Friday, July 25, 2014

What it's Like to Despair

This is for every person with mental illness. This is for every person who draws her own blood to find release. This is for every person who can't trust themselves around a gun, who has pushed her face in a pillow because "maybe suffocation won't hurt." You are beautiful and smart and worthwhile, but you have to believe that yourself. Unfortunately, my words aren't enough, and I get that. Some day you'll understand. Keep your head up.

Before I checked into a behavioral health facility, everything I was ever taught turned against me, like knives in my mind. At last, I decided that a real knife could end the train of thoughts. But I couldn't get the guts to cut the skin. I ridiculed myself for that, too. 

What an idiot. What a worthless piece of garbage. It's a wonder anyone puts up with you. The only reason you're still married is because he pities you. No wonder you haven't made new friends yet. No wonder you don't have a job yet. What moron would hire you? Who would take a chance on you after what happened last year? 

My husband and I decided to check me into Coastal Harbor adult inpatient program. I went to the group therapy Monday morning, but I quickly dissolved into tears and panic. I got through the intake at Coastal in a haze, and with reluctance I gave up my wedding rings and prayer beads. Later that day, I gave up my underwire bra and had the strings cut out of my yoga pants. That night I cut my meat with a plastic spoon. It's the ultimate disarmament. 

Problem is, that only works for so long. Eventually, you have to go back to the real world of steak knives and shoe laces. That's why you have to disarm your own mind. 

When you're mentally ill, your mind is your most deadly weapon. 

Sometimes, religion is a damn good knife sharpener. In my case, it provided the damn ammo. Somehow, I don't think that's the sword Christ promised to bring. 

Growing up, we ridiculed the concept of self-esteem. What morons these worldly moderns were! What a great lie Satan fed them, that they needed even more pride! Thank goodness that, by the grace of God alone, we were free from that lie. We knew the truth, that our hearts were black with sin, that Jesus died "for such a worm as I!" 

Irony was not, perhaps, our strong suit. 

I learned a lot at Coastal, like putting ice cubes in the hot coffee so you can chug it during breakfast and actually get to drink it. But mostly I just deprogrammed. I sat on the benches outside during smoke break, staring at the Spanish moss draped across the oak trees over the roof, and bathed in the love of God. And I asked God to forgive me. I saw how much it pained Him when I tear myself apart. 

One time, my therapist asked me the criteria for worth. What does it take for a person to deserve to live? I answered automatically, "Everyone. Everyone deserves life, no matter their age or mental capacity or health." 

She looked at me and asked, "What makes you so different?" 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Catholics, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Fundies

I've noticed an unnerving trend. It seems that many of the cultural and theological positions from fundamentalist and evangelical Protestant cultures are seeping into the more conservative Catholic circles. Many of the "hot topics" on Catholic blogs (such as veiling, skirts vs. pants, homeschooling, wifely submission, purity rings, etc) are just borrowed from fundies. For as long as I can remember, certain Protestant women have been homeschooling their large families while wearing ankle-length denim skirts, never cutting their hair, frequenting health food stores, and having babies at home. (One movie says that "health food stores are where the lives of fundamentalists and liberal hippies intersect.") The extreme end of the spectrum are the folks who do "home church" (because they can't find a church that's pure enough for them) and who keep their daughters at home instead of letting them go to college.

Obviously, Catholics won't be having church at home; there's that pesky Mass obligation, and the entire idea of Catholicism centers around the altar, not the home. And yet, I see more and more Catholic bloggers talking like fundy Protestants. Ironically, the more "traditional" Catholics are more likely to look like Protestants.

I'm honestly baffled by this. For someone who breathes a sigh of relief every morning because I'm not in that subculture anymore, I can't imagine why someone would willingly put themselves there - especially a Catholic. When you've got the intellectual backdrop of Augustine, Aquinas, Francis de Sales, Theresa de Avila, John Henry Newman, et all, why would you need the advice of folks like the Pearls, Voddie Baucham, Eric and Leslie Ludy, and Joshua Harris?

Because let's be clear. That whole "emotional purity," parent-lead courtship, "you are your virginity," cups filled with spit image of sexuality? Not Catholic. Eschewing vaccines? Not Catholic. "Full time head-covering" and measuring one's virtue by the length of one's skirt? Not Catholic. Proudly proclaiming that you've never worked outside the home and wanting the same for your daughters? Not Catholic.

But nothing scares me more than the adoption of "wifely submission." Even the old-time Catholics don't come close to the paralysis that defines fundamentalist womanhood. The conservative Protestant image of a woman is much closer to Victorianism than Christianity, and it leads to toxic places. If you've never seen the video of John Piper's talk on women with abusive husbands, this should be eye-opening. Catholics, this is where "submission" leads: to silent acquiescence of abuse. Men, be on guard: this thought process leads to a weak version of "manhood" that can't tolerate a strong, healthy wife. In Piper's mind, the central issue of domestic violence is the woman's "crisis of submission," not her safety, and she might even need to endure being smacked around for a night as long as it's "not causing her to sin."

(Note: this man is well-regarded in certain circles. Growing up as a Calvinist, he was one of our hallowed authors along with R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Elizabeth Elliot, Francis Schaeffer and JI Packer. My respect for him evaporated after watching this video, but sadly he is still highly influential).

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Dreaming of church without sermons

What is the purpose of church?

Worship? Fellowship? Prayer?

Let's call it a communal experience of the Divine.

The Church has found that experience in the Eucharist, by eating and drinking the Son of God, by uniting our souls and bodies to every generation of Christians past, present, and future, and uniting us to the death and resurrection of Christ. It is the miracle supreme, the pinnacle of existence until we get to heaven.

Over time, the Eucharist was built up by augmentations: by certain prayers and songs and readings. Lectionaries were developed. We found ways to pray for those whom we forget about in our individual prayers. Brilliant means of worship through song were written, from chant to instrumental music to hymnody to Psalters. An exuberant, overflowing, overwhelming ecstasy of experience that transcends time and space.

OK, so most of the time it doesn't feel that way - the choir is off-key, you were up all night with the baby, you and your spouse fought on the way over and struggle to make it to the Peace. But when you take the bread and wine, no matter how you feel, the reality remains.

Can anyone tell me what the sermon adds to this?

I know that sermons were not a Reformation invention, but during the Reformation they were elevated to preeminence. As a Presbyterian, I was taught that the pulpit is the most important furniture in the church, because of the centrality of proclaiming the Word. And by proclaiming the Word, they didn't mean reading the Gospel; they meant having a 20-30 minute sermon on a text selected by the pastor, not by a lectionary. When you take out the altar and the sacrifice of Mass, a man's words (and it was always a man) become the focus. (Similarly, when you remove the offering of the bread and wine, the offertory is just a money-making opportunity, but that's another story).

Granted, the Anglican and Catholic and Eastern Orthodox and (some) Lutheran churches retained their altars and Eucharists. However, there are still sermons or homilies. The Episcopal Book of Common Prayer doesn't even allow for its removal at the priest's discretion: the rubrics call for a sermon, full stop. That said, most daily Eucharistic services ignore this, or they simply read a brief piece on a saint's day, but Sundays always have sermons.

(Do Catholics have the option of omitting the sermon/ homily?)

Now, most people probably like sermons. They see it as a time to learn something, to be reminded of God's love, to be convicted or enlightened. They may fidget if the time goes over, or the priest has a verbal tic, but even poor homilies are taken in stride, a given, as expected as the Amen after a prayer.

However, for some of us, sermons are minefields. When visiting new parishes or listening to a guest preacher, we tense and clench our fingers, waiting for trigger words. We try to disassociate, or we fixate on the words so intensely, hoping to remove the shock of surprise.

God is not tame. We have a wild God. 

We are at war, and every one of us is a soldier. 

You have no choice. 

Who are you to talk back to God? Who are you to say He is unfair to exercise His holy will? 

When you die, what will you say when God asks "Why should I let you into my heaven?" 

Do you know where you'll go when you die? 

If you were to stop breathing this second, would you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you wouldn't be in hell? 

Love the sinner, hate the sin. 

Every non-Christian knows the verse "Judge not." Well, won't they get a surprise at the Great White Throne of Judgement! 

You are either with us or against us. 

Those people who abort babies are the same ones who don't believe in spankings. Guess a belt is worse than death. 

When you don't share the Gospel with your neighbor, you sentence them to Hell.

God is a God of love, but He is also holy. He cannot look upon sin, and His wrath must be satisfied. 

God doesn't see any difference in sin. Sin is sin, and the lustful thought you had is the same in God's eyes as the sins of a child molester. 


It's not always this bad. In the Episcopal church, it rarely is. But after a lifetime of damaging sermons, it doesn't take much to trigger a panic attack. And guess what you miss then? Yep, the Eucharist, the whole reason you came.

Some of these damaging notions are heretical by most standards, but sometimes even technically correct notions are delivered in damaging ways. Humans aren't perfect, especially when they have to come up with "original" sermon ideas 52 weeks a year plus major feasts.

So, what's the trade-off? Those with religiously-influenced PTSD and traumatic experiences can stay for the Eucharist, but we may have to attend Sunday school or a formation group for Christian ed. In which case, isn't small group education better anyway? What, really, is the purpose of a sermon, since it's about a man talking to the congregation rather than the congregation and priest having conversation with God?