TO CELEBRATE THE OCTOBER RELEASE OF MY BOOK THRASHING ABOUT WITH GOD, AND TO EXPAND THE CONVERSATION BEYOND MYSELF, I HAVE ASKED 31 BRAVE PEOPLE TO SHARE A GUEST POST WITH THE THEME OF #IAMTHRASHING. THESE ARE PEOPLE I HAVE PERSONALLY DIALOGUED WITH, PEOPLE WHO I KNOW HAVE RISKED A LOT TO WRESTLE WITH THE HARD STUFF THAT COMES WITH SPIRITUALITY. OUR FAITH MAY NOT LOOK LIKE YOURS, BUT WE WELCOME YOU TO THE DISCUSSION.
When I was invited to guest post for the #iamthrashing theme, I immediately said yes.
Then, I started hyperventilating.
Publicly dissecting the private thrashing of my spiritual life? What have I agreed to?! A thousand thoughts assaulted my senses forming fragmented statements that I was unable to lock into written form fast enough to remember. When this happens and I'm busy, I turn my back on the emotional onslaught because of the energy and time it demands. A few days later, I finally found some time; and there I sat in silence with a level head, an empty heart and the bare skeleton of the idea I was supposed to explore...but I had nothing. Not a word.
So I cheated and glanced at my ever trusty dictionary:
1. to beat soundly in punishment; to flog
2. to defeat thoroughly: the home team thrashed the visitors.
3. to force against a strong wind or sea.
Yes, this resonated loud and clear. Emotional and spiritual discipline. Even downright violence. The connotations the word implied matched my intuitive understanding, my experienced understanding. But I wasn't sure I could color it pretty right then... so I took a few more days to let the thoughts simmer. But still, I was drawing a blank. How do I thrash about with the ultimate almighty? Am I blanking because I don't really want to address this? Is my heart silent because the hurt has been buried too deep?
But then it happened. The thrash. And now I have a world of words to let gush out.
It was a Saturday afternoon, a day I am usually forced to waste away on sleep between my crazy weekend night shifts. But on this Saturday I decided to try to squeeze in a family birthday party. One that also included the church. That church. I knew the potential for emotional drama was ripe but I felt prepared, believing I was peacefully soaring above all former family turbulence that had affected me before. I had no anxiety; only a little sleep deprived crankiness that I was sure would be as short lived as the party itself. So when I went into a full throttle thrashing session I was completely taken by surprise.
I stepped into a past whose pain I mistakenly thought had dissipated and faced a myriad of unhealed hurts: hypocritical relationships flaunting their current 'rights' in the face of their past wrongs, hurting those around them without a care. Pushing me into a self-imposed attitude of judgment and blame. ::thrash::
Spiritual Perfection so twisted in appearance and behavior that it has me recoiling at the still fresh memories. Words spoken as if in constant profession of faith-status, making outsiders feel like impoverished lost souls. ::thrash::
I looked around me at the dizzying sea of denim dresses and long hair, witnessing modest words and mannerisms, observing the matching insecurity and criticism in the corner of every eye in the room. I wanted to run away. But I stayed and thrashed. I watched little girls twirling around in their free spirited innocence while covered in modesty long before ever even needing it. I stole glances at the quiet teenage girl with the baggy sweater and long skirt. She never stood up straight and never once smiled genuinely. I just wanted her to smile ::thrash thrash::
Oh the miserable pleasers we grow up to be when branded by religion, I thought... But feeling her shame as if it were my own I could do nothing but look away. I'm sure I once knew the effort it took to hide my newly developing body, too, but I can't seem to remember any of that. All I have now is the after effect of that time seared into my soul; because today I cannot, no matter how hard I try, practice the slightest shade of immodesty. In fact, I begged my own preteen daughter to at least wear her longer 'short shorts' out of respect that day. But then turned around and severely reprimanded myself for projecting my own guilt onto her. ::thrash::
I have faced this a thousand times. Why was this day so hard? I looked back at how far I'd come in creating the new personal parameters around my disappearing faith. These looked firm and stable. But with no good reason and no apparent provocation, they had suddenly come closing in on me: Christian claustrophobia. All I did was step into an environment that triggered every sensitivity, from all directions at once. I barely had a valid reason for my internal tantrum.
On the surface, nothing but friendly exchanges and happy smiles were passed around. But inside...? Inside I was on the verge of a meltdown. Thankfully, the meltdown came later and it remained internal (all except for the horrendous outbreak of acne, my TMJ flaring up, and the many hours losing more sleep than I could afford). I went home, curled up in bed for my second Saturday nap and cried myself to sleeplessness.
This simple snapshot is just that. A moment in time, multiplied by a lifetime of others. The layers beyond tell the bigger picture but I can only bear to frame it respectfully. Another curse of honor and obedience, I suppose. But yes. This is my past. This is my present. This is my thrashing.
Pray, forgive, love, the Christians would say...and yes, a million times yes...
But how does one continue to live in harmony with those now unacceptable standards and their invisible disapproval of me? And most importantly, can I love them from a difference? I am a Christian after all... as in: I'm not yet ready to disown the title that embodies my spirituality. It's just that I can no longer bear to share the description or the rigid fundamentalism of the cult I so painfully emerged from.
But in all honestly, I thrash about most violently when it comes to discrepancies between the church and foreign culture. And this is not limited to the more conservative Christianity. Not at all. I call myself an undercover expat because at first glance, you'd never know the cultural origin of my heart. I am a third-culture kid. As a result, I have found myself subject to conversations that would likely never be spoken in the presence of an obvious international.
I am continuously shaken up by words and attitudes expressed by the very people who profess the love of God most publicly. I have heard things I wish I could unhear by people who have unknowingly torn my faith to shreds. At least my faith in American Christianity. How can I, the girl with two countries, who was gifted with a multicultural understanding, sit and listen to demeaning comments, even those spoken innocently, that stand in the way of her beliefs? The way such words makes a foreign person feel is revolting.
I scream my indignation for every culture and race, not only my own. I will never understand why they seem to come most commonly from Christian leadership. This is the highest offense. But the deepest sadness is that it is rarely a conscious act. I bleed for all foreign hearts who must face this regularly, be it arrogance or innocent ignorance. And I dream of making a difference. The kind that says "I love you from a difference."
"I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity.
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin,
or his background, or his religion.
People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love,
for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Cursed with forgiveness, I tend to let things slide. Easily and repeatedly. But lately, I've changed. I'm not sure how it happened or when, but I can no longer let it go. I see the depth of hypocrisy so clearly it burns my eyes. I'm sometimes convinced it's a reflection of my own and so I thrash even harder. I miss the ignorant bliss of my climactic Christian faith, but if we all continue to live in such a place who will ever expose the truth for what it is? The saddest realization I faced was that the illusion of Christian love presented to me all my life, the one I came to idealize with very little help from anyone, was in fact a rarity, if not an outright illusion. Was I too literal in my understanding and my beliefs? Or maybe too childish and immature to understand that love is most often conditional? How could the very ones who teach this unconditional love change their rules on me? I still dance with the fantasy of the unconditional, of authenticity and of everlasting. But disillusion cuts in regularly and has been stepping on my toes for years. And I'm finally ready to kick back.
I know love is what's lacking and that its presence does not have to be expressed to be known. Neither does its absence. The Legibility of Love is intricately intuitive and not reserved for the English language or the American Church. Deep down, I know these ways are not the ways of my God. I thrash because I've been cursed with an insight I don't know how to express safely, non-aggressively...and so I write my way out of each silent thrashing. Between every line, this question:
God, where is the ever elusive thread of hope?
I am desperately looking for it, trying to unravel this messy patchwork of tangled truths and untruths. Hoping to reassemble a new ideal. To believe again in loving authentically, in loving from a difference...