It’s not about believing the right things, or even knowing them. It’s all about living into our experience of who we are in our highest self - and what we find there.
I’m the first to admit my rebellion and anger over being cast aside as meaningless over the years because of my gender. It’s caused me to be resistant and not trusting of many who wave a flag that says, “I’m a Christian.” That said, there are countless Christians I deeply and genuinely love, and know with all my heart their intentions are sincere.
In my rebellion, I never disowned the Christian message because my experiences had been powerful and impossible to deny. On the other hand, to quote Gandhi, I struggled with the people and their self righteousness - their desire to behave themselves into some version of a human they thought they were supposed to be. It was always so clear to me that they completely were missing the point.
Unfortunately, the tapes in my head told me otherwise. The little voice that tugs at me, telling me I’m not enough, constantly reminded me “I was a bad Christian because I didn’t do it like them.”
I didn’t do it like them because I resented and resisted people telling me who I was supposed to be, how I was supposed to talk, act, treat my husband, behave in church - the list is endless. Whether it’s due to the generation and culture I participated in, or whether it was simply inherent to my personality, I resented this.
I always connected to a power greater than myself. Some times were more connected than others. Yet, there was a knowing and strength I could always draw from, and did. It ran deep too. The older I became, the less I attached it to a particular religion and simply called it God.
It had nothing to do with a “belief” in God. It was not about belonging to some kind of church because I needed community. The truth is the people I met in churches I attended after college were not people I wanted to be like. The funny irony of this was that’s exactly what they were working so hard towards achieving. They were all trying to be perfect human beings as they thought God wanted them to be. It felt forced and disingenuous. It was either to attract more people to their religion, and look good in the eyes of others. The sad part is they probably were very good people and would’ve done much better to simply being themselves, mistakes and all. I always wondered if they’d missed the memo about just being love.
If they’d read it, I often wondered if they’d know what that meant. So many of us are so afraid to be ourselves in the fear we won’t be accepted, or belong. It’s often true too. We’re not. That’s the sad truth. But if we were willing to show our wounds, imperfections, struggles and risk the vulnerability, we’d eventually get somewhere. Even if it took some time.
I’ve learned so much these past two years because I was given an opportunity few get. I married a pastor. A pastor who is the one person I trusted most my entire life, and had walked away from in college for a life that did not include organizing bake sales. I got a second chance at spending some of my life with this beautiful human being, and gifted with a life of creating my dreams and living my adventures. Bake sales didn’t sound as horrific anymore - even if I wasn’t chomping at the bit.
I’m not young. I’m old enough to get the letters from AARP reminding me I’ll qualify for membership soon. Never a welcome piece of mail. There are upsides. My little brother who is 52 proudly received his card early and takes advantage of the free donut at Dunkin' Donuts with every purchase of a cup of coffee. Clearly, they’re in cahoots with the local cardiologist or pharmaceutical company.
This is the age we know who we are. If we don’t, I’d suggest therapy or some kind of counseling or guidance to work some things through. We know what our weaknesses are, what we’re still working on, what to surrender to, and what is still worth working towards.
I’m not old enough to turn in the towel, and I am old enough to know I have limits. These limits are hard to define in an entirely new culture, however. My heart and intention is as passionate about the work I’ve been doing for a lifetime as it was at 30. The desire to empower others in living their best life has always seemed my underlying purpose and driver. This does not only apply to people, but also to groups of people like communities and organizations as well. I have not lost one ounce of passion in this regard even if I’ve lost some of my energy and patience some days. This may be wisdom and it may be age. Time will tell, as it always does.
As my husband and I dove into the responsibility of a brand new church, in a brand new place, while he worked a full time job alongside, I looked hard at who I was in this new world of being a pastor’s wife. I knew it would require me to act the part and I wanted nothing more than to support him in his life’s purpose. (He’d always been meant for this work - it was completely congruent to his nature since he was a young teenager.)
Being real has always mattered to me. Authenticity and congruence as a human being was a fundamental value I lived by - probably implanted at an early age growing up on the streets of Brooklyn. This urban neighborhood of ethnic diversity was scrappy in many regards. The only way to achieve acceptance required you to be real and unpretentious.Once you figure out how to be down to earth in that way, it’s a great relief.
Problem is that my Brooklyn personality may not always fit other cultures. I’ve learned that time and again, and that’s ok. My only option, even when others didn’t approve - was to be the real me.
But is there a real me? Do we have one real person inside, or are we constantly being influenced by our environment, changing to some extent like chameleons as we proceed along in life?
Yes. We are always changing, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. We are dynamic, just like nature. As a plant or animal species must adapt to its environment in order to thrive, so must we. This does not mean our basic essence changes, however. Who we are at our core is fundamentally the same. Our heart, intention, capacity for love and other qualities that shape us remain intact, even if we need adjusting from time to time. For instance, we may discover we’re well intentioned, but have a fuse that is much too short. If we’re wise, we’ll work on that - with counseling, classes, learning, spiritual practice, meditation, etc. We’ll ask for help from someone who knows how to overcome those behaviors or habits that don’t serve us in our life. Hopefully, we’re humble enough to let someone else help - and listen by taking their advice. If it doesn’t work for us, we then try something else. We don’t resign ourselves to a life of misery and bad habits. We keep on trucking until we’ve changed the behaviors that don’t serve us.
In the same idea, we encourage and nurture and continue to practice or deepen those things that do serve us. Some of these qualities may show up as compassion, generosity, kindness, nurturing, being a good listener and good friend, being responsible, etc.
Throughout the journey, my wrestling with Christianity has been difficult, and sometimes painful. This struggle was unexpected. It would’ve been so much easier if I could do what so many others I knew did - walk away.
I just couldn’t.
Not because I feared I wouldn’t get to heaven. I’m a live-in-the-moment person, and this didn’t concern me much, nor did it make much sense. I did the very best I could in life, and my intentions were always sincere even if i seemed to screw up plenty and not meet the expectations of others no matter how hard I tried. I learned early on that being a mind reader was not in the cards for me, so to speak. As they say in 12 step programs, I learned to Live and Let Live and hoped others would do the same.
I was engaged at 29 to a businessman in NewYork CIty, and we discovered we were pregnant a few months before the wedding. Obviously, this was a surprise. It was devastating to his mother and sister, and they wanted us to push the wedding up immediately. This seemed completely insane to me as i was almost 30 years old, a professional, and not at all ashamed. I was thrilled to be having a child even if the timing wasn’t as planned. It also happened to be very trendy at that time for women whose clocks were ticking to make a conscious choice to have a child alone - even if using artificial insemination. These were very new options then.
When I was about mid-term, the baby’s father asked if I would have an abortion. They were legal in NY until 6 months. This was not an option for me because I’d been singing and talking to this little life inside of me on a daily basis, and it would be impossible. That said, I’d had abortions before and knew I could not do it again. This baby was meant to come now.
He left. Believe it or not, he wanted to stay engaged but not have the baby yet. I respected his desires and went on my way. I never asked him for child support or for involvement in the baby’s life unless he chose to be involved. In that case, he was always welcome and for the baby’s sake, I hoped he’d change his mind about being part of his life. I never heard or saw from him again until my son was 13 years old.
Times like these call for extraordinary measures within. I was fairly young in New York City, and although making a living, this had never been a picture I’d had for my future. I assumed I’d have the house, the SAAB, the success, etc. that I’d always imagined. (Although I’d never dreamt of the picket fence and perfect life many did - which may be an indicator that my life turned out so different from that day forward).
I was scared and suddenly alone. This is where my spiritual understanding began to take on a life of its own. In a good way.
Although alone, I didn’t feel alone. Something was protecting me and I knew it in the depths of my soul. I neglected to mention that I’d left my job when I learned of my pregnancy and was on a speaking tour around the country to the nation’s top prep schools where I spoke on drugs and alcohol to large audiences and classrooms. It was a great experience. Well, until the board of the organization that hired me learned the father wasn’t marrying me that is. They fired me for the next year because I’d be a bad role model for teenage girls. But goodness prevailed!
When one of the top schools in the country, The Marboro School for Girls, in Los Angeles were negotiating the next year’s schedule, they requested me. When they learned why I wasn’t available to speak, they insisted they find me. This was a healing turn of events. I understood their reasoning for not keeping me on board, but the shame stung. The double standard was hard to swallow too. If I’d had an abortion, nobody would be the wiser and I’d be revered. If I chose the more difficult path, I was shamed. Human nature at it’s worst, and I imagine other versions of this story repeat itself all the time - and always will. Perception is reality.
From this day forward, the expectations of how we are to behave based on a morality extracted from the Bible and developed in ancient cultures were no longer relevant to me. My personal morality had been shaped by growing up in a church that emphasized kindness, love, generosity, etc, but the Biblical laws spewed by those who considered themselves Christians now were judgmental and out of sync with the love of humanity and compassion required to live a life of love.
As you can see, morality defined by Christians had been haunting me - from the man I loved in college and dared not marry because the oppression would kill my spirit; to the double standard when pregnant; to the internal struggle I experienced from having abortions and being single and pregnant. I had always been a “good girl” in every way. My heart had not changed. My goodness was still in tact and I knew it. Don’t they realize that sometimes we become pregnant simply because we are being kind? It was frustrating to say the least.
This long story leads me back to how I’d resolve my relationship with God and the church as a pastor’s wife. This is also where my age comes in.
I know who I am.
I also know what my relationship with God is. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I know what it is. I’m also not sure who can judge whether it’s good or bad other than me or God. Unless they’re so attached to being right based on what they think is a “right belief,” instead of taking a deep breath and feeling into the essence of who I am.
And who God is in me.
These are the characteristics we need to know who we are, and how we learn to know each other. Authentically that is.
I remember sitting in church as a young teen listening to the pastor preach. I heard we were supposed to become grown ups in the same way we built a model airplane, or followed the instructions for the picture on the Lincoln Logs or Lego box. It was very ordered, and important to follow the directions carefully or we’d have a mess on our hands and an ugly house or airplane to boot. We would be shamed for not being smart enough to do it right.
This plagues too many of us.
My favorite children’s book is the Big, Orange Splot. If you don’t know the book, I advise you to get on Amazon right now and buy it for every young child you know. Some parents might learn something from it too.
Like many of us, I worked very hard at wanting to do everything right. At least right according to my family’s standards. My dad dying when I was 17 didn’t help matters; and a sister, who almost daily, wanted to kill me or rage at me for no reason was another fly in the ointment of life. As a child, I’d beg my parents to take her to a psychiatrist for help because this was clearly not normal behavior. I was certain it was an illness that could be treated. Their answer was always the same. “It’s just a stage and it will pass.” Times were different then. Or maybe not so much. But that’s what they said and all they knew to say or do.
These were simply the circumstances of my life and I never felt sorry for myself as a result of them. Obviously millions of people had it much worse than me and I needed to get out in the world to help them - not worry about me. I’d lived through it - and like the old cowboys often said, “These things were a long way from my heart.”
But were they really?
Throughout all these experiences a few things held true. One was an aunt and uncle that loved me. I felt and knew their love like a baby knows it’s safe in the arms of its mother. They were the ground on which I stood. I spent Thursday evenings with them. I went to their house straight from school, and went shopping at the A&P for the weekend’s groceries. They had a summer house in Sound Beach, Long Island and went there on the weekends. I was even born there in 1956. Always knowing I had somewhere to run to when things were difficult with my sister was a comfort that I didn’t fully understand until older. I imagine my mother felt the same relief when my sister would have her tantrums and rage. She was impossible to control.
Although an extrovert, I also learned to live in my own world. Perhaps we all do that to some extent. There was something at my core that needed to feel creative freedom.
The second thing that held true was my optimism. I’ve always felt such a compassion for those who don’t experience a foundational hope that things will be better - almost as much as I feel for those who suffer from debilitating migraines on a regular basis.
I always looked on the bright side of life, even though as I’ve realized later in life, I was often sad inside. I’m still not sure if it was simple denial that made me act as if it didn’t exist, or if my sense of hope for the future and enthusiasm for life was capable of over riding it. To this day, the jury is out on that, but suspect it’s the latter.
Perhaps this optimism was the driver for my desire to always look deeper, always search for ways to be better or find answers to some of the toughest questions. I don’t know.
Even during the racial riots in the late sixties, I became the mediator between the bussed in African American kids from the surrounding ghettos and our local students when they engaged in violent fights and riots. I believed strongly that peace was possible if we’d only stop and look inside each other. This type of hope and possibility was the fuel what made my heart tick.
Over the years, the search for God shifted direction and I began looking for peace wherever I could find it. Sometimes this peace was sought through seeking conflict too. This would be an area I’d be able to make a difference it turned out…just as it did in Junior High School’s racial riots.
My desire to be a Christian waned as more and more, they seemed to be people who had a formula for living instead of a dynamic way of life. I chose the latter and cut my ties to the culture that had seemed to change before my eyes.
I didn’t ask much whether my faith was strong, or existent from that day on. On occasion, I’d attend a bible study and found it so elementary and intellectually insulting that I rarely returned after the 2nd or 3rd meeting.
But I never doubted my faith.
If someone else did and chose to judge whether I was ‘faithful’ or not by what I believed or knew, it would probably be a fail.
My understanding of Christianity as a child was a simple one. I believed Jesus was good, was my friend and there for me, loved perfectly, and was the Son of God, to boot. He died for our sins so God would forgive us and let us go to heaven. In order to keep our place in heaven, it’s important to be a good person and continue to believe in him.
This was how it was. Everyone I knew at the time was a Christian of one variety or another, and I doubt anyone questioned it. It was collective cultural agreement.
This was taught to me from birth. In my late teens I had a conversion experience within Christianity that changed my life, and how I viewed living as a Christian. This was an experiential experience that shifted everything about how I experienced and saw the world. It was not measured by, or based on, a belief system. It was a mystical experience that simply was. It changed how I experienced and understood God.
FOr the next few years, I lived and breathed this way of being. Even my parents wondered what happened ot me, but they wren’t complaining. I was at peace, happy, making healthy choices - and not too far over the edge even for Lutherans.
Soon after this I went to college and then on to my career. although I feel a bit guilty for what I’m about to say, It’s the truth. I escaped Christianity. I see that now.
At the time, we were in the midst of what was called The Jesus Revolution. I had the mystical experience at the very beginning of it, and it wasn’t until a bit later when in college that this movement took the country by storm. It was a powerful revival that touched the lives of many people. The problem is that we are human. As those who were touched by this movement continued to turn into adults, they slowly began to turn the Christian values into a legalism instead of letting it express itself as a creative tension that allowed for a movement of growth into who they wanted to become. Or who God wanted them to become.
The people who had been full of the love of God and walking in what i still call the Spirit to this day, turned into seemingly angry and controlling people who appeared more like Nazis than Christians. But then again Nazis were Christians too. I suppose they were an example of Christianity taken to its extreme when legalism rules, instead of love.
Not unlike the mystical experience I and many others had - these types of ecstatic and mystical experiences can be an evil twin. It’s always important to know how to discern the difference between the energy of love and the energy of what might be called evil, hate, negativity, etc. It’s my guess most of us know this difference, and when faced with anything other than love or goodness derived from it, to search for help or guidance - whether spiritual or psychological.
Over the course of my life, the number one deterrent from returning to even some involvement in Christianity was the idea that everyone who didn’t, as they said, “say the sinner’s prayer and accept Jesus into their heart” were not saved and would not have a place in heaven. The exceptions were those who had never heard the name of Jesus. What? The older i got, the more I was exposed to, the more ridiculous this was. How could any God who is supposed to BE LOVE, be that cruel?
Eventually the entire idea of heaven became a joke too. At least in the way they painted it. In all honesty, this was a deep struggle for me. I wanted to be back in the mystical, in a learning community like in college, I wanted to live out of the love of God and walk in the spirit I understood to be holy. It was the best experience ever.
Some would reply that when I’m willing to accept that it is the truth, I will understand. To this day, my husband says, “when you see the world from the perspective of the cross, you will get the idea that we are worthless in contrast to him.” What? I still just don’t get it. Not even a little bit. I do get that he sees it that way from his worldview and paradigm. I totally get that. I know it’s true for him. And that’s totally ok with me.
I just can’t look out that window right now.
But something even better is happening. I’m beginning to
What I’ve learned is that it’s not so much about believing as it is about allowing. Perhaps that’s what is at the heart of the original intention in “asking” in the sinner’s prayer. I don’t know.
All I do know is my sense of connection to the Divine has been awakened in ways it hasn’t in years. I have not longed or yearned for God. I have not fallen to my knees for God. not because I don’t want to but because it seems contrived unless i am in the midst of an authentic experience such as that. It’s not how i feel on a minute by minute, or even weekly basis toward God.
What I do experience is that I am of God. That I am from God. I am part of God. God is part of me. And we are all part of each other. I do feel I am
I draw strength from God. I love that the most because I feel the essence of God in that. The Bible says God is Love. I love that someone in the Bible got that because it makes so much sense. Love is God’s essence. And God is Spirit it says which paints another dimension of the picture for us. A presence that is spirit and composed of love. Pretty perfect, isn’t it?
This is the God I always imagined, but never heard of. Weird, no?
I’ll never be about a Christianity that’s about a lot of rules and ways to behave because, quite frankly, I don’t see or experience God there - unless they’re the kind that create a basic structure to create a boundary from within to operate. I see the purpose in that - but I think society has a good handle on where those lines are these days.
Creative tension is a critical component of becoming. If we don’t have a place to look to - a hope - and a place to start - with the freedom to generate what our heart leads us to out of our own unique or individual gifts in the process - who are we? I mean - don’t we simply become robots of ourselves if we do it any other way?
We’ve developed into a society of critical thinkers who are, for the most part, free to make choices about their lives and any structure that confines their creativity, choices, or ability to experience themselves as free will be opposed. God may not change, but we do - as we individually change, so does society.
We can’t solve our problems by the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Einstein said this. It is also true about our spiritual path. We cannot
Whether or not our sins are forgiven because Jesus died on the cross and God needed a sacrifice is beyond me, but what I do know is I cannot give power or thought to that idea. I am a grateful human being and if there is a God that will judge me when the day comes, that God will know full well the intention of my heart and how much I loved and was grateful for in this life. God will also know how hard I tried to know God …. in every way I knew how. Our attempts at wanting people to be happy, or to be understanding or patient or open or whether there is one religion or three — or if religion matters at all is simply another problem all together.
Again, back to the Einstein quote as it relates to religion. We cannot solve the problem of religions being the cause of most of the world’s violence and wars by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created religion. We have to move beyond the paradigm of the religions and into the paradigm of love. The End.
When will Christians get that we need to be pointed to the light? Not out of shame or worthlessness, but from love. Yes, it’s true that we may be struggling and will find our ability to move beyond our problems to healing if we’re willing to surrender - but first we must know we’re received. We must have a place of safety to surrender….otherwise we will still hide in the cave of denial as long as we can survive there.
If people translate God as an idea that brings darkness, which is what many experience or believe through their interpretation of the behavior by Christians, how can they see the love and light that God is? If they’ve been slighted and dismissed by religious people, or negated for their idea of God, how can we possibly think they would want to take a second look from a Christian window?
I always wanted to go back in the room and look out that window again with the slight hope that the view would have changed back to the one I originally saw. But each time I took a look in whatever new church I tried, or in whatever new town I was in - the view was the same. There was just something that didn’t connect, that didn’t touch the place in me that remembered God. This felt closer to how Christians themselves had described cults to me back in the day. They were self absorbed, almost imploding on themselves. There was no real concern for the world around them or each other in fact. They weren’t really connected to each other. They came into the room to worship God through praise songs and a sermon - which is really what worship is supposed to be. Worship is supposed to be a time we’re in community and collectively worshipping God together. It’s a demonstration of sorts for God. To show our love for God. Although I understand this to be how churches traditionally view this experience, it makes me question the point. Fully aware that I may now sound sacrilegious, understand that I, in no way, want that to be how you experience this question.
It seems to me that people went to church all the time, as a personal and spiritual connection, when there was nothing else that joined us together in a meaningful way. However, when the consciousness movement began sprouting self help workshops, 12 step programs, empowerment weekends, and the like - churches started losing their regular members. Why?
The same reason everything changes. Something better came along.
dr. Dmitry Mysh.