Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Another Day After

(The Painting is The Day After by Edvard Munch, 1894)

Recently on Imonk they re "played" an old narrative from Michael Spencer. The point was the day after . . . the personal tragedy. It could have been a cancer diagnosis, a wife who left or a loss job. It was an excellent article.

But since then, I've been thinking about another type of day after. Whether or not this too is after a tragic event is in the eyes of the beholder. The event is the loss of one's faith. Not to mean, being a Christian and then not. But what I mean by this is being a normal Evangelical Christian . . . then not.

In the days before, all the world made sense. It was well planned and organized like it was set up on a celestial grid. There was a well demarcated line between the good guys wearing the white hats and the bad guys. My personal sin was observable and manageable like warts. You could count your sin. You could zap them enough (like with liquid nitrogen) until they faded a way over a few weeks. You could remain wart free for months or years until one slowly reappeared and then you could zap it again.

In the old world, God was at your beck and call to do your work for you. He also protected you from any harm so you have this good feeling of safety, like you're married to Superman (or Superwoman).

The day before, there was a community in which I clearly belonged. I didn't always like hanging out with that community, but it was the place I "suppose" to be. I knew the language well. I knew very well what to say and do to create an appearance of godliness and high esteem.

The "Christian" brand also implied a supernatural goodness, far above the average. For example, I could hire a "Christian plumber" and then I know I would get the best work for the lowest price and I could trust my house to them completely. If a car carried that brand on its bumper (IXOYE fish), then I knew that I could trust the occupants with my children, even if they were compete strangers.

I also knew that I had an answer book. It didn't matter what question arose, the answer was clearly there . . . but sometimes, in a contradictory way, abstruse. But the right superstar (pastor) could conjure up clear meanings for my life, right out of that smoky hole like a charmed cobra.

There was also the tradition of ritual which I knew I liked, even if I hated. Long pointless sermons Sunday after Sunday. Gospel Hymns in a style of music I would deplore in any other setting.

I also knew that all that opposed my world were liars. The scientists who made up the fossil record and didn't understand carbon dating like my pastor did. It was just one big conspiracy run by the gay democrats . . . who wanted to rape our babies and turn them gay too, unless they could abort them first.

Beneath it all, were these tiny fissures with the width of a bunny's hair, in which my doubt neatly couched out of sight. In the middle of my amazing stories of miracles my doubts would whisper beneath me, almost in silence . . . "you know that's a lie."

Then one day the looking glass crashes to the hard ground. It was those tiny fissures that brought it down. Maybe an earthquake in my life shook it hard enough for the fissures to unify into a powerful force.

Now, it is the day after. All has changed. You know nothing for certain anymore. You still sense strongly that God is there and the Christian way is the right way. But it ends there. There's no white hats or black hats. One carrying the Christian brand is just as likely, or more so, to betray you, molest your children and steal your money. The answers are now seen in their abstruse light but with strings running up to the puppeteer's hands, the master manipulators who lead congregations to give more and to honor themselves like a stainless saint.

Now, everything has changed. If you find the place you suppose to be in, you must smile and keep your mouth shut. The first words out of your mouth will incriminate you, making it clear that you don't belong to that tribe anymore or if you do, you are worthy of the lowest esteem, the bottom run of the ladder.

So there are those days, those days after, that you look back across the abyss. In the sense of envy, you would be tempted to take the blue pill in order to go back. At least there was a pretense of bliss.

I had a friend who did that once. He was a brilliant psychiatrist and a man of science. Then one day, he went to the most fundamentalist church, people literally turning somersaults down the isle and the pastor pulling bloody tumors right out of the chest (probably chicken gizzards hidden in his pocket ) of the members who had cancer. My friend jumped into the church with both feet and it became his bread and breath. I asked him why? He answered that it didn't make any difference if it was real or not, just as long as it was real to him, then it gave him meaning.

There are days that I'm tempted. But once you've crossed over, once the day after is . . . the day after, there is no going back. Now it is a place where you must know God without knowing all about Him. There is mystery that I can not answer. Life doesn't fit into the Lego block holes like it use to. I know Lesbians whom I wouldn't hesitate to trust my children with (if they were still young) and I know pastors whom I wouldn't trust my turtle to. The grid of order has fallen. The tall hats are gray.

I look within myself and I don't see corals of warts, isolated and countable. I see confluent patches of melanoma . . . no clear boundaries, no clear cure. I can't count the flaws. I can't inventory my failures nor herd them into a vault to keep myself and others safe. No amount of religious exercise can rid me of them like a spray of liquid nitrogen. I can cover them under the white cloak of Christ but the term "godly" has no relevance as it once did for me, used the same way a wart-less.

As Michael called it, and I've called it . . . it is a wilderness on this side of the day after.


Anonymous said...

Loved this post...so much how I feel. Except for the part where it's a wilderness now. Because I don't feel that anymore. I feel like "the day after" was a strange mixture of a death and a rebirth. So many mixed emotions...but on the whole, a very positive thing. Like a nuclear bomb went off, on the one hand (so devastating, disorienting, and painful)...but on the other hand (though this took longer to begin to see) as if a door opened to a rich and fertile world, just waiting to be explored.

Always enjoy reading your thoughts.

Hippimama said...

Wonderful post. I have now been living in this no-man's land for 22 years since my world came crashing down around me in my early 20s. It's a scarier place. I didn't want to move. I'm now wrestling with Jacob's God and not Safe God on a daily basis, but at least it's real. I'm thankful for my fellow travellers who make the journey bearable, but long desperately for resolution.

Wanda Violet said...

Thank you for this. Thank you.

Wanda Violet said...

Resolution may not come until we touch the Savior, Hippimama. ...and that's ok; it's gotta be. Best to you.

Johan said...

Good words.
I experience a bit of the same thing after I stopped going to sunday morning service last year. (Though our church was a little less extremely evangelical than yours, but maybe that's because I don't live in the U.S.). Some manipulation especially from my parents to make me come back, sometimes wishing I could have the simple black and white trust of some I know, and sometimes despairing of my own failures. But I know I can't go back. I've put all my money on the notion that God is good, really, really good. That's what I have to believe, the rest? Well ... I'm actually investigating Eastern Orthodox theology a bit. And reading George MacDonald - his english is a bit antiquated, but he has a profound way of describing the love of God. Reading his 'Unspoken Sermons' is like breathing fresh air, and having an infusion of love, of awe and of holiness.
I find encouragement in the fact that you on this blog and others elsewhere are on the same journey I am on. Clinging to the loving God revealed in Christ Jesus, but not content with accepting the human machine added to it through the ages.


Eagle said...

I remember what it was like “the day before…”

These are some of the things I remember

A.)Looking forward to Bible studies because I knew whatever problem was going on in life there was an answer. I had the Bible and either I, or someone else who knew
God would speak wisdom to me and I’d get my answer. Everything was black and white. There was always an answer. I also craved the Christian fellowship.

B.)Looking forward to church every Sunday, that church series and the Pastor’s message. Having that message drip with meaning and clinging to every word which was from God. Having nothing but the
highest respect for pastors, missionaries, para-church ministry leaders, etc..

C. ) Finding spiritual meaning in everything. From a TV show, to a book I was reading. God was fully alive and worked in all things, hence he worked through everything. I remember being perplexed as I prayed for meaning in these signs. Oh Lord…what was that you were trying to say to me when I was in the grocery store/car dealership/commute home? Is this your will God?

D.)Trusting another evangelical Christian and God’s flock all the while being suspicious of the world. When someone said that they were “in Christ” I knew in my heart that they could be trusted. God’s community was one that you could interact, love, find comfort and support. It was a home for the sinner and the broken. I remember always looking for the Christian yellow pages and looking for “Christian businesses” and trying to find other Christians to work with. Interact with a non- believer or someone who was mainline Protestant (or God forbid Catholic!!) I remember how I had this “us” vs. “them” mentality. I could not trust them, meaning those outside the evangelical church, and I had to be on my guard. They were going to corrupt, infect and possibly make me apostatize!! I remember meeting with Professors, professionals, etc.. and being suspect because they were not evangelicals, they were lost, or they may have attended a certain church that was not correct and "in error."

E.)I remember when I craved going to Christian bookstores, going to Christian events, concerts, etc.. I remember when I was a “groupee” of the Christian culture who regular drank from that well. I remember going to Family Christian and looking up the latest John Piper books, going to the Christian websites (ie..www.desiringgod.org) picking up the latest Delirious CD and watching the Christian music beat. I remember watching for the latest Christian events in the communities I lived in and looking forward to those church events, conferences, men’s retreats, etc..

Eagle said...

D.)I remember when things continued bottoming out for me. I remember when that trust was manipulated by other Christians and how I was pistol whipped. For 8 years I regularly confessed to my Crusade accountability partner all my screw ups, fuck ups and every other problem that occurred. Over the years there were many difficult discussions. I remember how I had the growing feeling that something was not right in my accountability relationship and began to realize that my accountability partner for 8 years was evasive. Then I remember when he finally pulled back. I had to contend with my confessed sin resulting in discipline while he and others hide theirs to fit into the evangelical culture. His attempts to justify it filled me with rage. I remember the Facebook conversation and follow up phone call where my accountabily partner justified his lying.."I'M A BAPTIST EAGLE I HAD TO LIE..I HAD TO FIT IN THE CULTURE...I'M SUPPOSSED TO BE A NEW CREATION" I remember when that attempt at trying to salvage a friendship when my accountabiliy partner continued to lie. Then I began to notice this at different churches, ministries, etc… I remember when I had the “What the fuck?!?” moment dawning upon me when I realized that it was part of the evangelical Christian culture. In order to stay in tune you had to lie, present a fa├žade, or live in denial. Tell people what they WANT to hear so it will CONFIRM their beliefs. I also remember how I began to see the parallels in this evangelical Christian culture with what I saw when I was a 19/20 year old kid in Mormonism. I began to have this disturbing realization that fundgelicalsim is just as unhealthy as Mormonism. The parallels between the LDS and modern evangelical culture were similar in a lot of ways. While I was getting burned by “Christians” and slammed by Pharises. I also remember when I began to interact more with non Christians, and people of other faiths who were more upright, down to earth, and honest about life. My entire world was upside down!! I also began to see that evangelical Christianity became a threat to my integrity. The game changed…now it was about living a projected image and be dishonest like the other situations I was encountering. I couldn’t do it…because of that it had to go. Christianity had to go!! I don't want to be a dishonest person. I didn't want to be like my accountabiliy partner, people I saw at church, Pharises, etc.. Why and how did it get to the point where being a Christian at times can also mean being an asshole? I remember how this led to my breaking point. The trips to the dumpster where I threw away a lot of my Christian material. People who had little interest in me at church when I was attending suddenly want to hang out with me when previously they didn't care. My reaction on the day after was "How fucking stupid do you think I am? You largely didn't care...and now you have this sudden interest! How stupid do you think I am?" I also remember how anyone who advertised themself as a Christian and wore their faith on the sleave I pulled back from. I couldn't stand the artifical nature of it all.


Eagle said...

E.)The entire Christianity culture started to wear on me. Christians have created a bubble of which they could withdraw from the world and isolate themselves. It echoed the Mormon culture. Our own music, toys, books, etc…. even breath mints. I found myself in a similar situation…Instead of Jericho Road now it was Steven Curtis Chapman. Instead of Thomas Monson’s writings now it was John MacArthur or John Piper. Instead of the cheesy Book of Mormon toy figures now it was Bible Answer man and Veggie Tales. On and on it went..... It was also worse...this bubble was infected with the prosperity gospel. The nuclear family was worshipped as was success. No one had problems...all I heard about was "Praise God I'm getting married, having a kid, got a new car, my brother recovered from his motorcycle accident, got a promotion at work, hey I lost my job but God provided and the next day I got a new one...." Life goes the way people want it.

After 10 years of dealing with this the lesson I leanred is that evangelical Christinaity is a racket. I'd avoid it to the same degree that I would avoid cancer. It's just that toxic. I was shocked over the whole situation I encountered. Talk about upending my world and turning it upside down. I do remember my "day after" MJ and the hell it brought. I've enjoyed following your blog for a while...but I have to say this is one of your better posts.

Sorry for the long post. This one touched me

Eagle said...

Sorry for the multiple posts MJ...your blog wouldn't allow one post due ot space limitations. The last post should be the SECOND POST.

jmj said...

Eagle, have at it . . .as many posts as you need. Jesus breath mints . . . really?

I do remember the Navigator training center, where everyone was on Shaklee Vitamins, and the girls were trained (actually cleaned the staff lady's house for free three times a week) in homemaking. God had shown them never to stack dishes when you carried them from the table because then both the tops and bottoms would be dirty. It was like a huge breakthrough that only Christians knew about.

We humans like to create rackets wherever we go don't we?

Eagle said...

(This should follow my second post)

Then I remember when I was having spiritual problems. I remember when my faith was not working as I was taught. I remember when I began to think…”Maybe Christianity is flawed?” MJ you described your transition out of evangelical Christianity and you have much more of a belief of God then I do. I to, also crossed the line, except I transitioned much farther away from Christianity than you. And my doubt is so deeply entrenched that I don’t know if I can really believe in God again. I’m tempted to go back at times, but I still feel sick about my experience. I’m coming to a greater realization that the anger that grew from all this is not healthy. That’s the next hurdle I have to tackle. But I wonder…can I be a Christian again…I don’t know. Likewise I also remember the “day after”

A.)I remember going to Bible studies and slowly beginning to realize how artificial the environment was each week. People were hiding stuff, hearing the same prayer requests related to easy predictable stuff. No one was open about work-life balances, alcohol difficulty, mental health difficulties, porn, terminal illness in a family, relationship problems, etc… I remember walking away from these settings and asking ”What is with me? How is it that my life is not going like theirs?” I remember when the answers I was getting were not working. “That’s it James/John/Romans/ etc.. is all I need to know?” It was awkward knowing the Bible and beginning to realize that the Bible didn’t have the answer.
B.)When it came to church I recall how I started having difficulty attending. At first I had this “something is not right” feeling. Then it grew to feeling uneasy, and at times sick to my stomach. I couldn’t sing and then I remember when I just sat through worship unable to move. For me it felt like it was slipping away. I remember when I started to get sensitive more and more to what John Piper, John MacArthur or other pastors were saying. I recall my disgust at John Piper proclaiming that the tornado that struck a Lutheran church in Minneapolis was God’s punishment because they were debating homosexuality. I remember thinking..”Jesus...that’s how God operates? Debate and discuss something and God strikes it down? If that’s how God operates what did the people of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Texas, etc.. do for living in Tornado Ally? What was their sin?” I remember when my respect for a lot of Pastor’s and missionaries slipped and kept slipping. Someone would say they led ”xyz” ministry or church and my first reaction is that I wanted to vomit.
C.)When it come to God’s will…how did I become so brainwashed? I recall when my thinking started changing and wondered what happened to where I was reading so much as God’s will? It wasn’t God…you mean it was just a coincidence? I was in the right place at the right time or the wrong place at the wrong time. WTF?

Hope T. said...

Eagle, I just read all you comments on this thread. My heart is pounding and there are tears in my eyes. I identified with so many of your points, especially the overall trust in Christians. I found out after a while that atheists were kinder to me than Christians. When I was having a horribly difficult time, no one at church ever asked me how I was doing but a new atheist friend said to me one day, "You seem really down. Are you okay?" The juxtaposition of being in a church for six years and never being asked that and having my new friend ask me that, was head spinning for me.

I have not had the experiences you have had but my feelings are also so similar. For example, you said you felt like vomiting when someone said they were involved in ministry, and I feel sick when someone mentions the Bible or a Bible verse, any verse, it doesn't matter which one. I also had the same reaction to Piper that you explained. In fact recently a FB friend posted a Piper video that "everyone should watch". Well, I watched it but I couldn't stop shaking for half an hour. The reason I say all this is because what you went through is a thousand times worse than the garbage I experienced in my years of Christian college and decades of church attendance and yet you are still standing, still breathing, walking, talking (or at least sitting and writing) and seem to have retained your sanity! I give you a lot of credit for getting out of the mess with all that is most important intact.

I have the feeling from what you say that all this took place relatively recently. It is no surprise then that you have not made any decision about the future of Christianity in your life. I have not either and my "epiphany" took place a couple of years ago, although I only decided at the New Year to take a break from church. (It was kind of a New Year's resolution: Don't go to church this year. Finally I picked a resolution I could keep up.) I don't know what the future will look like but I know I need a good long time of recovery, study, and self-examination. The time to do what I need to do feels like a gift I am giving myself. Do whatever you must, Eagle. I admire what you have done so far.

Anonymous said...

I remember being perplexed as I prayed for meaning in these signs. Oh Lord…what was that you were trying to say to me when I was in the grocery store/car dealership/commute home? -- Eagle

Maybe it was "Don't get all bent out of shape over Signs and Wonders and whatever I'm supposed to be saying to you"?

Anonymous said...

P.S. Because what you're describing is not looking for guidance from God. What you're describing is Divining the Omens.