Tell me all your thoughts on God

I’ll be honest. I’m not really sure what I believe about God most days. I grew up in a charismatic church, married a Lutheran, and then attended Baptist and Calvinist churches until we decided to leave. We’ve tried a few other churches, but our beliefs have morphed and changed. Since we experienced a lot of spiritual abuse at the hands of the leaders of our last church, it’s been hard to go back. And at this point, we are pretty much done with the church.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Over the past few months,  I will say, I’ve thought a lot about my relationship, or lack thereof, with God. I still feel as if I have one. I often will pray prayers in my head and I think about verses I’ve learned and I still try to be kind, loving, and forgiving even if I don’t know where I stand some days with my faith. I still desire to know the truth about God. I find him even more mysterious than I ever have, but I haven’t written him off as uncaring, unloving, or not hearing me. I just feel as if this journey requires me to dig my heels in and decide. It calls out to me and asks, “What is it that you really believe about me?” And that question is something I keep asking myself and fine-tuning as I go.

I am a very observant person. Growing up rather sheltered and withdrawn, I learned early on to watch not what people say, but what they don’t say. And to keep an eye on what they do. People tend to say all kinds of nice sounding things, but it’s what they do and what they don’t say that interest me.

When I tell people I don’t go to church, they automatically assume I’m going to hell. They can’t believe I’ve walked away from God. When I try to explain myself, I am faced with a lot of odd looks and strange body language as if I birthed an alien.

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The look I get when I tell people I don’t go to church. Photo by Moose Photos on Pexels.com

I’ve noticed over the years something about Christians, especially those who religiously attend church and swear by the tradition. They say a lot of nice sounding things, but if you end up not agreeing or have doubts, they quickly turn into people that become hurtful and angry.

I’ve thought a lot about this over the past week. A friend of mine decided to attend church and then wrote an email to the pastor about some things he found that went against the scripture. The pastors reply was more or less “I don’t like what you said, so don’t come back to my church. Signed, Pastor, PHD”. Interestingly, I was out on the lake looking at God’s beauty in creation while thousands of people were sitting in pews “going to church”. I told my friend, “This is what church really is: Admiring God’s creation instead of playing dress-up and trying to impress people”.  It’s true I feel more connected to God in nature than I do sitting around his so-called people.

But after I read the Pastor’s response to my friend, the thought occurred to me that the church itself–I mean, buildings of people gathering to watch a Pastor perform every Sunday–is in and of itself Satanic. And maybe I don’t trust that word anymore either since I don’t always buy into the entire idea of Satan, but the church could be defined as something evil. It’s idolatry, really.

Got Questions defines idolatry this way:

The definition of idolatry, according to Webster, is “the worship of idols or excessive devotion to, or reverence for some person or thing.” An idol is anything that replaces the one, true God.

Exodus 20 states, “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

Yet, what is a Pastor these days? Nothing more than an idol. And when you try to point out how corrupt and evil this is, you will see the way you are treated. It’s pure evil. Most Christians I know treat their pastor as they would Jesus Christ. They see him as the messenger between God and themselves. They see him as a person who is granted some sort of special powers and has the ability to be called. This is hogwash. And it’s idolatry.

In my last church, people asked the pastor if they should get this or that car, how to parent their kid, if they should go on a special diet, if they thought certain diseases were real, how to spend their money, mental health issues, marriage problems, abuse problems, and on and on. They wouldn’t look outside the church for help because to do so was frowned upon. The Pastor was seen as the guy with the answers.

frida-bredesen-317281-unsplashTo go against the pastor is to go against Jesus himself. And to go against the pastor is to be treated as the enemy of the church. I recently read a comment about people who write posts such as this one and they said that anything that is divisive is of the devil. If that’s the case, then so is Martin Luther, Galileo, or in modern day, Rachel Denhollander.

Are Christians really demons? Are they really filled with Christ or with the power of Satan? It’s as if they can’t search the Bible, if that’s what they claim to believe, and realize that most of what they say and do is not even in the Bible! The term “Pastor” is only used once and the term “shepherd” is not defined by ruling over a group of people and having their unquestionable loyalty. I appreciated this video by Servus Christi:

Most churches are run by marketing and business efforts. Pastors go to seminary to be a tool of change in the hands of God, but money corrupts the best of us. And so does power. I don’t believe that Jesus really wanted his church to be defined by the love of money (which is the root of all kinds of evil) or by commending ourselves with titles and status. If you read scripture, you will notice how Christ sees those who are outside of prestige and popularity as the ones who will inherit the kingdom, not the proud and boastful who flaunt their professions and call themselves “Pastor, PHD”.

Of course, I’m being a little cheeky when I say that they are demons. I know most Christians are not. But I wonder about their reactions. It’s this put-up-your-dukes-and-lets-fight attitude. It’s accusations and name calling and assumptions about salvation and hell. To argue against a pastor or a church’s ideology is to be shunned and treated as Satan himself. It makes me wonder if these people are truly of Christ, or of the devil himself. Because to love Christ is to be patient, kind, and respectful. What I see is a bunch of rude, prideful people who claim they are defending the faith but really are defending their choices. To question those choices is to place doubt into their minds about the very thing they believe and put their hope in–their church and pastors. It has replaced their need for Christ, although they falsely assume they are still loving and serving Him by going to church and defending their beliefs to the death.

Of course, most Christians won’t want to hear a thing I have to say. Steven Hassan, an expert on mind control, uses the term BITE to describe how people can be sucked into cults (including pastor worship and church worship). Cults seek to manipulate our Behaviour, the Information we access, our Thoughts and Emotions. You can see a bigger version of these images here.

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Most times, it’s not this obvious or in your face. Sometimes it’s subtle and elusive, but when you step back, you can see exactly what it was. Some churches are cults by definition. Some are toxic. Some are “cultish” and exhibit some of these behaviors, but not all. In any case, why would anyone want to be associated with such things? Even if you only exhibit one thing in this entire list, it’s too much.

It’s why I can honestly say the church is evil. And I won’t be running back to the same place I escaped from. While my relationship with God still hangs in the balance, the church won’t be the place where I find him again. The church did so much damage to my thinking, my emotions, my sense of self that I can not imagine what my life would be like if I had stayed and kept enduring their lies and control.

It might look ugly right now where I’m at, but it’s my ugly. I’m free to think, be, and make my own choices which aren’t influenced by some dude with a suit and a narcissistic personality disorder. I’m not sure why Christians call themselves “free” or claim they have “freedom in Christ” when they are so wrapped up into their churches and what their leaders or pastors have deemed important. So many Christians lives consist of serving in the church, giving all their extra income to the church, and attending church. They can’t imagine life outside the walls of their church!

There is life and joy outside the walls, the people, and the events in a church building. I’m learning to enjoy the real world and each person I encounter. There is no line of who I can talk to or not talk to, where I can go and can’t go, or what opportunities I can join or not join. My calendar is not booked up with church events and my mind if not bogged down with guilt, shame, and sorrow from being manipulated by the teachings of the church.

If the Bible is lovely and pure and holy, I sure never found it in the church.

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Friends are friends forever

I sometimes miss the idea of church. The idea goes something like this: you belong to a group with built in activities. That group, whether feigned or not, seems to care and give you a sense of support. Your kids automatically have a group to be in. And if you need prayer or advice, this group will listen and pray, even though most of it is obligatory.

I just miss being lied to I guess.

My daughters’ graduation party is on its way and I was thinking of who I’d invite. Besides the people I still talk to in my own family and my in-laws, really only one set of friends will be there. My daughter is on the spectrum so she’s struggled to make any friends. And we lost touch with almost every “church person” I’ve known. Kind of a sad celebration, but it is one even with a limited show of people.

I think of all the churches I’ve attended and the people I no longer talk to. Sometimes I get sad. Maybe I don’t really miss church but I miss feeling like I belonged, even if most of the time it was fake. People were surface level and the minute we left, our relationship ended. I still feel sad like it was my fault. But they could’ve tried too.

Now I’m 40 and have really one friend only. She lives a ways from me. I have another friend I reconnected with but she’s in another state. We interact through text messages mostly. Otherwise, I run into people sometimes. Our interactions are friendly but distant.

I ran into a homeschool mom tonight and although I enjoyed her company and I laughed alot, I felt sad. This is all the relationship will ever be. Me bumping into her. Joking about odd things. Then, the end. In another life, I would have gone out of my way to have friends and make it work, but now I just appreciate the small pleasantries and joy and then move on. I don’t force friendships.

I guess I figure if someone really cares about me, they’ll do more than just offer open ended invites to coffee. They’ll actually set a date or connect and plan one. Most people these days say “Hey, we should do coffee.” That’s nice. Now what?

I guess church gave the impression that I always had friends when I really didn’t. And that I had support, but it wasn’t real. Of course mixed in with that was a bunch of bullshit, but sometimes you feel an emptiness and you try to search for what’s missing. Then you pull at threads, forgetting how the last time you unraveled a mess.

I don’t have any intention of returning to church… Not with all the horrors I’ve seen swept under their rugs. I guess I don’t miss church or church people but I do miss the feeling that I’m not alone. I miss people asking how I’m doing even if it was forced.

Sometimes I just wish there were more people on my team and I didn’t have to fight so hard for them to stay. Maybe it’s because I fear there is something inheritantly wrong with me. Isolation is a hard way to live.

I’m not really sure where to find friends or what makes a good friend anymore. I used to think a good friend was a Christian but now days, most Christians are on my shit list. I really just prefer a genuine person who doesn’t hide behind prayers and Bible verses and platitudes. Of course, there are good people who are Christians but it’s difficult to keep hanging on when my belief is almost gone. I know I don’t believe in church or lumping myself in with homeschoolers or church peeps. I think about God but not sure who He is to me anymore. Most Christians aren’t willing to endure someone like me. And non Christians don’t understand my faith and struggle.

Either way, it’s lonely. Maybe I’m just meant to struggle alone.

My Me Too

When I was a little girl, probably around age 8 or 9, I was playing in my yard. The neighbor boy was outside, putting up a tent. He was my older brother’s friend who was around the age of 18 or 19.  I was a curious little kid. I saw him putting up the tent and even though I was shy, I had talked with him before. His family had lived next to us for years. I have strange flash backs being in their small house, but I can’t really recall why. I remember the older couple that lived upstairs in the mother-in-law apartment that was attached. I spent hours over there, probably chatting their ears off or asking questions that annoyed them. My mom didn’t seem to mind me being gone. She seemed to trust them with her kids, or maybe was blissfully unaware.

So I crossed the sidewalk from our house and stepped into their front yard. Dennis, as this was his name, looked at me and continued putting up the tent. The conversation was small talk really. I asked why he needed a tent and he told me so he could sleep under the stars with a girl, or something like that. I thought that was weird. I really don’t remember the conversation or how it turned into what it did, but I do remember that he wanted to “show me” what he would be doing. And so then he decided to french kiss me. I honestly don’t remember if I ran away or sat there stunned. It wasn’t until years later that I actually remembered the incident, telling my sister and niece when I was a teenager and they laughed about it.

When I was about 18 years old, I saw him again. My brother had died and my family had a gathering at their house a few months later. Dennis showed up. He was now in his late 20’s or so. He kept saying how I had grown up and kept staring at me. I felt uncomfortable and left to go talk to someone else. I never saw him again. I don’t care to.

I see stories on Twitter of girls who have been raped or assaulted. Hollywood is full of these creeps. Churches even have been called out about their cover-ups of abuse. It seems silly to talk about a neighbor boy who “only” kissed me. I don’t feel traumatized by the event, but I have felt uncomfortable around men all my life.

When the #metoo threads came out, I felt drawn to the stories. I kept reading them and was appalled by the pain in the victims voices. I felt sad for all they had lost–their dignity, their respect, jobs, and the like. My story isn’t even close to theirs.

Maybe it’s because I was a child. I didn’t have a job or family to lose. I didn’t need to be threatened because I kept silent about it for 10 years until I told a few people and their reaction caused me to continue in my silence. Even now, I find it hard to write this and not feel it is something that should be told.

Yesterday my daughter told me that a boy in her homeschool co-op was hounding her to send foot video to him. He requested it be 45 seconds long and that she rub her foot on something. He admitted to having a foot fettish. She’s a smart girl and told him no. She eventually blocked him on all her social profiles. My response was swear words and anger. You just don’t expect this in a Christian homeschool co-op, but apparently evil is everywhere. It’s at this point that I find myself wondering if I should rock the boat & say something or walk away and let the dude continue to be a pervert. For my daughter’s part, he’s been blocked from her on all social media, but he still sees my daughter on Monday’s in her writing class. This makes me sad. Should she go an entire 1/2 year dealing with his creepy stares and knowing what she knows?

She doesn’t like conflict and doesn’t want attention drawn to herself either. How do I respect her wishes yet still show her that silence isn’t the answer? It’s taken me a long time to process that too. What actions are worth raising hell over? Which ones aren’t? Is there a line? I just don’t know.

Looking back, I wish I would’ve ran and told someone about what happened to me. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered at all. I don’t know enough to say I would’ve prevented other situations from the likes of Dennis. I have no idea where he ended up or what he’s done or if he’s even alive. But it wouldn’t have been hard for people to believe me.

In other situations, like my daughter’s, I hesitate to speak up because I know that prize Christian kids will be believed over depressed teenage girls. She could be told she participated so she was wrong (which she didn’t) or she may be shamed or questioned about her part or even about her honesty. And I’m just hesitant to go there.

I wish these things were easy, but it often ends up in “he said” / “she said” and the woman is left defending herself again and again to people who don’t believe her. I am struggling to do the right thing in this scenario–and in so many other scenarios when I’ve had to deal with male bullies and not being believed. It’s like my last church experience all over again. Will I be listened to this time?

The Shaming Game

I’ve not blogged here for awhile. I think I was trying to desperately to forget about church and abuse and all the negative feelings that go along with it. And it worked, somewhat. But pain doesn’t go away completely.

I still believe in God, but I falter in other ways. I can’t seem to pick up my Bible. I don’t want to pray. I think I’m still working things out in my head about what it is I do believe. Because for years, I was told what to think, what to feel, how to talk and was shamed if I didn’t do it THAT way. That’s what church, religion, and the Bible has become for me. And I’m trying to find my way back to what I’m supposed to be. I think though, if God is loving, kind, and merciful, He’s ok with my struggle.

In the back of my head, I still hear old pastors, leaders, and their wives. Some of their comments come to mind when I think about how I’m struggling.

Are you gonna disobey God and doubt his word?

You need to be more loving, more serving, more forgiving.

It doesn’t matter what you feel. Feelings aren’t important. God’s word is!

We are sinful and deserve hell, so you think too highly of your own self.

I could keep going. You get the idea. In almost every church I’ve ever been, I’ve been told to squash who I am, my thoughts, my struggles, my feelings. It’s the way of the church. They don’t want to address real issues or have them come to the surface. They want you to hide them, cover them up, and say a quick apology to God and be done with it. And after 40 years of that, I’m struggling to know how to relate to other Christians, to my family, and to God Himself.

Even in churches like my last one, where they said one thing at the pulpit and another behind closed doors–I still feel the sting of their actions. My heart still hurts. Sometimes it’s the things that were never said that hurt the most too. Showing up in tears and being ignored. Being secretly gossiped about and shunned and people avoiding you every Sunday. When your entire life has been “the church” and you release yourself from that lifestyle, it’s very hard to figure out who you are.

I find most of what comes out of the church is repulsive. I can’t handle the corny sayings and the fake concern. I can’t handle the group think. I can’t handle the cookie-cutter lifestyle that we all *should be* living. Because one thing that I do know–one good thing that’s happened to me–is that I found peace with myself, even when I’m struggling so much. I’m happy to be alone. I’m happy to do my art. I’m happy to live in loneliness sometimes. I’m happy to not be apart of the group think, the abuse, the insane thinking that goes on every week in most churches. Yes, it’s lonely–I wish I could find friends, hang out, and be apart of something. But I’m mostly just apart of the world which I had to make for myself where I take my pain and wrap it into an art project. That’s all I feel I’m able to do sometimes. Relating to almost anyone these days seems too hard.

I don’t miss church. I miss the thought of lying to myself and saying I was apart of something. The truth was it was just a smoke screen. Yet, I know there are people who still go to this church who think it’s great. They write reviews on Facebook and say how much of a family my old church is and how welcoming they are. I start to feel like I am, indeed, the problem! But I know that isn’t true. It’s just a photoshopped version of the truth. It’s how they’ve maintained their image. It’s a big, fat lie.

I guess what hurts the most is it feels as if they go on happily, never knowing the damage they caused. Never understanding how every day is hard; how I struggle more and more each day with my faith. They will never comprehend the damage done to my heart, to my soul, to my emotions. Yet, I’m thankful that I am no longer being duped, being lied to, being subjected to their abuse. I’m thankful I am free. I’m thankful I can take my pain and turn it into art instead of just squashing my feelings to save face. It all hurts, but not as much as when I was there, dying inside each day I was told I wasn’t enough.

If I know anything about God, it’s this: He loves those who are on the outside–the fallen, the broken, the hurting. He loves me. I know this is true. And maybe today, that’s all I need to know.

 

Who is Wise Among You?

We do a good job of muddying the waters of Christianity. We seem to complicate things that don’t need to be complicated.

I’ve been following a trend lately and trying to figure out what I think about it. I noticed on twitter women speaking about things they have heard while in church (#thingsonlychristianwomenhear), most of which seemed to be anger at not being able to pastor or lead in a church setting. There is also the “submission” topic in marriage too. Then there is the Jen Hatmaker incident. She wrote a Good Friday post about it:

This year, I deeply experienced being on the wrong side of religion, and it was soul-crushing. I suffered the rejection, the fury, the distancing, the punishment, and sometimes worst of all, the silence. I experienced betrayal from people I thought loved us. I felt the cold winds of disapproval and the devastating sting of gossip.

I see a trend that I don’t really like though. It’s some sort of power struggle which pits men against women. It demands rights for women to preach and teach, but stomps on men who do. Men and women have the gloves on, going head to head with one another. Men bloggers like Matt Walsh take their stance on women, and women like Sarah Bessey come out in droves to fight back. And rightly so. Most of what men leaders say is total BS. But I still find it all ugly.

These tweets and blogs remind me of why I have shaken off the church. Not just because of things said to me. Not because at one point I was hurt. I feel I’m past all that really. Yes, it still rises up sometimes when I’m triggered, but the main reason I stay away from the institutional church system (IC) is because I don’t like the idea of it at all. I don’t like what it produces. All these things point to what the church is doing, what it will always do, and how people tend to react to it in order to stay there. Jen Hatmaker was on the “wrong side of religion” but religion has only one side: evil veiled as goodness.

I told my husband the other day that I no longer read books by famous authors, listen to celebrity pastors and their sermons, or keep up with well-to-do churches or their members. He said “Well, they aren’t all bad or all good”. He’s right there is truth in what most preach and teach. They aren’t all bad or all good. Yet, I don’t want to weed through their sermons to find the tidbit of truth. I’d rather go directly to the Bible and see what God says for Himself. If I have questions, I know God can lead me to places where I will find those answers. If not, I know the mystery isn’t mine to know.

James 1:5

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.

It’s a simple faith I try to lead. And sometimes I do feel lost in it. The quietness of my faith can sometimes resemble the feeling that something is missing. It can sometimes feel void of conflict. It can feel drama-free. But I think that is the point.

I’m not saying my life has no drama and I don’t deal with conflict. I certainly do. But what is missing is the added drama. This clawing to the top, this vying for a role in the church. Who needs it? Just go out and be the church. I don’t have to ask permission to show love and kindness to someone, to speak about Christ to someone, to be a light to someone. But in the church, there will always be that power struggle. Systems are made for someone to control it. 

Jen Hatmaker’s words are words I can understand, even if I don’t agree with her in other ways:

This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ….My mind knows the difference between the Christian Machine and Jesus, but this year it feels hard to separate. The whole system seems poisoned, and I struggle to drink any of it.

And so the ones rejected and spit out by the church will be hurt because they didn’t follow the rules exactly, but expected to be treated like they did. What they really want is for people to tow the line and regurgitate niceties and scripted language. They want polish. They don’t want questions. They don’t embrace doubts.

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

James 3:13-18

I guess all I really know is that when you allow Jesus to be your King, not other people, you let Him guide you into truth. We battle against others when our fight should be in ourselves. It’s one reason I dislike social media. It’s much too easy to wage war online. I think my time is better spent pursuing peace with those who need it. There are some who have no interest in thinking, only spewing their rhetoric, and for me, that’s not what God made me for.

It’s easy to get sucked into what the church is doing. I’m not saying to ignore it or not bring light to it. I’m just saying I don’t want to be defined by it. “She hates the church” shouldn’t be what people know of me. “She loves Jesus” should be. And while I have no plans to step back into a church building experience, I do love the church — the real church that embraces others in love, speaks the truth in kindness, and shows mercy to the weak. This is not something that requires a systematic approach and a building. It requires a heart that loves Jesus and longs to be like Him.

There’s nothing complicated about that.

Churchianity: The God of Fear

The other day, I had the unfortunate encounter with a blogger who interprets the scriptures much differently than I do. We butted heads on the issue of church. Her post went out of the way to shame people who didn’t go to church. So I commented that she was victim blaming and that I took issue with her idea that going to church equals salvation. Her response to me was this:

Elle- Your argument is not with me, but with Scripture. If your argument were biblical, you’d be able to back it up with chapter and verse Scripture. There’s nowhere in the Bible that says it’s OK to reject the church because you’ve been hurt by it. You are judging me by making the assumption that I’ve never been hurt by the church and am therefore heartless to those who have. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. My family has been hurt deeply by more than one church. But your experiences and mine still don’t serve as an excuse to rebel against God’s word. People who are genuinely born again obey God’s word despite their experiences and feelings.

I would strongly encourage you to examine your heart against the measuring stick of Scripture not your feelings, experiences, and opinions, to discover whether or not you’re actually born again, because the fruit you’ve exhibited in your comments here and previously indicates that you do not understand the gospel and are not saved (1 Corinthians 2:14, John 14:23-24, 1 John 2:4-6). I’m not saying that to be mean, but because I’m concerned for your eternity. Simply saying or feeling that you’re a Christian doesn’t mean you are one.

Please, repent of your sin and place your faith in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to save you and set you free from the things that have hurt you. You don’t have to live life as a victim any more.

Triggered Emotions

The thing was that I had been on her blog before and I had given her scriptural reasons as to why we shouldn’t put a church building up on a pedestal. We are not to hide away from other Christians or neglect getting together to talk about Christ, eating together, or just enjoying each other as we have a common bond, but that to me doesn’t mean sitting in a church pew and staring at the back of one’s head.

I hate to admit it, but her comment got under my skin this weekend. It wasn’t “her comment” exactly that bothered me. It was something deeper. It triggered past experiences and hurts and judgments that were made against me in the name of Christianity…in the name of “speaking the truth in love”. This is a typical cop-out for having to be held accountable for things you say: “I’m not saying that to be mean, but because I’m concerned for your eternity.” If you have to preface something with “I’m not saying this to be mean…” guess what? You already crossed a line.

The Judgmental Church

How easy it is for one to make judgments about another’s faith based on a simple fact: I don’t go to a church building. There have been judgments about me in other ways in the past. I’ve been judged by a statement on facebook. I’ve been judged because I don’t spank my kids. I’ve been judged because I question. I’ve been judged because I’m a woman. I’ve been judged for working. I’ve been judged because I don’t fit into the “perfect wife” scenario. Judging someone without really getting to know them and then telling them they are hell-bound is damaging. Especially when I’ve fought so hard to break down lies that prevent me from experiencing the joy of having a relationship with Christ. To be brought back to the point where I question my salvation and God’s love for me is destructive.

Honestly, this is what the church produces though. This is why I’ve left the church and will not return. I did question my salvation after reading this post. I questioned if Jesus wants me in the church. I questioned if I was wrong. I wondered if I was making a good decision by staying away.

She’s right. I’m not saved. Not in the way she wants me to be. I’m not saved by church attendance, rituals, traditions, and man made rules. I’m not saved by what people think of me or lacking belief in God that says He is for me and loves me. I’m not saved by pot lucks, passion plays, and phony interactions on a Sunday morning. That’s fine if you find comfort in those things, but I do not. I have outgrown the need for such things. I see things differently now.

Telling me my experiences and feelings don’t matter is yet another form of invalidation. If I didn’t feel things, I wouldn’t love God. If I didn’t look at my experiences and see how God was using them in my life, I’d be stuck in bad patterns and lost. Yes, the Bible is the Word of God that guides us into truth, but it is not a weapon to use to smack another human being over the head with nor is it a device to silence them when you don’t like what they have to say. It’s a gift you give to others to share the grace, forgiveness, and love in the person of Jesus Christ. If you can’t offer that, you aren’t offering the gospel.

The institutional church experience promotes fear and shaming. It is a weapon of invalidation, which says you aren’t allowed to think, act, speak, or be different and if you question that, we’ll make you sorry. It uses dysfunctional forms of communication and tactics to spread it’s message which it calls the gospel, but it is nothing like the gospel at all. It’s message is to scare people into coming to church so the church system can thrive. Without people, it will die. Which it should, if you ask me. But the institutional church needs money, volunteers, and “yes men” to keep itself going so it spews these words from the pulpit and the attendees in turn regurgitate it to anyone who would dare question the system. Instead of producing peaceful Christians, you end up with a bunch of fear-mongering cowards.

The art of leadership… consists in consolidating the attention of the people against a single adversary and taking care that nothing will split up that attention.

Adolf Hitler

This thing will always anger me until I die. If you serve a God of fear, I suggest you fire him.

Being Katniss in a President Snow World

I have watched the Hunger Games like a zillion times now. I’ve not read the books. It’s on my to-do list for when my kids are gone and I have nothing better to do. But the movies I’ve watched and have found a little bit of a correlation to myself trying to live as a Christian.

Katniss, The Protagonist

Katniss is the protagonist in the story. After her father dies in a mining accident, Katniss becomes a mother-like figure to her sister, although her mother is still alive. She hunts for food and is a natural with a bow and arrow. When her sister, Prim, is chosen as a “tribute” for their District, Katniss takes her place, saving Prim from a certain death in what is known as “the Hunger Games”.

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is where children from each district are chosen to fight each other and only one is supposed to survive. That survivor wins the hunger games. Katniss and another character, Peeta, embarass President Snow by joining forces and through a series of events too long to explain, force him to let the two of them be the winners of the games instead of just one. Throughout the movie, Katniss is defying the rules, breaking down control, and basically pissing off the leaders. She isn’t simply a rebellious person, but one who can’t conform to what she views as evil. And evil it is. When she is told to get in line, she never does. She has her own sense of what is wrong with the world and she feels its her duty to right that wrong. She doesn’t care what everyone else is doing. Instead, she can only see the world in which she is living as becoming more and more terrible, and instead of just going with it, she fights against it.

President Snow, The Antagonist

President Snow is the antagonist of the story. He’s the ruler of the Capitol and all of Panem. In the movie, he emotionally terrorizes Katniss. One of his signature moves was leaving behind a rose so she knew he had been there. He’s basically a psychopath but is so laid back and relaxed, he comes off as a huge creep. He wants to kill Katniss, but because she is so popular and well-liked, he instead threatens the people she loves. He is an oppressive dictator who is power hungry and will do whatever it takes to get what he wants. He seems to target Katniss because she refuses to obey the rules and she causes a following that also starts to think for themselves.

The Church Today

Today’s Christians often remind me of President Snow. I’m referring mostly to the ones who use shame, abuse, manipulation, and control to get their point across. The ones who victim blame and do little to try to understand those of us who’ve left the church. We are just simply tired of dealing with evil. It’s not that we are hurt and have to go coddle our feelings. It’s that we are tired of the games. We are tired of the roses you leave behind when we know the message behind that rose. They might not threaten us physically (although some can), but they threaten our spiritual walks when they spread lies about if God can really keep us since we left the church.

The President Snow types are the ones that seem bent on making anyone not in the church feel bad about their relationship with God. They assume that because we have left, we don’t love God and we can’t fellowship. They can only define “the church” one way and any argument in another direction brings them to conclude that we are lost and we never were saved to begin with, which is another shaming tactic to make us doubt our faith. Good thing I don’t put my faith in other people or what they say. I believe Christ has saved me and nothing, NOTHING, can separate me from Him. Not even manipulative church members and their abusive words.

Fixing a Broken System

How does one fix such a broken system? Can it be fixed? I’m reminded that Katniss didn’t try to fix the system. She fought against it. She merged with others who were on her side (and some she later learned weren’t, but that’s besides the point) and fought with all her might to take it down. There was no fixing of something so corrupt. You tear it down and start over, but not with the same rules, ideas, and thinking in place. You must rid a “society” of such things if it is to prosper. But people in the institutional church would rather guilt and shame a person for leaving because we are “tearing down the church” and “creating discord” by leaving. It’s our fault the church is dividing, causing in-fighting, and has corrupt rulers.

The Sacrifice for Truth

Katniss lost friends and loved ones in the process. In the same way, I lost people I thought were my friends. I lost relationships and my reputation, to some degree. I’m still fighting for truth. If the church is a place of love, why does it shun people when they leave? Why does it label them (incorrectly) as heathens and chalk it all up to “hurt feelings” or “you were never a Christian to begin with”? Why does it silence the hurting? Why does it use shame to make those of us who’ve chosen a different path to try to get us to see the “error of our ways”? The only error I see is inside the walls of the church where this manipulation and shaming is bred. The church system is good at rewiring a person’s brain to see anyone outside as evil and everyone inside as good. But the truth is, it’s the exact opposite! The evil exists behind well clothed pastors and their cronies who ooze nice sounding theological arguments and words, but their hearts are intent on control and conformity. That’s why every single church person who has decided I’m a heathen has said the same exact crap — it’s all regurgitated BS that’s been passed down from the pulpit to the sheeple. They can’t think for themselves and don’t want to.

Maybe it’s too hard to see anything different when you are inundated with brain washing tactics inside the church walls. It’s too hard for you to think that one can possibly live “in Christ alone, by faith alone” or that we could even be saved if we don’t submit to a pastor figure with a seminary degree. I think the only way one would see the truth is to spend some time actually reading the Bible for themselves, trying to understand God for themselves, without any man telling them how to think. Then, go speak to people who have left and see for yourself if we actually are a bunch of heathens all deceiving everyone and sending them to hell. And when you’ve walked alongside those people, then you can come back and tell me if they are hell-bound and disobeying scripture or not. But I’m afraid you will not even try because you are much too busy sitting on your high horse to come down and see what really is going on. It’s easier to sit on that horse and judge. And yet you think we should come back and ride on that horse with you. No thanks. I really have no interest in being with people who victim blame and shame in the name of Christ. I don’t want to drink from a poisoned spring.

My name is Katniss Everdeen. I am seventeen years old. My home is District 12. I was in the Hunger Games. I escaped. The Capitol hates me.

John 15:

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

In the future, I’ll write a more in-depth post based on the arguments that people have against not being in the institutional church, but for now, I thought the Hunger games comparison was something to think about. Here are some posts to check out about the institutional church and it’s evils.

What is the Danger of the Church System – Bryn Jones

Christianity and the Spiral of Silence – Jayson Bradley

10 Ways to Spot Spiritual Abuse – Mary Demuth

 

Walking Away

Whenever you end something, it can feel hard at first. It’s hard to see past today. It’s hard to know if you’ll be ok.

About a year and a half ago, my family walked away from the church we were in for 3 years. It felt like I was betraying God. I wondered if I’d lose my faith. The problem was the church had misused its power and caused my family much grief. We tried other churches after we left but they all had hints of manipulation: guilt trips, key phrases used to shame you, and verses taken out of context. I couldn’t sit for another service in a place that used tactics to preach Christ.

We now meet 2x a month with a family and we do a home church, although it’s not like church at all. There is no pastor. There is no paid worship team. No leaders. We are all equals and all given equal time to bring up or address things from scripture. It’s much more peaceful. I don’t have to be quiet the entire hour and listen to someone talk at me. I get to engage and make points and raise questions with the text. I get to hear others and they get to hear me.

I never felt free to do that in church because it wasn’t welcomed. Even in times where discussion was promoted, it became a pissing match to see who could kiss up to the pastor and have the best answer. It was a huge turn off listening to all the theologians in the room discuss things that had no meaning for me personally. I got tired of being told what to think, how to worship, how to pray, and who to be friends with.

I realized that these things will flow naturally out of a heart that loves God. I don’t need to force myself into a pew, be told to raise my hands in worship, be expected to pray out loud, or be forced to like a creep just because we were in the same building together. In real life, relationships exist and we can live in them. In real life, I can worship in my car while dropping my kids off at classes. In real life, I can let the Holy Spirit guide me to those unlovable people that need a kind word. I don’t need a guilt trip from a pastor. God leads me everyday.

After I left the church, it took time to get my wings again. I ended up pursuing my creative side which was stifled inside the church. I’m slowly growing into my own because I feel real freedom in Christ. When I was in the church, I felt bound by rules and religion. Outside of the church, I am bound only by my relationship with Christ. It has freed me to pursue my God given abilities instead of being told I’m just here to serve my husband. In using my gifts, I am more peaceful and joyful than I ever was in a church building.

I have not neglected the church because the church includes all Christians, not just ones in a certain building. Further, not all people who attend church are actual Christians. The church attracts toxic people, many of whom aren’t saved. The church is no more Christian than people at the grocery store or those at a county fair. Sprinkled throughout are real Christians, but a whole lot aren’t saved at all and are merely trying to prey on others or mark off their “do good” deed for the week. This is why I find it laughable that anyone would chide me for not going to church. The church is a toxic place to be.

While I could say so much more about all of this, I will end here. I hope to write what I’m learning, not just bring up issues with the church. Stay tuned.