Diving into heresy

“Some say I fell from grace; they’re being kind. I didn’t fall –I dove” – Sue Monk Kidd

Last weekend I reconfigured a room in my house, one which I have barely used since we moved here. I didn’t purchase anything new for the room, except some white Christmas lights which use year-round, but somehow simply shifting the furniture made the room warmer, more welcoming.

I’ve been sitting here all morning watching the shadows play across the walls and listening to Mo snore next to me on the sofa. It’s Sunday morning, and I’m not at church. I am grateful for this grace anew every weekend. I suppose eventually the novelty of it will wear off and it will feel like this is how life always has been. But currently, this peace is a gift from the Universe full of emotional rest and safety, and usually a steak and eggs breakfast. Falling in love with Sunday is a treat I will not hurry through. Perhaps this is how Sabbath is meant to be experienced. I only know my soul feels still on these long lazy mornings.

Strangely enough, I’m also thinking about heresy as I sit here. Perhaps it’s the recognition that a few simple shifts can change everything. As I reread my November prayer, I contemplated how moving on so often also means letting go. But I think sometimes we confuse letting go with acting as though a thing never happened. When our lives are drastically altered, whether the transition is “good” or “bad,” (this binary sorting of experience is a blog for another time.), we often work very hard at putting the event behind us so that we can get back to being “our usual selves.” It’s true, our usual selves are known and comfortable, but they are also often a false construct since we are always evolving and changing. There is no putting an event behind us. The circumstances of our lives mold and shape us, physically and spiritually. For better or worse, we are changed. A wise person incorporates these changes into their understanding of themselves and the world.

Which brings me to the heresy.

Over the weekend, I added two important pieces of writing to this space. They are concepts I have been exploring for several years and eventually are what led me to split from evangelicalism entirely. This split happened spiritually long before we actually left the church, and in retrospect, it was foolish of me to think professional ministry would ever be a fit for me again. I am constantly grateful for Divine intervention closing the doors to all the church jobs Craig applied to. Even last fall, I was still trying to get back to an old, familiar self, and not incorporating all the ways my faith and my worldview have changed. I was a heretic in sheep’s clothing.

While the manner of our leaving church was abusive and soul-crushing, the actual leaving was a Grace I do not take lightly. I forfeited church but gained back my soul. Even the hard work of returning to wholeness is a gift. I know and love my soul so much better now that I am able to see it clearly as a beautiful, deserving, creative part of my whole Self.

I didn’t share openly all the things I was feeling at the time because admitting them aloud makes me a heretic.

In my fifteen years experience with professional church, doctrine is the holy throne upon which the Lord is seated. This doctrine may or may not be strictly Biblical (many of our modern church traditions have their roots centuries after the nascent period of the Christian church), but once you wrap the Bible itself in an unquestionable layer of authority, there is no room left for interpretation or discussion. Doctrine is as holy and inerrant as scripture itself.

“This is the way God/the church is. There is nothing to be said or done about it.”

Years ago I stopped putting so much faith in traditions, layering heresy upon heresy.

Inerrancy of scripture? Nope.
Existence of eternal fire and punishment hell? Don’t believe it.
The primacy of Christianity to any other spiritual expression? Not having it.
Penal Substitutionary atonement? Forget it.
Patriarchy? Hell no.
A god who commands genocide and rape? Monstrous.
Original sin? That’s a hard pass.
Scientific accuracy of the biblical creation account? I just don’t think so.
End times rapture and apocalyptic theory? Are you kidding me? That’s not even ancient tradition. It’s 1990’s Jenkins and Le Haye pop-culture claptrap the church has used to whip up fear and furor.

I never dared admit any of this lest the church ladies clutch their pearls and call the priests and Pharisees…err…pastors and elders. Which they did anyway, even without saying these things. And now I suppose all the worry and flutter was justified. Look at the near miss they’ve been given. There was a heretic in their midst! Oh, the destruction I might have wrought.

You can see how I was fooling myself that any sort of congregation we were considering would be a good fit for me for long. I simply grew another direction from that sort of faith and thinking. I ask too many questions and draw too many aberrant conclusions. Also, I research and read a lot, both of which are threatening to the men in power. I don’t subscribe to the ideal Christian feminine template. I wear leggings far too often.

However, while I definitely have my issues about the church, I don’t think it’s a terrible place filled with terrible people, quite the opposite. My personal experience is with small men of great insecurity, but I also know some wonderful, generous, courageous women and men who lead and love and serve in beautiful ways. I admire them, even though I may not be like them in the ways I understand and express spirituality. But we don’t have to view the Divine the same way to love well together. Just ask the Jewish and Muslim communities in Pittsburgh.

I’m thinking about all these things this Sunday morning because it’s time to finally let go of my religious identity. It wasn’t all bad, but in the end, I was far more damaged than helped by professional religion. We were fervently and well loved by individuals, but the church as a business is crueler and more calculating than most “worldly” companies I’ve been part of with fewer people to answer to for their cruelty. Religion has changed me; this is undeniable.

Now I need to incorporate those changes into the new self I am becoming, one who is more whole and more honest than she’s had the freedom to be in a while. Apparently, this is the space for working that out. So here’s where I admit, we’re about to leave the map. If heresy isn’t your cup of tea, maybe it’s where you get off. And that’s okay. It’s about to get sort of feminist and Goddess-y and messy in here because that’s where I’m going next. Finally, all the doors are open; I have stopped holding my breath.

Welcome to the dark woods. Here there be wolves and witches and wild women and dancing under the moon. At last.

The day I said what I wanted

” We don’t need to call everything we are doing ministry. Just call it Tuesday. That’s what people who are becoming love do.” – Bob Goff

It continues to be a surprise to me whenever I realize a new sense of freedom. One of the insidious traits of emotional abuse is its subtlety. Power and pressure exert themselves gradually until, like the parable of the frog in the pot of boiling water, you are stuck in a very dangerous situation. There are so many things I stopped doing or saying for fear of the potential repercussions, even when no one overtly coerced me to stop (though that happened as well). It was easier to alter my behavior bit by bit, cutting off pieces of myself, until, over time, I was carrying entire dead limbs around as though they were still part of me. I realize, now, how much of a shadow self I became, walking, breathing and talking, but not as myself. I was a three-dimensional projection of an identity someone else invented.

Fortunately for me, it seems a dying soul can be reanimated.

Even though we’ve been out of church for six months, it wasn’t until the final severance check cleared that I stopped feeling the weight of fear. For the first three months, we depended on those checks as the pieces of Craig’s new career fell – so excruciatingly slowly – into place. After that, I won’t lie, we just wanted to make sure we received every bit of guilt money. We gave a lot to that place, I didn’t plan to leave any part of myself behind, including my money, when we left. Selfish? Probably. I’m out of F—s where that’s concerned.

My rebirth is an ongoing process where I discover pieces of myself in forgotten corners and entire rooms of my soul that I’d closed off and shuttered. I’m rediscovering my love of a daily deep belly laugh. I look forward to Craig coming home from work, not that I was ever sad to see him before, but he always brought the weight of ministry home with him along with an emotional darkness from a toxic work environment. We still have bad days, of course, but these are regular bad days. We know tomorrow probably won’t be more of the same. Six months later, I am still profoundly grateful for this truth.

All of these pieces make up the picture for what happened at Aldi last week. But before I share the story, you should know, I have actively avoided seeing people associated with ministry. I haven’t felt free to talk about my experience, and sometimes, I still have anxiety attacks. It’s better to avoid triggers. But I’m finding my voice again, and the fear is smaller now, much more manageable. My mantra is no longer, “in and out and no one sees me” every time I go into a store. Everywhere Craig goes it’s a festival of reunions, I just want to walk away clean.

But on this particular day, I did see someone. Someone who publicly shamed me in the past for my political views. Not a church leader, another male who felt the right to put me in my place because patriarchy is the theology on which he was raised.

We exchanged the normal small talk; he inquired about Craig’s job. When I responded with a brief description of his career he responded, Mmmmm-hmmmm. Still in ministry.

I couldn’t think of a way to vocalize what it meant for a man to tell me AGAIN what my life centered around, not even someone outside the sphere of abuse. No one gets to do that. We are not “in ministry.” We are most certainly and completely out of “ministry”. If I have my say, we will never “do ministry” again.

These days we love without agenda, coercion or fear. We do not feel the need to convert the world to our way of thinking. If anything, we’ve converted to the “dark side” ourselves, seeing the Divine in more ways and more people than we’d dared before. The kingdom just keeps getting bigger now that we’re outside the walls of religion. No, we are not in ministry, the exclusivism and religious overtones of that word make me want to vomit directly on my shoes.

But I was too frozen to say that, instead I paused a moment and said,

Well, he does still ask people for a lot of money.

He walked away and then? Well, then I laughed. I went out to the parking lot and held on to my knees and laughed until I couldn’t breathe anymore. I texted Craig. I came home and told my children because I dared to look patriarchy right in the face and laugh at its rigid and restrictive definitions. I said exactly how I felt about ministry and I didn’t give a damn who heard about it, or what they think of it.

The problem with religious words is how exclusive they can be. We use them to define who is out and who is in. This person who identifies as an evangelical Christian, when he works with students, it’s ministry. But when this person on the LGBTQ spectrum dares to take a role with students, it’s part of the subversive gay agenda. And if a Muslim should enter those spaces, well then the entire system’s going to hell. Good works are good works only if the “right” person engages in them.

On the other hand, what if Craig’s job didn’t involve college students and education, but instead he opened a bar and bartended for a living. He’s a pretty amazing guy, and his heart has room for all the world, plus one. If he worked at a bar, all the traits which made him a beloved pastor and which make him a fantastic college administrator would be right there with him. But he wouldn’t be in ministry, right? Be honest, what would you call it? What about your religious friends?

It wasn’t long after Jesus departed Earth that humanity began establishing dividing lines: people who eat this way; not people who eat that way, people with this piece of flesh cut off; not people with this piece of flesh still on. We aren’t sure of our position so we put others beneath us as a buffer. You’re in. You’re out. Sheep. Goats. We stopped letting people explore and define their own spirituality not for fear they would get it wrong, but for fear that somehow it might prove to us that we’d been wrong all along.

In. Out. Goats. Sheep.

I know how humbling that oh shit moment is. Oh shit, I got it wrong and I was a terrible person to many people with my rules and my doctrine and my certainty and my exclusion. This is my lived experience so often these past few years.

It hurts to know the hurt I’ve caused, the ways I have misrepresented Love in the name of correctness. Oh shit, indeed. But it’s also so divinely beautiful to know I could be so incredibly wrong, and still so incredibly loved. In response to this, the only thing I can do is try to love better, deeper, less exclusively. I’m not in ministry, with its eye toward heaven, I’m in love with this world and the people in it. I don’t give a damn who’s in or who’s out. I no longer believe in Out. There’s only love, and I’m all in. We’re all in.

Which brings me back to Aldi. Over the past few weeks, the room in my soul where I have the freedom to say what I want, a room which I tightly closed several years ago, has been leaking. I’ve said things behind the anonymity of keyboard that I was terrified to say face to face. I’ve unnamed and named, but safely, within the confines of my own home. Until last week, when I opened my mouth and said NO. Maybe the words weren’t no, but the soul cry was.

No, you don’t get to define my life anymore.
No, you don’t get to elevate anything I am related to with religious underpinnings.
No, I’m not who you say I am, nor is my husband, nor my children, nor my choices.

No. No. No.

This whole freedom thing? It just keeps getting better and better. I’m in for the long journey.