Peace Be With You

My new husband goes to a nice little community church. He would never pressure me to go along, but I could tell he wanted to introduce me to his friends there. How bad could it be? Hubby isn’t religious, so the church can’t be too dogmatic. He goes to remember his mother and to see people he cares about. I hadn’t stepped foot in a church service in decades, but I’m not scared of them. I strive to be open-minded, not judge-y or hard-nosed. That’s what I never liked about churches in the first place.

I can handle it. Right? Oy.

To be fair, this church is friendly. I was welcomed warmly. People of all stripes are welcomed here, which is as it should be. I can clearly see the value of gathering together to show gratitude, to participate in peaceful rituals and to sing, combined with a sense of working for the greater good. Members get together to hike and knit and eat. These activities bring a wonderful sense of belonging and contribute to the community at large in valuable ways. Loveliness.

What surprised me was the familiarity of the messages printed on the service sheet. Crucifixion, condemnation of the “wicked,” rapture, virgin birth, creationism, a lesson on finding a capable wife to run your household-wait wtf really?, believers shall prosper but others will not. Us and them, body and blood, sacrifice, sanctification, holy spirit, almighty father, Jesus Christ, lord god holy, holy, holy. What was I expecting? Church is still church.

My skin crawled as the congregation chanted prayers in unison. My head pounded as I tried to reconcile the words on the page with the truly lovely people surrounding me. Do they hear the underlying messages of the words they are speaking? How can they say words out loud without thinking about their meaning? Or do they believe?

I couldn’t do it. I fled.

Out the back and down the steps, I found the bathroom and then followed my nose to a full, unguarded coffee pot. I took (stole) a cup and a handful of creamers. As I gently pushed the church door open and eased it shut behind me, I was met with a face-full of sunshine and fresh morning breeze. First fall leaves skittered down the quiet street as I settled onto a rickety wooden bench tucked in the weeds of an overgrown patio. Steamy sweet coffee warmth filled my nose. Why can’t this be church?

Tension left my body. I will never escape my literal mind. The hellfire trauma of my childhood is best left undisturbed. My very much smarter than me husband goes to church because he has always gone, takes what he needs and leaves the rest. I admire his ability to do so, but I cannot join him there.

After church we got tacos and took the dog for a hike in the woods where we saw some amazing wild mushrooms and a turtle. All is well with my soul.

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WHOOP! an announcement

Hey, Hey! I just signed a publishing contract. My memoir, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, will be out on April 4, 2019. I am THRILLED, to say the least.

My heart is full of gratitude for this journey and for all of you who have read along and reached out. I have a hell of a lot of work to do between now and then, so if anyone wants to write a guest blog for me, shoot me a message.* There’s a free book in it for you!

This is the only known picture in existence of my happy dance:

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*I’m serious about the guest blog offer. I am open to posting deconversion stories of others.

Feeling Free

A couple of weeks ago I found myself free to do as I pleased for a few hours on a summer afternoon near a beach. What more could a person want? Souls savor stolen moments.

Signage at the top of the steep wooden staircase read:

Clothing optional

No gawking

No cameras

I already knew the beach was clothing optional, but it was breezy and cool, so I had no intention of stripping. Let other people freeze their naked butts off. The last time I had been to a clothing optional beach, a woman who appeared to be a supermodel stretched out beside me with a friendly smile, her perfect breasts pointing to the sky. I just couldn’t join her.

At the bottom of the steps, a string of brightly colored sarongs caught the wind like wanna-be kites reaching for the brilliant sky. Sand and water swept the horizon before me. I put my phone away, took off my shoes and began to walk, toes digging into the soft sand. Happy as the proverbial clam.

The days prior and the days ahead were busy and emotional. Long awaited visits with my adult children behind me and my long awaited second marriage just ahead, brain and body needed the off switch. Worries, plans, and body aches vanished with the first step.  By the tenth step, I was sweating, because the breeze had also vanished and the sun was flexing its muscles. As I wandered down to firmer sand by the waterline, I noticed several naked bodies.  They were tan everywhere. Some of these folks must be hard core beach nudies. Huh. Not a perfect physique in sight.

I walked as far as the beach allowed and doubled back looking for the right driftwood log to lean against, wondering what it would be like to be naked here. The perfect spot appeared, so I plunked down in the sand, squinting and cursing my lack of sunglasses and empty water bottle. Sweat ran down my back into my underwear as the sun blazed hotter. As I scanned the horizon, a middle aged man sauntered past, penis swinging and free, utterly unselfconscious. Huh.

I furtively slipped out of my clothes and spread out my sweatshirt to sit on, unwilling to get sand absolutely everywhere. I glanced around. No one was anywhere near me, no one to see or care, so I settled back to watch the clouds and waves. I noticed that the breeze wasn’t entirely gone; I could feel it gently caress my body in places that had never felt fresh air before. My skin felt grateful and cool.

As the rhythm of the waves lulled my senses and swept out my brain cobwebs, someone with clothes on walked by and glanced quickly away with an awkward jerk of his head. Wonder what his problem is I thought, having already forgotten I didn’t have any clothes on. Oh yeah, I’m naked, I smiled to myself and felt sorry for him in his heavy cotton tee shirt and cargo shorts.

How did I come to be comfortable in my own naked bag of skin in my fifties after a lifetime of excruciating self-loathing? I was taught shame as a fact, that my female body was an offense, dangerous if uncovered, an abomination if fat, a death sentence if used. I carried those judgements like chains, even in my defiance of them. I don’t care anymore. Those chains may have left a few scars, but somewhere along the way they dropped off.

I wonder at the weight we carry sometimes. We can change inner dialogue from defensiveness to openness; allow others to carry their own opinions, their judgements, their perspectives without hefting the load. We can show ourselves compassion, too.

Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

I would add, it is the mark of a free mind, as well.

I can’t wait to see if Facebook deems my knee and shoulder inappropriate.

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This Place Feels Sticky

I remembered something.  There was this weird thing that happened to me a lot in the Pentecostal church, so it must have happened to others, too. Maybe it happened to me more often since I ran wild on bible college campuses as a child. I don’t know.

Men would offer to be my boyfriend.  They would call me their girlfriend in intimate and flirtatious ways and pretend to want to date me. I usually knew they were not serious, but to have the attention of grown men as a ten or twelve year old girl was confusing and head-turning stuff.

Now I know their words were sexual predation. Grooming, if you will.  Had any of those men, most only eighteen or nineteen themselves, some older, had a more nefarious bent and tried to corner me in a dark room, I would have complied.  I would not have thought to resist.

As #MeToo moments go, being noticed in sexually or romantically suggestive ways by men is “not that bad.” I was never raped, have no violence to report, no molestation, no physical contact, except for that once, but I knew no one would believe me. And yet… I remember them all.

My value as a human was defined from day one by my appearance and my sexual value.  “You’re going to be beautiful when you grow up,” they would say, with a glance up and down, while everything sexual was condemned and shamed within the cult of the United Pentecostal Church.  Sex education was non-existent, information forbidden, genitals unnamed, normal developmental desires were an unspeakable sin punishable by the fires of hell. They were not joking.

Add in the Biblical philosophy of the second class nature of women and the demand for their submission, acquiescence, and silence.  The female body was vile and a dangerous threat; our shoulders and kneecaps an abomination to the eye, designed to tempt unwitting men. Scriptures seemed to be full of stories of women whose offense was to be curious or smart or beautiful (Eve, Lot’s wife, Jezebel) and they were always killed or banished for their infractions. Jezebel had the audacity to decorate herself and so was fed to dogs. Her story was a little more complicated than that, but the Sunday School literature blamed it on makeup and jewelry.

But, still, be pretty. Be pretty and wait to get laid by your future husband, a man of god who will pick you to have his children and play his piano. The scrutiny of every detail of females’ appearance played into this culture of sexualization, even of children. Our only value was sexual; our sexuality was also our shame. What a twisted fucking message.

In defense of those males, except for that one who knew better, they were victims of the same culture. I doubt any of them gave a second thought to the things they said to the Bible college campus child-pet and would probably be horrified to have their words marked as predatory or even inappropriate. Who knows what they got out of it.

“A woman’s body always stands on the outskirts of town, verging on uncivilization. A thin paper gown is all that separates it from the wilderness. Half of its whole being is devoted to remembering how to live in the woods. This is why Witch, this is why Whore, this is why Unlucky and this is why Unclean. This is why attempts to govern the female body always have the feeling of a last resort, because the female body is fundamentally ungovernable.”   —from Priestdaddy, a memoir by Patrick Lockwood

Of all of the books I’ve read that I wish I had written, this is the one I wish I had written the most.

What’s Inappropriate, Again?

Fellow ex-Christian blogger Clay of Life After 40 shared an intriguing post today.  While his story is very different from my own, we have come to many of the same conclusions and followed somewhat similar paths.  (I previously shared his post called My Crazy Vasectomy Story).

I would like to pass on his current post:  Sex – Not an Appropriate Topic to give you the opportunity to follow along.

In case you’re wondering why anyone cares to write or read about sex, particularly from an ex-Christian perspective, I would sincerely say that I do not believe anyone escapes fundamentalism without sexual damage.  From childhood, normal sexual development is stunted and shamed.  Guilt, silence and fear are what sex is about, instead of pleasure and connection.  I think that is inappropriate.

While there are many bloggers and other writers who address the enormous difficulties LGBTQ people have coming out to Christian families, few speak directly to middle-aged vanilla-ish types who never learned to honor their own desires.

I am happy to be in good company.

Isolation

I’m thinking about isolation.  Not what you do on a Sunday morning? Just me?

Several recent conversations with my sisters and my mother have reminded me how isolated we all were from each other in years past.  The stage was set within our family for absolute obedience and we were a perfect storm of noncommunication.

Firstly, the cult of Pentecostalism required isolation from the world in general, effectively taking away any context for normality.  Intrinsic to that religious culture is the submission of women to men.  Women cannot hold positions of power or have a public voice.  Their submission must be evident in behavior and appearance.

But you know that.

Add in an ambitious, power-hungry, sexually frustrated narcissist on a mission from God with a public persona to protect and we have a family of women who were not allowed to talk to each other.  Not because we didn’t want to, but because we were forbidden and didn’t know how.

When crises came around, we were already in a state of silence.  By the time my teenage fallopian tube exploded (see Close Call for the story) and I was near death, we were all perfectly trained. All Dad had to say was do not speak and we didn’t.  Our silence went far beyond lying to church people who would judge him for having a wayward daughter.  He didn’t have to tell me not to speak.  I hadn’t spoken out loud in my family for years and was not about to start.

Mom knew I was sick but was not allowed to visit me in the hospital, nor to comfort me afterward.  Dad told my sister that Mom didn’t know what happened to me and not to tell her, so she didn’t.  My sister was the only person who spoke to me during my six weeks of recovery following surgery.  I sat home alone with no one to blame but myself. My other sister was told nothing at all.

Silence filled our home, the air too thick to breathe. Not one word was spoken between mother and daughters nor sister to sister about the fact that one of us had a tragic, terrifying, near-death experience.

Thirty-ish years later, with the threat of Dad’s wrath long gone, we talk.  Now we know what we were forced to deny.  Now we say the words.  Now we are free to love each other.  And breathe.

Dear Neglected Blog…

My book, The Uncomfortable Confessions of a Preacher’s Kid, is coming along, slowly but surely.  Turns out I had to learn how to write a book first.  Thanks to Cami Ostman and the writers of Memory to Memoir I have gained  invaluable support and feedback on this strange trip.

The recent surge of online truth telling, specifically the #MeToo, #ChurchToo, #RaptureAnxiety and #EmptythePews threads on Twitter have astounded me.  There are so many of us.  PTSD, anxiety and depression abound in the ex-evangelical community.  Seems like a good time to tell my story, even if it’s just another voice in the crowd.

If you have one, please tell yours, too.  One thing I have learned is to give myself permission to write it all down.  Edit later.  But get it out.  There isn’t anything that can’t be faced on the page.  Trauma, like evil, loses its power in the light.

Joy, Love, Peace and Merry Christmas,

Ronna

Tony says…