Why I Left Church, for now

It’s become a nightly ritual for David and I, over the last two years, to dissect and inspect our faith—the Christian faith— as we tidy up the house before heading to bed. 

“Did you hear about this?!”  [insert vacuum rumbles]

“Did you know about…?” [folding kitchen towels]

“Could I read you something I read earlier?” [throwing mail away]

“How does this make you feel?  Because it makes me want to murder…” [wiping down the table and counters aggressively]

What does the future look like for us?  For our family?  For religion and church and Church?  We’ve all asked these questions.  We are still asking them.

As many you know & have witnessed my journey home began five years ago when I sobered up.  Phase I of recovery offers a survival training that prepares one for the ascent and thriving of Phase II.  In Phase I you learn how not to hit your kids when you miss oxy or feel afraid.  Phase II is more a manhandling of the soul.

Several years ago I began taking the steeper, less-travelled paths characteristic of Phase II with the assistance of my guides: my womb massage therapist and other body workers, Clarissa Pinkloa Estes, Riane Eisler, Xochiquetzal and Aphrodite to name a few.  

Each path I wandered led me closer to my divinity, my inner Christ, my goddess.  As the ground unsteadied and the charcoaled darkness descended I found that I missed the safety of Sunday worship and sermons with less ache. Melancholy slowly melted into joy.

Why?  I wondered… But I already knew.

Such strenuous soul work caused the umbilical pulse of my divinity to quicken.  Every one of Eisler’s paragraphs, every touch from a healer, each deep inhalation of forest and freedom strengthened the throb. How could I tolerate sitting in sanctuaries built by men (and more often than I can bear admitting— women) who benefit from the oppression of others?  

How can I stand under this stained glass while listening to God referred to as a man most, if not all, of the time?  God is not a man, I’ve met Her right here in my warm belly.

The more I learned about our cornerstones of patriarchy & dominator politics, and the more I witnessed how slowly we move to smash them, the less tolerant I became.  I’ve no problem with prophets: Jesus and Buddha and Hafiz and Isaiah and Hershel and Capon and I are best friends.  It’s the systems that began to tourniquet my joy.

Why can’t I sit in these chairs anymore?  Because we were never meant for sitting.  The healed man does not sit, he runs.  The person given sight does not watch the birds fly through a stained glass window. 

Since I’m currently enrolled in massage school, allow me to paint you a picture.

For 29 years the church and Christianity was a massage that increased circulation, relaxed & warmed tissues, created a safe space to heal. I owe my life to the Church and Christians and Christ.  But two years ago I began to tell the Church and the Christians, “Hey, you know this part of the massage?  The one where you use exclusively (or majority) male pronouns?  This part of the massage hurts me. And it hurts other women too, even though they don’t know it yet.  AND it hurts men even though they don’t know it yet, either.”  

“Thank you!”  They replied.

Months later nothing had changed.

“This still hurts.”  I winced.

“We hear you, and we believe you; but this kind of change takes many years to enact.  It would hurt our other clients if we adjusted the massage this way, this quickly.  And frankly, you sound a little angry.”  

We don’t have to go back, you know.  We don’t have to keep hurting.  She whispered.

But what about the kids?  Who will cement those important stories to their spongy little minds? 

You have a wisdom.  You have guides.  She points to the books stacked high on the coffee and bedside tables.  You can walk your babies up and down the same paths you and David have walked together.  Tell them all of the stories. 

You are the wisdom.

The massage worked because it was supposed to.  At those stages in our development we needed to be rubbed and worked in very specific, safer ways.  And then—we didn’t.  When the church, or massage therapist, couldn’t accommodate our changed anatomy, we left to find something new.

Jesus preferred wilderness, this is all over the gospels; he found his healing in the woods.   

When somebody’s daughter needed resurrecting, when a blind man finally wanted sight, JC wandered along the overgrown trails, through the meadow, and entered the cobble stoned streets of the establishment.  He worked his 12th step.  “Having had a spiritual awakening… [He] tried to carry this message to [everyone], and to practice these principles in all [His] affairs.”  

We’ll continue to trek back into the massage studio and we’ll watch the work being done, offering what we can when it’s asked of us.  We’ll help heal and hold space and listen well, or as well as we can.  

But when I see the twinkle in another’s eye, the one that says, I’m ready for more, I’ll wave that person over and whisper…

“Look, out there.”  Pointing toward the ridge beyond the meadow.

“Just beyond those grasslands is a wilderness where you will find something new.  Something that scares you shitless at first.  Out there it will feel lonely and you will wonder where your people are.  You will fear for the kids and the marriage.  For community and bears.  But stay close to the signs & don’t look away, keep reading and listening and don’t forget to dance.  You will find the new healers, the ones who say the things that made their pastors and priests and rabbis and imams and good, old friends mad.  Then, a little deeper into the trees you will see the faintest light—follow it.  It will lead you to the campfire of those who have gone before and who have set up camp in these outer lands.  They will smile widely at the sight of your haggard, eager face.  Every so often you will feel the pull back toward the meadow and to the paved places beyond that.  Listen to the breaths of those still enjoying and benefitting from the establishment.  Go back and help.  Heal.  Listen more.  Hold space.  Honor.  And when you see a spark in the eye of the woman whose belly is beating with the pulse of the female divine—pull her aside.  Whisper the wisdom of the wilderness back to her and point her in the direction from which you came.”

We’ve come to love & require the chilly nights out here huddled around the embers.  The kids and the marriage survived.

There’s something new, I promise, just over that ridge.

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I Wonder If God Is Getting Antsy…

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“Mama!  You said we can’t put any food in that trash can.”

Shit.  She’s right.  How do I explain to her that orange peels dry quickly and don’t mold the way banana peels and apple cores do?  One day she’ll have mastered the basics of trash etiquette — today is not that day.

Lucy is five.  As far as she knows, nothing that enters or exits her mouth may enter that trash can, the one that we use exclusively for overdue bills and Christmas cards.

Grapes?  Gross.

Crackers?  Yep.

Apple sauce cups?  No way.

Orange peels?  Yes.  They even freshen up the smell of the bills and papers piled on top.

One day it’ll click, that orange peels are okay.  In order for my daughter to mature and improvise creatively she needs a comprehensive understanding of my trash laws.  Before Picasso began abstracting he spent years mastering the true and literal human form.  Imagine the moment he realized the fullness of his capabilities!

I can’t wait for her to place that piece in the parenting puzzle.  My parent’s rules aren’t the only way!  My mama taught me to think and I think that the moisture content of an orange peel is low enough.  Plus this zest will make their bills smell great!

A couple weeks ago our church publicly and beautifully announced our support for our LGBT brothers and sisters.  The Love and Unity in that sanctuary poured out the big front doors, down the crumbling front stairs, and ran rainbow-y through the streets of downtown Denver.

“God!  You said that homosexuality was an abomination!”

Shit.  She’s right.  How do I explain that the Bible, My holy Word, is true and foundational, but also fluid, mobile, and alive?  One day they’ll understand that Jesus, My Boy, filled in those contradictory gaps with His boundless Love.  One day they’ll trust the gift of my Spirit in them enough to start building on the solid ground that Scripture established.

Gay?  Yep.

Trans?  Yep.

Muslim?  Yes.

Addict?  You bet.

Republican?  Sure.

Democrat?  Okay.

It doesn’t make sense to me, either—I have no clue how this Grace and Love thing works.  All I know is that God wanted me even when I put my son in the NICU after years of abusing pain meds AS I WAS, no questions asked.  Surely God wants my gay brothers and sisters, immigrants, and congressmen.

The American Fundamentalist & Evangelical church is riding a wave bound for the shore, where it will crash—destroying many egos, identities, and seminaries in the sandy collision.  For too long we denied the testimony and life of Christ and the power of the Spirit moving through all of us.

We were afraid of what a truly Christ-led life would look like.  Instead of looking at the vast forest of redemption, unity, and love that the Bible creates, we chose to look at the trees—abortion, LGBT rights, divorce, etc.  Wouldn’t you rather get lost in a forest of loving, redemptive, living Truth than spend your days arguing over whether a single tree belongs there?

We can honor the good doctrine Evangelical fundamentalism gave us, yes.  But I believe God is calling us forward, daring us to step deeper into that wooded, holy chaos.

The Law sets a good, solid, true foundation.  Period.  End Story.

I wonder though if maybe God is starting to get a little antsy with our reluctance to let His/Her Spirit of Love and Unity begin to mature our understanding of that Law?  Both/And.  What if, like a good parent, God can’t wait for us to get creative–abstractive even–in how we live, love, interpret & apply the Living Word?

“Babe, one day you’ll be able to put orange peels in that trash can, too.”  I assured Lucy.  And I smile, knowing that the day for me has come, it is here.  Yours is, too.  We are waking up!  Do you believe in a Loving Parent inviting you to build something bigger, braver, more inclusive, and more Loving?

The orange peels, the precepts we believed immoveable?  Turns out they may actually move.

We take our lead from Christ.  His very breath and blood flow through us all, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in Love.  We aren’t five-years-old anymore, we were born for this.

 

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Layers

It’s like this:

We were born into a world with sticky, hot heat.  Like Orlando but worse.  And from day one we were told that lots of thick heavy layers were the only way to combat this climate, this world.

“It keeps your skin and senses safe from…everything…”

“Huh?  How could…?”

“Just wear them.”

So we do.  We wear everything we are told to wear (and some we aren’t).   Until we decide not to.  And we start taking off these layers, these scarves and sleeves. Then we are naked, or maybe one thin layer away from naked.  And naked feels so good for the first time.  Those coats were thick and heavy, we thought they were good and useful.  They dripped with sweat, steam, and shame.  They were not easy to un-peel from your body either.  At least mine weren’t.

Behold:

Coats 3

The coat of  “all people are inherently wicked.”

 

Coats 2

The “But that’s what they said at church and youth group” one.

 

Coats

“You need to…”

 

Coats 1

“You should…”

 

Coats 4

“You shouldn’t…”

The things you always felt were true may have always actually been true.  Just like you knew deep down that layers and layers in summer in Orlando is bat-effing crazy.   Maybe going to college is nuts, or maybe it isn’t?  Maybe church is nuts, or maybe it isn’t? Is it possible homosexuality isn’t everything everyone says it is?  What if hell isn’t what we’ve been told it is?  Perhaps not every human needs to look thin and fit and camera-ready every moment of the day?  Maybe perfection sucks?

I’m really enjoying the exhausting un-peeling.  The act of stripping down is never really pleasurable (real stripping, anyway), but I finally feel the summer breeze saunter through these big front windows.  And wow do those afternoon drizzles feel refreshing!  Those coats sucked.  Naked and unashamed is good.

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