Connecting With St. Mary Magdalene

This amazing icon of St. Mary Magdalene is by Louis Glanzman and can be found on Amazon through Trinity Stores. This one is the one I purchased and it comes in several sizes.

One of my weaknesses as a writer is that I’m not a visual person, and so finding graphics to go along with my blog posts is a challenge for me. I do not understand why I need an image with my post when I am using my words, but I’m told that it’s an important part of writing. So usually, I don’t “get it” when it comes to images. But once in a while, that changes.

When I realized that St. Mary Magdalene was my patron saint, I felt strongly that I needed to find an icon of her. I immediately found several, and they were good, but none of them truly spoke to me. I wasn’t able to purchase one immediately, and so I took my time looking to see what was available before making my choice. But when I saw this one, it spoke to me. I connected with it deeply and it was as if Mary Magdalene was speaking directly to me. So I purchased it.

The day it was delivered, it was pouring down rain and I wasn’t home. The mail carrier left it on the front porch, trying to put it as far out of the rain as possible. I saw it when I pulled up in my driveway, and wanted to cry because I thought the rain had ruined it. But, it was perfect, and I was so glad. I had chosen a frame and it ended up being just the right one.

I put the icon in a prominent place in my living room, where I look at her all the time. When I see her, I gaze for a minute, pondering spiritual things, letting her speak to me. Sometimes I even say a prayer, asking her to help me to continue processing my trauma and walking towards healing like she did. Although not an official Church designation, as my patron saint, she is to me the patron saint of trauma.

In this case, I have connected with an image, and it has been used to enhance my spiritual life. The fundamentalists would say that it’s a trinket that diverts attention from God, but I think that God allowed me to connect with this image of Mary Magdalene intimately in order to deepen my relationship with her and with God. I never really understood the whole concept of a patron saint, until I truly met Mary Magdalene and she has changed my outlook.

If They Are Wrong About This, Then What Else Could They Be Wrong About? (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 20)

I had begun to abandon the cult of my childhood long before my “rejection of Genesis.” And while it took a few years after “rejecting” those first few chapters of Genesis because I no longer believed in a young earth, six day literal creation, I finally began to embrace those first few chapters of Genesis, the parts where I found out that I was created in God’s image and that I was supposed to live an authentic life. I believe that the Bible is a library of books, the Christian literary canon, and contains different genres, multiple authors, and different points of view. I believe that a lot of the Old Testament stories such as a literal six-day creation and Noah’s ark are myths, and creation stories and flood stories are common in other mythology, not just Christian mythology.

Another one of the huge things that lead me out of fundamentalism was, ironically, reading a book by a Mennonite author about nonviolence and pacifist theology. It was as if the concepts in that book just clicked for me. It wasn’t even a book I was intending to read by my best friend at the time (who I lost when I left fundamentalism) really badly wanted me to read it, and it’s not like I had anywhere to go or anything to do apart from being with the kids all day every day stuck at home without a vehicle. The book was very convincing and used appropriate Bible verses to back up what the author was saying, and just like that, something shifted, and I became a pacifist.

Becoming a pacifist was just the beginning. I became increasingly disgruntled with fundamentalism and had started to feel like something was really wrong, but I was still trapped because of course I was told that it was just my heart being deceitful and I was allowing my emotions to have a higher place in my life than God. One day, I woke up and it hit me. In a moment of clarity, the thought came into my head: if we are wrong in our beliefs on nonviolence, I wonder what else we could be wrong about. It was a life-changing moment and the world opened up to me. I could not stop the questions after this point.

Thank God for Unanswered Prayers (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 19)

I planned on moving from Australia to America to attend a Christian fundamentalist Bible college, again, as an escape mechanism, and I was even accepted to one. The college had very strict rules, things like that women had to wear skirts and pantyhose at all times and the skirts had to be a certain length and there were many restrictions put on dating and you weren’t allowed to have data on cell phones and people were only allowed to play “approved” music on their own personal mp3 players. All students were required to attend the church associated with the school.

Thankfully, I never had the funds to make that dream a reality, and I think that I wanted to go because I wanted to escape my circumstances but at the same time the cult was all I knew and I felt like being a fundamentalist college may be a better scene than what I was in. I was seeking community. These Bible college don’t teach students to think for themselves, they indoctrinate the students. It’s not a about academics, it’s about a literal interpretation of the Bible. All I can say is that I’m so thankful to God for unanswered prayers.

In the end, I moved to the US and got married to the first fundamentalist man that ever paid me any attention. I was pushed into the marriage by the church because it had come out that I was a lesbian, and so as an appropriate act of repentance, it was determined that I was to find a fundamentalist man to marry and to do it quickly. If I didn’t do it quickly enough, God would hand my soul over to Satan for destruction because I would be “too far gone” and not eligible for redemption after that point. I was considered a reprobate and I was to put myself under the authority of a husband and I would be straight.

I sucked at marriage. I never was able to be the submissive woman that I was expected to be. As part of my rebellion, I picked up where I had left off with college. I had only done one semester (the semester I was homeless). I had begun a second semester after that, but had dropped out because the church had convinced me that as a woman, college was unnecessary, and again, repentance required me to give up my dreams. So I contacted my school in Australia to see if I could re-commence my bachelor’s degree online, and they agreed.

Undergrad Changed my Life (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 18)

After leaving homeschool high school at the end of grade 10, I thought my future was in retail, and I made a really good go at it. I worked the same job from age 14-17, becoming a part of the management team by the time I was 17. This was the year that I left my parents house, since I was making my own money and could afford it. Despite ending up homeless a few years later, I never did go back.

Right before I became homeless, I went through the process of “alternative entry” to university. I studied and took some exams that showed that I would be able to cope with college, and I entered the Bachelor of Arts program at Central Queensland University. I was homeless during my first semester, so I studied in the park across from the homeless shelter, and at night I studied in the homeless shelter.

My very first classes were Australian History, Australian Society, and Public Relations and the Media, which I took at the recommendation of my mentor because she said that would help me figure out what to major in. Both Australian History and Public Relations and the Media were unremarkable, except that I learned that I was damn good at writing. It was Australian Society, or rather, the professor, whose name was Shane, that would be life-changing.

As a struggling fundamentalist, sociology probably wasn’t the best subject to take, but I’m glad that I did. Shane was a cool professor and my mentor thought very highly of him. I struggled with the course content because it went against a lot of deeply-held beliefs of mine. I was so excited when I submitted my first paper. It made me feel like I was legitimately a university student. When I got it back, I was devastated. I got an F. He had left a lot of comments on the paper about how I needed to back up my claims and leave religion out of it.

I was very confused. One day I showed up to his class wearing fishnet tights and a short skirt, the next I would come in the regular frumpy and modest fundamentalist attire. I had a deep desire to express myself, but the church said that was wrong. Shane forced me to think beyond my religion if I wanted to pass his class. Somehow I managed to adapt and actually pass the class. It didn’t really change me very much at the time, but years later, it would totally rock my world and change my life forever.

They Stole My Education (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 17)

I loved school when I was in primary school. It gave me a break from my home life, and I had some contact with the real world. One day that all came crashing down around me when my parents told me that I was not going to be allowed to attend public school anymore once I finished primary school. I was crushed. I was also upset because one of the girls in my class had won a scholarship to a very expensive, very prestigious private boarding school for high school. I was upset because I wanted to go to boarding school so bad, and not just because of Enid Blyton and her school stories, but in order to escape. The girl who had won this scholarship was the girl who sat next to me, whose science and social studies tests I would cheat off.

I wanted to go to boarding school so damn bad. But even if I had won the scholarship myself, I would not have been allowed to go. Not just because it was a boarding school, but because it was Catholic and my cult taught that Catholics were not Christians and they had some bullshit they  made up from the book of Revelation that the Catholic Church was wicked and the whore of Babylon. Basically, in fundamentalism, Catholic meant bad. I’m still not Catholic but have grown to appreciate a lot of Catholic beliefs, and I don’t trash talk the Catholic Church anymore, and am sorry I ever did. If it helps, I didn’t really know any better, but I do now.

But now, I wouldn’t even get to go to day school at a public high school. They gave me two reasons. The first was that since I was going into grade eight, I would be required to learn evolution, and we all know the world was created in six literal days like it says in Genesis and that if I disbelieved creation in favor of evolution, I would lose my faith. They did not want this to happen. Believing that Genesis chapters one and two really happened the way it was written was a fundamental of the faith and I was supposed to believe it.

My parents would have us watch indoctrination videos from an organization called Answers in Genesis which encouraged us to be obnoxious little snots and ask a teacher or instructor “were you there?” when they taught evolution. It was supposed to be a witty “gotcha” answer. The idea behind that particular piece of arrogance was that nobody was there except God and that God said in Genesis that he created the world and therefore that’s what happened. My family believed that being a Christian hinged on believing the first few chapters of Genesis literally. Their argument was that if God was lying about how the world was created, then we might as well chuck out the entire Bible because God could be lying about that too, and then where does it end?

The other reason, I was told, was that I was getting old enough to be able to process things enough to talk to teachers and show them bruises. My parents stole my education to keep me indoctrinated and abused. When I got to grade ten, I was working pretty much full-time hours, and my parents “encouraged” me to quit school at the end of grade ten. They said that for one I wasn’t smart enough and might as well make something out of myself with a retail career. I pursued the retail career, was a front-end manager by the time I was seventeen, but the career in retail didn’t work out for me, no matter how committed I was. I really wanted it to work, not only was I earning money, I was away from the house and I was interacting with people daily, not just church people once a week. Going to work was the beginning of my freedom.

Darkness to Light

"Hello darkness, my old friend 
I've come to talk with you again."
~ Simon and Garfunkel

At the beginning of Advent, I was determined to finally conquer this season as far as figuring out what it’s really about and observing it “correctly.” It’s the season I’ve had the most trouble adapting to, and the season I still least understand. I bought an Advent wreath. I envisioned lighting a candle each week while reading the appropriate collect from The Book of Common Prayer each Sunday. On the first Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle, read the collect, had a discussion. It ended there. We didn’t do any more with the wreath or the prayers or the devotional readings after that. Today, the wreath is sitting in the closet or somewhere like that. I felt guilty, but my soul was heavy with grief and questions.

The Christian story begins with God loving us. That’s the foundational truth. When Jesus came to earth, God was with us. But God is still with us, present in the Holy Eucharist. Every time I go to mass, I partake of Christ’s body and blood. He’s still with us.

Advent didn’t go the way I had planned. I still struggled with some ongoing theological questions that probably won’t resolve any time soon if ever. I’m learning to embrace the questions. I wanted it to be all pretty, to where I “did it right.” I guess that’s the fundamentalist cult past coming out there. The thing is, none of this stuff is pretty.

The grief hit, and it hit hard. Not just the grief of my son being gone, but also the grief of being estranged from family, or at least estranged from the idea of having a good relationship with the family I was born into, the grief of this season having been ruined by the ghosts of Christmases past when it was just Christmas with no Advent because that didn’t exist to the fundamentalists. The grief of being socially awkward, the grief of the loss of what could or should have been. The waves of grief washed over me, the darkness coming to sit a while.

But there is light. My son is safe and living the best life he is able to live. I have a family who saw me when I was invisible and started to create chunks in my carefully constructed walls, which brought in the light, little by little, until the light was bright and warm. The pain of the ghosts of Christmases past still linger, I’m still socially awkward and am aware of it and deeply embarrassed about it. What could or should have been is not what is, and what I have to work with is what is.

I’ve made a lot of progress this past year. I finally saw the light enough to realize that God loves me. That was the biggest and most influential revelation of my life. I knew that if I ever got to the point where I could believe that God loves me, it would change my life, and it did.

I think that in my anxious earnestness to “do Advent right,” that I might have missed the point. But God loves me, and God is with me, and I will walk in that knowledge.

PTSD and Worship

It is not Epiphany yet, that is coming soon. In fourteen days, to be exact. But as far as epiphanies go, I have had one.

I am a very spiritual person and I love Jesus, but my rocky relationship with God also means that I can be quite sacrilegious. I told someone yesterday who asked me why I was going to the 5:00 Christmas Eve mass instead of the 11:00 Christmas Eve mass that while I really love Jesus, I also really love sleeping, and that since Jesus was gonna be at the 5:00 mass too then I am good.

This evening I was talking with a friend who just happens to be a priest (which let me tell you, isn’t for the faint of heart) and doing my “ugh my parish uses Rite I liturgy for Christmas Day service, must be because all the old people that hate change go to it.” (Yes, it’s a rude and unfair assumption, and I’m sorry). The thing is, I’ve usually been able to realize that while I prefer something a particular way, doesn’t mean it’s wrong done another way. I’ve often felt guilty for my quite over the top hatred for Rite I. I hate to admit that I’ve hated Rite I, because it’s sacred and holy and a part of the worship of the Church. But like I said, I’m often sacrilegious, and I’m just telling the awful truth. It’s how I feel. I’ve even argued passionately with people about why the Church should chuck Rite I.

Often when I feel that passionately about something, there is an underlying reason, and this was no exception. But as I spouted off this bullshit to my long-suffering friend, I had my epiphany. My religious background is that I was brought up in a fundamentalist cult. I have always loved God, but didn’t really know God. I was taught to hate myself, to feel ashamed of everything I did. My particular cult only used the King James Version of the Bible, because apparently it was the only true Bible. One of the arguments I’ve heard people that prefer Rite I use is that the language is beautiful. The language to me is basically the same as the King James Bible. I’m going to say something else sacrilegious.

I threw my King Jimmy’s in the trash. I still feel guilty for trashing Bibles, but those were used as a tool for my oppression. I know that’s probably as terrible as burning a flag, maybe worse because it’s a Bible. If I never seen another King James Version of the Bible in my lifetime, I would be grateful. But that’s not reality. I am ok with the Bible, just not that version of it. I can’t stomach it.

In Rite I, I have a physical reaction, and I get anxious and want to just run away. But tonight it hit me. For me, the language of Rite I is the same kind of language as the King James Bible, what the cult used to keep me in submission. It’s not that Rite I is bad, it’s that it reminds me of deep trauma that I’m still working to heal from. As my friend said, the church of my freedom still has triggers from my trauma.

Now that I know that, I can begin to work through it. Yes, I know that I sound bitter. It is what it is. I don’t even like the word bitter as it was used to basically dismiss me every time I had a question, or needed to talk about a situation that was totally someone else’s fault (I had many situations of my own wrong doing without taking responsibility for theirs too). It was used to spiritually gaslight me. Maybe I am bitter.

The Bible says that when we know the truth, the truth will set us free. I feel such relief. Now that I know what the issue is, I can work on correcting it. It makes so much sense, because now I know it’s a PTSD thing, and I should have figured it out before now because being in a Rite I service is exactly how other PTSD episodes make feel physically.

To everyone that has ever had to hear me go on about Rite I, I am sorry. PTSD is a bitch.

God's Heavenly Courtroom (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 16)

In another church, I had become part of the worship production team, and I was very active and volunteered time during the week as well as many hours on Sunday to the church. One of the women I worked with had been a long-time member and knew all the ropes as far as media and lighting went. She was also a friend of my husband’s, who liked him a lot. My husband was a computer technician at a local high school where two of her daughters were students.

So one day this lady gave my husband a bag of condoms because she thought it was funny and also because she said since he wasn’t getting any at home he needed to be free to have sex with other women after he got off of work at the bar. When I found the condoms and confronted her, she acted like it was a huge joke. This woman knew for sure that he was cheating on me and she gave him a bag of condoms. When I reported it to the pastor, he talked to her and determined that it was just a joke and that I was being “too sensitive” and trying to “cause division” on the worship production team.

I often look back on my childhood and early adult years and wonder how on earth I could have believed such awful things and treated people so terribly. Libby Phelps had the same dilemma and she states: “people I know today wonder how I could have said and done the things I did, but I was living in an entirely different world with entirely different concepts.” (2017, p. 27). The things I said and did and believed seem like an entire lifetime ago, and yet it feels like just yesterday. I don’t fully recognize the person I used to be, but I also understand her. I know why I did what I did. No matter how hard I tried, I was never good enough.

I understand Phelps when she writes “there was something so rewarding knowing we were 100 percent right and everyone else was wrong. I wasn’t afraid of the world – I was sorry for everyone else, because they had no idea what was in store for them. Even if we told them a million times they were going to hell, they didn’t believe it.” (2017, p. 38). I guess I instinctively knew that some of this stuff was crazy because I was always berating myself for not telling enough people about Jesus and therefore they were dying and going to hell and I was responsible for their fate because I had been selfishly worried about being ridiculed and so I had said nothing. I was told that one day, when I got to heaven, I would see the people in hell and hear them asking me through their intense torment, why I never warned them.

Although I would be in heaven enjoying its pleasures, I would be haunted for eternity by the voices of those in hell asking me why I never told them. This is why me and a lot of my friends always confessed during revivals or youth camps that we were not witnessing, and we begged God to forgive us. I was told by the church that God would not say “well done, thou good and faithful servant” on judgment day and because those words are in the Bible, I was desperate to hear them. I actually imagined being in courtroom where my life was shown on a screen, which is basically what I was told would happen, and God would demand that I account for all the time I wasted on worldly pleasures instead of witnessing. I was told that the Bible taught that I would have to give an account for every single idle word I spoke, and even every thought.

Even my thoughts had to be pure and perfect. I would be judged by a holy and righteous God for thinking it was unfair that I was being beaten for something I didn’t do, or for entertaining worldly thoughts such as wanting desperately to go to school instead of being homeschooled. The thoughts of hatred I had in my heart towards my parents at times…all those would be judged in this heavenly court, and to add to my shame, everybody would see this video played out and I would stand in shame before the Lord and everyone who ever lived.

References:

Phelps, Libby. Girl on a Wire: Walking the Line Between Faith and Freedom in the Westboro Baptist Church, 2017: Skyhorse.

Obedience Mandatory, Questions Unwelcome (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 15)

Lauren Drain, in her book Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church describes what continually happened to me no matter which church I found myself in. “My name was already associated with words like tension, strife and contention. Church members liked to say that I stirred up strife. They thought I was trying to change the rules, that I was up to no good, and that I was trying to find loopholes. I was not intentionally trying to be contrary or malicious.” (2013, p. 191).

The pastor of the church I was in had assigned two women to counsel me into falling in line with the church. In that counseling, it came out that I had trouble with food, only eating four grapes for breakfast, and then going to throw up. The ladies doing the counseling told me that I was sinning because this meant that I was trying to grab control of my life off of God, and that if I would simply give control of my life back to God, I would not struggle. I did not know anything about eating disorders at the time and certainly didn’t know that they required professional treatment. I just worked hard to try to give control of my life over to God, but I never really gave it up, and so I was rebellious, just like King Ahab’s wife Jezebel, and God would eventually destroy me to rebuild me.

It was during this time that the pastor decided to preach a sermon on giving God control of your life, and he used me as a sermon illustration. Although he did not name names, everyone knew he was talking about and they kept looking at me while I tried to make myself invisible. He had spoken about how one of the teenage girls in the congregation was refusing to eat in order to steal control of her life from God. I felt betrayed, because that was something that I had told the two women counseling me in confidence. It took me a long time to realize that I felt betrayed because I was betrayed, and that I needed to learn to listen to my feelings and emotions.

When I was nineteen, I started to see that all was not well in fundamentalist churches, and that there were many problems in mine, and I chafed under the authority of the church. When I began asking questions, I was shut down. Obedience was mandatory, questions were unwelcome. The only way that I knew of to get away from this church, particularly because those in neighboring towns also had me labeled as a jezebel trying to cause strife and division, was to move.

Although I only had a month remaining on my traineeship that would give me a certification to get a good office job, I hightailed it out of Cairns and moved to Mackay where I immersed myself in the fundamentalist world there. On the eve of my departure, I was ambushed by my best friend and several male church members. They informed me that I was contentious and was merely trying to destroy the church, and that I was formally in a discipline process with the church. They said they had called the pastor of the new church to tell him all about me and the trouble that I was likely to cause for him.

I was betrayed by my best friend who said that she would be unable to communicate with me after I moved because of my refusal to reunite with the church. While that hurt me greatly, I had already packed up my things and was ready to leave early in the morning. I was simply trying to get away from a bad situation and all I learned was that if I stood up for myself and tried to get out of an abusive situation, I would lose everything. This, as well as my tendency to run away from things, became a common theme in my dealings with fundamentalism. When I eventually completely left fundamentalism, I lost every single friend, including one who I thought was stronger than that who informed me that she didn’t think she could be friends with someone that didn’t attend her church.

The church in Mackay was a very small fundamentalist church, and at first, they seemed so much more reasonable than the one I had moved to a city an eight-hour drive away to avoid. While I believe that the pastor there was genuine, it was a case of same shit different location. I kept blaming myself for the way that adults mistreated me. I was not godly enough. I was bitter. I was rebellious.

References:

Drain, Lauren. Banished: Surviving My Years in the Westboro Baptist Church, 2013: Grand Central Publishing.

Bible Bashing Myself (The Opposite of Love is Shame: Part 14)

In her book With God on Their Side, Esther Kaplan talks about how many conservative fundamentalists are trying (and seem to be succeeding) to take over the government. Many of these fundamentalists may or may not be part of the cult, but they definitely influenced it. Kaplan tells us of how these people believe that most social problems such as poverty, addiction, and violence are merely a problem of society and individuals not being spiritual and caring about traditional values. So, instead of wanting to help fund programs to truly help people rise above these problems, they assume that the issues are only spiritual. (2004, p. 46).

It’s not that I believe that these problems don’t have a spiritual element to them, but that it is not always the spirituality of the particular individual in these crises that is the problem. Spirituality is of course part of the problem, but it is only one part of the puzzle. But this is the kind of propaganda that I was taught growing up. Any issue that I could possibly endure as far as being poor, being beaten by my parents, experiencing domestic violence in marriage, being raped, the deterioration of my marriage, among many others, were a direct result of my disobedience to Christ and his commands.

The church told me that I was poor because I was not responsible (there is truth to the statement that I was not responsible, but that was not the only thing going on), I was beaten because I deserved it as I was a dirty, rotten, filthy sinner and the Bible said my parents were to beat me in order to bring me back to God. I experienced domestic violence because I was not submissive to my husband and so the Bible said that he was allowed to discipline me because it was a matter of utmost importance in my relationship with God. I was raped because of what I was wearing, or because of bad choices on my part, the man could not help it because I had seduced him in some way. My marriage deteriorated because I was not a good Christian wife.

I was guilted into believing that I was Peter, who had denied Christ, because I was not “living for Christ.” This denial of Christ could be as simple as not sharing my faith with others because I did not want to be mocked.

I Bible bashed myself talking about how selfish I was to want to go out and enjoy myself after working full time five days a week. It was wrong for me to pursue such worldly pleasures when I should have been witnessing to my friends, and I use the word friends loosely because basically everyone just put up with me. I chided myself for seeking pleasure and wanting to relax when there was so much work to be done for the Lord.

References

Kaplan, Esther. With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House. 2004: The New Press.