I'm mad at men.
And human nature.
It hit me like Idaho's spring wind on a clear day.
Right in the face.
I've been criticizing church and control, Paul and conservatives, evangelicals and organized religions for a long time. But it just hit me...I'm not really mad at them.
I'm mad at the men who have been wielding their power in the wrong places - with a wrong heart.
In my opinion, of course. And not rocket science.
This is said with love, not judgment.
It's mostly true.
I've been hurt. And resentful. And forgiving. And rejected. And accepting. And patient. And impatient. And frustrated.
And damn angry for a very long time.
You see, I left college and a circle of Christian friends, and ventured out into the world. The real world. The world where people are different, and beautiful, and fascinating. Did I say beautiful? And, for the most part, they weren't Christians. Over the years, I integrated on this journey of becoming. I became more than just the good Sunday School student with perfect attendance, or the young woman who had a spiritual experience in a Harlem revival tent. This didn't mean I abandoned them, however. I just became more.
This morning I asked a good friend why she doesn't go to church more. I wanted to know what she really thinks about Christianity, and if she identifies with it.
She tried to be nice, but the underlying resentment and anger beneath what she was saying spoke louder.
She didn't want to be part of any organized religion because of the "judgment" she said.
Like, what kind of judgement?, I asked.
"Well, like having to get dressed up. They tell you to come as you are but then everyone is dressed up, and you just feel like an idiot. I went to a cowboy church once and that was cool, but I've never felt comfortable anywhere else. Everyone is dressed up except the pastor."
Wow. I didn't see that coming. I said that wasn't my experience, but she lives in Idaho - and often heard people whispering things like, "You'd think they could do a little better than that shirt for church." Etc.
I know what she means.
I wanted to be part of my community's church for years. But often witnessed the church ladies talking over coffee, in my small town's only coffee shop, about who was living in sin, who they'd seen going to the bar, etc.
I stayed clear of church too.
These are difficult hurdles to jump when you're vulnerable, alone and want to go to church - but you can't help but think, if you do, someone will find something to judge - because I didn't live by their rule book, to say the least.
What is most disturbing about how this friend and I experienced church is both of us were hard working mothers with respectable careers, supported our family, were civic minded, and deeply involved in our community and culture.
And not married.
How did church people get so mixed up about their expectations?
Many say it's not like that now. That's how I answered her too. She responded by getting even angrier, spewing more examples of organized religion's hypocrisy.
We might not always understand why others believe what they do, but we feel it.
She didn't know it, but I felt how deep this hurt had drilled into her. She's experienced betrayal and resentment for years - and not known how to resolve it. In fact, it's incredibly subtle - and probably minor to those who judged her, yet it had grown into a mountain in how she's internalized it. It continues to live large in her.
Contrary to her words, she clearly cared about church. It wouldn't have hurt otherwise.
This is good - and bad - news for churches.
She was probably vulnerable whenever she walked through church doors, and wanted to do it right. She wanted to be accepted, to feel like she belonged. And, ultimately, loved.
But she only felt not good enough.
Aside from whatever she was projecting onto those she thought judged her, there was something else even more important going on.
She couldn't connect to what was happening. She didn't really get it. Nothing touched her in church.
Why is that?
The divide between those who get it and those who don't is wide. How do churches close this gap?
The truth probably lies somewhere between all these projections, resentments, and feelings she experienced.
It's likely she didn't feel good enough to be there. And blamed them.
So, was it their fault or her own projection back on to herself?
I'm not suggesting her feelings and observations weren't real. I'm certain they were. But when we're strong and confident about our life, that stuff doesn't seep through to our psyche. We don't give it any power.
When we haven't been to church in forever, and suddenly decide to go alone - there's a good chance we're vulnerable and hoping for love or belonging - or inspiration.
This was always true in my case. I'd go when I couldn't take the loneliness anymore. Even if I showed up when not hitting bottom, I felt completely exposed the moment I walked through the doors. I was alone, and never felt good enough. As a matter of fact, I always referred to myself as a bad christian when trying to explain my spiritual stance.
If I'd known then, what I know now, I would've understood that church is familiar to those in the room, and they don't feel like I do. Or if they do, they're hiding it. I would also have known people were happy to see me, and maybe weren't sure how to approach me. I'd know they don't want me to feel jumped on, yet they want me to feel welcome. It's a fine balance to regular members - and to the pastor.
Each church is a tribe - with a tribal identity. They have collectively held beliefs, language, rituals, and values that shape the whole - even if this collective consciousness doesn't refelct each individual. As a matter of fact, it's more likely not a reflection of many individuals present. But when someone new is not familiar with them, it's natural to feel outside the edges.
Since everything has more than one persepctive, I had to look at the flip side. I would've known the feelings I had of not being good enough were my own creation as well. The truth was laced with the following:
- I had an open heart before God and others - otherwise I wouldn't have been so vulnerable or experience rejection.
- On some level, I needed them - God and the people in the room - or I wouldn't have come.
- I didn't want religion poured down my throat, but I did want friends - and I was reaching out.
- I desperately wanted to feel connected to God again. I secretly hoped for a spiritual a-ha experience because I remembered how it freed me on the inside. I wanted something to make God more to me, because God didn't matter quite enough.
- I didn't feel good enough to be there. I was judging myself.
- I had bought into the idea that only being perfect in the eyes of others was good enough.
- I wanted God, but not the box they kept God in - because this box didn't fit who I was. To me, hell was being and living something I wasn't.
- I wasn't really sure I wanted to be there because, to be honest, it was boring.
- It was damn uncomfortable feeling sized up against their specifications of a good person in the eyes of God - because I wasn't exactly sure what that was. I couldn't even change colors, like a chameleon, so they'd like me.
- I desperately wanted them to 'see my heart' and 'get' me...because if they did, I believed they'd surely understand me and maybe even like me.
The longer I've been part of a church culture as a pastor's wife, the more I realize how influenced these churches have been by a masculine persepctive. Decision making has been achieved through linear, traditional methods. Men have ruled the church from the beginning, and the lack of feminine energy infused into it at the highest levels - within bureacracies and individual churches - turned it into something that would have no choice, but to eventuall topple.
Anytime systems go out of balance, and continue forcing one way on others from a position of power, it will reach a state of entropy. This is natural law. It can't not happen.
Remember Detroit in the 80's when the American automobile industry refused to accept that customers wanted a different kind of car? Then recently, in the housing and banking industry, when the economy couldn't carry the rising, unbalanced greed embedded in uncontrolled mortgages and lending practices. It even happened in my own family, manifesting as denial and delusion, when my sister consistently displayed signs of mental imbalance, but my parents insisted it was simply a phase she was going through.
Acting like everything is fine in order to maintain order and the status-quo is sure-fire death these days. We are much too informed and honest, not to mention inundated with options on another path, to not look red flags and other indicators right in the eye and deal with them.
I understand that many women who were angry, hurt, or invisible throughout their life in the church are choosing to handle this fauxpah with kindness and understanding. I get that. It's a very spiritual response. But to not simultaneously tell the truth about it is dishonest too. How can we honestly say we understand when we have not truly been understood? We can forgive, but does this suggest we ignore how it felt over a lifetime?
I don't know the answer to that. I only know how it felt.
It felt really really bad. It sucked.