What’s Different Here

Many religious bloggers try to tell you what to do and what to believe. I’m not religious, so I’m not interested in bossing people around.

I’ve spent a lot of time observing other people’s opinions on the subject of spiritual abuse and I have one thing to say: quite a few of them have the same belief system that I left behind.

Why is it that few people have taken to open up their minds to discard the negative, harmful beliefs that once enslaved us? Religious legalism and intellectual blindness is what entrapped us–made us continually subject to abuse. Of course, there are other components like mental coercion, violence, brainwashing tactics. But, the only way I’ve found to truly free myself of all those elements is to sort of empty out my mind from all the religious bullshit and start over with a clean slate. I started later to pick apart each element of belief slowly and thoughtfully, looking at it curiously and wondering why “they” taught me specific things. What did it do to benefit them? What did it do to oppress me? Or, was it helpful to me?

Most of it wasn’t helpful to me. It usually was a way of thinking that harmed me and oppressed me and didn’t allow me to be the unique individual I am.

What is it about leaving one church/cult that makes people want to start another religious movement? I’ve observed a lot of people on multiple online venues who’ve left cults like mine. Most of them have taken the role of “shepherd” and kinda try to pastor people. I really despise the role of pastor, so these people tend to annoy me more than anything.

What I’ve found is that a blogging platform can truly transform someone into nearly a televangelist type of fame, if that’s what you choose to gain from it. Yesterday, I was talking to a writers group and someone suggested I go on a lecture tour, talking about the ills of cults and how to inform parents. I told them I wanted nothing to do with the lecture circuit. I don’t want to be a spiritual guru, a guide for others to follow. And I don’t want to get paid for doing something like a pastor does.

I think each one of you is smart enough to figure out your own post-cult journey and I personally don’t want to force my beliefs onto you. I think the legalistic religious personalities of former cult members is sort of silly and dishonest with themselves. It’s just as ugly as what I left behind and I don’t want anything to do with it. I’m happy enough on my own, meshing together a path that leads many places–none of them more “right” than the other.

The Word “Offended”

I’ve been told I’m “hurt and offended” so many times since I started this blog.

I can’t even explain to you how “over” those words I am.

First of all, there’s nothing wrong with being hurt. Remember the first time your son or daughter came home from school and said to you, “Bobby pushed me down on the playground,” or “Susie made fun of the ribbon you made me?” You were offended, right? And your little daughter or son was hurt after falling on the playground. Maybe even bleeding.

Spiritual abuse causes wounds. They might be bruises, cuts, or deep oozing gashes. But, they’re still wounds. And wounds hurt.

Second of all, there’s this thing–this sickness—that’s only in the Christian community that takes a line like, “You’re hurt and offended. You need to get over it and move on. Stop dwelling on the past,” and makes it a curse; a condescending line to tell you they’re sick and tired of listening to you (or in fact, that they dismissed you after just a few seconds of listening), and that you’re a bad person.

In reality, the bad person isn’t YOU.

If you’re hurt, most likely, someone caused you deep pain, lied to you, and betrayed your trust. The human-to-human bond is broken, bruised or injured.

If you’re offended, it’s most likely that someone was out of line in the way they treated you. Perhaps they belittled you, bullied you, etc.

In most cases, the pastor or someone in direct authority has used their power to throw their weight around, figuratively slapping around a few people. They don’t give a damn who they hurt or how badly they hurt them. They won’t care unless that person starts detracting from their power and money (perhaps by detracting their followers).

I was sixteen years old when I was taught to look down upon those who were offended in church. My pastor taught me that. I believe he was wrong.

I also think grief comes and goes in waves. It may wreck your life for years, or altogether. Pain is sometimes so unbearable for people that they’re not able to move on from it. For someone in power to purposefully cause you pain and maliciously belittle you is wrong.

 

Questions:

Have you ever been dismissed by someone by being called “offended?”

Do you think being hurt and offended can be constructive for someone?

Leaving Master’s Commission: Practical Advice

A major problem for people leaving intense discipleship programs like Master’s Commission or Teen Mania (or any of a half dozen such programs) is that when they leave—whether it is good, bad or indifferent—they don’t know what to do. These programs gear you up for life in the program.

 

What happens when you leave?

If someone gets kicked out there are many feelings of guilt, inadequacies and failure that a person faces because they couldn’t “cut it.” They are often made to feel like an evil person, someone who had to be removed as a stain on the program. Many of these people have a difficult time adjusting to a normal life because of the sense that there is a stigma about them. If someone leaves at the end of the year and graduates, there are whole different sets of challenges that are faced.

 

The root of these roadblocks is that the programs are ill-equipped to equip people for life in the real world.

 

Too many leave to wander around trying to figure out what to do with the information they have learned and the experience of such an intense time frame. These programs often lead people to go in the opposite direction after they leave because it is impossible to replicate the same level of commitment in everyday life that is demanded of a person during the year.

 

So how does a person adjust to life and still maintain a relationship with God?

Establish Personal Convictions

First, establish personal convictions. This seems simple enough, however many of the “convictions” people have while in a program are not their own. Oftentimes, the rules of a program are adopted based on the relationship the director has with God. Because he wants to instill in his students the same ardent commitment to God that he has he projects these same convictions on to his students and expects them to adopt without question. These could be anything from types of movies or music to more serious life decisions. But most students don’t agree with everything. In fact some could argue that no student agrees with everything.

 

Our relationships with God are personal because God is personal. He approaches each person differently because he made each of us differently.  1 Corinthians 10:23, “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive.”  Also in verse 29, “…For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?” The freedom we have in Christ is total. The choices that are made are between the person and God and no one else.

 

Seasons of Life

Secondly, know that there are many seasons to life and not all of them will be like the one that was just left. Look at the history of any person and their life has peaks and valleys. The apostle Paul did many great things for God, but he was also thrown in prison and executed. No one does the same thing his or her whole life without some change. Praying for an hour everyday before you go to work may not be realistic if you have to be at work at four in the morning. The best way to have devotional time is when you are sharpest and most focused. The important thing to know is that God will not smite you if you only pray for 20 minutes one day and fall asleep reading your Bible. There may be another season in life with the opportunity to have the same or more of a devotional life is possible. When that happens jump on it. Just know that a continued relationship is one of commitment of heart and soul.

 

Marketable Skills

Finally, learn a marketable skill! This is something no discipleship program will teach. You cannot pay your bills or feed your family by doing human video’s and cool skits. A friend sent a text message the other day asking for prayer for him to find a job. He did not go to college, but spent years in Masters Commission and ministry. The funny thing about ministry is that it often fails to pay those who do it. That is why Paul made tents. This man is married with children and has to feed them, clothe them and keep the lights on. He was led to believe that if he stayed wholly devoted to God ministry would work out as his only occupation. This is not the case. The numbers of young people who enter a discipleship program with delusions of being employed full time in the ministry are grossly inordinate. Learning a trade, or getting an education is more important to future stability than is spending many years in a discipleship program. Some would say that this is a lack of faith. But 1 Timothy 5:8 says, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family he has denied the faith.”

 

Life outside of an intense discipleship program is not easy. But most of us will spend longer out of it than in it. If having a relationship with God is important to you then developing your own convictions, embracing new seasons and learning how to provide for a family are vital.

 

Preserving Your Faith

A few weeks ago, I came out and said I wasn’t a Christian anymore. Some of you still are a Christian, though, and life has taken you on a different path. I’d like to hear from you.

A good friend, Aaron Gates, told his story here. Aaron shared that he’s still a Christian but had some struggles after he left ministry feeling like he was mourning the loss of friends and the people in ministry that become his family. He also shared that his relationship with God had been formed on what he “had been taught and told and made to experience.”

Aaron entered a journey similar to my own, where he had to decide what he believed, and where he stood on the core issues of life; including where he stood with God.

You may not realize it now, but even in your moments of pain and hurt, you’re on a similar journey.You’re deciding what you believe in (or don’t believe in) and where you’re going to go from here in life.

Now for you to answer:

How has your journey begun, evolved and continued?

Do you still believe in God? If so, how has what you experience strengthened that relationship with God or perhaps allowed you to be more skeptical of that belief?

Did it cause you to be more skeptical of church? If so, what parts of church are still painful to you? Have you found one that you feel comfortable in, or are you still searching?

Who or what has helped you along this journey?

The End of Summertime

Summertime is ending (or has ended) for most of us. I’m looking forward to going back to school next week, because it’s generally a lot less stressful than most jobs. I’m also looking forward to continuing what I’ve started this week–a really heavy workout schedule. I’m starting to love it. It reminds me of high school (a whole 10 years ago!), when I used to play soccer and run cross country. Some summers our cross country team would drive up to the mountains, where the weather was cooler and our coach would drop us off 10-15 miles away from our destination–a German restaurant on top of the hill. From there, we’d do our best to run up and down hills in a higher elevation than we were used to. I was usually the slowest runner on the team, it being my first season, and that ended up being kind of cool because my coach, Mr. Dennis, would run to meet the last runner and coach us back.

Mr. Dennis was a world-class coach. He was very positive and made me feel like an Olympian just for finishing the 10 mile run without stopping. It was there that I started to love running–in those moments when Mr. Dennis would coach me, telling me how strong I was getting physically and mentally. He wasn’t in it for him, he was looking out for me. Pushing me to become stronger.

I miss those 10 mile runs, not because they’re easy but because I miss the coaching. My mind would be fighting me, telling me to stop because I was exhausted and all of a sudden, I’d see Mr. Dennis coming down the hill running to meet me. And then I was able to push through that mental block and finish pushing myself.

My summer was also filled with 5k’s and a long run from our desert town to the beach. Our team members each took turns running a few miles, for about 12 hours. When we were finished, we all took showers and grabbed dinner. I was exhausted, but it was that kind of training that made our team champions in many of our races. Being around great runners and great athletes made me cognizant of a mental fortitude we all have and we can all tap into. We all have it inside of us, and sometimes we just need to push ourselves and find what works.

We are all teachers and we are all students

“We are all teachers and we are all students.” My friend John shared this on his Facebook page Homeless Faith, which he describes as: “A place for those who have maintained their belief in a Higher Power, yet have no structured home to practice it.”

“We are all teachers and we are all students.” My friend John shared this on his Facebook page Homeless Faith, which he describes as: “A place for those who have maintained their belief in a Higher Power, yet have no structured home to practice it.” Although I haven’t maintained a belief in a Higher Power, so many of my good friends have and they are searching for answers, mostly because Christian beliefs have had us trained that there are answers. Instead, I think there are journeys we can take and paths we can wander down, bits and pieces we can learn from as life takes us through dark moments and happier days, and people and places we can connect with. No one is your guru, your teacher, your leader. No one rules over you anymore. Like John said, we are ALL teachers and we are all students. We learn from each other and we teach each other.

Let’s Talk About Sex, Baby

If there’s one thing churches/religion universally control it’s sex and sexuality.

Sexual identity is formulated based upon a patriarchal (and religious) world view. Or is all patriarchy formed from religion? Mary Daly is right to say that our idea of God “the Father” creates an idea of fathers and males as God. She also says that the categories of heterosexuality and homosexuality are classifications based on patriarchy. 

If this is true and if we live in world of patriarchal religion, then women who are comfortable expressing their sexuality in a way that isn’t necessary reliant on men’s power or satisfaction are easily demonized. Doesn’t this date back to the witch hunting days? It’s easy to demonize anyone who varies the “norm.”

One thing being in a cult taught me is that men are not all powerful. The minute you decide to possess your own mind, you can be an enlightened woman. Or if you are a man who lives outside the gender norms (maybe you’re kind and gentle instead of tough and aggressive), you don’t have to be suppressed by an idea of the “manly man” being the only version of what a man is. In a non-patriarchal belief structure, people who vary from the “norms” have an important place.

I’ve found sex and sexuality are an important place to liberate ourselves and our identities, post-cult. A lot of us spend very important time discovering what sex is, and how we can enjoy it. Most people who remain closely tied to church, post-cult don’t seem to have the same liberties in regards to sex. A lot of women I’ve heard from or read about (who are still religious, or who were deeply entrenched in a patriarchal marriage) have varying degrees of associations with rape and sex (even in marriage). It’s easy to feel that way, if you still embrace the idea that men are the head of the household and women who are sexually liberated are witches. Regardless of where that belief stems from, it’s an imprisoning system of belief. It’s not a fact. It can be destroyed and deconstructed with time and upon a deeper examination of the root of that belief.

Instead of acting modest and covering myself up, I’m now able to be comfortable with sex, the idea of sex, and wanting sex. I embrace the irony of the religious label of “witch” and act freely. I also am fully conscious of the fact that the church and the religious want to CONTROL SEX and what is deemed appropriate when it comes to sex. If in fact they control it, then they have power over our lives. The church has exerted its power over sex for hundreds of years because we have let it. We haven’t enlightened ourselves and we haven’t taken responsibility for our minds and bodies. Take back your mind and your body from the church and celebrate it with sex.

Or you can choose guilt, the one thing the church implants in your mind.

Life Isn’t a Bed of Roses

The thing about life is, you have to accept it eventually. Accepting life as it is is what makes us happy. Sometimes you have to be older to figure that out. When you’re younger you try to change people and change what’s given to you, my Mom said as we drove home from Shafter yesterday morning. When we just accept life as it is and accept people, we can truly be happy.

I am not completely sure I understand what that means, but my mother sure does. She knows a lot about the meaning of life. She knows all the right things to say and she gives me a lot of courage to keep plowing through the hard shit that keeps coming my way. We all know that life gives us a lot of tough shit to get through and I’ve been no stranger to that.

I’ve always been one to try to change life and try to change people who are in my life. I thought if only my parents would change and stop fighting, life would be good. Or if my dad stopped nagging at me about how much makeup I wore or that I was drenched in perfume, things would be more pleasant. And maybe they would’ve been. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to accept my parents for who they are and realize that it’s okay for them to be who they are. We’ve all kind of relaxed into our lives and our familial roles and we’re quite comfortable together. We get along well. We love each other.

I suppose that life is just about essentially dealing with terrible circumstances that are sometimes given to us. It’s not that we have to have an awesome attitude about it, like I was once taught in Christianity. I think that’s bullshit. Forget having a great attitude and smiling in the rain and just get through it alive. I think that if you can just get through the problem without killing yourself, then you’re doing pretty awesome. Fuck all that smiley-happy-people nonsense and just stay above water.

Life isn’t a bed of roses. Life is sometimes a “shit sandwich.” Sometimes people die or sometimes tragedy befalls us without any rhyme or reason.

That doesn’t mean, as Christianity would like to teach you, that you’ve done something wrong or you’re not blessed. It’s just a fact of life–different circumstances, many times outside of our control, can fuck things up and leave us with tragedy or pain to deal with. It’s not always something we can control or change. Sometimes we just have to accept the shit we’re given and work through it.

Grilling: It’s a Man’s Job

I wasn’t raised with a man grilling food for me. My mom did all the cooking–and is a damn good cook, at that. She can grill a mean steak. The kind that will come up and bite you in the ass. Just kidding…Bad joke. Anyway, somewhere I got the idea that grilling was a man’s job. I’m sure I can pinpoint where that idea came from–Christianity and the fact that I was a Reverend in the South for a number of years. So sometimes (recently) I’d pretend that I couldn’t grill meat because I thought a boy should do it. Not to mention, the thought of hauling a heavy ass propane tank up the hill to my house sounds like a pain in the ass. And the five minutes it’ll take me to figure out how to unhook the old one and rehook the new one? Ugh. Total boys job.

I’m not working at the moment, so my days are filled with leisure and the most awesome shit ever–swimming, reading, Facebooking, sleeping. And, of course, eating. When I’m busy working, I usually get fast food or frozen dinners. My kitchen is tiny and so is my fridge. I don’t have much of a choice. But lately, since I’m at home a lot and often in my pajamas or bra-less, I don’t want to leave–even if it is to go through a drive-thru. So I decided to “man up” (insert LOL here) and learn to grill. Fortunately, I learned you should marinate a steak from my mom and sister, who are both pretty awesome at grilling. You can even use some Worcestershire sauce which is in my budget (cheap). Yesterday, I decided to go get some meats. Steaks and hamburger meat. My steak turned out pretty incredible and so did my corn on the cob. So, with some success, I decided to work my magic on our propane grill and hamburgers. Even though I smashed the burgers too soon and some of the meat got stuck to the grill because of it, and even though my burgers initially fell apart cuz I flipped them too much, I have to admit they turned out incredible. They tasted so great that I’m going to go ahead and give myself a pat on the back for being so “manly” (a joke to the South) and being such an incredible cook.