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Monday, December 30, 2013

"We are all where we belong" (long post, I ramble, I apologize)

In which I ramble about spirituality and religion and stuff.  So you know, you probably want to skip this post.  But if not, read on!  Be bored!  Mumble to yourself that I need to go back to my moleskine journals!  

THE BLACK SHEEP &THE SHEPHERD (LOOK, I'M JUST AN INSTRUMENT, OKAY?) 

The river's wide, that I could not swim across it, so I convinced myself I'd walked up on the waves.  The river's wide, that I could not swim across it, so I told everyone I'd walked up on the waves. 

But I lied, and I knew I'd lied, but I did everything I did to soothe the family pride and I just don't think I can keep it up now. Because I've never heard Jesus speak to me (not in any way that I'd consider speaking) but I bowed my head just the same. Though, I did find some tears when they played that song, but for the four right chords I will play along, I have always been that way. It doesn't matter what the lyrics say. 

Into stronger arms we run, with a thorn in our side and the devil's inside. So who are we running from? Into stranger arms we run. Such a thorn in our side, when the devil's implied. Oh what have we done? 

So I tried and I tried to achieve belief. Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I've been feeling fine (In fact, often better than fine.) Though, now both my shoulders have started hurting from walking around under such a burden, to reconcile everything that we learn with everything that we were taught. But with all we know now, how can you say "Oh you've just got to take it all on faith" and "Don't think too much. Just hush and pray, exactly as we've always done." 

 Hey god! Now I've got a baby girl. What am I supposed to tell her about you? Because her life shouldn't have to be like mine. She shouldn't have to waste her time on waiting on you, because you never do come through. 

 Sometimes I can't believe the things those preachers have the nerve to say to me, but maybe the things that I'd have to say to them are really just as bad. Because the only times I ever thought of suicide, I was waiting on the lord to direct my life, saying "give me one word and I'll put down the knife and I'll never pick it up again." But luckily I held out long enough to see that everybody really makes their own destiny. It's a beautiful thing. It's just you and me, exactly where we belong, and there's nothing inherently wrong with us.


~*~

This is kind of a long ramble.  Please accept my apologies.  Do you ever mull things over in your mind for so long that you just want to get it all down in one long explanation and ramble, just to have the peace of mind that there, you put it down?  That's where I am at with this topic in my life.  I just want to write one long post about it and be done with it, maybe get feedback for whether or not my feelings are normal, or if you had similar experiences.  So:

If ever there was an album that perfectly encapsulated a lot of my life, Quiet Company's "We Are All Where We Belong" would be it.  I heard them on NPR as part of their ecstatic voices series, and immediately scrawled down the band name for later while I was at a red light.  It felt as though I'd been hit in the gut by just a few lyrics I heard, and the interview itself just felt so familiar to me.  

I don't like to delve too deeply into the intricacies of my particular family here, because even though I'm very happy to be open about my life and essentially journal in public, I do value keeping some things private, if those people haven't opted to publicly journal too.  But in order to fully explain where my head and heart are these days I find I need to go into some long detail (because while you might not particularly care, it's just something I feel I need to work out for myself maybe -- not that I haven't been working it out for years...but it's hard to do that while being totally vague, so I'm going to try to be succinct enough).  

I grew up very religious.  My dad was a pastor before I was born; while he has regular degrees, he also graduated from seminary (overachiever).  My parents hung out in the seminary library for goodness sakes.  They both came from non-religious or semi-religious backgrounds, and both became born-again Christians, whereas the rest of their families are not.  Black sheep beget black sheep -- remember this.  I grew up outside of Philadelphia, and my parents knew and were friends with some big name Christian-community people.  People like Tim Keller and others.  I grew up with the children of people who wrote books about leading children's hearts in Christianity, people who when I started typing their name into Google, theirs were the correct auto-finish names (names I don't think I've Google before).  I didn't actually know they were Kind Of Big Deals growing up, but I can say that I absolutely have no excuse when it comes to the community I grew up in as far as theology and accepted practices and such go.  I literally have no excuse there.  I was raised among "the best".  

Which is why I'm pretty much the worst.

It's just that...putting aside the "experiences" you can have as a child (of which I am dubious, because kids basically parrot and mimic what I think they think they're supposed to when it comes to faith -- which is a stepping stone, sure, but maybe not true belief so much as acceptance of what's presented to you as real, like gravity), I just didn't feel it.  And believe you me, I a) tried and b) tried faking it.  I figured, other people are feeling these things, so if I say I do and act like I do and journal and pray like I think I'm supposed to, the actual feeling and "relationship" with God will appear.  And it didn't, and didn't, and didn't.  Luckily, I went to a church with a lot of friends, so it was very, very easy to dismiss nagging feelings of Not Actually Feeling Anything with friendship and laughing and goofing off, and arguing theology as only teenagers can (poorly, but enthusiastically).  I'm pretty sure I passed as The Good Christian Kid pretty well -- I was a sheltered homeschooled kid, which basically meant it was my presumed default state.  I figured I'd figure it all out when I was older.

And speaking of presumed default state, remember when I mentioned growing up with parents who are smart theology-wise?  A parent who was a former pastor.  They were always leaders of something in the church -- worship team, etc.  Once I became a teenager and tried to flat-out "call in sick" for church, I was flat-out told in return that it wasn't an option.  Church wasn't a choice I could make.  I was going. Period.  I think they thought they were doing the best as parents.  That they knew what was best for my soul.  And this was okay then -- I could put up with going even when I so, so didn't feel like it (with parents on the worship team, this meant we'd get to church at 7-8AM, eat cold pop-tarts, and would be the last ones in the building too).  At that point, it was just me being not-into-it all the time.  Minor complaint.

Then we moved, and we ended up going to several churches that were okay at best and severely damaging at worst.  There's a whole blog about "survivors" from one church we went to, which deeply hurt me, and is a very long story.  Summing up: we left, and were shunned.  Like straight-up shunned, see people in public we'd gone caroling with at Christmas and they pretended to literally not know us-shunned.   It sucked and it hurt and it opened my eyes to a) the good luck I had growing up and b) the utter shit of some people and the way "ministry" can rip you apart like a wildebeest to the lions.  

Somewhere in all of this, I'd gone to camp counselor training.  I completed part 1.  But when the time came to complete part 2 the next summer, somehow I couldn't do it.  I thought of a million excuses, but the one true one, I couldn't actually tell my parents.  I couldn't in good conscience teach kids about something I was so very, very doubtful about.  It felt like I'd be lying and I wanted that camp counselorship so badly, but for once in my teen life, I backed out because I couldn't fake that.  I just couldn't do it.  I said I'd rather spend my summer with my BFF in another state (who was also deeply religious, and stuff happened with that during that summer too, which is another crazy story).  But from that point, I knew that a) this wasn't a feeling that was going away and b) telling my parents wasn't going to work.  The rules are set in stone: while I live under my parents' roof, I will go to church, I will go to youth group, even if I am in literal tears in the car trying to explain that I can't go, I don't want to go, while trying to hide my total crisis of faith by masking it with social anxiety.  More like faith anxiety.  I hated it, and hated even worse the knowledge that my parents were meeting with people in the church to discuss Hayley.  Like I had a legit problem, and doubt was something to be solved quickly.  Like someone else could solve my soul.  It filled me with rage that all I wanted was space to decide for myself, and it was the one thing I was being rigidly denied.  I was also a teenager, so rage was sort of my default setting anyway.  I didn't want to be set right by someone, I just wanted some peace and time without the pressure to straighten out.

Blah blah blah college happens, finally move out from parent's house and am no longer forced to go to church, etc.  Typical, I suppose.  Meet atheist, fall in love, get married, etc.  In short, I become the pre-born-again version of my parents, the person with different beliefs from the rest of the family; suddenly I'm the black sheep non-religious one in the religious family.  It was hard at first.  It felt like walking on eggshells.  It's gotten easier.  We mostly don't talk about it.  When I go home for holidays, I hold hands as we pray around the table, out of respect, because that's what you do, regardless of your own beliefs.

It's been years, and I don't go to church, I don't pray, and it both haunts me and liberates me.  It liberates me because I feel I finally, finally have the space to breathe and truly consider these things I was presented, and then denied the ability to consider in peace, by myself, without having to Save Family Face (reasoning: because if a father can't shepherd his own flock, is he worthy to shepherd others?).  No rush to fix the crisis.  But it haunts me too -- because even with the horribleness of shunning (who the fuck does that) and feeling utterly trapped in the expectation of being born into a leadery-born-again family, I miss aspects of religion deeply.  But the thing that troubles me is that the parts I miss aren't the spiritual parts...in part because I haven't ever felt those feelings, truly.  Most feelings I have felt can be explained as the feeling you get when your favorite song plays (see bolded lyrics above) or everything is right, or something just hits you in the feel-bone at the right time.  But I miss the sense of community that religion dangles like a carrot.  And I have tried to regain that, by going to Quaker meetings, by even trying Unitarian church, but it never felt right to me -- not wrong, but not right for me.  I miss the community, and as I prepare to have a kid, I feel so very alone out here, because I have no community whatsoever; no close friends out here, and no taken-for-granted religious community.  It seems small, but if you grow up with it, lacking it as an adult isn't something you ever really think about.

There's another song on the album that sings I don't want to waste my life, thinking about the afterlife. And that's true.  But I also can't quite put it all out of my mind.

If I don't feel these things, these spiritual things people supposedly feel, maybe it's not something you can force.  Maybe people are predestined, and maybe I'm simply not one of them (hey, I grew up Presbyterian!).  Maybe it's as simple as that -- that the rest of my family was born with something, some spiritual frequency that I was born without.  I'm no good at music either, and the rest of my family is brilliant.  I can carry a tune (I can quote the theology), but I can't just pick up the mandolin and begin.  I can't just feel it in my bones.  And then of course, is it my wanting that sense of community and that sense of connection with my family that I crave, and I just think that's the spirituality I'm wanting?  Because when I think of going to church, I'm filled with holy terror.  As in, I can't do this, I can't sit here and act like I believe all this, because I just....can't.  It's not even about belief vs non-belief; it's really more like I can't sit here and feel these things I think I'm supposed to feel.  I read the C. S Lewis books, I ponder this stuff, I want to have a solid ground for what I do and do not believe, but ultimately, it's just theology to me.  Not feeling.  Maybe this would change if I would put forth effort, but I just don't know what kind of effort it takes.  How many hymns do you have to sing before it feels real?

So I don't know.  But I do know this: the album ends with this song:

AT LAST! THE CELESTIAL BEING SPEAKS (THE UTTERLY INDIFFERENT) 

God was hanging out where ever god does his hanging out, when he looked down at us through the clouds and said "What have I done?! I didn't mean to be so abstract, so elusive, you see. But I don't see why you should believe that you needed me, because you all belong to the earth that I placed you on. So lift up your heads, don't worry about death, you're all gonna be just fine." 

 Halelujah! We all belong to the earth that we sprang up from. So lift up your heads, don't worry about death, we're all gonna be just fine.

Maybe that's it.  Maybe we're all just where we belong, we are what we are predestined to be (thanks, frozen chosen), and maybe that's simply that.  I don't know.  But I think "I don't know" is as valid a system of belief as any, honestly.  It feels the most honest to me.  One thing is for certain: I am never going to be not-honest about my faith or lack thereof again.  I did it for so many years, and of all the horrible feelings, the feeling of walking through church halls feeling like a liar was the absolute worst.  I wish there were atheist churches though, with candlelight services at Christmas, and picnics, and all that stuff.  No spirituality.  Or, maybe they'd be like book clubs where one month you'd all read Lewis and drink coffee and smoke cigars, and plan the candlelight service, and all decide Lewis was totally wrong in that chapter, but in the next he had some okay ideas.  No singing.  No hymnals.  No sermon.  Just confused, indifferent people who want to not feel so alone.  Maybe these exist.  Maybe these are churches, and I've just been blind to that fact.  I don't know.

So.  Here's to honesty and confusion and even indifference.  Here's to being wherever we all belong.

~*~

If my parents are snooping on this blog (because, Internet), hi!  I love you.  Hope this wasn't upsetting.

17 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this. My big fat Christian opinion on this is that I don't ever really think of people in these divided-up boxes of "believers" and "non-believers." Which was maybe the way I was taught. The older I get, the more I feel like the *real* "us and them" are the "closed-off, mind-made-up, done-thinking" people and the "questioning, seeking, broken, confused, and never done learning" people. I always want to hear what people in the latter group are thinking.

    Also if you ever feel like reading some of my spiritual-related internet gatherings / thoughts / quotes, check out unfamiliarize.tumblr.com.

    Also I love C.S. Lewis and all, but I have to say I just *get* G.K. Chesterton more. Ever read him?

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    1. I think that's what troubles me -- growing up, it was *very* clear-cut and presented as the binary "believer/non-believer" set. And it's so much more complicated than that. Yet, the polarization remains. And of course, everybody has baggage, but I think doubt isn't really viewed as one. Or if it's questioning, then you're in the "can be brought into the fold if the right sermon is given" camp of audience, you know? And I don't want to be viewed as a project or something. I'm probably over-thinking, but I wish churches could act more as groups of people just muddling around and less like "we've got it figured out, join us!"

      Thank you for sharing that *bookmarks*

      You know, I've read lots of quotes from Chesterton and always really found they resonated with me, but I've never read his work all the way through. *adding to Goodreads*

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    2. (And now I totally love that tumblr)

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  3. This is very interesting... lots of thoughts. My father is atheist / agnostic, my mother is Catholic, but somehow "lax" in her way of believing, I guess more as a result of tradition. For 6 years I went to a very strict Catholic school (because it was a good school). I got very confused because there the divisions between "believers" and "non believers" or, those who are like us, versus the "enemy" was very clear. I remembering worrying how I would save my dad from going to hell because that's where you go when you don't go to mass every Sunday (or so they said). Like Tess above, I would get into trouble for doubting things and being part of those "questioning, seeking, broken, confused, and never done learning" people.
    I think faith is a very, very personal "feeling" (not sure if feeling is the right word). But it is something that you either have / perceive or not, but you can not force it. (Which is why things like "Missions", "Spreading the word", "Convincing others that *you* know THE way and it's for their own good" are something I can not get around to).
    But, but, I have always really felt / believed in a presence bigger than us, I see it in nature, in harmony, in what people could call "fate", even if there are a lot of things I do not understand (I refuse to believe in a God that would allow "suffering" / "pain", but then, does that mean I belive in a God that is not all powerful?).
    I do miss the "community" aspect that you describe.... I think it is more common in non-Catholic Christianity. At least from what I have experienced, Catholicism is all about the rituals, but less about being *there* around your neighbors (like I imagine early Christian communities during the Roman times were). It always felt far away and impersonal to me... lots of church going, and reading, and singings but not *actual* presence of God (that I have always felt very strongly otherwise) if that makes any sense.
    I have also read some of C.S. Lewis and I really realy like him. I read a book called "The Shack" by William P. Young that I really appreciated his way of trying to explain the nature of things. I also really liked the book "Velvet Elvis" by Rob Bell... how he described seeing God in things like music, a concert, feelings of "communion" with nature ( I think the example was dolphin watching).
    I have not read it, but I am curious about it and maybe you would like : "Religion for Atheists" by Alain de Botton? He seems to be talking of what you are saying.
    And I know many atheists who live life in ways that would be "in accordanc"e to what most religions say (because I think that we have much more in common than we don't) and I can not imagine a God who would look badly on them.

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    1. Hmm, I haven't read the de Botton book, but I will add it to my GoodReads list. :) And it's funny, my husband was raised Catholic and went to Catholic school all the way through high school, and he says the same thing: that he didn't grow up with the same sense of "community" that I did as a Protestant. (We debate all the time about whose upbringing was more "valid" -- mostly sighing deeply to say "silly Catholics" or "silly Protestants" in jest with each other because our experiences were totally different as far as the practice of our religions was concerned, even though a lot of basic tenants are similar, for obvious reasons! But I'm still all, wait, saints? wha? ;) ) So for him, he doesn't really "get" my desire for community in the same way, because as he explains to me, Mass was just Mass, and you didn't go there to see friends and the priest didn't know your family or anything. Very different from my upbringing!

      I keep meaning to read this Rob Bell, too. I do remember reading "Blue Like Jazz" and liking it, but that was years ago and I probably need to revisit it.

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  4. As a former Christian-now-atheist, I identify with much that you've written here. I do still (very rarely) go to church, mostly to appease my Christian husband (who is well aware of my lack of belief). My family also knows, though almost everyone else assumes I'm a good Christian wife because, well, aalmost everyone around me is. I think questioning is essential, and frankly don't really understand why the answers given by Christianity are acceptable to so many.

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    1. I fee like questioning should be automatic -- and I think questioning one's faith was always presented in church as something people do, but always in the context of "and then I realized how right everything was", and to questioning people, that's not really a comforting binary. If questioning should always lead to faith, then it's hard to question and *not*, you know?

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  5. Here from the Roundup. I can identify with your ambiguous feelings, and also the emotional/spiritual/intellectual rejection of a church/religion that demands conformity. My very limited experience of organized religion was with a cult at a (very) early age, so that obviously affects how I view religions and the choice to participate in them. I completely believe in your decision to have emotional honesty at all times. There are other ways to find community other than churches. A "community" that demands you live a lie is not worth your time.

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    1. Thank you for dropping by. :) Emotional honesty has become the most important aspect of all of this to me -- it's one reason I *did* like the Quaker meetings, because it truly did feel like a no-pressure atmosphere.

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  6. Hi, came here via Stirrup Queens. Very interesting post. I used to be Christian, but just the sort that goes to church twice year, and after the forced visits my mum put us through during her evangelical days. And what really bothered me was how that after all the crap my mother went through in her life, no one from the church ever lifted a finger to help her. Even just to come by and talk to her. Except this one woman I remember and I'm not even sure how she met her. And still I believed in God. I would visit various churches looking for one that one place to belong. I went to Unity church, which was the nicest experience I had but still once again the minister ended up in a middle of a scandal. I kept running into Christians who were either hyprocrites or had a long list of rules to avoid going to hell which mostly seemed to be the objective. Long story short, I became a Buddhist, and finally felt that I could ask questions, still belong to a faith community and be accountable for my own life. No matter what faith you have, even if it's faith in yourself, I always think its great to ponder, ask questions and always be true to yourself.

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    1. Yeah -- I feel like if you don't ever truly question it, really question it down to the bone, what's the depth of belief there?

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  7. I'm going to apologize from the get go that this may be an overlong comment. I came over via Stirrup Queens. I started reading your post but had to stop and come back. I'm at work and I cried about half way through. There is so much that I could relate to. As I was reading I just kept thinking I could almost write this post. In fact I've been trying to for a couple of years, but my family reads my blog and while they know where I stand on God and religion I don't think they're ready to see me write it out for the world to read. Although my parents weren't black sheep. I come from a long line of sheep that have stuck with the herd. I'm the first one to break away. My dad was a Baptist deacon and we were the family that was at church every time the doors were open. I was a "good christian girl" and I tried so hard to have faith and believe. I always assumed my lack of belief was due to my weak faith and if I just prayed more, read my bible more and served more I would start to feel it. I was the camp counselor, and I went on to bible college eventually earning a degree in religious ministry, I was a charter member of Rob Bell's church Mars Hill. I taught Sunday School. I was preparing to attend seminary when I finally had my "awakening" and realized that I only believed because that was all I knew and that I really didn't believe. I walked away a decade ago. There were some bumps with my family. They still very much have the "if you're under my roof you go to church" rule, even if you're just visiting for the weekend. I was in my 30s when I finally said I wasn't going and if that was a problem I would drive back to my apartment in the city. We've reached an understanding. But its still hard. My entire extended family is still devoutly Christian. I have 5 siblings and 17 nieces and nephews. This is my daughter's entire family as I'm a single mom and she is donor conceived. I can particularly relate to what you said about the loss of community. I have extremely fond memories of growing up in the church and the relationships that I built there. I miss it. I want my daughter to have something like that. When we go back to visit I take my daughter to the church I grew up in. Sometimes I think it would be so easy to go back. To pretend that I believe just to have that community again. I think that's one of the reasons I choose to live 700 miles away from my family, so that I don't slip back in just to belong. I've tried to find other communities to belong to, mostly just collections of friends with like minded thoughts and ideas. It's not "church" but then maybe "church" was just a habit to.

    So thank you for writing this and saying some of the words I haven't been able to yet. It's also nice to know someone else understands that loss of community that comes from leaving a religion.

    And... when I came back to reread your post I saw your profile in the corner (this was my first visit to your blog). I think we might be neighbors. I'm also in SWVA. It took a little digging through some of your other posts (sorry for being nosy) but I think we're in the same city. My daughter and I live in the little village with the ice cream shop with the specialty grilled cheeses. If you'd ever be interested in meeting there or the little coffee shop to chat I would enjoy that. You know as one recovering Christian to another.

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    1. I love long comments! We do seem to have similar stories -- it's funny, I'm not even in religious circles anymore but I hear Mars Hill and I'm like oh, Mars Hill! :P It is so very tempting, isn't it, to slide back into the church as a form of community, but then I think, can I really do that authentically? I feel like it would impeded my relationships with church members from being totally real -- or else it would out me as The Seeker, and I'd be in that weird grey area of being Pulled Back Into The Flock that I want to avoid, you know?

      (If you're in Roanoke, that's where I'm at. I'm moving in a few weeks to a few streets down from the, ahem, boob-themed coffeeshop haha. If you ever want to meet up to chat, shoot me an email: hayley.deroche at gmail.com :))

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  8. Wow, what an insightful post. Thank you for taking the time to write this lovely ramble; I really learned a lot. I'm a Mormon, belonging to probably one of the most organized religions ever haha, which I think a lot of people can automatically associate with it being too conformist, or shunning at any sign of doubt, etc. But one of the things I find a lot of strength, and even comfort, in my faith is that I feel a strong sense of encouragement to really question, and really seek for truth for yourself. There's not a quick-fix sermon or speech that can ever completely seal everything together, although there are moments when understanding has seemed to click in an instance. Mostly though I've learned, this process of questioning and pondering what is truth is a life-long endeavor. I loved what another blogger wrote on reallifeanswers.org: "I believe that God cares that you and I would bother and worry about what’s true and real. He cares that you desire further knowledge and understanding. He desires that we be willing to wrestle with, and confront, uncertainties with the hope of greater knowledge and understanding." Maybe this doesn't mean much to you, so I apologize, but just thought I'd share my little tid-bit. :)

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