I thought it was a children’s book when I first picked up the Linns’ short work. As it turns out, it’s written in a format designed for children but written for broken adults. It’s written from a Catholic perspective, so I even with the simple format I did have to swallow a dram of theological interpretation, which isn’t a bad thing. Processing my own beliefs using the words of another person is good spiritual exercise.
Linn begins by sharing George Newell’s description of “Uncle George” — a beloved patriarchal family figure that Newell’s father and mother adore, promising the children will adore him too. Only the children are left with extreme and opposite experiences of Uncle George than how mother and father had described him.
Ominous? Gentle? Already the dissonance is demanding I break apart.
Uncle George demands the children visit him, respect him, and love him. He is gruff and stand-offish, so perhaps demanding love from the children is the only way he can communicate?
Newell describes how wonderful Uncle George took the children down to his mansion’s basement and showed them the furnaces surrounded by demons. If the children didn’t visit him, respect him, or love him, they would be tossed into this burning hot place.
And on the way home, mother and father gushed: “Don’t you just love Uncle George?”
I didn’t knowing I was weeping until after I read that question: Don’t you just LOVE Uncle George?
No. No I don’t. I can’t!
Linn cites Newell’s term of religious schizophrenia to describe how so many of us, as Christians, have been taught to love a God who hates us. We blend in our language of love and assure ourselves that it’s okay because this is the reason that Jesus came.
Yet through the eyes of a child, how can a child learn true love of God when God is displayed as a Lover and a Monster?
- “God can’t stand to look at sin. And since you were born a sinner, God can’t stand to look at you unless it’s through the lens of Jesus…” (but don’t forget, God is love!)
- “You can’t be in the presence of God unless you have Jesus…” (but don’t forget, God loves you!)
- “God is a holy judge, and you have one life and one chance to get it right…” (but don’t forget, God created you very good!)
- “We were born so depraved that God sent his own Son to be brutally killed to save us from hell…” (And even if you were the ONLY human being on earth, he would LOVE you so much as to die for you alone!)
This is love?
This Creator God who took six intentional ages to create the cosmic lights, the waters, the land, the vegetation, the animals, and the exquisitely craft ha-adam from dust and divine breath is suddenly so offended by my birth and presence that he is now a hateful, wrathful God whose only appeasement is the bloody death of his own divine child?
I can see more clearly now how my spiritual life fractured. In the cool of the morning, I breathe in deeply the life which has been given to me and I understand that no one spiritual tradition can ever perfectly explain the movement or machinations of this Being I call “God”. However, I do experience more deeply the ache to love God and to be in full union with God.
One of the ways for this to happen was to be honest with the pieces lying all around me:
I hate the God of my Sunday School.
The God of my Sunday School was a Monster and the only Person who could save me from the Monster was Jesus. Jesus I could cling to, Jesus I could get on board with, Jesus I could love. Yet, was it love? Or was it an immature grasp of desperation for a divine intervention against the wrath of an eternal Spirit waiting to physically burn me alive for eternity?
Even Jesus never seemed enough.
There was always that one unnamable sin against the Holy Spirit that I could possibly commit that would rend my relationship with Jesus forever. There would be no going back.
In the clear light of day, I would come to understand that if there really was one literal unforgivable sin AND if God really loved us that much, God would probably have been far more clear about this particular sin. And yet even still the clarity remains a mystery to us all.
That tells me now that perhaps God isn’t worried about some nebulous unnamable sin. It’s a terror we have placed on ourselves alone.
We have mixed terror with love, desperation with hope, immediacy with life and we’ve call it: faith.
No wonder so many of us have had to break away from such dissonant teachings in order to survive. If I hadn’t rejected The Monster God and his patriarchal hierarchy, or his penal substitutionary atonement theory, or his demand for my love through threat of hell, I would have died — if not by suicide, then by complications brought on by extreme mental health distress.
I don’t suppose I was ever really an atheist for any length of time. One day I woke up, after another boxing ring of nightmares, and decided: “God…I want to live.”
And I walked away.
I didn’t walk away from God. I walked away from The Monster.
Too many schizophrenic teachings had made me sick, and I continued to sicken myself as I dwelled within those teachings morning, noon, and night. The only way to live this life was to walk away. And walk I did.
I couldn’t sit in another ER holding the hand of yet another LGBTQ+ youth who had tried to commit suicide because their church had so damaged their perceptions of self that their only way out was death. I would continue to sit with any person who had tried to commit suicide because of the shame surrounding being LGBTQ+, but I would do so in the light of truth: I am fully affirming, bisexual myself, and needing to be honest with that and not hiding it in my faith community.
I couldn’t tell another child that God created the world in six literal days and, while he created people “very good”, we all screwed it up with one bite of one piece of fruit. I began to discover in Scripture that this wasn’t the case. In reality, we had built our own case based on faulty theology and it always came back to fear and sin and death.
I couldn’t sleep another night enduring night terrors or weeping into my pillow for Jesus to save me (again). I wanted to be accepted and loved by God, and I couldn’t understand why God was so angry with me after being told God made me and loved me! Why would God have me burn forever if God loved me? Why would God still have me burn even after the brutal death of Jesus?
Why would God have anyone burn?
Especially since not one of us CHOSE TO BE BORN!
It began with confessing the truth: I was angry with God, and I was allowed to be angry with God.
People I could logically give permission to myself to be angry with — especially people who said that I was only good through the eyes of Jesus. I struggled with self-esteem and self-compassion (and still do to this day) in large part because the God of the Universe whom I was taught loves all people and all things hates me and can’t stand to look at me.
It didn’t add up. But I believed it. And I broke apart.
It was at this point Christian pastors and counsellors warned me against making the bible into my own idol, or turning God into a feel-good God without substance.
It was here that I began to encounter love in ways I wanted to scream off my skin. A God of Love — pure Love — is more offensive to our violent sensibilities than any wrathful God of our own design. Evangelicals will proof-text me, and mainline Christians will speak of traditional orthodoxy, and Catholics will cite catechism. Each denomination will demand that it’s approach to theology, as well as the theology itself, is correct and must be treated with the reverence due its subject: God.
But I am coming to see that my upbringing, for all its blessings and music and wisdom and holiness (genuine gifts, make no mistake), was filled with religious schizophrenia. Some people have reconciled this schizophrenia so that it all makes sense to them and they out their lives in ways that reflect this reconciliation. I did not. I could not. I did not survive the schizophrenia and I was dying because of it.
There had to be something more. And, if there was any hope left in the world, there had to be something — and Someone — better.
It is okay for me to be angry with God — not just The Monster God, but this Divine God of all people and things that I hardly know. God can take it. I can’t.
It’s only been in the past year or so that I began to explore deep spiritual abuse incidents and spiritual trauma in my life. I was ashamed to even try after responses such as:
- “That didn’t really happen!”
- “We were at the same event, and I didn’t experience that!”
- “You’re making things up again, Erin.”
- “You’re remembering fake memories.”
- “It’s just not that bad…”
Spiritual and emotional traumas and abuses are so difficult to heal from for just these reasons: people are gaslit (convinced by others they made up their own abuse or the abuse is their own fault to the point where they question reality on a daily basis), people are shunned, people are cornered by others who remain defensive from the faulty theological systems we were all once a part of together.
It is dangerous to break away.
Perhaps this little blog, as it seeks God through mysticism and social change, will focus more and more on healing from those gaslit abuses and traumas that thousands of us have experienced but were convinced it as all our faults.
Here I am.
I am alive.
I am in God and God is in me.
Until next time, readers.