Funday Morning Dilemma

girl,embrace,mountains,adventure,freedom,outdoor-076bf6b4de5f63c3077f655bbadddbda_hAs I quickly texted one of my girlfriends this morning, confirming a time to meet for one of my favorite local hikes, I thought to myself, what a perfect day it was to be outdoors; what a perfect “Funday.”  Funday is the name I gave Sundays a couple of years ago and it has stuck.

I do remember struggling on Sundays–whether to go to church or create a reason not to.  It brought to mind a post I had written years ago entitled Sunday Morning Dilemma.  In it I am trying to cope with feeling pressure to go to church. I went back and read it.  It’s so surreal now to think that I actually felt like I had to go to church every Sunday, like I couldn’t do what my heart really wanted to do, because I was afraid.  That is so not me.  It’s just a reminder of how I couldn’t really be my authentic self when I was a Fundamentalist Christian. Actually, I didn’t even know what that was.  The idea that because I wanted to be myself and “myself” didn’t want to go to church = Sin.

Anyway, it was the last line of that post that made my shoulders drop, my breathing ease, and my lips turn into a smile.  I wrote:  “I do look forward to waking up on Sunday mornings and simply deciding which fun thing I will do, and it will not include, by the way, going to church.”  Yes.  That day has definitely come.  This morning, I pick Sandra and I pick the Tower Hike at Pena Adobe.  Soon I will be up at the top of a hill, looking down on Pena Adobe reservoir, and my friend Sandra will say, like she always does, “Man, this is the perfect day for this.”

I will respond as I typically do, “Yeah it is; I love Fundays!”

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Suffer the Children

befreeMost of my kids’ friends are living or were raised in staunch Fundamentalist Christian homes. These kids have so many struggles.  Some have nothing but hate and disdain for their parents and/or church leaders.  When they tell me some of the things their parents/teachers/pastors say and do, it’s just appalling.

One friend of my son’s, a kind, soft-spoken, talented young man, has been held up as an example in his church’s youth group as a sinner and someone not to aspire too.  His youth leader even suggested that he was possessed by a demon.   Even though he says that he knows that isn’t true, he struggles with depression and anger and I really think there is a part of him the wonders if there is something really bad about him. His parents, both pastors of this church, force him to attend their  and have made it clear he is expected to serve there, in spite of how disappointed they are in him.  If he does not, they will not pay for school and he will be kicked out. He is 19 years old.

Just recently, the music teacher, at my son’s high school, told another friend that if she thinks about her boyfriend more than Jesus, then she has a problem.   The truth is, she does think about her boyfriend more than Jesus and I believe a small part of her believes what this teacher says—that she has a problem.

Those a just a couple of examples; there are many more, but getting to know these kids and having a chance to have discussions with them has convinced me that these kids need someone to talk to, someone that tell them they are okay.  They try to laugh it off, but ,from their behavior, you can tell if affects them.  I do have encouraging discussions with a close circle of my son’s friends, but there are so many kids out there that feel helpless, hopeless, angry, confused and sad and have no safe sounding board.

If I could reach all of the kids that are struggling in a Fundamentalist home and/or church, this is what I would want them to know:

  • Don’t lose heart.  This is not forever.  You’ll become independent and be out from under your parent’s and your church’s control and have plenty of opportunities to find your way in the world.
  • Life is a journey and you don’t ever have to decide exactly what you believe, ever.  I still don’t know and it changes.  It should, if you are to grow.
  • You are perfect just the way you are.  Just because you don’t fit into Christianity’s idea of good or right, or beautiful, you are ALL of those things.
  • Your sexual desires are wonderful and NATURAL.  NOT having them would be unnatural.  You aren’t a pervert.
  • You’re going to make mistakes.  Everyone does.  Own them and learn from them.
  • Believe me when I say this.  There is no personal God up in a heaven that is blessing and/or condemning you.
  • You are your own “god.”
  • Most importantly, although your parents and/or church have threatened you with the idea of eternal punishment, there is no Hell.  There is not.  I promise you.
  • So learn and grow with an open mind.  Question everything and don’t feel guilty about it.
  • If you don’t get the answers you need, keep asking.
  • Be kind to yourself first and then be kind to others.
  • Embrace your humanity.
  • Love and be free.

I truly feel such a burden for these kids.  Perhaps because my own children suffered under fundamentalism and I feel so very bad for the burdens I placed on them and how I made them feel that my love was conditional, and sadly, in some ways it was.   I can’t change that now, but I can learn from it and continue to strengthen my relationship with my kids and look for opportunities to encourage other kids as well.  They need a safe place to vent.  I want to be that safe place.

I have no cute ending, but at least I posted.  Three days down, twenty-seven to go!

Same Title–Different Blog

Why do I do this?  I have at least five half-finished blog posts and none have made it to the point of completion.  A couple were good too:  “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” and “When you see Sharia Law, You see the Old Testament.”  There are more that also have potential, but there they sit in my Word draft file.  Look at my last post date…geez…us!  It’s embarrassing. I don’t typically procrastinate in other aspects of my life, but when I do, there’s always a reason for it. I’ve struggled with the reason I do it here.   As I sit here at almost 2:30 in the morning, I think I know why:  I’ve lost focus and passion and I have no idea where to go here.  I don’t want to leave “Blinders Off.” I just don’t know how to transition, you know?  The only way for my blog to be successful is to be consistent and yet, I will say in a post what I am going to write about next and then I don’t.  I’ll be working on some other writing project, my brain will get a blog idea, I’ll jump on it and then Bam! I go back to the other project and I will let time slip away, until it’s been weeks and then months…This has got to stop.  Maybe it’s lack of discipline.  We writers struggle with “idea ADD” at times, jumping from one idea to the next.  That may be part of the problem, but I truly think it’s that I have passions other than de-conversion and all that that entails and I want to write about those..

I’m thinking now that  much about life, about living and growing has to do with taking off blinders.  I don’t have to just write about removing religious blinders I suppose. What about the blinders we wear that prevent us from seeing ourselves, imperfections and all.  We know ourselves better than anyone else and yet there are things we turn a blind eye to and those blind spots stunt us and keep us from break throughs that may change our lives.  One of the struggles we face, those of us who have broken free from religion, is trying to now figure out who we are–who we really, truly are.  I have observed how we try on different masks, after flinging off the religious one.  We try on one after the other even though they feel uncomfortable or foreign.   I think we do it because we are afraid to let ourselves be naked, raw, completely unbridled, maskless.  We were told how, what, and who to be for so long that peeling everything away and just sitting with ourselves is extremely difficult–painful actually.

The truth is, whether it’s leaving a religion, or watching our children become adults and leaving home, caring for and helping our parents die, repairing a long-term marriage, or finally leaving one, what ever journey we are on in our lives, there are blinders to be taken off, things we need to see and do in order to be real, and wholly authentic.  I’m thinking there is plenty to write about without leaving my “Blinders Off” blog.  Perhaps I am wrong, maybe I’m just being sentimental, or I don’t want to leave my comfort zone, but for now, I’m going to give it a go. So for now, it’s going to be the same title and a different blog–sort of.  One thing I am NOT going to do at this ungodly hour is to reveal the subject of my first post, because we all know how that will go and to be honest, hell, I don’t even know. I’m just going to let The Fates blow through my mind and see what flies onto the page.  Weeeee!

Standing Firm

I’m very proud of my son today.  Not just because he scored two of the three goals in a shut out game, but because of his courage. He chose not to be manipulated by peer pressure.  As I sat in that stands before the game, I looked out onto the field and saw that the entire soccer team was kneeling, heads bowed, in prayer–except for one.  One lone student remained standing–my son.  I wish I could have gotten a picture.  I would have posted it here, but you get the picture. We’ve never discussed the pre game prayer before.  I’m not even sure if they do it all the time–it is a public school after all, but there he was, standing, head unbowed, hands behind his back, patiently waiting for the rest of the team to finish.  He could have just knelt down and not prayed, but I believe he wanted to make a statement–he doesn’t believe in a god.  He does not believe in the power of prayer.  It was so nice to see him exhibit strength and courage and believe me, on his high school campus, it took those two virtues to do what he did and he was rewarded with two goals…rewarded by god?  No, rewarded by hard work.  I could not have loved him more at that moment.

 

Dammit Eve!

It was a Sunday evening prayer meeting.  I had not been attending this particular church for very long and was not completely familiar with the way things worked.  One of the elders was up front explaining how the evening would go.  “Feel free to read scripture if you feel led or simply pray what ever is on your heart.”  That sounded simple enough and then…”Even the women should feel free to jump in.”  “Even the women,” he said– even the women!?”  I was stunned.  I couldn’t stop thinking about it all week.  I wondered what he meant by that?  I wondered what role women played at this church.  It concerned me.  I couldn’t let it go.

Coincidentally, that very same elder called my home later that week to inquire about how we liked the church and if we were planning continuing there, etc.  I did love the preaching and I so wanted to be a part of that church.  They seemed to be so “biblically sound” (shudder).  When he asked me if I had any questions, I thought hard about whether to ask about what was on my mind, but being who I am I couldn’t hold back.  I told him that I noticed that there weren’t really any women involved in the worship services, aside from singing.  I asked him if that was purposeful or was it that there just weren’t women willing to step up.  He said that the male dominated leadership on Sunday morning was by design and he gave me all the typical scriptures to back up “the leadership’s” philosophy.  He informed me that that is the way it is and will be and if I had a problem with that I might want to choose another place of worship.

I was a little taken aback by his words; it did seem a bit defensive, but I immediately let him know that I was willing to accept their decision about that. (Kook-aid anyone?) Undaunted, I asked him about the prayer meetings on Sunday nights and if women are typically “allowed” to pray then, He said that they were, but for some reason didn’t very often (go figure).  Then I did a baaaaad thing.  I made the silly mistake of thinking we were peers having an intelligent conversation and said, “I think it might be because the women are intimidated.  When you say things like, “even the women can pray.” It sounds condescending.”

He responded politely and calmly, “You know what this is, Barbara, don’t you?”

“No, I asked, what?”

He told me it was my sin rearing its ugly head.  He informed me that my attitude toward male leadership is a result of the fall.  He explained how God told Eve she would desire to rule over her man, but he would rule over her.  He chuckled softly and said,  “You just might need to pray about that.”

I immediately felt horrible, like a Jezebel or something.   He had pushed a button in me.  He had hit upon one of my biggest struggles and heartaches in my Christian walk.  I was always feeling like I was falling short as a Christian woman because I couldn’t shake the idea that we should be treated equally.  Why I didn’t run like the Devil (excuse the pun) away from that place?  I think it was because I truly believed the lie that women are to submit and there were things we were not allowed to do, due to our mother Eve.  The struggle between Christian doctrine, and what I knew to be true, were in conflict and the desire to be a “good Christian,” would always win out and to my detriment, I might add.

As fate would have it, what that Elder said would come back and haunt me eight years later when I would hear a similar comment made about a very dear friend and talented woman at our church, when I asked our pastor about her whereabouts and what had taken place.  It went something like this, “Well, she has always had a problem with the male leadership having authority over her here.”  It was at that moment, I believe that my blinders starting coming off.  I was done keeping quiet and making nice; it was the beginning of the end for that church and the beginning of a new and freethinking life for me.

Sometimes it’s really hard to look back and see what a mind-numbed robot I was, but I’m learning that regrets are counter productive and I am really thankful that I no longer feel duty-bound to fit into the “ good Christian woman” mold.

Free at last, free at last, thank goodness for my brain, I’m free at last!

Bigger Fish to Fry

I’ve been thinking a lot about the exercise of saying grace lately.  Even when I was a dyed-in-the-wool, fundamentalist Christian I always was nagged by the feeling that we were doing it all wrong.  Every time there was opportunity for believers to get together and pray it was always the same deal, “Please heal my friend Sarah’s next door neighbor’s friend from that nasty sinus infection.” Even better, the prayer that begins with, “Now Lord you know…” and then they proceed to tell God what he knows for the next 5 minutes.  I have literally thought, “Geez, God knows, we’ve already established that.  Who are you telling…us?  We don’t need to know the details, God does and…HE ALREADY KNOWS! It just seems to be so contrived–like a lot of Christian practices. I could never shake the feeling that God probably had bigger fish to fry.

Not long ago, my husband asked me to say grace at dinner.  Unbeknownst to him, I no longer believed, but  I began, as I usually would have; it felt silly to me. I didn’t like it. What should I pray for? Everything I thought of just seemed ridiculous to bring before the God of the universe, if such a God actually exists.  “Bless this food” just seemed inadequate.  What does that even mean?  I thought of praying for the war in Iraq to end, for the end to hatred and bigotry, or maybe even the cure for cancer, but I think my family would have thought I’d gone ’round the bend, for sure.  Not that they wouldn’t want to pray for those things, but not at the dinner table; that would be very out of character.  There are certain prayers for certain circumstances, don’t ya’ know.

I don’t even remember what I prayed for now; I just know my family looked at me in a way that said, “What the…?”   Oh well.  What do you do?  I can’t imagine what would happen if I simply said, I think I’ll pass on the grace thing today.  It would be…heretical, especially around our dinner table. We’ve always prayed.  If I decided to stop saying grace, what would I replace it with?  I’ll have to think about that and try some ideas out next time.   Maybe when I’m out to dinner with Christian friends… ah yes, praying in public, especially in a restaurant…well, that’s a blog for another day.

Counting the Cost

We were all standing in a circle, holding hands–praying.  It was a good friend’s birthday party and, as always, we were having a great time.  I’ve known most of the people there for over 10 years; some 20 and we have had some really fun times.  We were friends—forever friends.  That’s what I believed anyway. We really didn’t talk much about God or theology, but we would always pray before we ate. My dear friend Dorothy began to pray  “And Lord we just thank you for all our friends here, who we love so much.  We know that we wouldn’t even be friends if it weren’t for you.  You and your Son Jesus are the only thing that ties us together.”  She continued on, but I didn’t hear anything after that. I was stunned.  All I could think of was that I didn’t believe anymore and what I would lose if they that.

As the prayer ended, I looked around at everyone and I thought of all the things that bind us together as friends and none of them had anything to do with religion or our faith.  My hope is that she didn’t really mean exactly what she said and that, in the end, we will remain fast friends.  As I consider that now, I find myself thinking that the only thing worse than losing her and her husband as friends, would be them thinking of me with pity– an apostate who needs to be saved—someone condemned to Hell.

It’s moments like that, that make me wish I’d never stepped out of the box and let myself examine my beliefs more closely.  Why, oh why, can’t I just be like my Christian friends that go right back to it, no matter what happens, without questioning.  I know deep down that I can’t go back.  Even if I wanted to, I can’t make myself believe something that I see as kind of silly now.  I can’t make myself go back and embrace a belief that their religion is the one true religion, and any other belief will send you straight to hell.  Yep, Hitler and me, we’re gonna be roomies.  No, I could never go back to believing that, but I always can’t see myself sharing my change of heart to any of my Christian friends.

There are many reasons why I haven’t articulated to my friends and loved ones, about my journey out of Evangelical Christianity.  I think it’s because I’m not sure where I’m headed.  I’m still exploring it all.  I’m not sure what I believe yet; only time will tell. I don’t want to let the cat of the bag, so to speak, before I can articulate better.  It’s just too risky.  In the mean time, I’m going to enjoy my friends for as long as I can and just hope our conversations don’t get too theologically deep…I have this problem; I can’t seem to keep my thoughts and ideas to myself in certain circumstances.  I imagine my “coming out,” like most notable events in my life, will be unplanned, unrehearsed, and spectacular.

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