Not to long ago I considered myself a Christian. For years I was part of the church, most of my life actually. In early high school though I decided being part of the church was something I wanted for my life, my family and my children’s lives. It was what I needed at the time to cope with my life. I became part of several different churches, all with the same outcome. Disappointment, hurt, judgement, and confusion. Abuse. As previously discussed in NOT YOUR CHURCH, I have wrestled with a lot for a long time when it comes to the church. Only recently have I become comfortable with my struggle and really decided to sit with it. Quantify it. Discover it. To develop the ability to talk about it and learn from those experiences. In this time of discovery, I have learned 4 main things:
1. Religion is not finite: 2+2=4 is finite.One’s beliefs and relatability to the earth, other people, and [a] higher power(s) is something that is going to be tuned to what the person is experiencing in that moment.What is going on the world, how the climate is, and many other factors. A finite religion is going to disappoint. It is going to cause pain. Simply because it does not change.
2. Beliefs are going to and should change overtime as we learn and grow: When we are kids a lot of us read or watch things such as Cinderella and Snow White or more recently Frozen. These are fairy tales, where love at first sight happens, the good guy always wins, and an obstacle is overcome to create this love story unlike any other. Yet, most of us know that this is not always how life ends up. We grow up and learn that life is brutal, money is a very necessary evil, and love at first sight is not how love typically works. Beliefs in other things such as religion and/or ethics are similar. As we learn the ways of the world, our beliefs are going to change. Another example being that for most of my life, while I would have never admitted it, I was very colorblind in my thinking, actions, and beliefs. I had no idea the privilege I have as a white person. I had the very common belief that if I was in the wrong it was up to ‘those people’ to teach me. I fell for the ‘ we are all the same on the inside’ and ‘color doesn’t matter’ bullshit. I used words like ‘ghetto’ and ‘gangster’ to describe things that were neither of those things. These things contributed to the further marginalization of people of color, and while unintentional it was still very damaging and I had to grow. I had to learn. It is my job to change these beliefs, to learn and grow. To take responsibility for my own learning. For myself. In this I think religion should be similar, that we take responsibility for our own growth and we strive to make the world better. That old constructs are sometimes the very thing that needs to be destroyed in order for love to grow.
3. Creating boundaries and admitting fault where it is due: One might not understand how these things go together, but hear me out. Take the following as an example: In the recent months I have had some health issues which lead me to need home health care. One of the services they offered was a social worker, she helped me get access to some community services as well as getting my advanced directives done. Once these things were done the social worker came 2 more times, and while I agreed to theses appointments I really did not want her to come any longer as my needs had been fulfilled. The appointment before last she was at my house for 4.5 hours and the last one for almost 2 hours. Mind you this appointments are suppose to be 1-2 hours at most. After the previous appointment, I discussed with my wife and the speech therapist about my uncomfortableness with the situation and both told me I needed to set boundaries. This woman simply had my trapped in conversation inside my own home, and was not professional enough to keep things not private. She invaded my space, she demanded my attention, and she demanded that I share personal things with her in the name of ‘helping” me. With the last appointment I told her I had X amount of time to meet. This boundary was not respected so I called the supervisor and spoke with her about what the issue was and the visits have since ceased. – In this situation, creating boundaries was hard but it was necessary. It isn’t my fault what the situation was, but I didn’t set boundaries with the social worker in the beginning which was my fault. If we don’t set the correct boundaries, it is not our fault that the person in power took advantage of the situation; but it does then require us to do something about the situation. Taking the time to set boundaries in the most safe and healthy action we can take. This sometimes means involving someone else as a way to protect yourself from further harm.
4. Guilt vs shame: These terms are used interchangeably most of the time. Personally, I feel as if there needs to be a defined and distinct difference. Guilt is an appropriate feeling of remorse where as shame is an inappropriate feeling of remorse. If you steal something from someone a feeling of remorse is appropriate. If someone does something to you such as abuse, a feeling of remorse is inappropriate and damaging. In the church we are taught to shame ourselves for everything, this comes from the concept of sin in that we are sinful in nature and have to atone for the “original sin of man.” Atonement is inherently shameful. Oftentimes we are asked to atone for things that we do not have responsibility for. We are asked to atone for things that happened to us or things that we were forced to do because we did not have the agency at the time to say no. The church does not make that distinction in my experience. We are asked to seek forgiveness for any perceived wrong that we may have committed regardless of intent or ability to alter our circumstances. While seeking forgiveness is cleansing, it can also be self-serving to seek absolution from a godlike entity instead of the person we actually harmed. The church asks us to take on sins that are not our own and because of that we can harm ourselves in our quest to absolve ourselves of others sins.