What Comes Around…

artThere has been some recent news coming out about my old pastor, Art Azurdia: http://www.trinityportland.com/blog/post/a-statement-regarding-art-azurdia-from-the-elders-of-trinity-church-of-portland

I’ve been trying to figure out how to address the whole thing.  Do I just talk about the recent events that caused him to be fired as Senior Pastor, from his church, or do I start at the beginning and talk about why I wasn’t really shocked to hear that he is not the man everyone thought he was. I think the only shocking thing to me is that his Elder board had the balls to confront him and fire him.

I’m thinking I should start at the present and then go backwards.  Even if I do that, there’s a lot to be teased out:  His affairs, his confessions, why did this have to be the nail in the coffin, the response online to his “immoral” behavior and how women are treated on these forums, why so many try to sweep things like this under the rug putting others in harm’s way. Also, how women are treated in Evangelical churches as a whole, the power that men like Art have over women (and men too) and how they use that power, who is the true victim in all this, and what does his “confession” really mean?  Whew!  There’s a lot.

My mind is still swirling and, to be honest, much of this is opening up some scars and bringing up old traumas I thought were long gone, which is making it difficult to put thoughts into words. It’s still hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea that he’s finally been taken down, not for what I’d hoped would take him down, but taken down and taken down publically he has been, at least for a time.  Men like him have a way of making come backs. Sometimes this should happen.  I mean, everyone makes mistakes, but in this case, it should never happen.

The truth is this is not an isolated incident, just a good man led astray. I mean, the sexual part might be, but Art Azurdia, the person? He is not a good man. He is a user, a power-hungry narcissist, that cares only for himself.  (I can hear the voices now, “Oh bitter woman!”) I need people to understand that he’s hurt so many men and women, lied about them, sullied their reputations, and yet no one would listen to them when they would ask for help. The elders of the church failed them—failed to protect them.  I failed them—we all did.  Art always had a story and no one could believe that he would lie.  He was oh so eloquent. I always defended him to people who would try to tell me their stories.  I regret that.  Like so many, I was Team Art all the way.  Like so many, I was star-struck by his preaching and just so honored that he wanted me in his inner circle. (Narcissists are good at that.) Of course, that would all come crashing down and I would limp away as well, the only difference was I did not go quietly and I won’t be quiet now.  I hope that in some way I can facilitate others to find their voice as well.

Art should never pastor a church again; he should never hold a position of power over vulnerable people again and the only way to stop him is to speak out and tell our stories.

More to come.

 

 

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Regret…Part One

erasing-regretThe details of her death were relayed to me after she was gone.  I wasn’t there—wasn’t welcome.

“Dad just kept saying, over and over to her, “Forgive me! Forgive me!  It was awful,” my sister said.

It wasn’t the first time he had asked our mother for forgiveness, but it would be his last and his words fell to the ground, unheard.  All those years of regret must have flooded over him and through him with no remedy.  I suppose his ever-increasing dementia will be his only mercy.  In some ways, I envy him.

Regret.  We all have it, some of us more than others, and regret does not die with the one we harmed or were harmed by.  It lingers, and leaves us broken in a way that feels hopeless.  There will be no making things right, or talking things out.  There will be no chance of asking for or receiving of forgiveness–no reconciliation.  What was done, or not done remains that way, for good.

When my mother died, I had only spoken to her once in about 8 years.  The reasons for that remain a bit of a mystery to me .   I do have some ideas, but I’m unsure of the true reasons because she would not talk with me about it, only to say, in a facebook message, that I had “moved away” from what I had always believed, to “just go live your new life” and “Can’t we just agree to disagree?” That was about it.  When I pushed back and said that if we couldn’t talk then she would be out of my life, because the pain of being rejected and ignored was too much for me.  She said she had “wounds that had healed,” nd she didn’t want to open them up again.  I begged her to have a conversation with me, so that we could possibly have a relationship again, but it was like screaming into the wind.  She just couldn’t hear me.

There were things I wanted to know. Had I caused those wounds? What were we agreeing to disagree about?  There were things I wanted her to know too, like why I no longer believed, what the price for that was and how scared I was, but she refused to discuss those things with me and the cost was our relationship. So, for about eight years, there would be the occasional private message from her on facebook, telling me she loved me or happy birthday.  When I needed my mother more than anything in the world, she was not there.  My brother said she had been praying for me—there’s absolutely no comfort in that.

Herein lies my deepest sadness:  I will never have the opportunity to have that conversation with her now.  She has no regrets, she’s dead, but I’m here and the regret I feel is overwhelming at times.  I regret I didn’t just go to Arizona and make her talk with me or swallow my wounded pride and pick up the phone.  I regret the words I wrote back to her in anger, anger born of hurt, but anger none-the-less.  I regret that when I did talk to her, after almost 8 years, right before she got sick, that I didn’t say more.  I regret that we talked about nothing but surface stuff, as if we were strangers.  I regret I didn’t tell her that I had missed her every day.

What does one do with regret like that?  Well, I need to find a way to move on from it at some point–if I want to remain mentally healthy anyway, but as with most emotional pain, there are lesson to be learned. I’ve been thinking a lot about it and I feel, very strongly, that I need to make sure that I don’t leave words unsaid—forgiveness unasked for and forgiveness not given.  I need to know that when I close my eyes for the last time, my regrets will be few, and the people around me that I love will feel the same. I need to do this while there is still time.

I have my work cut out for me.

 

 

Be careful What You Wish For…

trumpwonI woke up this morning wishing it was opposite day. It wasn’t.

I am still in shock that our country elected Donald Trump for president. What was more shocking to me, was how many Evangelical Christians voted for him. They voted for that man at an 81 percent to 16 percent margin over Hillary Clinton. As an ex-evangelical, I was stymied. He has been married three times, speaks in degrading ways about the “lesser of these,” and lies more than he tells the truth. He cheated on his first wife and has had multiple affairs and thinks of women as objects that only have value if they are beautiful. Not only that, he has cheated people, committed fraud, and brags about it. None of these things are inline with what I had always been taught to be Christian values—none of them, so WTF?

I did some reading to try and figure it out. You know what it comes down to? That’s right, abortion. It’s okay that he’s a liar, a cheater, and a racist hater, obviously unstable and possibly dangerous, but he cares for the unborn… FYI, no he doesn’t. The only thing this man cares about is himself and his cronies. He knew exactly how to pander to the most right-wing contingent and it worked. You’ve been duped people. Sadly, you all will discover this soon enough.

Do Evangelicals really believe that the Jesus of their Bible would care more about an embryo or fetus, than truth, morality and love? They must, because Trump embodies none of those things, and they elected him. So, rejoice dear Christian that a woman in a desperate situation may not be able to get affordable contraception, let alone obtain a safe and legal abortion, when she ends up pregnant. Rejoice that immigrant families may be separated, and refugees will suffer and possibly die because of your presidential choice. Not terrorists, but families—women and children. Rejoice that hate, fear, and bigotry have ruled the day.

This presidential outcome and the statistics on how many Evangelicals elected this man tells me something I have considered since I left Christianity, but kept holding out hope wasn’t true:  Way too many modern day Evangelicals  are some of the most single-minded, ignorant haters on the planet. It makes sense though. If one can continue to believe, in the face of all contrary evidence, that the God of the Bible exists and his holy book is entirely inerrant and worthy of praise, with all the genocide, violence, and misogyny it embraces, you can believe pretty much anything.

Well done, Evangelicals; well done.

You know the saying, “Be careful what you wish for?” Well, you’ve gotten it. Let me know what it feels like to shoot yourself in the foot.

What’s the Harm?

babyjake

As soon as the news of the miracle went out on facebook, the thanks and praise began: “God is so good, so merciful, the answerer of prayers, the performer of miracles.

The Christian community had been praying for days after young Jacob was found unresponsive in the family pool. The doctors said that it would take a miracle to save him and it appeared that God had performed one.

Even though for years after leaving Christianity I consistently said that believing in a god is damaging, I found myself wondering, what’s the harm in believing such a thing? Jacob is alive, conscious and out of ICU, off the breathing machine and on the mend. Who cares if people prayed to an imaginary person for a miracle. Is it harmful to believe in something that isn’t real if gives people a common hope or if it brings comfort?

The answer became clear to me in the following days.  Without much warning, Jacob crashed, waking off and on in pain, panic and fear. It was absolutely horrible for his parents. They sedated him, put him back on the breathing tube, ran tests, but he was never to regain consciousness again. Evidently, god is not so good after all, but was it harmful for them to believe he was?

After all the prayers and praise, and now that their supposed miracle had been stripped from them, I knew the comments would take  a turn and I cringed at the thought.  Here is a couple of examples:

“Your beautiful son is with Jesus now, so run to Jesus. He will fill you with PEACE that passes all understanding, wrap His COMFORT around you, and hold you tight in those moments you feel like you’re not going to make it. He’ll give you STRENGTH to continue on when you want to quit, and allow you to experience the JOY that comes from knowing Him, our savior, and the PROMISE that one day, you’ll all be together again.”

What the holy f*ck? Let’s see, this Jesus did the worst possible thing he could do to a mother an act of cruelty beyond compare and now, NOW, she is to run to him, bending and scraping for his comfort. If an abused woman, runs back to her abuser people thinks she’s crazy, but when it comes to Jesus, well, he loves her and knows what’s best for her so…

Here’s another:

“May you find joy that little Jake is now bright-eyed with wonder at the sights of Heaven, and he is full of joy to be right there with Jesus….better than any Candy Shoppe or Toy Store full of Leggos & balloons & bubbles & MatchBox Cars. Take joy for him…and may God’s Grace shower down on each of you.”

It’s like telling someone that yes, your child has been stolen, but he’s going to have so much fun there! Be happy!

Not only do these people appear delusional, they sound crazy!  Beyond that, what they are saying is cruel and extremely damaging to this young mother who just lost her baby boy.

After watching this whole thing unfold via social media, this much I know:  To believe in a personal god, one that can answer your prayers and perform miracles is beyond harmful for so many reasons, but in this case most destructive to Jacob’s  mother. She is ruined, of course. Her life will never be the same. Statistically speaking her marriage may very well end and her little girls have forever lost the mother they once had.   On top of all that, because of the “supportive words” of her Christian community, she now she has to contend with the idea that she is to thank her god and find comfort from him, believe that he loves her and knows what’s best for her.  As a good Christian, she is to find joy that her baby is gone forever, because he is now with the god that let him die, let his mother beg for his life, give it back to her and then take it away and not just quickly. She had to watch him suffer unbelievably before he finally died.  Way to go god.

Without even realizing it, her “supportive” Christian community has added grief upon grief and when she is tempted to shake her fist at their god,  question his existence, or even just want to ask why,( which is a normal response) she will feel guilty and think that she doesn’t have enough faith or belief. Think of the emotional toll it’s going to take on her trying to convince herself that losing Jacob in the way she did was all just part of god’s loving plan for her. What plan might that be anyway?  I grieve for her and even though those Christian’s delusional motives may be pure, or whatever.  Their words are disgusting.

If I could talk freely to this mother I would tell her that horrible things happen in life. I would tell her what happened to her and her family is unbearable and I’m with her in her pain.  I would put my arms around her and tell her it’s okay to be mad and to turn her back on the supposed god that abused her so and that there is not lesson to be learned or something she did to deserve this tragedy.  I would tell her to embrace her grief and yell and scream at whomever she chooses and do her best to heal.  I can’t do that though, because her Christian family and friends would call me a monster.  I’m no monster. Their god is.

Dear Christians, if your god is real, he is monstrous, cruel and immoral.  Is this the god you want to praise and worship?  Suit yourself; I’d rather go to hell.

 

 

 

Hello…It’s Me…

 

It’s been awhile.  For about a year now, I thought of abandoning my blog for good.  I simply couldn’t find my creative spark anymore.  It was like a fight every time I would try to write here and I started avoiding it to prevent beating myself up and the frustration of what direction to go.

Well, I’ve been on a bit of a journey of reinvention lately.  I know–so deep.  It all started on my 58th birthday.  Over the past year or so, I kind of lost my mojo, so to speak, but when I turned 58, I realized that it’s either give up and grow feebly old, or keep fighting.  I am after all a fighter, so I made the decision to work on becoming the best I could be by the time I’m 60.  You know, make a comeback and not just physically, but mentally and emotionally-to connect to the world and find my center, to use a hackneyed phrase.

Anyway, as I began this journey, I knew I needed to make some changes (more about that another day) and I thought a lot about my love of writing and my blog. When did I get waylaid?    When I first started Blinders Off, I had a focus and an outlet for all my feelings and the writing just flowed. I loved it.  It felt so right.  I see now that my problem started when I tried to maintain that focus and when I couldn’t, I thought I needed to find another one–I don’t.

What is wrong with writing what ever I want, about what ever I want and see what it becomes?  So simple, yet I couldn’t see it.  I need to relax and breath and let my naturally creative juices flow.

I am enjoying my “journey of reinvention,” so corny.  I’m not going to call it that anymore–I promise.  Happily, even at this stage of my life,  I am learning so much about myself and others. That’s pretty cool.  There are some big changes heading my way, (more about that another day too) but instead of white-knuckling it, or saying I’m too old for this, I’m calling the changes adventures and am preparing myself for the ride.

For now, I’m leaving you this video here, which I would like to dedicate to The Church of Jesus Christ and its leaders.  I remember feeling this way when I was in The Church and also as I was leaving it.  I feel compassion and empathy for those who are still deep into it and are struggling.  Some day when you have had enough, you will walk away, then  you’ll skip, and then you’ll run and then life will begin.

Going Dark

dark_on_social_mceoIt’s that time of year again—the holidays. It’s the time of year when loved ones, or not so loved ones, get together. It seems that many families, even ones that have major disagreements, or issues, still find a way to bury the hatchet, so to speak and enjoy one another’s company. You know how it is, the uncle that gets drunk and the police have to be called or the bipolar son who stands up and decides now is the time to let everyone know just how unsupported he feels. In the end though, everyone forgives and forgets and loves one another and when the next holiday rolls around, you are all back together. It’s not like that for all of us though.

For many who have left the faith,  what we have done is the one thing that simply can’t be forgiven.

I have not heard my sister’s voice in over five years and I think it’s been longer since I talked with my mother. Sometimes, like this time of year, I find myself wondering how they can be without me, because even with all their rejection and abusive behavior I endured before saying enough is enough, I find it so, so hard to be without them. I think that is why this is the time of year I go dark. I know that others do too.

The good news is, things get better. Like waves, I go down and then come back up and crest and for me, I don’t go down as far anymore. Once this time of year is over, I’ll be fine.

You know, it really is their loss (I know I’ve said that before) but it is. I was a good daughter and a good sister–a super fun and loyal friend, but they’ll never let themselves see that, because now I’m an atheist and how can an atheist be good, be moral, love anything really? They don’t trust me and in some ways I understand. I was one of them once.

So tonight and tomorrow, I will be with my beautiful kids, whom I love with a vengeance and they love me the same.  I have My Man, who is amazing and his awesome kids, who think I’m pretty cool, and we will all drink and laugh and the darkness will lift. I wonder if it ever will for my mother, my sister, my old friends.

I hope so, but I’ve stopped holding my breath.  I had to.

 

It’s Not Me, It’s You

familySince my last post, I’ve thought a lot about how atheists are spoken of, how we are treated, how demonized we all are. I don’t have a persecution complex or anything like that. As much as I would like to say it’s not all that bad, I know that it is. The reality is, we are so maligned that even the people closest to us can rationalize turning their backs on us. I believe they feel righteous in some way.

Today I’m going to share a letter my sister wrote to me soon after I had started doubting my belief in god and while I was going through one of the most difficult times in my life.I do this because I want others, who have had their families turn their backs on them, to know it’s not them and they are not alone.

I’ll spare you the background for now, except to say that our relationship had been extremely close up until I shared my doubts about god. I think the letter speaks for itself. Here it is:

I don’t want to hurt you with my words, but I have to speak the truth. I’m tired. You’ve never made it easy to talk with you about my feelings regarding our relationship. I send you these words from my heart. I can no longer hide from the truth of my feelings and I want to be up front and honest with you from now on. I’m tired of being ‘fake’ due to fear and I certainly no longer want to patronize you. That isn’t fair to you.

I love you very much because you are my sister. I forgive you. I have no ill will towards you, just deep sadness for many reasons, most of which we’ve discussed already. I am deeply sad because I have developed a wall between you and I that I cannot seem to break down. I have trust issues with you that hopefully will one day go away. That in no way means that I don’t love you deeply and cherish you as my sister. That will never change. Also, I love you with a deep love that can only come from Christ.   My heart breaks over hearing what you have to say about our Savior, but that is not why I am choosing to distance my self from you. Hopefully you will search your heart and discover what you need to do to repair our relationship.

Just so you know, the reason why I have never questioned your beliefs, and this may sound harsh, but over one year ago I was advised by several trusted people who know me and are familiar with our relationship, not to speak with you about why you have hardened your heart towards God because you’ve had such a strong influence on me over the years and it is dangerous to speak with you about the ‘earthly wisdom’ that you claim that you’ve been enlightened by. I can’t put it any other way. I have to be open and honest with you.

I will continue to pray that you find Jesus Christ in the midst of your pain.

As a follower of Christ I would be doing you an injustice if I did not give you this verse: John 15:5 – ‘I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.’ I have attached John 15 that I am praying you will read.

All my love, Brenda”

So there it is. Retyping it is like reading it for the first time–painful. When people you love reject you for being an atheist, it’s the most helpless feeling in the world, but like they say on The Sopranos, “Whad’ya gonna do?” Nothing, but know it’s not you; it’s them. The truth is, although I miss my sister, I would not give up the freedom I have in the hopes that one day, she will consider me once again worthy of her love. I tried that a for so long and all it did was leave me broken.

My advice, move on. Stop trying to get loved ones to stop rejecting you.  If they truly love you, they will find you.  Instead surround yourself with people who love you for who you are, and you in turn love others for who they are.  There is nothing like it–I promise.

 

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