More Than I Can Handle

 

There is this common statement among those who choose a Christian religious base for their belief system.  I hear it often.  I hate it more every time it is said.

“God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

I call bullshit.

I am dealing with more than I can handle.  I’ve been dealing with more than I can handle since childhood. And every day I wait for the moment when pretending at control is overcome by the chaos of being overwhelmed.

So, here is the thing I need to say:  either the Divine absolutely gives out more than one can handle, or the Divine isn’t a part of the equation at all.

Please do not misunderstand and read that as “God doesn’t exist”, because I won’t challenge anyone on that point.  I believe in divine intervention and live a spiritual, but not religious, life.  The existence of some Divine source is a part of my belief system.  And it does not need to be yours.  If you are not religious, I suppose you could ignore this post altogether.  (But I hope you don’t.)

The statement that the Divine will not let you be overwhelmed, however, is bullshit.  I’m overwhelmed right now.  I was overwhelmed two days ago.  I was overwhelmed last week.  I am consistently given more than I can handle.  And if the Divine exists, and I am overwhelmed, then god does give you more than you can handle.  If the Divine does not exist, then the statement is just bullshit from the very first word.

I’ll try to elaborate without getting into a weird rant or too many details.  When I was a child, I was sexually assaulted repeatedly.  I couldn’t cope with that.  It was too much.  And while my actions were often a cry for help, they went unheard or were misunderstood, so I was marinating in more than I could handle.  I was feeling so much pain and shame and confusion that my brain literally stopped knowing about the sexual molestation.  I had a complete dissociation from the events.  My brain shut those events and any and all memories of those events down.  They were tucked away in a place I didn’t have full access to, and they didn’t become known to me in a conscious way until my first year of college.  And when I became aware of those events once more, it was more than I could handle again.  I became depressed, suicidal, and easily enraged.  I was a mess.  I dropped out of college, moved away, dropped out of another college, harbored a runaway, became a drug addict, and got married.  All of these events were too much to handle.

My husband was violently physically and psychologically abusive.  I got pregnant, got divorced, had my baby, went on a blind date, and started a relationship with a man who influenced my return to drug use and eventually became physically abusive, as my ex-husband had been.

Too much.

And then, it would seem, I “got it together”.  I worked hard, cared for my daughter, went back to college, got a master’s degree or two, and ended up working in Chicago.  While these years seemed like the most excellent years of my life to the onlooking outsider, inside of me there was just as much struggle as there had been in years past.  I smoked a lot.  I ran often.  I did everything asked of me, until I could not do it anymore.  What most don’t know about those years is that my kitchen was a mass of dirty dishes half of the time, I was drinking too much, I was fired as a teacher’s assistant because I didn’t have enough time to read and grade papers. I failed a few classes. My daughter resented me for leaving her with others and not hearing her needs often or well.  I was struggling to keep it together, and looked fabulous on the outside, while the inside was being ripped and torn into ugly, bloodied chunks of flesh.

I had become a master of pretending at a very early age.  It took a lot for me to fall apart in front of people.

But behind closed doors, nightmares and weeping and screaming and praying and begging for the pain to end kept on happening.  They didn’t stop as I grew up and developed and became a “responsible adult”.  They just got pushed under layers and layers of façade.

Around 2010 was when things stop staying hidden.  I couldn’t control it anymore.  Tears would come at the most inopportune time.  The lack of sleep from nightmares and insomnia was causing my body to suffer.  I started experiencing chronic illness, and I started to look and sound like a person without hope—crazed with the desperate state of my psyche and the onset of more and more symptoms of illness.  I was breaking down in front of people, instead of doing it behind closed doors.  And people ran away rather than be sucked into my despair.

It’s hard for people who are not given more than they can handle to watch you crumble under the too much.  They don’t understand it.  And it is frightening.  But what I think is the hardest thing for those people to come to terms with is that the platitude they have believed is not true.  Some of us are given way more than we can handle.

Because some of us are given more than we can handle, we need help.  Help, need, care, and the like are not things that most want to offer, so they cling to the lie and insist that god won’t give me more than I can handle.  But I know that is just an excuse not to get involved in the pain of others.

Empathy hurts.

Walking into the center of another person’s trauma is painful.  Feeling what they feel is terrible, because it is completely and utterly too much.  And nobody wants to feel what I feel.

Nobody wants constant physical and emotional suffering.  Nobody wants to face fears and be struck down and struggle through depression and suicidal thinking and destroy relationships through mistrust and sob with such intensity that you need to sleep for three hours to recover the ability to stand.  And, on one hand, I don’t blame you for not wanting to experience what I experience.  On the other hand, leaving me to suffer alone and offering me platitudes that I know are lies makes me despise you for not standing in solidarity.

Because if you cannot handle what is coming at you every day, and if you are overwhelmed, you need others to help carry the weight.  I have approximately six people who help carry the weight in a consistent and generous and loving way.  One of them I pay, because she is my therapist.

I understand more than anyone how heavy and exhausting and painful carrying the load of my life is, but I don’t have the option to step out from under that weight.  I have to cope, shift, manage, and try not to be crushed forever by that weight.

There is another saying—less religious and more true—that I sometimes use.  “Many hands make light work.”

A heavy burden becomes light when there are twelve people lifting, and not just one. I would love for us to acknowledge our avoidance of the burdens in the lives of those around us.  I would love for us to accept that the only way to make things better is to add our hands and help carry the burdens of others.  I would love for us to admit that there is a lot that is overwhelming, and that it won’t go away because we pretend that god makes life easy enough for us (or hard enough for us, depending on your perspective) in relation to our ability to be weighed down.

You don’t keep placing items in a grocery bag until it breaks.  You open and fill a second bag.  You disperse the weight, balancing things out and making certain that there isn’t too much pressure in one spot.

(Yes, I just unintentionally made a grocery bag analogy to suffering.  But I can’t really think of a better analogy right now, so it stands.)

So, we are given more than we can handle.  Which is why we need others supporting us.  All of us need others to carry a bit of the weight at times.  That looks different at different times and in different spaces.  But none of us is immune to being overwhelmed.

My life has had too much to handle for a really long time.  I get better at handling it through coping strategies.  But I still haven’t worked through all the burdens or had the weight lifted.  I still make valiant attempts at handling it all.  I still pretend I am well while I am carrying immense pain just under the surface.  But I fail all the time.  I hurt all of the time.  I feel too much.  I need too much.  I falter too much.

And my only hope is that others might find their way toward helping, and that hands would be added, and that my burden may become light.  Help me Obi Wan Community, you are my only hope!

I hope that empathy might become something that we embrace, despite the hurts, because it also brings shared joys.  I hope that generosity rules the day.  I hope that we start to dissect the lies that the platitudes reinforce, and come to understand that we need one another to survive.  I hope that we find the strength to share, to respect, to dignify, and to accept.  I hope we leave behind individualism, judgment, marginalizing, and rejecting.

I don’t know that this is an eloquent post.  It is a needed expression.  Mostly, I need to say it, because it is boring a hole through my mind.  But I also hope that it is heard and accepted.  Because I have always known that the Divine isn’t giving me any number of things to handle or not handle.  The Divine gives me an assist when all the things are too much.  The Divine doesn’t give anyone burdens for the fun of watching us struggle.  And the Divine doesn’t give burdens to prepare us for assisting others in their burdens.  The Divine is the opposite of burden.  The Divine is love.  And whatever is burdensome is what we need to fight against, not for.

When racism tears apart a community, we fight against that.  When illness strikes a body, we fight against that.  When fear creates divisions, we fight against that.  When poverty leaves people in the streets, we fight against that.  When little children are violated, we fight against that.  When women are not given a voice, we fight against that.  When gun violence steals lives every day, we fight against that.

And we fight together, in solidarity, and as one entity.  Because there is more in each of those situations than we can handle, and ridding our society of these evils requires our many hands, working together, to unburden the most vulnerable.

I happen to be one of the most vulnerable, because life tossed all sorts of challenges at me, and so my plea for justice—the unburdening of the most vulnerable—ends up being a plea for my welfare also.  I beg for hands to help on a regular basis through my fundraising site.  But I want, today, to express that there are so many more burdens than mine.  And there are so many who do not have hands helping at all, where I have a few.  So, I’m not just advocating for myself.  I’m advocating for all the poor, disabled, homeless, captive, imprisoned, endangered, devastated, depressed, and unsupported victims of all the ills within our society.

Lend them a hand.  Live in solidarity.  Challenge your assumptions and preconceptions.  Dig deep into your heart and your mind, and figure out why you let burdens continue without intervention.  Smash those excuses that keep you from moving toward empathy and solidarity and understanding and care.  Do things that change lives.  Do things that save lives.

And stop saying that god doesn’t give us more than we can handle.  Stop spreading that lie.  Start spreading love.

 

There is no title befitting pleas of the broken

There are days that hope cannot come from within.  The spirit of the wounded gives up sometimes, whether it is desired or no.  I’m trying to find a way to inspire that spirit and enter the fray once more. But I haven’t found it today.  I think it might need to come from elsewhere.  I think I have given up.  I am too broken—too overwhelmed, too tired, too pained, and too frustrated.  So, put up whatever prayers or vibes or other juju required to get the universe in gear.  Send all the things that might spark the survivor’s drive in me, and keep me moving forward.  I don’t want to slip into hopelessness.  But I’m not sure that I am offered a choice today.  I’m not certain that I can overcome alone.  I need some intervention—some intercession.  I need the matchstick of divine inspiration to light the flame once more, and to ignite hope.

And now I go to do all the things:  the meditation, the Buddha board, the mandalas, the gardening, the art, and the yoga.  I go to seek out some solace and to find some end to the feeling that weighs my heart down today, and silences the good things and amplifies the bad.

Pray they are the flint that sparks joy and hope and strength.

Ask and it shall be given.  Seek and you will find.

Magic

There was a time in my life when I was involved in a bit of Wiccan foreplay.  I never actually joined a coven or became a card-carrying member of the organization, but I certainly dabbled for a while.  It is interesting that for some years after, I had an aversion to such things, and sort of tied anything having to do with the non-physical aspects of life to evil.  But that is likely because of Christianity, and its refusal to let things exist in a realm without firm, dichotomous boundaries.

I remember that when I would participate and attempt to do things in this environment, with others more committed to the religion than I, they would often marvel at my ability to conjure or find or follow or send “energy”.  And even though I was apparently doing those things, I didn’t really understand fully or believe that those things were happening, or that I was talented in doing them.  I did find certain aspects of that community fun and entertaining, and I also found it to be a community that was tightly knit and deeply caring and wholly invested in light and love.  That was one of the best things about that time in my history, being in that light and love.

Today, I did a meditation that I have not used before, and it was talking about one’s “inner goddess”.  When I started it, I just thought it would be a generalized sort of “love yourself more and let your personality shine” meditation.  But it was not that at all.

The teacher explained the metaphorical young energy that rests in the root chakra, and that one kundalini yogi expresses that as a sort of “daughter” energy that needs to be drawn up and matured by a “mother” energy—basically the divine, or God, or Allah, or the universe, or whatever your chosen belief system might call it.   So there is an internal and an external energy at play in this meditation.  Now, I have experienced the whole concept of the chakras and finding balance and strengthening and such and so forth a lot since beginning with yoga and meditation and mindfulness practice.  That isn’t strange to me.  What was strange is that as I did the meditation, the energy I found felt like and looked like the same energy that I was connected with in my experience of “magic”.  And then I had a huge epiphany.

All of these things carry different names in different contexts and in different communities, but there is just one energy in me, and just one energy offered by the divine, and there is only one way that they mingle and become one and share space.

I’m sure that statement will confuse some and offend others.  I’m prepared for that.

However, I cannot deny my experience, strange as some may find it, and I hold fast on this point: that the energy, the life force, and the magic, are one.

I still believe in magic.

As I meditated today, I did as the guide asked, and I envisioned golden light and white misty light and a corridor of energy within and between my chakras, and the mingling of my personal light and the golden light of the mother, this feminine spirit of god, and energy filled not only that corridor, but my hands and my heart and my environment.  I was finding and following and transferring that same energy that I magicked all those years ago in the Wiccan community.  I was holding light and mingling with the divine and feeling my own energy and strength and purpose balling up in my hands, and I knew, with certainty, that this was a moment where the veil is lifted and the divine and the human connect.  This meditation brought me as much connection as a church worship service, or a retreat weekend, or a prayer circle ever has, and even more.  Because I finally recognized the divine and myself commingled and connected.  Even in religious circles, I have not experienced this so fully and completely.

It might sound crazy to some, for me to express that my energy has mixed with the divine.  But to many it should make perfect sense.  God among man.  Humanity and divinity.  The spirit of god being poured out.  Power and laying on of hands and healings.  It all ties to the energy in me mingling with the energy of the divine.  And Shakti or Jesus or Allah or whatever doesn’t seem to matter when you look at it the way I experienced it in this meditation.  A human being guided and lifted and matured by the spirit of the divine.  My daughter energy being fed and nurtured by the mother energy.  The completion of a circle long broken.

In the Garden of Eden, as the story goes, god walked with man and taught and guided and discussed with man the way of life.  And the assumption often is that we cannot get back to that garden, so we cannot get back to the divine.  But that isn’t true.  We can be touched by the divine in a twenty-minute meditation.  We can be touched by the divine in a moment of prayer, bowed toward Mecca.  We can be touched by the divine in a big Assemblies of God foot stomping, slaying in the spirit service.  We can be touched by the divine in the “special music” portion of the liturgy when a word hits us in the middle of the performance of a song.  And we can be touched by the divine in the everyday interactions with those around us.

Magic, in the sense that my energy becomes commingled with the divine, is everywhere around us.  All we need to do is see it and accept it and embrace it.  All we need to do is make it ours—hold it dear and be grateful for it.  This magic—this spirit—pursues us.  It reaches out to us.  All we need do is reach back toward it, and we can be utterly transformed.

But we don’t, more often than not.

We refuse to believe in magic and in miracles and in a divine that would extend purest light to us, body and soul.  We refuse to believe that our story is melded with the story of the universe, in significant and deep ways.  We refuse to understand that our energy is tied with this greater energy, and that we are made of the stars and meant to shine.

And that isn’t the ego talking. That is the voice of the divine shining through me today.

Abundance is a concept often misused in religious circles.  We are sometimes told to give to the tele-evangelist and that god will bless us with money in return.  A “prosperity gospel” that assumes the rich are moral and good in the eyes of god and the poor are morally base or need to repent is a damaging and terrible misunderstanding of the divine intent for abundance.  We are full to overflowing with energy that is being touched by the divine, and all we need do is let that be fostered, matured, and blessed.

My situation or station in life do not scream “Abundance!” My situation and station scream out desperation and need and longing and desire and “Not Enough!”  But my spirit, and the energy that lies within me are abundant and rich and full.

If you don’t feel that way—can’t understand that you are fullness, in your current state—then maybe you need to connect with your inner goddess as well, and find that mother spirit that matures and guides you into such fullness, such abundance, and such gratitude.

Do I sound nuts?  Probably.

Do I care?  Not one bit.  Because I know that this much is true—the divine lives in me, and pursues me, and longs for me, and commingles with my essence, and makes me whole.

Learning to be whole.

That is the way that I titled this blog, and it is what I really wanted desperately at the time—to figure out the way to be whole, and not feel broken down and shattered.  But I am and I was and I will be whole, always.  I just didn’t know it in the moment that I started this blog.

I know it now.  I am wholeness.  I am a piece of the divine.  I am made of star stuff, and I am connected to the spirit of the universe and to every other piece of star stuff within it.

I am magic.  And so are you.

The Dangers of Being

Once in a while I sit and reflect.  Just be.  In the silence, alone, waiting, and living inside my own head. It is a different feeling, this reflection, because usually I am always thinking, in the most deliberate of ways, but without conscious effort.  My mind just doesn’t stop.  I’m constantly assessing—for threats, I assume, because of my PTSD, but also just weighing all the things and investigating all the things and trying to anticipate all the things.

There are times when I question whether this is the sign of a diseased mind, like the doctors who prescribed ADHD in my twenties believed, or like the literature on trauma indicates, or whether it is just a side-effect of being really, incredibly intelligent.  I think my mind is always working for reasons, and I don’t always want to push away all of that thinking to just sit and be.

But I need to just be.

Disease or intelligence aside, I do feel better and gain energy and increase clarity by spending time in reflection and in meditation.  It helps.  It calms and centers me.  I can literally feel myself be more connected to the ground with a strong foundation.  I can literally feel my heart opening to love and my chest lightening with the release of anything I might be struggling with.  It can be a beautiful experience.

The trouble is, that when I start to spend time in this grounded, open, lighter space, I start being more grounded and open and light.

And that might not sound like a problem initially, but let me explain the difficulties of this change.

I do what I love.  I don’t care about the approval of others as much.  I let things happen without interfering or controlling them.  I act on my desires.  I live life to the full.  I enjoy my life.

If you don’t see the problem above, then you must not have grown up under the circumstances I was raised within.  Because where I come from you do what you “should” and you care a LOT about the approval of others, and you interfere and control things all the time, and you don’t act on your desires, and you don’t live life to the full, and most don’t enjoy their lives. Who could enjoy life under such restraints?  (I think a lot of people in that area just feign enjoyment and then go home and drink themselves stupid or cry into their pillows.  I know that is usually my strategy when I even visit for a long time—drinking and crying usually happen.)

Now, I do wish to clarify that there are amazing and beautiful people in this area where I grew up.  Some are even aware and thoughtful.  Others still are loving and compassionate and non-judgmental.  But on the whole, the area is plagued by expectations that are never met, leaving people to judge and be judged continually.  And that isn’t for me.

But being—just being and not trying to meet those constant expectations—causes consequences for me.

It sometimes feels like I am worlds away from those people and that place.  Other times I feel swallowed up by my own expectations, which were adopted and enforced in the stead of the ones who did so in my youth.  But, for the most part, I am shedding the rules and regulations and all of the “shoulds” that were once commonplace.  The struggle that I face, then, is the disconnect between the freedom of my current life and the captivity of my earlier life.

Tonight I ate a cookie baked with cannabutter …the whole cookie, not just my usual few bites per hour to manage pain, but enough to get me feeling a little stoned… and then I considered a booty call, but decided against it.  I figure I will wait things out and see if the guy from the other night decides to come back for more.  Because the other night I had sex for the sake of sex.  And it was fun.  And I really liked it.  And I am absolutely up for more, but I don’t feel like making the ask.  Being pursued seems like it might be fun.  And there is nothing wrong with any of the things I said in this paragraph, but that is not how the people in the place where the expectations and judgments live will see it.  Their perspective allows my situation to be bad or sad or cause for “concern”.  It does not allow them to accept that I like having sex but don’t plan on getting married anytime soon.  It does not allow them to accept that I break the law to feel better and eat my weed cookies anyway.  It does not allow them to enjoy my life.

And their enjoyment of my life is not a thing for which I will argue.  My life isn’t meant for them to enjoy.  It is meant for me to live and enjoy.  But what I am arguing for is to have the freedom to live life from my own perspective, in my own experience, filled with my own truth and understanding, without it being tantamount to murderous crime sprees.

I’m a good person.  And I don’t say that because I do good things, but because I am a person.  I’ve not met a single person who didn’t have some good in them. (And I have met some pretty awful people.  I even married a pretty awful person. It is saying a lot that I can find good in even him.)  And that good doesn’t disappear because I break a conservative evangelical’s rules.  I know that is how many of the people in my history have seen people, however.  There is good and there is bad, in their view.  There isn’t anything in between and one cancels out the other, it would seem.  So, my pot consumption and sex while unmarried would make me bad (or sad, or misguided, or confused).  Really, it just makes me a good person who does what she wants and lives according to her own convictions and not the convictions of others.  I can listen to and understand your convictions, but I don’t need to make them mine.

Sometimes, just being, and doing what I want and what feels right to me, gets me into trouble with these others.  And that is the danger here—finding freedom in your own life only to be chastised by those not even in your life. (Being related to me doesn’t count as “in” my life, per se. You would need to talk to me more than once every five years for that to be the case.)  It is difficult to live between worlds.  Do I pretend?  Do I lie about what I believe and what I do?  Do I tell people only what I believe they want to hear?  Doing so would mean denying myself the freedom I spend the time to achieve, and being locked in a cage of expectations once more.  And pretending for too long leaves you lost—you forget who you are after a while.  But not doing so means having to field angry messages and argue for my freedom a ridiculous amount of time, or restricting people’s access to my writing and my opinions (aka, unfriending half of my Facebook “friends”).

Being is hard work.

And apparently it is also lonely work, as the list of people who accept me as I am grows ever shorter.

Ironic that “Just As I Am” is a hymn that I heard often growing up, now that most who sang along with it don’t follow it at all.  Maybe the divine accepts me as I am, but I haven’t met many evangelical Christians that would do the same.  And with every move I make away from traditional views of scripture and toward a divine concept that offers more hope than criticism and more love than judgment, I lose more friends.

I was recently accused of “just trying to cause fights” by expressing my views.  I don’t need fights caused.  My life has quite enough struggle on its own, and I am not looking to add more.  But I also don’t need to feel shamed and judged and hated for the beliefs I do hold, and the ways that I do live.  I often wonder why those who comment repeatedly on my Facebook posts think I am starting a fight, when they are perpetually commenting.  If they don’t want to argue about a point I have made, then they don’t need to object.  And when I refuse to engage their comments, some people get extremely agitated and accost me.  But I suppose I am considered the one at fault because I have the divergent viewpoint.

That word, “divergent”, just reminded me of the book series of the same title.  It turns out that divergence isn’t really all that terrible, and that the girl who seemed all wrong was actually “right”.  And it is a bit fun to believe that I am the lead character in this story.  It is fun to think about how it will feel to know that I am justified.  And I am justified not by the ones who now judge me, but in a much greater scheme and a much broader sense.  Because right or wrong, we all have the freedom to be.  And that being can look however we might choose for it to look.  I am not afraid of the choices I am making.  I am not ashamed of the choices I am making.  And I am not hiding from the choices I am making.

Trust me, I get the whole fucking consequences concept.  I’ve understood that concept since about age four, but it was beaten into my head (sometimes literally) later in life as well.  If my choices really aren’t the “best” or “smartest” or most “good”?  I don’t really care.  Because they are the ones I have made, and I made them for reasons—often well researched and scientifically proven reasons.

And you have the freedom to make your decisions too.  And you are subject to your own set of consequences.

I would never say that the only people who are right are the people who got pressed up against an appliance the other night with a hand around their throat and liked it and begged for more.  I would never say that the only people who are right are the ones who believe sexual purity is the mark of a good woman. (Actually, I would never believe those people were right in that particular instance, but let’s just imagine for a second that they could be.)  The point is, I get to make my choices, and you get to make yours.  And I rarely attack people for their choices … unless I am super hangry or in a lot of pain.  I might disagree with your ideas, but I don’t use ideas to harm people intentionally.  But I also don’t think my ideas are the measure of my worth.  Because, as I said earlier, I am a person.  And people have value because they are people, not because they hold the right set of beliefs or have the correct courses of action.  People have value because they are people.

I wanted to type that I often question how the world might look if we all let one another be, instead of focusing so much on what one should or should not do, but I don’t actually question that much anymore.  I don’t believe that many of the people I know will ever change the way they now live, and I have stopped expecting the same level of acceptance from others that I offer myself.  It has, after all, taken years and years for me to let go of expectations and accept myself as I am. Some days it is still a struggle for me.  I’m guessing it will be as difficult, or more difficult, for others to do the same.  But I also don’t question my desire to break ties with those who would wish I hate myself more again—and I understand they would be well-meaning and not trying to make me hate myself, but by judging my actions and beliefs constantly, that is exactly what they do.  They make me slip back into the self-hatred of my earlier years.  And I am refusing to go back to that place, if I can help it.

So, being, in my case, might mean being tied to only a handful of loving people who understand and accept who I am.  And it might mean refusing to engage with those who offer me shame and self-loathing in place of the freedom.  Being might be difficult in all these ways.

It is so worth it.

I have never been more satisfied with life, even though much of my life currently sucks.  But I have never let go and let life be mine in this way before.  I wish I would have.  Because being, and being me, are both fabulous.

To close, I suppose I would like to encourage you to be.  Just be.  Free from expectation and letting go of control and allowing your happiness to be of great importance and offering your life what it desires to be, instead of always trying to fit your life into someone else’s desire for what you ought be.  Find yourself, in the quiet meditation space, and leave the space where judgments and disappointments and all those other negative self-images are formed.  Let go and be.

And, if you don’t want to, fine.  It is your choice.  But I think you might enjoy who you are, once you start just being.  I know that I have.

In Jesus’ Shame

 

I grew up going to church.  Not just going, but religiously so…attending every single Sunday morning and Sunday night, unless terribly ill.  And I hated church, largely because I was forced to attend without my personal consent.  Any part of life you can’t consent to can be a struggle, especially for the naturally independent leader that lived deep inside of me, but when other really important decisions are also made without your consent (like the bodily choice of surgery or testing or sexual contact or any number of things that I struggled with over the course of my formative years) then being forced to go to church just becomes another area outside of your control that makes you feel diminished and marginalized.  So I hated it.

And at some point I got over that hatred of church because later in life I was given the choice to go, and I chose to attend and participate, not only in church but in the pursuit of multiple degrees in theology.  Church became my life, in many ways.  But the longer I stayed, the more I knew that I wasn’t really wanted there.  Inside my head the “if people knew” clause started to pop up over and over.  If people knew that I was an addict…   If people knew that I have sex on the regular…   If people knew about my molestation…  If people knew I was pro-choice…    If people knew I get food stamps…   If people knew my personal view of eschatology…  If people knew I don’t believe [insert some sort of popular religious belief here]….    If and if and if and if and on and on it went.

I started to feel like I had to hide myself from the church.  I started to feel the weight of shame, even while I wasn’t personally being shamed (because I was hiding my true belief and experience).  I began to know that I wasn’t welcomed “just as I am” in any church that I had ever attended.  I began to search for churches that would let me in, even if I were just me—as is and with no hiding and no apologies.  I have yet to find a church sans shame.  So I have yet to join a church again.

It has been a little over three years, I suppose, since I last attended church, and I have never been more free.

I was always taught—from Sunday school classes as a small child to my seminary training—that Jesus brought freedom. Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty I am free at last.  But the only time I was actually free to study and believe without shame was when I left the confines of religious communities and went out into the world.

Ah, the world.  That damnable expression of all that is evil and to be feared. Or so one would think, given the reactions of Christians in the United States. But the world, you see, is open in ways that the church had never been for me.  The church confined and constricted.  The world let me investigate and study and try and experience and discover in ways the church never would.

The world didn’t try to shame me as much or as often as the Christians tried to shame me.

Eventually, I came to the realization that the church isn’t usually practicing in Jesus’ name.  It is often practicing shame.

Sex is bad and you are bad for having it.  Poverty is bad and you must be doing bad things to land in that state.  Being gay is bad and you are messed up if you love people outside of the parameters that we express.  Rape is bad, so if you have been raped you must have done something wrong to deserve it.  Women’s butts are bad, so you mustn’t let them be out in the “open” with revealing yoga pants.  Being single is bad, because you are supposed to make babies.  Abortion is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  Birth control is bad because you are supposed to make babies.  You are bad if you don’t make all the babies all the time. Except if you have a baby and not a husband then you are bad.  Drugs are bad and if you are addicted you are bad.  Depression is bad, and if you are depressed you are not good at trusting in god.  Disability is bad, so you need to suck it up and get back to work or you are bad.  You are bad.  You are bad.  Christy, you are extremely fucking bad.

And then one day, I decided I am not bad.  Because every religious text I have ever encountered promises hope and renewal and the “becoming” of the person. The promise is that shame disappears, not becomes the defining characteristic of the church.  The promise is acceptance and love without conditions and grace and a forgiving spirit and a love of peace.  All of these things require that we kill all this rule-making and fear-inducing and humanity-stripping, damnable shame!

“I love you, but…” cannot be a part of our language or our thinking if we are going to be the love and grace and peace that every single religion I have ever encountered says we must or shall be.  “I will love you if…” cannot be a part of that language or thinking.  “I love you because…” is not a religiously accepting statement unless it is followed by “you exist”.

There is a passage in the Christian biblical text that I once had to translate in a seminary course.  I was shocked to read and to learn and to begin to hold the belief that “anyone who loves is of god”.  This transformed all for me, in the sense that love becomes the definitive aspect of what is right and good, and of who belongs to and with and in god.  So the impoverished woman who helps me up when I fall is of god, and the prostitute who always asks about my day and shows concern for me is of god, and the person to whom I am not married, but who shows me love and care both in and out of my bedroom, is of god, and my Atheist and Muslim and Jewish and Hindu and Buddhist and Pagan friends are all of god, because they all love fiercely and choose peace and show grace all of the time.

I am of god because I just reminded myself, during the interruption of my short time in which to write by a pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door, that I need to show even those who interrupt my theological expressions or blog posts the grace and the love and the promise that is god.

And because of this discovery, I have moved away from the term “god”, for the most part.  I choose to use the term “the divine” or sometimes “the universe”, depending on the situation. (Because the word “god” carries so much weight for so many…and usually not in a positive way.)

Anyone who loves is of the divine.  Anyone who loves….without qualification, without exception, without condition, and without being shamed into compliance with the normative religious ideal of the day…is of the divine.

Shame is not discipleship.  Shame is not beneficial.  Shame is not helpful in any proven study regarding any desired behavior.  Shame is not love.  And love is god, and god is love, and those who love are of god.  So, if you insist on shaming others, you are not of god.

Love = divine.  Shame = not divine. (For those who would like this boiled down to its most basic expression.)

So, let’s all stop trying to shame others and call it something we do in Jesus’ name.

And let’s all recognize that trying to shame people like me, who have come to understand the will of the divine in this open and free and beautiful way, is a waste of precious time.  Maybe hug your grandkids or knit a scarf instead, or do something that expresses love and grace and equity and peace to those less fortunate than you (as Jesus also suggested), but without superiority and judgments and shame (which Jesus never suggested, and instead taught against).  Let’s spend less time assessing my yoga pants and sex and spend more time assessing ways to reduce violence against women and inequity in our justice system and the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the ways that our current support system isn’t supporting the people who need the most support.

I sometimes wonder what troubles we could eliminate if we put into Alzheimer’s research, or new mental health care facilities and programs, or access to fresh vegetables all the same energy I see being spent on demanding less yoga pants and decrying the (very legal) right to choose what happens inside a person’s own uterus. What if we cared about the 2,114 people who have been shot in Chicago (as of yesterday…today it will likely be higher) this year as much as we did about the shape of a buttock or the type of birth control a couple chooses or the number of meat packers who happen to have come from Mexico? What if we spent our energy on loving meat-packing Mexicans and loving couples and loving my buttocks?  How would that change the world?  (I do have a rather amazing ass, by the way.  It deserves much love.)

I would much rather express love than refrain from sex.  I would much rather choose peace than promote conflict.  I would much rather be the divine than shame the poor or the addict or the disabled or the person who has less understanding on a subject I may have studied extensively or any that may be deemed “less fortunate” (though when you begin to be love and grace and peace, your idea of “less” can be transformed in myriad ways).

So, I leave you with this question:  Do you speak in Jesus’ shame, or are you of the divine?