Monday, October 28, 2013

Pride vs. Seeing 3- Searching for the Church

Start with part 1  "When humility is destructive" and part 2 "How I left him and the church left me"

I walked out the door determined to find another church to attend. I wouldn't be so un-spiritual as to fail in attendance because of this, I thought, not realizing that this was merely parroting the ideas ingrained in me for so long.

Another "thing people do to prove they know God." Oh, the weight of living up to expectations! I was still wondering how to impress them, and they certainly expected me to attend somewhere even if they couldn't see fit to accept me themselves.

Some of my friends found me to give unexpected hugs and express shocked grief over the leaderships' choice. Others tried desperately to change my mind, fearful that I might accidentally destroy my relationship with God by following through. I even received a threatening, accusatory letter from a woman who I had always deeply admired for her sweet nature. I wasn't sure which of us was more surprised by the new insight into the other's character, but her words were like wildly flailing knives in my heart.


My parents had given me a home to escape to, and they also kindly went with me to check out various churches. Each congregation had its own flavor, but they were all the same basic recipe.

My heart cracked further every time we walked through a new door. Sermon after sermon highlighted some element of the widespread mentality within the church. True Christians act like this ... or that ... no matter what, OR ELSE God would judge or condemn or destroy. I thought God didn't need to have much to do with this process, since the church had it well in hand.

A plastic smile became my guard against the all-too-cheerful greetings and questions. Genuine people looking for someone to convert to the faith? Could they make me like them? Would I join their community and become one of them? What was hidden behind these social niceties? Had this woman been abused earlier that morning? Had this man screamed at his wife in anger only hours before?

I told them the truth when they asked why I was visiting their church; that I was looking for a new place to worship after being asked to leave my prior church. It was interesting to watch their expressions go blank. Perhaps it was a bit cruel of me to shock them, but I didn't want to pretend to be a wonderful, plastic Christian. If they were going to despise me, they might as well just do it up front instead of coming at me from behind, later.

Eventually I settled for a large congregation where I could show up or not, without being noticed. I would find individuals and make friends, I thought. I'd be okay.

Only I wasn't okay.

Every preached word of misplaced judgement, negating each mention of love, and blocking potential understanding (words that had once slipped past as if I were mist) savaged my heart. How could anyone accept this angry, misaligned god who stood in threatening posture over the people, demanding they be content?

When the preacher actually said, "Jesus died so God could love us again," I stopped trying to attend, finally realizing why some very faithful people that I've admired don't go to church. I was spending all my time in services sorting through cluttered theological positions, all the while dripping blood all over their nice, clean, spiritual spaces. And nobody could possibly notice unless I stood in the midst of the congregation and purposely proclaimed my situation, loudly, to make sure they knew.

All my healing and growing was happening elsewhere, in a Church without walls or time-limits, within long, spiritual conversations with friends and strangers, and a constant flow of excellent blogs and books. I felt more interlinked with God than ever before, even without the local church structure. In fact, the church structure seemed more and more contrived, false, and fake the longer I searched for the reality. A lot of the love didn't seem so loving. It was very one-size-fits ... anyone who can squeeze between the restrictions.

I decided to live Church instead of looking for a box with that label to stand in.

Still, I wondered where I might find a church group that looked like Christ? Out among the wounded. Healing. Restorative. Welcoming. Kind. Protective of the abused. Standing in vocal and active rejection against pharisaic traditions and self-interested leaders.

The love shone in individuals within churches, but not in the overall teaching and atmosphere. I found it in individuals outside churches, too, as I constantly looked for that you-shall-know-them-by recognition.

Not all of them call themselves Christian, yet most seem to question God directly whether they believe or not. All seem clear about their imperfections and failings, yet focused primarily on simply doing what they can for others in spite of their limitations. Those I've found tend to be personal, awake, interested in life, non-judgmental, real ... exceptionally real.

I keep refining my vision of what Church should look like, then questioning whether I am living that way myself. It is so easy to want others to live this way toward me and the world around us without looking at my own actions and interactions.

Perhaps all I can do is be the Church I want to join and appreciate any good I find, wherever it may be.


Starting next Monday I'll be posting a series on Fleeing Self-Contained Certainty, where I examine my observations and the tools I have been given to be/come the Church ... well, those I've discovered already.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Pride vs. Seeing 2- How I left him and the church left me.

Continued from "When humility is destructive."

In the end, I received the push I needed to get past my worry over whether my pride was the primary problem in our relationship.

The one thing I asked from God in the dark of night ... tangible proof or a way of escape. I wanted confirmation that X was either truly transformed or what he was really up to on the inside. I wanted to know whether I could really trust his word after so many years of deception.

I struggled with "my pride" even as I accidentally (and then intentionally) read incriminating emails between him and two other women. Then came the day he returned home after "just going to a movie" ... for a quick 2nd shower and an immediate, unprecedented half-load of laundry containing the clothing he had worn. Earlier, he had failed to delete his girlfriend's response to the evening's date invitation, and the only thing I felt was relief.

It was the "way of escape" I had asked for, and even if I really was proud, I could take this demonstration of his deceit for what it was. This wasn't just my imagination. Surely the church would finally see how he had lied to them. They would see this as the one permissible reason for divorce (which they had thrown in my face the year before) and stop forcing me to stay. Right?

I moved out the next day, feeling as though I must rush into action or someone would forcibly stop me ... again.


It was a shock when the leadership tried to make me go back. My father, X, and I were called before the pastors (and a token wife, who I had requested be present so I wouldn't be the only woman in the room.)

*"If you had just waited, we might have said it was okay, but you can't do this by yourself."

"We do think it doesn't look good to meet up with a woman behind your back, but he says they're just friends. Why don't you give him the benefit of the doubt? We can help you work through this."

"We looked over this summary of your marriage problems that you say shows his pattern of behavior, and we see that you're still talking about things that happened years ago, before your first counselor met with you. You forgave him already, so you can't bring it up again. Besides, didn't you cheat on him six years ago? Isn't this hypocritical?" (That particular confession and what I learned from the experience is its own story. I'll share it later.)

"Why were you reading his email? Do you think it would be okay for me to read my wife's private correspondence? That's invasion of privacy!" I silently wondered why he was so concerned about a normal investigation that anyone who is suspicious of their spouse's integrity would definitely pursue, especially when I was expected to manage some of his email correspondence anyway. Wouldn't his wife's correspondence just reassure him she isn't cheating?

"You're challenging our authority, and we can't let you do that since it would be condoning sin in the congregation."

"Nearly a third of the women in the church think they have abusive marriages. What if they all decided to get divorced, ...then what? You're setting a bad example!" They actually admitted this, as if so many destructive relationships wearing the facade of marriage was something that should be maintained.

"If you won't obey us, we'll have to let everyone know you're no longer welcome. You won't be permitted to participate in services or ministries."

I looked into their tense faces and realized something.

They were afraid! Losing control of me was a threat to them, somehow.

I had resources few women in that local church would ever have access to ... an entire lifetime of theological research and training; and relationships in the church that extended around the world, across a broad spectrum of denominations. I knew by experience that this small group was merely a strand in the fabric of the worldwide church, which is, itself, only a shred of the Church past, present, and future.

They called that wider perspective "pride" because it was the only way to prevent others from looking closer, and I had believed them ... because ... you know .... it's PRIDE! We all have some.

But pride is neither the ability to see what others wish you hadn't noticed, nor is it refusing to lie about your beliefs when others demand it of you.

I was done with pretending to agree with things I had long considered to be supposition. I wanted to test what I understood to be true by walking in it. No more lying, "faking it till I make it," or conforming to their outer rendition of faith to make these men happy. If this was pride, so be it. I'd display my pride and learn from the consequences.

I also had external support they couldn't touch. The leadership's threat to cease financial support of my parents' ministry if they helped me didn't phase my parents for even a moment. (At that point the manipulation tactics became very, very clear.)

We discovered the amount of reputable church leaders, missionaries, and ministers who sent messages of encouragement directly, or via my parents, in support of my choice outnumbered the entire local church leadership, including the Sunday school teachers and group leaders who didn't have any say in the process anyway. It was my own personal miracle, because I needed every single one of those supportive messages to fight the years of lies (unfounded theological certainty) I had believed so I could walk forward to face the questions I'd been avoiding for so long.

I ache for the women who don't have what I had. How they can escape those lies is beyond me. Everything in their social circle works like the layers of sharpened fences, guards, and walls around a prison yard. They may see the sky, but freedom will only come through deep wounds and great determination. In addition, they are told that to do so is to escape from "freedom" into the prison of the "world." When even family and friends encourage these lies, it's amazing anyone is capable of acting against the pressure and pain.

In the end, I knew I had tried to fulfill every one of the leadership recommendations for many, many years, but the enduring fruit of such compliance was a distorted soul, bound by suffering, desire for escape, and suicidal depression. At last I chose to be judged for actually doing something that had a valid source in my own perceptions instead of multiplying the pain of warping my beliefs by facing judgement for failing to live up to that shaky, external standard.

Usually the character qualities I was exhibiting are called discernment and integrity,... though I was too fragile to think of anything other than sticking to the truth as I saw it, while hoping I wasn't destroying the universe.

Pride was there too, wishing they'd trip and fall into their own trap so they could face it for real instead of theorizing at me. Humility acknowledged I couldn't possibly be right about everything, but that it was worth finding out what would happen. Wisdom whispered that something had to change.

I changed the one element I could control. Myself.

They insisted on giving me time to change my mind, but their words and actions demonstrated so clearly that this wasn't an effort to understand the situation better, but to make me comply. "Don't make us do this to you!" they said, repeatedly.

I had been informed that various members were speaking out in my defense, questioning the leadership's decision. It seems this side-effect was more widespread than the leadership had expected, but the laity's efforts to protect me generated additional pressure and manipulation from the leadership. In the end, I wished they had just left it alone ... even though it did feel reassuring to know that not everyone supported those choices.

"Don't fellowship with our women any longer," one of them told me, as I waited for my children at a church program. "We can't be seen to tolerate you sharing your ideas, since you are in rebellion against us. It would give people the wrong idea." I stared at him, stunned, but unable to put words to the sense of injustice I felt in that moment. If this was their authority, then I'd let them exert it, I decided. After that, I didn't try to enter the doors except for necessity. (X continued attending with the children on weekends, which creates a dilemma each time I drop them off to join their friends at church events.)

The church leadership embraced X because he was willing to submit to them and take me back, and sent me away in disgrace for rejecting their authority on the point of whether I should return in the first place. It was their belief. Their choice. Their right (if you look at it from a legal standpoint) since they manage the property.

I was finally free ... and in so much pain that it wasn't possible to feel it. Stunned. Numb. Relieved.

"I'm already used to this treatment," I thought, "So it doesn't affect me as much as it might someone who hadn't build up some endurance." And then I realized, "That's really sad." They had done nothing to me that I hadn't already been dealing with for years within my marriage, and being cast out of the church wasn't half as bad as most of what I'd endured from X.

Even now, I wonder why it took me so many, many years to see how the church played a vital role in supporting the evil treatment I had suffered for so long. This changed my view of the church in a far more significant way than I realized at the time.

Continued in "Searching for the Church" (This link won't be active until 10/28/13 at 3am central.)

*All quotes in this article are from memory, and therefore the phrasing may be flawed, though the meaning remains as I understood at the time. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pride vs. Seeing 1- When humility is destructive.

*"You are too proud," N told me during one of our counselling sessions, as she leaned forward with a gentle, worried expression. "You need to be more humble. Why do you keep talking about the things he does to hurt you when you have your own sin? I know how hard it is, since I have been proud, too. But you must fight it."

I worried, but could not agree that this was the deepest problem.

Another day she stated, "You need to work on yourself, first. Then we can talk about his faults."

And I wondered when his faults might become terrible enough to face with as much nitpicky scrutiny as mine.

Then, when I turned to her, in desperation, and said that I'd rather die or take all the blame for leaving if it meant I wouldn't have to stay with him, she looked shocked. "That's sin! Just give up on leaving your husband, ever, and you will find contentment," she said. "If you would just stop thinking about it, you'd be fine. God would be able to help you, then."

But God was already helping me, I thought, wondering how he could work in such opposite directions in each of us.

One time N brought J to meet with me ... as an example, I think, of how I ought to react to her counsel.

Poor J's voice was weak and her face pale as she spoke of the strength God had given her to deal with a man who had broken the law and endangered her family, beaten her, and continued to exist on the verge of criminal breakdown ... supported by our church in binding his wife and children to his erratic behavior. Her body compressed with tension as she spoke of the day she had fled to N's arms, and how they had wept together at the cruelty of what she must do. And then she returned to the man who terrified her and gave up all thought of ever leaving again, because ... the god of that church said to do so.

Oh, she believed their counsel, alright. She believed god meant her to stay oppressed so completely that she had long been crushed into a shadow, afraid to speak of anything other than the help God had given to her because no one else would. Such a sweet fragment of a beautiful woman, pushed back into destruction by the church who claimed to be her support and encouragement. That she was still capable of loving God was all the more a miracle given the caricature of his character that she had been taught was a true likeness.

Both she and N were proud of her grit and determination to stay in that environment. It was one of the few strengths permitted this woman ... the ability to endure oppression.

For her sake and for others like us, I had to find a way to live ... truly LIVE the existence of one who is set free. I was more angry about how they treated her than I was about the ways they tried to contain my mind. I could see the blinders they were attempting to put over my eyes. J could not.

Her "humility" was so clearly a result of being crushed until her heart was broken. She was oppressed, not humble, though she may have been humble, too. And I didn't want to turn out like her, even while I truly appreciated her as a person. It is because I liked her so much that I still hope to someday find out who God made J to be, as a woman meant to thrive in freedom.

I couldn't help but see these things differently.

There was no way to pretend or force myself to believe what they told me was true. So many, many, many years of debate, and they told me this was the only way to understand the Bible? Thousands of years of study by men who genuinely wanted to understand God's will, and nobody could agree ... yet I was expected to set this one opinion over all others?

My counselor tried to persuade me to stop reading books they hadn't pre-approved. Perhaps she felt they were too dangerous for someone like me, who might actually believe something the leadership didn't agree with.

I had to wonder, "Are only those who will never ask questions permitted to study? If so, then how can I trust any of them?"

And what about the quiet voice that kept overwhelming every theory, welcome or unwelcome?... the steady conviction that no man or woman can speak for God as if they could contain him?... the realization that church leadership is made up of normal humans, too?

I knew I was equal to these people, both in fallibility and ability to see, because I was made and maintained by the same God in the same world.

I had similar training, but they implied I was somehow less capable of reading and understanding the Bible and all the references and studies applied to it. I might be a Christian, but they suggested I couldn't be led by the Spirit unless they agreed it was the spirit, according to their idea of the only way god could possibly act. And secular studies that disagreed could only be evil and destructive to faith, it seemed. They left me no tools to approach their secured position or space to speak on equal ground.

I waited, hoping to learn what sense could be made of it all and how to act in light of it.

But how anyone could resolve the problem, I couldn't even imagine. All I could do was pray and hope to find a clear path through all the contradictions.

Continued in "How I left him and the church left me." (This link won't work until 10/21/13 at 3am central.)

*All quotes in this article are as I remember them, and therefore the phrasing may be flawed, though the meaning remains as-understood.  


Here's an inspiring realization about humility extracted from an article by Sarah Moon.

"I have to find a new way to express the virtue of humility–one that allows me to stand up for myself and others, to boldly assert my personhood and to define my own identity in Christ, to speak my mind and to claim my rights."

She makes a good point about the general impression Christians have of what humility looks like, and how that expectation fails to hold up under closer scrutiny.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Chris Taylor and the music judge - my perspective

It doesn't seem as long as seventeen years ago that I attended a “nice church” on the outskirts of town, where my then-fiance and I were taught never to trust a Bible with any letters other than KJV on the cover, how to vote so God might somehow regain control of the government, what women should and shouldn't wear, and which musicians to revile and exclude from salvation based on elements of their musical style.

It was a relief when we switched churches after the wedding so I could avoid ... we’ll call him Pastor A. To clarify, the avoiding lasted until an in-law sponsored intervention several years into our marriage, where he was called upon to lovingly threaten me with spiritual and legal destruction (and possibly losing my children forever) if I even suggested a desire for separation over such a spiritually weak reason as "feeling abused." Under those threats, I stayed, but managed to continue avoiding the man from then on. -- Let me just point out that this is one of the many reasons I no longer call myself a Christian. Who would voluntarily associate with this mentality?

"bluebirds" by Chris Taylor (Shared with permission.) 
And ... onward to the main point!

Oddly enough, chance recently brought about an interesting juxtaposition between a musician I recently met and Pastor A.

As I ran a search for Chris Taylor’s past musical accomplishments, I found an old article containing his name, written by the pastor. Curious, I clicked through to find a scathing explanatory judgment upon all who listen to “the devil’s music” and then my friend’s name, included in a very long list of musicians that all readers were invited to condemn and avoid.

Since Chris is one of the people I value for his honest and spiritual approach to life, the article made me laugh with an ironic “who is ‘of the devil’ here?” sense of anguish and anger.

If you look at external events from afar, as too many Christians do, it would be easy to quickly agree that Chris has walked through painfully shattered pathways. Comparatively, the snow-white pastor remains in tight control of his subdued and admiring congregation, idolized, and secure.

Knowing these men, both by reputation and conversation, I see in their lives a very strong contrast of attitude and activity.

Let’s just ask a few clarifying questions.

Who is honestly amazed that learning from his mistakes has strengthened his character and given him opportunities to encourage and help others, which he wouldn't have otherwise?... Who sacrificially comes alongside the wounded, unwanted, and abused with gentleness and non-judgmental compassion?... Who refuses to claim he knows anything much, but simply lives and shares what he has learned through life, without avoiding or ignoring the questions?... Who demonstrates an inner character that both the church and the world easily identify as loving?

Let me give you a hint.… He sings, too.

Seeing this, I have the privilege of choosing to listen to the one whose life is most inspiring. When I’m looking for love, kindness, humility, generosity, compassion, and gentleness ... then it is Chris who has obviously demonstrated these qualities since I've known him, without any need for redefining the terms or re-framing his actions. (AND I enjoy his music! *gasp!*)

This is often what the self-proclaimed church fails to notice, in all its whitewashed glory. It isn't the ones who hide their pride and problems beneath saintalistic goody-two-veneers that live the most meaningful lives. It is those who are revealed in the light, ragged, raw, and ever-growing.... Actual human people, y'all!

I see God’s fingerprint in both the tragedies and the joys, because this storied life is how Chris came to be the person he is now … and how he will continue to become who he is. Watch his life as experience uncovers the vein of gold, even while embedded in this rough world we all face. This value explains why I want to introduce you to him.

As a musician and a visual artist, Chris writes healing music for those who need songs that acknowledge the way life is lived. His paintings expose the masks we wear over our reality. Of course, I’d love it if this introduction leads to you support and enjoy his music and art as well. Have you heard of the real Chris Taylor?

Do take a moment to stop over and find out more from the person, himself. Find your new favorite song by listening at, or just browse his gallery and plan where to display his paintings. Chris can also be found on facebook and twitter @RealChrisTaylor.

Edited to add: 
If you've met or been influenced by Chris (or his art) and have a blog post or personal experience to add, then post your experience in the comments or send me your link to share.

A Passion for Creating - Chris through the eyes of  The Groovy Gringa. (Check out the comments from others who have met him, too.)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Telling the story of spiritual abuse ... by joining the network

I longed to know I wasn't alone as I fought both my ex-husband and ex-church for the right to live free of abuse and oppression.

Why, then, did I find so few stories by those who understood what I was going through? I recently found a way to make the search easier for others by joining a blog network that exists to help people like me.

As the group grows, I feel hopeful that we can spread stories that will help many to fight through various forms of spiritual brain-washing toward a more balanced perspective on life. Together we multiply the opportunities to break free from oppression.

I haven't yet read the content on all the blogs, but the articles I have read so far were very helpful. I will be reading and responding to many more over the coming weeks.

To quote the "About" page: 

"Through cross-promotion and collaboration, the Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network is a powerful way of supporting and promoting spiritual abuse survivors in our individual blogging efforts.  We are working together toward a shared goal of increasing awareness of this issue of spiritual abuse – the control, the confusion, the devastation, our struggles, our triumphs, our survival and recovery."

I'm not the only one with a story to tell. Here's to a future where such abuses are ended instead of supported.

(By the way, the illustration I designed for this post is available to be used by anyone who wishes to share or promote the network. Click through to their page.)

Friday, October 4, 2013

3 perspectives on love - from my "alternate personalities"

I am frustrated, tired, and annoyed with myself right now ... so irritated at the angst and stress when I don't hear from Hawk, even though it's entirely to be expected because he's busy and we're NOT DATING! Duh!

Here's the thing ... I don't always entirely believe what I think or tell myself I believe.

At any given moment I may communicate only half the continuing debate. Just because I find balance at the end of each cycle of internal disruption doesn't mean I'm always in agreement with myself.

There are two of me ... maybe three?

  1. Emotion rises up from within to demand that I ask for more. I want to date! I want to know Hawk loves me. I want to be desired for who I am as a person. I want to help him more directly. I want to be the one who he turns to when he feels lonely. I want ... more time?... more than this small glimpse of who he is. I want to understand him completely!

    What about Hawk's response to this passion ... and probable rejection?  I don't really want to be rejected, or pushed away. Well, it will be devastating if he doesn't love me, too, but knowing I have been rejected is preferable to wondering if I actually would be. Right? I can always be the friend he rejected. Why not just tell him to get it over with? Then we'd have it all out in the open and I'd stop worrying about it. How can I even begin to call this "wanting" love?
  2. Reason tries to clamp down on emotion with rational, external explanations for everything. I don't even know if we'd get along in a dating relationship. It's not right to ignore Hawk's perspective and he doesn't seem ready to talk about this. It's okay to get to know him for now. We can always figure it out later. Now is not the time to ask him what he thinks. He's been busy. I'm reading thoughts into his hesitations and pauses that may not be there. Stop being so emotional!

    Friendship is more stable and less demanding, so why rock the boat? I'm fine alone. I don't need a romance right now, anyway. It's all too complicated to just charge in.... Even if he does decide he loves me that way, there's no guarantee that it would work out. After all, I'm the one who said I didn't want to be in a relationship right now. I chose this path, knowing I felt more than I was willing to pursue.
  3. In the end, I become unconcerned.  Perhaps this is faith. I don't know.

    I have already gained so much encouragement and insight from knowing him, and he says he's been helped and encouraged by knowing me, too. No matter what happens next, we will both be fine. Neither of us is desperately dependent, and that is good. Life will go on no matter what happens.

    Any relationship is a third element. Two individual personalities, perspectives, and life experiences are the strands that weave its fabric. If we are to be together this decision will happen mutually, when it's time. If we see a chance that will benefit us, we can take it at that time. What we have now is good, too. 

This final perspective is the part of me that realizes I'm not in control of life, only my awareness and reactions. If I try too hard, I often create new problems or fight windmills. If I take each step as it comes, I will deal with real problems or opportunities when they arise. No need to worry, or struggle, or fight within myself.

When I listen to this part of myself, I'm fine from the inside out. However, I think this calm only comes after the storm. I wouldn't be able to hear this quiet voice if I hadn't processed both the emotional and the reasoning honestly, taking them both as constructive elements of who I am and not trying to shut either voice down.

Emotion may weep over heartbreak and gaze at the moon in a haze of happiness. Reason may list all the possibilities and how best to face them. Faith recognizes that both the beauty and the terrible in life exist independent of my understanding or emotions. Together they create the frame through which I interact with the world.

And in the end, I will choose to be honest with Hawk about all three of these internal voices, because anything less isn't true friendship. I will trust him to work through what it all means to him, and how he will respond to me in light of it. At that time, I will feel what I feel ... and think what I think.

How can I possibly know what that will be? No matter what, I'll be fine.

(I do realize this isn't "alternate personalities" in a clinical sense. I'm amused at how distinctive the voices are in my internal debates, but I'm pretty sure I'm always myself, no matter which perspective feels loudest.)