fundamental point.... Emmanuel - God with us - still. 

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Other synchroblog participants:


Marta Layton: On faith seeking understanding, truth and theology
Carol Kuniholm: Risen Indeed? The Hermaneutic Community
Tim Nichols: How Would Life Be Different If Jesus Did Not Rise?
Glenn Hager: Kingdom Come or Kingdom Now?
Sonja Andrews: The Resurrection and The Life
Josh Morgan: The Role Of The Resurrection
Abbie Watters: What If The Resurrection Were A Lie?
Minnow: Resurrection Impact
Leah: Resurrection - Or Not!
Hey Sonnie: The Resurrection Hoax
Liz Dyer: The Resurrection I Firmly Believe In
Helen Haroutunian: Is There A Christianity Without The Resurrection?
Christine Sine: If the Resurrection Did Not Happen, How Would the World be Different? 
KW Leslie: Supposing Jesus Is Dead 
Travis Mamone: If The Resurrection Was A Hoax... 
Kathy Escobar: Jenga Faith
Jeremy Myers: What If Jesus Did Not Rise?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Minefield of Mental Illness and the Church

The topic of how the church deals with mental health issues has been large in my mind the last couple of weeks. It started with a teaching I heard, continued with the comment thread on an article over at Her.meneutics, and ended with another teaching I heard. The things I have experienced in this arena all came flooding back and anger, fear, frustration, sadness...they all rode on the coattails of the teaching and comments.

So, some history. I grew up in a household - and in a broader sense, a denomination - that at best, distrusted the field of psychology and at wort mocked and ridiculed it. Now in the family dynamics, I understand that narcissists will nearly always have a great aversion to counselors/psychologists/therapists, etc., because they do not wish to be exposed. So my mother's aversion and ridicule of the profession is not surprising. But the church is another matter.

I understand that in the early days, a lot of people in the profession were openly against religion and that understandably created a reaction. However, that has changed even to the point that the American Psychiatric Association has acknowledged in their journals that incorporating a client's spiritual beliefs (and respecting same) is important to the treatment process. And some denominations have begun incorporating counseling into their staff. Cool. Great.

But, in my own experience, the "Christian" counselors put doctrine above psychological training - and in so doing, put doctrine ahead of the client's mental health. I have seen this. But what I saw in the comments and heard in the sermons is something that I find dangerous. Why dangerous? Because it sets people up to be abused - and it sets people up to be abusive - well meaning people end up using these doctrines and doing harm. So, what is it that I'm so worked up about?

Here are some statements:

- Depression is always demonic
- Depression is a sin
- There's no such thing as mental illness, it is all just demons

Okay, the sermon I heard laid out step by step instructions for how to recognize someone who was being overcome by demons and how to deliver them. I want to state, for the record, that I do believe that demons exist and that they harass and possess people. I've seen too much not to. But what was stated in this teaching was, to me, over the top. The description that was given of how to recognize someone who had fallen away from faith and was in the hands of demonic forces and needed intervention was identical to the list of symptoms of someone who is coming out of a cultish religiously abusive situation - reverting to old behaviors, cussing, not reading the Bible anymore... As I listened to this list, I realized that by the definition presented, they would have been trying to cast the demons out of me the whole time I was recovering/healing from the abuses of my past.

I was reminded that I have realized, several times over the last 5 years, that the religious people around me, if they witnessed one of my PTSD moments, would have been trying to cast the demons out of me. I actually was experiencing some PTSD symptoms while listening to this message and in the midst of this knew that if those around me knew what was going on, they would have applied what they were hearing and tried to exorcise me. Talk about some cognitive pain.

See, here's the thing: this teaching leaves no room for the normal mental/emotional effects of abuse or even just a traumatic event like an accident. An example that comes to mind is one of a 12 year old girl who was stood on a chair by the elders in her own home while they tried to cast the spirit of rebellion out of her. Within 18 or so months, she had run away from home, gotten pregnant - why? Because her father was emotionally abusive and her older sister was even more so and her home life was intolerable. But these church elders did not make inquiries - they just labeled her and tried to 'deliver' her and in doing so, made the trauma worse - and drove her away from God almost permanently.

This is the crux of what has me so angry and sad and agitated inside - this teaching can be emotionally deadly to those suffering from mental distress. For me, personally, it made it very difficult to even recognize that I needed professional help, let alone actually seek it. I actually reached the point where I tried to kill myself before I sought help - and then only because the only friend I trusted at the time insisted I get help or leave. And here's the thing - I was in so much emotional pain that in a combination of anger and just plain overwhelmed-ness, I took a bottle of Darvon and went to bed. As I began to fade into the blackness, I was afraid. I told God I was sorry - for everything, including not being strong enough.... And his presence flooded that room with such profound peace. I was settled - I was relaxed - I knew he was right there and as I faded out, I did not expect to wake up. 24 hours later, however, I did wake up and had to begin dealing with the reality that I was still here and my life was still a mess. If, in that state, I had been confronted by people who thought my problem was just that I needed to have the devil cast out of me, I think I might have gone insane. This was 24 years ago. I recently, because of the healing that has been taking place, realized that this incident happened within a couple of weeks of seeing the primary molester - the first time I had seen him in more than 10 years. And I had to interact with him in a family holiday setting for 48 hours - and no one else knew.... and it triggered an emotional meltdown. Well, duh!

That brings me to another point. First, I will say that there are some cases of mental illness that are demonic in nature. But to say all are is, to me, profoundly troubling. If you have read my blog, you already know this, but I will do a quick recap for those who haven't been around much before. As a child I was molested - repeatedly - by several people; first when I was 2 1/2 and then again through the period from 7 to 12 years old - all outside my home. In addition to this, I lived in an emotionally and verbally abusive home that was also physically abusive (whippings with a belt were part of potty training). All this in the midst of being in a deeply religious family with parents as church leaders. Straight up - this messed me up. Bad. Even now, after 4 years of therapy, I have trouble really admitting that things were really that bad.... And in order to just survive, I stuffed it all away in a box locked under the stairs in the cellar of my mind. But the contents of that box would not stay hidden (they never do). And finally, God led to a place - and put a friend in my life that would hold my hand through it - where I actually began looking at it and dealing with it. And that has required the help of someone professionally trained for that purpose, not unlike seeking an orthopedic surgeon for a crushed leg.

And I have encountered, over the last five years, religious advice on this. The first was that I had better go to Christian counselors. I asked God about that and got one of the biggest 'NOs' I have even heard/felt. Okay. Then I have been told by someone who was a family friend at the time all this was going on (in childhood) that I needed to let one of the elders at her church pray for me because he was gifted in praying for deliverance. No thanks. I know what that looks like because I grew up in it. If I had allowed an attempted exorcism or whatever, I think it would have sent me around the bend.

Here's another thing - In the process of surviving all these years, there have been moments that..... Well, one was about 20 years ago, I was in a position where I was living with my grandparents and sharing a bedroom/bed with my mother - a narcissist.... and I was sitting outside in my car one night and I began to recognized different facets of my personality - 4 or 5 of them - and realized I was just on the edge of having them shatter. And God reached out and told me I did not have to step off that cliff if I didn't want to. A similar thing happened 5 years ago, when everything was blowing apart with the church/cult I used to be a leader in. What was happening there was stirring up all the childhood shit again - the stuff that had only just barely been acknowledged and never dealt with. And there was a death in the family and my mom was in ICU in a coma.... and I sat in a dark side room in that church sobbing... and I asked God if I could please just let go for a while and go crazy - retreat inside my head. His response was so loving. He said that I absolutely could if I wanted to and there would be no condemnation attached - I had every right to. But he also wanted me to think about whether, if I did, I would be able to come back. He would not guarantee that I would. But just the acknowledgment that I had reason to be distressed did wonders in giving me strength to hang on.

Hmm.... I wish there wasn't this fear within the church that causes mental illness to be labeled demonic. It really has put me in a position that for my own mental safety, I need to pull back from a group of believers - again. And I fear that if any of them read this, they would be concerned that I was 'back-slidden' and in need of having the Word pounded into that. That is the other thing about this teaching that was so disturbing to me. The solution was to read the Word to the person in order to "pound on the rock until it breaks" (referenced Jeremiah 23:29 to back this). To me, that is giving people with more zeal than wisdom (and good intention) the idea that the solution to mental illness is to pound Bible verses into someone. Yikes! In the hands of someone with an abusive/controlling streak, this is a license to abuse with the Word. Is the answer to mental illness really to thump someone over the head with Bible verses? This truly makes my heart hurt.

And I have to say that after I walked out of the church/cult 5 years ago, part of the healing process (that is still in progress) required laying the Bible down and not reading it ... at all... for nearly 2 years. By the definition I heard today, that would be evidence of demonic influence. But I can say with absolute clarity that the reason I had to lay that book down was because it had been used to beat me down and control and abuse and scare me for so long that I could only hear the voice of the abusers through it. And it took almost 2 years of healing before I could read it without hearing those voices and the teachings that had so twisted me up.

And I don't know what to do about this. I know I need to remove myself from the teaching because it is causing too much pain. But the people. Damn it. I like these people and I am so tired of losing friendships over religion. But I don't know how to talk to them about it. To be honest, I am afraid to. I'm afraid they wouldn't understand. I am afraid they would apply the teachings I heard today. It's one thing to be called a heretic and told you're going to hell by some anonymous blog commenter that you don't know and probably never will. But it's a whole other thing when the attack is coming from a friend who thinks they are helping.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

On Being Female....

This is part of the March Synchroblog

Hmm… I have found this post harder to write than I expected. When I first saw the subject for this month’s synchroblog – All About Eve: Women’s History Month, I was excited. After all, it was a topic I had requested. I thought about it and had my subject all picked out – I was going to de-construct the foundational issue in the patriarchal theology concerning hierarchy. At some point in the future, I may still write about that. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that my heart is in a different direction right now. I love to dig into theology and all, but there have already been some wonderful things written that deconstruct the ideas surrounding so called ‘biblical patriarchy’. At the bottom of this post, I will put some links for those of you who are interested.

So… what is on my heart? I have struggled with this post more than anything I have ever written. I’m not really sure why. I guess what's bubbling to the surface makes me feel vulnerable. Deep breath…. I am going to try to describe what it is like, for me, to be a woman.

The first thing that comes to mind is that I have never much identified with being a woman. I know that sounds strange. I have always (nearly 50 years) been female. Even typing that feels strange. It has only been recently that I have consciously recognized that I have never gender identified. That is gradually – oh so slowly – beginning to change. So why, during the bulk of my life, when I thought of myself, it was nearly always in terms of gender-neutral? Well… I think there are a lot of reasons.

The most obvious is probably the childhood sexual abuse. When I was a kid – 7, 8, 9 years old, I did not want to be a girl. For awhile, I even wished I was a boy. Boys had all the power. Boys hurt people – girls got hurt. As I built barriers inside to protect myself, especially after the sexual abuse stopped. I had no ability to relate to normal kid things – socially, I didn’t fit and didn’t know how to. And the pressure as you go into Junior High to start dating and liking boys, was confusing and sometimes excruciating. And I knew I wasn’t normal. I knew I would never be normal. And I knew that if anyone knew what had been done to me, I would never be accepted – I would have a ‘reputation’ – I would be pitied at best and rejected as ruined at worst. So, rather than trying to fit into those roles, I simply withdrew into my own world where gender was of no importance.

All of this happened in the late 60s and early 70s. So there was the added pressure of the very public feminist movement – Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. And we went to a fairly conservative small town church. My aunt was a staunch feminist. My mom was critical – no, condescending – toward her. I remember when I was 11 and began to enter puberty, my aunt took me aside and told me I needed to decide, right now, whether I was going to start wearing a bra or not. My mom gave me no such option. My aunt would interrupt in mid sentence to correct from ‘lady’ to ‘woman’. She would go into lecture mode if any man in the public arena called her ‘sweetie’ or ‘sugar’ or some other such word. Hmm…. She would wear bib-overalls with no shirt or bra underneath. She really didn’t inspire me to her cause with these things.

Meanwhile, my mom was above all that ‘feminist nonsense’, as she seemed to view it. I think she felt like it made women look ridiculous, or something. She was definitely not a fan of Friedan or Steinem – and was not shy about expressing her opinion about them. I remember when Billie Jean King challenged Bobby Riggs to a “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match. King beat Riggs handily and I remember my mom saying some derogatory things about the match. But I was secretly rooting for King and felt a small sliver of validation when she won…. I was 10 at the time. Hmm… actually, what I felt was more like relief that she had won. Interesting.

This was all in the backdrop of being heavily involved in various Assemblies of God churches (my dad’s job required us to move a lot). I know A of G is supposed to be egalitarian and allowing women to be ordained and all – and the position paper they put out in August of 2010 is very cool – but the reality in my life in the 60s and 70s was that women needed to stay in their place. Maybe this was as much societal as church. I don’t know, but the reality was that no matter which way I looked, TV, family, church… It was just better – more profitable – to be a boy. And I did not want to be pressed into the female mold that I saw, so I retreated from gender as much as was possible. Hmm… when I was in 8th grade, I was at a marching band competition. I loved band and marching band. I played the trombone and I was first chair. It was lunch time and the guy who sat second chair to me, Pete, and I were sitting under a tree eating our lunch. His mom came up to me and said, “You should play a more feminine instrument and let a boy have first chair in a boy’s instrument.” What? How did gender get in the middle of my favorite class? Pete was so embarrassed by his mom.

The message I heard growing up was clear. It basically sucked to be female. The message came mostly in subtle, not blatant and easily definable ways. It came from church. It came from the media/TV. It came from family. It came from society at large. It came from those that used me even when I was only 2 years old. And this what it said:

·         Girls are to be conquered, boys are conquerors
·         Girls are to be controlled, boys get to do what they want
·         Girls are to be used, boy can say no
·         Girls have no power, boys have all the power
·         Girls are weak, boys are strong
·         Girls, once used, are dirty
·         Girls should follow, boys get to lead
·         Girls are to blame, boys get sympathy
·         Boys are the boss, girls better get in line
·         Boys are designed to lead, girls are designed to follow
·         Boys get more privileges, girls are restricted
·         If a boy hurts you, people take his side
·         IF you hurt a boy, people take his side
·         Boys get away with things, girls get in trouble
·         Boys are celebrated, girls are tolerated

So how does that all shake out now that I am quickly approaching 50? Well, I have rejected church, in general. I have walked away from my parents – haven’t talked to my mom in close to 4 years. I don’t really watch much TV – avoid advertising to the degree that I reasonably can. I read a lot of different blogs and have gained a new respect for my aunt – and for Friedan and Steinem. And I have been in therapy for over 4 years. And I pursue God. And I am gradually beginning to believe that it is okay to be a daughter of God. I have begun to think of myself as a girl, a woman – tentatively, cautiously – like trying on a new coat, unsure if there is something in the pocket that might bite. I have reached the place where I kind of think it might be okay to be female….


Other synchoblog participants:

Ellen Haroutunian - March Synchroblog: All About Eve 

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And here are some links to examples of some of the more tame, main-stream doctrines in the ‘biblical patriarchy’ camp so you know this stuff isn't made up: Vision Forum: The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, Council On Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: Evangelical Feminism and Biblical Truth by Wayne Grudem.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Pursuing Freedom....

Freedom. It is an inspiring word. Depending on your circumstance, it can even be a painful word. To those who are oppressed, the promise of freedom can stir hope - but if hope is dead or dormant, it can cut like a knife. What is freedom? Well, according to Webster’s….
Freedom: A state of exemption from the power or control of another; liberty; exemption from slavery, servitude or confinement.  Exemption from fate, necessity, or any constraint of predetermination or otherwise; as the freedom of the will.  Ease or facility of doing anything.  Frankness; boldness. 
Hmm…. freedom. It has been the prayer of my heart for over 6 years now. And if I had known then what it would actually look like to get there, I would probably freaked out and run for fear of ‘losing my faith’.

And here I am, 5 years out of a rather explosive (it felt like it at the time) exit from the Institutional Church and a path of seeing a therapist (to my Pentecostal past associates, oh, the horrors), of having not a few emotional meltdowns and wondering at times (as recently as last week…) if I am even a Christian or if any of this stuff is really true…. and irony of ironies, I am supposed to teach on the subject of freedom to a small fellowship I am involved with soon….

I am more settled in my faith – in whom (not what) I hold to – than I have been in a long time, thanks, in part to a bit of a faith challenge last week. I’ll get to that in due course.

So, we have the definition of freedom above, but my question is this: What, exactly, is it that Christ set us free from? The doctrine I grew up in – boiled down to it essence as practiced – was that we were freed from going to hell. And that was about the sum of the teaching on freedom I heard growing up. Later, in the cult (church) I was a leader in, they expanded this to a neat little slogan – “Fall in love with Jesus, then live however you want.” A dart thrown in the right direction, perhaps, but the reality was that it was understood that if you really loved Jesus, you would behave the way the church told you to behave because Jesus set that church over you to tell you what to do. Okay, okay. That didn’t say it quite like that, but they sure practiced it that way. Hmm…. actually, they did, sometimes, say it kind of like that.

So again, what are we free from? I’ve been thinking on this a lot, can you tell? Here is where I am with this. Go back to Eden. What was the first thing Adam and Eve did after they ate the fruit? They recognized they were naked and they were ashamed and afraid. They covered and hid. The first consequence was the entrance of Fear. And that is at the root of a great deal of our bondages ever since, I think.

I know in my life, the major fear I fight is the fear of punishment – the fear of screwing up and getting in trouble. And it has been a process over the last few years to get to the place where I understand that in Christ, there is no fear of condemnation – those things do not come at me from Papa (Romans 8:1, 1 John 4:18, 2 Timothy 1:7). And I thought I had gotten a handle on this. Yeah, right. Then I ran smack dab into that deep well of fear still lurking in me when a friend was teaching at the little fellowship I’ve hooked up with – and his teaching reminded me of the teachings of my childhood.

And I freaked out. After the meeting, my friend and I started talking and I reverted back to that little girl trying to defend herself and being afraid…. and it took me a couple of days to sort it out. That Pentecostalism I grew up in was still lurking in there exerting control over my perceptions of what I had to do to be accepted. Ah…. recognition is the first giant step toward freedom. I gave some really child-like reasons for why the teaching bothered me. Really, they were reasons that sounded like a little girl worked them out. And I guess, in essence, she did. But here’s the beautiful thing – the grown-up girl recognized the source (a day or two later) and was able to ask Papa to help uproot all traces of Pentecostalism (and all other isms) out of my insides. “Yikes!” says the little girl who still isn’t sure that’s okay. But it is okay. I actually told my therapist (who is Catholic) that I think Pentecostal guilt is quite possibly stronger than the proverbial Catholic guilt. She thought for a minute, and then said she could see that as being possible…

So I think one of the main points of the Gospel is that we have been set free from the fear of punishment; set free from the fear of getting it wrong. It seems to me that many of the churches I have observed have this unwritten understanding that, “Yes, the blood of Christ saves us, but then we have to work to keep it.” They seem to think we can earn God’s acceptance, His favor. But the logical conclusion of that thinking is that Jesus died in vain (Galatians 2:21). If there was any way we could ever earn God’s favor, then Jesus would have not needed to come. In fact, to say that we can earn it – must earn it – is saying we don’t really need God. Seriously, to suggest that we get saved by the Grace and blood of Jesus but then have to work to keep it is to say that the sacrifice Jesus made was not strong enough to do a complete job of it and we need to finish the job Jesus started. All I can now say to that is, “Seriously?” But sin management is big business in the Institutional Church. Control is the real issue, I think. And that won’t be given up easily – if ever.

But really, I don’t think that ‘sin’ is even the point anymore. If Christ’s blood has dealt with sin once and for all (Romans 6:10, Hebrews 7:27, Hebrews 9:12, Hebrews 10:10), then sin is no longer the issue. Yay! To be freed from the fear of sinning. So I think I am reaching the place where I can go to a meeting, hear a teaching that I disagree with and just…disagree, without feeling like my position with Papa is in jeopardy or I will be viewed as inadequate. I think I may be on the brink of being settled and comfortable and confident enough in what Papa has been teaching me to stand unmoved by religious attempts at control. Yes – that is freedom, indeed.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

My real name is.....

Well, after almost four years of blogging, the day has finally come that I am coming out from behind my pseudonym and blogging under my real name.

This is a little scary - vulnerable, but also exciting. I am no longer afraid of being in trouble for speaking up - speaking out - speaking my mind. And the family members I was concerned about hurting are much more aware of the facts discussed here than when I started. So although it will probably still be painful for them to read, it won't be as devastating,,,

So, hi. My name is Jeannette.............

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Honesty

Hmm...I had an interesting encounter these past few days with a version of my former self.

I came across Jeremy Myers' blog "Till He Comes" a couple of months ago and have enjoyed reading his thoughts on what "church" maybe should look like. In the last few days, he has been doing a series of posts that are generally about the concept of removing the fences from around churches and let Christ draw people in....and he attracted the attention of a couple of people who vehemently disagree with his whole concept. They made a lot of accusations along the lines of 'heretic' and 'blasphemer' and 'going to hell', etc., etc., etc....and I got drawn into the debate for a few days...and was told I had rejected Jesus and was following Jeremy to hell. Sigh. And I realized a couple of things.

The first was that I really did not have the inclination to argue, which came at about the same time as I realized that there could be no profit in it because I was not going to be heard and they would not be able to pull me back into that thinking....

The second was that I felt no great need to defend myself or justify myself or prove my point. And THIS feels good. :-)

But, this exchange has stirred a lot of thoughts and I am going to try to share them coherently....

In trying to explain my position and why I disagreed with their position, I used specific Bible passages that have come alive in new ways to me recently. After spending a year and a half not even being able to read it without getting pissed off, this is a good thing. Unfortunately, they did not see the verses in the same light I do. After a few exchanges, I realized that because of the lens they view the Bible through, no amount of debate will convince them. I know. I used to see things that way, too.

It's the position that the Institutional Church (IC) promotes. Nearly every IC I've seen does this to some degree. They promote an attitude of, "Our denominational doctrine is the only correct one. You must believe and defend our stance or you are not really one of us." The threat of deception into hell looms large. I remember what it felt like. Hanging your faith hat on one denomination's doctrinal statement is a dangerous and tricky business. Any time someone disagrees, anger and fear rise up in alternating measures. You must correct them - win the argument - prove you are right and they are wrong. Why? Because if you don't, then the foundations of what you think God is all about (what the IC of choice or birth has taught you God is about) begin to shake and crack. And that is scary as hell.

And until God planted me in the middle of an ugly IC situation - let me see it for what it really was, and then led me away from the IC - to a place of learning truth (on so many levels), there was nothing that would have enticed me away from the pseudo-sense-of-security the IC offers.

And it was neither an easy nor fun process. Those of you that have followed my blog through the years have gotten a taste of it. That first year out of the IC was a confusing mix of joyous freedoms and deep anxiety. As I have mentioned in other posts, when I left the IC, I entered into a place where everything I had ever been taught about God and church and religion was shattered with the wrecking ball of reality. Most of what I thought I knew about my childhood and family was also shatter by a series of crashing waves of truth....and frankly, at the time, I wasn't sure I would survive. Honestly, I wasn't sure I wanted to.

Having the illusions and defensive barriers of a lifetime come crashing around your ears is no picnic. (ha!) I spent my days sitting in my car at the park trying to continue reading the Bible and talking to God and talking to my aunt on the phone to try and keep a semblance of sanity. I spent my nights sleeping in my dad's garage on a couch (I was living there and had a bedroom with a bed in it) because it was the only place I felt safe. I spent as many nights as possible at my friend's house. I would lie in bed and just shake. The fear that I was going off the deep end spiritually and mentally dogged me all through this time. I'll never forget in January almost a year after I had left the IC, I was reading the Bible and was in Numbers 5. This chapter has always bothered me. It seems so unfair...and I got angry. I held my Bible up and said, "God, do you see this? This sucks! It's ugly. It doesn't sound like you. Explain this to me." His response sent me in a direction I never expected to go...especially at his leading. He simply said, "Relax. It wasn't written to you." It was at this point I began to quit reading the Bible for a time. At the time, I wasn't sure I ever would again.

Now, you need to understand. Before I left the IC, I read at least 8 chapters a day - every day. I studied the Bible. I wrote papers, led Bible studies, made charts and timelines and....and I don't regret that I did that. It is good to know the Bible.....*grinning* But is also good to know when it's time to lay it down and let God talk to you directly....

I was desperate for TRUTH. And I began to learn that although facing the truth about church, family, yourself, can feel like it's going to annihilate you - it won't (almost, maybe, but...) - it really will set you free. And over the last few years, as I have grown away from that initial system shock, I have been taught by God some incredible, religion defying truths. Then, after he wrote those truths on my heart, he took me back into the Bible and began showing me, with the fresh eyes of freedom, that this truth was actually written in its pages...but as long as the religious filter of my childhood was over it, I would never have seen it.

Truly, it is amazing to me - he loves me enough to break those chains of bondage that were slowly but surely killing me and set me into a larger place - a freer place - a truer place. And I also recognize (and can now live comfortably with the idea) that I do not have the whole picture. There is far more to God and his plan than I will ever be able to comprehend. For a while, after I began to come out of the shock, I was afraid to write much because I knew that in 6 months - a year...I would probably see it better than I do now and be embarrassed at what I wrote. I am a little embarrassed at some of the things I wrote while in the IC. I actually did a 53 page 'study' on Paul's letter to the Romans. Yikes! I am just about ready - after more than 8 years - to take a look at it and see what I did....could be painful, but there might be a little gold scattered.

So...back to the topic being hotly debated at Jeremy's blog....I think that one of the biggest problems with the IC is that attitude of having a corner on the truth. But they don't. Most have some truth...and a lot of man's ideas. The insistence to the contrary, of necessity, creates an 'us vs. them' mentality. And they don't see that as a problem. In fact, one of the commenters actually said it was was necessary - desirable. The concept put forth was essentially: preach the Law at 'them' until they repent. Then let them in the fence....one actually said that if the Law was not preached, then no one would know they needed to repent and so, without the Law, there could be no real salvation. He demanded to know if I was suggesting that I came to salvation without having the Law teach me I needed it. Sigh. So I will say here, on my own blog, what I chose not to get into on someone else's blog....

As I have recounted often in my posts, I cannot remember when Jesus  was not a part of my life. I don't have a 'conversion date'. I have found that I am not the only one. I can tell you places along the way where I have made conscious decisions to reaffirm my love and need and desire for Him. I have moved closer to him - He draws me in. His love is overwhelming and, for one who grew up in the abusive way I did, it is often perplexing. But it doesn't stop. So the answer to the question is: no, I did not have (or need) the Law preached at me to know I needed to turn from 'my way' to 'his way'. In fact, it was the preaching of the Law to me that very nearly destroyed my relationship with him. And I know many will not be able to accept this as valid....

Hmm...one of the passages that was thrown accusingly at me was from Matthew 7 - the one that says there will be those who brag about the wonderful things they did in Jesus' name and he tells them to leave because he never knew them. This is a very familiar passage. He has shown me things from it - it is interesting the wording. He doesn't say they are rejected because they didn't know him....it was because he didn't know them. What he's taught me about this is...a big part of being set free by the truth involves me being honest with him. It involves being naked, bare, nothing hidden before him. It involves not trying to pretend something isn't there - not trying to pretend I believe something I don't. Honest communication with him, sharing everything - joy and sorrows, pains, hurts, fears, doubts, hopes, dreams, everything like he was my best friend - because he is. Brutal honestly. Letting go of the fear of getting it wrong and just being open in his presence.

Knowing about him - even knowing him to some degree that allows working of miracles in his name is not the point. The point is to look inward and know ourselves - let him fully in to know even the bits we can't bear to look at. He is gentle - so gentle. He washes us from the pain of honesty. This is cleansing, freeing pain - like when a wound is cleansed or a broken bone is set. But without that honesty, there really is no relationship. And after all, the relationship is the whole point.

Have I got this all figured out? No. There is still a lot within my own heart I haven't looked at...I am really only able to with his help. And he takes me at the pace I can handle. And I can't even honestly say I always want to be honest. It does hurt. But...I talk to him about it. I want to want to....and he smiles and says that is enough for him to work with.....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where Is Your Heart?

This post is part of the November synchroblog.

Hmm...haven't posted for a long time, but I am still here....

As the title & header of my blog may suggest, I have a prophetic bent, so this month's topic definitely grabbed me. The past few months have been full of a lot of challenges - from having to go to church food banks to get through tight places (and that is a horror story unto itself) to becoming involved with a small fellowship of believers burned out on religion but passionate about the felt presence of God.

For those of you who have followed my blog for a while, you know these last 4 years have been full of doubt, pain, healing, frustration, and a passion for finding truth. I think these elements will be with me for a long time to come - I think they are, perhaps, just part of life on this planet - at least mine. So....

Hmm....as I have become involved with this little fellowship, I have been challenged to remember that just as I have tendrils of religious bs still clinging to me in places, so does everyone else who has fled the IC. We probably will always have bits and pieces that trail along - like that annoying bit of toilet paper that gets stuck to our shoe but we don't see...but everyone else does. I am learning to make allowances for that in others and in myself....

I have also been challenged to return to the core of my relationship with Jesus. It is a relationship that goes back as far as I can remember (probably even farther). It is so easy to get to a place where you don't want to offend people by talking about Jesus. But if he is my best friend, someone who has been there for me through every hurt and every victory....

To give perspective, I think about my dear friend that got thrown out of church because she wouldn't lie about what the pastor did to her. I left with her, have stuck with her. She is an awesome friend. And I don't care what people think about me because of my friendship with her. I have been mocked, pitied, condemned, and who knows what else. But it doesn't matter. I know the truth and I am honored to be her friend. And the friendship I have with her is worth every bit of it....

So....if I am willing to take abuse and slander and ridicule for being her friend, why should it be any different with Jesus? The relationship I have with him is more valuable than anything anyone might choose to say or think or do. Truly, I would rather die than live without him in my life. That may seem dramatic, but it is absolute truth. I have never known what it is like to be without him right there, constant, strong, a presence that does not fade. A friend. And honestly, I hope I never do. So I have been challenged to return to that faithfulness to the friendship - a faithfulness that any true friendship deserves.

I have also been challenged, through involvement with this little fellowship, to not let go of the hard won freedoms I have gained in the years since I left the IC. I have become acutely aware of how much condemnation was a part of my daily life. Instilled through abuse from family, from the IC, from twisted doctrine and legalism, from rigid demands of conformity to a specific interpretation of what being a Christian must be. Just last week, I was startled at how easily I fell back into the pressure to 'conform' to old standards of religious correctness - triggered by the religious phrases still used by some in this fellowship (though I also have seen that was not their intent). But as my friend reminded me, I only fell into it for a couple of days before i smelled the bs and dropped it. It has served to remind me that my freedom is mine to keep or relinquish, but it takes a willingness to offend in order to keep it. One of the things Jesus told me very clearly in the last few weeks is that I need to let go of the fear of men (gender neutral). Truly, no matter what someone else may think about it, no one - and I mean NO ONE - has the ability or authority to, in ANY way, affect my standing or relationship with Jesus. Period. That relationship is personal and one on one. To really, finally start to understand that really no one can do that.... is a whole new level of freedom for me. I'm not sure I have words to convey the freedom - the power - this simple truth has for me. I am recognizing that choosing to pursue Jesus outside of the religious boundaries of the IC is beautiful, freeing, scary, challenging... The religious doctrines of the IC offer security - do what we say, how we say, and we guarantee your place in eternity. Breaking away from that is not as easy as I would like. But really, it is an illusory security. That is one of the most damnable aspects of the IC, to me - that false sense of security. I think, for me, the pursuit of truth demands risking that alluring promise of security for a far more real and beautiful place... I have told God I want truth, even if it annihilates me. And I think that is actually a far safer position than the one religion offers.

I am also realizing, through my involvement with this fellowship, that there are still wounds that are sore. My healing is not complete. But it probably won't be this side of death. I am seeing that all of us in this group are wounded in various different ways. We are all being challenged to give each other the space to heal with dignity. And learning to trust is slow, but I am seeing glimmers of hope in this. For the first time in my life, my voice matters to the others in the group. That is, oddly, a bit confusing - overwhelming, even. But it is also healing - new friendships being formed with trust reaching out cautiously, hopefully.

What is the result? I am finally starting to make steps in the direction of actually walking out the visions I have seen. It is exciting and a little scary. But really, there is no other thing to do. I cannot go backward without giving up my integrity - to go back would be to lie about what I have seen and experienced.

On the practical level, the challenges continue. I have been on unemployment for 13 months - so many job applications - so few interviews..... and things are getting pretty tight. But above all, I am learning that the fundamental element of faith is to simply keep moving and not give up.


Other synchroblog participants...

Joy Wilson at Solacetree: The Blessing Of Losing Your Faith
Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes: I Have A Dream
Glenn Hager at Breathe: Uncomfortably Numb
Linda at Kingdom Grace: On Earth As It Is In Heaven
Sally at Eternal Echoes: Where Are The True Prophets?
Tammy Carter at Blessing the Beloved: No Compromise
Alan Knox at The Assembling of Church: My Word of Prophecy: Quit Listening to Prophetic Voices
Liz at Grace Rules: Listen
Christine Sine at Godspace: Surrounded by Prophetic Voices - Clouds of Witnesses that Call Us Out of Numbness
Amy Martin: The Window of Suffering, the Beginning of Hope
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in My Head: Rising Up From Below
K. W. Leslie at More Christ: What Is God Challenging You To Do?

Steve Hayes at Khanya: Murder of the Cathedral
Leah Chang at Desert Spirit's Fire: Wall Street, Our Street
Bobby Aunder at Deconstructing Neverland: Shift
Minnow at Minnowspeaks: Day of Dialogue