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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Chapter 8: Miracles (David)

 

I am the wave, he is the mountain.

***

Last night I apologized to my husband for the genetically inferior lymphatic system I possess; also, for a propensity and affinity for tumors.

“It sucks, getting this close to me.  I feel like a liability.”

“It’s also so worth it, babe.  I made that choice the first time I met you.  Our life is Hard, but I rarely ask myself, what am I doing here?

“Rarely?!”

***

I used to behave in a rather whore-ish manner, so the fact that I married a man like David means that God has a real sick sense of humor.  I was his first kiss.  He was the first man I…made a calzone with?  It didn’t taste great either—too much tomato paste.

August, 2008: After chemotherapy finished in California, Denver started tugging, and the University of Denver said yes, because who could say no to a nineteen-year-old who just beat cancer?  Tiny heart magnets moved me through the dessert & toward the Rockies.  Each odometer tick moved me away from the money and people in California and toward this massive hulk of rock pushing out of the soil—grounded and present.  The waves served me well but this heart needed something more immutable.

As I said, I used to be a whore, and within a month of moving out here I had sniffed out a lonely (and racist) cop who needed someone wounded to come over after work and watch him drink whiskey.  My hair was short and chemo-curly and I’m glad I don’t resemble that heartbroken mess anymore, because I never called him back—I still hate driving through Aurora.

“Do you want to come over and meet my parents?”

I listened to the voice mail on my way to the DU Homecoming parade, where my black Honda Element was to be featured as a float.  Classmates sat on my open hatch tossing candy into the masses of people straddling the street, music blasted at a volume that forced me to drive with my shoulders up in an attempt to buffer some of the blaring.

Spencer, a tall, handsome guy in my Chinese class was one of the kids abusing people with the candy throwing, and Spence got thirsty.

I don’t really want to meet his parents.  I don’t really enjoy whisky and Obama jokes, either.

I notice somebody weaving through the traffic behind me on an old black bike, that’s a funny lookin’ kid, I think to myself, I like his afro though.  Frizzy brown curls bulge out and under his helmet.  He hands Spencer, his roommate, a water bottle before riding up to my open window.  The hunchback position must’ve tipped him off, also my bleeding eardrums.

“FADE IT TO THE BAAAACKK!”

“WHAT?!”  I yelled back.

He fashions a hitchhiker’s thumb and pulses it over his shoulder.

“FADE THE MUSIC TO THE BACK OF THE CAR!”

“OOOOHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!”  I flash a thumbs up and wipe the blood from the side of my face.  “THANK YOU!”

He’s been solving my problems ever since.

And I never drank whiskey again.

***

The Love Story that followed had to pan out perfectly, God knew this, because what hid up ahead on our path Home should’ve destroyed us.

October 2008: “I just met the man I’m going to marry,” I informed my mom after our first time hanging out on Halloween.  Weeks earlier I pledged that evening to the cop, but bigger things were calling me away from the scary, old story, and toward something more solid.

November 2008: “They think I might have cancer again, a spot lit up in my lung.  I just finished treatment, I don’t know what I’ll do if it’s back.”  So he cooked me steak and asparagus and potatoes au gratin and let me cry. Spencer was there, too.  Probably drinking water.

“It was just an infection!  There wasn’t any cancer!”  I reported a week later.

“Awesome, will you be my girlfriend?”  He asked while I watched crispy leaves tag each other in the campus parking lot.

“Duh!”

This time, the ground wasn’t shaking.  He is safe.

“I can’t kiss you.”  I explained early on because my self-control likes to play tricks on me, and because I valued our Story. I wanted to protect us from my slutty self.  “I won’t be able to stop.”  No man has looked so sad.

“I love you, too,”  he replied on December twelfth.

Waves, rumbling and rolling, kept me untethered; and shame whispered those shitty little lies, if you fuck this up, he’ll leave. It’ll all vanish.

“Will you marry me?”  He asked four months later in a hot tub in Breckenridge.  His hair was so big, how could I say no?  Spencer was there, too, in the water, with all our friends.

August 1, 2009: “I do!”  Even though I am sweating and I really regret all this satin and toule, I DO!

July 2010: “I’m pregnant,” I tell him after a road trip home from California on which I consumed three sausage McMuffins in one sitting, this is strange.

April 24, 2011: “It’s back.”

August 2011: “Will you pet my plumage?”

October 22, 2014: “I stole your Ambien, lots of times,”  I confessed to him in rehab.

My waters raged, they moved so quickly through my veins and the life we were building.  Zeal and zest and chaos seemed baked into my being, a hurricane of love and pain and passion.  No wonder the sea feels so safe.  If I keep rolling around, then I don’t have to feel for the sandy, solid ground underneath.

David—my Beloved—remained, just like the Rockies that towed me here.  “Lord, I’d rather be a robot who get’s into heaven than a human who ends up in hell,”  I prayed the week before we met. Do you ever wish you could power down your humanity and put on a tin suit?  That maybe a lobotomy performed by heaven’s best surgical team would spare you all the heartache your chaos created?

Here’s what I think I know:  Forget everything you think you know.  Because I didn’t deserve the saint who still sleeps beside me—I deserved the cop.  But that’s Grace, isn’t it.  No matter how far we trudge into the murk, the second we become willing to search for a different story, the moment we remember we’re worth more than the mud, Love reaches out and sets us in front of a funny lookin’ kid who loves Jesus with all his heart and happens to think you’re the shit.

He is right, our life is Hard.  Whose isn’t?

Too many babies, and medical bills, and dog poops.  We stick together because we have existed for too many days in a reality that blesses us with the gift of perspective: I might not live as long as the average wife.  (Though I am guaranteed no more or less days than any of us.)  David and I just exist in that Goodhardgood truth all the time.  What a blessing to almost lose each other in the infancy of our love, a shitty-ass blessing.

I married a mountain.  And though the past eight years have held some of the heaviest griefs, the man chooses to stay, because a mountain cannot be moved.

(Unless you pray with the faith of a mustard seed, so don’t go doing any of that.)

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