Escaping the Bubble or my Søren Kierkegaard moment
In the last post, I talked about who I was. I wanted to be able to define myself from the inside out and begin the process of decolonizing myself. I am finding ways to become anti-racist and give space to others around me. I am seriously reviewing and critiquing past assumptions and long-held beliefs and abandoning those that hinder my personal, emotional, and spiritual growth.
This part is excellent and allows me to regain my power and achieve my full personal potential in life. There is a downside to all of this. The very resources that cause me to confront those same things also tell me that I cannot appropriate any other cultural or religious traditions that are not “mine.” Of course, this has not stopped people from doing that. The issue it raises with non-Europeans is that it continues the practice of colonization and white supremacy. Even if I find that Christianity as an institutional world religion is a sham and a tool of the oppressors, I can’t quickly abandon it and find another religious tradition without throwing up those red flags for the people who practice those traditions.
This experience leads me into a bit of an existential crisis. After finally freeing myself from the prison of heteronormaty, I now find another prison. A limitation because of the cultural damage done by people who look like me. Injury in which I am implicitly complicit. So, I am stuck. No matter how I feel, choices other people made for me, not just when I was a baby and child, but generations ago, limit my own spiritual and cultural journey. This struggle is what is called the "White Man's Burden." It is a reality, and no one has to solve it for us. I am familiar with generational pain and moral stain. It is a daily personal experience for me. I cannot speak of certain things because of the emotional and personal pain it brings. Stripping the pretense of normalcy away. Erasing anything good that anyone did, and only the negative would be seen and judged.
It is something that all white-bodied people who descend from European colonizers have to deal with eventually. This painful awareness that who you are is not what you thought you were and certainly not who you want to be. The damage is so significant that no one feels sorry for you and your crisis. Not that they don’t understand, they do. But like most victims of abuse, understanding does not equal empathy or forgiveness. Five hundred years of genocide, persecution, enslavement, and cultural destruction can not be wiped away in a generation or two, if ever. These communities or individuals may invite me to be an ally, an observer, even a guest into the lives or communities of others who have another religious or cultural tradition. At this point, that is the extent of appropriate interaction that I may have ethically.
In a conversation with one of my professors at PSR, they mentioned that Christianity shapes my spirituality. In that way, any journey into other spiritual traditions is still informed by that. I do want to push back against that, but I know they are right. The very questions I ask and the violence and oppression that I resist result from my understanding of Christianity and how it should be. I would carry that with me no matter where I went. I am not a clean slate spiritually.
I am a survivor of abuse. I understand the coping behaviors adopted in childhood to handle the situation that one is in, especially when they are, or believe they are, powerless. Once the idea of powerlessness becomes embedded in the brain, it becomes the motivating force for every action. One will continually act out of that through these coping behaviors, even when they are not necessary. One will continue to place themselves in situations of abuse and powerlessness simply because that is the only thing that they know. I have done that for most of my life. But like all addicts, one day, I woke up and decided I would not be ruled by my addictive behavior or defined by my abusive past.
So, like someone who is in recovery from a chemical or substance addiction, I must put myself in rehab. Simultaneously, there are recovery programs and 12-step groups for behavioral addictions; one must do the real work individually. I must learn to value myself outside of any relationship, whether it is healthy or not. I must learn not to blame others for my actions or choices. Or blame me for theirs. Instead, I must admit that I have surrendered my control and power to this addiction. I must overcome this and retrain my brain and emotional self to build healthy ways of interacting and building healthy relationships.
What is also true is that I need to be in recovery from toxic Christianity as it has been complicit in white supremacy and Eurocentricity. Does it mean that I look for a "Christian-lite" church? Is it culturally appropriate for me to investigate non-Western forms of Christianity? Is there even a form of European Christianity that offers a non-colonizing, non-Eurocentric, non-white supremacist version? I don't think that any of these are satisfactory for me. Another route would be to explore the historical religious traditions of my ancestors. As a descendant of either a member of Celtic or Germanic groups, I have no real source. The Romans did a great job of wiping out any trace of what that was to the point that we have synchronistic traditions and words in Northern European Christianity. Once again, Christianity was a tool to colonize these groups to make them more culturally acceptable and make them cultural and political vassals and subordinates. They were "Romanized" The whole political and cultural agenda from the fall of the Western Roman Empire was to maintain this empire structure through the Roman Catholic Church.
So we have Anglo-Saxon versions of day names after the Norse pantheon. We celebrate Christianized versions of Celtic festivals and traditions. Even our understanding of the Deity and the Messiah is a mash-up of the Roman Empire with Celtic subordination. There is such a conflict between the Christian scriptures to the actual reality of what most likely happened. And while it's nice to have comforting god-stories and ethical and moral platitudes, in the end, they are of little use and fall flat in the face of the way that they have been used to colonize and dominate the world.
You might ask, aren't you coming to the table a little late? All this was true long before you acknowledged it. And you would be right. Just like I could come out of the closet at any point or stop being codependent whenever I wanted to. It is equally valid that one must wander in the wilderness for a long time and get to the end of complete brokenness before one is motivated to make the necessary changes to free oneself from the prison they find themselves in. Doing this for four and a half years, I moved in this direction for a long time. I decided that, again, I had to do this on my own. I could not expect someone to come in and do it for me or even provide any assistance. I do know that if it is important enough to me personally, I will do it.
Where does that leave me? If there is no place for me in other cultural and religious traditions or even other non-European forms of Christianity, where am I to go? The passage in the Christian scriptures that convicted me of my call is from Matthew 8:18-20. It is where the legal expert tells Jesus that they want to follow Jesus. Jesus responds with the statement, "Foxes have dens, and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Human One has no place to lay his head." When I told the pastor about it, he told me it was a rather peculiar text to cause that kind of response. Wrestling with my call into ministry for a while and related to approaching Jesus to affirm that. The answer has been my experience. I have never felt at home or that I have belonged to any particular place. I have tried to connect to emotionally significant sites, but I have never quite fit in or felt accepted entirely. And while that might be my perception, often a perception, not always wholly but frequently is an indication of reality.
If I leave Christianity, can I still follow Jesus? Indeed, I know that is possible, but can I do it? If I renounce it all together, am I truly an atheist or a Christian atheist? The same with adopting the faith traditions of my ancestors. One particular line, discovered through genetic testing, are ethnic Ashkenazi Jews who came from the Rhineland to the United States—evidently forced into converting to Christianity. But I am not Jewish. That line is not through my mother, and I would have to convert. Am I willing to go to another faith tradition that still devalues me as a person? If I want to adopt an indigenous pre-Roman/Christian practice, is that even possible. Nobody knows who they were or what they did. We have reports from the Romans, but that's like reading Custer's statements on the battle of Little Big Horn. I can explore my ethnic ancestral heritage and culture, but it can’t connect the 2nd century BCE with the 21st CE.
Ultimately, the answer to this comes from the journey. And my willingness to hear all the voices along the way. Sometimes, I can ask others for empathy for my struggles, and other times I must keep silent. This silence does not negate my pain; it reminds me that my pain is not their pain and must become equally important. I exist at this moment as one person in the entire history of humanity. My story is unique, and yet it is the same as others. My search for self and connection to creation is a journey I must walk. It may be alone or with others. I may have resources and tools, yet I must often accept the moment's reality and celebrate.
When I set my feet on this path, I thought I knew where it led. Moving back to Florida did not give me back my lost childhood or my grandparents. My time in seminary and becoming an ordained minister did not bring affirmation or transcendence. Staying in the closet and marrying women did not make my life less complicated. Becoming a parent did not mean that someone would always love me and need me. Growing older may bring with experience some wisdom, yet it also brings habits and behaviors that are hurtful and damaging to myself and others. What I do see is a trend towards understanding and awareness. Confronting the whole truth about oneself is always challenging and painful. The very things one wants to hide and forget are what one must face first before one makes progress.
If you want to grow, you have to pull the weeds; you must wait for the right season and be ready when the time comes for harvest. I know what I want; I know what is important to me. My professor is correct; all my spiritual thoughts come from the Hebrew and Christian holy books. The witness, testimony, and prophecy of those who came before proclaiming a Deity who created a good world and humanity in their image is the foundation of my understanding of the divine's connection to the human condition. The ethic of love comes from knowledge of the traditions that repeated and shared the remembrances of the words of Jesus, Moses, and the Hebrew prophets. Even my understanding of justice is shaped by those voices who spoke out against oppressive empires and religious leaders. Everything that I believe is good and true connects to those stories and traditions.
I cannot hate who I am because I have ancestors, spiritual and genetic, who were evil and did horrible things. I cannot pretend that those people did not exist or that I am not the result of their lives. I must embrace the truth and move from there, seeking wisdom from every quarter. I must listen to voices from all places and people, realizing that all truth is divine truth and the person I am is not static and unchanging. I can make different choices and respond in ways that do not intentionally hurt others; if I am aware of those things, I can make my version of my spirituality and faith something that brings me comfort and hope.
I never looked like my father. One time as we talked, I said that I didn't look like a "Beers." He replied that I was what Beers looked like now. Similarly, I may not resemble the faith tradition that shaped and formed me, but I am a new manifestation of what that faith can mean through me.