“Her Clothing is Fine Linen & Purple”…(Do Abuse Victims Prefer Black?)

I try and keep my forays into social media ‘fun’ and ‘light’. Especially since what I read and write here on WordPress, is usually on the heavier side of things.

One of the Christian accounts I follow on social media is an image consultant. She ‘remakes people’s closets’ for them, first finding all the ‘keepers’ from their existing clothing, not merely adding new pieces. This is great fun for me to watch. Though sometimes it convicts me, and makes me think deeper, too. For instance, some time ago this professional image consultant shared that very few women actually look good in black.

Shocking, right? Since ‘does it come in black’ is pretty much the most frequent question all women ask when shopping for clothes. Plus, everyone knows black takes off ‘pounds’ too, right? Having turned my own closet, over recent years, into a kaleidoscope of muted colors with loads of grey and black, I was a bit concerned about this claim…however, not being one to just take another’s word for anything: I searched the internet to see if this ‘no one looks good in black’ thing was really true.

Turns out, it is a well-known fact that most women look far worse in black; not better. Black washes out most skin tones, wrinkles and blemishes become more pronounced, one’s personality will come across as severe, aloof, and lacking joy. The perfect little black dress revenge theory works simply because the woman is often trying to look haughty, unapproachable, cold, and powerful.

I think of the tendency for people who follow religious sects to wear a lot of black or muted clothing (The Amish, The Hutterites, Nuns, Monks, the standard black shirt and pants outfit of a Catholic priest when he goes out and about during the week), and it all fits. Black is also a way to show we are in mourning or fasting or making some kind of strong statement:

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black
Why you never see bright colors on my back
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down
Living in the hopeless, hungry side of town
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime
But is there because he’s a victim of the time

I wear the black for those who’ve never read
Or listened to the words that Jesus said
About the road to happiness through love and charity
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me

Well, we’re doing mighty fine, I do suppose
In our streak of lightning cars and fancy clothes
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back
Up front there ought to be a man in black

I wear it for the sick and lonely old
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold
I wear the black in mourning for the lives that could have been
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men

And I wear it for the thousands who have died
Believing that the Lord was on their side
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died
Believing that we all were on their side

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know
And things need changing everywhere you go
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything’s okay
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
‘Til things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black

Johnny Cash, Lyrics to ‘Man in Black’

Holy Week is one time I can find myself missing parts of the Protestant tradition, in which I was raised. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services were such moving events. We had communion together on Thursday evening of Holy Week, and then at the end of the service, with dusk darkening the stained glass windows, women of the church would go forward, somberly removing the elements, taking down all the colorful banners, and wordlessly covering the gold cross on the altar and the lecterns in shrouds of black fabric. Ushers turned off the lights in the church, one by one, and when the de-coloring/darkening process was finished the congregants led themselves out one by one, in silence.

To leave a darkened church in mourning and grief and somber reflection of sins, and come back again early on Easter Sunday with great joy and anticipation, seeing the sanctuary completely washed in bright color and sunlight: purples, golds, greens, and lots of whites, the sun rising brightly again through the stained glass windows–with the scent of Easter lilies and the drift of strong coffee and iced cinnamon rolls from the basement–was enlivening to the senses. The yearly tradition: of first shrouding in black, followed by a burst of colors, was enriching to my childhood faith, in part because I could see Jesus’ death and resurrection unfold through rich representations of color.

All of which made Jesus’ death, suffering, and resurrection even more real to me. The black was as needed a reminder in that regeneration process as the bright colors of Easter Morning.

I was never a big fan of the color black growing up, or in my younger years. I had friends who just loved black sports cars and black leather jackets. I wanted mine in red! Or yellow or pink…I simply preferred fun colors. Considering what I went through, mid-life, in finally walking through the cloud of childhood abuse and it’s long recovery (made longer since it came without any real support from my birth family), I can see why I willingly turned my own closet into a Maundy Thursday church service. Wherein I was drawn to black, grey, and muted shades; as I grieved and lived with the full damage and effects of buried pain.

In adulthood, it was a slow but steady de-coloring process as reality unfolded. Many childhood friends moved to ‘the city’ and I stayed put in Middle America, seemingly stuck here. I remember feeling a very real clash ‘of color’ at times. Before my visit to a big city on the West Coast, my hosting friend warned, ‘Just wear muted clothes. Locals always spot the tourists from the Midwest because they show up in such bright, colorful clothes.’

My closet, at the time, was full of bright colors! I didn’t want to look like I didn’t belong somewhere, like a clueless midwesterner, and I dutifully shopped for muted accessories, packing all the taupe, brown, and muted pink tones I had at the time.

But now?

Now I laugh at myself for ever trying to fit in; in a city. Why would I want to look like a city dweller? Black denotes suffering, in the Bible. Indeed, it is suffering, for me, to be in a city now. I no longer enjoy even short visits there, where I can feel the oppressive ‘sameness’ literally making me depressed and feel like I’ve landed in a dystopian nightmare.

I have little hope or joy, when I am in the city. In part because I see the endless grey and black everywhere and it affects my mood. And not surprisingly, the most popular cloth face mask…in the city…seems to be black.

I want to avoid the city these days; all the while I subsequently turn my hidden closet in the country into Easter Sunday.

I want to be the giant kid at heart that the joy of Jesus can restore again. Or, as Proverbs 31: 22 says: the woman who clothes myself in fine linen and purple. And so I mean no disrespect here to Johnny Cash, but Jesus already won; so I think that means we CAN wear colors. I mean, I ‘get it’, why some wear black, and likely always will. I went through a black phase too, and so I plan to keep the black bits in my closet, even as I add more color to it. But I fear that to ‘stay there’, muted and washed out and suffering, past the point of the needed time spent in abuse recovery, would be to fall for the devil’s lies. Because it is the One, and the ones, robed in white/riding white horses who is/are victorious.

In Middle America a lot of people have big, joy-filled, colorful personalities and often wear clothing to match their unique character; too. The vast green fields which surround me, denote blooming where one is planted, growth and fruitfulness in Jesus, as well as peacefulness and tranquility

For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

Jeremiah 17:8 KJV

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Psalm 23:2-3 KJV

The unobstructed blue of our prairie sky represents the nearness of God Himself as well as the heavenly realm. While the bright yellow sun, brings joy and also testifies to the purity and refinement of solid gold, of God Himself.

And so begins my personal renewal process of turning my closet back into the Easter morning church services I so loved as a kid. With being happy with the place, the family, and the life which God has given me; instead of viewing it as some punishment with which I am stuck.

As noted already: I will keep the grey and black, of course. Because resurrection and new life is far more meaningful and powerful when one has first gone through, and still remembers now and then, the death and grieving process, the suffering and weeping which lasted for a night, before the joy came in the morning.

Thankfully it is not about me at all here, or my closet… It is Jesus who turns our mourning into the bright colors of Resurrection Morning!

Footnote: The biblical color references used in this post were taken from the following post about color in the Bible, at the Reasons For Hope Jesus website.

Leprosy, Baptism, and Being Healed as We Go

A local church is planning to do baptisms this Easter Sunday. Seems a good time for it. The weeks and days prior to Passover, and Holy Week itself, are a sobering time for self-reflection, confession of sin, and repentance, culminating in great hope and renewal as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Historians theorize that it was the Jewish religious tradition of deep cleaning, wiping every cupboard and cranny of potential leaven (leaven or yeast represents sin), prior to passover/feast of unleavened bread, that led to the widely adapted practice of ‘spring cleaning.’

A thorough house cleaning sums up baptism too: making our faith public by undergoing a literal, though symbolic, purifying/cleansing act of bathing. ‘Dying’ to sin, as we go under that water, thereby renouncing and putting to death the old man: the world, the flesh and the devil, and then coming up from that temporary burial a new person: cleansed and trusting Jesus entirely for new life, for eternal life and the ultimate bodily resurrection to come.

I hear Bill Randles mention this detail frequently in sermons: Jesus had water gush from His side when He died on the cross; and there is always water involved in a birth process too. Water is a very important element in a baptism, and in our new life in Jesus.

I have been reflecting back on my own desire to be baptized by immersion, which, as I may have already shared here on this blog, was the crux point which began the total unraveling of my former life. The former life wherein I wrote nice sounding Christian-ese things and covered up any bits of ugly.

Then I entered, haltingly and messily, and not always very Christ-like, into a new life wherein I could no longer cover up truth, hide abuse, and still retain any peace in my heart. I found that post-baptism I needed, instead, to call the truth to light, in order to keep my internal peace. And I didn’t like doing that as it caused issues with others, and I liked to ‘keep the peace’; even at the cost of personal peace. But doing so was also costing me my own right standing with God. I had to change that.

To paraphrase something I think Anne Lamott wrote (not a recommendation or an endorsement of her, as I find her too new age for my tastes): if people wanted me to write nice things about them, then they ought to have behaved better…I didn’t fully understand such statements prior to being baptized. I once thought it WAS Christian to cover up other people’s sins. Not to reveal them. If you don’t have something nice to say: don’t say anything at all. Which I cannot find in the Bible even though it sounded Christian to me. Actually, I made it sound Christian in my head since that helped me justify why I was so willing to avoid conflict; and willing to live in a state of learned helplessness, where I just let ongoing pain happen to me and no longer attempted to move out of its way.

Being baptized is what ultimately empowered me to own up to the truth of my own past abuse, to feel and grieve the true cost of victimhood to myself and others: my spouse, my children, my in laws, many friends I’d burned–there was a lot of damage done, and not just to me, but through me and by me too. Sexual abuse of a child is never a single bullet sniper attack on the victim. It’s more like a mass shooting with many casualties and injuries of varying degrees.

I had to also acknowledge the personal sin pattern my childhood had set me on (and for that part: I was fully responsible). In time I was no longer afraid to openly admit my status as a clergy abuse survivor, and therein I think I finally could walk as a restored child of God, accepting that while it wasn’t my fault that what had happened to me had happened…it was, nonetheless, my own responsibility to break bad habits and to try and make right the collateral damage I had caused on my own, too.

Or rather, I should say, to let God right it for me as I continued to just confess and repent of my own indwelling sin–of which I knew I had no excuse. I was beginning to see that even if I had a valid excuse, making an excuse instead of promptly confessing my real state of sinfulness, would just keep me from walking in the light of Jesus, myself.

Baptism, quite literally, changed everything for me. Seemingly for the worse, at first, and then ultimately: likely being the very thing to keep me in God’s protection and power, through an ensuing fiery trial.

I was sprinkled as a baby, per the Protestant tradition I was born into. For a long while I felt that baby baptism sufficed, and also protected me somehow or other, and I didn’t question it. Until I came to fully believe that a baby baptism didn’t mean anything. I even suspected that my sprinkling as an infant may actually have been damaging to me, keeping me from something better, in some way I couldn’t fully understand at the time. That part was fuzzy for years. Eventually I saw how damaging it had been to have no real choice in such an intimate and life changing event, like deciding to follow Jesus for my own self, as our free will choice toward baptism testifies.

However, one part of it all was very clear. Prior to my baptism, I yearned, with all my being, to be dunked in water in the way the Bible exemplifies.

I was besotted with such a strong desire for it, that it was hard to wait for warm enough weather or a proper setting in order to do just that. Once those details were worked out, God put a particular Bible story in my heart that I am still reflecting on years later.

That Bible story involved a sick man dipping into some muddy water, just as the water I felt called to for my own immersion was pretty muddy. There were certainly cleaner lakes than the one to which I was so drawn…but that muddy water part certainly matched the story I was pondering in the Bible, which was a story of a physical healing taking place in a muddy river, and therein the even greater miracle: the finding of real faith in the true God. And so I came to believe that my own adult baptism would eventually lead to some kind of a physical healing for me, as well as become a representation of my own death to sin and new life in Jesus. (I should note that I was rapidly descending into chronic illness and pain, at the time of my baptism and therefore I was also seeking God’s healing.)

It was the Old Testament account of Naaman being healed of leprosy that was so strongly on my heart during those weeks preceding my baptism. Naaman was a Syrian army commander who came down with leprosy. A slave girl in his household told Naaman’s wife that if only her master were in Israel, (where the slave girl had come from), there was a prophet of God there who could heal him. (Takeaway: an unnamed slave girl’s boldness in giving glory to God, is what led someone to God. Be bold. Share your faith!!).

Naaman heard that she’d said this, went to see the King of Israel, and ultimately ended up at the house of Elisha, the prophet. Where he was met at the door and was promptly instructed, by a mere messenger “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” Naaman was offended, felt there were far cleaner rivers in his own homeland that he could go wash himself in, and almost didn’t even listen. (take away: do NOT question the direct instructions of God; rather, obey them, and when we obey, then is when we will receive healing).

Naaman consented and was instantly healed, and his conversion to God, which seemed to coincide with his healing, was solid and real. Like yeast/leaven, leprosy also represented sin, (as well as the ritual uncleanness that comes from our descent into sin/evil), in the Bible. Getting rid of his leprosy denoted something had also been cleansed in him in a spiritual sense, as well. As is evidenced by Naaman’s immediate understanding that it would be very wrong to ever again offer sacrifices to other gods. He then asks for permission to still be able to help his aging king, whom he served, kneel in the temple before the god Rimmon. To do so Naaman would end up kneeling in reverence, himself.

But, after his life altering dips in the Jordan, and thereby seeing the God of Israel AS God, Naaman now knew that to kneel in a false gods temple would be idolatrous and adulterous behavior. And since he was himself but a servant of an earthly king, he wanted to make sure it was ok to have an allowance there. Clearly, after his conversion/healing: his heart belonged to Elisha’s God, no longer to the false gods of his home country.

Elisha responded by telling him to go in peace, and I’m assuming that meant he was given an allowance to help his master kneel in the temple without compromising his own newfound faith to the one true God.

Where it all gets interesting, to me, is Naaman’s request to load up two mules– with dirt from Israel. He wanted to take some of God’s holy ground back home with him!

In my own baptism one detail I remember is how muddy the lake bottom was when I entered it, squishing between my toes and sinking nearly to my ankles. Whereas, when I exited the water again after being dipped under: the ground had seemed almost unnaturally hard and smooth under my feet, as if it had somehow turned to stone instead.

While water signifies birth and new life in Jesus, perhaps dirt, and/or standing on the holy ground of God, is what represents healing? I think of how Jesus mixed dirt with spit and healed the blind man. Or of how Jesus didn’t even touch, but merely sent the ten lepers, who’d come near Him seeking healing, away again on a walk–to go show themselves to the priest. Those lepers were healed on their way (see Luke 17). I’m not sure if it was them seeking Jesus, or their obedience to Jesus instructions, which healed them. Likely both.

Another leper was healed by Jesus touch (Matthew 8), and then was told to tell no one but go and show himself to the priest and offer the gift Moses had commanded; as a testimony to them. I’m also not sure why we are given that detail. Why would a priest of God need to be shown a testimony about God?

Perhaps for a similar reason as to why the minister who abused me also needs to see the testimony of my own changed life, and my new found ability to walk in truth and confront him for his actions against me, and thereby truly show myself as I really am, once badly damaged by sin and evil, held silent by shame, but healed again too and no longer bound by shame. My life is now able to be as a testimony to others; of the power of God. What other chance might some have, themselves, to repent and follow God– if they are not also called to account for their own hidden sins when they see the testimony that is someone’s formerly incurable and unclean condition, like leprosy (or the sexual abuse of a child?) just up and leaving them by Jesus’s power?

Another rich detail of Naaman’s story is how Elisha’s duplicitous servant, Gehazi, went out and collected payment from Naaman. Elisha had refused Naaman’s offers of a gift. And so Elisha confronted Gehazi, “Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow. (2 Kings 5: 26- 27)

When I ponder that part of the story: I can see how many of my own physical and spiritual ailments are now lifted, just like Naaman’s leprosy. And how those who attempted to profit in any way, from my own healing process, brought injury to themselves. On a spiritual level, I am far less likely to cover my real self up in shame, like a lepor, outcast from the camp. While those on the peripheral of my story, went into hiding; as if they are leprous.

Others come close sometimes, but seem to just want in on the good stuff of God, the money and clothes, olive groves and flocks…and slaves to do their bidding… yet they shirk from the whole counsel of God, fail to grasp the full gospel (grace AND truth), and do not stand firm when it comes to the ongoing problem of workers of God profiting from other people’s sickness and miraculous healings. It’s no wonder why so many of us who profess Jesus are not well, or remain bound to shame, failing to walk in real life changing power.

Only one leper, of the ten who were healed ‘as they went’ (on their way to show themselves to the priest), returned to Jesus giving thanks to Him and praising Him for the healing. Perhaps that one desired another experience of standing on the Holy Ground that emanated from Jesus’ presence here on earth? Similar as to how Naaman wanted to take two mules full of dirt with him?

If so, then Jesus question to the one thankful leper is even more profound: where are the other nine lepers who were also healed? Perhaps they did not realize, as the Samaritan Leper had, that Jesus, not the priests, or the temple, is the Holy Ground which had healed them. And so perhaps the two mule fulls of dirt that Naaman took home represented Jesus Himself and the desire of a new convert to return to Him again and again for another healing and life changing experience of standing on Holy Ground.

If we are willing to be cleansed by the water of God, and we are also willing to sink our bare toes down into that holy ground of God, to not shy from the mud and the mess which is the ongoing sanctification process — then surely there is great blessing to be had in these acts of obedience. Because it sure seems that ‘dirt’ which Jesus makes holy, can change one’s life too, just as can the clean water of baptism: the healing water which flows from Jesus, poured out for our behalf.

Whether or not my take on ‘holy ground’ and why Naaman loaded up two mules with dirt and only one leper returned to thank Jesus is proper biblical exegesis or not…

Showing ourselves as we really are, to others, as a testimony to God, is a very good thing. As is giving all praise for a changed and/or a healed life right back to Jesus, and refusing to accept earthly rewards, nor to put up with others willing to accept that kind of thing, when God heals another in our midst. These seem to be solid takeaways, both as we ponder our own baptism, and as we also reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Dumb and Dumber Faith

Lloyd Christmas, the hopeless romantic/eternal optimist (and inspiration for our Christian faith during dark times?)

I shared in my last post the reason why I’ve been reading Revelation frequently in the past few months.

The apocalyptical prophesy writings in the Bible almost always unsettle me, lead me to self-examination, repentance, fear of what still lies ahead, and then ultimately fill me with great hope that I will make it through it all and eventually out of here through Jesus Christ, thanks only to Him and not my own works. Turning that sense of defeat and fear and dread into great joy and relief and HOPE at the end.

My heart process as I ponder these hard truths in God’s word is much like Lloyd’s reactions in the above encounter with Mary, with whom he was so thoroughly besotted. When hard reality begins to settle in, he deflates visibly. But he doesn’t stay there long. As hope rebuilds and his great love remains, he simply can’t see anything BUT the slim chance he was given–as just that, a chance. That’s all he needed to remain hopelessly in love.

I have loosely followed along with various ministers and writers, all professing Christians, who are giving voice to what many others might call ‘conspiracy theories’. There is also a popular meme floating around about watching the news to ‘see which chapter of Revelation we are on today.’ It is only funny because it rings so true.

I am not a scientist and so I won’t get into the various theories going around about why 2021 and beyond could make 2020 look like we were on a paradise vacation. See ‘science with Dr. Doug’ if interested in a professing Christian scientist who seems relatively sound (that is NOT an endorsement, though).

In terms of ministers-I am once again getting quite a bit of help and hope from Bill Randles recent blog posts and sermons. Although he seems to continue to ‘see’ Trump as something very different than I see Trump.

Having now examined many other Christian sites and self professed ‘watchmen’ I once avidly followed, it seems few of them leave the reader with a sense of hope in the love of God, and the love of God alone. It’s a lot of: sounding of alarms as well as ‘avoid and wait’ (for the rapture) talk instead, to me. Others may disagree.

What I am is a believer in Jesus Christ, and that is what I can speak to; and will. My aim in life is to be as hopelessly besotted with Him– as Jim Carrey’s character, Lloyd, was with Mary. But I need encouragement from others to stay in that kind of hope. Those I once turned to for that encouragement are increasingly camped out on ‘warnings’ and this IS what it is ‘predictions’ of what lies ahead. (Oh, the unease such definitive statements bring me! Contrasted with the comfort AND the conviction to be found in Christians who simply say: I don’t know for sure but I can see how this might be…

And so to follow up on my last post, I want to share something that I believe He gave me during a troubled time of prayer where I was struggling with great fears and a sense of pending doom, in part because I had returned to some of these Christian pools from which I once drank freely and in seeming safety.

As I looked ahead to the future and began fearing greatly for my children, I didn’t see much hope at all.

That is when that scene from Dumb and Dumber came into my head and my heart grabbed onto it with a deep understanding, and a chuckle, of course… I knew that navigating my today and my tomorrow would involve grasping onto ‘dumb and dumber’ kind of faith. No matter what comes at me/us in the year and years to come–there is always, always, always HOPE in Jesus Christ. He can restore all the devil planned for evil and preserve what does remain and keep us from all the horror that may or may not come in our lifetimes.

Casting the pre-tribulation rapture and all those resulting arguments aside: The worldly odds of surviving the ‘pictures’ we are given of the actual apocalypse seem to give us a one in a million chance of mere survival, let alone making it out of here with eternal life intact. Yet there are a great throng of tribulation saints shown in Heaven who DO make it out of the end with their faith in tact.

God shows us what is to happen, sure, but He also makes it very clear that we ‘have a chance’. Those who remain in their love of Jesus above all else cannot be, and will not be, shaken by anything.

In the midst of so much which can be visibly seen as scary and dangerous and dark: the world might call those of us who retain unshakable hope in the unseen dumb and dumber.

I believe our Heavenly Father calls it precious! Jesus encourages us to be as children in our faith and in our love of Him. And we love because He first loved us.

Expectancy

Waiting.

Watching.

Pregnancy.

This is the month most of Christianity celebrates the advent of Jesus as a babe in Bethlehem so long ago.

I went through a phase where I questioned all of that. It’s trendy to call what I did: deconstruction. As in: I ‘deconstructed my faith’. However, I am not a fan of buzzwords. They become overused and cliche pretty quickly and all of a sudden I’m annoying people with highbrow language. So I’ll use a deep analogy to annoy readers instead, LOL.

Starting in my late twenties and peaking in my early thirties, I dug down as deep as I could into the soil of my own life and I examined every root which I could get my hands on. This led to the shedding of a lot of things and the solidifying of other things. Thereby I made the religion I was ‘born into’, into my own chosen religion instead. I walked away from Protestantism and became a biblical Christian.

Ever dug up tree roots? It’s messy work. It’s hard work. It’s often alarming work too, as you find buried things which you never expected to find.

Which is how I came to give up Christmas for a few years, too. Well, not entirely. I found it was impossible for me to totally get rid of Christmas. But it was scaled way back. Most presumed I was joining the ‘Christmas has gotten too commercialized’ movement or something. My dilemma was far more of a spiritual dilemma than merely questioning the seeming ‘need’ to go shopping and decorating. When certain politicians and conservatives were insisting everyone say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of happy holidays: I wasn’t sure that Christ belonged in Christmas.

I couldn’t find Christmas in the Bible. I’m not talking about the account in Luke which we refer to as the Christmas story. I’m talking about how scholars are unsure which day and month of the year Jesus’ day of birth occurred. As well as the lack of a biblical command to celebrate His day of birth. I read compelling theological arguments for a fall birth, during the feast of tabernacles. As well as sound reasoning for why a December birth was possible too–as there were shepherds staying out in the fields watching the temple’s sacrificial sheep at night, year round, not just in the warmer months. Others believe that the immaculate conception likely occurred in late December and so celebrating Christmas on December 25th was appropriate either way.

Meanwhile what has become known as Easter–I could find that in the recorded account, in the passover feast and in Jesus’ command that His followers continue to keep it and commemorate His death. In Hebrew and early Christian life the day of death was known to be better than one’s day of birth: Ecclesiastes 7:1, Philippians 1:21.

But the Christian Easter is calculated by the moon cycles, and doesn’t always correlate with the Jewish passover. Therein I saw another problem.

With those I shared the deeper reasons with, I still felt misunderstood. Some judged my giving up on Christmas and questioning of Easter as if I was giving up on Jesus. Others thought I wanted to become a part of their religion (Hebrew Roots movements, Jehovah’s Witnesses). When I felt I was doing the opposite — actually searching for the real Him amidst the existing religious offerings of the world and Christendom.

Now that I have a lot of energy back again, I take part in Christmas without much dilemma, just an awareness that it isn’t all as ‘necessary’ or even as edifying as I thought it was earlier in my life.

It’s fun for me to decorate and keep a nice and welcoming home, to entertain people at our table on a cultural and/or Church holiday (yes, I am aware that is difficult to do in a pandemic.) And I like to be reminded of Jesus through music and the focus on Him that occurs this time of year. I feel that the message of the cross isn’t as fickle as to be threatened by whether or not I put some winter greenery on my mantle. I do, however, think it can be dangerous to wrap Jesus up as a baby, and keep Him there…

Regardless, I’m not really sure why all that stuff once bothered me as much as it did. Except that I needed to dig up the roots of my life and make that big mess I made in order to be set free from many, many things that had me trapped.

Plus, at the time I scaled Christmas back, I was exhausted and starting to get sick and truly questioning if a Christian should even celebrate what has become known as Christmas. When one is too exhausted to fully partake, plus one’s own conscience isn’t clear on a matter — it is best to avoid it (Romans 14).

This December already feels so different than any I’ve lived through prior. I’m back in touch now with the child hood work ethic I once knee-jerk saw as part of ‘being worldly’ or as putting one’s work above God. And I’m pondering all the verses and songs about Jesus ‘coming to earth at His birth’ and seeing their dual fulfillment in Jesus’ second coming. That second coming feels nearer now than it ever has prior. Which motivates me to continue working hard right up ‘to the end’.

In sharing my thoughts with others. (Seeing this season as a time to prepare myself for His second coming), I’m getting a return of the familiar ‘I think I am being horribly misunderstood in my approach to Christmas.’

To clarify: I’m not checking out of my life and waiting on a high hill for Jesus to appear in the air, as the angels appeared to tell the shepherds the good news at His first coming. It’s more like this: I feel this urgency to find a neglected hill in my life; to get busy tending some sheep on, or else I might miss the great appearing in the sky entirely…

I’ll return to that in a minute.

Let’s just say that I feel like there is pregnancy in the air. And something else stirring me which reminds me of the nesting phase prior to a baby’s arrival. A need to stay busier with my hands so that my mind can be more solidly focused on God. It works that way; for me. If I want to lose focus on God, I just need to lie around for a few days and then I’ll be scattered and not able to think clearly.

It also struck me last month, when reading the Book of John, how the fishermen, who were busy fishing when Jesus approached them, instantly recognized Him as Messiah. The learned men who were well studied and presumedly ‘watching’ for signs of Messiah – for the most part, missed seeing Jesus as Messiah. I wonder if that was because they weren’t actually, well, working at something, at the time of Jesus’ arrival on the ministry scene.

What does fishing look like? It means I show up at the office and keep things in order there. When at home: vacuum and mop the floors, do the laundry, keep in touch with loved ones, read the books and blogs I find edifying, work on writing projects (which may never actually get published), clean the closets, study the Bible, memorize verses, go for walks to clear my head and keep my body in shape, even when its cold outside, and always be ready for a knock at the door or a phone call from someone who wants to visit– and– generally: Keep all things under my charge in good order…or in other words: I just need to keep working, literally. Or as Jesus commanded: Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning (Luke 12:35).

I feel that I need to prepare not only for imminent return but for a lengthy time of Him tarrying in which I may face persecution OR continued prosperity and protection. Or some kind of a situation where brothers or sisters in Christ will ask for extended shelter in my home, or even the garage where our pets stay…a season where I am awkward and lumbering along myself, overdue and growing worn out, and must stay active regardless, all the while patiently enduring life here on earth– navigating the good stuff which tempts me to fall away from God and the bad which tempts me to despair too– whether the arrival I wait for comes quickly; or a long time from now.

Either way, I sense its long past time to get to work and/or to stay content in that work. I sense that will be the best possible way to actually prepare for my life to be completely up-ended by Jesus’ sudden arrival. Which will be as surprising as the onset of labor pains–even after nine months of knowing it is coming–it’s always surprising when it actually happens.

Yet I do think a surprise arrival will be less damaging and more likely to go well, if we realize the pregnant state of things, and that a pregnancy means there is a lot of work and preparation and study and reconnecting which needs to be done before we are ready to receive a child.

Get right with Jesus, pray and repent and praise Him daily. Examine our roots and take our born-into faith and either toss it, or, if its sound: truly make it our own born-again lifestyle.

Then continue cleaning that closet out, keep on fishing, or hammering, or watching after the sheep. Just as the fishermen were doing when Jesus appeared to them and told them to drop their nets and follow Him. And thirty years prior to that: just as the shepherds were doing when they were told the good news of a baby born to save the world and they left their work to go see Him.

The pattern that I deduce from scripture is that work and busyness isn’t necessarily the problem at all. Certainly not to the level which the pop-psychologists of the world, and even the church, often proclaim it to be.

The precedent seems to be that people whose hearts were right with God were actually found being busy; working and then they readily left their work to follow Jesus.

Perhaps those who missed Jesus the first time around, will be just as those who miss His second coming: not busy enough. I pray He finds me, and all my loved ones, fishing when He comes again. And that we all drop our nets and go with Him eagerly.

in one day

After reading Revelation 17-18 recently, I was struck by a couple of things.

First off: For many years now I suspect that my dwelling place in Middle America is akin to being trapped in ‘the belly of the beast’. I know that I am captive to, and trapped by, modern Babylon; perhaps even the very Babylon mentioned in Revelation 18. This used to bother me. I’d wonder often if we shouldn’t pack up, sell off our extra stuff, and move somewhere else. Perhaps New Zealand or somewhere that isn’t as corrupt as America seems to have become.

But recently I realized a few things about captivity. Daniel, and his three friends, were captive to Ancient Babylon. But yet they did not join Babylon, and Daniel survived its eventual destruction too. Joseph was captive to Egypt, and even influenced the building up of Egypt. Yet at the end of Egypt, prior to its fall, Moses was called out of the Egyptian ways. He chose to identify as a Hebrew slave – just in time to witness the fall of Egypt (and escape it himself, as he led the rest of God’s people out with him).

And so perhaps it is one thing to be captive to Babylon (or Egypt). It’s another to be a part of Babylon. To join it. To be in collusion with it. And to continue to want to affect outcomes IN it.

Have I joined Babylon? Am I partial to the outcomes playing out within it? Or am I so wrapped up in God’s kingdom and anticipating the coming of my King Jesus–that I’m not at all distracted or swayed by the peer pressure to go and ‘cast my vote’ this year, to make allegiances with ‘one side or the other’ to ‘choose the lesser of two evils’?

Then I heard another voice from heaven say: “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues; for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes. Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Pour her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torment and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit enthroned as queen. I am not a widow; I will never mourn.’ Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”Rev. 18:4-8

I do not know what the ‘therefore in one day’ means. Perhaps it is a literal undoing that will happen all at once. Or perhaps some event that occurs in one day will be like ‘the final tipping point’? Which is why I shudder when I think of how big of a deal one particular day has become in American culture, where we are told we can all go and participate in our government process.

Election Day.

Is there a chance that God is watching how His people act (or don’t act) on this ‘one day’ and that after that one day is over, more judgments will fall, because so much of our actions have shown that we are choosing to be a part of Babylon rather than to simply remain captive within her, as we wait for Jesus to finally free us?

I have no idea. I may be wrong in having, let alone sharing, these thoughts. I can only share, definitively, my own journey and chosen courses of action. And so I will say this: in the past I felt it was ok to vote for local officials and local proposed laws and just leave the president boxes unmarked (leaving boxes blank is an option on election ballots).

This year I am feeling called to avoid the entire thing, top to bottom. The plagues coming on Babylon make me shudder and I want to remain in Jesus as much as I possibly can. Lord knows I will need as much help as possible to do that too, as everywhere I look in my life, I see the trappings of Babylon. Sigh.

Voting simply isn’t worth the potential risk. I’m already skating on thin ice, with my comfy life here in Middle America.

Adopted at Birth

We quasi-adopted a young man years ago. It’s complicated. He isn’t really ours, but I do love him as a son. He never lived full time with us.  Though that wasn’t because we didn’t want him under our roof. That was always my desire. However, it wasn’t possible to break what family ties he did have; and wouldn’t have been right to do that either. Instead, he traveled with us and ate a lot of meals with us and worked with us and spent a lot of time with us, including some sleepovers.

But he isn’t truly ours. And now that he is an adult, this becomes evident on days like Mother’s Day when he calls on the same day as the birth children phone me (or are visiting face to face with me).

My sons and I have our own language. We also have zero subterfuge and can quickly get right to the heart matters. The good stuff. The things I like to talk about and hear about.

Bonus son still hesitates to go there. My birth sons were this same way as teenagers. I spent a lot of time being present and available and talking about small matters until they were ready to open up and share something deeper or more meaningful. But after their rebellion phase passed, they did enter adulthood much more willing to have the kind of relationship I always longed to have with them.

It struck me that this is how we are with Jesus. When we are adopted into the family of God it is important to live there, eat meals there, to be born again and start our formative years over at God’s table, as a fully adopted birth child who doesn’t want to return back to the home in which he was formerly raised.

Only then can we grow up to know the same language He speaks. And get right to the heart of the matter without any subterfuge. This is His desire. To know us as if we were birth children from the start. To repair the rift after our years of rebellion have passed.

I want to encourage anyone reading this to go ahead and cut the ties with your family of origin, or with your old former life of sin, and move in with Father God as a fully adopted infant about to grow to maturity– live full time in His house; learn His language and the way He speaks, and let Him see to your development in every way.

If you look around and see brothers and sisters in that same house–you are truly blessed. But don’t let them distract you from getting to know the Father as fully as He desires we know Him.

Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

 

 

 

Oh church, where have you gone?

silver imac near white ceramic kettle
Photo by MockupEditor.com on Pexels.com

You may have noticed my tag line by now – clergy abuse survivor. I hesitated to identify myself as such. It can be limiting. Plus it might open me up for presumptions and false judgements.

But by readily admitting something key (and ugly) that molded me and my faith — those of similar belief as I hold might give me more credit; not less.

Being a clergy abuse survivor means that I saw directly into the nest of at least one of the (evil) birds Jesus said would roost in that yeast-inflated mustard tree. I realize I just mixed parables there–but yeast represents sin, and I personally believe that Jesus’ mustard tree parable was more along the lines of the church growing through unnatural inflation; than it was a sign of robustness and good health.

I think that’s why I am a little disturbed by this new way of ‘doing church’ — where we sit in front of a screen and tune in to a sermon or a pared down Sunday service and think that we’ve just had church together. And I’ve actually felt this same disturbed feeling in my heart before– it’s actually brewing for at least a decade. Back when it first started, I sensed we were ill prepared for what lie ahead. And now I see just how right I was to feel that way.

About five years ago, a minister friend and I were chatting. He was sharing some of the burden he felt for the congregants under his care. I recall saying to him, some of what I had felt stirring my heart, which went something like this:

“If something causes the church to go underground, into hiding, is your congregation ready and prepared, do they know how to have church themselves in their own homes–alone or with one or two or three? Because the way I see it, the task of every minister should be teaching every person and family and home they serve how to survive and keep being and doing church when there is no longer a church building to go to. And I do feel that someday churches will be hit with something, and our only option might be our own homes.”

My friend went silent at that curveball which he hadn’t seen coming. Then he slowly nodded. I was not sure if he fully got my sense of urgency; so I continued explaining how at our house, we had been doing just that. We’d been practicing ourselves, confessing sins, praising in songs, doing our own communions, praying more, skipping church services so that we could figure out what it meant to be the church in our own home. That way, if and when the time came; we knew how to do it on our own if needed.

I’ve been out of touch with my minister friend since this virus hit, and last I heard he had moved to a new, small congregation from the one he was serving back when I shared an urgency I had felt so strongly on my heart. So I have no idea if he began implementing some changes to prepare others for a time like this. Or if he fell back into the same old routine; where the minister holds court at the front and most everyone else participates simply by showing up.

Unfortunately: I had lost touch with my own strong feeling, and had slipped back into the easy participation of sitting and listening, being polite and withholding, instead of fully participating, diving full in, to a church gathering of two or more. So when our small fellowship stopped meeting recently, my husband and I tuned in to an online sermon and church service the next Sunday morning.

And we sat in silence and listened. Speaking to one another a little bit, later, about what we’d heard.

But that isn’t church.

There is no intentional coming together of the living body, in watching a screen.

The following week everything inside of me seemed to go awry. I was irritable and unkind. Finally, the dam broke and I found myself crying out, though I tried not to yell,  — we are doing this all wrong; we need to have church ourselves! A time where we sputter and wing it and bake some bread to break just for us and cry out in prayers–and it’s awkward and messy and beautiful just the same. Because this thing we did last Sunday where we sit passive and listen is no different than watching Netflix or the news. That is NOT church. And my spirit needs church more than ever right now…

Not to say there isn’t value in listening to online sermons. There is. I am ever thankful for the internet connecting us to one another and the ready information we can still seek and share (it may not always be the case). And if someone is truly alone with no ‘two or more’ to gather with, then online fellowship has to suffice in this hour. But a screen in place of a person isn’t church. If we don’t physically gather, we are in danger of hardening our hearts. For it is all too easy to become passive watchers; rather than active partakers in worship and study. If by and large most of us tune in to a screen, and tune out the urgings of our own hearts for real contact, what does that say about the church in this hour?

Zoom and Skype may bring us closer to that real connecting point; much more like face to face. Which is important. Even the apostle Paul knew the value of meeting face to face thousands of years ago.

If we have two or more people in a home — we can still do church and we can still be church. Gather together. Open the Bible and study and expound, the Holy Spirit will be the teacher. Enter into the initial discomfort of singing worship without a worship leader’s guidance, and saying humble unplanned prayers together. For Jesus has promised us He is there wherever two (or more) are gathered. Believe it. Don’t forget it.

The reason I forgot all that once burned in my heart about how to ‘be the church in my own home’ is quite simple. It was some mixture of laziness and complacency and a yearning for an easy sense of comfort rather than temporary discomforts which bring a more lasting satisfaction.

Laziness, complacency, and seeking momentary comforts are a dangerous combination in this hour.

So this week the two of us muddled through our own thing. Coming together quite simply.

My week, so far, has gone about the same as last; lots of curveballs and weirdness and a few health scares too. There is no magic fairy dust exemption of reality; merely from gathering as a church. But my heart is much more settled now that I know we still have a true gathering church after all; and it meets with Jesus at my own table.

 

“Even if the ground is icy, you can still plant tulips!”

Apologies for anyone who may have sought my blog in recent weeks and could not find it. It took me a while to privatize the original posts. I kept a few public. For those who requested access, you didn’t miss new content. Just access to old stuff I no longer wanted public.

I presumed my blog was going to be over. Now that I have safeguarded the things I once shared so freely: my anonymity feels secure again. Yet, I sense going forward that things around here will be more like the early winter out my window.

Colder. Less traffic than the little I received prior. But with more excitement for what could possibly be ahead. To quote a fellow Midwestern garden enthusiast, who was recently raving about tulips, “Even when the ground is icy, you can still plant tulips! The bulbs still bloom in the spring!”

…I am probably talking to nobody right now 😊. Or at best one or two. And that’s ok. I have pared down the blogs I follow. Conscience dictated that in so doing: I also remove the followers to my blog (if they belonged to any of the blogs I no longer follow). I hope it is not hurtful to anyone.

I am doing my best not to care about that. Recovery from people pleasing is not always easy. I wish I could say that I had the discipline and lack of eagerness-to-please-others to maintain a well trafficked blog.

I don’t.

Much has changed in my body and mind since I started looking into physiological reasons for what had been diagnosed as an anxiety disorder. I can’t get into that here as it’s too identifying. My body isn’t the only thing which has changed since I began exploring ways to heal it. My mind has as well. Gains I made in years of cognitive behavioral therapy were washed away by months of various toxins being released. Which can leave me so ridiculously irritable I could bite the head off a puppy at the wrong time of day. When it passes again, I find I have a boldness I’ve always wanted to possess. Wondering why I ever was so timid or afraid to say things simply and speak the truth. Confused as to why I once gave my money to a therapist telling me how to do just that.

The anxiety which occurs now is a passing physical type of anxiety and agitation, not one rooted in mental trauma. I know the difference, now, very intimately. I have no real idea how much of the ‘anxiety disorder’ and PTSD that I was diagnosed with was truly trauma or behaviorally induced or some combination of physiological, psychological, spiritual, and physical components.

I do suspect it was more physiological and physical than it ever was mental or spiritual. And I suspect that could be true for many people who are urged into medication or therapy (or told to JTJ- Just Trust Jesus) without someone looking carefully and deeply at their physical health.  I don’t believe I have seen a doctor, minister, or other professional who has come close to understanding any of it. Therefore I won’t pretend to either.

I will say, however, that now that some fog has lifted from my toxic brain, I see things clearer than ever before (even as my eyes are often blurry from vitamin deficiencies and toxins still leaving). I see that I was never a defect, or a reject. I know my childhood abuse affected me in every way possible, and knowing that is depressing even as it lets ME off the hook.

The childhood abuse affects how I approach receiving medical care, receive offers of friendship, and respond to the flames of narcissists. Had I not been mentally, emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually abused as a child — I likely would not have ever stopped looking for physical roots of illness. After my doctor stopped looking and wrote me off as a head case, I would have gotten a new doctor. Nor would I have been as willing to listen to ministers and Christian therapists giving me advice about how to fix my spiritual life–implying that I wasn’t doing something right or else I would be thriving instead of struggling. I would have said goodbye to many things much quicker than I did.

I have also encountered a staggering number of people who appear, in hindsight, to have had personality disorders. Those were the ones I usually let ‘help’ me the most.

Had I not been so bound up — I would have looked at what I was eating, and also doing with my time, and dug deeper there. Instead I instantly went to navel gazing. I wouldn’t have been so ready to believe the people who kept telling me there was nothing really wrong with me (Except EVERYTHING important–like my belief system and basic thoughts and behaviors)…oh, the easy fuel that wide-eyed-me must have been for all those out there eager to restore me to Christ. Sigh.

But that was not the path God had set me on. There is a reason I spent the last five years going down so many rabbit holes labeled ‘this is actually your own fault’.  I was predisposed to blaming my own personality traits and character, first, rather than looking at all the physical and external causes as to why I might feel anxious, tired, and in chronic pain. My childhood set me up for people all-too-willing to tell me what else I was doing wrong and how to correct it. And that all started to lift earlier this year. Even as it continued, to some degree. I am a slow learner and I made another doctor appointment with someone following a restrictive diet who’d grown quite popular on social media. When he posted shirtless, a gym selfie, I finally started to wake up that something was off about him. His clinic called me to reschedule my appointment and I quickly blurted, ‘oh let’s just cancel it.’ The poor woman on the phone seemed confused by my eagerness to cancel an appointment I once was eager to make.

In the end: this world is fallen. There is no perfect pill. No perfect diet. No perfect lifestyle maintenance regime. No perfect church. If there were, then it would mean Jesus had returned and set the earth right again. We will all know it when that occurs. Until then, don’t be fooled*!

(*Note to self)

This has been the lesson of the last five years of bunny trail after bunny trail. Harsh, I know. But I need to say this for myself, so that I remember it going forward. Falling for the illusion of perfection from those who overly promote themselves is a weakness. So long as I remember I have such weakness, it will be more easily managed. It isn’t so much a weakness in my character, though, as it is in my experience. Growing up in an environment where so many people were claiming all the answers (even when they flew in the face of truth and reality) really messes up your ability to know and trust the truth. Truth is– again– there is no perfect way in a fallen world. It simply doesn’t exist. I do believe we can make gains, and get to a point of high function regardless of our limitations– and I will continue to try. But I am going to try not to fall for the perfection illusions that keep being put forth by oh, everything and everyone — from commercials for antidepressants to doctors who pose shirtless.

I do maintain that Jesus is the way. Beyond that — there’s a lot of ways to lay down your cross. The important thing is that we let it (whatever it is) go.

That is why I’m letting go of the idea that there is still something wrong with me that needs healing. Because I am ok just as I am, in some pain and with granny-size-underwear covering a butt full of cellulite. There is beauty in that; value in that. More than there is in something uncovered and overly promoted. This world is eager to tell YOU why you being you is giving you an anxiety disorder (or cellulite or diabetes). Or why your diet sucks and you need to eat the rainbow. Why pharmaceuticals are evil. Or why Trump is really a Russian spy operative. Most of the time, they have something to sell, or simply fuel to garner, by making such claims.

Very few are willing to navigate the overblown claims to try and find any nuggets of actual truth. The past five years were my training ground to do just that. To swim in that stream and not drown in it.

In the end — share what works for you, and tell me about you or your life. Care enough to dig into the claims others make, rather than dismissing or falling for them. That’s what I hope to do here. A bit more colder than prior, as I am still figuring out what I am doing myself — but hey, spring comes eventually. For now — I avoid a lot of foods and supplements too, as I have discovered that many of them were a root source of health issues plaguing me for life. They escalated into fibromyalgia, and a diagnosed anxiety disorder and PTSD the latter of which I’m not sure is even a thing anymore and the former of which I’m not sure is a root cause or a symptom of something else.

I’m saltier than I’ve ever been prior, too. The need to be nice is lifting, as the quest for real and true burns strong in me now that I am figuring this stuff out.

Furthermore: that ugly brown tulip bulb WILL turn into a thing of beauty after it’s been buried properly. Like blogs that were all over the place being put to rest in the cold earth. Like life after death. Like coming out of a lifetime of chronic pain syndrome culminating in a five year fog of anxious self blame… only to realize it was the abuse and abusers, combined with some food that doesn’t agree with me. Not, actually: me. There is the bloom after a cold winter. And it is beautiful. Truly Beautiful.

My arms hurt–as do about sixty seven other body parts. But I hope to plant more tulips in the icy ground regardless.

They’ll bloom eventually.

beautiful bloom blooming blossom
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

 

When Kissing is Abuse (A Survivor’s Thoughts on The Purity Movement). Part 2.

(Continued from part one here)….As an adult, coming to terms with my child abuse, I can remember feeling literal pain when talking with sisters in Christ who had upbringings that fell in line with The Purity Movement. They recalled childhoods wherein their fathers sat around the dinner table expounding upon the Bible. The minister in their family would lead worship songs and take them to summer camps (without assaulting them). Their mothers guarded their encounters with other children and adults. They actually threw out, or burned, the questionable toothpaste and the smut books…why hadn’t God put me in one of those homes instead of the one I was in?  That realization hurt. As an abuse survivor: The Purity Movement can sting in so many ways.

I was jealous for what these sisters in Christ had been given. Their caregivers had shut the door on the devil. Mine had invited him in for coffee! In contrast, I felt even more defiled and abandoned–and unsure if I even belonged within Christianity. I also learned that jealousy can be physically painful. It hollows out your chest cavity and burns your guts. I felt weak; exhausted. It wasn’t fun to sit through these stories others shared. But it was necessary to my healing. It also wasn’t fun to finally share my own stories of defilement. But it was necessary to my healing. Because it was my story. I’m more like Tamar from the Bible than I am Laura from Little House on the Prairie. And owning that made for a whole lot of pain; but it also made all the difference too. My own religious double-mindedness was disappearing, the more I owned the truth.

In time those feelings of jealous pain passed and I began to take a hard look at my relationship with Jesus. I wasn’t following Jesus because someone had been sure that I was ‘kept pure’, leaving me determined to ‘stay that way’ by jumping under Jesus’s Umbrella until marriage. No. Furthermore, my sexuality is only one part of what Jesus purified. The Purity Movement runs the risk of making everything about sex, instead of about Jesus. Sex was a frequent topic of discussion in my perverted upbringing, also with a hyper focus on the ‘sexual status’ of young girls. And so if we are ‘truly guarding’ a woman, then shouldn’t her sexual status remain private? Is ‘ensuring virginity’ something God told His people to do? We know they often made it public in the Old Testament but it is unclear if that publicity was a command of God. Because I grew up with religious people hiding their own perversions, who also loved to find out such intimate details about others, (particularly young people)– I question whether showing off a daughter’s purity cloth, or a modern day purity ring, isn’t simply more evidence of the human tendency to get fixated on sex; and particularly the innocent sexual status of young people. It’s a scary thought, to me.

Furthermore, our depravity goes much deeper than sex, it involves greed and pride and a host of other ills too. True purity is about much more than celibacy. It’s about turning from our very nature as fallen humans. And so ultimately: I can’t credit the way I was raised, any certain movement or published book, for my salvation and restoration which covers everything about me: including my sexuality. I can only credit God Himself for it.

Eventually it became clear that few people are walking in sexual freedom, no matter their backgrounds, or marital status–and that those who had been public about private matters often lived to regret it later (as Joshua Harris now seems to be doing). I had to wonder if it was because they’d never believed they had a reason to wrestle with their own purity status? Or if it was because in their own ways, they were also victims of sexualization (which is abuse, too)–except it would be taboo to ever call it that in a Christian setting! Meanwhile, I wrestled openly with mine, and asked God for salvation from my damnation as well as the healing of my broken sexuality and past abuse. I came to believe that eternity, purity and sexual freedom is found through ongoing repentance. Active trust in Jesus, not my own past or present action (or inaction), is what makes me pure.

Therein is the freedom. In admitting your own defeat and declaring “Jesus makes and keeps me pure!” Having said that, I actually have no problem with people attempting to keep their homes pure, for their children’s sake. I would likely do the same, could I redo some things myself in the way I raised my own. But I truly hope I would never ‘broadcast’ the virginity status of any young person (even with their expressed permission — young people are too young to understand the ramifications of that). Nor would I take part in putting a young person on some sort of public faith based platform or pedestal, as few adults have the kind of maturity and groundedness-in-Christ to handle such exposure. Putting young people into the public eye prematurely is rampant in modern Christianity. (Amending this on 8-23-19 to add: I believe every now and again a young person comes along who does have the kind of maturity to be in ministry at a young age. Often that person has been given an inordinate amount of wisdom AND has also endured so many trials that they are more than ready for a spotlight or platform. However, maturity really is necessary to be in that kind of ministry or have that kind of platform. Unfortunately, I also know ‘older people’ in ministry who still lack maturity.)

The idea that we can even ‘stay pure’ in the first place, is another thing that gave me pause, about The Purity Movement (after I peeled through the hurt, anger, jealousy, and outrage over ‘broadcasting the sexual status of young people’). The way I see it, it is impossible to spend any amount of time on earth, single or married, and not have your mind defiled to some degree by your own thought processes.

Jesus said if a man even thinks about a woman in ‘that way’ then he has committed adultery with her in his heart. Which tells me that even the best homes (and marriages) — are still not pure enough for God’s standards — no matter how careful they have been. The antidote isn’t merely avoidance of the devil; it is utter dependence on Jesus.

I am no longer painfully jealous when I hear about other people’s upbringings. I am all the more aware of what Jesus continues to give me. And I cling to that the way only someone who can’t hear the word ‘kiss’ without flinching, would cling.

Wrong as they were about so many things, and implicit as they were in the abuses of a child (me) — my parents behavior, and the actions of a wolf in shepherd’s clothing— was the conduit for me to respond to the Holy Spirit’s offering of Christ’s purity in every way I needed it.

For that I am thankful.

Nevertheless, Shut De Do is a favorite song of mine and I often think of that song when I think of my upbringing. If only someone watching over me had shut the door and kept the devil in the night.

 

 

When Kissing is Abuse (A Survivor’s Thoughts on The Purity Movement). Part 1.

Trigger warning — details about sexual abuse follow. I have enjoyed reading about the fall out from the I Kissed Dating Goodbye author’s change of heart– here’s a synopsis if interested. So much has already been said, from many angles. Please bear with me as I attempt to explain my own feelings. (Or feel free to move along to another post as this  one will get lengthy!) Update: I have so much to say on this topic, I am turning it into two posts!

Joshua Harris’s popular Christian book was something I’d never heard about prior to leaving the protestant faith I was born into. To date, I still have not read his book! Therefore the things I write here should not be taken as reflections of his former work or current change of heart about it.

Nevertheless, posts about Harris and I Kissed Dating Goodbye kept triggering me. I sat with it a while before it hit me. When I was a preschooler, a minister in my extended family started abusive contact in the form of kissing. And so I learned that kissing brings with it a whole lot of guilt and yucky feelings. I still have mixed emotions about kissing. Jesus was betrayed by a kiss. And it seems I was as well. Like Judas, my betrayer was also imbedded within Christian leadership. It’s hard to enjoy something that holds a sting inside of it. The very title of the book, with the word kissing being so closely associated with a Christian movement and leadership; triggered me.

Triggers aren’t the problem. Avoiding pain is the problem. Therefore it’s taken me a while to process through this one and again, apologies for the length on these posts and thanks for anyone who ploughs through it all with me!

When I left protestantism and began exploring other Christian faith traditions — The Purity Movement came onto my radar. I was uncomfortable with it. I was still trying to reconcile what had happened to me — with my own sexual purity stolen by abuse, and the discomfort I still felt from the continued voyeurism, and focus on my body, which I had experienced growing up.

I tried to make sense of what I was feeling. I knew that the way I was raised had been wrong. But I did not feel The Purity Movement was ‘getting it right’ either–and it took me a long while to realize why I felt that way. As a survivor of voyeurism, I saw how The Purity Movement, and book’s like Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye zeroed in on young people’s sex lives (a non existent sex life is still a focus on another’s sex life), forcing teenagers belonging to the movement to inadvertently become ‘public’ with very private information — thereby the adults and others looking on were also, in some ways, participating in voyeuristically viewing teenagers in terms of ‘sex’.

That irritated me.

I was also secretly jealous of the homes that had attempted to keep their children pure, adding yet another layer to the convoluted onion I needed to peel.

The Protestant home I grew up in was outwardly Christian (church attendance, having funerals and weddings ‘in the church’, getting confirmed in the teen years, and sprinkling/baptizing babies). But my immediate family was not ‘hit’ by the Jesus movement, that gained momentum in the 70’s and 80’s; or the homeschooling movement that took off in the 90’s. Though there were some charismatic gospel records that made a rotation on the record player.

The minister in the family practiced a strange mix of religious behaviors with licentiousness. When I first began to take my faith seriously, the ‘trained theologian’ in the living room mocked me openly about being a ‘fundie’, asking why I was ‘getting so weirdly religious lately’. He would talk quite skillfully and sincerely about ‘faith’ when needed, but show a very tawdry side if he knew his audience would actually appreciate a ‘minister who cusses’. He was ‘intellectual and modern’, about faith, often arguing from a near atheistic-sounding viewpoint, (that is when he was willing to talk ‘shop’). Ordinarily he avoided religious discussions, preferring instead to start gossip, or share jokes lifted from raunchy comedians.

His influence left a heavy mark.

…But the truth is, many family members seemed to operate with similar double-mindedness, as the family minister had.

My father was often perverted and displayed some serious lapses in moral judgment. He had another side, though, that would surface at church. And in the sweeping Christian movements of the 70’s through 90’s, we had frequent encounters with people who were participating in all kinds of faith movements and new rules — which left impressions on me, and contributed to my longing for a ‘serious’ faith walk myself. My father sat piously, listening to a visiting minister (not the one who abused me), or a religious relative passing through the area, as if in total agreement. One such visitor even insisted that Proctor & Gamble products had a satanic seal and should therefore be boycotted by all Christians, prompting my dad to dig out some deodorant and toothpaste, as well as a magnifying glass to look them over. The next day at the dinner table he was troubled and asked my mother, ‘Maybe we should stop buying that brand–what if that really is the sign of the devil on our toothpaste?’

Like the rest of the family my mother didn’t watch after my purity, storing her vast collection of explicit romance novels on my bookshelf, and ignoring the other pornography to which I was being exposed. Yet she also had her own type of faith and devotion life too. One which she occasionally shared aloud. So I wasn’t sure what to expect in that moment…and my hopes were kindled a bit. But she just snorted and waved her hand in front of her face in response to dad’s momentary crisis of conscience. Our P&G toothpaste continued without interruption. But I remember spending a lot of time looking at that tiny moon-man symbol, fearfully wondering if that’s why I kept getting cavities.

After toddlerhood, all of the abuse escalated, throughout the family. One abuser was beyond reproach, though, being a minister.

I blamed myself.

(See part two for more).