“Love and abuse cannot coexist.” – bell hooks.

It’s been over a year since I first read bell hook’s masterful treatise on love, All About Love: New Visions.  The book called to and was answered by changes stirring in my heart, little epiphanies cracking the surface of my reality, and it was the catalyst for a radical reevaluation of what love meant and how I practiced it.

I have always craved justice and sincerity. As a child, I distrusted adults who laughed too much or were effusive with praise or compliments. I gravitated toward those who were sarcastic, cynical, pointed. Pastors were suspect unless they seemed to have a healthy respect for suffering.

And yet, I was divided from myself in my own cynicism, emotionally connecting to missionary stories,  reading the Anne Shirley books over and over, and accepting the tenets of courtship and fundamentalist neo-Calvinism without question for the sake of the utopian emotional future they offered. I was too cynical to ever seriously write letters to my future husband, but secretly hoped that the gilded fidelity of guarding my heart and wearing a purity ring would secure me true love where I could hang my cynic’s hat by the door and stretch out by the hearth and have a marriage where I could get my belly rubbed and never fear betrayal or complicated emotions.

Emotional idealism of this sort is dishonest and lazy, and I paid dearly for my naïveté and blind trust. I could wear out pages with my experiential research on cultivated codependency in courtship culture and cultivated female helplessness in patriarchy, but the larger thing I have learned is less specific to male\female relationships or romantic relationships and more relevant to relationships in general, and is especially relevant to relationships touched by fundamentalist thinking on the part of one or both parties.

Fundamentalism, when I use the word, generally implies a measure of absolutism and hierarchy of belief. It is a relational militarization of ideology at its core (which is why I believe it is not something religious people have exclusive province over). Fundamentalism says “my way is better and our relationship is going to be defined by that assumption or we have an impasse.” It costs relational parity and ends humane discussion.

In the slice of human experience where I come from, fundamentalist Christian homeschooling, it exhibits itself when a parent asserts their “right” over their child in the name of ideological purity of some sort and negates that child’s right to autonomy and voice.

Example: “you will not bring Harry Potter into my house” because you, the parent, believe that witchcraft is worse than the sin of rebellion (see the story of King Saul) and rebellion is the sin that caused the fall, and witchcraft is aligning oneself with the enemy of God, and you want your household to follow in the ways of God (“as for me and my house…”) and you believe that God has called you to be the spiritual head of the home (circle of blessing) and your child is under your authority because you are under God’s authority, and Harry Potter does not condemn witchcraft as being of the devil, therefore: your child has no rights when under your roof because of God’s ordained spiritual hierarchy and you are accountable to him to protect your child from evil and Harry Potter threatens that order and your ability to be blessed by God for following in his ways…so Harry Potter has to go, no matter what your kid has to say about redemption narratives and metaphor and literary genres. By doing so, you are honoring God, and any opposition to this order is your child’s natural sin nature expressing itself and an opportunity to use corrective discipline to help your child along in the path to sanctification and honor God in their own life.

In fundamentalism, ideology and hierarchy > person and emotional healthy relationships. Every. Damn. Time.

bell hooks writes that “abuse and love cannot coexist” because (as Christian theology teaches) love is about considering another person’s best interest. When I chose to break the rules of courtship and tell my boyfriend I loved him before we were engaged, I did so because I believed that if we broke up, my promise of “I love you” would still be true: if our relationship ended, it would be because the relationship was no longer in his or my best interest and love does not demand the other partner to suffer to satisfy the other. Love should not be mutable, but the terms of the relationship will be in order to be consistent with love. Love respects the other as a separate, autonomous individual with unique needs. Love does not require the other person to fix your emotional problems. Love is considerate, respectful, ethical, generous. Love is not craven, demanding, or manipulative.

This cuts two ways. Loving others well is easier (and probably better) the better you are at loving yourself well. It’s hard to love someone else well if you are abusive toward yourself, and if you try you’re more  likely to expect the other party to love you the way you should be loving yourself, and then resent them for not fixing your emotional disassociation with yourself. No person, no religious belief, no creature comfort will be able to fix the fundamental need for self-acceptance. I’ve been learning this, and it’s not easy. I can deflect and distract myself, but there is no substitute for sitting with my own emotions and owning them to myself and accepting that the me I’m living with is messy and not quite all who I want to be. I have to live with (and learn to love) me in real time, as I grow and learn, and not with my idealized future version of myself. This means also recognizing when I’m in unhealthy relationships or situations and being responsible for standing up for myself, and not expecting others to read my mind or know my needs and rescue me. Boundaries, communication, and actively engaging my day-to-day life and owning my responsibility to and for myself: these are ways I can engage in loving myself well.

Loving others well is an extension of understanding how to love myself. I need to respect the fact that others need different things and that what is good for me might not be good for them, that my perception of reality might not be their story, that they may be growing and learning faster or slower than I am. I respect them as individuals and not as caricatures or emotional food sources for myself, and that paves the way for healthy relationship.

This means: I cannot demand my more fundamentalist friends to change their beliefs on things, because their emotional needs (and reasons for holding on to various positions) are different from mine. I can, however, write about what I’ve learned and how various elements of religious fundamentalism have been harmful. I can also limit the ability of their more negative positions to affect me personally by reducing my exposure to toxic relational dynamics, and I can also appeal to their desire to love others when I see them hurting people close to me and ask for them to change how they treat people based on our shared assumption that they care about the other person’s best interest. (In this vein, a great opportunity Clare had before her was recently leveraged against me to require that I change the offensive-to-patriarchy language in her “Fuck the Patriarchy” post. The situation has now resolved itself, and I have reverted the post back to the original content, but necessary steps have also been taken to remove myself from being able to be manipulated by those who value image and control over people.)

This also means: when a friend has to go no contact with a family member because of abuse, or when someone’s marriage ends and you don’t know all the details, respect their choices. You don’t know what’s best for them and we are in danger of practicing the fallacy of a “single story” when we require someone to meet our socially acceptable normal behavior because we think that they should be in relationship with someone that “normal” people have in their lives. Eliminating abusive relationships from my life seems heartless from the outside, but it’s been a way I’ve learned to love myself: by admitting what (or who) I can and cannot handle if I am going to be mentally healthy and thrive. It seems heartless, but in reality, it’s a way of having compassion for myself and not expecting others to do that work for me.

I recently had a treasured friendship end because of a non-conventional theological position (but one I think has sufficient evidence in the Bible to be supported) that I hold and have written some about. The details are moot, and were moot to the end of the friendship, too. The point, however, was: if you are a Christian, you cannot support this position, and until you recant, I cannot be your friend. It’s the same mindset as I demonstrated before with Harry Potter: ideology supersedes the individual. I’m saddened by the outcome, but there’s no way to debate the issue because our starting premises are so far divided. What has been healthy and freeing and brought light to my life is seen by this individual as a darkness that threatens to devour the “real” me and is an affront to their own perception of themselves: if I am right, then everything they’re betting on is wrong. As high-stakes spiritual premises go, they can’t afford to be wrong, and so I must go. It’s understandable. I love this person, and as I understand the emotional cost of this sort of gamble, I know that this decision is (in their estimation) in the best interest of this person for the sake of their mental health, and it’s not my place to question that. I’m sad for my loss, but if I am honest about caring for them, I need to let them go and wish them the best from afar.

And I need to be honest, too. In my pilgrimage to understand love and to heal, I’ve had to reconcile myself to the fact that church and Christian culture are antithetical to my emotional and mental stability. The solvency of Christianity for some, I believe, is viable and good. I think the church can be better and radically change lives for good. I think the teachings of Jesus are precious and radical and good. There is much that I love, but I have had to remove myself from it and remove it from me in order to be kind to myself. All things are lawful, etc. For me this means: I’m not a Christian anymore.

The damage done to my brain by code-switching in Christianese and by tiptoeing around emotional land mines from my time in the cult outweigh the worth of holding onto the Creeds for the Creeds’ sake. If Jesus is the Christ and all of that is true, then I’d rather be a Calormen in the end and be sound of mind and live ethically and love well than be a martyr for something that has fostered so much suffering.

I do not recant anything I have written. I still love the things I have always loved. I still believe in the power of radical love to transform. I still believe in the magic of community and the mystery of burden-bearing and communion. I still love justice and mercy and crave light and truth.

But it is the learning of the loving that calls me to keep exploring, and so I’m discarding things that are impotent or emotionally destructive. I’m not merely disassociating from the label of “Christian”or organized church in pursuit of being a “Jesus-follower.” I am closing that chapter completely. I’m not sure if I’m an atheist or just agnostic, but I don’t think it’s salient right now. For now, what I know is: this path has taken me away from Christianity and that has been immensely freeing and healing.

I’ve known this for a while, but I wanted to sit with it for a season first, to be sure. And, honestly, I was afraid to tell you.

You readers have been along with me for quite the unexpected journey. I originally started this blog as a place to try to do some fiction and poetry writing, assuming that I’d be able to be productive in those things now that I was graduated from college, employed in an adult job, and settled into married life. What followed was so far from that reality that it seems a little hysterical to think about, now. I wouldn’t trade this journey for that reality, though, and I am thankful for how much I have learned and grown through it. And I’m thankful for those of you who have supported and loved and stayed with me since then. I’m excited to see what comes next, and I’d be touched if you are, too.

A housekeeping note: Once I can get a few things sorted out, the header image of this blog will change and I’ll just write under my name rather than a blog title–Wine and Marble has served a good purpose, but no longer fits what goes on here. Just a heads up.


http://enkidu-of-ur.tumblr.com/

Cliché blog title and topic, oh, I know.

This is a lament.

I’m feeling more whole, more happy. The California sunshine is stretching me out and caressing my soul. I’m not so curled up tight all the time. I can breathe better. I don’t wake up every morning with that feeling of “oh shit” anymore. Not every day, anymore.

I want to untangle myself from this world — I want to write about books that make me happy, about ideas, about things that enchant me. I want to tell you about yoga and baking and writing process.

People here ask me about my story and I hesitate — which version to tell them? If I tell them true, tell them gory, I get stunned silence and gentle recommendations to move out and beyond this world.

They’re right. Writing about abuse in the church, about theology and faith and church and conservative homeschool communities and purity culture: it’s a small, small world. It really doesn’t affect most the rest of the universe. It’s really insular, cramped, self-absorbed.

But then, too: this morning, my day off, I got two calls (before I got my coffee!) about Christian communities in which sexual assault has been ignored to the point of blatant abuse of power. Two communities that haven’t made the news about these issues. Yet.

I didn’t sleep well last night, and this bleary-eyed grief over this stuff is compounded by my own personal sense of healthy boundaries that’s emerging. The stronger, the more whole I get — the further removed from that world I become — the more blatantly horrific these things appear.

And I realize how insane all this sounds to everyone outside of this little blogging world, how appalling it is that these abuses occur. But I still get calls about girls who are afraid to use their real names when they tell their stories because they are afraid of Christian leaders attacking them for speaking out.

How insane is that?

Why are we here? How obvious is this, and how is it that we could not see these things for so long?

Fuck everything, is all I can manage to say, half the time. I hear these stories and I hear the shame and the fear and the massive amounts of cultivated codependency for the sake of crowd control, and that’s all I’ve got. Fuck everything. Here we go again.

The anger turns numb because the abuses are too common. Fuck everything, here’s another story. Another leader. Another frightened soul. That leader steps down, but another story comes to light.

When will it be done?


Okay, so, basically, my blog is currently useless if you’re not familiar with Brené Brown’s work on shame, especially Daring Greatly. Just get a copy already. [On another note, I’m still working on a follow-up to my post on leaving fundamentalist thinking, but I’ve moved this week and had a family member in the hospital and have been generally too drained to write a good piece on that yet. It’ll happen as soon as I can.]

I used to own a copy of Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I used to think it was a really good book.

I used to beat myself up a lot over how “proud” I was, a concept drawn from SGM’s teachings inspired by C.J. and the Puritans. My desire to be right, my desire for safe relationships, my desire to be heard–all these were twisted in my interpretation of them and lumped in a pile in my mind, under a big black sign that read “PRIDEFUL SINNER.”

Pride, as they defined it in SGM, is “contending for supremacy with God” (Jerry Bridges). Any attempt to control your life, to assert your likes, dislikes, boundaries, or ambitions was written off as “idolatry” and “selfish” and “proud.”

Arrogance was a label of a tent that expanded in SGM to cover anything that wasn’t following the social code of correct behavior. Doubting or anxious? Your lack of faith exhibits pride. Depressed? Prideful doubt of God’s goodwill toward you. Making plans for your life and dreaming/learning/exploring about what and who you really want to do and be? Pride and refusing to listen prayerfully to God’s will for your life.

I suspect that this stuff was harsher for women in SGM (and the fundamentalist homeschooling community at large) than it was for men, because men were required to learn their skill sets, urged to find mentors, and assumed to follow their dreams (of some sort) and have careers and aspirations. Women were not. Gender roles were stricter for us–godly women aspired to be housewives and mothers, and anything outside of that was a spiritual open doorway to pride. Aspirations outside of the wife/mother/housekeeper role might be permitted, if you were quiet and meek and self-deprecating and insecure enough in your potential. Men with aspirations were taught to give lip-service to this sort of attitude as well, but they were never socially required to really adhere to it with the same intensity of guilt trips and care group self-shaming sessions that women were.

I was thinking on this the other day–I wrote a poem (which I may share here later) and I wrote it about the fierce beauty of a healthy, strong woman who is confident in herself. Which is, really, a positive sort of pride. I realized a few things, which I want to talk about here.

Pride, in its actual real-life definition, is a double-edged concept. It can be a false, inflated sense of self-importance (a sort of delusion, really), or it can be a secure feeling of worth and belonging of some sort, a warm connection to someone or something. My baby sister has no shame in her artistic attempts–if I get a box from home, it’s full of paintings and drawings she’s made. And she puts them on the fridge and sends them to work with our dad and it’s not a big deal. She doesn’t act self-important about her art, but she is happy with it and shares it with people. It’s pride in her work, and it’s deserved and healthy. And I am proud of her and her cheery lack of self-consciousness with her art. It’s healthy and that’s good, and so I am pleased and heart-warmed by it. That’s the other side of pride.

And the thing that I’m realizing, is that in all the years that I beat myself up for being proud, I was never really proud. I may have been immature and naive and selfish, but I wasn’t deluded in my importance (okay maybe sometimes with younger siblings when I was babysitting), not really. I was afraid of myself. I was afraid of being large and taking up space and having a voice and things to say and having people hear me. I was afraid of being good at anything that would prevent me from being mostly invisible. I gravitated toward excelling in supporting social roles, toward excelling in domestic skills, and toward excelling at being unobtrusive.

I was not proud in either sense of the word. And I was living in shame, afraid of existing much at all. And I think we should be proud in the healthy sense of the word.

My favorite example of this is my friend Kiery, who has been making art since hen’s parents rejected hen when hen decided, at 18, to move out and marry hen’s boyfriend/unofficial fiancé (only unofficial because of the parents’ attempts to break them up). Hen’s family was vicious and abusive to hen’s assertion of independence, and Kiery went into emotional cocooning as a newlywed, but eventually started painting and drawing. The process has been slow and agonizing at points–I know Kiery has fought a lot of internal voices telling hen to stop and that the art is worthless. But hen’s art has improved SO much, and Kiery’s doing a comic strip with a friend, running a gaming vlog, and making some really cool pieces of art. It’s taken years, but there’s a wholeness to what Kiery makes that has been the result of lots of self-nurturing and patience with henself that I really respect and admire. It’s been like watching a butterfly emerge and dry its wings in the sunlight. It’s so beautiful and good.

I aspire to things. So do you. And it’s not sinful or “prideful” to be honest and encouraging and kind to yourself about that.


“The hardest part is realizing you’re in charge” – Helen Bishop, Mad Men

One of the things that has been a constant struggle for me, as a woman leaving the world of Christian patriarchy, has been reconciling reality to my learned “right” responses. I have to be gutsy and take charge of my life and heed my personality type and my needs and make sure I’m living in a way that works best for who I am. But it’s hard to learn to do this, because I grew up considering myself strongest when deferring to other’s needs and wants, most godly when negating my desires, and most strong and female when abandoning my preferences to respond and absorb the desires and choices of others.

The term I’ve heard used for this is “learned helplessness” and it’s frequently a gendered problem, but I think it’s not just an issue for women. It’s also an issue for everyone in the “new reformed” circles of young Calvinists.

This is, of course, at the root, a face of that age-old “predestination vs. free will” discussion, but I’m going to lift it from those over-simplified terms because I find that they are useless in the face of reality, where I see a good deal of both/and going on in terms of one’s ability to choose freely and one’s inability to change circumstances. I’d like to lay it aside with the understanding that I think the two concepts probably coexist, and I’m not sure exactly how. Paradox, yes. It’s beyond me just now.

So, first, as a woman dealing with The Most Unpredictable Year Of Her Life Ever!, I’m finding that I have to unlearn a lot of places in my personal character where I’d relaxed into patriarchal norms just because I could when I was married. Things like changing my oil, moving boxes on my own, driving across the country alone, booking a hotel room, getting a credit card, de-icing my car before work, etc. — these were things I had to take on and own for myself.  Some of that is just general cultural gender role stuff. Other things are more Christian patriarchy-related, like realizing that the church search was up to me, if I was going to find one out here in LA, realizing that I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to live my life, or that I don’t need to call anyone to tell them when I’m coming home.

But as I’m talking to other girls trying to take on adult decisions outside of the meet-a-man-and-follow-him-forever Christian patriarchy narrative for women (say, as a woman ends up out of her parents’ house and not yet married, or 30 and living at home without “prospects”), I hear from them over and over again statements such as: “I don’t even know what I like!”  Outside of the girl-to-woman-to-wife-to-mother narrative of patriarchy, they don’t know what who they are, why they want to do what they want to do, or how to make decisions without leaning overmuch on the advice of peers and elders, because they never learned to listen to themselves. Women in Christian patriarchy exist as negative space, conforming to the solid definitions of the men in their lives. And I’m still shaking off stray pieces of that mindset. It’s like sand and children: you’re always finding particles in weird places months after you’ve left the beach.

Similar to this is the “sovereignty of God” talk from the new Calvinists. I’ve been doing a linguistic experiment for the past year or so: every time I feel the impulse to thank God for something or claim his foreknowledge or sovereignty for something, I check myself to see if I’m just talking about an element of my life that’s because of social privilege. If I am, then I don’t do God-talk about it, because that’s just disrespectful to people who love God and live rightly, but still suffer because they’re lacking good things due to privilege. An example: a college graduate might thank God on Facebook for getting her through a private Christian school with good friends and a job offer ready for her in June. The impulse is nice, but it’s infuriating to someone who maybe didn’t have parents who could afford to pay for college, was marginalized socially and had trouble making friends, or got the short end of the stick with the economy and can’t find good work after graduation. It’s not wrong, but does it feels unfair to thank God for something you worked for and earned, or something that was handed down to you by genetics. It feels like it makes light of the hard work you did, or the hard work that less-privileged others put in to try to achieve the same ends.

On the other side of this mindset is the reaction to horrific live events with emotionally numbed reactions: cancer? God’s sovereign plan. divorce? it’s okay, God’s still good. grief? lack of faith in God’s sovereignty. I don’t think this sort of response is meant to be flippant or numbly blasé, but that’s how it comes across. It doesn’t allow for the full range of human emotions to be expressed in normal reactions to traumatic events, but instead cauterizes the emotions with shaming for lack of faith.

Agency is a funny thing. I don’t like that I feel more uncomfortable having agency than I do with feeling helpless. Between the God-is-sovereign catch-all explanation for anything hard or anything good and the patriarchy’s gender roles, the way I thought of myself I was not as an actor in my own life, but a pawn on a chessboard. Things happened to me instead of me making choices.

I don’t think God meant us to half-live our lives. I don’t think he meant for us to wait for life to happen. I don’t think a life of faith is lived in absence of risk or owning one’s full potential or full emotion or choice. I don’t think God wants us to constantly be yammering about how good he is when it’s not something that showcases his kindness in an honest way. It’s a waste of breath. There’s a difference between feeling genuine appreciation for quotidian graces and clanging a cymbal about how awesome God was to give you privilege.

The tension between brash American self-made bootstraps man mindset (which is also unhealthy) and the self-imposed helplessness of Christian patriarchy and new Calvinism is appropriate, I think, and should be embraced. There’s a glorious dignity to being human, and it should be embraced along with a peaceful awareness of one’s size in the face of the universe. These are not things to be taken lightly.


I think it’s silly how so many of us took to the blogs when the Church gatekeepers wouldn’t listen to us, and how so many of us are now so invested in policing each other.

To counter that, I’d like to talk about this year. This year has been terrible, you all know that. My going away gathering in DC before I moved to LA (appropriately) was one where my friend strung a banner over the doorway that read “Fuck 2013.” I loved her for it.

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

a room full of reasons why I actually love 2013

But the other thing about this year is how beautiful it’s been because of the good people who have been there for me. I’ve gotten to meet so many of my blogging friends, I’ve lived out this year almost entirely in other people’s spare bedrooms and on their couches, and I have not lacked anything.

Do you remember those Xanga posts people used to do where they’d write a post with five little somethings to five different people, without naming those people? It’d be like: Things I Wish I Could Say To You! and then they’d write out those things and just leave it open to interpretation who they were talking about. [Probably all of Taylor Swift’s songs started this way, let’s be honest.]

I’d like to do that for Thanksgiving, but as a thank you, not as a bitter-ex-friend-message. If you’ve been touched, healed, held, changed, loved, heard, supported by good folks online, real-life friends, authors (or even books, articles, movements, or movies you found through the blogosphere), join me for a link up on Friday where we don’t name names, don’t patrol the borders of our favorite community, and don’t judge each other if we realize someone is thanking a heretic, a misogynist, a politician, or an Autostraddle author. Everyone’s journey is different, and we each have things we’ve learned and been grateful for that may have originated in odd or socially non-Kosher places.

Here’s a sample of what I want to see, a real-life thank you to someone who’s been a huge part of this year:

Thank you for letting me cry in your kitchen, for dragging me to your in-laws, for buying my favorite beer and sharing your ice cream, for giving me space when the noise in my head got too loud, for letting me say all the most inappropriate things that popped into my head, for helping me pack and unpack at least three times, for picking me up at the Metro in the cold and rain when I called at the last minute, for venting about the internet with me, and for always answering the phone when I needed you, even if if was after you just had a car accident. Thanks for your real friendship when we were both reeling from years of charades. <3

Join me on Friday and let’s link up together to each share at LEAST five unidentified thanks to those who have made 2013 a better, more whole, and more healing year for us.

There’s no limit on who or what you can thank. But let’s take a moment to appreciate the good that this community is capable of doing for a hurting soul.


I’ve been quiet here since I’ve been traveling, driving solo from DC to LA, but the other night I had the happy experience of an evening with Sarah and Micah Murray, and we talked a lot about our stories and processing the conservative Christian world we’ve come out of. And I had a flash of epiphany this morning as I drove away, so you’re getting an Immodesty Rail post instead of a happy-Hannah travelogue post.

***

When I started courting, I was hyper aware of how everyone else I knew had done this thing, what the stories in Josh Harris’s books showed as the “godly” ways to “walk out” their courtship in “good faith,” and what was necessary for having a healthy romantic relationship. Or at least, I knew what I thought a healthy relationship should look like and I had a pretty good idea of how to make mine look like a happy, godly thing for others to later emulate. This wasn’t conscious — this was just SGM culture.

See, the overall focus of everything in SGM (for me) was: be a good example for others. Every piece of my teenage and college years was set up in reaction to either 1) what my elders would think, and 2) what those younger than me would interpret as license to mimic if they watched my behavior.

Welcome to legalism.

And my ex, being who he is, was also really aware of what was and wasn’t socially acceptable in these circles. As a result (because, luckily for me, I was also aware that I was dating a person), I was tuned into this, too.

Given what we saw modeled for us in courtship culture (and, honestly, serious/”mature” Christian dating culture overall), his initial behavior as my boyfriend was much like this:

From xkcd

And it seemed like the reason he did this (well, the primary reason), was because of the culture in our Christian community where everyone assumed responsibility for policing each other (accountability) and thus you had to behave a certain way to assure everyone that you were being “above reproach” and “mature” and “godly” with your relationship choices. It was basically dating as social performance art.

Being uber happy with your new relationship — in a verbal performance sort of way, because physical demonstrations were too risky/sinful — was the best way to keep everyone off your back. I think, maybe, I engaged in this a lot more than he did. I’d be aware of the social expectations and talk up the positive things in our relationship and try to gloss over or tone down the negative elements. I felt compelled to talk about things that were too intimate to appropriately share (swapping dirt with your girl friends is one thing, but it’s entirely another to share that stuff with everyone to try to preemptively keep them from being “concerned” about you), and it drained me a lot. I felt like I was always on the defensive, needing to justify my relationship and my choices.

I’m not actively assigning motives here, but after all of that I tend to wonder a bit about why courting (or newly dating post-fundy life, or even newlyweds from this background!) couples tend to frequently feel the need to spam social media with announcements of how happy they are, how grateful they are for their bf/gf, how blessed and undeserving they are in/of the relationship. And I don’t really care about PDA if it doesn’t seem like a performance to make a statement.

But that all brings me to the problem with this defensive reaction to accountability in a legalistic atmosphere. Your simple motives aren’t good enough, and you are forced to second-guess yourself and over-think things to the point of cultivating insecurity and codependency. Decisions are made by committee — you talk yourself blue in the face telling everyone you know about your decision dilemmas, and ask endless questions about motives and fears, and then take steps based on where you are at the end of the accountability gauntlet. And advice from mentors and peers and parents is great, but this isn’t that. It’s losing yourself and appropriate sense of boundaries and privacy for the sake of fear, and you often forget to enjoy the ride of a new experience because you’re so afraid you’re doing the wrong thing.

I missed a lot of the joy in various “firsts” because I was so busy over-thinking everything and tense and afraid of doing the wrong thing. And that’s just silly. Dating is supposed to be about learning, not getting everything right the first time.

Why are Christians so afraid of making wrong choices and learning through mistakes? If we’re a practicing a faith that’s centered in grace and redemption, we shouldn’t be obsessing over having the Instagram-perfect, thoroughly “accountable” relationships like in the glossy courtship books our parents handed us. We should be enjoying learning about the beautiful things that can be had in community and learning about ourselves and each other, without fear.

***

All that said, I doubt I’ll ever recommend a relationship book to anyone ever again. Instead, I’ll shove a copy of Daring Greatly in their face and grin and say “this will change your life.”


tumblr_lit34l7Xvj1qg205no1_500

source: pinterest

“I just don’t feel heard,” she texted me.

“I know, but I hear you,” I thought.

***

Awkward silence was the norm in the kitchen at one place I worked. You’d slip in for coffee or water or your lunch, and shuffle around each other with cringing politeness and fumble for what you came for in silence.

The old fellow with dancer’s feet and bright eyes walked in with me, silent. Then: “Did you see that new zombie movie?”

I hadn’t, but he saw me. We talked. I wasn’t invisible that time.

***

She was eloquent, but no one responded. She voiced her frustration, but she still felt marginalized. Two words on the screen made all the difference. “I’m listening,” she read.

***

We all struggle with this, I think. It’s human to want to be heard. “Hey anybody!” says a kid, and we all know what he means. Hear me. See me. Feel this with me.

Being unheard and feeling alone is the most miserable place. I think maybe Lewis was right in The Great Divorce that hell is a state of mind that creates the most ultimate isolation.

It’s what motivates us to blog, to tweet, to commune, to write, to gather. Tell me I’m not alone. Tell me you hear me. 

When I had been at my old SGM church for about nine years — after serving in Sunday school since I was 14, after raising $4,000 in bake sales ever Sunday for a year for the church building fund, after my dad played on the worship team, after attending every Sunday service and every weekly care group, while the church grew from about 200 people to 800 or so — I was in a van going to a church conference and the pastor was driving. He turned to me, and called me “Hannah” with a short a. (It’s pronounced with a long a, like in “father”). “So, Hannah,” he said, “how are you?”

And I cringed, and for the first time I realized: when I left town for my freshman year later that summer, I was going to be glad to leave that church. I’d poured my life into it, and they had no idea who I was. I was invisible. He didn’t even know my name.

That isn’t what the church is supposed to be like. The image of the church as the Body of Christ makes me think that the church is supposed to be a place where we are intimately known, heard, seen, and cared for. When one part of the Body suffers, we all suffer. We rejoice and grieve and grow and hurt and heal together.

***

After that, I was set adrift for a while, but everywhere I went that wasn’t KingsWay, I was met with more pastoral care and kindness than I’d ever experienced. Even those places where the theology was twisted and bordered on spiritual abuse, and I maybe wasn’t really heard, they tried to care for me better than I’d ever experienced before.

I left school and moved to a new area and got married, and promptly found myself in the tailspin of a faith and identity crisis. The church we were at had abstracted faith in such a way that there was no life there, and I spent our Sundays there evading detection by volunteering in the nursery or reading Harry Potter in the church office or outside in the sun.

And then. This year. This bizarre year. Where so much change has left me feeling exhausted and excited and cracked open and nomadic.

I find myself receiving the kindness of near-strangers at church, because they know. My pastor sits across from me in his office and I’ve only scratched the surface in my storytelling and he stops me and asks me about his preaching, how he can make sure he’s being intersectional and show how much he cares by not marginalizing people. And asks for book recommendations. And then prays for me and prays for unspoken things that he heard in between the lines of what I told him, and I sit there and choke back tears because I have been heard.

***

I wake up to an email from a girl who used to be afraid in her church, who’s now landed in a new church and has found love and isn’t afraid to show her face to God there anymore, and in all this crazy  mess of change I’m forced to be still for a minute there and give thanks.

Because this, this, this beautiful listening-talking-praying-holding-each-other-up mess? This is what the church is supposed to be. It’s not a unicorn fairytale wishful thing. It’s magic, sure, but a real kind.


Dear readers. You’ve been following Jennifer’s story, here and here. You’ve rallied with gifts and notes and advice on the best tools for this budding graphic concept artist.

I thought we’d be doing really well if we raised $300 for her.

Today the count totalled just over $10,000. Most of that was donations of $5-15–individuals giving what they could, writing notes of encouragement and sending it on to Jennifer with love and goodwill. And then we got a couple very generous gifts from extraordinarily kind individuals, one of whom wants us to start a trust scholarship fund for Jennifer’s college tuition.

We’re still working out the details, but we’re hoping to find a church that will manage the fund for her and use the funds (less $1,800 designated specifically for her laptop and a portion of that earmarked for replacing her lost clothing) for her college tuition. Once that’s established, I’ll let you know so that if you still want to donate, you can send it directly to the scholarship fund at the church that we end up working with.

I cannot tell you how amazed Jennifer and her sister are at your overwhelming kindness. It means so much to discover that regular people like and care about you for you–and you all have really made that tangible with your generosity.

So, on behalf of Jennifer: thank you.


I’m on a roll on post ideas, thanks to long conversations with Jori during my visit with her. She gave me permission to tell a story of hers here, for the benefit of anyone else who has perhaps been in a similar position. She says, “Maybe it’ll keep someone from having a similar experience, or maybe a parent will think of it years later and react differently when a daughter comes to them with something like [this].”

Trigger warning: rape, victim blaming.

I think I was 17 when it happened.

I knew it would happen sometime, being a female. But I was surprised it hadn’t happened to me sooner. Before it happened, I had wondered what it would be like when it happened, what I would say, how I would react, who I would tell. If I would cry, if I would know how to respond.

When it happened, it felt surreal, like it was happening to someone else in a cliche movie scene. But it was real life and it was happening.

We were sitting in our favorite coffee shop in Midlothian, the golden morning sunlight painting the wood floor in patches and warming the leather chairs we sat in, both of us with our legs curled up and my shoes were on the floor.  It was the first time we’d seen each other in 6 months, after her family moved to South Carolina. She was holding her cup of coffee in both hands under her chin, her fingers pressing into the ceramic as she held onto it for safety. I was nibbling at my very favorite steaming-hot chocolate chip scone. She didn’t look at me when she started telling me the story.

“So, I met this guy online.”

I froze, transfixed, suspended from reality. It was it. I could feel it.

“We met up at a library while my mom was running errands.”

“He took me to his car. And he wanted to have sex. And I didn’t.”

“And he raped me.”

She was shaking. Her coffee cup was trembling. Her eyes were bright and tearless and wide open, and now she looked at me. “I haven’t told anyone else yet.”

I didn’t know what to say, whether to hug her or hold her hand or to act horrified or shocked. I sat very still. “Oh Jordan,” I said. And I think I picked up my coffee again and sipped it, trying to think.

In retrospect, I think we handled it well, the two of us. She was honest with herself about what happened. I asked her if she had been hurt, if she had taken a pregnancy test. If she was comfortable reporting. That she should go to a doctor to get checked out and I’d go with her if she needed it. Had she told her parents.

She didn’t cry. She was composed, articulate, but shaken and very, very sobered.

We talked for a long time. She made plans to tell her parents, to tell the police, to go to a doctor. I gave her a long, awkward hug, and we parted ways.

I came home quiet, dazed. I went to my mom and said that I needed to talk to her alone, now. I told her the story. She was stunned. “Do you think she’s telling the truth?”

“Well, she wasn’t crying, but I think she was just still in shock. I’m pretty sure she was telling the truth. Why would she lie about something like that?”

“Yeah, I suppose so.”

“Mom, you should call her mom and make sure they get her to a doctor and get checked to be sure she’s okay.” [my mom is an RN and frequently provided a reality check for our anti-doctor homeschooling friends]

“Yeah,” she said. “I’ll do that. Just let me know when she’s told them so I can.”

“She’s planning on telling them tonight, I think. So call them tomorrow morning, I guess.”

“Okay, I will.”

***

54% of rapes are never reported to the police.

97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail.

And only 2-8% of rapes claims are “unfounded” (e.g. the authorities didn’t have enough evidence, decided the girl didn’t resist “enough” for it to be “legitimate,” or were patently false.)

***

[two weeks ago, in FL]

Another coffeeshop, catching up after too much time apart. Another pause, another sip, another heart-spill.

“There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask you. Remember how when you came back from SC to visit, you told me that you’d been raped. And how after you told me, your parents took you to the police station and you signed a statement saying it was all a lie, and then your parents made you come over the next day to apologize to me and my parents for lying about it?”

She laughed. “Yeah, that was awful.”

“What really happened? I kind of assumed it was real but your parents didn’t want to believe it, but…? All I remember is that the next morning your mom called my mom and told her that you made it all up, and that you guys were coming over so you could apologize for lying to get attention.”

She sighed. “Yeah, and they made me come over and we all sat on your couches and it was so serious. Dad told me what to say – that it was all a lie to get attention and none of it was true, and I was sorry for being so proud and selfish.”

“Yeah, it felt really strange,” I said.

“You were really quiet that whole time,” she said. “I always wondered what you thought, since your parents kind of did all the talking for you.”

“It was really awkward. I didn’t know what to say. I think I still mostly believed you, but didn’t know what to think. They made you apologize to that other friend you told, too, didn’t they?”

“Yeah, we went over to her house after yours and did the same thing there. I wonder what she thought of it, too.”

***

As we rehashed what happened that night after she first told me about being raped, a whole new story emerged, one that should shock and horrify any compassionate human, but one that doesn’t surprise me at all, given the culture of the church we grew up in.

I haven’t named this church much before, but it was KingsWay Community Church in Midlothian, Virginia. But I think it’s worth telling you what church it was, and give you the context. This story is one of many like it and it needs to be told. We both attended KingsWay for approximately 10 years, and her dad had been a pastor there for a year or two before they moved to SC.

This story exists partly because of SGM church culture, a subset of that fundamental/evangelical church culture which unintentionally protects abusers and silences anyone who questions patriarchy or misogyny or abuse. SGM is currently facing a lawsuit alleging that the leaders protected abusers and looked the other way when children were molested.

Jori’s rape didn’t occur on the property of a SGM church or at an SGM church event. The rapist was not an SGM church member. But her parents’ response (being a former SGM pastor and his wife) to her story was a response that is very much in keeping with how SGM pastors have historically responded to congregants who were abused. And, for anyone wondering: lots of churches are leaving SGM over the lawsuit, but KingsWay hasn’t left and does not appear to have plans to disassociate itself with SGM.

Jori’s experience was somewhat amplified due to some quirks of her family unique culture. Her family, when we were close, tended to take things to a somewhat dramatic level to prove a point or just because they could. [This was often a really fun thing — they were the best for creative party games and building things and bringing hilarity to life. But it had a darker side, as Jori discovered.]

Her parents were, like mine, adherents to that school of Christian parenting thought where “first time obedience” is paramount to how godly children relate to their parents. This teaching is authoritarian and usually Calvinist, saying that children are born in rebellion to God and so the parents must “shepherd” and “train” them to be obedient and therefore godly and God-loving. Infants are often spanked for “rebellious” crying, children are punished for interrupting their parents even if the cause is an emergency, and if you tell your parent “just a minute” when they tell you to come, you’re in rebellion and need to be spanked/punished.

This mindset functionally trains children to have no ability to reject adult authority if they’re uncomfortable with something, to have no sense of personal space, privacy, or healthy boundaries, and saps any will in children to stand up for themselves. If they do say no to someone or something they’re uncomfortable with, their “training” has conditioned them to feel overwhelming guilt for being “rebellious” or “disrespectful.”

KingsWay taught these parenting techniques and carried parenting books on this method in its bookstore, promoted them for care group studies, parenting classes, and gifts at baby dedications. Jori’s parents adhered to it all back then, given their time in the SGM Pastor’s College and on the KingsWay leadership team.

Jori later realized that the parenting methods her parents used essentially conditioned her to be both a victim of non-consensual sex (you can’t actively resist an authority figure who wants you to please them and pressures you with guilt trips) and a victim of soft brainwashing — your experience is invalid if it contradicts what the authorities say it should be.

***

When Jori got home that evening after telling me and one other friend about her rape, she felt good about telling her parents, ready to open up to them after receiving affirming and kind responses from her friends. They’d listen, they’d help her report, they’d take her to a doctor and get a pregnancy test and STI testing.

The response she got could not have been more different.

Instead of believing her, they accused her of lying, of having consensual sex and then regretting it, and making up the rape story to cover for her actions.

“This sort of thing doesn’t happen to godly girls,” they told her. “You put yourself in a situation for this sort of thing to happen.”

Their reason for not believing her? She seemed too composed. She wasn’t disheveled and in tears, and she hadn’t come to them with the story right after it happened. She was too articulate and detailed with her story — it couldn’t be true because she didn’t seem utterly devastated.

Jori is a very smart person, and after such strict parenting and high pressure in our church to have your emotions under control all the time, she became highly skilled at playing social roles that were expected of her. But when something traumatic happened to her, she wasn’t able to connect with her emotions to display them for an audience on command — she was too far gone into trained disassociation with her own feelings.

Angry that their daughter was shameless enough to have sex for fun and then make up a story like this to cover it, and still refuse to admit that she was lying, her parents decided to drive her to the police station for questioning.

When they got there, her dad told the officers that she was saying she’d been raped, that they knew it was a lie, and they needed help finding the loophole in her story.

The officers began questioning her, and again, her lack of tears worked against her. She told me, “I didn’t react the right way — I didn’t burst out crying. And the rest of the night they tried to prove that I was lying.”

For several hours they questioned her, and she didn’t give in. Her story became more clear and detailed as time went on, and these small adjustments caused them to doubt her even further.

At last she decided it wouldn’t be worth it to keep fighting their accusations.

As she told me that morning a few weeks ago:

“‘Okay, it’s not true,’ I said, because it was going nowhere and was so humiliating. I just wanted to leave. They made me sign a statement saying that I had been lying and closed the case, and then lectured me, saying ‘You could have gone to jail for lying about this.'”

The next day her parents showed up at my house and made her apologize to me for lying.

And for the next several years, Jori shut down her memories of the event, telling herself that it must have been consensual sex that she, like the terrible person she was, had gone looking for behind her parents’ backs and then lied about.

Today, she says:

“[my parents’ reaction was] very damaging to me, and I was depressed, scared, and utterly confused for years as a result. But, I’ve moved on from it. I moved on from the actual rape years and years before I moved on from the terrible reaction to it, but it’s old history now.”

***

There are two things going on here.

The first is: fundamentalist Christian parenting methods train children to not resist sexual predators and to not be able to identify it if they’re molested, raped, or harassed. [this is why the Church remains an unintentional haven for sexual predators, and why reporting sexual abuse in the church to authorities is still a question for debate, not an assumed course of action to protect victims.]

The second is: our culture doesn’t like to believe rape victims when they have the courage to speak up, and the negative response they get often leaves them feeling like they must have made it up, that they’re terrible people for thinking that they were really raped, and that they shouldn’t have said anything in the first place.

These assumptions remain for a variety of unfathomably inhumane reasons, assumptions coming from privilege and class hierarchy, assumptions coming from residual patriarchy, assumptions coming from female inability to identify their sexuality apart from the male gaze. [these reasons are why third wave feminism is really necessary.]

Of course, there’s a lot more to it than just these things. But this is a starting place. Jori’s story didn’t happen because her parents are terrible people. It happened in a Christian cultural context that didn’t have space in its ideological framework for a woman to be calm and collected when reporting a rape, for a woman to not be raped in a dark alley by a stranger, and for a woman to have any sort of sexual autonomy outside of the parent-led-courtship-and-abstinence relationship model.

Telling about being raped should never, ever be more traumatic than the rape itself.

***

If you or someone you know is in need of help, start here:
(this list is stolen from Dianna Anderson)


Two weeks ago, I was walking along the water in Hallandale Beach, FL, talking with my childhood best friend, Jori. We were comparing notes on our childhoods — an uncanny thing if you’re like me and negative memories get locked up in the subconscious. Both of our families were large, creative, unruly homeschoolers, loving to read and play games and create imaginary worlds and art. We spent a lot of time in each other’s homes, as our parents would swap sets of kids for weekend getaways (you watch ours for our anniversary and we’ll do the same for yours!) and were close in that way where you stop pretending to have it all together when these people are around. My mom made them do chores at our house, and her mom had us babysit for her grocery shopping outings when we were at hers, and so forth.

We were both the oldest, and both introverts in loud groups of people living in tight quarters. Jori and I were both really good at hiding out to read in peace, and really good at “having it all together” to keep the family drama to a minimum and set good examples for the younger kids.

There was a blog, then a book, that influenced me a lot during these years. The premise was that young people could be responsible and mature if they were expected to be responsible and mature. That teenage-dom was a cultural farce to promote immaturity. That 15 year olds could be adults if they tried.

These ideas went hand-in-glove with the way my parents raised me and what our church expected of Jori and me. Godly teenagers don’t give in to hormones and emotions and set an example for their peers and take their faith and life seriously. Good children respect their parents and are responsible and mature and don’t set bad examples for their siblings.

I was always complimented by the moms of my friends and my parents’ friends for how mature and responsible and articulate I was. I did all the right things. I helped out with my family, I was the good kid. If I was upset about something, I talked about it with my parents. If I was really bad, I broke curfew by 20 minutes coming home from a babysitting job or a church function.

When I went to college, I made myself really obnoxious to my peers by being a snob about pop culture and refusing to do spontaneous, sophomoric stunts (like pull all-nighters or drink energy drinks or go to Niagara Falls for the weekend instead of writing a paper). I was painfully responsible. And painfully awkward and naive.

My friend Ashleigh posted yesterday on this, and her comments about getting married young were so similar to my own experience:

When John and I were engaged and I was approaching both my high school graduation and my wedding day, people who asked about my post-graduation plans would furrow their brows and cluck their tongues, warning against getting married “before I knew who I was.” My eyes would roll into my skull while I sweetly recited a sentence or two about growing up together, being confident in my own being, not seeing the need to wait until I reached an arbitrary milestone and suddenly knew who I was before I married this guy.

Naivety is both endearing and infuriating.

At 17 and still even at 23, I believed I was above the process, I could avoid the messy years by simply not living them, jumping ahead, becoming the older version of myself sooner rather than later.

But 25 crept up on a muddy, bruised version of me. Hair flying, face streaked with tears and sweat, grieving the security I had taken for granted, I remembered the line from that Anne Hathaway movie.

Apparently everyone is a little bit lost at 25.

I’m discovering something: there were a LOT of us who grew up this way in the conservative homeschool culture. We were the high school poster kids for successful parenting in the Christian world. We did all the right things we were supposed to do, and then we set out to be successful adults for real, only this time we were entering normal society to do it.

Life doesn’t really go the way you expect it to go. And humans are not machines you can program to walk the straight and narrow all their days by restrictions and moral instruction.

People are messy creatures, who love and feel and breathe and weep and rage. I don’t think the system accounted for us loving and grieving and asking hard questions. Growing up is hard and messy and a messy season or three will happen to you, no matter how hard you try to have it all together and do all the right things.

Jori and I were talking about the people we knew from our childhoods, about how it seems now like it’s just a waiting game to see when people from that legalistic subculture will hit their breaking point and let go and be messy. Even adult women, moms of many years with grandchildren and grey hair are bound to go through this — if they never let go and learned to be comfortable with themselves and with not knowing all the answers to deep questions.

The saddest stories, though, are those who fight it, who hide their struggles and isolate themselves to keep up the facade of idyllic Christian homeschoolerdom. It’s not worth the depression and loneliness and anxiety.

I feel like I aged backwards — like I went from age 12 to being 30-something and mature, to finally letting myself free from all these expectations and let myself be messy and explore and enjoy life, and now I’m back at an age that’s closer to my real one, loving life and learning lots and meeting people and experiencing things. Embracing the questions and the process of stretching and growing. It’s been so good for me, and all of those on the “other side” who talk to me about this backwards growing up and the freedom they’ve found have similar stories. The healing and wholeness and delight in being yourself, loving yourself where you’re at, and not performing for your church or homeschool community.

If you’re on the brink of this, if you feel yourself losing control of things, needing rest and grace and acceptance, let go? God’s love for you is not based on doing hard things or being the right person or having it all together. In fact, it’s going to be harder for you to accept God’s unconditional, boundless, intimate love for you if you can’t accept yourself where you’re at, not where you think you should be.

Breathe into the stretch. It’s okay. You’re held.