My article “Five Ways to Overcome Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” went LIVE Saturday morning. Check it out!
Imagine two scenarios.
#1 You’re meeting a blind date. Are you nervous? Yes. Uneasy? Sure. But it’s a first date, and the expectations and consequences reflect accordingly. Even if it’s a terrible, horrible, awful, no-good, very bad date, you can still go home, kick off your heels, drink some red wine and call your best friend to laugh it off. Can you even buh-lieve he DID that? OMG! This guy is crazy! You can take him or leave him: no harm, no foul.
#2 You’re meeting The One Who Left You at the Altar (who you are somehow still hopelessly in love with). Are you nervous? No! You’re alternately puking and downing Xanax. Uneasy? Ha, you only wish! Try unbalanced, undone, unnerved…completely unprepared. If this date doesn’t go well, you might spend another six months crying in sweatpants while huddled on the couch with your good friends: Depression, Angst, Ben & Jerry. You can’t take him or leave him, because he’s part of who you are.
So I ask you…which situation requires more guts?
Thinking my crazy adventures take loads and loads of courage, people say things like, “I could NEVER go to a [insert place of worship] by myself!” or “Weren’t you afraid of [insert uncomfortable situation]?”, failing to realize that true chutzpah was only required when facing the familiar.
This is how it went for me, every time I experienced a religion; it was either an exciting first date or a dreaded reunion. There wasn’t much middle ground.
I guess you could say I was brave, but not for the reasons most people think. I was only being courageous when, instead of taking the much easier route of crying on the couch, I walked right up to my former faith and smacked it in the face for leaving me–then began the hard work of trying to get back together—spiritual shock therapy-style.
And I’m happy to say (so far) we’re living happily ever after.
In my year+ of spiritual seeking, I’ve found one inalienable Rebecca-Truth. If I have a severe reaction to something, it’s either A) Spiritual shrapnel that needs to be removed or B) Progress yet to be made. Either way, it needs digging out.
And, in the case of this blog article on Christian modesty “I Was Confronted For Being Immodest” ? It’s shrapnel.
When said post recently went viral, I allowed myself to be sucked into its downward spiral.
(Progression: Read Post. Read comment thread. Get ANGRY. Slam doors. Slam more doors. Read more. Get angrier. Say aloud: My whole damn project wasn’t worth anything! Why? Because I have trouble just saying Live and let live—when a nice young mother–with an innocent heart– if an ill-fitting wardrobe– is being bullied in the name of the Lord for her church-dress choice. And submitting to said bullying without a fight!)
Upon expressing my frustration with the article and with myself, I had this conversation with a friend. Me: Is it judgmental if this post makes me go Uggggggghhhh! ? Friend: Why can’t you just say that’s one way to do it and move on? Me: That’s totally easy if it isn’t personal. Friend: You’re making it personal. Me:UGGGGHHHHH!
I considered his point—albeit huffing and puffing with disdain. I recognized that this post had nothing to do with me. I do not know this woman, nor am I involved in a religious environment that would pass this type of judgment. ( And I highly doubt the all-loving Divine wastes time being incensed over an allegedly improper skirt choice. Isn’t He kinda busy, like, running the Universe-at-large?)
So why did reading this feel like an MRI machine, pulling up bullet fragments from long-forgotten wounds? Why did it feel so personal?Because this post magnetized my every memory of being shamed in the name of God, every time I was bullied for the Cause of Christ. Every time I had submitted to spiritual abuse because I needed to have a teachable heart, and God clearly wasn’t happy with my learnin’.
This article called up a militia of bad memories, ready for action and lined in a neat row stretching back as far as kindergarten. It made my heart do an involuntary quick-draw, pointing my weapon at a viewpoint that had decimated my faith. It inspired me to raise my gun of rationale, wave it in the face of all that hurt, and demand it step aside because You are SO not allowed in my space anymore.
It also caused my newfound faith to briefly falter because due to my past pains, I briefly forgot my belief that there is Truth in all genuine viewpoints. And instead of gently untangling my feelings and simply moving on,—Live and let live–I got stuck in a mental battle, the kind that never has a winner.
This is how it is between me and this viral blog post on modesty. I would much rather have a pentagram drawn on my forehead than have a deacon’s wife bully me about the choiceness of my dress… or let anyone else be thusly shamed. (Hell, I’d rather eat rat meat sacrificed to an idol!) This post and its comment thread? It’s my ex-est of ex-boyfriends, armed with a firearm that’s pointed straight at my temple.
After a few days of mulling over my reaction though, I realized ANY judgmental beliefs, even (and especially!) mine, are like raising a gun to the head of someone else’s worldview. Just take one menacing step towards me, and I blow your brains out, sir.
But for every gun you have pointed at someone else, there’s an infinite number pointed at you. It’s like a gangster movie stand-off, if said gangsters were clad in self-righteousness instead of leather jackets.
For example, if you say a skirt touching the knee is godly, there are a hundred ladies who would declare you immodest. For those who think mid-calf length is appropriate, plenty of sects would tell you that God only approves of ankle-length skirts. And don’t forget the Amish, who believe a woman may only worship in a head covering. There are even religious guns pointed at their bonnets because many think them too religious (bound up by codes that presumably jumped off the deep end when they declared electricity to be evil). This struggle is not unique to Christianity–no– it is pervasive in most faiths, the veritable What Not to Wear of religion.
Today, I’ve decided that if crying about your clothing choices and tossing an offending dress in the garbage makes you feel like a better person and makes you feel closer to honoring your God in spirit and in truth, who am I to say it doesn’t?
So I’m laying down my weapon, kicking it aside, and waving my (possibly immodest!) clothing –depending on who’s judging my sweatpants & t-shirt— in a gesture of surrender. Granted, I’ll still be at the mercy of everyone else.
But at least I won’t be the one with the gun.
Continued from Beltane
We fear that which we do not understand. But what causes even greater fear? That which we believe ourselves to understand.
The Maypole celebration ended with a ritual wherein the Priest, Priestess, May Queen and May King ceremonially offered cookies and juice to each attendee along with a Blessing. We formed a line, and one at a time went forward to receive a dual blessing: one each from the God and Goddess. I hung back a little, taking in the situation. It looked an awful lot like Holy Communion (if Holy Communion took place in the woods and was offered by people with flower crowns). Granted sprinkle cookies replaced bread, and orange drink the wine, but I couldn’t shake the similarity or decide if I wanted to ingest a Wiccan Blessing (er, Communion?).
I inched forward in the line while giving myself a silent pep-talk: There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s a Blessing Ceremony, silly, not a sacrifice! It’s just cookies and juice, baby, just cookies and juice. I flashed back to some unfamiliar things I’ve done this year (like bowing to idols and medium/psychic readings), and reminded myself that I’ve always come away with something good from every experience. Just as my fears cooled and I was up to bat, I noticed the ritual included the Priest and Priestess drawing Pentagrams on the foreheads of those being blessed, the same way a Catholic Priest would make the sign of the cross over a Christian in communion. It’s just cookies and juice, baby, go forward!
So I stepped up to receive my blessing from the Priest and as he started drawing the first line of the Pentagram on my forehead, everything in me jumped backwards, taking my body, almost unwillingly, with it. Whoa, I said, no Pentagram. I can’t handle the Pentagram. Then the Priest jumped back and almost simultaneously accused, “You the Christian? Someone said there was a Christian here!” Without thinking, I retorted, “I’m not a Christian!” (Meaning: I’m not the kind of Christian you are thinking of!), then realized what I’d said. All four of us were very worked up in a kind of energy gridlock, so it took all I had to step back up to receive the cookie minus the pentagram. The Priestess said she could give me a blessing that wouldn’t offend me, and I was all tears and sniffles and You’re not offending me! I don’t know what’s going on but I just can’t do the Pentagram!
Graciously, she blessed me with a simple hand on my head with a prayer that would be acceptable in any religion: it ended with May you never hunger…May you never thirst. Still teary, I drank the juice, while apologizing profusely for my behavior. It was all very intense, and I had to sit down to consider exactly what in the heck just happened?! I’ve done all kinds of things this year and all the sudden I back down from a Blessing? Great job, Reba, invading their Sacred Space only to ruin their ritual.
We discussed the incident later by the campfire, while the others were drumming and singing, and the both the Priest and Priestess were very kind: more concerned about the balance of my energy than my Blessing breakdown. I, however, took my perceived failure home with me. It took 3 days to sort through exactly what happened in the moment I collided headfirst with the Pentagram…then 8 more to fully process. (Eleven days for an incident that lasted maybe two minutes…like I said, it was intense!) But, eventually, I did figure things out and learn more about myself and this journey in the process.
More to come…
In the course of Thirty by Thirty, I’ve jumped headfirst into many an uncomfortable situation. But never have I been ACTUALLY afraid, nor reduced to shaking, anxious tears in my car until yesterday, directly before the Nemenhah Itsipi Sweat Lodge Ceremony. In entering the lodge, I would be piling into a tiny space with twenty strangers, plunging into darkness and nearly unbearable heat, and thereby be facing several major fears: claustrophobia, severe heat/bodily pain, darkness AND the unknown. (Points of reference: I once had a panic attack in a small, crowded airplane, and I’ve nearly passed out in hot yoga class.)
Now. With 33 experiences and a thirty-day fast behind me, you’d think I’d be ready. Courageous. Able to face any challenge! And you? Would be wrong. Because I was a sniveling mess: cry-dialing my husband, my mother and my best friend for a pep talk (none of whom answered). So, it was between me and God in the car: with the choice to peal outta there, tires squealing… or face my fears and see what the Great Spirit had to say in the Sweat.
So, I dried my eyes and listened. And I could almost hear the Divine sigh. After this entire year, do you not believe I can sustain you through a little heat? Ok, Ok, I get it. Come to the end of myself (again). Blah,blah,blah. See how You miraculously work. Blah, blah, blah. Ugh! For a person of faith, I certainly lack it and am often in need of a Major Spiritual Attitude Adjustment(MSAA).Which I received… approximately five minutes after slamming the car door and marching my scared self straight towards that lodge.
[To explain MSAA Part 1 , I need to back up and explain this: On Day 29 of my fast, I had a revelation of truth...as a disco ball. (I know, I know, a Divine Disco Ball is a total cliché of the type of vision incited by severe hunger.) In reality, the picture was more like a prism, so not quite so dance-club chic. But for ease of use, I've been explaining this to people as a Disco Ball because it's easier to understand. Here's the short version: God is bigger than any one of us can see, because we only view one facet of Spirit (represented by each little mirror), based on all kinds of factors: birth, family, history, experiences, etc. So what we see? It's all valid truth...for us. But it isn't the full picture.]
So. I round the corner, and what, pray tell, is sitting on the Chief’s blanket-altar? A little DISCO BALL. I could hear the Divine laughter. After this entire year, do you not believe I can sustain you through a little heat? So I laughed too, out loud, and all my fear fled. When I told the Chief my story, and he tossed me the Disco Ball. It’s yours.
Then…the Divine laughter got louder. Because another Chief/Shaman showed up, laid out his blanket altar right next to me, and my mouth dropped open.
[To explain MSAA Part 2, I need to back up and explain this: Last month, I was led through a Native American meditation to find my spirit guide. And in my mediation this guy with long, flowing, silver hair, nearly to his waist, standing in a field: I am here to teach you to heal.]
I’ve been confused, because I haven’t seen him again….until yesterday, in the field outside the Sweat Lodge. Because The Chief? He was totally guy with the hair–a dead ringer. Except, I observed to him after relating my meditation, his hair was a lot shorter now. And he laughed: I just cut my hair…it was to my waist.
Of all the foreign (to me) traditions I have experienced this year, I identify most with the Nemenhah. The sweat called to me; it pulled me; it changed me. So…I was supposed to be there yesterday; it was completely incredible. (All of the above was in the first half hour! I hadn’t even crawled into the Lodge yet!)
So the moral for me, which has been a continuing theme this year, is:
The more afraid you are to do something you are called to do, and the more you don’t want to do it—read those emotions as a flashing, neon sign from the Divine–You need this more than anything else. Do it.
(Note: There is absolutely NO reason to be afraid of a Sweat Lodge as long as it is conducted by experienced spiritual leaders who understand the primary importance of health: physical, mental, emotional and, of course, spiritual.)
With accidental start and end dates of Pentecost Sunday (’11) and Easter Sunday (’12), I have successfully completed my 30+ visits.But…I’m not done yet! The completed are, in no particular order:
1.Living Word Church (my childhood church) 2. King Ave Methodist (GLBTQ Reconciling) 3. Lake Erie Drive-in 4. Buddhist Temple 5.Pentecostal Mega-church 6.Baptist 7.African-American Baptist 8.Movie Theater Rock 9.Hindu Temple 10.Synagogue 11.Roman Catholic 12. Eastern Orthodox 13.Vineyard 14.Jehovah’s Witness 15.Mormon 16.Atheist 17.Stadium 18.Christian Spiritualist 19.Emergent Independent 20.Quaker 21.Hare Krishna 22.Scientology 23.Unitarian 24.Baha’i 25. Storefront Redeemed 26.Christian Science 27. Stone Village 28.Sikh 29.Naturalist 30.Taize 31. Vertias (church of the boot camp) 32. Seventh Day Adventist
(Note: My blog checklist is typically behind because I have to rely on my web programmer to change it.)
I was heavy on the Christian churches, especially in the beginning, so I am doubling back to attend a few originally on the list and several additions before the 5/15 deadline:
–Native American–Amish–Pagan and/or Wiccan–Kabbalah–Mosque
Though I’ve not had luck locating the following in my area, I am still interested in:
–Zoroastrianism–Tao–Sufi–Xenos–African/tribal–Voodou–Virtual–Rastafaria–Gnostic–Jainism–Confusionism–Shinto–New Thought–Polytheistic (any culture, but particularly Celtic)–Shamanism–Snake-handlers
With continual help from the Spirit, I’ve gone from Post-traumatic Church Syndrome (barely being able to enter a church) to being able, and excited, to attend places of worship of all faiths and even non-faiths. I’ve also completed a Thirty-Day fast, studied Ancient Christian and Buddhist meditation, read extensively on multiple religions, sorted out my own beliefs, found a faith I can believe in, known and seen my God, changed my career, discovered my ministry and calling, started this blog–thanks to the good advice of someone wise, written nearly 100,000 words for the book (probably only 10,000 that are any good!), survived three physical and one spiritual bootcamp & , (surprise!) found a church, and much, much more. But these are stories and conclusions for other days! I still have much more to write about. So, let the quest and the blog continue
I nearly quit Thirty by Thirty at least a dozen times. So…for all those who have followed and encouraged this journey…thank you! For those who have criticized it…thank you as well. Everyone who has touched this path has helped it toward completion. I’m not done yet. And probably never will be!
All my love–Reba
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I’d like to address a few of the questions I’ve received on my recent Thirty Day fast:
So…what did you eat? Nothing. I didn’t chew for 30 days, nor did I drink alcohol. I also tried to limit medications. I did take in copious amounts of vitamins, lots of juice (organic if possible), and sugar-free protein on workout days. (Yes, I still did boot camp.)
Isn’t that UNHEALTHY? Well, not for me. Obviously I’m here, I’m fine and, it could be argued, in better health than I have ever been. But I would like to be VERY CLEAR that an extreme fast could ABSOLUTELY be unhealthy for a given person depending on factors such as overall health, weight, lifestyle, mental state, etc. PLEASE DO NOT CONSIDER an extreme fast without A.) A very specific calling to undertake it and B.) Consulting your doctor.
Why did you choose to fast for thirty days? First, I didn’t choose to fast for 30 days. God asked me to. (There will be much more on this when I cover the fast in depth between April 15th and May 15th). A 30-day fast is something I never would have thought of, nor did I think I could do it. I was called to fast in December, and it took me nearly three months of wrestling with the concept and telling God there was NO WAY I could possibly ever do that before I surrendered and… just did it. Once I got towards the end, I wanted to do 40 days, but that was made impossible by a pre-planned family vacation.
How much weight did you lose? It is inconsequential….that was NOT the point. This was purely spiritual venture. I like to say some of the excess weight enabled me to complete the fast, but it was in no way a diet attempt. There isn’t enough willpower in my world.
Why did you stop blogging during the fast? Part of the reason fasting, especially long-term fasting, is spiritually effective is because it clears out your life of everything that isn’t entirely necessary. Due to the vast physical, mental, emotional and spiritual strain, fasting forced me to re-evaluate every activity in my life by these two questions: 1.) Is [activity] actively bringing me closer to God and/or 2.) Is [activity] absolutely necessary? In addition to ceasing blogging, I limited my activities to work, prayer, meditation, necessary household duties, spending time with my husband, and LOTS of sleeping.
Why didn’t you tell anyone? Fasting is a personal matter between you and your God. It is extremely difficult, and there is no place for the critical negativity of others. You’re already doubting yourself…you don’t need anyone else to doubt you. Also, to be brutally honest, I often thought I was going to fail. (Daily. Sometimes minute-ly.) I didn’t want to announce, “Hey, I am doing this 30-day fast!” only to say, “Hey, I quit on day 10.”
I hope that clears a few things up! Also, as mentioned, I will be writing in detail about the fast and what I learned starting on April 15th. But if you are interested in the basics of how I got through it…check out this post.
BY TOTAL ACCIDENT on my part, I am visiting the 28th Place of Worship on the 28th Day of my Super-Secret 30-day Project within the Thirty by Thirty Project. (Project to be finished Monday and revealed Tuesday morning.) Other interesting “Accidental” tidbits:
–15th visit (halfway) was exactly 6 months to the day through the year
– First visit (to a charismatic/pentecostal church) coincided with Pentecost Sunday
– Secret project overlaps Ash Wed., Lent, Nineteen Day Fast (Baha’i), Purim (Jewish fast and celebration “Esther’s Fast”),Magha Puja Day (Celebration of the Buddha and the happening of auspicious events), Holi (Hindu) and (Hola Mohalla – Sikh). [And probably many more I do not know about!)
–30-day project ends TO THE HOUR with the end of my meditation class.
But my personal favorite is:
On the same day I was so discouraged about Thirty by Thirty that I was about to quit, I just happened to be at a forum on religion the Exec. Producer of a major network new shows show was attending, and just happened to ask a question to the panel regarding my project, and just happened to forget to mention that, “Oh, I’m writing a book about this,” which caused the Producer to ask me if I was indeed writing about this because, “It’s the most original book idea I’ve heard in years,” and she just happened to encourage me to, “Keep going. Someone will definitely pick this up.”
Coincidence my friends? I think not.
Admittedly, this circa 2004 story is old news.
But, being it is almost old enough to be vintage-cool, I thought a few of you might enjoy a visit to the world’s first 3D Interactive Church….a quiet place to sit (via avatar), pray (via text), listen (to electronic hymn), and reflect (on your own). After my own visit, I think more churches should have online sanctuaries. Not even the most traumatized among us would be reduced to tears by a cartoon altar. I, for one, love this. It should totally be listed in the National Historic (Virtual) Record.
United Kingdom–25 May 2004–http://churchoffools.com/news-stories/03_41000.html
Earlier this week, Church of Fools welcomed 41,000 visitors in one 24-hour period. We document the extraordinary first 14 days of Church of Fools.
Since last week’s launch at the UK’s National Christian Resources Exhibition, Church of Fools has been welcoming, on average, 8,000 visitors per day. But on Wednesday, over 41,000 visitors crammed into the church in one 24-hour period, exceeding all expectations for congregational size.
The reason was a phenomenal second wave of publicity about the church which went all round the world. With headlines such as “Internet devils smite virtual church” (The Times, London) and “Cyber church reacts to ‘Satan’ visit” (CNN), the world’s media reported on the hacking and mischief-making that went on in the church earlier in the week.
“Church of Fools said Wednesday it had shut to outsiders its pulpit, lectern and space round the altar to stop less than religious types giving messages definitely not from the Almighty,” reported CNN. The church also recruited a team of 12 wardens, armed with smite buttons which can be used to eject people who log in to the church simply to cause trouble.
The church is now offering services of morning and night prayer (in UK time) each day, and response from visitors to the cyber sanctuary has been mostly positive.
“I have a friend who has claimed not to believe in God for many years,” wrote Sandy from North Carolina. “He had a crisis this week and wanted a place to try a prayer. No way would he ever go to a real church. But he went to yours, said his first prayer in many years and told me he felt much better afterwards.”
Jenny from Reading, UK, wrote: “I have only managed to get in once as a ‘solid’ but ended up having an interesting conversation with a Jew. I don’t really meet Jewish people in real life, so it was a good experience, especially as our religions have so much history in common.”
The strangest, and maybe the most heartwarming, offer of support during the church’s problems with disruptive visitors came from a self-confessed Satanist. Referring to people who were entering the church to shout “Praise be to Satan!” he wrote…
“I have been Satanist all my life and would never have pulled any such thing. So, for all the immature twits within the Satanic community, you have my sympathies as I truly hope to see you fix the problem soon. Best of luck, sincerely, Satanist with a heart.
Friday night is date night, which usually means Trent and I can be found at Studio 35 (only the best historic, independent food-and alcohol-serving cinema!). After taking in a show and a few drinks, we call a taxi because A.) We are committed to obeying the law! Buzzed driving is Drunk Driving! (At least, according to the billboards). and B.) We prefer to avoid jail.
This means most Fridays around 11 pm, I can be found enjoying a fifteen-minute chat with a cab driver. I always make a point to nicely chat up cab drivers because A.) They have great stories hidden under those thick accents B.) I love great stories C.) They hold our lives in their driving little hands. (Ever wear a seat belt in a taxi? Didn’t think so. I, for one, prefer our lives to be held in happy hands!)
Being that I am, well, me, I can never resist inquiring about our driver’s religion after we’ve covered family and interesting stories. (I’m curious, OK? Especially after a few drinks. No buzzed driving remember?) Recently I’ve been fishing for the best Somalian mosque to attend, because Columbus has the second largest Somalian population in the US, and Islam is the religion of the vast majority.
So far, I’ve had one driver tell me, “You are going to hell…” because I’m not Muslim (In his defense, I did ask his opinion. And, he informed me nicely.) Another driver who had a Catholic mother and Muslim father said: “What I am you ask? Maybe…confused?”
Last Friday’s operator is my hands-down favorite though. Not only was he wearing a suit (I always wear suit for driving!), and supporting SEVEN children (Boys give me most trouble; girls, they easy!), but he was very forthcoming about his religious practices. This is the conversation, as close as I can recall.
So…if I may ask, are you Muslim? Yes. What is the best Somalian mosque to attend? It all same. Somali, Pakistani, any race… we not discriminate. Any mosque best place. I pray five times day. In Mosque if possible. What if you’re driving the cab when it’s time to pray? If I drive you to airport, I drop you off then go to close mosque to pray. What if you aren’t near a mosque? I pull over, pray in the cab. I can do this right here, in cab.See? What if you’re sleeping? I pray as soon I get up!
This is where it gets interesting.
The important thing not where pray, but pray in heart. That most important. Yes, I definitely agree with you. You pray, yes? You Christian? Yes.(I took the easy way out here and didn’t explain the whole Thirty by Thirty thing.) See you pray too, you pray in heart? Yes. It same. Very important to pray to God. I am Muslim which mean I honor all prophet and sacred book. Mohammad, Jesus, Qu’ran, Bible…I believe in all prophet and book. So you and me, we not so different. You pray, I pray. This all same. This important thing. So…you are Muslim, you pray to Allah, but it’s OK if I pray to Jesus? Yes, OK, all OK.
The gentleman is highly devout, very devoted to his faith. He prays five times a day! But yet…he holds his beliefs with his mind open to other faiths. I like him, I like him A LOT.
Post-payment and tip, we thanked him and I left the cab spiritually shell-shocked. Here I am: spending a year of my life in 30 thirty places of worship, looking for theology that fits…and I find it. On date night.IN A CAB.
Not from the pulpit: from the front seat. Not from a minister: from a foreign taxi driver. Not while sensitively journaling about my faith: while buzzed after a good film.
I doubt our driver will ever realize the impact he had on me in our short minutes together, but I’ll always remember he added a few sentences to my personal theology. And that was well-worth the cab fare.