patriarchy

Wounds that don’t heal

IImprisoned Spring by Arthur Hacker (1911)Heartbreak and loss come in many different forms: the death of a loved one, rejection by a lover or spouse, abandonment by a parent.

As a wounded woman, I know what it is to hurt.

I won’t bore you with tales of woe from my childhood, but all was not well at home.

By the time I was a young adult, I had been exposed to some pretty bad stuff, much of it a result of our male-dominated culture (exposure to pornography, sexual predators young and old, and male criticism of my female form and personality).

I was bullied by other girls, all older and bigger than me. I was also bullied by my family.

By the time I was 21 years old, I had what was termed”a serious chip” on my shoulder.

Believe it or not, I was judged harshly because I was not all smiles and compliance all the time.  Because I tried to fight back. Girls shouldn’t do that, don’t you know.

I knew the world was screwed up even when I was young, but I never knew how to express my concern. It festered. It fermented. I didn’t understand my discontent.

By the time I was in my early 20s, I wore a pretty hard, protective shell designed to keep me from getting hurt.

And then I found a church that promised “inner healing.”

Was there a chance that I could be freed from the pain that I worked so hard to keep hidden away?

I found a husband who was supposed to be loving, caring and a positive expression of patriarchy.

I believed that in this relationship, those wounds would finally begin to heal. I was in a safe relationship, a safe place, finally.

I let my guard down and exposed many of my wounds to this man.

I trusted him.

He used his power to control instead of love.

This is not a cautionary tale. I am not advocating the growth of dragon scales as a way to protect oneself. We can never truly love others if we don’t allow them to love us. And no one can love us if we don’t let down our guard.

From a psychological point of view, I am most likely dealing with abandonment issues exacerbated by fear of rejection. In a nutshell, when my father left me and my family when I was 7 years old, it affected me profoundly.

Back in the late 60s, it was not common for parents to divorce. I grew up in what was called a “broken home.” I carried that shame with me everywhere.

Thinking back, when my father was home there was an awful lot of yelling and fighting. I’m pretty sure things got physical. I don’t remember much. I liked the quiet better.

I heard a lot of stories from both of my parents over the subsequent years well into my adolescence when I finally reached a point where I couldn’t take it anymore. I eventually refused to see my father anymore. That estrangement lasted for about two years.

I got pregnant. I got married. I had a baby. I got divorced.

I needed the quiet.

When it wasn’t quiet, when there was conflict and discord, my wounds opened up and all the pain came flooding back.

Here’s the thing: we all have wounds. My wounds are probably nothing compared to someone else’s wounds. That doesn’t matter.

We are talking pain levels here and tolerance for pain.

In life, the good times are supposed to outweigh the bad times.

Everyone suffers. Everyone struggles. Everyone has pain.

The real issue is how much pain and how often. Does the pain ever stop? Are there respites from the pain?

For some people, the answer is “No.”

I didn’t understand the insidious nature of chronic pain until a few years ago after contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite. I ended up one of the small percentage of people who experience long-term symptoms. Mine include chronic fatigue and chronic pain. I know what it is like to live with pain all the time.

The physical bite site, the terrible wound that I had from that tick bite, did heal after three weeks of antibiotics. The cause of the initial wound (about the size of a softball) moved away from the bite site and penetrated deep into my body’s tissues and even my brain. There was no healing.

Too Much Pain

The other day, I woke up and realized that I didn’t have any noticeable pain in my body. I breathed deeply and smiled. What a happy day. I want more pain-free days. Who wouldn’t? I thoroughly enjoyed that day. But such days are rare.

There is more compassion for those who suffer from physical pain than emotional pain in our society.  If someone has a back injury and must take opioids, no one holds it against that person.

For those who suffer loss and are wounded by it (and how can one not be wounded by loss???), healing is supposed to take place over time, but there is an expectation of some conclusion where the person affected finds relief and can move on with no more symptoms of grief.

For most people, grieving a loss takes time and the support of loved ones. In most cases, the pain of the loss lessens until it is merely a memory with occasional bouts of suffering that abate after a day or so.

What happens when grieving doesn’t end? Sometimes the wounds just don’t heal.

What happens to those who never stop feeling profound and unbearable pain?

There are many different endings to this kind of story.

Many can find relief through mental health services: therapy, medications and lifestyle changes. For some people this works.

Some end in the body giving up and the person fading away (yes, people can die from a broken heart). Some end in self-destructive behavior that results in death. Some end in suicide.

For some people the wounds just don’t heal. For some people the pain never stops. The thought of living a life of never ending pain is unbearable.

But wait…

 

Even though many wounds don’t heal, there is hope.

And it starts with taking back one’s power…

2014-05-04 19.24.15

I wouldn’t have seen the double rainbow if I hadn’t gone outside

 

 

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How the church silences women

shhh2I left the church, all churches, because of how the Christian religion views and treats women. I am just sharing this up front (if you haven’t read previous posts).

I have written many times about how the women in my church (and the pastor, who was a woman) used silencing behavior to shut me down, everything from intervening when I was trying to be honest with my husband in counseling sessions to handing me a list of Bible verses about “gossip” when I needed to talk to someone about my abusive husband.

There is something seriously wrong going on. It is common for women who are in bad marriages, some abusive, some not, to be pressured to remain in those marriages no matter what. It is a duty, marriage is sacred, it would be a sin to divorce.

Let’s first talk about the sacred institution of marriage. This is a doctrinal thing. Marriage is mentioned in the Bible, and it is likened to Christ’s relationship to the church. From that analogy, marriage has become primary while the people (and their children) in that marriage are secondary.

“God hates divorce!!!!!!!!”

God probably hates a lot of things, but I don’t think divorce is at the top of his list.

This is a symptom of a much bigger problem. People (individuals) come last in the Christian religion.

Yep. They do.

When duty, or doctrine, is more important than relationship, then you will end up with dysfunction of some kind. And those who put the marriage before the people in that marriage are being dysfunctional. They are encouraging dysfunction. They are perpetrating dysfunction.

I have declared to anyone who wants to listen that I reject the Pauline letters in the New Testament. I think they run contrary to the teachings of Yeshua (he was Jewish, and his name is NOT Jesus — I know, picking at gnats).

Women must remain silent in church. Women must obey their husbands in everything. Women must wear head coverings. Women must wear dresses. Women must…

This is all legalism. Paul was a legalist.

In all of the years that I tried to relate to and communicate with my husband, he often told me that I needed to submit: over and over and over again. He never quoted the verse that commands husbands to love their wives as Jeshua loves the church. He never quoted the verse about how a man who does not care for his family is worse than an infidel.

I was told that it wasn’t my place to discuss _____ (fill in the blank), how I should not do this or do that, how my prayer life was even under his purview.

But when spiritual leaders in a church use the same silencing behavior on their congregations, you end up with a bunch of unthinking, repressed people.

Do you know one of the leaders in my old church stood up and said how much she hated running into this one woman she knew because she was always so down and negative (this was the same person who shut me down with a sheet of scriptures on gossip when I needed to confide in someone).

Dysfunction is prevalent in Christian relationships because of the fear of truth. There is a fear of honesty. There is a fear of reality.

“Don’t interrupt my religious moment with your unpleasant reality, please!”

“Oh, your husband is abusing you? Your reward will be in heaven. You must do your best to submit to him anyway.”

“Shhh, women should be silent.”

The judicial system, encouraged by our Christian heritage (patriarchy in general), permitted husbands to rape their wives in the no-so-distant past.

A man who beat his wife was justified in the last century.

Hell, women didn’t even have the right to vote until 1920, and then civil rights, rights over their own bodies and personal life decisions, took many more decades.

Men rant about how unfair the judicial system is because they say it favors mothers in divorces. Have they not looked at history where a hundred years ago women had almost no rights at all? Children (and their mothers) belonged to fathers/husbands.

Women had to remain in bad marriages if they wanted to keep their children, not be homeless, and have any kind of financial support. There weren’t even many professions available where women could support themselves. Women still make a lot less than men today.

Inequality is ugly.

Why are men threatened by women’s rights? I do not understand why men are threatened by women who use their voices.

And religious men can be the worst. Actually, let me correct myself: religious women can be the worst. I wonder if there is some underlying fear that if a friend has justification for leaving her husband, she might question her own marriage. Things start to get shaky and undefinable when women have autonomy and self-determination. There is a loss of control.

Oh, and here we are: control.

Silencing women comes down to the need to control. And when the church (which is the corporate body and its individual members) silences women, it is exerting control over them, control that it should not have.

What if we let women speak and then decide for themselves? Would the world come to an end?

The justification for Paul’s letter, the historical context — at least what I was taught — was that women would just stand up and speak when gathered in the early church.

Gasp! Choke!!! Oh no!

Some kind of directive was necessary to keep them under “control.”

And today, the church silences women by insisting that they wear dresses, defer to their husbands, defer to their pastors, defer to… well, everyone. Heck, women should speak quietly and not make trouble. Women should…

Silencing behavior. Control.

How long will women put up with such ridiculousness? How long?

For those who are still skeptical, I challenge you to explore gender equality in the Christian religion. The Junia Project is a lovely place to begin.

I challenge you. What do you have to lose? Control?

Cover yourself up! I don’t think so.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

I grew up in Miami. I spent a lot of time walking around beaches in nothing but a bikini from the time I was 12. All the girls did this. I did not feel ashamed or insecure. I was just walking around. I never thought about how my body could cause a man to sin. It just wasn’t a part of my upbringing. I wouldn’t be caught dead in a bikini today (to the relief of all other human beings on the planet) not because I am more modest but because I don’t want to wear one. And that is the key. Self-determination. Choice.

As I read of girls and women around the world, such as in theocratic Iran, who are required to wear head scarves by law and burqas in some extremely conservative cultures, I am so very, very thankful that I was born, raised (mostly) and live in the United States, in a western culture.

Credit: Wikipedia Commons

Credit: Wikipedia Commons


And this brings me to the dangers of a theocracy, the very thing that our Founding Fathers worked hard to bar from taking root and growing here. I believe in the free expression of religion. I do NOT believe in the right of any person in this country to require any kind of religious expression from me. Do you see the difference? The wearing of head scarves is just a means of controlling women, marking and labeling them.

What does covering a part of our female bodies do to us as people? It labels us as subjugated, oppressed, controlled beings who must apologize for the core of our nature: being female. This kind of law or tenet places women in a place of shame. Shame, control, oppression…

These are all characteristics of an abusive relationship. If a religion is abusive, then it needs to be discredited. These organizations are not just religious, they are cults. The very nature of a cult is control and abuse.

When is religion cultish? I personally believe cult behavior occurs when an individual or organization requires something of followers that did not originate from followers’ own personal convictions, from their own relationship with God for only themselves. Does this make sense?

Indian Widows have been in the news lately. This Inter Press News article describes the nature of the problem:

“The women were married off at a very young age – some were just five or six. Their husbands, who were much older, married several times. When they died, they left dozens of young widows behind, said Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International.

“These young girls were forced to shave off their hair, dress only in the coarsest white clothes, eat once a day and were barred from all social events as they were considered ill-omened.”

The practice of treating women who have been subjugated by men, treated like trash, thrown out as though they have no use anymore without their husbands is the nature of misogynistic culture and religion.

If I feel that I want to engage in any religious practice, i.e., cover my own head out of respect for God, not because anyone told me to do it and not because all of the other women cover their heads, that is one thing (I must admit that I despise the practice in strongly patriarchal religions that requires women to dress in ugly sacks and put stiff bonnets on their heads thinking that somehow that makes them more acceptable to God). But for a man to tell me that I should cover my head for any reason, I reject that. Why do I need to cover my femininity? I am not talking about nudity or walking around topless in a city or on a beach. I am talking about requiring that I cover myself, my hair, my arms, my legs, my female form because it is somehow shameful and might cause a man to stumble.

Do you see this misguided casting of blame on women for the sins of men? It is her fault if a man lusts after her. It is her fault if she is raped. It is her fault for being female, a shameful, disgusting, substandard human form.
 
shame
This is the very nature of the abusive man’s arsenal of controlling behavior: shame and blame.

The bottom line is that here in the United States women are free to reject control. Although for some it is very dangerous and even life-threatening to challenge religious abuse and control, women have legal rights and can request protection from abusers/controllers.

I recently saw an ad in a local newspaper showing a woman wearing a veil offering “instruction” in Islam. The ad included a picture of a woman wearing long, flowing clothes and a veil — she was smiling and looked so happy. Really??? Yes, I can’t wait to subject myself to male control over my female form. Really??? I think this kind of proselytizing is very dangerous. Actually, isn’t any kind of proselytizing to be abhorred? I know that if you went to Egypt and tried to talk to a Muslim about Jesus you could easily end up in prison; it is against the law there. Here in the United States, the awful, horrible, disgusting United States it is legal because of our Constitution. That is because we celebrate freedom of religion here.

You are welcome to tell me about your Hindu religion and I am welcome to accept or reject it for me. I am free to talk about how I am disillusioned with the man-made parts of the Christian religion that hurt people; you are welcome to argue with me. Men and women are welcome to freely express their belief in Islam and to share it with others, even engage in proselytizing. That is the kind of country that we are resulting in the good, the bad, and the ugly. That is what freedom looks like.

The really awesome part about this country is that I am free to reject Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, atheism, deism, and any other “-ism” I feel like rejecting. As a woman, I am not required to subject myself to the religious demands of any man (or woman). As much as we hate a lot that is going on in the United States, I completely and absolutely celebrate this freedom. Yes, I do.

For those of us who love to refer to original sources, here is the wording of the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So, although I despise proselytizing of any kind, it is protected by the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States of America. That Muslim woman is free to place an advertisement offering “instruction” in Islam because she is in a country that celebrates freedom of religion — the free expression of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech. I just hope, at some point, that she realizes that she is also free to cast off the veil and just be a person.

Celebrating freedom today!

No more arms and legs, or lips or ears

I think a lot when I am in the shower.  I have no idea why the bathroom and car seem to send my brain into overdrive, but they do.  A few days ago I was getting dressed, drying my hair, generally getting ready to go out someplace — can’t remember where so I guess it isn’t important.  The image of a body with no arms, legs, mouth and ears but especially no heart popped into my head.  Then I thought that this is what the modern Christian church looks like.  It can’t go anyplace because it has cut off its own legs.  It can’t help others because it has cut off its own arms.  It can’t speak words of comfort because it has sewn shut its own lips (I guess cutting out the tongue would accomplish the same thing but after studying the French Revolution I just can’t go there), and it can’t show compassion because it has no heart.  It certainly does not hear the heart cries of its people.

Church Painting by David Wagner

Church Painting by David Wagner

It is just this big blob that stays in one place, having church in its pretty buildings, singing songs, applying marketing strategies to rectify lower and lower attendance numbers, not making any social impact on the world, and it has a cold, cold heart or no heart at all.

I had my first experience with the heartlessness of the church when I was 8 or 9 years old and was a part of a children’s choir at a Baptist Church in Cutler Ridge, Florida in South Miami.  I loved music.  I have always loved to sing.  My mom said I sang as a baby.  Well, the children’s choir director cured me of that real quick by declaring that someone was making this squeaking noise.  He looked right at me.  I didn’t know about singing alto, which is where my true range is, and always tried to sing soprano.  No one taught me differently.  I quit that choir and stopped singing unless I was alone.  I still don’t sing much in front of others.

My second experience was when my brother, a boy entering puberty whose father was never around, wanted to join some kind of church sports team.  We weren’t members of this particular church so he was told that he couldn’t participate.  Oh my gosh! Really???

I continued to attend my local Baptist Church regularly until I gave up around the age of 12.  No one seemed to care whether I showed up or not.  I know now that a big part of the disconnect was that I was changing, questioning what I had been told most of my life, and that this is perfectly normal.  I just didn’t have anyone who showed any personal interest in me during this difficult, transitional time to help me through it.

Fast forward to my mid 20’s where I finally found a group of people that seemed caring.  I later learned that they were a borderline cult, and had been under investigation by the church police for years (yes, there are groups that police churches lol).  Well, lots of legalism and control in that organization.  If you misbehave, speak out against anyone or any church practices you get cut off.  It is just like shunning that the Amish practice, what I consider a form of spiritual abuse, designed to control.  Years later, I found myself in a new church.  This one didn”t really excommunicate anyone but if you are no longer useful or stop attending you get the left foot of fellowship really fast.   If you attend church you are a member in good standing.  If you are too sick to attend you are not in good standing.  Weird, right?

So back to my vision of the limbless, heartless body, a head on a torso with no lips or ears.  I see this as the modern Christian church.  Instead of being open to change, especially gender roles and treatment of women overall, the church just cuts off anyone that doesn’t fit in or agree with what they are doing.  If you are an arm who doesn’t believe in more children’s programs but does believe in clothing the poor, you are shut down. If you are a woman who has a heart to teach, you can’t because you don’t have boy parts.  If any of you have read your Bibles, the Church is called the Body of Christ with all “members” contributing.  Well, if you cut off the legs, arms, ears, lips and rip out the heart, you end up with a body that doesn’t go anywhere, do anything or have anything to say.  It certainly isn’t hearing its people or caring about them.

You have a church that makes no impact.  You have a church that is  not relevant to its members (who have mostly been cut off anyway).  You have a cold church that doesn’t recognize when it is failing.  You have a mega church that just build a $132 million facility whose members might be going without food and medical care, or might be homeless next week.  I don’t get it.

I wonder what Jesus would think, or how he would be treated, if he walked into one of those palaces of religion.  Would he be ushered down to sit in the front row even if his clothes were worn out or his shoes had holes in them?  Would the ushers try to keep him out of the areas where the television cameras focus during televised services?

I actually had this happen to me one time when I tried to visit a church in a rich area of Austin, Texas.  Me and my little boy (I was a single mom) thought we would visit Hyde Park Baptist Church one Sunday.  Silly me, I didn’t realize that they televised their services.  I tried to sit on the main floor as near to the front as possible because I find fewer distractions that way.  I was blocked from proceeding and led to the balcony area.  I know I wasn’t dressed very nicely, though I was in a dress.  I know I had a small child with me, one who might get a little wiggly sometimes.  But to turn someone away and make them sit in the back of the church was rude.  I never went back there; that place left a really bad taste in my mouth.  I was turned away at a church in Middletown, Connecticut once because I wasn’t wearing a dress.  Do these people know what they are doing?  Do they even really think about how they are representing, or misrepresenting Jesus, to visitors?

Today I see a church that is no more than a torso with a voiceless head on top.  What a shame.  I refuse to step foot in any church now.  I am so disillusioned that I just can’t do it.  Last Sunday I started this blog and thought to myself, “Instead of going to church I am breaking taboos!”

You ask:  why did you keep trying?  Why did you keep going back for more?  I have always felt the presence of God in my life.  I cannot explain it.  I just know He is there and I have always wanted to know Him better.  I have given up on religion, though.  I think I am leaning towards deism at this point, or back to agnosticism.  I find I must reject modern Christianity and the Pauline teachings as misogynistic and cruel, heartless and controlling.  Blasphemy, I know.  I must be true to myself in my search for God.  And I have not found it in man’s interpretation of God.  I must look elsewhere now.

Born to rule

King Ferdinand IV with his family

King Ferdinand IV with his family

In the 21st century we reject the idea that kings are born to rule, that some men were born to rule over others merely because of their bloodlines.  We tolerate royalty, look at them as though they are celebrities or museum pieces (at least in the western world – in the middle east, unfortunately, kings still rule in some nations), and read of the births of even more royal offspring with delight (why???).  I think it is similar to why people visit the Amish country here in the US, and think they are so quaint and precious because they are stuck in time, drive horse and buggy rigs, and don’t have telephones.  They treat their women and horses like crap.  Oh, how cute . . .  Huh?

I was a Christian wife who bought into the baloney that man is the head of woman.  I know.  I can’t believe it either.  Because a man is born with boy parts he automatically rules over woman.  Where did this idea come from?  It has been here for . . . well, almost always.  I think we can look back to caveman days when the strongest led the weakest.  Here we are talking about physical strength.  I know this is really simplistic, but it really does make sense.  As time went on men realized that while they may be physically superior (in the strength department – they aren’t so good at birthing babies), women were really smart and could turn a man into a puddle of mush by merely batting her eyelashes (sexual power is a whole other topic).  Cliché, I know, but I think there is truth in this.  Women have great power, and it scares men.  I think it scared early man and ancient man and medieval man and Enlightenment man and revolutionary man and continues to scare modern man.  I think the power of women scares women, too.  With great power comes great responsibility.  I think we give up much of that power because it scares the poo out of us.  I know it scares me sometimes.

In hand to hand combat, a woman rarely stands a chance against a man.  His size, weight and physical strength via muscle mass typically make him superior in this kind of combat.  He has that testosterone thing going on.  In our modern age, we are not limited to throwing rocks, spears or sword fighting, though.  We have different kinds of self-defense methods and even weapons available to women now.  I call these the great equalizers.  So do we need men to protect us?  Do we need men to rule over us because we are so weak and cannot be trusted with our power?  These are good questions.  Gun control advocates don’t consider this when they work to outlaw and confiscate privately owned firearms.  [This is not a pro-gun essay, but I just wanted to mention this as an aside.]  My point is that today women are not weak, are definitely not inferior to men in any way, and do not need to be protected if we are taught to care for ourselves, to protect ourselves, and to celebrate our innate strength.

King Arthur ready to defend his lovely Guinevere

King Arthur ready to defend his lovely Guinevere

I challenge all those who adhere to headship theology to consider rejecting the rule of man over woman because “the Bible says so!”  Jesus never said so (and if he supposedly did who said he said so?).  Paul supposedly said so (he also said women need to wear head coverings, and none of my Christian friends wear head coverings.  Hmmmm . . .).  I challenge all of my male and female friends to consider how you interact with the opposite sex.  Are you an egalitarian?  If not, what stands in the way of embracing this mindset, this way of life?  Just sharing some thoughts on this snowy Tuesday.

Check out The Junia Project for more information on equality in the Christian home (thanks to my friend Connie for directing me to this site months ago).

Postscript: I regret that I stayed in my dysfunctional marriage so long as it harmed not only my daughter’s perception of herself as a woman and the role of men in her life, but my sons were exposed to abusive behavior for much too long and have serious anger issues now as a result (they are conflicted about how men and women relate, why their father was harsh to them and me, and why God would allow such a situation to continue for so long — I ask this one myself). Parents need to consider what they are modeling for their children, and the marriage model is the first and most important that children are exposed to as they grow up, in my opinion.