Tuesday, May 26, 2015

When in doubt, protect the children...

Because of the religious system that I was brought up in, I was taught not to question anything from “authority”, unless of course that authority was not a part of my beliefs.  I was not to question the elders of the congregation, those who answered to the elders, the bible, God or anything that could lead to thinking on my own. We were supposed to just trust the directions that were given to us concerning our lives without a second thought.

The problem that I often encountered back then, was that I had so many questions and no one to ask. I lived in a constant state of perplexity about my life. What’s worse, if something inappropriate happened to me by way of an adult in this setting, I never told. I especially did not tell on anyone who had the authority to spiritually punish me. It was something you just didn’t do. There were too many systems put in place to protect the men in position around me which were a part of this religion. I saw speaking up as a lose-lose situation. So consequently, I heard and experienced some pretty creepy things within the confines of this religious cult as a child. It would be years later as an adult, while living many miles away, that I would begin to talk this out as a means of healing.

I found out that I was not alone and that there were other young girls and boys who had been affected by this closed community who policed their own behaviors. I also found out that some cases were so extreme, that the perpetrators were “set aside” to be dealt with in a disciplinary fashion by the heads of the congregation.  Sadly, the authorities were never summoned. Of course the victims of molestation and inappropriate behavior with a child were rarely ever cared for.  Not to mention the embarrassing labels that got attached to the innocent. The whole set up was a nightmare for anyone who needed an advocate.

There are many factors that have occurred in my life over time that have led me to choose a life outside of organized religion and I would dare say that spiritual abuse ranks number 1 on my list of reasons to stay clear of self-governed groups. Spiritual abuse is inevitable when the only authority that you are to adhere to is the one that also runs the congregation and the one to whom everyone answers. Many, without realizing it, have put the welfare and safety of themselves and their entire family in the hands of those who cannot even control their own actions, let alone keep you safe from “evil”.

Once we become ingrained in the thinking that someone else can hear from God better than we can for ourselves and that we are protected solely under a spiritual covering i.e. man, a feeling of helplessness and deep submission to ‘the powers that be’ set in.

One of the saddest things about my experience in this cult as a child was that my own father would have protected me and raised holy hell if I would have told him anything inappropriate that was happening to me. He was not a part of this robotic mindless belief system, so he was not held captive to their lies but he was helpless to take care of me in a way that would have served as my own personal protection, because I was too afraid to tell him what was happening. I was afraid of being blamed or called a liar and then punished and shunned for speaking out.

I know my father would have gone through great lengths to protect me because he proved it to me when I was in a similar situation with an authority figure outside of my religion. He went through hell and high water to seek justice for me through the court system but to no avail. It was a time when children weren’t so easily believed when it came to molestation. But my dad still acted as my defender and that made me feel safe and protected even though I was deeply scarred.
As confusing as it sounds, I differentiated the perpetrators because of who they were in my life although their behaviors were the same.

The difference (in my mind) was that one was a part of my “congregation” and the other was not. There was asylum for the “religious figure” but not for the outsider. Weird isn’t it, that a child would protect the reputation of a sleazy pervert no matter who he was.  This is what brainwashing and fear does to a child. It causes them to split right and wrong in half and protect someone who wears a spiritual title even when his/her actions are harmful. This is more common then we care to imagine.
Recently, there has been a lot of pathetic rhetoric on social media protecting a man who is a religious figure in his community. He is part of a family which has its own reality show. However, it has been discovered that this man violated little girls when he was a teenager. Part of me doubts that this behavior has ever really stopped but has simply transferred victims over time. Yes, that’s pure speculation but highly likely. His advocates want to dole out ‘God’s grace and forgiveness’ and ‘judge not’, applying verse to a situation that cannot be gracefully flowered over with scripture. Tragic.

What I know about the cult mindset is that it doesn’t think well for itself. The cult mindset has to be told what to believe and how to believe it repeatedly, until it automatically reacts and responds to life like everyone else within its teaching. It is one of the most dangerous ways to live and one that is most accepted within some sects of Christianity. There are those who worship their pastors, elders, deacons, presidents of their denomination, priest, prophets, evangelists, ministers of music and anyone else that has been placed before them and deemed ‘highly favored and anointed by God’. In some cases, these men and women have been given total authority to run rough shot over the lives of all those that submit “under” them, without so much as a simple question why.

When this occurs, children who have the misfortune of being raised in these environments become neglected and mistreated. They can be overworked “for the sake of the church” and under supervised because of busy parents trying to please the powers that be. These children are being told that to look good is better than to feel good and pretending and smiling will keep the family a float and in good standing with the church community. In short, children’s lives are being ruined out of ignorance and blind devotion to man, which leaves the door wide open for rage, addiction and even suicidal thoughts at some point in their lives.

I know this all too well, particularly the rage and suicidal thoughts that followed years after escaping that cult.  (Okay, I was kicked out but thank you just the same.) This was my chance to finally encounter Christ on my own, which was a life changing moment for me. Insert gratitude and relief here.

The sad truth is that Christians are losing the respect of the world in record levels and no, it’s not because of persecution. It’s because a large segment of the population cannot see what everyone else on the outside sees about them. It’s because some forget that they live in glass houses and yet decide to throw stones anyway. It’s because some have mindlessly given themselves to man and not to Christ. It’s because some sacrifice their family’s well-being in exchange for title and position.
Here’s a statement that’s bound to increase my popularity… I believe that many Christians are ruining Christianity and tainting the reputation of Christ Our Redeemer, by being ignorant of their own lives and protecting wrong doing within the four walls of the church. This is sad, but it doesn’t have to be.

What has helped me to continually strive to maintain balance and understanding between the difference of God given authority and self-appointed authority over the years, is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Without truth and knowing, without God’s divine guidance, we follow the masses. However, when we pull away from the many voices that surround us, to tune in to the only voice that truly matters, God speaks to us individually in His own way concerning our lives.  When we make this our lifestyle, we stop depending on man to be our spiritual leaders in every aspect of our lives. We are then more prone to pray for one another because we recognize that ALL sin and fall short of the grace of God on a daily basis. Not just the peons.

It removes the hierarchy mindset from church and makes for a more ‘eye to eye’ relationship with one another. It also keeps anyone from being above the law because we do not perceive anyone as being perfect.

If you subscribe to a traditional church setting, then there will always be those who are put into position to carry out the various tasks of the ministry. These people will have titles. The important thing to remember is that these titles should not compete with God’s place in your life. You can respect the title and position and still maintain your own constant communication with God, allowing Him to be the highest authority in your life. This is sure protection from spiritual abuse and blind following.

To reiterate; Cults consist of people who answer to human ‘spiritual’ authority over God’s authority, as if the leader is God himself. The act of acquiescing to a man or woman because of his congregational status as if they are God is extremely dangerous and compromises our lives greatly.
When we can clearly see the difference between man and God, we do not excuse abuse of any kind simply because it occurs within the confines of religion. We do not hide illegal activity and sweep it under the rug. We openly acknowledge such things and allow justice to be served on behalf of all those involved. We care for the victims. We protect our children. That’s what Jesus would do…

To speak specifically to this current news story about the man I mentioned previously who has confessed that he is guilty of being a molester: There are so many great causes to stand up for that scripture is against; racism, sexism, abuse, violence, poverty, exclusion etc…  So why in the world would anyone want to waste their God-given time by blindly supporting criminal behavior within the church and risk the reputation of the gospel?  This is not sound thinking… it’s an example of following without thinking.

The Emperor with no clothes is not the brother who is suffering exposure so that God can be shown as a just and forgiving God that covers over his bare body. He is simply just another naked man in denial…

*I feel compelled to acknowledge that I am in no way suggesting that Christianity as a whole is a cult. I am suggesting that cult behavior can come from any religious group that worships man (his opinions, judgments and actions) over God. This behavior can manifested even with those who call themselves Christians.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Will the next generation even want the baton that we have to pass?

I think often about my part in this world as well as my role as a mentor of some sort to the next generation. I question what I’ve always believed, what I think I have been absolutely sure about or what I would say are my core values. Which brings on more questions like: Where did I get my beliefs? (From religion or relationship with God) Do I share the same values as my parents had? And am I as open minded as I think I am?

To my surprise, much has changed within me through the years when it comes to values. Instead of elevating my personal beliefs above others, I have shifted to valuing others without worrying about the fragility of my personal beliefs. What I now realize is, what’s core is core and it will always be a part of what defines me. With that in mind, I’m free to listen and consider the hearts and minds of others. This is what I’ve learned from talking so much with my three emerging adult children. “Listen and listen well because what we have to say mom is not necessarily what you believe.”

I know for certain that having this kind of discourse with my children over the years has made me understand what the next generation needs and it’s not necessarily what we think. 

For instance:

I don’t believe that our children need to be told that they have to carry on our traditions when it comes to spiritual matters. What they do need is to be given the freedom to find their own way just like we did and develop a spiritual life befitting for them. (That comes with trust.) The train up a child in the way he should go scripture could mean to lead by example as well as discourse. I know that the things that I remember most about my parents came from what I witnessed in their behavior, not always what they said.

Once they have reached the age of accountability, they don’t need to be told good from bad and how to behave anymore. They need to develop a conscious for themselves, which may come with some real life trial and error, along with consequences. 

And last but definitely not least, they don’t need to be given a broad brush to paint the entire world with. Instead they need the discernment to be able to see people as individuals and to care about them with compassion, which leads to a kinder gentler generation than we are.

What I’m afraid that we have modeled for the next generation is brash behavior, full of judgment and scrutiny over anyone or anything that is different from what we believe or practice. We've shown them that we have more faith in government than humanity or even God. We've drawn lines in the sand clearly marked US vs. THEM and our children have stood by and watched us shout our way into oblivion at one another in order to prove that we are right. Because after all, isn't being right the most important thing?

I have faith in the next generation, more faith than I have in my own. Simply put, we screwed up with our war loving, fist pumping, materialistic, closed mindedness while refusing to back down or humble ourselves to be corrected. Our kids are watching us and the older they get, the more of their own minds will be made up, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Because passing down a mindset that doesn’t allow breathing room for new thoughts or ideas for fear that there will be anarchy is somewhat outdated, not to mention cult-like and paranoid.

The way I see it, God reached out for me when no one else was around to tell me what to do and how to behave and He hasn't changed. So why would I try to mold my children into someone I think they need to be when the one who created us all knows them by name.

The sad reality is, most of us Christians would say that we want our children to be Christ Followers, when in fact we have barely touched the surface of what that truly means for ourselves.

The beauty beyond that fact is that we can all (parents and children together) sit at the feet of Christ and learn what it means to have compassion and love for one another…

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hope from a sand dollar...

I’ve had writer’s block for months now, which for me, feels a lot like needing a good cry with blocked tear ducts. I’m not sure what bought it on exactly, except that I’ve felt overwhelmed with the sting and rip of the world’s current trauma and I have taken it all quite personally.  I don’t suspect that a person wants to take such things to heart (war, racism, oppression, murder etc…) it’s just the inundation and brutality of it all overwhelms us sensitive people. It feels a lot like having an angry parakeet on your shoulder repeating the tragedy of the day over and over in your ear. It’s maddening and sometimes inescapable. When that happens, I can’t write. I mean, I can scribble some quick thoughts to page and blurb about the reality of injustice, but I can’t be poetic and free flowing on a constant basis. This is quite painful to me.

But today, here on this beautiful island, I am free. My thoughts are chasing my fingers and I am young at heart in the free flowing nature of my poetic being. I am fearless and relentless and happy. Oh sweet quiet solitude of joy, how I miss you.

I took a walk on the beach with my son this morning and we found again, the reason why we keep returning back to the ocean.  Its expanse is breathtaking and reminds us of our small but significant place in this world. It reminds us to be grateful.

I stopped trusting humanity this year. I stopped believing that people really do want to come together to achieve peace and create a world for our children that will be better than what we have. I stopped believing that racism, sexism and all the all other isms were losing ground and slowly dying.  I shied away from people with extreme views on the world that just didn’t seem realistic in nature. We all can’t be the same. How hard is that to fathom? Yet, that seems to be the main bone of contention within humanity.  If you think like me, worship like me, politicize like me, then you are right like me. I swear that will be on a t-shirt soon enough.  So I began to dread people and their voices and commentaries about morality in an immoral and wounded world. 

From deep inside of me, rising slowly but surely, was a shock-wave of anger which announced itself in verbiage wrapped in thunder, sounding something like: “JUST BE THE DAMNED THING YOU CLAIM IS RIGHT AND JUST!!! JUST LIVE IT AND STOP TRYING TO ENFORCE IT!!!” That’s what I want to tell zealots in any form.  Nothing good ever comes from force. Deep sigh.  Those words have been brewing within me for some time. I’m freer now because they are outside of me and not locked up anymore.

As we walked along the beach this morning, we approached a lady and her dog. I wanted to turn and go the other way (because I wanted to avoid the people thing) but we were too close and it would have been obvious. Right before she got to us, she bent down and picked up what I thought was a seashell and walked towards us. She stretched out her hand and said “This is a sand dollar, take it back with you and dry it in the sun. This can be your souvenir from Emerald Isle.”  Humanity…just when I think I have you pegged, you change the game on me.

Trust is subjective…

Monday, March 2, 2015

Table for 1...

I’ve come to an interesting discovery at this moment in my life; being afraid of being alone is much like fearing the dark. They both hold a certain ominous uncertainty that depending on our age or maturity level can get the best of us. If we concentrate on the unknown possibilities too long, we will panic and react.

Sometimes, we make life changing decisions based on the fear of being alone. We say “yes” when we should say “no”.  The idea of being by ourselves seems terrifying, which leads us to say yes with a maybe heart. Yes, you can call me. Yes, I’ll go out with you again. Yes, I…like you. Yes, we can get together. Yes, I’ll join the committee. There can be an endless cycle of yes’s that keep us from our true self and honest desires, but make us feel temporarily accepted and wanted.

The problem is that most of us were never taught that not going to the party or not having a date can be a good thing. As children it was considered unhealthy not to be a part of the group on a constant basis. Sometimes we were verbally rewarded because of how many friends we had. We wore being a part of the crowd as a badge of honor.  Nurturing a sense of self was not heard of in my generation, as much as it can be discussed now. Independent thinking was not at all encouraged, unless it was posed as the question: “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you?” We were only expected to think for ourselves when it came to avoiding bad behavior, not when it came to being self entertained or introverted, independent thinkers.

Such introspection has led me to a refreshing discovery over this past year.  I have found being alone, whether I am at the movies, a restaurant or shopping, is exactly what I need in my life at this time.  I’ve spent too much of my life trying to replace relationships that I’ve lost in my younger years due to either death or separation, with people that could never fill those places.  I have searched for family members in friends wanting to create what I’ve missed out on for so long.  That sense of neediness has cost me dearly.  Because when we’re looking for fulfillment in other human beings, we don’t see clearly that the people that we are choosing to spend time with, may not be the best or healthiest choice for us.  We end up trusting the wrong people and sharing a part of ourselves with someone who does not merit that privilege. 

 I finally came to a place where I no longer needed individual or group validation.  What I needed was a respite from wanting to always be part of the crowd, women’s group, coffee time etc… I needed time to hear my own thoughts, pray my own prayers and be content with me. I’m not saying that I will never again have a ‘girl’s night out’ or a road trip with friends, but what I am saying is that I can plan my life and my fun with or without those possibilities. There will probably always be that part of me that prefers my own silence over the voice of others... most days.

Don't get me wrong, I love good company and I've had some great friendship experiences through the years. I like laughing and exchanging thoughtful ideas. I love the concept of being in a close knit community of diverse people from all walks of life and maybe one day that will happen for me again on a deeper level.  If it does, I will treat it as a gift and have all the more to offer because of the journey that I was willing to take alone to discover the beauty of being me…

Monday, February 2, 2015

When the older woman in your mirror begins to talk to you...

I’ve always loved gray hair nicely placed at the temples, particularly on men. The look is smart and crisp. It says, “I know things, life things.” I don’t reject the look on women either. It’s just hard pressed to find it as untouched, it’s usually colored or highlighted.  Women don’t boast about their gray much, in my experience. In fact, for some ladies, it’s almost gauche to talk about graying or hot flashes or any symptom of aging. I think we women are taught to be embarrassed about it. I think we’re supposed to do it discreetly, with plenty of appointments to our hair dressers…she knows our bottled hair color by heart. I also think that it’s highly unfair not to be able to let it all go, at least for a moment and just be. There are so many products aimed towards keeping us looking at least 20 years younger, that I can’t help but wonder if we’re supposed to be ashamed of actually being 20 years older.

I need a touch-up on my temples. My gray is showing, but for some reason I’m not panicking yet. I have panicked in the past however, while looking at that older woman in my mirror and wondering when she arrived. But this time, I decided to let her hang around a bit before insisting that she hide her years, even if the evidence of age is somewhat subtle…somewhat. I decided to ask her a few questions while staring in her eyes and inspecting her skin for lines. I figured she could teach me a thing or two about life, survival, resilience, and patience. I was surprised at how calm the exchange feels now. No longer rushed and worried about what to do next. No longer in a flurry of activity after years of hopeful insistence of now. I can do now, like never before. The slightly more mature woman in my mirror has time for me like no one else, and I can glean from her life lessons. I’m glad she’s finally here.

I’d like to challenge you. The next time you see that older woman peeking back at you in your mirror and she takes you by surprise, don’t shoo her away so quickly. Don’t cover her with your best product and send her off to your stylist so soon. Stop, right out of the shower and look at her, appreciate her post-child bearing physicality. Compliment her, by not being ashamed of what you see. Only air-brushed super models get to pose nude without a care in the world. But we have the privacy of our bathroom mirrors and a moment of reflection and homage to the women that we are today…body, mind and soul. No matter how many years have passed, there is still defined and thoughtful beauty in being a woman.

Embrace it…

Monday, October 20, 2014

What happened to Radical Jesus at the beach and his friends???

While having dinner with my daughter the other day and wanting to know what life on campus was like, she let me know that there are some racial issues that are in the midst of being addressed by way of a "community discussion" at Wake. My first thought was great! This is a good opportunity for you to sit in on these meetings and learn how important it is to speak up on social justice. Whether you are new to the campus or not, this subject is not new. I also shared with her that because part of Wake Forest's legacy is steeped in the legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou, a woman who loved diversity on every level, this school owes it to the students who walk this campus every day and to her memory, to work hard at making Wake a landscape of equality.

You see, it would have been easy for her to go to a school where everyone looked like her and shared her same opinion on social justice and equality, but what change in the greater world would that bring? For this child of mine, who loves culture and language and wants to travel the world, this is the place to begin her journey. She told me that she had a great time one evening, sitting around talking with other girls from different parts of the world: "It was the most diverse group that I've been with so far and I really liked that."  This is the mindset of a young woman of change, no matter how subtle her personal forum may seem.

I have to admit that I believe we have failed this generation in huge proportions after the 60's and the 70's. Decades beyond the protests and landmark decisions that would hope to make great strides to afford everyone having "a place at the table", we have gone backwards in this arena at light speed. It seems that the goal is to stay in your own lane and be as safe as possible from anything that would threaten us. It seems that "turn the other cheek" has been substituted for turn a deaf ear to the ills of society today. The radical Jesus who hung out at the beach with everybody, has been substituted for a safe, American conservative who can only relate to his own kind. How did this happen? And why is radical and accepting always tied together with the sinful mindset of this world?

I'm hoping that this generation will do much better at not just crossing racial lines,but erasing them altogether. I'm hoping that universal interest take precedent over one country's opinion of the world and its unquenchable thirst to be number one.

I'm hoping that we can start understanding that being globally minded doesn't necessarily mean in entirety extending benevolence to third world countries and the locally poor, but extending interest about the lifestyles and cultures of all people everywhere...just like that radical Jesus guy.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

I Know Depression

This morning I awoke with three simple words burning in my mind and asking me to express them with my heart: I know depression.

I know depression and its trail of tears and awaking fears that seem to at times know my every move. I know what it’s like to be the funniest person in the room and light up faces with laughter, only to feel like the loneliest person in the world alone in the dark.

I know depression and its lifelong tease of being an “oddball” that seems to set me apart in my own mind. I know the feeling of displaying brilliance and talent through words and performance, while struggling to find a sense of self-worth at the same time. When I see the genius of an actor or hear the emotion in a singer’s voice or stand in front of the masterpiece of a visual artist, I know without a doubt that they have experienced this angst too. The need to express what cannot otherwise be expressed in a world that seems to only honor performance more than vulnerability. We can only be vulnerable when we perform, otherwise…make sure you say: “All is well” when asked “How are you?”

I know depression mixed with Christianity which sometimes feels like a molotov cocktail of confusion waiting to explode inside. The erroneous concept that your sadness has to do with a lack of faith, love of God or sin, makes my anger burn at times. I know the moment of realization that the “friends” that you have confided in about your secret angst will only stay around long enough to “minister” you through the moment, so that there will be no stain on their conscious or liability for them, should you take a turn for the worse and exit the planet without permission.

I know depression…
Because of this life long battle, I have been privately introduced to the only One that knows me, sees me and understands my every thought. In light of this condition I whole heartedly admit without shame, that I know a God who is bigger than depression.

He speaks in beautiful pictures to my tired soul and gives me hope that I may have something of wonderment to give to this huge enraged world. When tears fall down my face and surround my heart over the passing of a loved one, the fallout with my child, the murder of another innocent black male, the sounds of war and dying children and other innocent lives, the racial tension back in full swing in my country, the death of my favorite actor…He tucks me under His wing and allows me to cry and begs me to write a message to my friends. Even when I can barely see my screen and I am suppressing my sobs. He brings me to a cottage just 200 feet from the ocean and sits me in a window seat and asks me to send a note of hope to those who know depression too. 

I know a God who does not mind my anger, or questions or stillness when I feel that I can do no more. He seems to show up in my dreams with abstract answers to concrete needs. I have clutched His hand for so long that I now know how to decipher such dreams and I find it humorous at times.

I know a God who knows that my favorite place on earth is with sand and waves. He paints blue skies and billowy white clouds along with seagulls and such for my entertainment. He invites me every year, come hell or high water. No matter what devastation that has occurred in my world and He saves a front row seat just for me. This year, He has clearly outdone Himself. Perhaps it was because of a most difficult season that I am just passing through or the fact that there are words that need to be re-awakened within me or simply because He loves me. This year is the best retreat so far.

My message to my friends and those who know my words:

If you know depression, you are not alone or odd or crazy or mentally unstable. You simply are at times, depressed. The key, the secret, the hope I have for you my friend before you decide that nothing else can be done and that the sun will never rise again or that war will never cease and religion has made us all mad with guilt and shame…the secret is to know someone, some force of Universal Awe greater than yourself. Know that there is no question too big or no tear too tiny for the God of the universe to answer, to touch, to wipe away.

I beg you, not to leave too soon. There is a message inside of you that we need to hear. Speak, from your pain. Speak from your joy. Simply, speak from your heart…we’re listening.

In loving memory of one of my favorite actors and all-around genius minds. I remember you today and all that you gave but sadly never received in return…

*There is no shame in needing medication, counseling or the listening ear of a friend, no shame at all.  I have done all three and am now content with the company of God and my closest friends.