Tag: Fundamentalism

28Jan

Focaccia

Pearl Jam is exactly the right music with which to have a religious crisis. You just know that Eddie Vedder is singing from the depths of his own dreadful, gravelly crises and that he would understand if you suddenly shouted a very bad word into the angsty void. (I like Catherine Newman’s use of “focaccia” without the last two syllables.)

I am writing this knowing full-well that it is not socially acceptable to have a religious crisis, at least not in the Christian world. I imagine most other religions are the same way though, too convinced of their own rightness to allow wiggle-room. Admitting weakness to churchgoers inevitably spawns a feeding frenzy, and you haven’t met sharks until you’ve ticked off a Southern Baptist. I know. I used to be a Southern Baptist poster child, a preacher’s kid with curled bangs reaching up to heaven and more righteous indignation than the Bible. Yes, I would very much like to smack my former self too.

I managed to survive the “God loves my parents and thus hates me” crisis when I was thirteen, and then the “God might not exist” crisis prompted by my Christian apologetics class at age fifteen (Feel free to bask a moment in the irony. Are your pores opening yet?), and then the “God doesn’t listen to me,” “God doesn’t talk to me,” and “God is a misogynist” crises in college–all without telling a soul. The idea is to get over your shameful lapse of faith quickly and quietly and then tell everyone your “testimony” of how God brought you through.

If you’ve ever hit a rough patch in your spiritual journey, you know just how much it sucks. You feel like you’ve done something horribly wrong. You feel embarrassed for not having it all together. You feel like a hypocrite for not understanding the system you’re supposed to promote. Most of all, you feel a bottomless, inky-black loneliness. If you can’t talk to God, who’s left?

If I were to name my current state of loneliness, it would be “God exists, but I don’t like him.” What does one do with that, not liking God? Everything triggers it–mealtime prayers, bedtime stories with Natalie, news reports, movies, that sharp doorway that deliberately gets in the way of my elbow. When we eat, I think about all the people starving across the world. How can he say he cares more for humans than for birds? When I hear news about the Middle East, I think about the endless violence and terrorism. How can he say the government is on his shoulders? When I cuddle my precious Sophie, I think about the baby he sent to be tortured, murdered. How can he call this the “good news?” When I read the Bible, I can’t see past the God-sanctioned warmongering, the murdering, the animal-sacrificing, the salt-pillaring, the earth-swallowing, the flooding, the exiling. How can he call himself good?

You have no idea how much I feel like the first un-closeted gay right now. I mean, am I normal? Do any others exist? How do they… uh, do this? Will acceptance possibly outweigh the judgment aimed in my direction? Will anyone be able to help me without just trying to cure my “condition?” Where is the backspace button for my mouth?

It doesn’t matter; I’ve said it. I don’t like God, at least not right now, and hopefully that’s not as scary in his mind as it is in mine. I also hope he’s not offended if I take this opportunity to say exactly what’s on my mind, that being FOCACCIA. (Imagine that being growl-screamed, Eddie Vedder style, please.)

28Sep

Disowning Regret

It stands out like a hologram from the pages of my journals:
Regret for being too innocent.
Regret for far surpassing the bounds of innocence.
Regret for being too shy.
Regret for letting boldness take over.
Regret for liking the boys I’ve liked.
Regret for rejecting the ones I didn’t.
Regret for being too melancholy, too low.
Regret for experiencing giddy highs.
Regret over my numerous emotions.
Regret over my compensating numbness.
Regret over being boring.
Regret over having fun.
Regret over every person, place, and circumstance woven into the fabric of my past.

I’m startled to see it pop out at me so clearly. Has it always been lurking between the pages of my past, waiting patiently for me to approach with open eyes?

An entire lifetime spent regretting myself…

This morning, I sat on the floor immersing myself in the ghosts of Bethanys past, laughing (at age 14, I decided I would marry my first boyfriend on October 20, 2003), aching (the Sunday my entire youth group stood in front of the church to promise abstinence for True Love Waits, I cried alone in the bathroom as the only teenager whose parents were unwilling for her to think about sex–even to pledge celibacy with all her friends), and wishing desperately for a time machine.

I wish I could protect the sweet little girl who learned about unfounded yet unrelenting, soul-crushing guilt at home every single day. I would tell her she was precious and wanted, that it was OK to smile and play and think that God liked her. I would show her that her beautiful little heart was anything but “hard, cold, and black” like she was told, that the daily accusations against her were untrue, that her deep little-girl wounds were not her fault. I would stop regretting my existence.

I wish I could give the excruciatingly lonely teenager a heaping dose of the love she lived without. I would tell her how funny she was in her blossoming creativity. I would hold up a mirror and show her how pretty she was, even (especially) with the freckles and red hair and too-long legs she hated. I would whisper to her about her intrinsic value and the luscious life ahead. I would give her reasons not to kill herself other than the sole terror of facing a God who, she was told, hated her. I would stop regretting how my goody-two-shoesness kept me from sneaking out at night to recapture my boyfriend’s attention.

I wish I could inject Valium into the college student’s frantically over-analytical brain. I would tell her to relax into the gentle process of learning, to enjoy each moment without dissecting it to death. I would give her the confidence to stand up to the guys who mistreated her and to unabashedly be herself with the ones who captured her affection. I would remind her to have fun dating, building friendships, learning, becoming an adult. I would stop regretting the fun and crazy side of my personality making itself known.

I wish I could extract the vast self-imposed disillusionment from the newly-inaugurated adult. I would help her see her fears and misgivings as the product of misguided childhood teachings. I would tell her that her perpetual doubts about love, capability, purpose, and belief were natural but not world-spinning. I would encourage her to enjoy rediscovering her identity, to face her life with courage and joy, to accept her new marriage as safe, to let herself feel at peace as a woman. I would stop regretting my imperfection.

I can hardly believe it’s taken me this long to realize that I’m a human and that that’s OK. I imagine most people realize this while they’re still in diapers or at least when their first smudgy fingerpainting is taped onto the fridge… not years after getting a minor in psychology or even more years of dedicated self-therapy or still more years of affirming friendships. (When did you find out it was perfectly OK to be you?)

Hello, my name is Bethany, and today I’ve stopped regretting Me.

I feel like a newborn being snuggled for the first time by ecstatic, weeping parents and thinking it the most natural moment in the world.

1Jul

Donald Miller is the New Ex-Lax

So the title of this blog may contain coffee and clarity, but I’m enjoying neither at this moment. *Sigh* The problem is religion. (The problem with clarity, that is. The coffee problem is more likely caused by the desperate shortage of Starbucks nearby.)

Still reading?

Thanks.

It’s not just our current church, though the Presbyterians are [much] more liturgical than I prefer and find an enormous amount of foreshadowing in the Bible that I suspect may not actually exist. (“And we can clearly see that the hundred raisin cakes mentioned in 2 Samuel 16 foreshadow the glorious ascension of Christ.”) I’ve felt the same sense of utter deflation in nearly every other church service I’ve ever attended.

Admittedly, I’m still viewing Christianity through the sticky residue of a childhood in which every heartbreaking moment was called good and attributed to God. Perhaps that’s really the only problem. All I know is that I often leave sermons affected more by the absurdity of straight-backed pews, unspoken dress codes, and the word “partake” than by any relevant message.

I know that churches are really just groups of imperfect people who want to love God together. I know that many of these imperfect people radiate a rare kind of joy and genuinely care for each other. I know that church services are often built on decades, if not centuries, of tradition that has proven meaningful to many. I know that most pastors speak from a genuine desire to impart God’s relevance to their congregations’ lives. I know.

Yet when I sit in church, I find Prohibition-era morality presented as Biblical doctrine. (According to American theologians, Biblical accounts of wine refer to grape juice, and the term “drunk” actually meant “not drunk.” Just wait till Europe finds out!) I find self-deprecation taught as spirituality. I find petty issues like the sin of envy given more stage time than pressing questions about God’s identity and the point of Christianity in daily life. I find conditional acceptance based far more on personal appearance than on heart quality. I find long, lofty prayers full of words that no one but reverends and King James himself would ever use.

I don’t see curious neighbors, friends, or previously “unchurched” visitors. I don’t find church members talking about their personal troubles or concerns — especially not spiritual concerns. I rarely find a view of God that makes me want to spend eternity with him. He is the God who commanded puffed-sleeve dresses in the ’90s, after all. (Just kidding. Put down the pitchforks.)

I have no solution, but I feel more hopeful every minute I spend with people who can manage to love God while drinking beer and using language their grandmothers wouldn’t. (Just for the record, damn damn damn damn damn.) My general feeling of religious constipation lets up when I read Brian McLaren, Philip Yancey, and Donald Miller. My fingers are crossed for the “emerging church,” and I pray I can one day find my place in a group of people who are ready to rediscover God outside the box of American Protestantism.

Until then…?

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