Deconstruction Journals v

It’s still hard to imagine any of this working.

I have always been surrounded by walls, always trying to purge the weak parts of myself and distill away my humanity in order to be accepted. An automaton who performs virtues and mimics life, but who never truly feels alive.

I make movements for positive change, toward health and life, yet the emotional flashbacks of isolation, rejection, and repression drag me down like tar. I have made progress so tangible I can measure it, but holding onto this awareness is ephemeral when I’m suddenly rocketing back to earth. To the painful, incremental sum of a hundred small things and a hundred small rebellions against the way things have been.

I have never not been what I am, but all I know is I can’t be like this anymore.

Change is a small, hopeful candle flame flickering in the dark. There are more candles than there used to be. Maybe someday, there will be enough for my heart to be considered light.

From the hearts of defectors

When I was a child, I was told a story at youth group that went something like this:

A man with a gun crashed a party, or even a church service full of youth like me. He lined the kids up, and one by one, held his gun to their foreheads and asked, his voice a raspy, hate-soaked sneer, “Are you a Christian?” Desperate for their lives, each of the kids said, “No.” And he spared them.

Until he got to the last one, however.

One more time, he asked, “Are you a Christian?”

And this brave soul, straightened her shoulders, leveled her gaze to his, and said. “Yes, I am.”

He shot her point blank, and she died. 

She chose correctly.

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:33)

At the time that this story scorched itself into my mind, I was only about twelve years old. I was so shy I didn’t have close friends at school. I was falling in love with gymnastics. I climbed trees and wrote stories every chance I got. I earnestly wanted to be a good person, and was so afraid of growing up.

Logically, I looked to the church for cues on how to relate to the world. How to be a light.

This was just one of many traumatizing cues it provided.

This was the age that I was taught by the evangelical church that the world would hate and revile me for my faith. I began mentally preparing myself for it, to lose jobs, friends, favor, for the day a man with a gun would issue an ultimatum, and I would have to courageously proclaim my love for Christ and take a bullet to the head. Because I was taught that even as a child, to lie to a crazed radical in order to preserve my life was eternally binding, and that God who was supposedly benevolent would turn his back on me. 

Yes, Christians face very awful persecution in some parts of the world. But in the United States of America, Christiandom holds power. So much power, in fact, that we would surrender anything, our bodies, our consciences, our lives, to preserve a status quo that actively harms us just because it tells us what we want to hear. We were primed to take a victim’s posture against issues and people that are asking us to confront hard questions, and pursue justice and accountability. Under fundamentalism, I was taught humanism was dangerous, and that modern social justice movements were misguided and inappropriate. If we were in the end times as we believed, then things weren’t supposed to get better. So, when we’re called out as part of the problem, or are at least asked to participate as responsible citizens, we either dismiss it as a trick or recoil and cry religious persecution. 

I’m seeing it more and more as our political climate continues to heat up. Like popcorn going off in the skillet, we feel the tension, and we think this must be the religious persecution we were warned about all along because it loosely impacts our religious expression. Instead of being the creative, courageous people of transformative hope idolized in my childhood, we buckle under some temporary safety regulations. As if postponing mass worship services will usher in the anti-Christ. As if fellow human beings demanding fair treatment could ever be against God’s will.

I’ve been strolling the wilds outside the fences of organized Christianity long enough to find that people don’t dislike American Christians for their faith in God. They hate that Christians are such jerks about it, that they exclude and guilt and patronize people, and actively justify their flawed moral elitism as divine work, punishing the sick and the poor who don’t suit their narrative, and rejecting scientific fact to get their way. In the sociopolitical sphere, people in the outside world are afraid of us. What we’ve become, what we will do. Because we’ve already taken it this far.

We were weaponized. We’ve been divorced from our bodies, our emotions sanitized and repressed, self-policing our thoughts to perfect obedience, and somewhere deep, we expect that someday we’re going to be martyred for our beliefs even though Christianity not only controls the core power structures of this country, but is racing toward authoritarian theocracy. In other words, we are becoming the same kind of threat as the Islamic religion-state scare that evangelicalism peddled in the early 2000’s. Except we welcome this version of it, because we believe we’re objectively, unquestionably correct. And we’ve become so certain in that, we believe we have the right to force others to come to heel.

Purity culture, disembodiment, and emotional abuse among other theological failings, have traumatized my generation while programming us to defend it. We ache for accountability but are shamed out of following through, as experiences that threaten evangelicalism’s message or influence are often controlled, silenced, or discredited. We assume, as we’ve been groomed, that the problem is just with each of us. I felt alone for years in the illegal feeling deep in my soul that something wasn’t right and that the church had betrayed me.

But over time, I found language, and I found others. And my parents raised me better than to see corruption and look the other way. So here I am, drawing my line in the sand. 

On the surface, evangelical Christianity is a champion of love and grace, but mired in the cultural fabric of too many Christian spaces there are vast libraries of unwritten rules, thought binaries wrapped in barbed wires, and threats of eternal damnation for people who stray too far from the rota. The church isn’t perfect, obviously, comprised of broken people, and I would argue it’s normal to feel unsafe in an organization of this magnitude at least once. But let me ask, were these feelings ever resolved? Did you ever speak up about it? How was it handled? Were you lucky, and your voice was heard and change happened, or was the reaction different, putting the onus of shame on you? Your lack of faith, your overreaction. Were you asked to accept submission and then pretend everything was fine again even as the abuse continued?

Granted, this is something found just as easily outside the church, but inside the church, pushing back against oppressive social patterns is often rebuked as rebellion against God by human beings in power, whom we are taught never to question. Speaking unsafe, nuanced truth for evangelicals, then, becomes not just a social hurdle, but we find ourselves putting our eternal souls at risk.

And for people who were raised under this framework, it’s not even a thought in our minds to consider calling out the dark corners of church culture. We were born into a spiritual army, after all. Fundamentalism asked us as young as six years old to take moral responsibility for saving strangers from eternal damnation, to be prepared to become a martyr at twelve, to grow up into adults unequipped to reckon with reality because the movement was supposed to be countercultural. We feel so much fear and arrogance toward the outside world, but we push it deep where we think people can’t see, because we’re not allowed to acknowledge that we’re afraid, or that we’re not sure everything about evangelical Christianity is ethical. Doubt is a slippery slope, and we’re so afraid of sliding that we don’t stop to consider that a God worth following can withstand the steepest of doubts. 

Keeping a soft heart in a cruel world is brave and necessary. The church taught me that. The church also demonized that when it started getting too serious, when I started listening to outsiders and realized it all sounded too familiar to ignore.

We were supposed to be the example. The light. I look at evangelicalism’s posture toward the world, and the posture it forces on its followers, and I don’t see light anymore.

I have watched the church attempt to destroy my friends just for trying to be their truest selves and take seriously what the church taught about claiming a life lived fully. I have watched gaslighting, deflection, and bitterness come out of the church toward people whose authentic, lived experiences didn’t fit in with what the church preached about how to find freedom. I have heard story after story of all forms of abuse being excused and protected just because the abuser was in a position of power in the church. Little by little, I became aware that this friction, this cognitive dissonance, wasn’t normal, or even acceptable. The harder I fought to keep my place in the fold, the further I felt myself slipping. And I began to wonder, maybe the backsliders weren’t at all what I was led to believe.

Despite my sheer level of indoctrination and mental programming to serve the narrative of fundamentalist religion, I couldn’t unsee it, and my questioning, the compassion that growing up with faith had suffused me with, sapped its most insidious messages and expectations of their potency.

Young people are leaving the church in a mass exodus. I’d always heard that statistic as a lament to the depravity of the world, or the narrowness of the path, but over the last several years, I’ve found it to be a canary in the coal mine. We who have been raised in this seriously wish it could have worked out. It can be devastating to have to leave the thing that informed our entire lives. We were Christians before we even knew what that meant. It was literally wired into the structure of our brains as we grew, but even still, staying was too high a price. We felt deeply that something is so wrong with the current climate that we would rather lose the entire non-negotiable framework of our identities than continue to be poisoned by it.

We walked straight into the open desert after truth because we believed. Because it was real to us. Because no matter how committed we were, evangelicalism, fundamentalism, has failed.

If you haven’t heard the terms before, or references to the harm it has done, it’s difficult to define concisely. But ask anybody about toxic church culture, of oppressive, unwritten rules, of direct or indirect emotional abuse as it relates to doctrine or church leadership, of mishandling of mental health crises, of things people don’t feel like they’re allowed to talk about, and you’ll start to get a glimpse of the ideological powerhouse that helped create the current sociopolitical climate. 

We were part of one colossal experiment where loyalty and obedience became the bottom line. Among those who have left fundamentalism, some of us have found homes in other church denominations, others have had to leave completely for our own recovery, still others hopped directly to new dogmatic groups out of habit and have yet to find our own way. But we are all part of an urgent, ongoing conversation.

I have been afraid to openly join that conversation, because I have spent enough years watching what evangelicalism does to people who criticize it, but I’m less concerned with being accepted by it now. I hold no more loyalty to the golden calf of ideological certainty, wealth, and control that fundamentalism has passed off as God. I am so incredibly tired of watching dutifully while people I love are ushered into the furnace, or bound and gagged in the pews.

And the longer I stay silent, the longer I continue to watch compassionate, good human beings who have worked so hard to remain loyal, find themselves instead crushed under the weight of spiritual victim complexes using voices that don’t sound at all like their own, letting fear and prejudice warp their connection to their community, people who feel the tension like a lit fuse, tolerating their life waiting for the apocalypse when they could be living and working for good right this very moment. I hear whole churches parroting the propaganda of power structures that will not hesitate to snuff them out as soon as they fail to serve its agenda.

We deserve so much better. I want so much better for my family and friends, for my community. I want us to be able to show up as our entire selves, to build a place of safety. Of hope. Of life.

When did we jump from pursuing goodness and truth, to outright worshipping authority?

Evangelicalism, the brand of Christianity that holds the most power and influence right now in America, is nothing to feed or celebrate. It’s hazardous. You have been deceived, and maybe you’ve felt that all along, deep down, but power is good at pointing out a scapegoat. We, as truth-seekers, as human beings, reserve the right to walk away, to reject the machinations of empire, to build a gentle, grounded faith worth embracing. Or, if the church we’re trying to save refuses to take accountability and grow, we also reserve the right to walk away altogether.

Wherever you land, whatever this piece has made you feel, I hope you can find the courage to sit with it. To examine how your deepest knowing responds, to get curious about what emotions come up, and where you hold them in your body. About how the church would actually respond if you told somebody.

I would invite you also to ask yourself: What parts of your story are you editing? 

You may find some things that don’t line up, some discrepancies whose implications scare you or fill you with grief or rage. It’s a fearsome process, full of unsafe and unsanctioned emotions, but once they’re allowed to run their course, the path to moving forward becomes clearer.

You’re not losing your mind, and you’re absolutely not alone. There are a lot of us out here doing this work, creating resources, connecting with each other, telling our stories.

Christianity provides a stellar starting point for humanism, justice, and stewardship, but in modern American culture, it has become about keeping and imposing power rather than walking with compassion and grace.

The grace to not know all the answers. To let go of the need to be right, to embrace nuance and paradox, and the vibrant, organic push and pull of what it means to be human.

Let us give ourselves the permission we’ve been waiting for.

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Deconstruction journals iv

(From July 9)

Commuting home from work, I walk extra blocks to avoid a growing throng of protesters. The air is uneasy, strained with thinly veiled rage and imminent chaos.

I believe in the cause, though some days it’s hard to tell if those gathered are part of it, or if they’re just there to destroy stuff.

“They’re all scumbags,” my religious coworker grumbles, a young man who is otherwise sweet and thoughtful. “The whole movement is evil. Protesting doesn’t solve anything.”

I don’t know what to tell him. I hear his complaints often, and no matter who it’s coming from, it all sounds the same. I try to offer a more complex angle, the ever manic advocate for nuance, but my brain is freezing and I want to escape. It feels like I’m always hedging, placating and challenging, being gentle with people who refuse to return the favor. It’s my small glance behind the curtain, and it’s a wonder the revolutionaries don’t burn down the whole world for it.

At least the people you demonize are fighting, I think. Of course the resistance is offensive to your religion because the cultural bottom line of that religion for me, as a woman, was to roll over and try to be content with my suffocated place in the hierarchy. And that extended to anyone else not favored by the power structure.

Peace without justice is not peace at all. It’s hell.

And call me a brainwashed liberal, but I’d always thought it was Christianity’s duty to save people from hell.

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A/N: Today, deconstruction feels like this. I refuse to give the cognitive dissonance justification. I understand where this behavior from religious people is coming from, but it doesn’t get a free pass with me. Not anymore.

Dear White People: Shed the taboo. You have always been enough. It’s time.

One of the biggest rules of white Christian America was “Don’t disturb the peace,” at all costs. As to exactly where this came from I have a few guesses, but the cost has been far too high to let it continue. I could go on about the very real and horrible ways it has victimized, harmed, and silenced Black and brown people, but for now, I want to discuss its implication for white people.

For white people, it has meant bottle your emotions and push them deep because no one will care for you if you’re vulnerable; that your greatest duty is to not be a total pain to deal with or make others have to see you for who you really are. So we cut off our hearts and push away from anything that threatens to expose the poison of our deeply indoctrinated need to be okay. We can’t be human so we don’t set boundaries, we stigmatize mental health and look to faith as a cure-all, waiting for the pain to go away on its own when it’s a bit more complex than that. We don’t show up for ourselves, and we stubbornly tell ourselves we don’t feel our life leaking away. We construct our walls and wither inside them.

Meanwhile, the cogs of power weaponized our own silenced pain and fear against innocent people, to the point where it threatens these people’s very lives on a daily basis.

We arm ourselves with guns and dogma and contempt and tell ourselves that’s safer, that’s enough. That nothing will change and we just have to hold our ground until we die.

It’s too late now, our brokenness whispers. Our bitter wounded hearts that were never heard, because human was just too bothersome. Too late now.

But it’s never too late. The voices of indoctrination and trauma are not truth. We have the power to claim better, for ourselves, for our neighbors.

In the social justice realm, the way things are, while we are hurting in our own ways, and however unfair it is, the color of our skin doesn’t make things harder for us. And that’s where our role comes in. The system was built to benefit us, and privilege doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Privilege is an edge on the status quo, and it’s a tool we can wield to protect others and enact change.

As white people, we are being asked right now to amplify and support the voices of the marginalized, those against whom our silence feeds into something far older and far more sinister than the number our questionable “don’t stir the pot” upbringing did on us. The voice of our indoctrination says “us vs them,” that stepping aside means “roll over and die,” but that isn’t the case. It feels threatening, because change is scary. Confronting pain and darkness in ourselves and the nonconsensual ways generational trauma has stained us is difficult and terrifying. We struggle so much to accept our own selves that most days we can’t stand one more person saying our struggle doesn’t mean anything. That our pain is wrong.

Race hasn’t been a source of this in my life because of my whiteness, but I have felt this narrative again and again in other areas. And I will do whatever I have to so that I never ever inflict this injustice on another person. When they tell me their experience, I will believe them. People need to be heard, and when they ask me to listen, I will set myself aside, and I will listen. Black and brown people are no strangers to the most insidious forms of gaslighting, and it doesn’t stop at gaslighting. They’re literally fighting for their lives.

With white people, feeling heard is a difficult nuance. Our own white culture has pushed us down so far we’re not sure what we need. We say one thing, but we’re really speaking to something else. I want you to feel like your pain is heard, but I hope you understand that in the realm of social justice, being heard is only the beginning. There is a call for a greater standard, a greater accountability at work here. I want you to be a part of it.

Growing up Christian, I was taught to think critically with compassion, and that compassion always has to have the last word. If that means I’ll have to dismantle the darkness in me, to do work that completely destroys my worldview and leaves me shaken, then bring it on. I have been doing this work for seven years now and I intend to continue it for the rest of my life. I’ll do it without expecting thanks or a pat on the back, because it is my duty as a citizen of the world. As a storyteller, as a human being. I am a part of this revolution, but it isn’t about me.

That’s not to say that I don’t mean anything. I’m working on my own internal revolutions too. If I don’t show up for myself, I can’t show up for others.

We white people hear “Black Lives Matter” and our programming and trauma hears, “Bury Yourself, Nullify Yourself. You are never good enough.” But that’s not what Black Lives Matter is about. The recent protests are a call to change the power structure. (By “defund the police,” the intent is to move to a community-based system of specialists that are better held accountable, not generalist soldiers on a power trip.) As much as we hate to admit it, racism has only helped fuel the corrupt systems in place, in overt and subtle ways that we have to dig up and eradicate in ourselves too. We were born into a racist society. That doesn’t make us bad people, it means we have work to do. This is about dismantling systems that hurt everybody. About giving people of color relief and justice for once.

For us to be functional allies we have to figure out why our hearts want to stay closed.

We can give ourselves the permission to do the work in ourselves we’ve needed to do for far too long, to identify and address our own trauma that often has nothing to do with racism but very much influences our response to it, to combat the lies we’ve picked up along the way, to be able to hear people for what they’re actually saying. But we can do that work while also amplifying the voices of Black and brown people and supporting them in dismantling a status quo that made us bitter but is actively violent and victimizing toward them.

The corrupted status quo benefits off our staying closed. Staying bitter. To fight it, we have to listen to the voices speaking against it. We have to let ourselves become human, to hold the capacity for empathy with people whose lived experiences are vastly different than our own but very, very real. To stand with these people and say, “I believe you. Enough is enough.”

Black Lives Matter says it has to stop. All of it. The cycle of trauma broken once and for all. This is very much about bringing justice to fruition for people who still have yet to see it in the modern era, but that doesn’t mean you as a white person no longer have a place in the world. You have more a place in the world than ever. You, too, get to be part of history in the making.

All this time we’ve been doing the best we could with the resources we had, but now with new resources, easier access to information, new voices standing on the shoulders of the voices of the past, it’s time to pivot. It’s time to change the game.

It is time to ask where our defensiveness, our hesitation, our condemnation comes from. Whose voice it is, and who it serves. It is time to ask whether we will join the fight to build a better world, or if we will continue to let our unresolved personal trauma keep us buried.

We have the power to reject things that no longer serve us, to listen and learn and confront things we don’t feel equipped to. We don’t have to bury our hearts anymore. We can come alive, we can absolutely stir the pot until it shatters, we can support and protect and listen to our Black and brown brothers and sisters. We can show up for them in a major ways, and at the same time we can learn how to show up for ourselves and each other in the ways our white sanitized cultural indoctrination always barred and demonized. It’s time to claim healing for ourselves as well as for our nation, if only we are willing to listen. 

All lives cannot matter until Black lives matter. That doesn’t mean you and your pain don’t. That doesn’t mean you can’t seek healing for yourself as well in the midst of all this, but we need your heart and your privilege to push back against the insidious status quo. We’re in this for the long haul, and you’re absolutely welcome at the table.

Early, late, or right on time, you’re welcome to join the revolution.

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A/N: I’ve been floored recently by the advancement in trauma awareness over the last several years, and as I’ve started wandering down that road in my own life, one aspect of the pushback I see from white people in my community against such good, necessary, and urgent societal change as the Black Lives Matter movement is starting to make more sense to me. Today I hoped to speak to that, to assuage some of those fears.

Deconstruction journals iii

Honestly, the concept is still so foreign to me that someone could ever want to enter into a romantic relationship with me purely because they like me as a person, and not as an idea or expectation, not as a lost cause they just haven’t yet given up on.

Only recently, I’ve started to understand that in this and other areas, I have been expected to merely tolerate my life. Tolerate depression, disillusionment, loneliness, and rage because I don’t fit. Because I have never quite fit, I thought the best I could hope for was non-conformance and frustration. The price of being an old soul, of standing in the middle ground.

I was expected to call this right. Living but not quite alive. So long as I was functional, what did it matter if I wasn’t human and could never hope to be?

Only recently, I’ve realized I can leave this behind. I can be fully alive.

Not just practical, useful, or safely “content.”

I, too, can be human.

I can be happy.

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You are your own

A piece I made this past week. I’ve been trying to give myself more space to play, to explore creatively while I process a lot of stuff. When I process my emotions, robotic imagery is a common theme; I’ve long struggled to let my organic body have a place in my life, and my engagement in personal relationships is characterized by tightly controlled emotions. I’ve recently realized that my primary “real” emotion is anger, which stands in for most other things I’ve otherwise repressed.

It’s been tough and confusing beginning to sort through this, but for the first time, I feel like I actually have a shot at being human.

Deconstruction Journals ii

Forgiveness is not the same thing as accountability.

It is not for lack of faith that my trust was deeply broken, and that I can’t seem to find it again. It’s not for a desire to sin freely that I choose to hold space for the grief and anger for the ways I was wounded in the name of revival, for the things that were stolen from me in the name of holiness.

“The church is made up of imperfect people,” they say. “It isn’t like that anymore. Forgive, re-assimilate.”

But boundaries continually crossed and emotions suppressed is not healing.

Forgiveness is not the same as accountability. Both are important, but the kind I’m continually asked to assume just feels like a call to loyalty. My betrayed devotion buried, forgotten. Unresolved.

I was born a storyteller, an old soul hardwired to watch the world with eyes wide open, and to tell about what I found. I hold no ability to be untrue to myself, and the things on my heart are the very things the church wishes I wouldn’t talk about.

I take a break, I let it cool down. I go back, yet the environment is the same as when I was a teenager. We can be friends so long as I stay quiet and play along.

And I think, if God put this heart in me, why would he ask me to betray it again and again and again? To shove it down into the dark and watch it sicken and wither?

I was raised to believe compassion has to have the last word, always. We, the children of the fallout, still believe that.

Deconstruction Journals i

The kid’s not alright.

She pushed herself down and cut off all the living pieces. She convinced herself that if she were minimal, she would be perfect and likable, and people would stick around.

But they left anyway, and it’s hard for a robot to make friends.

The kid had convinced herself she was better now, but now she’s just filled with cold, bitter rage. Angry adults destroy their lives, but she still wants hers to work out.

As she dons a brave face for the world, the angry child inside her tells her all this has been pointless. All this striving, minimizing, playing along. She broke her heart for their ideals, became inhuman for their so-called divinity. And now it’s still her who’s in the wrong.

I’ll just keep up this charade for the rest of my life, she tells herself. It’s not like I’ll ever get what I truly need. 

It’s not like I’ll ever know what that is.

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A/N: Some journaling.

Most of my fiction writing these days is attached to a long form project I can’t put up on the internet, while most of my current nonfiction writing deals with this: post-evangelical deconstruction. It’s messy and always changing, which makes it so hard to talk about publicly, or to be honest about in any meaningful capacity. But I know I’m not the only one out there dealing with this.

I used to think I knew what the end goal to all this was supposed to be, but now I think just “healing” would be good. Identifying the unmet needs and figuring out how to meet them. Seeing what I find on the journey.

PTSD

I’ve only recently realized I’m still drowning.

I used to live in a season where my environment was so big, so noisy, so relentless, that the only choice I had to survive it all was to cram myself smaller and smaller. Minimal, numb.

For three full years of overwork and isolation, I still felt strongly it wasn’t time to go home, and I refused to give up. Attempts at breaking isolation fizzled, one after the other.

Too tired.

Too scared.

Too busy.

Catching my breath in that place was impossible, but I tried. Choking and gasping, drowning but not quite dead.

When I finally escaped and had a chance to move on, I threw myself into trying, needing to be okay. But real life set me on a treadmill that is still a little too fast. A voice in my head tells me over and over that I don’t get to rest; I will never get it right, and the stakes are too high.

I feel like I can’t breathe again. I can’t fail, I can’t go back there.

But somehow, I already have.

Somewhere deep in my bones, I never really left.

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A/N: Thoughts from quarantine. This whole situation has dug up things I had preferred to bury as deep as possible, but finally (grudgingly) allowing it to have a name has been helpful.