Unchurch

I have a confession to make. I don’t like “church”. Not “church” in the way most of us think of “church” anyway. We’ve all been at onetime or another whether as a child or adult, a guest to someone who invited us to attend their church, or maybe as a “holiday” church goer attending the Christmas, Easter or Mother’s Day service, maybe even as a member of a church or churches.

We know the drill: met at the door by the greeter who smiles, shakes your hand and thanks you for showing up. The music, traditional or contemporary, the prayer, a couple more songs, the sermon, the plate is passed, another prayer or offer to come forward for prayer and a couple of closing songs then the walk toward the exit to nod and shake hands with a few of the regulars and finally, for the newcomer, the invite from the pastor to come back again.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly don’t have anything against the way we in America have chosen to “church”…..I just don’t fit in. Ever had that experience? That’s really why I don’t like church, I just have always felt like an outsider. Like I’m on the outside looking in. Even when I have been a member, lead a class,  or sang in the music ministry.

For the longest time I just thought that it was my perception and that I just needed to learn to fit in, to be like everyone else and so I did. I spoke “Christianese”, changed the way I dressed so that I blended into whatever the culture of the church “brand” happened to be, carried my Bible, memorized scripture enough so that I could sprinkle conversation with my obvious close relationship with God, attended dozens of women’s Bible groups, and volunteered to do my part so that I could BE a part. The problem was I wasn’t being “me”, I was faking it, pretending to be someone I was not and I didn’t like that.

Fast forward. After a series of events which will be left for a later discussion, I was done with God and church. I had no need for Him or prayer, or the Bible, or the myriad promises the church said God would make a reality; I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Again after a series of events I decided in my infinite wisdom and grace that I would give God another chance. How very generous of me, right? But in all seriousness I missed God, I missed the relationship. I did not miss all the trimmings, being focused on fitting in. So now what? How was I going to “be” a Christian without feeling like an imposter?

Well first I decided I didn’t have to “label” myself as a “Christian”. Now before anyone takes offense let me make my case, and let’s remember this is my story, not yours. If you identify yourself as a “Christian” I am completely cool with that, no judgment from me whatsoever, so no worries. But for me the word “Christian” had negative connotations because of my experiences in the church and because I had tried so hard to “be” a Christian.

Before abandoning ship I had done study in Messianic Judaism and I liked what I learned, so the “label” I gave myself was “Messianic Gentile”. That is just a fancy shmancy way of saying that I had adopted the mindset of those who were not Jews by birth, rather honored the “Jewishness” of Jesus and the scriptures. Again that’s a discussion for another day.

I started by talking to God, not praying in the traditional sense, but just talking. Mostly I just thanked Him. I thanked Him for my kids, my job, the “things” I had. In short I adopted “an attitude of gratitude”. It was the least I could do, I mean I was still here and kicking so I figured there was hope for me however sorry a human being I was!! In truth I wasn’t even sure God loved me or accepted me anymore because I had been down some not-so-pretty roads in my life since I had abandoned ship. I was dirty, bedraggled, foul mouthed, negative, had been suicidal, and participating in vices I had no intention of giving up and one I still don’t intend to give up, and really that is a relative statement depending upon how you define “vice”. If you find any of that shocking hang onto your hat, but I refuse to apologize for who I am. And that is really where I am going with all of this: none of us should apologize for who we are. God, I reasoned, was either going to love me and accept me for who I was, warts, wounds, scars and all or He wasn’t. It was as simple as that.

Oh yeah, I challenged Him, tested Him, said whatever I thought to Him daring Him to toss me out with the trash, but He didn’t. Imagine that. There were days I shook my fist heavenward, screamed, yelled and stomped my feet better than any 3 year old out there! And STILL He refused to go away!

You see, God is love. The Bible says that and so He can’t do anything else but love us. He loves me and He loves you! Maybe you don’t believe that but He does!

How do I know that? How do we know anything really?? I can’t explain it but I KNOW He didn’t move one step away from me at my worst, He just moved a little closer.

Well what I just said isn’t quite true. I do know because the Bible is our reference manual for God. Now wait before you click me off or flip me off, whichever, it’s all good, I don’t intend to go all “churchy” on you but we can’t talk about God without talking about the Bible. The Bible says that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and if He is also love then He loves us as we were, as we are, and as we will be. We are at best a messy bunch of misfits on any given day and He knows that better than we do.

So, what has any of that got to do with an “unchurch”? It has everything to do with it. The “unchurch” is for all of us who don’t fit in, never did, never will. For all of us who are messy, bedraggled, insecure, fearful, struggling, rejected and stumbling through life but STILL want a relationship with God. And when I say God I also mean Jesus. The good news is there is a place for us. The “unchurch” is a gathering of people who want to know God, not to have all the do’s and don’ts dumped on us as we walk thru the door. The “unchurch” is anywhere 2 or more are gathered.

It’s time for “church” to be all inclusive. It’s time for us to make our relationship with Him our primary focus. It’s time.

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Curiosity Did Not Harm the Kitty…..

I am forever curious and have questions about all kinds of things. I want to understand, and yet there are things we are not meant to fully understand, at least not in our limited human experience.

Reincarnation is one of those topics. Before you run screaming in the opposite direction, certain I have flipped off the edge, hear me out. For years, and according to Christian indoctrination, anyone who believes in reincarnation needs to be excommunicated, considered a heretic, or worse, a demon. Exploring the world of spiritual philosophy  has whet my appetite to possibilities Christianity has forbidden. But, do we ask why certain topics are forbidden?

What do most of us know about reincarnation? In general, reincarnation is dying in this lifetime and returning as something or someone else in another; a sort of recycling of the spirit. The word is derived from the Latin, meaning ‘to enter the flesh again.’ Reincarnation is predominantly thought to be a Hindu-Buddhist philosophy, although other philosophies have their versions, as well. The idea is to become better with each successive lifetime, to learn and grow without advantage of knowledge from previous lifetimes. Sounds nearly impossible!

But did you know reincarnation is also accepted within Judaism? The words reincarnation and resurrection are often used interchangeably in Judaism, and the philosophies vary somewhat within Judaism. The concept of reincarnation is usually associated with the Kabbalah, the mystical branch of Judaism, and was prevalent in the Middle Ages, however, its origins go back much farther. Originally, like most of the texts, the Kabbalah was an oral history passed down through the years until it landed in written form. Those who practiced mystical Judaism were not the only Jews who believed in reincarnation, however.

The Pharisees and Sadducees were predominate players in Biblical texts regarding Jesus; the Pharisees believed in resurrection and reincarnation, whereas the Sadducees did not, as recorded in scripture and through Flavius Josephus, a first century historian. Nicodemus, a Pharisee, came to Jesus at night to ask about resurrection, what Christianity has skewed to be taught as being “born again”. Jesus had told Nicodemus that man must be ‘born again’; born of water and the spirit. Christianity teaches this by equating water with the physical birth, and the spiritual birth occurring when the Holy Spirit descends upon those who recognize their sinful nature, ask forgiveness, and accept Jesus as Savior; a pivotal doctrine of Christianity. Most teachers of Christianity explain Nicodemus was “confused” by the words of Jesus, but part of the story is conveniently left out. Why would a member of the High Priests be confused by a discussion on resurrection? We are taught Nicodemus sought Jesus in the dark of night, implying he didn’t want anyone to know he was talking with Jesus, and perhaps he didn’t given the fact there was no love lost between Jesus and the religious leaders of the day. However, Nicodemus’s question would have seemed reasonable to any Pharisee; perhaps Nicodemus was getting clarification, maybe because he wanted unequivocal proof his sect was right and the Sadducee’s wrong.

We are taught the Pharisees believed in resurrection, with reincarnation being conveniently left out, yet the words, at that time, were used interchangeably. Christianity teaches resurrection in relation to Jesus and those who accept Christ as Savior, and reincarnation as part of witchcraft and/or paganism. In fact, the Apostle Paul also belonged to the Pharisees, and believed in reincarnation.

The intentionally hidden doesn’t stay hidden forever,  and in 1945 the Gnostic Gospels were discovered, dated as written earlier than the Biblical Gospels, putting a different spin on the 66 books known as the Bible. The Gnostics were a sect of Christians ultimately hunted down and burned at the stake by the Roman Orthodox church. The Gnostics believed knowledge came through the heart, or in communion with the Divine Spirit, whereas the church taught faith as the basis of belief. Gnostics may have considered themselves Christians, for lack of a better description, yet they likely are more closely associated in theology to those subscribing to spiritual pursuit. In the Gnostic Gospels, resurrection and reincarnation are separate concepts; resurrection akin to a spiritual awakening, while one is alive. Spiritual awakening is sought through meditation and study; enlightenment, in other words. Reincarnation occurs because a soul did not awaken during a physical life, therfore, needs to return in order to learn. The Gospel of Philip, one of the Gnostic Gospels, says it this way, “People who say they will first die and then arise are mistaken.  If they do not first receive resurrection while they are alive, once they have died they will receive nothing.”

Gnosticism has been around for centuries and will likely endure for centuries to come. And, for the sake of correct word usage, a Gnostic and an Agnostic are not one and the same, as many believe. Gnostics base their interpretation of the universe and the Divine on knowledge, whereas an Agnostic reveres science to the point the existence of God is in question. One of the more recognizable names in recent history who studied Gnosticism was Carl Jung, the revered early 20th century Swiss psychologist. Many who study spiritualism are familiar with his writings about archetypes. Jung believed archetypes represented universal patterns and images we all share.

So, what is the lesson from all these words? Curiosity doesn’t give us a “go directly to hell” card in the game of life, and it’s okay to learn and explore other possibilities. I cannot accept that curiosity is inherently evil, and suspect the ultimate goal of all subjects ‘forbidden’ has more to do with controlling others, than it does protecting them. Stay tuned…..

When the Sky is Falling…..Part 2……….

Sometimes the lesson within the storm isn’t obvious. Sometimes entrenched fears woven into the fabric of our being go unnoticed, accepted as normal, yet driving our thoughts and actions. We all fear something whether it is illness, poverty, discrimination, criticism, the list is endless. When the thoughts turn into a driving force behind our actions, the result may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because we aren’t consciously aware of the entrenched fear lurking in the shadows, we blame others, or God, or both, or believe we are being punished.

Crises in life are sometimes a result of our fears. Choosing not to face any given crisis or situation, instead wallowing in the negative energy within the situation, or burying our heads in the sand to avoid dealing with a situation only prolongs it. Acknowledge what we fear, what feels out of control, and then take a moment to sort through what is known, not supposed. There is nothing wrong with admitting we are afraid of possible outcomes, what the future may hold, the crisis itself. What is detrimental is letting the fears paralyze us. What is the worst-case scenario? Is worst-case truly a possibility? Often, it is not, yet our fear drives the thought. Fear causes us to feel insecure, we no longer feel safe.  Projecting into the future only serves to increase our fears. It is important to remind ourselves all we truly have is the moment we are currently living.

Long held fears may contribute to the development of a crisis, however, that is not the same as being punished for the fear. I occasionally listen to a speaker who had cancer and subsequently had a near death/death experience. She believes and teaches her fear of cancer eventually led to the diagnosis of cancer. At first blush, I rejected her reasoning, but after listening to her teachings, I believe she is on to something. She says everything in her life was focused on avoiding cancer from what she ate, to exercise, to stress reduction, etc. In other words, her focus was skewed allowing the fear to grow and manifest the very thing she spent her life avoiding. The same principle can be applied to a poverty mindset. My Reiki teacher shared with me her fear of poverty led to a financial crisis resulting in losing everything and having to move back in with her elderly parent. These revelations are extreme and the result of much meditation and time spent seeking higher understanding; they are not an explanation for everyone facing a health or financial crisis. The takeaway lesson is examining our hearts and thought lives, allowing God to reveal long held fears to acknowledge and release for healing.

Sometimes we make the leap to punishment for a perceived sin. God doesn’t punish. Punishment was devised by man to control others. Do I believe some people need to be punished? Absolutely. A society cannot remain civilized without boundaries, that when crossed, require discipline, and punishment, at times. Within the church mindset, often people believe a crisis or negative situation is a result of God’s punishment. I believed that for quite some time, fueled in part, by an abusive husband who wielded the Bible like a machete, and in part because of a religious system that taught sin must be punished. Of course, anything negative in our lives is a result of sin, right? Wrong. Organized religion leaves no room for the fallability of humanity. People make mistakes, plain and simple. Mistakes are not willful intent, however. There is definitely a major distinction between the two, but organized religion often blurs the lines. Early in my “Christian walk” I actually had church mentors tell me sin caused negative events in our lives! The bigger problem was I chose to believe that nonsense and attributed any negative crisis directly to sin in my life. In its own way, that is almost narcissitic thinking!

Corporately, how we react to a crisis situation, is important, as well. Since we are all part of the universal Divine, in other words, God, what I do eventually ripples and will affect others. Dr. Chopra said it this way, “We are ripples of consciousness of the vast ocean of consciousness. If we get agitated and become part of the reactionary and vitriolic behavior sometimes around us, we will only add to the disturbance.” We can apply his words to family situations, work situations, or large scale crises like 9/11, or any myriad crises situations involving a large group of people. When people jump on the bandwagon of negative behavior, their behavior only adds to the overall problem. Attitudes spread, good or bad, positive or negative, an attitude permeates any situation.

Recently, we have had a series of negative events, some devastating, seemingly snowball in our family. Perception is everything, but I wager most would say there appeared to be a snowball effect, or in the words of my mother, a dark cloud hanging over us.  I can say I have progressed spiritually in terms of resilience in the face of adversity, but I have not arrived by any means. In the past, one or two negative events may have rattled my resolve, now it takes more than two. That’s progress, right? On a side note, I also noted emotion has returned, although I cannot say I have appreciated the intensity of it. The deadening of emotion is a side effect of long-term abuse; those who have been there, done that, will understand. So, how do we handle the snowball effect? We deal with what we can, and leave the rest to God. Dwelling on what is outside of our control only adds to the negative energy of an already negative situation.

We are not helpless when the sky is falling. Helplessness leads to paralysis. As long as we draw breath, we have choices, there will be options. Learning the lessons within the crisis will benefit us, too. Nothing in life is without purpose, without an opportunity for growth, without the ability to expand our understanding and lead us to a higher truth…..

When the Sky is Falling…..

It has always been important to me how I describe who I am in terms of my spiritual philosophy. Labels in our society are given to everything and everyone, some negative, some positive. For quite a while I have not referred to myself as a “Christian”. What do you think when you hear the word? For me, it has a mostly negative connotation conjuring visions of hypocritical elitists toting Bibles and speaking “Christian-ese” In the past, I have identified with Messianic Gentile and believer, neither of which truly satisfies a core philosophy. The term New Ager makes me grimace; it has become a catchall moniker for anyone who believes contrary to western organized religion and is often said with disdain by others. Spiritual seeker or spiritualist is probably the closest I am going to get, for the moment.

“Spirit” or “spirituality” is derived from a Latin word meaning ‘air’, to breathe or breath’. Yeshua (Jesus) spoke to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit when He told Nicodemus man needed to be born of water and of the Spirit. Organized religion has come to interpret the phrase as the first birth from the womb (water), and the second, anointed with the Spirit of God. Somehow the Biblical writers and interpreters made the leap to being “born again” and receiving salvation, being saved, and cleansed of sin. Personally, I look for the less complex and self-serving interpretation; ‘born of the spirit’, in my mind, means we come to realize we are spirit beings housed in the flesh of man and seeking to journey with the Divine or God. Most of us get to a point in our lives when we hope there is more to life than our physical existence, to believe our lives have meaning and purpose, and look for ways through which we define the meaning and purpose. Just like people come in all sizes, shapes, colors and orientations, the are many ways to journey with God.

The term ‘spirituality’ has generally positive connotations in our society, covers a broad spectrum of beliefs and philosophies, and expresses itself through our individuality. There is freedom to believe what makes the most sense to us. I will add the caveat all spiritual journeys seek our highest good, ever becoming more like the purity of the Divine expression of love, lest anyone think I advocate ‘anything goes’, including philosophies that seek to do harm to others. Probably  more than anything else, the defining objective of the spiritual journey is becoming the expression of Divine love in the physical world.

Sounds all peace and love, the stuff of hippies and sharing the bong within our circle of love, doesn’t it? It kind of is, except for the bong part. I’m no radical purist by any means, I have worn a Willie Nelson tank top with a marijuana leaf and the words “Legalize It” written on the front! And, I am a firm believer in the need to legalize pot; I see no difference between consuming alcohol and smoking pot, and I believe marijuana has many valid medical uses, if a way can be found around the pharmaceutical industry getting their sticky fingers in the pot – no pun intended. Sorry, a momentary digression into a highly controversial subject! Those of us who consider themselves spiritual-seekers work to attain a higher place of understanding and relationship with God; to see the world through the eyes of love. But, what happens when life doesn’t seem so positive, when it feels like the cards are stacked against us?

We all experience crises in our lives, whether financial, health, or the loss of a loved one. We will face one or all at some point. Crises are never comfortable, and by and large, most of us perceive a crisis as negative. I cannot speak for others, but for me, I immediately begin to question my spiritual beliefs. It’s almost a knee-jerk reaction. I question if I headed down a wrong path, or if God is ‘punishing’ me for something. I have learned these are residual fears instilled by an abusive past, by continually being told God punishes our ‘sin’, whether we are aware of the ‘sin’ or not. Still, in light of the knowledge I am not being  ‘punished’, the thought pops up the moment a crisis occurs. Why? Pattern, habit, and an area still needing work in my life. I can recognize it now which leads to the ability to overwrite the thought with the reality; the belief was a lie. When the thought wafts into my consciousness, it is important to immediately counter with truth. God is the purity of love and has no desire to ‘punish’. Lesson #1 in dealing with personal crisis – it isn’t your fault if your actions did not directly or indirectly lead to the crisis. Think of it this way; if I lost my job because of budget cuts or restructuring of the company I didn’t lose my job as a direct or indirect result of my actions. Life happens around us.

Search your heart, examine your thoughts. Are there long held beliefs instilled by false teachings? What are positive words of truth you can use to counter the false beliefs…..?

 

NOTE: I am changing the format a bit as I transition to a different blog site. The blog will no longer be known as “Unchurched”. The new site will afford readers the opportunity to subscribe to the site and receive the blogs via email, as well as expand readership. I also plan to explore varied aspects of spirituality and understanding. Stay tuned….!

 

Not All Love Is Good….. Part 3 of There But For the Grace….

“ I struggled then, so I do not know to comprehend that not all love is good, nor all obedience holy” (Call the Midwife)

I tend to binge-watch movie genres and TV series on a popular video-on-demand media stream, complements of one of my daughters. My children being of the technology age are unwilling to settle for regular TV, even movie channels like HBO and Cinemax, the latest and greatest back in the day. My husband works second shift in aerospace so I am alone most evenings. When I get home from a long day at work motivation to work more isn’t on the agenda, especially during the winter months, so I watch the electronic babysitter. The TV works as a babysitter for us older folk, too, not just the little ones!

One of my favorites is the PBS series Call the Midwife, set in 1950’s England. A group of Catholic nuns and young nurses trained as midwives work East End London providing maternity care to the poorest of the poor. After binge-watching the first season, I have concluded birth control was one of the greatest additions to the twentieth century. Today, many young moms-to-be opt for natural childbirth, birth without trauma, and the like, but during the time of the series, there were no choices to be made, and women popped out children by the houseful. I have nothing against children, mind you, I would just prefer not to have them by the dozen. More power to the people who do!

Call the Midwife has all the elements of good cinema; drama, moments of levity, tragedy, triumph, you name it. I am not too far in, as yet, only the second season, but I am hooked. One of the episodes I watched this weekend was about a young couple with a child and another on the way, except behind closed doors the husband was abusive. Jenny, the midwife, suspected as much and got involved, events escalated, thus the opening statement of the blog.

I can admire elements of the Catholic faith. Their practice and belief in Catholic doctrine runs deep, and has for centuries. At the same time the Catholic church continued to grow, many other church flavors floundered and stuttered. And, of all the various flavors, the Catholics have, in my opinion, a fairly balanced view of the scriptures as their Bible states much of it is allegory. Organized religion as a whole is a corrupt, fear-based system, in my opinion.

Since Call the Midwife is set in a convent, naturally the bent of the series is Catholic, and the archaic belief marriage is forever, and the man is the head of the household and therefore may treat his family the way he sees fit, is upheld. Except, in the one sentence Jenny utters after visiting her patient and witnessing the actions of the woman’s abusive husband. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end well for the abused young wife and mother. Her husband drugs the little ones with milk and alcohol and leaves with their mother each night to pimp her out. The apartment catches fire one evening, the children are rescued, and the parents convicted of child abuse. Was the young wife truly deserving of prison? In my opinion, most likely not. The mind of an abusive partner is warped at best. The very ones who loudly proclaim love for their families to the world, behind closed doors torment and twist the loyalties and love of others in their care.  

No, not all love is good, nor obedience holy. As a society and as a people who profess Christianity, loyalty to a Higher Power, or God, we need to understand and embrace these words. Many times during the years I was married to an abuser I would pray, read the Bible, and ask God to search my heart and illuminate areas I needed to “fix” to become a better wife in His eyes in an effort to stop the abuse. Abusers make their victims believe the victims are to blame for the behavior of the abuser. Today, this all sounds absurd to me, far removed from the life I now lead, and yet, still close enough to understand the toll the whole of our abusive lives took on each of us.

Do I blame the Church and society for turning a blind eye, for believing women are to submit to their husbands, or the victims must have done something to prompt or deserve the abuse? No, I really don’t. I do believe Church teaching has warped the minds of adherents to supposedly God-breathed scriptures. Societal beliefs, in many ways, are Church-related holdovers, or perhaps a general lack of concern for fellow humans, or a little of both. I do, however, blame people. We are sentient beings, more than capable of intelligent thought apart from Church indoctrination, or the bandwagon effect. Humans are quick to take the easy road even when their innermost thoughts and beliefs may be to the contrary, and in this way the archaic beliefs man is the king of his castle, women are to obey their men, children are to be seen and not heard, or “what goes on behind closed doors is none of my business” continues to flourish. For many years I looked for every conceivable explanation for the actions and words used as weapons of punishment on my kids and me. I have since concluded there is no explanation, save to attribute actions and words to choice. Either we choose to own our behaviors and words, or we do not.

During the marriage I had been friendly with my sister-in-law who lived far from the family, by choice, and had spiritual beliefs, and a lifestyle radically different from the accepted “Christian norm” of the rest of us. I applauded her independent thinking, and over the years was one of the few in the family who expressed interest in her spiritual beliefs and lifestyle. It is to her, in small part, I credit with moving away from organized religion and seeking journey with the Divine, or God. And yet, she too offered explanations for her brother’s choices, giving further weight to blood is thicker than water.

On a visit to her childhood state a couple of years after the divorce, she stopped in to see us. We caught up and had a lovely time until she shared with me research she had done on abusive people. Her research concluded babies born five pounds or under were more likely to be abusers in life than babies born over five pounds. I listened politely and patiently to this otherwise intelligent, insightful woman, and then stated emphatically I would no longer tolerate explanations or excuses for his, or anyone else’s, abusive behavior. My twin girls were five pounds and under when they were born, and are two of the most gentle, compassionate, humanitarian women I have ever known. And, there are countless other low birth-weight babies who have grown to become loving, compassionate, productive members of society. Excuses and explanations for people who have chosen to abuse others are as plentiful as the fish in the sea. The bottom line is choice; we choose our behavior, and our words.

If you, or someone you know is a victim in an abusive relationship, there is hope. Keep in contact unless it is dangerous for the victim, let them know you are supportive and will help when they are ready to leave. If it is dangerous to stay in contact, don’t risk the victim being further abused however, if she/he works outside the home, send cards of encouragement to their work address, or call occasionally just to say, “I love you”. Victims need the support of their families, and those on the outside. Please know, the victim must take the lead and let you know when she/he is ready.

If you are the victim, there are agencies willing to help. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is a good place to start. Their number is 1-800-799-SAFE. Most cities have Women’s Shelters for women and children who will provide safety and help. You are not alone.

Not all love is good, nor all obedience holy…….  

I Can Only Imagine….. Part 2 of There But For the Grace…..

“Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of You be still? Will I stand in your presence, or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all? I can only imagine…..” (Bart Millard of MercyMe…..”I Can Only Imagine”)

There are songs that come along in our lifetimes, whether secular, or Christian, touching our hearts in ways difficult to express in mere words. “I Can Only Imagine” for me, is one of those rare songs. From the first time I heard it I connected, I don’t know why, and I have learned not to question those moments. In any case, I doubt there are many who have not heard this powerful song by the Christian band MercyMe. It is played on the radio, at church events, funerals, and I am sure during other events I am not aware. It was played at my former father-in-law’s funeral a few years after the song hit the charts. For that reason, my kids have a difficult time appreciating the song, but I do understand where they are coming from. And now the story behind the song has hit the silver screen.

Bart’s story is about triumph over childhood abuse at the hands of his dad, and his dad’s subsequent redemption later in life. My husband and I went to see it with our best friends a couple of weeks ago. I knew what the story was about, and I expected an emotional roller coaster ride. Several reports from others who had seen it was to bring tissue, and lots of it. I didn’t shed a tear, which was interesting. My friend started tearing almost immediately. She shares with me an abusive background with the father of her children. There are so many of us out there. And, she too, is a very intelligent, loving, capable, strong woman, who at one point in her life was held at gunpoint by her abuser.

For me, the story hit far too close to home. The actor who plays Bart looked and acted so much like my son it was uncanny. My husband leaned over a few minutes in and commented on how much the actor looked like my son; his mannerisms too. My son is a talented musician, as well, and Bart’s story mirrors much of my son’s abusive past with his father. One would think I would have had a strong emotional reaction, but I didn’t. I just sat there taking it all in, keeping it together. For a moment, a fleeting thought tripped across my brain cells that if a tear escaped my eye there would be no holding back the floodgates. For several days following, I thought about the movie, over and over, sorting through feelings, and sometimes the lack of them. It is strange watching the essence of your story unfolding before your eyes, and yet it’s not your story, it belongs to someone else. Other than my son not pursuing music to the extent Bart did, one other dissimilarity was the mom decided to leave, and Bart was left alone with his dad. Did I judge her decision? Certainly not. Perhaps in her mind leaving was the way she could best protect her son. (In reality, Bart had a brother, too. Some slight liberties were taken with the story)

Since “I Can Only Imagine”, the movie, is about Bart’s dad’s redemption, obviously his dad finds “Jesus” and does a one-eighty. Not so, in our case. For a few years I was angry with my ex-husband, more so because he refused to admit he had done anything wrong, or take responsibility for any of it. I have since released any residual bitterness and anger, mainly because neither serve any purpose other than impeding my spiritual growth. My kids have each said at one time or another they don’t want an apology, they just want to hear him take responsibility for his actions; in other words admit he had abused the kids he said he loved, yet told on a regular basis, “you are going to wish you had never been born.” Not long after divorce papers were served, he called and asked what he had done that was so bad, and why I seemed to hate him so much? Righteous anger and proximity empowered me and he got an earful. I say proximity because he was several hundred miles away, broke as far as I knew, and still considered himself “disabled”.

Following a heart attack a few years previous, he decided (not the cardiologist) he was unable to go back to work, filed, and was granted disability. I saw it as milking the system, as they say, but then reasoned perhaps the “disability” those granting him federal monies saw was more of a psychiatric nature, rather than physical. It also proved beneficial for him when it came time to sort out the tangled tapestry that had been our life during the divorce. No matter, I wanted nothing from him, and that is exactly what we got; nothing. We were on our own, and I can truthfully say God, or the Universe provided, whomever one is comfortable with crediting.

Issues I have with organized religion are numerous, and from my perspective the church is a large part of the problem with domestic abuse, especially for those who attend. My relationship with Yeshua (Jesus), or the Divine, has nothing to do with church. I firmly believe we are more than capable of intimate relationship with Spirit apart from any religious doctrines or rituals. Abusers within the church walls feel justified, and well within their rights and responsibilities as the “priest or head” of the family. Many pastors and church leaders support the position of abusers in their congregations because they themselves are frequently involved in abusive situations in their own homes. I have spoken to pastors wives in abusive marriages over the years who choose not to leave their husbands because of misplaced loyalty to scripture and to the negative impact they believe leaving would have on the congregation. I believe the opposite. If more women stood up for one another in the church setting we could affect change. As it stands, there is silence.  How often have sermons and messages been taught from the pulpit and in Sunday School classes about the responsibility of the wife to yield to the will of her husband? Is it not taught “spare the rod, spoil the child”? Perhaps one can argue these are the will of God, however, how many people take these very same scriptures and interpret them as free reign to abuse? Many more than one would assume. The church often turns a blind eye to abuse in their midst deferring to scriptures giving man authority over his family. Leaving organized religion is likely one of the better decisions I have made in my life.

In the movie Bart struggled with the transition his dad had made. I certainly understood his struggle. Redemption found at the foot of the cross, or in honestly facing our decisions and actions, is cleansing. So is owning our responsibility when we have hurt others, whether in an abusive relationship, or in any other way.  God is good and loves all equally and without judgment. It is not for God to judge, or even others of like mind, as the church teaches. Rather, it is for us alone to judge ourselves, facing the hurt others have suffered at our hand. God provides the mirror through which we see ourselves clearly, and unless we look into the mirror redemption will not be ours. My ex-husband has not found redemption to my knowledge. My son, and my stepson the ex brought into our marriage, keep in touch with their dad. I admire them for their decision, but don’t believe it necessary. They stay in contact because they don’t want their dad to live out the remainder of his years alone, nor do they want him to die alone. He has no true friends, according to them, a sad, aging drifter who believes he will “make it” in the music industry one day, despite lack of any real talent. Abusers lie most to themselves, as I have said. My girls choose not to have any contact with their dad. Understandable.

I admire Bart, respect his talent, and more importantly respect his tenacity in the music industry. The music industry is brutal and cutthroat, Christian or otherwise. It is difficult for anyone, but given his background, even more difficult. Like my children and me, Bart was told he was worthless in myriad ways. Rising up and embracing one’s worth through the eyes of God is no easy task. “I Can Only Imagine” is about heaven, yet we are surrounded by His Glory each and every moment. My vision is for all who have, or are experiencing abuse, to rise up, to dance, to sing, and to fully experience the unique creation each one of us is through the Divine love of the Creator…..

There But For the Grace…..

A few days ago a body of a woman was found in a dumpster. Her husband was arrested last night in a neighboring state for her murder. Family and friends said she didn’t leave because she was afraid of him. Today, she is dead….

This post is written in the honor and the memory of countless women, children, and yes, even some men, trapped in the cycle of abuse, invisible to a world who often blames the victims, There but for the grace of God go I…..

We are a spirit, with a soul, living in a body and having a life experience. The goal is to be integrated as one being living from the spirit during our life experience. We often think of each individually, and treat each individually. When our bodies are sick we go to a doctor, we see a therapist or psychiatrist for soul issues, and go to church, or seek some other spiritual path to care of our spirit selves. While each of these modalities may seemingly work to effect cures in body, mind, and spirit, at some point we realize what affects one affects the whole. When we are emotionally bankrupt we often experience illness or poor health, and we feel spiritually empty. Feeling spiritually empty leads to emotional and often physical upset and illness. See the interconnection?

The road to health and wellness has to involve ministering to the whole being; mind, body and spirit. The hardest step on that road is the first. Sometimes we are not sure where to start or even how to start, and sometimes we fear we will do it all wrong. Rest assured, you cannot screw this up! Healing is very much like peeling an onion, one layer at a time. Beneath each layer is a wound with the potential for incredible beauty. As we change and grow through the healing process the beauty unfolds and radiates in ways we could not have imagined before.

When I started my spiritual journey to understanding I heard on a radio teaching we are all in life situations we had chosen while still in spirit form. In my mind, people who believed this twisted line of thinking had lived idyllic lives, or at least close to it. Today, I have decided to put that theory on a shelf for the time being. Granted, I believe our lives here on earth are for growth, but I cannot go so far as to accept prior to donning an earth suit we decided all manner of suffering was a necessary pursuit to gain compassion, or whatever. What I do believe is we are capable of getting to the other side of a time of suffering with an appreciation for lessons learned, whether the lessons are about self, or others.

Looking back on the years since coming out of a 30 year abusive marriage, the “me” before the abuse is gone. Today’s “me” has been refined by the fires, risen from the ashes, and intentions to live in the moment to the extent I am capable every hour of every day. The process has not been easy nor comfortable, and yet today I can truthfully say I am grateful for having had the experience. That may sound entirely messed up, but hear me out. From any bad, painful, or negative experience or event there is an opportunity to learn about ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses, and to discover greater purpose. The person I am today is likely radically different from the person I may have been had I not experienced the abuse. I am far more tolerant, patient, open, non-judgmental and accepting than I thought possible, and yet there is an edge, or maybe it’s more of a resilience that is new.

The process of getting to the other side has been lengthy, intensely painful at times, challenging, and enlightening. I was not spared the good, the bad, and the ugly of myself. I have had to come to terms, or at least make peace with myself for allowing my kids to be abused. I say “allowing” because I cannot think of a better word. Certainly, I did not condone, participate, or encourage it. In my case, when I protested, the punishment for the kids went on longer and was far harsher than if I kept my protests to myself. In its own way, allowing it without protest was a way to protect my kids. I cannot truthfully say I am fully past it, and I may never be. I take responsibility for all of it. I was overwhelmed and paralyzed by fear of the unknown, what would happen to us should we leave, how would I care for my children? Obviously, the myriad unknowns pale in comparison to staying. I have had this pointed out to me on a number of occasions, and am certain those who were polite enough not to fault me out loud did so in their heads. Sadly, in our society victims are often blamed for the behavior of their abusers. “Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins”is more than a good proverb we attribute to the Native Americans, although it is actually a line from a poem written in the late 1800’s. No matter who said it, truth is truth, and there is a ton of wisdom to be gained from Native Americans and their culture, much of it born of hardship and suffering.

We cannot walk the road to healing alone. My mom listened countless hours and still does. I have never asked her, but in the early days after the divorce I probably sounded like a crazy person standing on the edge of a cliff during many a conversation, yet she listened patiently.  My ex-husband had forbid contact with my family for many years. Any contact he may accidentally find out about was dangerous, and so they were left wondering if we were alive or dead, and I wondered if they had moved on. Of course they hadn’t, but abusers are masters of mind games and have the ability to control the thinking of their victims through subtle suggestions, the twisting of facts, and being ever so convincing. And convincing they are; the biggest lie they tell is to themselves, convincing themselves they are justified in their actions.

Survivors of abuse need to learn how to set boundaries. Setting boundaries has never been a strong suit for me, yet the refining fires afforded me the resolve to set sturdy boundaries, firmly and plainly stating what I will or will not allow. My relationship with my mom has deepened, and changed from a parent/child relationship to an adult relationship. Despite my mom’s difficulty accepting I was not capable of leaving because of years spent having my spirit dismantled, piece by piece, I was still able to state I would not, nor would I ever tolerate anyone telling me what they would have done in the same situation. It is impossible for anyone, given the exact circumstance, to unequivocally say what their actions would have been. We still have our issues from time to time, and we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t, but we have learned more about one another than may have been possible had my life gone a more idyllic direction. There may never be full understanding of the abuse on her part, or my inability to leave, and quite truthfully, I understand. I really don’t expect anyone to understand. Those who do have lived their own story.

Talking is healing for the soul and the spirit. When we speak fears and regrets out loud some of their power over us is taken away. My kids and I have done our own therapy, of sorts. Like one of my twins says, “we are the only 4 who really knows what happened”, and for all intents and purposes she speaks the truth. As they have grown up the picture becomes more clear from an adult view of the circumstances. Each of them still has healing to be done, we all do on various levels. I am very proud of the people each has become, because of, and in spite of, their abusive pasts. Most abusers target one member of a family, ours was an equal-opportunity abuser. Being a resourceful and creative person, he was able to come up with individualized abuse plans so none felt left out. I say that sarcastically; I spoke the truth in sharing that I have an edge to my personality. I am humbled and honored my children trust me with their hurts, the suffering still felt, and their triumphs, however major or minor they may be. Again, as a result of our collective pasts, relationships touched by trial have deepened, and in their own way become one example of the beauty from ashes.

We hear time heals all wounds, or Jesus will take away our suffering. Neither time, nor Jesus heals all wounds. Healing is work, it is never passive and to say “time” or Jesus” heals all wounds takes us out of the equation. We don’t magically heal from anything. Our bodies are dependent upon rest, good nutrition, and sometimes medicines or treatments, the mind requires processing the hurts, events, or situations, and the spirit requires soul-searching, peeling back the layers, so to speak. Anyone sitting back and waiting for healing of any ailment will be waiting a long time for the healing to magically drop into their laps. Time only provides us perspective, and Jesus, or the Divine, walks the road with us, uncovering each protective layer, one after another, exposing a deeper level of raw pain to be surrendered. How we choose to cope with each new layer is an individual decision; there is no one-size-fits-all method.

So what is the takeaway? Healing is never a single event, nor method, and healing is necessary in mind, body, and spirit in order to be complete. The dismantled pieces of the people we once were, or were not given the chance to become, need to assemble into an integrated whole. Ignoring the need for healing in the spirit as we seek healing for the body or mind will not be successful, not in the long run anyway.  Just like my children and I are the only 4 who truly know our story and each of us has worked through healing in our own way and time, so it is with our integrated self. There is a time, a season, and a method unique to each of us for healing the mind, the body, and the spirit. If we listen to the whisper of the Divine, we will know how and when it is time to work, time to rest, time to pull inward, and time to rise up from the ashes…..

 

The Earth Is Not My Home, Or Is It…..?

Escapism theology. I didn’t know it had a name until a short time ago. Escapism has been around a very long time, however. Some credit Billy Graham for popularizing it by giving it a nod. So, what is Escapism theology? In a nutshell Escapism is waiting out our time on earth so we can go ‘home’, meaning heaven. The ‘this-is-not-my-home theology is quite popular in mainstream Christianity; we hear it from the pulpit, in Christian songs, from well-known evangelists so often we don’t give it much thought, we may even agree. Yet, Escapism isn’t simply believing in a heaven beyond death.

Buying into Escapism allows us to ignore the social ills of our world. Evangelism becomes the focus. Board as many people on the heaven-bound train as possible by leading them to repeat the “magic” words guaranteeing their salvation, their ticket through the pearly gates, while the world around us goes to hell in a hand-basket. Get the neighbor ‘saved’, and our responsibility ends there. Yeshua (Jesus) taught about heaven, true, but He spent more time teaching about living within the love of God from whom all creation springs thereby bringing real change to a hurting world. Unfortunately, those involved in Escapism are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good. Living with our heads in the clouds leaves little time for us to work toward the greater good.

Jesus was all about relationships; with one another and with God, not merely blindly following the letter of the law. We need to examine our motivations for everything. We are to be the positive energy here on earth. We are here for a purpose, each has a calling and a thread to contribute to the overall tapestry, and to fulfill our purpose we enter into relationship with others, we need to be engaged with others in the here and now. Meaningful relationships resulting in collectively working toward the greater good of all requires us to be healthy before we can help anyone else. We must journey inward with God to uncover the hurts in need of healing, to examine our motivations toward others and toward our purpose. Understanding and forgiving self first affords us the ability to understand others, and when we understand more fully we are able to forgive more fully. Escaping means we will bide our time in the present in favor of focusing on our future “home”, and ignoring the role each plays in bringing about the greater good today, in this moment. Seems like such a waste! I see no purpose in waiting around for the moment I pass from this life to the next. It serves no one, including God.

The popularity of Escapism is also how many choose to deal with the difficult questions of life. We fear death, which is really just another way of saying we fear the unknown. We want to know what, if anything, happens beyond our earthly lives. Is this all for naught, or is there a bigger picture, a bigger purpose? We all want reassurance our lives do not end with death. Those who choose New Age philosophy or Spiritualism over mainstream Christianity seek out psychics and mediums for the same reason, to be reassured. We want to know those who have passed on are pain-free, happy, and in a loving place. Believing loved ones are still with us in spirit gives us hope, we too, will live on beyond our lives on earth. I have lived too long and had enough interesting life experiences to doubt the tangible of our earthly existence is all there is. An active, vibrant realm surrounds us, and I believe this to be the realm of passed loved ones and angels. In teaching about a spirit life beyond our earthly lives, Jesus showed us the evidence of the spirit life; the Transfiguration, raising the dead back to life, and the piece de resistance, the Resurrection. Do we need more evidence?

Some in religious circles are blaming Escapism theology for mass exodus from the church. Personally, I believe any exodus from organized religion goes much deeper than running from Escapism – which, if you think about it, running away from Escapism is quite comical, all by itself! Anyway, one would think escaping the responsibilities of the world, social ills, and the like, in favor of a heaven-bound mindset would be appealing, but apparently it isn’t. Innately, humanity knows we are meant to pursue a greater purpose important to this life, and to one another. Standing in the train station waiting on the Heaven-bound Express isn’t fulfilling, meaningful, or empowering. The struggles of life, although uncomfortable, serves our growth spiritually, emotionally, and mentally. Overcoming obstacles is empowering when we realize it is possible to come out of the fiery furnace stronger, more confident, and better equipped to live to fight another day. Growth is our goal. When we cease to grow we stagnate, we march in place until the Heaven-bound Express stops by and lets us board.

Jesus instructed as many as would believe to go into the world and teach (the gospel). Again, I think man added to the ‘gospel’ for his own purposes, nevertheless enough meat exists within the scriptures we can still get a clear picture to work with. If we are to just hang around and wait until heaven rolls around there really isn’t a lot to teach. Get saved, then sit in the train station. People were drawn to Jesus because He offered substance over the superficial, relationship with the Divine, wisdom, knowledge, and purpose. I also believe He taught Eden theology, my name for describing the return to living from the spirit instead of ego dominance. The Creation story takes on new meaning when we view it from the standpoint of analogy, or explaining a concept in story form. The reason why people are leaving organized religion begins to make sense; we are seeking substance, wisdom, and purpose. Our spirit-selves are whispering there is meaning and purpose to this life beyond toiling by the sweat of our brow, scraping by, and waiting for St. Peter to call our names. Adam and Eve lived from the spirit in close relationship with God, for a time at least. They were our first example.

From the church-life perspective, there is relationship with God beyond memorizing more scripture, attending services every time the doors are open, and responding in rote to prompts from the pulpit. I believe God is calling us to think outside the box, to pursue wisdom and knowledge, to seek growth as we collectively work to bring about the greater good for all of creation. Our spirits were not designed to seek escape…..