I pondered whether or not to write this. This blog isn't technically anonymous, since it would be easy to figure out who I am given what information I've offered. However, I'm a realist: maybe a handful of people will read this post, and probably that will include no one I know. At the same time, yep, it's the internet, so I will only post things I would be OK with other people seeing. Back and forth, back and forth, etc, etc.
What changed my mind? Simply this: I have read so many bloggers journeys out of various kinds of fundamentalist Christianity, most of them from more "extreme" versions than what I grew up with. However, their stories were similar enough to be profoundly helpful and healing for me. So this is for the one random person that lights on this blog long enough to read this and hope, and pray, and dream, that maybe God isn't a monster.
For that one person, whoever you are, you should know this first and foremost: you have a right to your own thoughts and feelings. You may be so afraid of committing the "unforgivable sin" that you are paralyzed, unable to acknowledge the anger and hurt from your past. You may have been shut down by family and friends whenever you expressed doubts about theology or ideas, and you may have been exhorted not to "throw out the baby with the bathwater" more times than you can count. Even opening a Bible or walking into a church may cause a full-blown panic attack. If so, please do yourself a favor and consider the following: all you have to do today is survive. If staying home from church is what you need to do to survive, then that's what you need to do. If you need to stay away from Christian books and podcasts and blogs and bookstores (gah, those are the worst), then try to understand that survival is good, and any action you take towards survival is good. And anyone who tells you otherwise is full of shit.
Now, where was I?
Oh yes, surviving. Here's what I did to survive:
A. Didn't go to the Calvinist college I'd dreamed of and went to a nominally Christian liberal arts school that didn't have mandatory chapel, dress codes, etc.
B. Didn't go to church much during the first year of college, partly for practical reasons (I didn't have a car), and partly because church was still a nightmare for me.
C. Decided to leave a small church in my denomination (which I started attending while in college) because I noticed cult-like tendencies amongst the congregation. Thinking back, this was the real turning point, because I decided that emotional safety was more important than denominational/ doctrinal purity. I'll come back to that, because it's huge.
D. Delayed joining the Episcopal Church (which I'm now a member of) because I needed time to figure out who I am, what I think/ believe, where God wanted me to be, and what the safest place for me was. (I'll talk about the concept of safety later. Safety can be a dirty word in Christian circles, and there's a lot of misunderstanding about safety, boundaries, etc, especially in the more fundamentalist groups).
E. Decided to join the Episcopal Church even though I'm not 100% on board with everything the church does. Again, doctrinal purity is no longer my number one priority.
F. Attended a different church from my husband. My husband is training to be an Episcopal priest, and we go to different churches. We didn't plan it that way - I just happened to find a church that I fell in love with, and he was already working at a different parish that is a lot farther off. I went through a lot of post-patriarchal angst about being at a different church from my husband, but he thought it was a jolly plan, and now I do too. Sure, sometimes scheduling can be tricky, but it has given me the time and space I needed to develop spiritually outside of the "priest wife" role.
G. Explored. My story would be a lot different without the internet, because without it I might never have encountered Catholic spirituality, fundamentalist recovery blogs, the sermons of George MacDonald, and other resources that have been crucial in my development. So cheers to the information age! It's got a lot of flaws, but it's also done a lot of good.
I'll get back to my actual story on another day. It involves Calvinism, Southern Baptists, Pentecostals, and some tangental connections to Bill Gothard and sundry, so you know it'll be good. :)