Tag Archives: Loss

Refers to the loss of a loved one or other forms of loss

On Being Present

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

I briefly mentioned the book “Presence” by Amy Cuddy in my last blog post. I know that in that one I focused on the fact that I felt bad for “needing” to read a book like this to feel better about myself, but that wasn’t fair because it overlooked all of the great insights in the book. I learned a lot, and actually enjoyed it so much that I finished it off in less than a week.

In the notes that I wrote after I was finished, I summarized presence as “bringing your authentic self to a a situation”. In the first chapter Cuddy describes the struggles she endured after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, and how afterwards her difficulty with learning undermined her self-confidence. She talks about the times when she was so afraid about presenting her research that she clammed up and wasn’t able to express herself effectively. That is because, she said, that negative emotions like fear and anxiety cause us to become inward focused- we are not longer able to “be present” and really be focused on the ideas or message that we are trying to convey. Instead, we become hyper-focused on our own nervousness and sense of discomfort.

She also shares about how important authenticity is to people who are hiring other people or negotiating various business deals. People who are making decisions on whether to invest in a particular project stated that it was important for them to feel as though the person presenting the project really believed in what they were putting forth. In other words, they needed to show genuine enthusiasm for the idea. They also didn’t like to see people who seemed to be “trying too hard” or were pushy or aggressive. Interestingly enough, they said they didn’t mind if the person was a little nervous because “they’re doing something big, something that matters to them” so it makes sense if they feel a little nervous.

Throughout the rest of the book, Amy Cuddy expresses how we can reclaim our personal power and “bring your boldest self to your biggest challenges”. We can do things like practicing yoga and “power posing”, which is scientifically proven to increase testosterone (the hormone associated with greater risk taking and initiative) and decrease cortisol (the “stress hormone”). Even doing simple things like sitting up straighter and using more open, relaxed posture can increase our sense of confidence and feelings of being grounded. We can also use imagery techniques like picturing ourselves flying or just imagining ourselves performing difficult tasks with pride and enthusiasm before we go out and actually do them.

With this year coming to a close, it is common for people to be considering what kinds of “New Years’ Resolutions” that they will be making. Miss Cuddy explains why this doesn’t actually work too well for us. The goals we set are too lofty and ambitious. For example if we plan to “exercise three days a week” and we aren’t able to fully meet this goal (we only go once or twice) it tends to lead to us abandoning the goal altogether. She says that instead- and she uses herself with running as an example- that we should give ourselves small “nudges”. We should say, “Today, I’ll eat healthy” or “I’ll stretch for 15 minutes”. Those incremental changes can in the end lead to big results, without us feeling like we have resolutions hanging over our heads like a threat.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve been reading the book and trying to implement some of the principles, I’ve been experiencing less depression and more confidence. There’s a chapter in there that’s titled “I Don’t Deserve to Be Here” that goes over “imposter syndrome”. It explains how people in all sorts of careers and fields often have a pervasive feeling that they are “fake”, or that their positions in life have more to do with “luck” than with their own talents. These feelings of “being an imposter” tend to increase- rather than decrease- with every new achievement. I can definitely relate to having these feelings. Even though objectively I’m doing well in school and I’m handling my life well, the sense of “wrongness” persists. I find myself asking myself “what now?” every time that I achieve something good. The better the grade, the more I think that the teacher may have given it to me in error. Knowing that other people are struggling with these emotions- and that they have nothing to do with objective reality- I can reject these feelings and instead begin to celebrate my accomplishments. I can tell myself, “Actually, you do deserve to be here.

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No Regrets?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote at the end of my last entry that I “have no regrets” about moving away from Christianity, and I realize that that isn’t totally true. I don’t actually feel like I’ve made the wrong choice, but there are some unfortunate things that have come into my life from making this choice.

#1: Isolation

I’ll be the first to say that the sense of alienation is probably mainly caused by me. My family and Christians in my life who know about my situation haven’t tried to push me away, but I’ve found myself feeling somewhat distant from them. The most typical reactions from my Christian friends who’ve found out about my doubts, is to offer to pray for me or just to imply that this is simply something that I’m “going through” and I will come out on the other side with renewed faith and a better relationship with God. There is no denying that there is a certain dismissiveness- and in some cases condescension- in these statements, but I understand that they do not at all come from a place of malice or judgement.

Anyway, despite everyone being relatively welcoming- and as supportive as they can be- I’ve chosen not to attend any more Christian groups and to limit my attendance at Sunday service. This has been really hard, because church has always been a safe, comfortable environment for me to socialize with people. I’ve tried looking into other groups but I haven’t been able to make a lot of progress with my search so far. Trying to find a new social circle to be involved with is really hard, especially for me as a relatively introverted person who has a lot of anxiety about driving to new places.

#2: Self-doubt/anxiety

Even as a I grow more comfortable in my “state of disbelief”, there are still moments when I wonder if I’m really wrong. I wonder if there’s a loving, all-powerful Creator-God of heaven whose kind embrace I am withholding myself from, or if alternatively, there is an omnipotent tyrant in the sky whose wrath I am inciting by my actions. Often the benevolent and fearful God are described as being one and the same, and at any rate, I feel that I must be displeasing Him. In doing so, I am also displeasing his followers- and that includes close members of my family.

At best I feel like a disappointment- at worst I feel that I may be in peril of “gaining the whole world and losing my soul” as Jesus was said to have said. I have to often remind myself that the idea of being cast into a burning lake of fire for eternity on the basis of mere belief or disbelief, is frankly absurd. If there is an afterlife, surely, our lives would be judged on the basis of our actions, and even if our actions were truly reprehensible they could not merit eternal punishment.

In some religions, being a truly horrible person just means that at some point your soul would be destroyed and you would no longer be reincarnated. Even though this is also a permanent punishment, the one punished does not in effect suffer for all eternity- they simply cease to be. That may be frightening as well, but, in the end, it’s all speculation. No one really knows what happens to us after this life- and that means that any number of things could be true, or none of them. Basing my entire life on any one assumption by itself sounds a lot like putting my eggs into one basket.

That being said, even though I’ve reasoned this all out quite neatly, hearing sermons about “losing this life” or even just offhand comments from Christians about hell and eternity can trigger all sorts of low-key nervous feelings in me. Sometimes, even without hearing these statements, the feelings can be triggered indirectly by random flashbacks to messages that have been drilled into my head for years. Even after separating oneself from the religion, one can still feel lingering feelings of guilt, shame, or “wrongness” that don’t seem to have any specific point of origin.

#3: Feeling lost

I used to pray a lot for strength and guidance, and sometimes, I still do. Now, though, I don’t have a very specific idea of who I’m praying to, and what it all means. In the past, praying to God for help with something also meant “putting it in His hands” which meant willfully choosing not to worry or be concerned with it. It meant quoting scriptures that detailed his “promises”, “meditating on the word” and choosing to praise, worship, and trust Him for the desired result. There was a certain element of “spiritual warfare” which included praying together with other people, and speaking out against any thoughts of doubt that might enter my mind.

If that sounds like a lot of work, in some cases it was. The draw of it all was that I felt that someone was listening- I felt that a Higher power was going to intervene on my behalf. Sometimes I felt literally refreshed and felt a sense of inner peace when praying. Even though I would still experience indecision, I used to believe that God was going to “work everything together for good.”

Now, I still believe in a higher power, but I believe that his/her/its role in human life is somewhat limited. I feel that I can seek guidance from this Force, but in the end a lot of the forward motion in my life is left up to me. This is both empowering and sobering. I now believe that I can’t just pray for things to be better, but I have to be the change that I want to see in the world. I believe that the Divine works through frail human lives to bring about good on this earth. I don’t believe that God has any sort of physical form, but rather is the life-giving force that exists in all of us. So in that sense, he/she/it isn’t really a “person” that we can implore to do this or that.

Another thing I now believe is in my own insignificance. I am not better or more deserving than anyone in this world, and being extremely devout isn’t going to stop bad things from happening to me. I also don’t believe that good or bad events are being orchestrated by some Divine Being. God was silent during the massacres in Sudan and Rwanda, the Holocaust, and havoc that occurred from the “Holy Wars” of the medieval times. There were- and are- times when peoples’ faith/religious convictions implored them to help others. Many Christians helped to hide Jews, but on the other hand, after it was over, the Catholic church was hiding Nazis and aiding in their escape. Religion is neither good nor bad, but good or bad people alike use it to justify their actions. What does that really say about it all?

It’s easy to get lost in this world. It’s easy for me to wonder if anything I do in life really matters. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the possibility that this life really is the only one that we have- that there’s no do-overs, that there’s no heaven for the righteous, no hell for the sinners, that we all simply get put in the ground and then we’re either remembered or forgotten. When I think about it like that, I have to ask myself if I’m really living the life that I want to live. It’s easy to wonder- “what are they going to say about me after I’ve died?” What legacy am I going to leave?

Not having any idea about any of it, or any romantic paradigm in which to frame things, is really hard. This is my reality, though, and I have to face it. So yes, there have been some regrets- but there’s no turning back now. I feel like I’ve seen a glimpse at the truth, and I don’t want fairy tales anymore. I’ve had some incredible good fortune in my life, and as great as it would be to think that that was due to my personally assigned guardian angel, I don’t know if I can tell myself that I’m that special.

I’m not special. I’m just me.

It’s a Slow Fade

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I gradually began to attend my church group less and less. At first, I used school as a [legitimate] excuse, but now that we’re in the middle of the summer break, I really don’t have anything in my schedule to prevent me from attending.

There is nothing preventing me in my schedule, but there’s a whole lot more preventing me in my heart.

So when a combination of boredom and loneliness compelled me to attend “one last time”, I got in my car and went. It turns out that my indecision had made me even later than I realized, and I had missed out on the food and socializing and arrived just in time for the service to start. Also, my indecision had caused me to fail to realize that the first of the month was worship night- there would be no sermon, just more than an hour of worship.

The pull for me to be involved, to shout and dance and sing with all the rest, was strong, but I remained a very subdued version of my former self. I sat quietly and watched the lyrics playing across the screens, scoped out the atmosphere of the room. I felt like an outsider in this room of people who were being “moved by the spirit.” On top of the stage behind the singers there was a young man painting a picture- “prophetic painting” as it has been so named. I focused on him for some of the time, too- how he carefully fleshed out what was actually a beautiful design. I tried to just allow myself to enjoy the music and be at peace.

Of course, if I focused too hard on the words, the weight of my new beliefs became once again apparent to me. I could no longer objectively sing “you gave yourself for me” or “you died so I could live” when I no longer believed that blood sacrifice was necessary for someone to be “clean” in the eyes of God. I couldn’t say “I sing because You are good” if I was singing to the Christian God, because I am not convinced that the God of the Bible (or Koran) is good. I couldn’t pray to the Christian God when I wasn’t sure if He was alive and well to answer- or if there was evidence that He really cared if He was.

In fact, the more I travel along my spiritual/idealogical journey, the less evidence I have for believing in “hidden agency” at all (see more here ) Hidden agency is a term used to describe the belief system that suggests that hidden/invisible “agents” are influencing visible agents/elements in our world- such as believing that natural disasters are caused by angels/wrath of God or disease is caused by evil spirits. It also could be expanded to include the idea that the dead walk among us as unseen spirits. Either way, the more I see, the more that I am convinced that the whole idea of invisible forces somehow influencing our world is extremely subjective, and that the ideas vary so greatly across cultures that it is impossible for them all to be factual.

In the same way, I’m starting to believe that other mystical beliefs- such as a belief in karma or the belief in the law of attraction may be equally problematic. Bad things still happen to good people, and some bad people seem to prosper and to go unpunished. Also, if we believe that people can somehow “attract” or “repel” things into their lives by performing unrelated actions or rituals, it perpetuates the belief that victims of misfortune are somehow to blame for their own victimization or “bad luck”. While it is true to an extent that your “attitude determines your altitude” and “the man who says he can, and the man who says that he can’t, are probably both right” there are times when determination alone cannot enable you to succeed. It doesn’t mean that you’re “wrong” or “broken” or you just need to “think positive.” I believe that part of life is trying your very best- but also knowing your limits.  So in other words I believe in “pragmatic optimism”- in having high hopes but also being firmly centered in reality. So as Hayley Williams put it, “keep your feet on the ground, with your head in the clouds.”

Of course, I still have my faults. When things seem to go strangely well, I want to thank someone “above” for it all having gone out smoothly. When I think of something I’d like or need, and it is shortly thereafter provided to me, I’d like to think it was a synchronicity– that somehow the universe was rewarding me for having that thought or desire. It feels weird after years of being raised so religiously not to perceive hidden agency on multiple occasions in the course of a day.

It makes sense too, that if we think hidden agency is involved when good things happen, we tend to apply it to the bad things as well. If we end up not being so “lucky” and we aren’t able to avoid the car accidents, physical assaults, losses, and diseases- and especially if we suffer many of these things in a short time frame- we wonder what we’ve done “wrong” to “deserve” such misfortune. We may blame generational curses, hexes, poor attitudes, karma, etc., but the truth is we don’t have solid proof for these claims, only circumstantial evidence as it were.

So really as I left the church this time, I couldn’t say for certain that I would never go back but my experience has permanently changed. For me, my deconversion has been less of  a “shocking sever” and more of a “slow fade” like the one mentioned in the Casting Crowns song.

The song goes like this;

It’s a slow fade / When you give yourself away / It’s a slow fade / When black and white turn to gray / When thoughts invade / Choices are made / A price will be paid / When you give yourself away / People never crumble in a day…

It’s strange that they’re warning about falling into sin/falling from faith, and I’m using their lyrics to positively describe my deconversion. I do believe there is a price to be paid for leaving the faith, in terms of the loss of relationships, the loneliness, the self-doubt, and the guilt, but if you’re able to go all the way through with it that in the end you’re much better off.

“Hey God, it’s me, ________.”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

“Hey God, It’s Me, Margaret” was a coming-of-age book written by author Judy Blume. It chronicled the life of a young girl who moved from New York to New Jersey (I think) and was being raised by areligious parents; her mother was raised Catholic and her father was raised Jewish. She had a wonderful relationship with her grandmother on her father’s side, but her mother’s parents had all but disowned their daughter after she decided to marry a Jew.

Margaret doesn’t tell anyone about her fervent prayers to the heavens- her parents want her to wait until she’s older to decide which religion she wants to follow (if any at all). Her prayers are of the typical self-absorbed teenager variety- she prays to “get her period” and for boys to like her and to do well with assignments in school. At one point in the novel she gets upset with God when He doesn’t seem to answer her prayers and refuses to talk with Him anymore.

Well right now, whenever I try to pray, I feel like I’m behaving exactly like little self-absorbed tweenage Margaret- my requests for more strength when I feel overwhelmed seem so pathetic. There are moments when I’m confronted with just how privileged I am and I wish that I could just slap myself.

I know, I know- it’s true that just because I haven’t suffered as much as someone else, it doesn’t make my suffering any less valid. That’s not the point. The point is that if I were to go around preaching the power of a positive attitude to make everything okay- which I don’t, by the way- I would definitely be giving out false platitudes.

Let’s backtrack a little and I’ll talk about what brought this on (besides my feeling pathetic already).

Last night, at around midnight, I couldn’t sleep (due to drinking copious amounts of Coke Zero) and so I fixed myself a bowl of cereal and turned on the radio. BBC World News was on and they were talking about a practice in southern Malawi concerning girls who reach puberty. These girls are given a few sex education courses, then turned over to a “hyena”- a man who is literally paid to have sex with these children- for three days for their “initiation” and “cleansing.” This cleansing is supposed to educate the girls in sex so that they can please their future husbands, and also protect their families and villages from bad fortune.

If you thought that was bad, it gets worst- during this ritual it is required that no protection be used. The “hyena” that BBC interviewed was actually HIV positive and deliberately hid that fact from the parents of the girls he “serviced”. So not only are these girls subjected to rape and possible unwanted pregnancy, they are also exposed to any of the diseases that the “hyena” may be carrying.

I think about things like this a lot when I think about our Westernized “health and wealth” gospel.  Here I am praying to get through the work day (and “claiming blessings” for myself), and a 13-year old somewhere across the world is probably praying to make it through 3 days of sex with a man she doesn’t even know. If she refuses, she is said to be endangering her village- think about that kind of pressure.

I also think about things like that- and the religious/cultural beliefs that are behind them. It’s been proven time and time again that people will do amazingly horrific and harmful things in defense of a tradition. For us here in the Western world, these practices- and others, like female genital mutilation, child marriage, and child slavery- are unthinkable, but for people in these cultures it is simply “the way we do things”.

So now I wonder how many things that are acceptable in Western nations today may be equally as barbaric? (Think conversion therapy, forced sex reassignment of intersex infants, male circumcision, and other unnecessary/ineffective medical procedures by greedy doctors).

I cannot believe that a God who is all-powerful and yet does nothing to help the people who are going through these atrocities. Yet I cannot accept a God who is helpless, either- and that’s where my responsibility comes in.

I am not helpless.

I can use my position of privilege and influence to actually make a difference for someone somewhere in the world. If I am able-bodied and able-minded, then it’s for a purpose. No one should have to go through what these children in Malawi are going through but the stubborn tribal leaders insist on telling the people that these unhealthy practices are actually for the good of all the parties involved. If we by word of mouth raise our voices in dissent of these practices maybe we can put pressure on the people to change. The leadership has to be forced to change their stance on these issues.

So now I think it’s time for me to change the way I pray. I need to expand my vision beyond just the limited perimeter of my neighborhood. I need to get out of the mindset of “barely getting by”. I need to stop hiding.

Here’s a quote.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us. We ask ourselves; Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually who are you NOT to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. -Marianne Williamson

I want to be that light that shines in the world. No more prayers just to make it through the day, or fix that relationship, or what should I do if X invites me to a party and I don’t want to go. That’s small stuff. No more being apologetic just for being, so embarrassed by my own existence that I practically beg to be rescued from it. I won’t be Margaret, and turn my back on God when I don’t appear to get my way- and I also won’t ask God to do for me what he/she/it has already empowered me to do for myself.

It’s time for change.

“All Lives Matter”? Yes, we know.

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

The one time I saw #alllivesmatter used offline was on the back window of a pick-up truck as I was preparing to join the highway. Notably enough, there was also a Confederate Flag sticker almost directly next to it. I really don’t think this should come as a suprise to anyone, and I’m going to tell you why. It’s because saying “all lives matter” as innocuous as it seems to be when taken at face value, has a hideous context when its used as a blanket statement to silence people of the #blacklivesmatter movement- or just anyone who speaks up for black lives in general.

It pretty much goes without saying that “all lives matter”- but #blacklivesmatter was created because it was- and is- a lot less obvious that the lives of people of color are of any value at all. Sure, white people are stilled killed by police more than black people- but percentage-wise, black people are killed by police two and a half times more often than their white counterparts.

It wouldn’t be necessary to make a big fuss about the full moon being in the sky on the expected night- but have that moon turn to blood and people are going to start talking. As it is right now, blood is being shed- particularly that of African American men- and people are not coming up with sufficient answers as to why. Why would a police officer find it justifiable to shoot a man four times, when the man plainly stated that he was reaching for his wallet? Did the color of his skin indicate that he could not be trusted or believed, even with his girlfriend and four year-old daughter looking on? How could police justify restraining an unarmed man and then shooting him- while he was still restrained?

So yes, all lives matter- everyone knows that. We’re just not so sure if you know that black lives are a part of all lives. We don’t criticize your assertion that all lives matter- we criticize your use of #alllivesmatter as a way of undermining the validity of #blacklivesmatter and other related movements.

A parallel for this is feminism as it is defined by its adherents. It is often defined as a movement for equality across the sexes. So some could argue, “Why emphasize females in the title, then?” The reason is quite clear- it’s because it is females overall that are suffering the most from the inequality. It’s called feminism to bring attention to the fact that females are struggling the most with gaining visibility and acceptance, even though the struggle extends to some men as well.

In the same way, saying “black lives matter” doesn’t mean that only black lives matter, it’s only trying to emphasize what seems to be lost to many people in this country- black lives matter, too. It’s interesting to note that #alllivesmatter only popped up after #blacklivesmatter had gained momentum, providing further evidence of the divisive and undermining nature of it.

A female police officer was upset because some people took offense at a picture of her with her daughter, with the caption “her life matters”. Again, it’s important to note that nobody was upset at her message- that she loved her daughter and that her life was valuable- but rather at her choice of words. Affixing “her life matters” to the picture- especially since she was a police officer- was yet another subtle attempt at erasure of the #blacklivesmatter movement. Saying “her life matters” made it seem like saying “black lives matter” was just trite and redundant- of course black lives matter, just like the life of a daughter of a police officer. As I’ve pointed out, however, people in a privileged position like that of the officer’s daughter cannot be fairly compared to people of color who are being jailed in mass quantities and being shot unarmed in the streets. The government system- and in some ways the general public as well- are clearly valuing some lives over others, and that needs to be acknowledged- not just tossed aside by the banal, empty assurances like those given who support #alllivesmatter.

So yes, we know; all lives matter. The only problem is that not everyone seems to know or believe that, and movements like #blacklivesmatter are going to continue to be necessary until we have fully erased inequality and injustice.

No Father But God: Hyperreligious Upbringing, the Orlando Shooting, and Picking Up the Pieces

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

As you all know, today is Father’s day. It is also one week since the shootings in Orlando. I didn’t expect to be talking about either Father’s Day or the Orlando shooting but the two are in some ways interrelated subjects for me.

I didn’t intentionally visit church on Father’s Day, even though my custom has been to attend church mainly on the holidays now, and I always have something to write about when I come home. As far as the sermon goes, however, there were less controversies for me to pick at than there usually are, and I actually quite enjoyed the service. I was moved to tears at the end when men gave their testimonies about how fellowship with God and people had changed their lives for the better.

Father’s Day hasn’t meant a lot to me, except this time around it’s made me quite aware of my father’s absence in my life. My father does not celebrate holidays- in response to  verses in Galatians that say that those who “regard days, months, times, and years” are in a kind of bondage. I guess that’s the same verse that the Jehovah’s Witnesses must use to support their rejection of holiday celebrations, but I’ve never been too sure.

Father’s Day has a unique “double rejection” for my dad, because of yet another Biblical passage- Matthew 23:9;

“And call no man your father upon the earth, for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”

So for all of my life, I have literally been unable to call my dad “Father” or “Dad” or “Daddy” and have instead called him by his last name. My dad has stated more than once that he doesn’t want anything to do with Father’s day, because he isn’t my father- God is.

Of course, that didn’t stop him from doing any of the things that a father would do, such as disciplining us or making decisions on our behalf. It didn’t stop him from quoting “children obey your parents” if he thought we’d be disobedient.

I also can’t neglect to mention that my childhood wasn’t all seriousness- my dad also did the “fun” or “nurturing” things too, cooking for us, taking care of us, taking us to the park, on vacations, etc. Regardless of whether he allowed himself to be a father in title didn’t stop him from being a father in deeds, and I think that matters so much more when it all comes down to it. I knew he was my father, I just knew that God was my father too and on a higher level of importance.

Now my ideas about my “heavenly Father” have definitely shifted, and in the mean time my relationship with my “earthly father” is on the rocks. To be honest, I find it incredibly distressing to be around him. Whenever I do communicate with him things are formal and strained. I know of course that in some way or another he does care about me very much- without his help I wouldn’t be living on my own right now- but on the other hand he doesn’t have any respect for my emotional needs and tends to minimize the things that I am interested in. His philosophy seems to be, “We can talk- when you see things my way” and really any conversation “we” have is dominated by him.

Honestly, one of the first things I did when I heard about the Orlando shooting was pictured my dad sitting in his seat passing judgment on those people, saying that God was responsible for their destruction. I guess there’s nothing really that shocking about any of that, when he thinks that God wields total and complete control over every event that happens on earth. So basically anyone who dies young like that has their own sin- or some familial sin- as the root cause of it. Honestly I am sickened when I think about that.

I wonder, why, though, that it matters to me so much. I’m reminded of a time shortly after the death of Heath Ledger, when my mom and I were watching the news and we saw how Westboro church was protesting at his funeral and the funerals of gay soldiers. I told my mom, “I think that’s highly inappropriate” and my dad came down to stand at the top of the stairs and demanded,

“Who said that?”

I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I said it.”

He said,

“Take that back right now!”

I said, “I will not.”

So my dad came until he was looking me straight in the face and said that he was going to hit me if I didn’t take it back. He said,

“I said several things that would be called inappropriate after about the death of [your brother]- take it back.” I stared him down for a minute. Finally, not wanting to test him any further, I said in disgust, “Fine, I take it back.”

I think I complained to my mom and she just told me,

“If he told you to take it back, you should’ve taken it back. You might not think it’s okay what they’re doing, but it’s not alright how the gay people are making a shrine out there (Heath Ledger’s hotel room).”

I remained in a sour mood for a while and then couldn’t concentrate on anything I was doing for hours.

A few days later after battling back and forth about it, I actually told my dad that I was sorry for disagreeing with him. He told me,

“I was trying to protect you. If you say things like that that displease God, you might be putting yourself in danger and I would be in danger too if I didn’t stop you.”

I just said, “Oh” but something felt off.

Well now I know what that “something” was. I was just being told from someone who was being abusive and intimidating that he was really doing a kind thing to protect me from the wrath of God. That’s a typical justification for abuse from angry, controlling men- they’re supposedly concerned with the greater good of the women they’re abusing, when really their main concern is about maintaining control and having their own way.

Anyway, back to the events of Orlando. You have some people- like my dad- who say that the gay people deserved what they got or were being punished. Then on the one hand you have so-called “religious hypocrites” who with one breath denounce the events in Orlando and in the other breath push for legislation that limits the rights of LGBTQIA people. Then finally you have the religious (and nonreligious) people who accept the LGBTQIA community, fight for their rights and continue their longstanding tradition of support for the community by denouncing acts of hate like the shooting in Orlando. I’m going to shift focus to the “middle” group we’re talking about here- the ones who are being denounced as “hypocrites”.

As a former Christian, I’m going to be the first to say that just because I feel that my religion does not condone a particular lifestyle, does not mean that I think that any human being deserves to be murdered in cold blood. The Bible as a whole teaches that homosexuality is a sin (and don’t forget, so does the Quaran). People that argue that “Well, Jesus didn’t condemn the adulteress” also fail to mention that he told her “sin no more.”

As for the “that was the old testament, Jesus brought the new covenant” then don’t forget that He said, “I did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it”. He was said to have kept every letter of the law perfectly.

Now, even with that being said, it’s important to note that Jesus taught absolutely nothing about homosexuality. All that we know about it we know from the books of Moses and the Pauline epistles. None of us is totally sure how Jesus would’ve handled the subject if he was approached with it. We also know that despite the Bible saying that Jesus was “without fault” He seemed to have circumvented one of the ten commandments- the one regarding “Remember the Sabbath day, keep it holy” almost dismissively saying “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”. He was a revolutionary in every sense of the word and enraged and puzzled the religious authorities of his time. I think he would’ve had that very same effect on the world religious leaders of the current time had he been born and lived in our modern century.

So I’m not saying that you can’t be a Christian if you support homosexuality, or you’re not a true Christian if you don’t. I think the issue is a lot more complicated and multi-faceted than that. I do feel however that putting aside my religious constraints has opened me up to being more accepting of LGBTQIA people and of myself as a bisexual female. I no longer concern myself with whether or not homosexuality is sinful. Instead I just ask,

1) Is this something we’re born with?

2) Is this something we can change?

3) Is this something we should change or treat as a mental illness?

My research has determined that, yes, it is something we’re born with, no, it’s not something we can change, and no, we should not attempt to alter it or treat it like a mental illnesss. That being said, sexuality is something you “discover” so it makes sense if it would seem to shift or change over time, or it would be expressed in different ways in different circumstances.

Most us agree that what happened in Orlando was a horrible thing, but most people have very opposing viewpoints on why it happened. Was Omar Mateen radicalized by ISIS over the internet? Was he conflicted about his own sexuality and therefore overly hostile to gay people? Was he simply a confused, deranged individual who suffered from some kind of mental illness?

I have my own theories, but I don’t feel any need to divulge them here. The bottom line is that most of us- regardless of religious orientation- are upset about what happened there. Young people had their lives snuffed out prematurely by a murderer who claimed allegiance to terrorism abroad- but never displayed any consistency in his accounts of who he was supposedly working for. Hezbollah and ISIS are enemies- he claimed them both. His wife- who had been on the receiving end of some of his violent outbursts- says that even she didn’t see this coming. People thought they saw him fraternizing at the Pulse before the shooting, but maybe he was really just scoping the place out in preparation for the attack?

We may never know the truth, which makes it that much harder for the families of the victims to experience closure. However, the only thing we can do now is look ahead to the future. I know that’s what I’m going to be doing.

I Believe…

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I was just lying my on my couch a little while ago trying to recover from a week of finals, running around, and work. Even though I’ve been on the fence about faith I decided to toss up a prayer to God for my brother and his family, for the rest of my immediate family, and for a ton of other things in general.

Somewhere in the middle of my praying- and this was pretty much out loud talking to the ceiling- I had an epiphany. I don’t choose to worship Yahweh/Jehovah/Allah/JudeoChristian deity but that doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in God.

I know, I’ve mentioned before that “recovering from religion” didn’t have to mean a total loss of faith but I think I was just trying to say it just to make myself believe it. Now, it’s real to me. I’m not a Christian anymore. I don’t believe in a seven day creation, partings of the Red Sea, an Israeli Exodus from Egypt, the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, the Resurrection, the Final Judgment or the Second Coming but I sure as heck do believe in a god. I believe that some Benevolent Force has intervened in my life for the better. I believe that Something gave me strength when I had totally given up. I also believe that this “something” isn’t going to let me down.

So, I repeat- I’m not a Christian anymore. And it’s okay.

I kind of thought that my deconversion would be some kind of huge deal. I would need to shout it from the mountaintops, tell the whole world that I was now a “proud unbeliever”.  In the end, though it was a lot more like my “conversion” than I would’ve expected. There was no bright light, no audible voice, no burning bush; it just sort of “happened”. My faith in Christianity just became more and more eroded until there was pretty much none left.

That being said, I still consider myself a part of Christian culture. I still like Christian music, tend to dress with a certain bit of modesty, try to live by the golden rule, and am a little bit prudish about sex. Of course, none of those things makes me a Christian, and all of those things are subject to changing.

All of this time, I have been so terrified of how I would answer if someone asked, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God?” like saying “no” would somehow bring the wrath of God down directly on my head. Like I’ve said before, I believe that we are all as much children of God as Jesus was/is. I don’t, however, believe that he’s up there looking down at us, watching what we do, defending us, etc. I don’t believe that literal physical resurrection is really possible in the kind of circumstances that Jesus died under.

Sure, I’ve also said that if God is God he/she/it can do anything- supposedly. Due to the problems that the idea of an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God makes, I choose not to believe that my God is all of these things. I believe he/she/it has influence over creation, was ultimately responsible for bringing life into the universe, but isn’t the overreaching ruler of it.

I also choose not to invalidate anyone’s personal spiritual experiences. Iyanla saw the spirit of her dead mother in the mirror once, encouraging her and telling her she was beautiful. She also heard an audible voice telling her to leave her husband before her husband could kill her. She also had a dream about her son- at the same time that her daughter had a similar dream- and they went looking for him and it saved him from death. She is a yoruba priestess. I believe that God can speak to anyone, regardless of culture or beliefs, and that there are fragments of him/her/it in every religion. (Of course I’m not sure I’m too cool with the Aztecs and their human sacrifice, but I guess if you’re going to be sacrificing animals to the gods why not people, too?)

I know that I felt God- my god– in my house today when I prayed, for the first time in a long time. I believe he/she/it has always been with me, watching over me, guiding my actions and influencing people in my favor.

Of course, I acknowledge that maybe God isn’t the reason behind people’s intuition or their clairvoyant and spiritual experiences, that maybe there is something weird or metaphysical going on that science hasn’t really gotten a hold of yet. Maybe we are all causing these in ourselves somehow, but I’m really not confident enough in that hypothesis to turn it into a theory yet. UK performer Derren Brown was able to convincingly imitate a seance, interpreting people’s dreams, reading minds, and causing people to “be slain in the spirit” all through “mind tricks”. He was an atheist at the time and remains one to this day. His documentary “Messiah” that showed him doing these things gave me a lot to think about, but it didn’t convince me totally that all supernatural phenomenon are just man-made.

One of the things that I prayed for was the strength to just be able to stand in my own truth, to be totally honest with myself first before I worry about being honest with other people. I don’t want to ever forget who I am again, to go back to being the confused and divided person that I was before. I don’t want to ever embrace hyperreligiosity again as a defense when things happen that I don’t understand- like when we received news of my brother’s death.

I remember having doubts about Christianity for years and years now, but I could never form those doubts into a cohesive statement of- ironically- belief. Now I never want to ever look back again. I don’t see how I could.

A Letter to my Formerly Religious Self

Originally posted here.

Dear Formerly Religious Self,

At first you will not understand why your doubts and disaffection about your faith came when they did. Your life was just starting to look up. You had been steady on a good job, just nabbed your first apartment, and were doing well in school. Life had its challenges, but you could honestly say that you were happy and that things were going well.

You were not “angry at God.” On the contrary, in many ways you were certain that you’d been blessed with good fortune, and you could acknowledge that there is something higher than you that maybe you didn’t understand.

I think in the end, that’s the main key- your religion just wasn’t making sense. Partings of the Red Sea, water being turned into wine, walking on water, resurrection of the dead; if these things really happened, why did they suddenly cease? Why did God decide to stop making his powers evidently seen in the world?

Oh, by this point you’d heard all about how God still does miracles today, but there are far more tales of people “losing their healing”, or dying without seeing the miracle, with a myriad of unsatisfactory excuses made to explain these phenomena.

As you continued your investigations, you would see that the Church in many ways stood in the way of social justice around the world. Christianity and the other two monotheistic religions have been used as excuses to commit genocide, promote racism and slavery, and deny women the right to vote, stand up for themselves in domestic disputes, and earn as much as their male counterparts. The Catholic church in recent times has also been responsible for such atrocities as hiding Nazi war criminals and sweeping sexual abuse of children by its priests under the rug.

You will struggle with the idea of whether or not to simply attribute these things to human error and decide that God is still absolute and infallible, or decide that the Judeo-Christian God is not the one you wish to worship at all.

You will tell few people of the things that you struggle with, especially careful to mask your rising discontent from family and friends. Secretly, however, you will act as a woman obsessed and soak up whatever material you can about God, religion, spirituality, and feminism.

At first, you will feel guilty for all of this. You will feel ashamed, and you will long for the comforting familiarity of the faith. You will be told by some of those few that you have chosen to confide in that you are simply going through a phase and that you will come through it. Soon, you will realize that it is not a phase.

You will realize that you may be comfortable with choosing to maintain some elements of Christian morality, but you will also find a new freedom to explore things that you’ve long repressed, such as your sexuality.

Gradually, you will start opening up about your opinions on various matters, even if it’s only online at first. You’ll learn to be proud of who you are and not feel like you’re betraying someone by living out your own dream.

It’s not going to be easy for you, but, you’ll eventually get to that place of comfort in your own identity. It’s an identity that you’ve been denied the right to express for most of your early life.

Keep your head up. You’re strong. It may be confusing, but you’re going to make it. Changing doesn’t have to mean losing everything or everyone you care about, but more or less like gaining new acquaintances and friends and a fresh world outlook.

Sincerely,

A Woman Apart

Submit a letter to your formerly religious self here.

A Demon In My Place of Prayer

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I was recently informed that one of my co-workers would be absent from work for a week because his father died. I was shocked and dismayed by this news because the two of them were very close. He had chosen to live with his father instead of his mother following his parents’ divorce. Also, my co-worker is a very introverted and private individual who isn’t close to that many people.

The news is just that much more shocking because my co-worker was recently expressing doubt about whether or not he should have pressured his father to remain in the hospital after he experienced a health crisis and was admitted to the ER. In the end he decided that if his father wouldn’t listen to the advice of the doctor or nurses to stay in the hospital that obviously no one in the family would be able to convince him. Knowing this detail- which i was actually surprised that my co-worker confided in me- makes me all that much more worried about him because it possibly opens the door a little bit for him to blame himself about what happened to his father.

The strange part is, even with all these thoughts going through my mind, I didn’t instinctively react with prayer. Actually, I had thought of praying when I got news of the first health crisis, but something deep inside stopped me. Praying about things like this doesn’t seem like a practical solution for me now. I suppose this is mostly because I no longer have a tangible and concrete conception of God, and even when I thought I did I am only reminded of how wavering my trust in Him was.

I suppose in many ways I feel helpless, but I feel as though I can’t really draw strength from a God I no longer understand and maybe don’t really believe in. I also know that maybe I could encourage my co-worker- and really he is my friend, too- with platitudes about how his father is in heaven, but I don’t know what kind of afterlife I do believe in and I don’t know which one he believes in either. I feel like any encouragement I could give of a theistic nature only raises more questions, such as “If this is God’s will, then why?” Also, if it wasn’t His will, then it raises the question, “What could I have done differently?”

Ultimately I know that no form of consolation could really compensate for this big of a loss in my friend’s life, but I do know that I want to be helpful to him during this difficult time. I think that it’s during the hard times that what we’re made of really shows, though, and ultimately I have faith in his ability to cope with this.

In many ways I believe in “human resiliency” and the ability of the spirit to brace itself in the toughest of times. I’ve been reading some interesting literature about this, namely Iyanla Vanzant’s “Yesterday, I Cried”.

She is a priestess of the old Nigerian religion of Yoruba, that basically teaches that there is a universal Creator-Spirit that made the world, and each of us has a spiritual side of ourselves that is a part of this universal spirit. The ultimate goal of life is to unify your Spiritual Self with your regular personality. You are to repeatedly attempt this through each of the lifetimes you are granted (I suppose this indicates an element of reincarnation) until you have truly transcended and are one with the Creator-spirit. It is said that those who are unable to unify their two Selves go into some sort of “pit of potsherds” which I assume is a kind of hell.

Anyway, Iyanla talks about having a struggle because she forgot to think her “Self” (yes, capital ’S’) for being there for her and pulling her through the tough times. She forgot to celebrate her accomplishments.

I like the idea of that, because it doesn’t ignore the idea of God entirely, but rather sees that our “higher Selves” are a part of God, given to us to help guide us through our lives. Learning to appreciate the things that you have accomplished and acknowledging that you already have everything that you need inside of you lends a kind of confidence to a person,  as opposed to the kind of false humility and grovelling insecurity that some conservative Christian denominations seem to cultivate in their members.

The idea of “God up high” that we must pray to rather than “God inside” that we must simply learn to utilize and connect to is what sets some religions apart from others.

That being said, I am not against prayer. I think I’ve mentioned in other posts that there is a certain power to it, that prayer changes things, even if it has more to do with the changes in us than it does with actually influencing things that happen outside of us directly. I think that by meditating and focusing our attention on something positive, and seeking to draw power from that source, strengthens us. I suppose on the macro level it isn’t that important whether we’re really drawing the strength from some outside force or whether we’re really just drawing strength from the inside out, as long as it gives us comfort, peace, and enlightenment then we are on the right track.

I guess my main problem though is that I no longer know how to “appropriately” pray for things, or connect with this power that many call “God”. There are times when I just talk out loud about the things that are bothering me, and I guess I could call that prayer. There are times when I pray “God give me strength” even when I’m not really positive he’s listening, or why/if he would really help me over anyone else. I do feel, however, that there is Something Out There that I can lean on and trust. I believe that there is a Force that is giving me that extra push when I feel like I’m going to collapse, and that there’s an Order to the Universe despite all of its apparent chaos. I guess what I’m not sure about, though, is my own ability to manipulate these powers to my own desire just in the asking. That seems a little presumptuous to me now.

Ultimately, I guess, it isn’t important why I choose to express my care and concern for my friend, but how. If on one hand, i choose to be kind to him because I feel that’s what God wants me to do, that’s great. Or if I simply do it because I empathize with him and that’s what I would like someone to do for me, the results are still the same. I am reaching out to be a positive influence in someone’s life.

It seems to me that the more I study this the more I am convinced that religion- or the lack thereof- can’t really make a good person bad or a bad person good. It’s all about my ability to be true to myself and considerate of my fellow living beings. So even if I choose not to outright pray for my friend or speculate about the hows or whys of this loss occurring, doesn’t mean that I am doing him some sort of disservice. I am still choosing to be supportive in the ways that I am able to be and that matters for something.

As I write this I’m reminded of this commercial I saw about “Hu” or “the human element.” (If anybody knows what product that commercial was actually about please let me know). Human- it’s something that all of us are, and yet wars have been fought in the past about who God was. Maybe we need to focus on what makes us similar instead of what makes us different. We all bleed when we’re cut. We all have to eat, sleep, and breathe to survive. We all want to be loved.

Even though I’m pretty much convinced that the story of the tower of Babel was an allegory rather than a historical account, I feel that it’s appropriate to post what God was quoted as saying in that story.

“The people are one, and they have one language, and this they begin to do. Now nothing will be restrained from them which they have imagined to do.” -Genesis 11:6