Category Archives: religion

Explanations and exits

I have been having a difficult time writing lately. Well, I’ve been having a difficult time in general. Every time I think that my depression has receded a bit, it comes roaring back. I started this blog to mostly write about my Olds, because I felt that their behavior is sometimes too ridiculous for a single status update on Facebook. The Olds have more fans than they know [and I would prefer to keep it that way, thank you very much, tattletales]; plus, laughing at my day to day existence keeps me from remembering why I am where I am and how bleak the overall picture of my life really is. But it seems like I am writing less about the Olds and more about myself, and specifically, about how bad I feel most of the time. And that was originally not my plan here.  Maybe the Olds are not the only ones who need parenting.

Usually, when I am depressed, there are things I can do to distract myself. Watching Criminal Minds for nine or twenty hours without stopping can help. I admit that it may be a little off-putting to some that I enjoy watching serial killers so as to make my own life seem more bearable. But it does help. No matter how miserable I am, no one has broken into my house and stabbed me with an icepick. (Yet).
Watching the serial killers themselves at work does not make me feel better; quite the opposite. It usually makes me feel worse; most of them seem to be incredibly organized with a real talent for planning ahead, so it is just another profession at which I could never succeed. If I can never find the ice scraper in my car, what makes me think I could remember to keep a tarp and a few axes in the trunk? Answer comes there none.

The problem with my depression this time, is that it isn’t the the usual chemical dark cloud that descends for no reason. This time, it is situational, and the situation cannot be fixed. I have mentioned leaving my church, and why I did it. I am tired of talking about it, and I am tired of defending my position, and I am tired of spending so much time and energy on thinking about a place where I am no longer welcome, and where, even if I were, I would never set foot again.

I am tired of being angry and exhausted by sadness, and I’m also tired of mourning. But I can’t seem to stop doing any of that. I knew that the church was a huge part of my life. I knew that leaving it would hurt, and that I would probably feel lost for a while. I also knew that I really, really didn’t want to go—but that my own mouth would, sooner or later, open up and say things that could never be unsaid.  I would have become increasingly bitter and unpleasant, which had already started happening before I left.  And I didn’t want to do that, because I didn’t want people to hate me. Well. So much for that.

I’ve realized that the only way I’m going to be able to get through this particular bout of depression, is to write, but I don’t have happy or funny things to write about right now.  So if you are looking for funny OldsStories, you might have to wait for a few days.  Right now, I can only write what I have, and what I have had for a while now is a broken heart.  Glossing over it hasn’t helped.  Crying hasn’t helped. Neither have venting, wishing, being angry and bitter, pretending it never happened, ice cream, reading Elizabeth Bishop,  or any of the usual cures for a broken heart.

That’s the difference between losing an individual and losing a community, I guess.

I also need to write about it because I do not want to forget the good things.  If the church had not been so amazing, this wouldn’t hurt so much.  Even up until two weeks after I resigned, I hadn’t given up on it completely.  I still trusted the beautiful parts of the church to eventually triumph over these problems.

Most of all, I still trusted people I loved and respected to see beyond their defensiveness, and to believe that I acted with only the best of intentions, and to see what I did as something that came from a good and loving place.  After all, I’ve been asked to do that continually since last December.  It is only recently that I realized that the same consideration has mostly not been extended to me or to the friends of mine who share my position.  Yet, all of us acted out of the best intentions, and all of us are people for whom honor and seeking the right path are as natural as breathing.  None of us have done anything but tell the truth, and ask others to do the same.  So, here we are, most of us on the outside.  And until I really understand why we are out here, I don’t think I can set this aside without the danger that when I least expect it it will all coming flooding back.

These are the things I need to figure out:

What does it really mean to believe only in peoples’ best intentions?

How realistic, useful, and even safe, is it to only ever assume the good in someone’s actions?

How far am I willing to go for what I believe, even at the expense of people I love?

and finally–

What obligation, if any, do my loved ones have to support me when we disagree, or when I’ve taken a stance with which they might agree, but would rather not deal with the hassle of defending?

This last one is something that I have thought about quite a lot, and probably will continue to.

This week, a dear friend let me read something she wrote about this situation, and something she said has been circling around my head ever since:

“I realized that I want a church where someone will run after me when I run out”.

When I read that, I realized how much I wanted the same thing. After all, isn’t that what everyone wants in life?  Don’t we all want to matter enough to at least one person so that if–when–we run away, from something, there will be someone comes after us and says:

“Stop. Please don’t go. I care about you. I want you with me. Nothing is perfect and it never will be, but my life is closer to perfect when you are in it, even if right now that seems too hard to do. And, if you absolutely can’t stay, then I am coming with you.”

My friend and I don’t agree on some things about the events that led me to leave the church, although when it comes to our deepest selves, we agree on pretty much everything.  One night we played that game where you have to draw out something, like a phrase or name that someone has to guess.  My friend and I were sitting across the room from each other and couldn’t see what the other was drawing–but most of our drawings were so similar that it was almost creepy.  And also, amazing.

So when she has opinions that are different from mine, they are opinions that I take very, very seriously, and do everything I can to understand, even if I can’t always agree.  She is still part of the church, and this is the right thing for her, even though it isn’t for me.  And when I read that about how she wants a church where someone will run after her, I knew that even though some of our drawings might not match up, that most of them probably always will.

You see, she ran after me, even though it has been difficult and terribly hard for her at times to do so.

She is not the only one, either.  The fact that she and other people ran after me has meant everything to me, because I can’t remember the last time anyone ran after me, for anything. Some of the people who ran after me completely shocked me, because at least one of them is someone I have taken for granted more often than not, and because I am someone who goes much more by words than actions.   I am finally starting to learn that words mean almost nothing if they are not combined with actions–and that actions without words can say more than entire alphabets.

When I applied to college, I took hours and hours over every application; proofreading, correcting the tiniest mistakes, making sure that absolutely everything was as perfect as it could be. Except for my Vassar application.

I had decided to not even apply to Vassar, but at the last minute, to satisfy a nagging Old, I stomped upstairs to my room and whipped it off in 10 minutes, shoved it in an envelope without looking at it twice, and threw it at the naggy Old so he could drive it to the post office before midnight.

On my Vassar application, I was just me, and really, I was the most annoying and bratty part of me. I was sloppy, and I was careless, and unlike all of my other applications, I was completely honest.  I answered all the questions about my future with what I really thought, not with carefully parsed sentences designed to make me look as much like Ivy League or Seven Sisters material as I possibly could.

The earliest acceptance letter I got was from Vassar.  And I was definitely Seven Sisters and Ivy League material, judging from my other acceptances.  But Vassar accepted me when I was sloppy and angry and completely honest. They saw the best of me and they saw the worst of me.  And they still wanted me. That’s why I went there, and why I felt so at home, and always will.

The friends that I have left from the church, I think, have seen my best and my worst, but they still ran after me.

And that has made all the difference.

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Filed under depression, mental health, religion

Shaming, past and present

This morning, the governor of my state signed a bill into law that makes it legal for Indiana businesses to refuse services to certain classes of citizens.

Well.  Technically, this was already legal, because there are no federal or state protections for sexual orientation.  But, now that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is Indiana law, the state has officially endorsed the idea that a business owner can refuse service to an individual who, in the business owner’s eyes, represents a threat to that business owner’s religion.  And that the business owner will be able to use “religious freedom” as an accepted defense in the courtroom.  That’s a big deal.

Those of us who live here know this law exists so that Indiana businesses can now legally deny service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the name of God.  The Indiana GOP is furious than they cannot uphold the same sex marriage ban anymore–and, with all these homoseckshuls gittin’ hitched, by gum, they might want to have weddings and flowers and cakes and such!  God forbid that finally allowing people their civil rights might improve the economy or anything.  Well. You go, Mike Pence and your fellow whiny manbabies in the statehouse.   You’ve made sure that won’t be happening here any time soon.  There are certainly other groups who can and will be affected by this law.  But the legislature has made no secret of who is the real target here.

This is a shameful day in the history of this state, where we already have more than our fair share of history that deserves shaming.  Back in the 1920s and 1930s, the bigots who controlled our state legislature wore hoods and sheets.  Today’s bigots don’t wear their beds in public.  They’re perfectly happy to show their faces and their crosses while they practice their hatred.  I’m not sure which is worse.

For those of you scrolling down to the comment section to tell me something about #NOTALLCHRISTIANS  or some other nonsense, save yourself the trouble.  If you are a Christian, and you are not standing up with your cross and speaking out against hatred, unconditionally and publicly, then you are part of the problem,  no matter how enlightened you feel you are.

The ball is in your court now.  You need to go speak to your Christian brothers and sisters who believe in hatred, and ask them what the hell is wrong with them.  You need to take your evangelism and your prosthelytizing and turn them inwards, on your own faith community, and you need to fix yourselves.  Don’t waste one second explaining to me about all the different kinds of Christians out there, because I’m quite aware.  Leave me alone and go talk to your co-religionists, because this is your problem, and the rest of us will be over here trying to survive while you pray it out.

Christians are not the only religious people who need to examine their own beliefs, however.  All religion have blind spots, some worse than others.

Sometimes there is right and there is wrong and there is no middle ground.  To continually search for a way to stand with the right while refusing to stand against the wrong is a fool’s game with no end.  You do not have to agree with everyone in the world at the same time, because that is insanity.  A religion that tells its adherents that they must do this is a religion doomed to failure. By presenting every viewpoint as equally valid, such a religion ignores everything that is known and true about humanity, folds over on itself, and becomes meaningless.

Sometimes, like it or not, you have to pick a side.

I have been accused of seeing the world only in black and white and not shades of grey.  Usually, people who tell me this are much less concerned with right and wrong, and much more concerned with not making waves.  To them, “shades of grey” means, “Keep the peace! Keep the peace! Who cares at what price– just for God’s sake, DON’T ROCK THE BOAT!”

These are people who think that steadying the boat on a sea of prejudice to keep the goodwill of bigots is apparently more important than standing up for what is right.

Do not be fooled into assuming that the only people who do this are conservative, or Christian, or members of the Indiana GOP.

The staff of my [former] Unitarian Universalist church did the same thing recently, when they decided that it was okay to use homophobic and sexist materials from an evangelical Christian organization for teen programming.

The minister and other staff who chose this material made it very clear that they intended to change the materials and only use what was “relevant” for us, “leaving out” the bigotry.  I was not satisfied with this explanation for many reasons.   They also joined a “cohort” of other churches using this material. Membership in the cohort costs several thousand dollars.

By doing so, our church is now financially supporting institutionalized homophobia.  The organization that produces these materials specifically states that openly gay people will not be hired, and if they are found to be gay after working there, they can be fired. The organization has many other oppressive beliefs.  But this one should have been enough to give any reasonable person pause.

I did believe that the church staff would not purposely teach homophobia and sexism to our teenagers.  However, I did not know how much I could trust people who not only chose this material, but who lied to co workers and congregation members about it.  The more I found out, the more horrified I was.  This church is now publicly, officially affiliated with a program that openly espouses homophobia in its materials and on its website and in its policies.

Plus, it did not matter how much the church “changed” these materials.  Would the church take materials that said that black or brown people were inferior, say “oh we are leaving out the racism so no biggie!” and then expect that people would be okay with paying money to use them? Why was I attending a church where I would even need to use a comparison like that to explain something?
Why was–is–it ok to ask LGBTQ people to be “patient” and to put up with blatant disregard for their humanity in the name of  tolerance for the intolerant?

I came to understand that the religious freedom of bigots had become more important to my church than supporting and affirming the worth and dignity of every LGBTQ person in our own congregation.

I wrote a letter of complaint to our minister about our church being affiliated with and financially supporting an openly homophobic institution. Nothing happened, except that I was told to step back.  I waited for two months to see if the church would rethink their decision.  They didn’t.  I told other people about the situation.  Uproar on the part of the clergy, staff, and many congregants ensued.  Not because people were upset to realize that our church was using these materials and supporting homophobia in word and deed even if they were not teaching it.

No.  Most people were–and are–upset with me for daring to suggest that this was wrong.  They were, and are, upset with me for taking a stand for what is right, but they are even more upset with me for taking a stand against what is wrong.  You cannot be both right and wrong in this situation.  By choosing the right,  I stood against the wrong.  This was unacceptable.

They were, and are, upset that I refused to back down and that I still haven’t.

It should be clear that I will not do so in the future, either.

I was told in no uncertain terms that I was the one who was intolerant, and that I was wrong.  It was not acceptable for me to notice and draw attention to homophobia, because this meant that I was not assuming “people’s best intentions”. Even though “people” had made a terrible, embarrassing mistake that they refused to undo out of pride and ignorance, I was in the wrong because I refused to pat these people on the head and apologize for noticing their giant clusterfuck.  I was even more wrong for daring to insist that they fix it.

I was so wrong, in fact, that I was told this from the pulpit in a fiery, angry sermon.  The kind of sermon you might expect at a fire and brimstone kind of evangelical Christian church–but nothing like anything you would ever, ever associate with a Unitarian Universalist church.  Well.  That’s what I thought.  Then, it happened to me and a friend.  We were called out from the pulpit.  We were accused of “Christian bashing” among other things.

The message from the pulpit was clear: “Get out”.

And it was underlined by the standing ovation that the congregation gave at the end.

This minister is someone I admired for many, many years.  In the three years I’ve been a member of the church, she became a trusted and much loved friend as well as a minister.  I respected her completely and felt that her integrity and her generous and loving soul were what made our church the amazing place that it is.

To be told to get out by someone like that in front of everyone you know is pretty terrifying.  It isn’t very loving.  And it certainly isn’t very tolerant.
What it mostly is, though, is heartbreaking. Imagine the worst time your heart has ever been broken.  Then, imagine that the place that just broke your heart like that is also the place that in many ways, saved your life.  And that brought you back among the living when you thought that you would never be among them again.

That is the kind of heartbreak that I felt that day.  That I still feel.

My beliefs were no longer acceptable to my church, because I refused to go along with the support of a homophobic organization.  I would not be able to continue attending church, teaching religious education, or taking part in church activities, unless I shut up.  Without my silence, I would become an acceptable, even necessary casualty.

I have become one.

It was and is more important for this church to keep its public affiliation with a homophobic institution than it is to listen to its own congregants.   The church has doubled and tripled down, and they continue to do so.  Since I am no longer welcome there, and since most people will just go along and not rock the boat, the controversy will die down.  Indeed, it is doing so already.

And soon, no one will remember anything except that cool sermon that time that got a standing ovation.  People will conveniently forget, if they ever knew, that what they applauded was the shunning of at least two [formerly] treasured members of the church community, who dared to say that perhaps our church should not stand together and be counted with an institution that believes that LGBTQ people are less than human and who do not deserve equal rights.

The reason I am bringing this up, on today of all days, is because today is a day when I wish I still had my former beloved church community.

Today is a day when the world has become a crueler and harsher place, with hatred no longer afraid to lurk in the shadows.  Today is a day when I almost wish that I had shut up, that I stifled my views, and that I’d just decided to let it go.

But, you see, if I’d done that, I wouldn’t have any right to be outraged and revolted by the actions of the Indiana government today.  To accept hate in one situation, and to denounce it in another, based on personal convenience, both negates the denouncement and encourages further acceptance of the unacceptable.

So, today, when so many of my former fellow UUs are furious about and disgusted by the signing of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in our state, I wonder:  How are they  able to reconcile that pain and anger over this blatant injustice with their simultaneous acceptance of their church’s public affiliation with an institution that has the exact same belief system that produced this legislation?

Sometimes, rocking the boat is the only possible response to a situation, even if you risk drowning in the process.

I am still breathing.


Filed under politics, religion