First off, thank you to everyone who expressed interest and then was patient and understanding when I didn’t show up on Friday with my post as planned. Life did some unexpected things and I spent most of the weekend on the road. But I’m back now, and here’s the promised post!

If you want to participate, link up at the bottom of the post with your own 5 (or more! I couldn’t stop and did 10) unnamed thanks to people who have made 2013 a better, more whole, more healing year. I’m going to be specifically talking about people from the Christian blogging community in mine, but I think that it doesn’t have to be that narrow. I just thought, for mine, that since it’s so easy to be quick to write each other off over a disagreement online, we sometimes neglect to appreciate positive things about each other in the ‘sphere. And I want to push back against that.

  1. Thank you for your caution in how you discuss hard issues. You get a lot of flack for your reticence, but I see what you’re doing, translating between realms and watching your tone for the sake of everyone, not for the sake of saving yourself online drama. I see the selflessness in this approach and know the hours and painstaking work of revising and adjusting it must take. You’re doing it well and I deeply admire your work and what you’ve been able to achieve.
  2. Thank you for your brash honesty, for being comfortable with not knowing what you believe all the time but comfortable with sharing the learning process with us all. The sincerity and curiosity you display is, I think, symptomatic of you becoming of a whole person as you embrace vulnerability and truth in your journey. I admire this about you a lot.
  3. Thank you for how much you love. I know you’re struggling with feeling out of place and not sure if you’re hitting all the right notes socially in this weird and wonderful online world, but the thing I love most about you is how sincere you are about your affections and care for others, for your family, for the things that make you excited. You’ve walked through hell and you’re not jaded. That’s amazing.
  4. Thank you for playing big sister to the outcasts of the church who congregate in comments sections and aren’t sure if they have a voice or not. Your perpetual hope in the value of a soul burdened with purpose is inspiring. Lives have been seriously changed for good because of your vision.
  5. Thank you for your incisive, non-stop analytical skills. Your intellectual integrity is something we all need to learn from, and I know you’ve moved on to other things, but while you were here, your research and thorough analysis was a tempering voice amid all of our questions and FEELINGS and I so loved that.
  6. Thank you for your love of beauty. Your intimate reflections on God and life and community and ordinary things have been, at points, a really wonderful oasis of meditation and reflection for me and for many others.
  7. Thank you for your maturity. Your voice has shifted, your tone has changed, and we’ve all collided into your blog with our vim and vigor and been sat down at your place and made to be quiet and think bigger than the insides of our own heads for a few minutes. We need you in these parts. Thanks for what you do.
  8. Thank you for your depth of compassion. Your knowledge is tempered by pain and that lends you the ability to hear the wounded in ways that many of us easily skip over in our race to make a point. Please don’t stop writing.
  9. Thank you for your sass and anger. I love how you are 100% wherever you are, I love how you are consistent online and in person, and I love how you are embracing vulnerability and growth with gusto and humor.
  10. Thank you for your absence. I don’t mean that I’m glad you’re gone–I’m not, and our community is often the poorer for it. But what I mean is that I am glad you have prioritized balance and personal health and perspective over the fear of missing out or the fear of not saying something that someone NEEDS to hear now. It takes actual real humility to shut up and sit out and just live, and I have learned a lot from your example of this. And not in a cheesy churchy way. For real.


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.


Church Survivors

Image by Dani Kelley, http://danileekelley.wordpress.com/

SPIRITUAL ABUSE AWARENESS WEEK, DAY 1: My story

I can’t find a way to make this a short post.

I’ve been a little loath to answer this specific question since I started blogging. I prefer to tell vignettes and talk about the big picture of spiritual abuse in the church and use my story in bits and pieces to show examples of how certain authoritarian or legalistic ideas trickle down to affect people in real life.

The reason I’ve been hesitant to tell my story is because it’s not just “I was in this one church for 10 years and it was really messed up” – my whole life has been touched by spiritual abuse and I’m only now in a place where I can begin to feel safe.

I started blogging under a pseudonym because my dad felt like I was slandering him online. My “disclaimer” post happened because my mom got a call from an old friend saying: “how do you feel about being smeared on your daughter’s blog?” and that was both inappropriate and upsetting.

Here’s the thing: my parents are just as much survivors of spiritual abuse as I am. Their active engagement with certain parenting theories, their church choices, and their reasons for homeschooling altogether made us as a family incredibly vulnerable to spiritual abuse. They are still dealing with the aftermath just as much as I am.

The point is: it’s not their fault. As their child, I am stuck in the tension between talking about what spiritual abuse looked for me and being honest about that and being mature and compassionate toward my parents as well-intentioned, kind people who didn’t know what they were getting into, even though their choices directly caused me to grow up the way I did.

And of course it wasn’t all bad. I’m not trying to paint a bleak picture of life with my family — there is a lot of sweetness and light there.

But, it’s still true that trying to become an adult with independent ideas in my family (and in any Quiverfull family, I will add) is a harrowing journey that can require the young person to either hide their new adult self, suppress their new adult self, or confront the emotional control impulses in QF parents with honesty and risk fracturing the relationship.

And that is a decision that no child should have to face.

So, if you’re a friend of my parents and you’re reading here, please, please understand me: I am not slandering my parents. Slander is telling falsehoods to attempt to smear a person’s reputation. I have no vendetta against them, I crave for them healing and freedom, not condemnation and guilt. I’m not trying to shame them or rebuke them. I’m just telling my story and please don’t tell me how I should tell it. You didn’t live it.

***

My parents chose to create their family culture around the idea that they could try to get things right where they thought their parents had failed. They saw their children as their Christian legacy, and while they never really engaged the “have more Christian kids to have more arrows in our quiver for God’s army so Christianity can reform and redeem American culture” philosophy which defines a lot of “Quiverfull” families, we were still very much a Quiverfull family.

From an early age I knew that dating was wrong because it was “practicing for divorce” and that I would court to find my husband, that grace was like if mom took my spanking for me when I deserved it instead of her, that I was responsible to behave rightly so that I wouldn’t cause my younger siblings to follow my example and sin/make bad choices, that I was homeschooled because that was the way God wanted parents to raise their kids, according to Deuteronomy. I was taught that I had to be sure I was saved, that rebelling against my parents would be as bad as practicing the sin of witchcraft (and the story of Saul was a byword for that happened if you were okay with witchcraft). I believed that people with mental health issues probably had demons, and that Jesus was coming back soon and I would be held responsible for the lives of sinners I was close with and hadn’t preached the gospel to.

I went up for altar calls three times after I initially prayed the sinner’s prayer with my parents at age 5 or so, because I knew I was often angry with my sister for being annoying, and God’s word said that if I hated my brother I couldn’t love Jesus. I was terrified that I would disqualify myself from a relationship with him because I didn’t know how to love my siblings.

Initially, my family was the only one of its sort in the churches we attended. We’d be the only homeschoolers, the only big family (that was when there were only 5 of us kids), the only ones who didn’t “believe in youth group” and didn’t watch a lot of popular movies and weren’t allowed to listen to “secular” music. But we did find likeminded people in the homeschooling community, some who were as “fundamental” as we were, some who were less strict but still passionate about raising their kids to honor God.

That’s how benign it started. These parents all just wanted to raise their children in a way that would please God and help their kids avoid making “the same mistakes we made” in their teenage and early adult years. But the difficulty with this is that it turned “pleasing God with my life” and “raising my children to honor God” into a formula. Insert One Child, separate from The World, remove Temptation and Rebellion, bake at Christian Community 24/7 for 18 years, and presto! happy Christian heritage passed on successfully to offspring.

If you read the literature my parents and their peers read—Mary Pride, the Pearls, Gregg Harris, Jonathan Lindvall, Bill Gothard, etc.—you’ll see that these people meant well. You’ll see them reacting to abstract cultural issues that disturbed them, and reacting against their own childhoods to try to do better than their parents’ generation. But you’ll also see a heck of a lot of bad handling of Scripture, straw man fallacies, fear-mongering manipulation of idealist motives, and youthful arrogance. Their teachings directly influenced my parents’ decisions and those of many others like them.

I went from a loud, imaginative, inquisitive child to an insecure, fearful teenager who forgot how to make friends or empathize with people because of the legalism embraced by my parents, church, and myself. I became a queen at legalistic self-censure and unintentionally pushed friends away with my self-righteousness in this black and white formula Christianity where I had it all figured out.

I spent a lot of lonely nights in late middle school and high school crying on the couch to my mom about how I felt so unwanted by the girls I counted as my friends, and she’d rub my back and hug me and tell me that it was their loss, and I’d be a wonderful friend.

But what I didn’t realize was that it wasn’t all just “different seasons of life” where they couldn’t relate to my busy life full of housework obligations for my family, my parents’ restrictions on curfew, getting a job out of the house, internet, movies, music, etc. It wasn’t just my academic aspirations in a peer group of wannabe stay-at-home-moms/future pastors wives. My “dry spell” with friendships was, perhaps in part, due to my stuck-up legalism that pushed people away.

If a friend told me about the boy she was crushing on I’d frown, thinking of the boy I was currently trying not to crush on (because it was wrong, duh), and offer a “correction” about how we were just 16, so we shouldn’t be thinking about boys, really.

If a church acquaintance was hanging around with guys after church and wearing a tight top, I would pull her aside and offer the “observation” that it seemed like she was flirting and to watch out for form-revealing tops that might be too “inviting” for “our brothers in Christ” and might “make them stumble.”

If my friend told me she was frustrated with her younger siblings, I would murmur empathy, and then launch into a sermon about how we’re called to serve our families, how it’s practice for our life-long roles at home as women, how we can’t love God if we’re not loving our brother, and Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do To You. I’d tell her that mom made us memorize that verse so we could remember to love each other and suggest that she memorize it, also.

Basically, I was a goody-two-shoes who didn’t observe or have compassion for how my friends felt, because I had been raised (by my parents and my churches) to believe that the kindest thing one Christian could do for another was to call each other out on their sin. That was having grace for each other—correcting each other by “speaking the truth in love.”

In reality, there was no grace, there was no concept of love, and the truth I spoke was condemnation rather than healing and hope. And I was just parroting what I saw around me, living out “the right way to do relationships” with other Christians.

If I did that to you and haven’t been able to apologize to you for treating you like that: I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me.

You can’t love someone if you think that showing love means looking for their weaknesses and exploiting them to make them feel guilty (“pursue holiness”).

I discovered this for myself the hard way. When I started branching out intellectually and becoming an adult thinker, my dad started withdrawing his affirmation of me as his favored child and challenging my ideas. It wasn’t the sort of casual dinner table discussions of various “grey area” issues you sometimes see between thoughtful teenagers and their parents. It was more of a white-knuckled intellectual hazing—I had to defend my position to him on his terms in order to keep my place in his mind as a fellow Christian.

It started with little things. We’d agree in our discussions of how our SGM church’s polity was hurting people and setting itself up for the pastors to have too much power. But then it’d shift into other things: I’d argue for why ballroom dancing wasn’t too much temptation for me, why I thought I should be allowed to wear shorts instead of cutoffs, why I thought that I should be allowed to go to my friends’ houses on Saturdays when he thought I should stay home and help the family instead.

But then it shifted into larger issues as my world expanded through college, and we found ourselves in arguments where I defended the worth of studying Derrida and he’d accuse me of moral relativism. I’d argue that my boyfriend’s student loans weren’t a moral failing, and he’d tell me that the Bible says that those who borrow are fools.

The watershed moment when I realized our relationship had fundamentally shifted when he and my mom confronted me for kissing my boyfriend without asking their permission, almost a year after we’d started dating. It was moving too fast, they said. It was asking for us to fall into temptation, they said. I was rejecting dad’s authority over me and choosing the path of rebellion.

That morning, when they put me in the car and drove for a couple hours, locking the doors and not letting me leave until I had “confessed” to them my potentially sexually immoral relationship with my boyfriend, was when I realized that my boyfriend had been right when he said that my dad was inappropriately controlling and didn’t respect me as an adult person.

I had thought I had done everything right, that I’d figured out what was right and wrong, that my dad and I were practically best friends, that I’d never have a bad relationship with my family.

But that morning I realized that I wasn’t free, he didn’t treat me like a spiritual or moral equal, that my relationship with my parents was inappropriately codependent, that the world was muchmuchmore saturated with gradients of grey than I had ever dreamed, and that I didn’t have anything figured out.

I was morally and emotionally infantile, asymmetrically maturing in my fluency in Pharisee, successful passive-aggressive social manipulation, intellectual irrationality through simplistic logic, and unable to name for myself my own feelings, experiences, loves, fears, passions. If something about me wasn’t acceptable to the world of SGM and my parents’ approval, it didn’t exist as a valid reality.

They didn’t mean to shape me into that person. But when you create a world that is morally immature and only black and white, you stunt yourself and those under your authority and prevent the brilliant beauty of diverse humanity and the full impact of grace on human relationships from being visible.  And that short-sightedness combined with power over people is the perfect storm for spiritual abuse.

 ***

Spiritual Abuse Awareness Week, Day 1

YOUR STORY & LANGUAGE/CULTURE OF SPIRITUAL ABUSE

Prompt: What is your story? Share your experience — showing the details without going into specifics about places or people involved. What made the environment spiritually abusive? Was it language, unspoken social codes, beliefs, assumptions, expectations? How did these factors enable the abuse? How did you eventually leave, and why?

Join up and share your story! Post on your blog, then come back and link up below. Feel free to use Dani’s image on your post, and tweet your thoughts at us with the hashtag: #ChurchSurvivors



Worldview textbooks and classes bother me. They were good for addressing my middle school cravings for knowledge and understanding of the outside world and how other cultures and religions understood God or the numinous. But they left me hanging.

I have always desired to know more. I was the restless twelve year old who complained to mom that I had read all of the books in the house and I was bored. I amused my fiancé when I told him that some days I didn’t wish very much for heaven, because who could be tired of this life when there are so many more books to read and so much more to understand here on earth? While naive, I have benefited greatly from this relentless hunger, and I think my faith, in particular, is stronger for it.

This hunger has given me freedom from stagnation. Those worldview books I read in high school? Some people read them and stopped there. We all grow up Christian, reading our Bibles and going to AWANA and doing sword drills. We know what the Bible says. We know what the worldview books say about what Muslims believe, about what Buddhists believe, about Hindus and feminists, atheists and postmoderns. We get our nice little high school worldview inoculation and maybe a booster shot in college. And we go to church and talk with our good Christian friends, and we talk about evangelizing and taking evangelism classes or sponsoring an orphan. We vote pro-life and we eat organic. And then we enter the malaise of idyllic suburban hell, where no one asks questions, no one offends, no one drops everything and does anything radical.

There’s been a lot of ink shed on this condition in the last few years, and I am excited to see people getting up and doing things. We are privileged and we are starting to acknowledge it and awkwardly dance with the world outside of our Christian bubble.

I went to a Christian college, I worked for a Christian-run NGO. I did the church thing and the care group thing, I invited my public school friends to church events and outreach events. I explored the Church and learned as much as I could about Presbyterians and Pentecostals, about Baptists and the new reformed movement. I’ve been an acolyte and I’ve danced with a worship dance troupe with praise flags. I admire and am curious about Catholic ethics and Orthodox mysticism. I stopped reading my Bible for a long time before starting back up again this year. I’m surprised and delighted to find myself teaching Sunday school and singing in our church choir. I’m reading tons and asking questions and learning so much.

But I’m discovering that this is, perhaps, somewhat rare. Asking questions, shaking down the dusty upper shelves of my faith, rearranging, saying I don’t know, discussing ideas at length for the intellectual exercise of walking out someone else’s assumptions in a conversation–this has been the most healthy part of my spiritual life. I am so small and so inexperienced. But when I find a bit of truth, I like to beat the bushes and see where it came from and why and how it works. And the beauty of it is this: Jesus has met me in all of it. Jesus loves his Church and the Spirit is active in just about every part of the Body.

Shedding old assumptions and gaining a more vast, nuanced, balanced perspective of who Jesus is and what the Church is and can and should be–this has been my health and my blessing, found by accident in the last few years of processing painful situations and spiritual abuse from my old church. I’m so excited to discover healing and community with other believers after years of seeming spiritual dryness and walking this path alone. I’m not afraid to ask hard questions about my faith and my assumptions. I have been led to this place. God knows what he’s doing and where he’s leading me.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
– Is. 55:8-11, NIV

I’ve been talking with some friends about not having a static faith and being willing to ask the hard questions and doubt your previous assumptions. Chryssie and Joanna are linking up with me today, and we’d like you to join us! If you want to share your discovery of God meeting you in your doubting and questioning, write a post about it on your blog and link to it in a comment, or (if you don’t blog), just comment and join the discussion. 

“If one grows up in a Christian home, generally one tends to learn and understand God via what their parents or Church taught them.
That’s not a bad thing.
It becomes a bad thing when you limit yourself to only what you were taught by your parents or your Church.
Faith doesn’t just stop accruing.
One day you don’t just graduate from faith school and it’s all over.
No. We continue learning about God throughout our lives.”
– Joanna, Torches Together

” When I tried to explain to someone what I was feeling, I felt like I had to quickly reassure said person that I wasn’t running away from God; in fact, I was running to Him! The looks of cautious disbelief I got were numerous. Seriously, though, was I running away from or to God? Deep in the recesses of my mind, I didn’t know. I still feared the conditionally loving God I thought I knew.  The questions that ran through my mind were overwhelming and yet I still tried to block them out and pretend that all was well. Those questions soon became like trying to hold oil in my hands. I couldn’t hold on to them, and they started affecting more than just wanting to not go to church.”
– Chryssie, “To doubt or not to doubt”