Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monotheism, Polytheism and this Episcopagans Journey, Part Two : The Dark Night of the Soul

Because you come to us by profession of your faith, I ask you therefore, to reject sin, and to profess your faith in Christ Jesus, and to confess the faith of the church, in which you were baptized.
1) Trusting in the gracious mercy of God, do you turn from the ways of sin and renounce evil and its power in the world?
Response: I do.
2) Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Lord and Savior, trusting in his grace and love?
Response: I do.
3) Will you be Christ’s faithful disciple, obeying his Word and showing his love?
Response: I will.
4) Do you vow to submit in obedience to the leadership of the church in work and worship in all things, becoming a faithful member of the congregation?


I do.

With these words, at 8 years of age, I became a "communing" member of my church - able to take communion, to vote in church elections and congregational meetings and be considered a professing Christian and member of the church. I never forgot the moment and the words. They reverberated down my soul, even at age 8 - a solomn vow for all my life ahead of me.

18 years later, these words, these vows cost me more than I could have ever believed of my faith, my sanity and my ability to trust my church, or any church.

Continuing from part one, I graduated my Christian High School, and my very sheltered environment of home and church and school - all enmeshed and one in a doctrinal unity - and went off into the secular wide world of college. My father would have happily sent me to a conservative Christian college, locally or elsewhere, but the funds simply did not allow it. So instead I attended a local secular (by my Christian background's standards) college and fell head long into normalcy - people who had varying views, who drank or smoke or did drugs, who were gay, who were not Christians...things I had never been around in my whole life and had no experience in coexisting with whatsoever. My third roommate, Sceptic - and the one I was to room with the rest of my college years, (and Hi by the way, when you read this!) was atheistic, and talked about Carl Sagan the way I talked about God, at the time. What is interesting is, that she and I became dear friends, and were able to discuss our separate views without rancor or hate. In theory, by my church's standards, we shouldn't have even managed to be in the same room - in reality, love transcended our differences.

But despite my apparent ability to more or less fit in, the fact was that I was woefully unprepared for the reality of life. I trusted. I made friends easily. I viewed everyone through the lens of my own experience - that of my sheltered world, where other than the mindless cruelty of my peers, which eventually faded, people were basically loving and trustworthy. (although I must point out - one of my friends was permanently disillusioned by the vicious behavior of our classmates and to this day views her time with me at the Christian High school as some of the worst years of her life...I cannot say that she is wrong. Kids are brutal in their social milieux and there were no anti-bullying programs back then.)

So, having this gentle view of the world, when I met up with a man who was a predator in the guise of a "friend", I became a victim of sexual assault and violence. I had no map for this. I had nothing that had ever told me how to survive this, despite scriptural platitudes. I sank into a killing depression, and eventually left college, almost unable to function.

I wish to say, here by the way - I have survived this event of more than 25 years ago - survived and gone on to thrive. For any who reads this who has lived through such a situation, rape is a nightmare, but healing is possible - get help...reputable help, particularly survivor support groups with good moderators. There is life on the other side, and it can be a good healthy happy life!

So, I finally went home...found a low paying mall job, and tried to figure out what to do with myself. There was some gentle friction between me and my parents - no fights, but the sudden conjunction of lives that no longer fit. Not only was I radically different from the person who went off to college, but I was also a far more independent person. I could see future conflict arising, so I moved out, acquiring as a roommate, one of my co-workers who also needed to get out. She and I were of an age and similar in thoughts - both artists, both extroverted, both needing to get out of our parents shadows and issues. "Lynn" and I became fast friends, and fairly inseparable. She is the first person I ever told of the assault, she in turn shared some of her past with me (her story is not mine to tell, except where it intersects with my story.)
And then the unthinkable, the unbelievable, the unmentionable happened...she and I became lovers. The situation was deeply closeted. I was torn between being happier than I had ever been in my life, and totally horrified - convinced that I was going to hell, that as a Christian, I had committed the most heinous sin imaginable - that should it be known, I would never ever again be accepted by my faith community. (there was some truth to that last, as the distant future proved). I confided my situation to one friend - Starchild - the only one I trusted enough to tell for certain reasons, and when she gently suggested I might be gay, I metaphorically screamed denial and ran the other way. It. Could. Not. Be. And yet, there is no doubt I was head over heels in love with Lynn, would have spent the rest of my life with her, if events had turned out differently.

But Lynn, however much she loved me, and for all our loving intimacy, was NOT gay. She shortly met a man whom she fell in love with, and in the callousness of youth and disregard, took him to our bed. I walked in on them. This scenario eventually ended with her moving out and marrying him. It also led me, blind with depression and self hate, to attempted suicide. I moved into a small single rental afterwards, explained away the attempt at suicide as a result of the rape, and not the despair of finding my lover in a man's arms in our bed, and lamely tried to get my life going once again. (I won't say that the rape had nothing to do with the suicide...I was a freaking mess by then all the way across the board. But it was a lovely red herring to blame, rather than deal with the hint of the possibility that I was gay!)
Some attempts at finding help in the therapy and psychiatric communities turned out to be the time, rape was considered to be something that you could get over in about 6 weeks, rather than the life long damaging event it actually is. And I had full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (still do, though largely in abeyance.). The one counselor, who almost put her finger on the pin on the map and caught the possible significance of Lynn in my life, I ran from as fast as I could as my religious driven denial continued. I could not be, simply was not and never would, be gay. I was a Christian! This was wrong! It was sin...said so right there in the Bible. Therefore, I was not - WOULD not be - gay. God, how obtuse can you get! It's almost funny now....almost. Because what happened next nearly finished me.

I had reconnected with my church since crawling home from college, and moving out on my own after Lynn's betrayal - I rejoined the choir, and became a lay worker with the youth ministry. I was starting to find that I might survive and even be happy, despite nightmares and PTSD symptoms. I missed Lynn like I might miss oxygen, but of course I had renounced all that evil, and therefore could not acknowledge that. So I threw myself into my old haven, the church. And eventually Had A Thought...of course! The church is here to help you, you idiot! Go to them about the assault, let them counsel you. So I did.

I went to my minister, who was very gentle, and sad about what had happened to me, and paired me off with a woman in the church for counseling, whose heart was in the right place, but had NO clue what to do with me. It was a good Bible study, but it did not remotely touch on the issues I was struggling with. And then came the final betrayal...

I was working with the youth group under the leadership of the youth minister. While meeting with him to go over lesson plans shortly after I had confided in deepest confidence my past with the senior minister...I was pulled out and called into the other office. There the senior minister bluntly, in a matter of about 2 sentences informed me that because of the rape, the session had decided it was not appropriate that I be working with the youth group, and I would have to withdraw from the youth ministry.

My entire world crumbled and imploded. I sat there, struggling to speak, to say anything, all my victim's self blame and horror rising to choke my throat. And he just sat there and look at me and waited in patient silence for my utter capitulation. I finally got out a strangled "Can we talk about this, do I have any choices?" No, I did not, he informed me. There was no discussion possible. I was officially kicked out of the program. The compassion that had originally been in him was simply not there. He was cold, distant and removed.

And all I could think, all I could manage to hear in my mind was my own 8 year old voice, 18 years ago saying "I do." to the question laid before me - "Do you vow to submit in obedience to the leadership of the church in work and worship in all things, becoming a faithful member of the congregation?" I had promised. I had given my vow, my word, my honor. Utter obedience...

In the eternity of those few seconds, I swallowed agony and submitted.

Very well, I said.
They had not told the youth minister, so I had to go back down the hall, and tell him that I was not allowed to work with the youth any more. I left my carefully researched lesson plans at his feet metaphorically, and walked out blind with tears into the sunshine, feeling that somehow, I was the evil one for being raped, that somehow I must have asked for it, that I was at fault...the trap that awaits most victims, and I had just begun to believe in myself again.

In author Lois MacMaster Bujold's works, is a point made in the words of her main character; "The problem with death before dishonor is a survivors problem. If you live long enough, the world sorts itself into two categories - the dead and the fore sworn."

I was not fore sworn....but I was certainly for all purposes walking dead. I spent the next 10 years, still in this church, faithfully singing in the choir...and simply not engaging with much of anything else, or trusting another living soul. I was totally severed from my community, and they never even noticed. I was obviously up there singing, wasn't I?

My community and I were severed, and I had simply no where to turn that I trusted any more.

And thus my relationship with Organized Conservative Christianity was shattered, though it took another decade and many changes in my life, before the final amputation occurred.

The Fool had fallen off the precipice at last...

More to come....


  1. It always breaks my heart to hear stories, like yours, of abuse by men and organized religion. Yet such stories are legion and neverending, aren't they?

  2. I'm so sorry you went through this, and I really, really want to mete out a major angry on that minister. Mostly, though, huge hugs to you.

  3. So much for Christian love, hope and charity....
    I've always been appalled by the way victims of sexual violence are treated.
    It's not bad enough to be physically and emotionally harmed by someone on a power trip and rape is about stealing power. You undergo that trauma and turn to the thing that should uplift and heal you..only to have it turn it's back and treat you as though you were at fault.

    It's saddening, sickening and wrong.

    *hugs - again*