I just finished listening to a book called Post Traumatic Church Syndrome by Reba Riley. It was one of those books where you think, hmm, that sounds like me. I didn't really know what to expect, except for stories of how being raised in a church going household had caused trauma, or resulted in a lack of faith. It was something that I could relate to.
Reba had grown up in a family that were strong believers and she was the kind of kid who wore Christian t-shirts, prayed every night, a materialized in her mind. She was going to experience 30 religions before her 30th birthday.
Many thought she was crazy, her mom didn't understand, and she didn't always know what she was doing either. But it was a beautiful story of how she found herself and came to terms with the hurt she had suffered because of religion, giving her the ability to move forward.
I found Reba very easy to relate to. She has a chronic illness, church was life growing up, and she had to step away and find her own answers. I felt that if we sat down and chatted, we would have a lot of common ground. I enjoyed listening to her adventures and mishaps as she visited Mormon churches, synagogues, temples, met with monks, rabbis, atheists, mystics, Native Americans, and so on. Reba has kind of a twisted sense of humor that I could really relate to.
She took a deep dive into her beliefs, exploring how her past experiences had influenced her and how she had been consumed by anger. I was amazed and a bit jealous how things seemed to fall in place to bring her to a place of healing.
I have been curios about other religions for a long time, but have not had the energy to really learn about them, so my curiosity was piqued. I found myself also wanting to experience different religions and get to the heart of them, feeling certain that followers of all (well, ok at least the majority) are after the same thing.
But something else happened. And it scared me.
I found myself wanting to seek out God and seek out the way that I can connect to him. But as soon as I realized this, I quickly clamped the stone around my heart back down. Yes, at the moment I want to be angry at God. Though I'm no longer convinced that I am angry at God. I think I am angry at Christianity.
My mother found Jesus when I was young and we started to go to church with her. Our first church was a Methodist. There were some really lovely people, but there were quite a few old, set in their ways, judgmental people who were confined to a microscopic world view. As a teen we went to another church, the Wesleyan Church, and things were going well. I was part of a close knit youth group and kind of felt like I belonged somewhere.
But then, on youth Sunday as we were waiting for the service to start, we got word that our pastor had been arrested for prostitution and we were all shattered. We sat there in disbelief and sobbed. Soon after we got a new pastor, but we just couldn't really recover from that and the small church didn't last.
Weekly World News Jul 13, 1993, pg 37
Somehow we ended up at an Evangelical Free church where we stayed until I was out of college. Church was my whole world. I was part of the worship team, I was involved on the missions committee, I was part of youth group, even helping after I was out of school. I did mission trips, I prayed, I read the Bible, I stayed out of trouble, but I was empty.
I hate several experiences what were hurtful. I was not allowed to go on the second mission trip to Ukraine because I was overweight and the lady who was in charge didn't like it. I was called in to talk to the elders about the trip having no clue what was about to happen. I was ganged up and told that, basically, I was deficient and I couldn't go unless I lost weight and met the trip leader's standards.
These were men that I had known for years, who I admired and looked up to and they joined the rest of the world in berating me and telling me I wasn't good enough. I was crushed. There were many other things that happened, and by my early twenties I was in a terrible place. I was severely depressed and had lost my family. I couldn't trust anyone. And God, God let it all happen. I begged and pleaded and tried to believe more than I did, but I was just empty.
I am the kind of person who needs to feel things, and no matter what I did, I couldn't feel God. He was like the sun, a far off entity with whom I could not interact. I started to question things, to question authority. I wondered why I should just take for fact the words of a man who had hurt me, and who I saw use subtext and hidden messages in his sermon when he was unhappy with someone? Or any other person in the clergy for that matter.
I decided that I needed to learn things for myself and decided what felt right to me.
We started going to church less partly because of work, and these people who had been my family barely interacted with me any longer. We showed up at church one day to find that our mailbox had been removed and no one had even reached out to us. Our own cousin said it was difficult to know if we were just working or had quit coming.
I stopped going to church. I was sick of judgmental and false people. People who acted like they were better than me, people who instead of just throwing a Christmas card from a family member with whom they didn't get along away, returned it and ruined any chance of others trying to be a witness to them. I wanted nothing more to do with organized religion. I knew what I believed--Jesus said love one another--and I was not seeing the love.
I have not been to church for years. A few years ago I went with a group of former coworkers to see the daughter of one friend sing, and as soon as I walked in, I had a panic attack.
I had a great conversation with a friend yesterday and we talked about the book and some of our histories and she told me about her current practices. She gave me a set of oracle cards and I was amazed today when I drew three cards.
Past: Octavia Butler (imagining, planning, worrying about the future)
Present: Charlotte Perkins Gilman (oppression, what frees you, the systems at work)
Future: Peacock (splendor, the divine, craving)
I know some people will become alarmed when I talk about oracle cards. Oracle cards and tarot cards do not summon demons and they are not witchcraft. I look at it as a way to connect to the "Godiverse" as Reba Riley calls it. And also, may I have spirit guides? But today, looking at these cards, it fit. I spent my past imaging what my like could be "if", if I was thinner, if I was prettier, etc. I was constantly making plans to get there, but I could never make it happen and I ended up crying and worrying about the future and "knowing" that I would be alone and miserable.
Right now, I feel oppressed by work, by my environment, by some relationships and by my own body. I have been looking inwards to figure out what will free me and am focusing on improving my health, both mental and physical. I am breaking free from the old systems that have held me captive.
In the future, I can feel that I will have my own journey of discovery and find my truth, my way back to God. I see the splendor of a life fully lived, a soul and body that are flourishing.
Call it mumbo jumbo if you will. I don't ask you to take my truth as yours. You must find your own way to connect to God, Mother Earth, Allah, or whatever name you choose. We each walk a unique path, and no one religion is correct, rather they are different ways of connecting to one God.
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