The Fast Lane, and Depression

I’m thankful I’m living in a time when the internet and social media are so widely used. I’m thankful for the connectedness with people and access to information they bring. In many ways it’s been an amazing thing for me, and a medium where I feel much more comfortable sharing my thoughts without the anxiety of thinking on the spot while a person or 3 stare into my soul. For most of us, access to information isn’t a luxury of sorts essentially reserved for those who have time and money to buy books or browse libraries – the internet is an equalizer when used responsibly. We’ve also probably all heard the saying, “you don’t know what you don’t know”, and for me the internet and the connections made on it have provided an ongoing solution of sorts to that problem: though there’s still plenty of things I’m completely clueless about, at least I know of more things I don’t know, so I’m more aware of my ignorance, making it easier to take a back seat and listen instead of “boldly going” and looking the fool. So when I say what I’m going to say I don’t mean it to be a shaking of the fist at the changing times. I just found something which has been painfully true for me, an introvert who grew up in a cult and has a fair share of social anxiety and confidence issues.
As effective a tool the internet can be for enlightening and changing minds, for someone like me who spends a lot of time in his own head and letting very few into that world, a few years of time traveling on the ol’ Information Highway is a heckuva lotta time in the fast lane, while family, friends, church, and, yes, even the missus aren’t necessarily traveling at the same speed, or even on the same road. Sure, I’ve met and caravanned with some good folks along the way, but given the nature of the medium, these folks aren’t necessarily present in the same way family, church, job, or community will be. These folks are (hopefully) on their own trajectories, and unless I’m sharing my self-discoveries and epiphanies along the way in a reasonable time frame, it doesn’t take long for that distance to quietly grow. Then one day you start realizing just how far you’ve gone. Suddenly you realize how alone you’ve become around many people who perhaps you’ve known all your life. 
So that’s where I’ve found myself. In some instances losing any sense of safety or freedom to be myself. Wondering how the heck to start bridging the gaps, or where to start to bring people up to speed. Whether they will understand. Do they even notice a change? Are they “worth it” – is this someone I even need a relationship with, or have I slowly come to realize their beliefs or behaviors are toxic or simply diametrically in opposition to where I find myself? Do I still have a voice with them? Do I value their perspective anymore? For some, I feel I’ve become the very thing we were warned against, whether politically, ethically, or theologically. Before I know it, I’ve already assumed rejection and condemnation – like my parents’ pastor, whose “child of the devil” definition fits me like I was born for it. Others, it’s usually more subtle than that, but the same anxiety, sense of loss, and loneliness clouds the water, and rarely does a sense of belonging rest.
I guess it is what it is at this point, as I move forward. One more thing to learn. Knowing what I know, for better or for worse, there’s no going back to the way things were. 

Advertisements

Off-Brand Christian

Ah, labels. They range from necessary and helpful generalization to insult, from battle lines to dismissal. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em, or something like that. Here, I don’t intend to talk down to anyone about which labels they are comfortable with, but I want to share my personal principle regarding what I choose to focus on. In certain things, I do try to live without pushing labels about myself, namely: my faith, “Christian”, and another hot topic, “feminist” (or ally). It might be ignorant, disingenuous, cowardly, seen as misleading, or perhaps even a luxury of privilege. I certainly welcome pushback on this. But here’s my reasoning, starting with the term feminist.

Continue reading Off-Brand Christian

A way-too-early, pre-coffee rant about the Nashville Statement

Yeah, yeah, it’s another thought on the Nashville Statement. But hey, this one is born of insomnia and 3 AM social media scrolling, so that makes it fresh, right? Anyway, so I catch this on a friend’s timeline:

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fchristianstalk%2Fvideos%2F524184821258397%2F&show_text=0&width=476

 

Pretty much all this. It’s not a new angle, or even the first time I’ve seen it, but sometimes things hit me just right. Dadgum, if we’re going to talk hurt and negative effects, it should be obvious gluttony and greed have had such an incomparably higher negative impact on our society than whatever negatives evangelicals say homosexuality is or causes that it’s frankly ridiculous American evangelical leaders give the LGBT topic much stage time at all. Most talk about extravagant wealth-poverty divides as an abstract–“y’all figure this out yourselves”, “always living in the tension of striving for perfection but needing grace for sin”–and few church leaders are going to really take you to task on how you spend your hard-earned (or not) money in light of the poor in your hometown. When’s the last time any of you folks got heat on Facebook from your pastor for a Cheesecake Factory evening, or weekend trips to Disney? But when’s the last time you saw a social media wildfire of condemnation because someone announced they were affirming, or literally came out? And yet, I’m supposed to take it seriously when we’re told we’re not really Christian if we’re affirming??

I’d also ask, if these leaders are simply responding with Biblical clarity to questions within the church, where exactly is that fixation with answers on this topic coming from? I’d posit that this question loops back to leadership as the ones creating supply *and* demand, if you will. Folks want hard lines on this, because leaders insist there are hard lines – “God’s Order”, etc. And don’t forget, with all hard lines, there’s dire consequences – my very salvation is at stake! Maybe there are hard lines one way or another, but it tells me something that this topic out of all of em gets fixated on without much nuance in the way of consent vs abuse, like the good pastor Kyndall highlights so well in the video, as if there’s no real difference in effect between The Sin between two consenting adults, and the horrific scarring of abuse. Evangelical privilege meets fundamentalist myopia. Folks, fight where the hurt is at. Your drawing of exclusionary heaven/hell lines has created a fight though, with real human casualties (see LGBT youth suicide rates), when there is more than enough on our plates in healing this world already… but you’re still digging trenches.

So yeah, if that’s how it is for them, well I guess they can’t affirm my Christianity any longer, but I can confirm that their affirmation or lack thereof is not why I’ve lost sleep these past two nights, no sir. If I’m not much of a Christian, it’s much more likely because I’m doing a crappy job feeding the poor and otherwise binding up societal and personal wounds in light of my wealth and gifts and privilege, and has 0% to do with my affirmation of consenting homosexual relationships based on a different understanding of Scripture than theirs.

Caving to Culture?

Let’s talk about a lazy take today. I don’t know how these things get started, but where I see it in its final form as parroted by folks in certain circles, I think it’s time to lay it gently to rest. Maybe give it a dadgum viking funeral –  nudge it, burning, gently out to sea in an envelope nestled in an open copy of “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” or something.

I’m talking about this idea that a significant enough number of folks and denominations simply believe that the Bible can (and even should be) be changed according to whatever the culture wants.
Continue reading Caving to Culture?

Aftermath

In February of 2016, after a few months of off and on writing, I felt satisfied enough with my story to go public with it here. It was well-received by my friends and followers and the few family members I shared it with, and was an incredibly validating experience. No longer was it just a vague cloud of turmoil and bad memories in my mind, where bits and pieces would leak out, but no remotely clear picture. Finally there was a hard copy. I struggle with making sense of things when it’s just me locked in my head in endless conversation – heck, even now it’s hard to have any perspective on it. It feels like another life, another person sometimes, until something happens currently that triggers memory. Overall though, it’s been a good thing for me, and it’s helped me connect to some great folks, and helped free others to share their own experiences, including my sister who wrote hers shortly after I went public with mine. Continue reading Aftermath

A Fall Into and Rise Out of Fundamentalism

Hi, my name is Joshua. Most people I know call me Josh. I’m from rural east-central Alabama…right on the Alabama-Georgia state line. Just a ways off from the banks of the Chattahoochee River. I used to be fundamentalist, of the independent Baptist variety, but not always. Another detail about me that’s pertinent to my story is that I have cystic fibrosis(hereafter referred to as CF.) You can find me on Twitter to learn more, or just Google it, whichever you’re more comfortable with. Go ahead and open up another tab on your browser and read up a little, I’ll wait.

Good! You’re back! Now, we can continue. Continue reading A Fall Into and Rise Out of Fundamentalism

Of Trains, Sacrifice, and Agency

If you’ve grown up in a Christian environment, at some point you have likely heard this story or a variation of it: a man finds himself in a position where he must choose to save his son or an oncoming train headed for certain destruction. The takeaway from this tale is of course the great love of God the Father, in that He didn’t spare even His own Son in our rescue. A story like this, like a metaphor, can be said to only be useful as far as its intention (I don’t know if anyone would say Jesus has wool because He’s called the Lamb, for instance) and that’s fine as far as it goes. Even so, something about it has always bothered me, as long as I can remember. I’d like to explore this here, as I believe it is missing something important, and it is perhaps indicative of a larger gap in understanding. A story like this can be told in any way we want it to, and the fact that it is usually missing this element tells me something.

The story is all about the father’s heartrending choice between his son’s life and the lives of those on the train. As I’ve always heard it told though, it is missing any voice of the son in his own fate. The son’s only agency is to be the tear-jerking emotional appeal for the audience – his place could be swapped out for a sack of money sliding off a cliff as the train approaches the wrecked tracks, and the story still works, albeit with less potential for waterworks. His will, his desires, his thoughts are a non-issue. This is problematic, not only because it’s not even an accurate reflection of the larger narrative it is pointing towards, but because it subtly reinforces, I believe, a dangerously incomplete picture of sacrifice which marginalizes agency and consent. I can’t say any folks telling this story must not have an understanding of consent or agency, but again, the fact that it’s usually missing this element is perhaps telling of a profound gap in knowledge many Christian communities.

Continue reading Of Trains, Sacrifice, and Agency

“Remember Me”

Missus and I recently watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. We loved it. The show and my feelings towards it are worthy of a longer post than I want to get into here, but there’s one episode that I thought was really striking. 
It’s called “Remember Me”. The doctor, Beverly Crusher, gets stuck in a rapidly shrinking “pocket universe”, and as it shrinks it slowly deletes everyone she cares about on the ship. The ones left have no memory of the ones deleted, and think she’s crazy for talking about people who were never there, or even existed at all. 
The episode’s scenario is not an exact comparison, but I am reminded of how depression slowly squeezes the life out of folks, including me and my wife over the past year or two. I won’t speak to her experience, but mine has been a slow spiral: I barely have the energy to keep up with and put time into friends and family, small negative interactions turn into crushing events that lead me to pull away without dealing with conflict, I have little or no desire to plan for the future, I tread water at work, let self care lapse, lose the ability to enjoy little things, I do things just to cope and kill time rather than for enjoyment and progress and tangible value to be gained from them…. Over everything, the questions and worries spin. “What’s the point? You’ll just lose interest in this project in a month. Why try? You can’t keep up with a new friend. You’re going to pull away after a year, when the shine wears off and the work of relationship is needed. Why do you exist anyway? Does my world really need me? What do I bring to the table anyway? You’re a project, a drain on people who are already drained.”
This isn’t a perfect illustration, but I had the idea of circles representing certain facets of my life, as depression slowly tries to fade the lines and erase the circles completely, while the dark line on the outside presses in relentlessly.

Depression lies. But there’s enough truth for the lies to all seem real, in the middle of it. It’s not the “real” world, but the pocket universe is real enough to hurt, and kill.

“Show Your Steps”

I was a pretty lousy math student. There were a number of reasons why, including untreated ADHD, and not wanting to ask for help until the direst need. But I’m sure one of the bigger reasons was because I tried to do most of the figures and equations in my head: write the problem out, go through the formula and calculations in my head, and then magically an answer appears next to the problem on my paper! Like I’m some kinda genius or something! Get this man a scholarship. So that wasn’t real smart of me. On my best days it was adequate for passing grades, and on my usual days, the results were not impressive. Some folks might be able to get by just fine with these methods, but I was not one of those people. Going through the steps on paper allows you and the teacher to see where you went wrong. It also should help you stay on track better, and catch any mistakes before you’re done with the problem.

 

Now, years later, that attitude towards math interests me again as I see it everywhere (including, yes, in my own head). Continue reading “Show Your Steps”

A Reflection on Privilege and Plenty

I’ll keep this brief, and I’m mainly looking at myself here. 
Most of my readers have surely heard the bold statements in the bible about “true religion” and love your neighbor, and such, so I don’t need to go into a darned study on it, but here’s two of the passages anyway:

“True devotion, the kind that is pure and faultless before God the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows [the poor, the down-trodden, the weak, the powerless, the oppressed, the minority, the outside, etc] in their difficulties and to keep the world from contaminating us.”

James 1:27 CEB

“My brothers and sisters, when you show favoritism you deny the faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has been resurrected in glory. Imagine two people coming into your meeting. One has a gold ring and fine clothes, while the other is poor, dressed in filthy rags. Then suppose that you were to take special notice of the one wearing fine clothes, saying, “Here’s an excellent place. Sit here.” But to the poor person you say, “Stand over there”; or, “Here, sit at my feet.” Wouldn’t you have shown favoritism among yourselves and become evil-minded judges? My dear brothers and sisters, listen! Hasn’t God chosen those who are poor by worldly standards to be rich in terms of faith? Hasn’t God chosen the poor as heirs of the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor… You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself.  But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker.”

James 2:1‭-‬9 CEB
I’m a middle-class, able-bodied, able-minded white guy with not a whole lot going against me when it comes down to it. And I’m certainly not alone as a professing Christian in this state. 
We (I) have the ability to enter into and even alleviate the suffering of every kind of those folks in that first passage. I can and do choose, in a way, what I care about – my battles, my passions, who I advocate for, and to what extent. I can also choose to stay away, or even ignore many things, and I’ll go on living my life without effect. That’s privilege.

So why, if our hearts are supposedly changed-I’m a “new creature”, “born again”, regenerated, what have you-do we so consistently choose to insulate ourselves from the cornucopia of human pain around us, content to nibble at the edges, or go to church, and do just enough to sleep at night feeling like we did something? Where is my privilege and plenty sacrificed? What gospel do I believe (my sins are forgiven! Yay! Yours can be too! Is that it?)? Whose example do I follow anyway? Maybe if I’m not living so that others can’t help but label me as such, I shouldn’t take the name “Christian”.
I don’t know what to do with this right now. I’ve shared at length and for several years now my journey out of legalism and dead and deadly religion, and I know it’s had some positive effect on others who were also there. I cling to that some days. I wish to see healing in this world, and this area, spiritual abuse, is one place I feel in some way “called” (I kinda hate that term – it’s just me) and qualified by experience to speak to. I’m just beginning. What more can I give? How can I use what I have? Where to next?