Are You My Enemy?

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Olivia Greenpine-Wood’s blog, When Settles The Dust. It was originally published on July 17th, 2015.

Imagine that you are growing up in a culture that believes it is fighting a war. From infancy you are taught the dangers of the enemy. You are taught what you must look out for and what you must say. You are taught what you must be aware of and from a child you are taught to be a good soldier. You are taught to be brave and to fight the good fight. You are taught that if need be you should even be willing to die for your cause. You are taught that all outsiders are against your cause. That those who don’t believe as you do would seek to overthrow all you hold dear and do great harm to all of you. Your culture must be defended at all costs.

Time goes on and you grow older. You prepare yourself for battle and you dream of your first encounter. Oh, how you will vanquish your foes when you finally meet in glorious combat! Oh, the acclaim you will win for the cause! And finally you venture forth shakily brandishing your rhetoric only to find that no army awaits. You try to convince yourself that a few encounters with strangers were skirmishes but as time goes on you realize that the most hostile participant was yourself. You are stymied. You expected to find an army in grand array but instead you found a civilization of people. People who loved and laughed and cried and lived freely.

And after sometime you begin to accept that this is real. And you begin to wonder and hope. Maybe you, too, can live this free life. Maybe you can lay down your weapons. Maybe you can live without fear of attack. Your spirits lift. You begin to feel joy. You want to rush home and tell your family and friends and community the wonderful news. There is no war. You don’t have to fight. You can be free. But if you tell them suddenly you become everything they have prepared all their lives to defend themselves from. You become the outsider who would tear them down and who seeks to destroy them.

You become the enemy.

But all you wanted for them was freedom and the peace of knowing that they don’t have to fight.

Can you imagine this? If you can then maybe you can understand a little bit of what it is like to convert to atheism (or simply relax your views a bit more than is “acceptable”) after growing up in a conservative religious environment. Maybe you can understand the nausea and pain and fear of those who leave their faiths but cannot retain relationships with those they love and care about. Some persons who leave behind a deeply religious faith face actual physical danger. Others face only the opposition of attitude and perception but don’t underestimate the power of attitude.

It hurts to realize that you are now the nightmare about which people tell their children.

It hurts to realize that suddenly your point of view has become invalid because you disagree on theology. Suddenly you are a non-entity. Everything you do or say has become suspect. Your actions will be judged based on the new perception that you are enemy and no longer based on who you are.

It hurts.

If there were a Hell this is what it would feel like.

My Life as an Unmarried Woman Among Fundamentalists: Katia’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

Scripture talks about the great sower sowing the seed of the word of God.

When I look at my journey away from fundamentalism, I see that same sower preparing the soil of my heart in preparation for that “lightbulb” event that set me free from fundamentalism.

The great sower began preparing the soil of my heart before I was born.

On Mom’s side, I am descended from Anabaptists, Quakers, and other free thinkers. Mom grew up in a Grace Brethren church that encouraged its members to study the Bible, and when she became an adult, she did. The more she studied scripture, the less she wanted to go to church.

On Dad’s side, most of the fathers were either absent, sick, or died young. Both his maternal grandparents were illegitimate, a fact his mother concealed. Eight years after her death, I learned the truth, and it helped set me free from the purity culture.

How could I breathe fire on fornication when I would not have been born had it not been for fornication?

In addition, the story of how my paternal grandmother’s paternal grandmother basically died of a broken heart after the father of her baby paid a fine and fled seized my heart and has not let go.

Mom and Dad were engaged the day Jim Jones murdered* hundreds of his followers in Guyana. In processing the tragedy, Mom noticed how Jim Jones’ followers had blindly followed him and decided that it was dangerous to blindly follow religious authority. Partially as a result, I grew up knowing that it was okay to question religious authority.

As I grew up, I began dislike religious authority aside from the knowledge that it was okay to question them. The pastors I knew were heartless, arrogant, lazy, fake, and distant. They only seemed to care for us if they wanted something. Dad is a genius with his hands, and the only time any of the “men” in the churches he attended took any notice of him was to get him to do something.

Growing up, my family never fit in church and the homeschool community because Dad is not a leader and was not involved with my brothers and I spiritually or educationally. I desperately wanted to fit in, to belong. Besides, the outside world scared me.

According to everything I heard and saw from the religious community, the only way for a woman to do that was to be a wife and mother.

And being a wife and mother would protect me from that scary world.

The year I turned 18, my older brother left the GARBC Baptist church my family was part of, and I followed him to his new church. Then Mom left the GARBC Baptist church, and Dad refused to attend without her. Several weeks later, a series of circumstances forced older brother to work on Sundays. Without a driver’s license, I had no way to attend church.

Even when I did get my driver’s license nearly a year later, I refused to attend church because I did not think organized religion was Biblical and I was hurting from previous bad church experiences. For three years, I refused to attend church.

In those three years, without me realizing it, an amazing thing happened.

My walk with Christ became something I wanted to do, vs something I was expected to do. My faith grew far more in those three years than the 18 before them.

A desire to be part of a community drove me back to church.

In the years that followed, I had one bad church experience after another.

In addition, I was struggling to find a career and live the unexpected life of autism, singleness and childlessness. During that time, without me realizing it, God was releasing fundamentalism’s grip on me.

Finally, in 2010, I asked God in desperation to either give me a husband or make me content to be single.

God gave me contentment to be single and much more. Via J Lee Grady’s books 10 Lies the Church Tells Women and 25 Tough Questions About Women and the Church I was introduced to the egalitarian truth along with some blogs God put into my path. Because of God’s careful preparation of my heart, it was truth I joyfully received.

Yet I was not fully convinced.

Every year, I read through my one year Bible. At the beginning of 2011, I decided to write down every reference I could find regarding women to see what the Bible really said about women. On July 29, 2011, I read Rom 11:29: “For the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable”. The verse hit me like a rock between the eyes. I had seen how some women had the gifts of teaching and leadership while some men did not.

That verse showed me that God would never give a woman gifts and callings he did not expect her to use.

I felt like a bird set free.

I was every bit as valuable to God as a single, childless woman as a married with children woman!

I had a voice in the church and could be a church leader! It was okay to be assertive and independent!

Later in 2011 I said my final goodbye to organized religion. I could not find it in scripture and could not endure feeling like a freak and misfit in church because of being single, childless, and autistic.

Today Christ and women’s equality are my top passions in life. I still suffer from the scars of fundamentalism, but they are nothing compared to what family members and others are suffering from it.

Despite the struggles, I have much to be grateful for.

One of those blessings is being set free from fundamentalism.

*Contrary to popular belief, most of those who died at Jonestown were murdered and did not deliberately commit suicide.

The Warrior: Drew’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Drew” is a pseudonym.

My lightbulb moment was more of a straw moment. The straw that broke this camel’s back. As a part of a homeschooling/fundamentalist group for my entire life, I had already gone through a lot of things that shook up my worldview: church-splits, friends who had been abused, bitterness and judgement from people I felt I should trust, and crumbling fundamentalism in the face of good questions from non-fundamentalist friends. Many of these things have been talked about at length elsewhere. So I just want to cover one thing: the moment where it all sort of snapped into place for me.

I was in church one day and the band played a new-ish song. I had been in services when they played it before, but hadn’t paid attention. Suddenly though, everything seemed to slow down as I took in the lyrics.

“Your hand shall find out every foe
And as a fiery furnace glows
With raging heat and living coals
They will feel your wrath upon their souls

Oh the warrior will conquer all

The world will fall before His feet.”

I looked around the room. I saw my fellow church-goers raising their hands, closing their eyes, swaying to the music, looks of joy on their faces.

And I just didn’t get it.

Why would we celebrate this? Why would we celebrate the fact that God is going to totally obliterate people who don’t believe in the same stuff we do?

The congregation’s celebratory response to this vengeful, violent message nauseated me.

I realized that this song represented two beliefs that had been major players in the community where I had spent my life.

  1. You should fear and/or despise people who disagree with you. In fact, you should do your best to stay away from places where you could encounter them (avoid public school, secular art, or making friends with non-Christians).
  2. You can rest assured that the lost will meet the horrible fate they deserve. In fact, you are even allowed to be a little smug about it sometimes (as long as you are usually sad about it).

I almost instantly realized I didn’t buy into that fearful and bitter worldview anymore.

In college, I had started to meet people and make friends who were not fundamentalist Christians (or even Christians at all). They were wonderful people, and I didn’t want to be part of a culture that pushed them away or just tried to shove a belief-system down their throats.

In that moment, I knew I needed to step back from the fundamentalist Christian homeschooling circles I had run in for so long and start looking for a worldview that made room for nuance, open-mindedness, and graciousness.

I consider the search for this new worldview to be ongoing- an awesome journey that takes me further and further away from that room where people are celebrating The Warrior.

What Fundamentalism Taught Me About Being a Good Mom: Evie’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Evie” is a pseudonym.

After becoming a new mom, I have been realizing how many bad mom- good mom rules have been thoroughly ingrained into my being because of my fundamentalist upbringing – whether intentionally or unintentionally. While some of these are complete foolishness, I can see the love but misunderstanding that many of these started with.

Yes, I have taken many of them to the extreme to emphasize my point- but I feel like many of the beliefs were extreme, and although very few people actually stated them verbatim the undercurrent of the messages was definitely present. This realization led me to compile the list below.

I’d love to hear what others remember and realized.

GOOD MOM

Looked good/attractive – did not cause her husband to have an affair/use porn
• Always responsive and available for her husband
• Soft, submissive, gentle
• Cooked from scratch as close to nature as possible (i.e. garden, grind wheat for bread)
• Kept house clean
• Dutifully taught kids’ school. If she didn’t know the subject she was teaching, spent her time reading ahead to learn it.
Only needed college education so that she could teach her children better – [and, really, is that a good investment of money?]
• Didn’t spend money on herself or her family [all the way down to groceries] so that she didn’t stress her husband – the sole breadwinner.
• Didn’t cost anything and, instead, found a way to make money while staying at home.
• Got up early and went to bed late to take care of her family.
• Quietly agreed with everything
• Never missed church
Only had one emotion – joy
• Just a tiny bit less intelligent than her husband and never “rubbed it in” [accidentally let it slip that she might know something]
• Did not run for any leadership position – unless it was only females
Was careful to phrase everything she said so that she didn’t accidentally teach a man anything

BAD MOM

• Made her children eat “unhealthy” [not home cooked] because she was lazy.
• Let her body go
• Looked overly feminine
Sent her children to organizations where they would be abused or indoctrinated (i.e. daycare, regular church)
• Did not properly protect her children and let them get abused
• Allowed their daughters to get raped
• Spent money on “expensive” [new/ good quality] clothes.
Was too busy to take “care” [always be in the physical presence] of her children
• Had a dirty house
• Was confident and competent in the workplace
• Worked for any other reason other than her husband left her or died [in which case she would be pitied]
• Had an opinion on anything other than the appropriate church doctrine
• Disagreed
Had personal boundaries
• Became exhausted (because she wasn’t trusting God” – who will give you the strength you need to do what He [aka the men and/or church] needed you to do)
Struggled with depression or mental illness
• Was smarter in anything than her husband
• Sought intelligence (although this was ok as long as she didn’t learn more about anything than husband because this would be prideful)

The Dawning of Day: Gary’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Gary” is a pseudonym.

I like to think of my awakening as the sun rising rather than a light bulb being turned on.
I think of my awakening in this way for several reasons.

First, because it wasn’t one moment in time I can pick out that changed it all, no one event or interaction. It was instead a dawning, a slow realization spread out over the space of about 14 years.

Second, because it is not some small illumination that can be broken or switched off again, but rather an all-encompassing, earth warming, life giving blast furnace of truth that rises into the sky.

Third, because it starts small, from total darkness. I was stumbling, groping in the dark, blind, being tripped up by things I could not see.

Then comes the faintest of glows, far off, or, if you face away from the sunrise, you see first faint outlines of objects, the slightest differentiation of light from dark, form as different than the formless, the earth from the sky.

Little by little the light grows; the things I stumbled on in the darkness are shown to be small stones easily avoided…..now that I can see them for what they really are.

Did it start the day I realized, while reading my father’s old psychology textbook, that my father had been intentionally manipulating us children with Pavlov and Freud based tricks? That he KNEW what he was doing? That his bizarre behavior was not just him “being crazy” but was based off actual theories and practices he had studied in University?

That he was intentionally and with malice trying to make us children afraid of the outside world using psychological manipulation?

That when he spoke of how everyone but himself were “sheep” that could be so easily manipulated he was including myself and my siblings in that number?

Did it start when I realized at age 15 that I was the intellectual equal to my father? That I wasn’t an “idiot” or a “simpleton” as he so frequently told me but rather on par with him in every way? That he could not come up with a single form of manipulation, a single trick, that I did not see through like a pain of glass?

Was it at the age of 20, sitting in the seats of a prominent fundamentalist College and hearing raw hatred spewed from the pulpit day after day after day?

Hatred for Catholics, hatred for LGBTQ people, (thinly veiled) hatred for other races, and thinking…..”these people are crazy”….not just average crazy, but completely, 100%, to the very core, crazy. Dangerous crazy. Wild eyed, clenched teeth, foaming at the mouth NUTS, that they WANT the apocalypse to happen, desire it with a rabid hunger and dream about the end of the world like a little kid dreaming about going to Disney World.

Was it at the age of 21-22 when I started reading actual science textbooks and articles for the very first time and realized that there was no global conspiracy of scientists working to cover up the modern day existence of living dinosaurs left over from the flood?

That the Loch Ness monster wasn’t real? That even other Christians believed in evolution? That the “scientific truth” I had been taught was the collective fantasies of just a handful of complete crackpots who had absolutely zero credibility?

Was it at the age of 23, hearing Neil Young’s “Keep on Rocking In the Free World” on the radio, and hearing for the first time the lines: “…so she puts the kid away and she’s gone to get a hit, she hates her life and what she’s done to it, that’s one more kid who’ll never get to go to school, never get to fall in love, never get to be cool…” and realizing so very clearly that I was essentially that child?

That my parents’ addiction to the sense of superiority they got from radical fundamentalism was more important to them than my chance to have any semblance of a normal or happy childhood?

That they were juicing up with “hits” of radical ideology and paranoia as fervently and regularly as any addict? That all else, every other thing in the world, including the health and mental well-being of their children, would always come second to their need to feel superior?

I can’t pick a single instance when I woke up completely, but I can clearly see the end result.

A stronger, more educated, clear headed, less fearful human being.
A person no longer groping in the darkness.
A person striding ahead into future, the path ahead finally illuminated, not by light bulbs, not by candles, but by the all-encompassing light of day.

Lightbulb Moments: Small Glimpses, Part 2

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

 

Some of us, when thinking about our “lightbulb moments”, didn’t have long stories to tell. Maybe there wasn’t an exact moment we could pin-point. Maybe it was one, very simple event. Maybe it was a decade of dominoes, falling one by one, each knocking over another piece of our former belief systems. We compiled some of these comments here, no less important stories merely due to brevity. Small glimpses into the journeys of the people who told them.

Continued from Part 1

 

Levi: 

I was struggling with depression and looking for answers, so [a friend] took me out to lunch. He was the first person who understood when I told him my background. He was able, in a very gentle, kind-hearted way, to cut right to what my doubts were. “The problem with ATI and the Basic Seminar, Levi, is that in that system you would never have to have an intelligent thought for yourself. You just ask the next authority what to do and never do any thinking for yourself.” That statement was the beginning of the end for me.

 

Katrina:

I asked one PCA pastor some questions about communion and Sunday services not being in the Bible. He said, “Oh, we made it up.” And I could accept that because there is something calming and safe about an organized time to grieve, which is what services were for me. Then I asked other pastors later and they bullshitted about how I just didn’t understand and their way was in the bible.

If it’s honest, self-awareness that church is made up of, then I can participate and get something out of it. If the leaders are bullshitting themselves that their way is prescribed in an ancient, divine book, then I can’t participate.

 

Mary:

When Debi Pearl spoke of their daughter, Rebekah, it was with much adoration — she is a musician, composer, author, missionary, etc. Debi attributed Rebekah’s passion and drive to the fact that R. had never been sexually molested. She then followed up by stating that no one who has been sexually molested can live up to their spiritual potential.

After I was raped, I realized with great clarity that this was an enormous lie. A lie so large I couldn’t even see the end of it. Then I realized that the entire premise of their teachings was a lie. Finally, I came to the conclusion that my entire belief system was based on lie after misconception after hypocrisy after more lies… and I needed to throw it all away.

 

Warbler:

But in many ways it was my bully father himself that made me question things. There were certain people I either liked, thought were nice or intelligent, or at the very least good people, and then I would hear him tear them apart, either behind their backs to whatever family member or audience he was addressing, or to their face in quite a few instances.
His unchecked rage and hatred of seemingly paltry details and character traits or actions made me double-check my unquestioning obedience.

Didi:

I am writing this from the mind/viewpoint of who I was then, not necessarily who I am now.

I was a senior in high school sitting in my first “Worldview Academy” with Bill Jack. He was doing one of his infamous “Q&A with a Non-Christian” sessions, and this one was him pretending to be a “gay guy”. As soon as he started talking the entire front row of teenage boys jumped back and moved their chairs, to get away from him. Everyone was laughing at Mr. Jack’s over the top interpretation and “effeminate” behavior. When he finished I expected him to scold the boys for reacting that way, but instead he applauded them and told them that was the right response. I felt sick to my stomach. Sure, it was a “sin” to be gay, but that didn’t mean we had to treat gay people as gross or vile or make fun of them. Did we?

I remember this was one of the first times I started to think that maybe we had it wrong. Maybe Jesus didn’t act like a conservative Christian.

There were definitely many moments over the next 13 years of my life up until now, but that was one of the first times I looked at an adult who I was supposed to respect and take his word as “truth”, and I just knew in my gut he was WRONG.

 

Eden:

It was my parents. They were hypocritical and abusive. They had impossible standards for me to meet and didn’t even meet the lowest of bars for themselves. My dad sexually molested me as a pre-teen and into my teen years, but that was no big deal according to my Mom, because “God Forgives!”. Yet I held hands with the man I was in love with as a 20 year old, “Shock and horror!!”

My dad would watch porn, and he would make lewd comments about actresses bodies while we were watching movies, but I wasn’t allowed to “give my heart away” because that was emotional impurity!

As a teen I jumped through all their hoops and followed all their rules, and they still didn’t trust me, didn’t respect me, didn’t believe me. My word was mud and yet I had never given them a reason not to trust me. I was living under a microscope. My father told me he could see my Heart (funny, I remember reading in the Bible that only God sees the heart?)

When I met my husband and fell in love with him, they were so angry because I didn’t submit to their will to marry the son of their long-time friend. They tried to control everything, including my heart. They thought they could tell me when to give my heart away, and to whom.

I remember watching The Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring and Arwen says (about her necklace) “It is mine to give to whom I will. Like my heart” and I suddenly woke up from the courtship crap I had been fed for years. A movie taught me that my own heart belonged to me!

While I was growing up, each of my older siblings in turn would have strained relationships with our parents because of “rebellion”. My parents would badmouth the “rebellious” sibling and I resolved to never be like that, never be rebellious. Then I grew up and it was my turn to be the Black Sheep and I realized “rebellion” was code for “Becoming their own person”.

I was in my 20’s when my mother turned my entire family against me, because I was in love with a man my parents didn’t approve of. I wanted to make my own decisions in life and I was an outcast for it.

After my wedding, I got pregnant and my child was born, and I fell in love. How much I loved my child made me realize how little my parents cared about me. They didn’t ever care about me, not really. They liked me when they could parade me in front of their friends at church, how respectful and useful I was, how devoted I was to my faith. I was their trophy daughter, the one that followed all the rules. They liked me when they could control me. But once I found my mind, and my spine, I was less than nothing. So if Christians, who are supposed to be the Salt & Light, can’t even treat their own children with any respect and anything resembling real love, why should I look to them as being morally superior? Everything I experienced in my childhood and teen years has shown me that they are not. I would be willing to believe that my parents were an isolated case, if I didn’t know for a fact that they told many others in our churches about my father’s abuse, and nobody lifted a finger to help. They had lots of grace for the molester but not so much as a second glance for the victim. And Jesus wept.

Living with Cognitive Dissonance: Sonia’s Story

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Sonia” is a pseudonym.

My mom told me a while ago, “It seems impossible to live it [the Gothard/fundie lifestyle] in moderation, although that’s exactly what I was trying to do. I didn’t buy the whole program. Instead, I took from it that which I thought was useful and healthy. I rejected a lot, but maybe you don’t have any way of knowing that. There were many women who perceived me to be a great ‘compromiser’, and I mean that word in a very negative sense.” She was right. I didn’t have any way of knowing that. (This reminded me of other posts I’ve read such as “PICKING THINGS UP FROM THE CULTURE, HOMESCHOOL EDITION” and Libby Anne’s “THEN WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL US THAT, MOM?” from a couple of years back.) What I did know intellectually and intuitively ended up producing a considerable amount of cognitive dissonance,
fear, and anguish that has plagued me for years.

My parents didn’t understand that even if THEY didn’t wholeheartedly buy into the entire program, the fact that for the most part they would only let us spend our time around other families who DID buy into the entire program gave tacit approval to the entire program.

Oddly enough, my mom was the one to teach me to think critically, though I don’t think she really expected me to use that skill to the extent I did to think outside my little box. She told me two things when I was young that eventually led to my most significant “lightbulb moments.” First, she told me very clearly that she was educating me as well as my brother because I was smart and it wasn’t responsible to do otherwise on the off chance I had to support myself. (Incidentally, she also said she got a lot of flak for doing this.) Second, when I asked why I was allowed to wear jeans/pants when the other girls weren’t, all I can remember is getting a response to the effect of, “Well we aren’t THAT strict.”

So, after a few years when I started noticing things weren’t adding up, I asked more questions and assumed, logically, that if my parents could bend the rules and pick and choose where they saw fit, I could too as long as I had a logical, reasonable explanation for wanting to do so.

Lightbulb. Obviously, we all know this wasn’t true, but I didn’t know that at the time, so I was very confused. This is where I ran into trouble. Whenever I had ideas that ran contrary to “popular” belief and I brought up those issues, I always came armed with a list of very respectful but coherent reasons as to why there were major holes in what we heard at church. I simply could not understand how my parents, who made the logical decision to ignore two VERY big parts of the dogma, i.e. female education and modesty, did not see the other gaping holes. Most of the time, I felt like my concerns and opinions were brushed off and treated as a nuisance. My speaking out was attributed to youthful rebellion and I was not taken seriously.

One of the issues I kept bringing up because it made no sense was courtship (or arranged marriage as I like to refer to it). For years, I had closely watched all the happy smiles, wedding day first kisses, and subsequent babies that magically appeared nine months after the wedding. I followed the ins and outs of The Courtship Files at my church with rapt attention. I was curious to see what my future looked like. Something in my gut told me that there was something amiss, and I was quite vocal about it to my parents. These marriages seemed to materialize with next to no input from the XX-chromosomed party and after the wedding, all the new brides had this glassy-eyed, “totally blessed” look. Oh, and they would quote Proverbs 31 and Titus 2 and Ephesians 5 ad nauseam and have their members-only Bible studies for newly married couples.

Nonetheless, I really tried hard to buy into it despite the cognitive dissonance because I didn’t have a choice.

I really did try until I encountered a classic, “let’s abuse Hester Prynne” incident during church that resulted in lightbulbs going off all over the place.

This girl from our church had gone away to a conservative Christian college and ended up coming back pregnant. They made her stand up in church on a Sunday morning and apologize for her “sin” when she was probably five or six months pregnant. Even as young as I was (probably 8 or 9), I was acutely aware there was something very wrong about the whole thing. I do have to admit, much to my chagrin, that my first response was to hop on the stone-throwing train everyone around me was gleefully riding because that was the “right” response to “sin.” However, two lightbulbs blinked over my head as I sat there. First, a little voice in the back of my head gave me some advice regarding my own future self-preservation. It said, “You better never do anything this bad because you know that if you did, they would turn on you too in a second. And if you do anything like this, you better damn well keep it hidden.” Lightbulb. Second, I wondered why the pastor and elders standing behind this woman on the podium didn’t also have to apologize in front of the church for their sins too. Lightbulb. I remember feeling much more guarded after that point.

Back to the subject of my own future, the last serious conversation I remember having with my parents regarding courtship happened at bedtime one night sometime during my preteen years. Inevitably, conversations about this courtship thing had begun to take place more frequently. My parents explained, yet again, what courtship meant and what its implications were for my future. I presented every logical objection I could think of as I had done many times before. What if I go to a college in another state? (Remember the educating me thing? Yeah…that.) What if I never move back home after college? What if I meet “the one” before you do? What if I don’t tell you about him? What if “him” is a…HER??? How do you plan to police me that carefully?

To my parents’ credit in this instance, my objections were handled calmly and without anger. However, the conversation concluded with, “We will deal with it when it happens and at that point, you’ll understand how important courtship and this transfer of authority over you are.” I remember very clearly telling them, “I’m not doing it.” They calmly responded that I would feel differently later, and it’s ok that I don’t feel like that now. I responded flatly with, “No you don’t understand. My feelings about this aren’t going to change. I am not doing this.” I was resolute. My parents said that that was ok for now and bid me sweet dreams. What they really didn’t factor in was how deadly serious I was. It is difficult to overstate the degree to which I meant what I said. If my parents had continued on the oppressive courtship track later in my life, I guarantee I would have staged some sort of massive, storm-the-Bastille style revolt. If I had had to choose between courtship and losing any relationship I had with my parents (or God for that matter), I would have chosen the latter in a heartbeat.

After all, I wasn’t just a walking uterus.

I had a brain too.

Fortunately, I was never pushed to make this choice because my parents ended up divorcing. This set off by far the biggest lightbulb. Over the years, I had “appealed” to my parents time and time again and presented coherent, logical objections to a wide range of topics as a result of the many little lightbulbs that were periodically going off in my head. I don’t even remember most of these encounters, but I do remember having the feeling consistently that my parents didn’t really hear me or take me seriously. 

And since I didn’t have the agency to make my own choices regarding my own beliefs, I had to live with what was there.

However, with the divorce came the freedom to start to carve my own path and with that freedom, I had to start reexamining everything I’d ever been told. There were some physical abuse issues involved preceding the divorce which I was witness to. The elder board and pastor of our church said that my dad should move out of our home temporarily, pending biblical “counseling.” Once the church said that both my parents had been sufficiently “counseled,” my parents were instructed to “reconcile.” My mom refused. Such began an extremely tumultuous few years for all of us and the unraveling of the proverbial carpet for me.

I knew instinctively that my parents needed to go their separate ways and that this was the best outcome for all of us.

I simply didn’t understand all the theological discourse that said that people couldn’t divorce for any reason whatsoever, even in cases of abuse.

On the heels of that came the next logical question: if divorce wasn’t unequivocally wrong in every circumstance, as I had been told, what else wasn’t unequivocally wrong? Lightbulb. My entire world was turned on its head and I felt like I couldn’t trust anything I had ever been taught or thought I had known. This was very traumatic, and I spent most of the decade following and more trying to sort out what exactly I believed. I have wondered in the years since why my parents didn’t listen to me or why I felt like they didn’t.

I have wondered why my concerns, opinions, and expressions of distress were not interpreted as red flags or catalysts for change.

For years I felt like I didn’t have a voice and even now, I have a pathological, anxiety-attack-inducing fear of not being heard.

I am, however, very grateful for the lightbulb moments and the conversations they inspired. I hope I remember more of those moments as I grow older and I am grateful for the moments of mental clarity along the way I do remember that allowed me to navigate the twilight zone of my growing up years. Those moments of clarity kept me sane and kept me from being fully brainwashed. They kept my spirit alive to fight, and when I think back on them now they give me a sense of peace that I can find my way in the world, and I can trust what I know is right.

Lightbulb Moments: Small Glimpses

Lightbulb

CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.

 

Some of us, when thinking about our “lightbulb moments”, didn’t have long stories to tell. Maybe there wasn’t an exact moment we could pin-point. Maybe it was one, very simple event. Maybe it was a decade of dominoes, falling one by one, each knocking over another piece of our former belief systems. We compiled some of these comments here, no less important stories merely due to brevity. Small glimpses into the journeys of the people who told them.

 

Caleigh:

I spent four plus years in Josh Harris’ church, and his teaching wasn’t terrible but it was the people in my care groups who really made me start questioning things. Then I met my now husband and the reactions we got from our parents and people around us and the shame they all tried to heap on us for simply loving each other really pulled the plug for me.

My dad was really into the whole arranged marriage “I have to choose your spouse” thing so for him he really fought my choice because I chose and didn’t give him any say in the matter. I also just realized my dad was the literal catalyst for me when I found out at 14 that he was/is a porn addict and has been addicted for 40 years, and then I started seeing how hypocritical he is and that started all the questioning about my faith, I just didn’t know it then.

The biggest thing for me was when he kept trying to get me to do what he said while he did the complete opposite. He told me it didn’t matter what he did, it only mattered that I did what he said to do.

 

Chris:

I realized how many things I had never considered, or questions glossed over with religious speak. The real kicker for me was the lack of honest church history, where the Bible came from, how it changed over the centuries, and what has been added or subtracted from it. Then I realized that the church’s only focus is on devotion; no history, no context, and no questions please. I decided I couldn’t walk that any more and left.

 

Darcy:

There was an event that started everything for me. I fell in love at 17. And thus the hold of Purity Culture loosened a little as I realized everything Gothard and others taught about purity and courtship was ridiculous and didn’t add up in the real world. That was the beginning of the end. I started questioning all of the teachings of Gothard that our family operated under. I threw out modesty and embraced Christian rock music. I was still stuck on the Pearl’s though, both their child-training stuff and their “how to be a godly doormat” book. When those things didn’t bring about the promised results, I realized they were crap too. I embraced Christian egalitarianism and peaceful parenting. I stopped praying years ago when I realized how strange the notion was. We were poor and one day our home burned to the ground, taking everything we owned with it. I begged God for a week to help me find our wedding rings that had been in a bathroom drawer. I had perfect faith that He would do this one little thing for me because he loved me. But the days wore on as I dug through the ashes and I didn’t find them. I realized then that prayer was bogus, people’s excuses for why prayer did or did not work were illogical, and maybe God didn’t care about the little things in my life after all. Then I started studying theistic evolution and examining flood geology and one more belief system fell. In the past 13 years, one by one, I realized everything I’d believed was a lie or at the very least, completely unproven. The Bible as God’s word was one of the last things to go, and actually it was a history of western civilization class that started that one. Last year, looking back over my life, I realized that anyone could make the Bible and God approve or condemn anything they wanted it to, and that I had no more reason to believe in any of it and couldn’t logically reconcile in my mind or life anything involving the Christian religion.

 

Jamie:

I was already having problems with the Old Testament as it was, and [John Piper’s] justifications for the OT atrocities and his view of god as being this cruel creature who rules on a whim (and we should not only accept that but marvel in it and praise him) just repulsed me even further.

Phillip:

www.stufffundieslike.com   I thought it was just good inside jokes about BJU/PCC at first, but they were the first to link me to the Les Roloff/Hephzibah House/Chuck Phelps scandals and I soon saw there were major issues under the Fundy facade.

Theo:

The thing that started my wheels turning was a missions trip to Nicaragua when I was 18, but after that everything just snowballed. The first person I can remember really edging me along my path of waywardness is probably Mark Driscoll. Way back before he was disgraced, when, if you didn’t like him the problem was you and the biggest controversy surrounding the man was that he swore. We watched his video series on Ruth in my YA Sunday school class and he kept making these super sexist jokes (one of them was about Ruth/women offering herself/themselves sexually to Boaz/men in godly submission, he said “We’re putting the ‘fun’ back in ‘fundamentalism,'”), and laughing at his own jokes, and it was sickening and nobody else was bothered and that upset me just as much.

The final straw was a guy who occasionally taught the YA class at my next (and final) church who convinced a room full of naysayers that sometimes god asks us to commit genocide and he might ask it of us today and that’s okay. I’ve always had a huge problem with people who need to be told what to do to such an extent that they’ll bend over backwards to justify the worst of atrocities simply because they’re in the bible and it says god commanded them. I’d been reframing such events for years already (Abraham failed whatever test he thought he was taking; it’s easy to mistake what you want for the voice of god’s approval if what you want is to do something morally unconscionable), it’s NOT HARD, but I was surrounded by people who would apparently rather take up a call to mass murder than try to think about the text a different way. That was literally a terrifying Sunday.

 

Robert:

Mine wasn’t a negative. Nor was it a celebrity person. It was the witness of gay Christians. When I couldn’t deny the legitimacy of their spiritual experience, I had to broaden my own understanding of Christianity. Of course, the fear-mongerers were right; once I started questioning, all sorts of things fell apart. Except they were wrong about me losing my faith. Now my conservative friends and family don’t quite know what to do with a progressive, Bible-loving Christian.

 

I Have No Roots

Photo by Lana Hope.

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Lana Hope’s blog Wide Open Ground. It was originally published on March 7, 2015.

When I left my fundamentalist upbringing behind, I left it all, all my roots, all my friends, all the things that connected me to the past.

They say people need roots, but I have none.

When I’m lonely, I have no where to turn, except to people of the moment. When people talk of old family Christmas traditions, I have none, or nearly none.

When it’s Christmas break, I don’t fly to my parents because there is no Christmas there. When the semester ends, I go camping, not to visit old friends. When I’m lonely, I write in a foreign language on my FB.

My facebook includes no one I knew before the age of 16, and only one person I knew before the age of 18.  That one person wasn’t from my hometown.

I’m almost 30, and my oldest friendships date back only 10 years.

When I walked away from fundamentalism and the homeschool world, I didn’t just leave my old friends behind. I left behind a whole different set of traditions and norms. I have no roots.

For most of my life, we did not have a Christmas tree, Christmas decorations, and lots of presents. We did not have Easter egg hunts on Easter Sunday or dress up for Halloween.

But we did wisdom searches, and sewed our own matching doll clothes, and cooked meals with our friends. We played outdoors and did research in the library.

We had massive family get togethers with other homeschool families. We had a watermelon party at our house because we had so many watermelons, and I remember times with friends where we dug tiny tunnels and had cricket races through them, and I remember all us kids catching 100 baby frogs at our house.

With our local ATI get together, we went swimming in our ridiculous modest swimsuits in our friends swimming pool, rode their massive zipline, played cricket with all the dads and large numbers of siblings. We did this year after year;.

We went to gatherings at the ALERT Academy, which is associated with Bill Gothard and ATI, and we had a whole different set of traditions, such as singing hymns before our meal.

We had American girls club when we were elementary school, and Proverbs 31 girls group in middle school.

But those traditions, if you can call them traditions, were all put behind me when I left fundamentalism. No one else says to you, “what did you do in your proverbs 31 girls group as a kid?” They say “what was your Christmas traditions” and I shrug my shoulder with nothing to say except “well I did lead the little kids birthday party for Jesus.”

My facebook friends talk about meeting up with an old friend from high school; my friends here at the university talk about their old high school friends. I always say nothing, and then come home and facebook search old friends.

I find their facebook cover photos with their 7 siblings and 15 nieces and nephews. One old friend I recently found had a cover photo were she and her whole family (i.e. parents + siblings + their families) were all wearing T-shirts that said, “Children are an inheritance from the Lord.” The mother had bought these for all of her children and grandchildren, which at this point totals nearly 50. In the comment section of the photo, homeschool mothers said, “arrows for God. Praise the Lord.”

And so I realize it’s better not to even look up people from the past; I don’t need to know what they are doing, because my heart might judge them for not leaving it all behind, when I know in my heart that leaving is so difficult it’s almost not worth it.

When I turned 18 I got my drivers license, and went to my own church and formed my own friends. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have someone overseeing my friendships and picking my friends for me. I’m thankful the last ten years have been different than the first ten years, but I can never go back and have any kind of roots.

Some times I think the hardest part of not having roots is not that I don’t know anyone from high school. I think the hardest part is I have no one who remembers what it was like, what the massive get togethers were like; no one to discuss those ridiculous wisdom searches with and all things fundamentalist and evangelical.

People speak of just cutting off the past, but we never really are separate from it. We uproot the tree, and the tree lays there alone. I am that tree. My roots are no longer dug into the soil, but the soil is still around me. There are many other trees around me, and they still have roots, but I don’t. 

I have no roots.

Pain and Pastures: By Nancy Scott

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Pain and Pastures: By Nancy Scott

HA note: Nancy Scott (LMFT PC) is a therapist who works with individuals with an emphasis on helping the body recover from the physical effects of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression, grief and loss. You can follow her blog at http://infirm-delight.blogspot.com and learn more about her professional practice at http://nancyscottcounseling.com. This post was originally published on her blog on October 13, 2013 and is reprinted with her permission.

Flora* walked into my office with an air of confidence.

Her light brown hair and fair complexion gave her a youthful look, even as her saucer blue eyes gave away a deep sadness within. A tattoo circled her wrist like a bracelet, a delicate design of leaves and letters. She began to tell me how she had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder several years earlier and that she had been quite depressed for a while now. The medication she had been taking had seemed to help at first, but not so much anymore. She began to tell me about her rigid religious upbringing and her history of physical abuse, but I interrupted her. I asked if I could talk for a moment about how I work before she went much further. Because while telling her story is of great importance, how she tells it may be even more significant.

I asked her to take a moment and look around the room, to gaze out the window at the blue sky outside.

I waited in silence as her eyes surveyed the room, then moved to the tree outside my upstairs office window. At last, her eyes came back to meet mine, and I noticed a slight shift in her breathing. I said I’d like to explain some things about the somatic therapy that I offer, and asked if we could do an experiment.

“For just a moment, see if you can tune in to the sensation of your body in contact with the sofa, behind you and beneath you. Can you tell me what you notice about your sense of your weightedness?” I spoke softly, working to meet her gaze with my care.

“I feel some weight coming back into my legs. I hadn’t been aware of them a minute ago.”

I reflected her response and noticed with her that her awareness of having legs was returning. “What’s your temperature like? Is it warm or cool, or neutral?”

“I feel a little cooler. I was pretty warm there at first.” The color in her face was evening out as we spoke.

“How about your breathing? What’s your breathing like?”

“Pretty shallow. But it’s getting deeper.”

“See if you can tune in to that for a moment, breathe into it a bit?”

She paused, and I noticed with her that her body took a full, deep breath. Her shoulders moved just slightly downward.

By the end of our session, we talked easily, and I invited Flora to compare how she was feeling now with how she was feeling when she first came in.

“I feel a lot more relaxed, at ease.” She stretched her long arms out in front of her and yawned. “My breathing is deeper; I can feel it. This is really different. I’ve been to a lot of counselors and every time I’ve started therapy I’ve always had to start by spilling out all the details of my history. It’s a relief to not have to go into all that right away.”

Trauma as I define it is anything that overwhelms the body’s ability to regulate itself.

Our flight/flight/freeze response is located in the sympathetic nervous system, marked by elevated heart rate, shallow breathing, narrowed peripheral vision, and tightened muscles that are ready to run or fight at a moment’s notice. It can be triggered by any threat, real or imagined. Flora was clearly in a state of sympathetic arousal or “activation” as she entered my office and began to tell me her story.

If you’ve ever been in a near car-crash and swerved suddenly to avoid it, it was this physiological response, your survival instinct, that was triggered to help you escape the danger. Cortisol and adrenaline flood your body, and you swerve to avoid a collision. You might pull over to collect yourself and notice that your whole body is shaking. This is the way it re-regulates itself, discharging the sympathetic activation that surged into your bloodstream a moment earlier. We tend to want to shut it down, to move on, because it can be uncomfortable, but it turns out it’s important to let it finish. It’s our body’s way of dispelling the experience and recovering its innate regulation.

The body knows how to recover.

This normal response to threat is built in at the most primitive level of our brain function. It is meant to be activated quickly and then discharged or released quickly.

However, if the danger persists, for example if we are trapped in a stressful circumstance, or for whatever reason we are unable to fight or flee, the body’s next best approach is to “freeze.” People sometimes call this immobilized feeling “depressed” or “stuck” or “numb.” If this response goes on for a while, it can become more chronic, without release, and the body can become disregulated, resulting in a variety of symptoms including anxiety or panic, depression, insomnia.

If it goes on longer, still louder symptoms can emerge, perhaps even those of bipolar disorder or dissociation.

With our experiment, I invited Flora to notice her body’s response in order to help it regulate itself before we went further. Sometimes people can do this, and sometimes they can’t, depending on the kind of trauma they have experienced and how their body has responded to it. If they can’t, then I take other more indirect approaches, still openly working to find some regulation in the body. I might work with someone for several sessions before moving toward their story, simply helping to “resource” the body, finding sources of comfort in daily life, or places in the past that brought them a feeling of wholeness, of “being themselves,” grounded in the experience of the present moment.

For Flora, we discovered that there was a place where she grew up, largely in isolation, a field near where some cows grazed. She could walk far into the pasture and lie down under the shade of some trees. She would stare up at the sky and notice how blue it was. Whenever we began to slowly move toward talking about the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her fundamentalist Christian parents, we could change gears and put her back, in her mind’s eye, into that pasture. Her body would begin to shift, to release, as she recalled the vibrant color of the sky, the sound of the breeze moving the leaves, the fragrance of the blossoms nearby, and the warmth of the sun on her skin. It was a source of deep regulation for her body.

Over time, Flora’s body began to discharge the physical elements of the trauma stored deep inside her.

She worked hard to integrate the emotional and spiritual components of her life’s narrative as well, and to cease being a victim of her past. With the oversight of her physician, she was able to wean off of her medications. As the symptoms of her bipolar disorder resolved, she came to see them as pointers to her trauma rather than lifelong mental illness. By the time we finished our work, the flashbacks were fewer, and if they did arrive, she was able to separate the past from the present. She had tools on board that she could employ to process her feelings, thoughts, and sensations.

Flora and I worked together for two or three years, moving back and forth in each session between body “resources” like the pasture near her home, or her love of the ocean, or the feel of her dog curled up next to her, and the deeply painful memories of the abuse. We explored the sensations in her body of activation and regulation, and moved toward the careful expression of the dark memories, which had been so overwhelming in her previous therapies. We worked to balance it with things that brought her life, groundedness, hope. The memories became less intense over time, more integrated, physically and emotionally, as we paid close attention to her body’s ability to move back and forth between a certain level of activation and the deep regulation she was beginning to experience.

I’ve worked as a therapist for about fifteen years now, “somatically” with people like Flora for about ten.

I have found that working with the body is essential for resolving traumatic memory.

I have been helped tremendously by the work of Christine Barber, Peter Levine, Maggie Phillips, Dan Siegel and Bonnie Badenoch, to name a few. I have come to believe that the complexity and variety of mental illnesses described in the DSM-5 (my profession’s diagnostic manual) reflects how individual bodies respond to their respective traumas. I have seen the symptoms of these various diagnoses largely eliminated by working with sensations in the body and moving toward integration of implicit and explicit memory, sensation, emotion, mind and spirit.

I have worked with a number of people who were diagnosed bipolar, like Flora, and who were able to move beyond their symptoms toward substantial healing.

They are the real heroes.

* “Flora” is a composite of people from my work in private practice as a Marriage & Family Therapist. I have made her unrecognizable in order to protect confidentiality.

For more information about this kind of therapy, or for a referral to a practitioner in your area, you can go here or here. For further reading, you can go here.