To explain, it might help to briefly summarize my own history. I am someone who grew up with a loving family, but whose family was (and is) surrounded by Christian fundamentalism. Notwithstanding the love of my family--which made it bearable--I can describe living in this environment using three words: fear, shame, and coping.
I was/am afraid of:
- a god that would send human beings to hell (eternal conscious torment)
- cruelty and the capacity for cruelty in human beings
- other people’s anger and pain
I felt/feel shame about:
- being gay
- sexuality in general
- physical appearance
I have coped/cope with this pain by:
- pleasing others to win approval/affirmation
- behavior modification
- constant diet and exercise planning
- turning off/numbing painful feelings (withdrawing)
- losing myself in books, TV, games
In January of this year, I started writing about this history and my continuing journey. After a period of church detox and therapy, I needed to reconnect somehow with God and spirituality. Writing about it and sharing it has been very healing for me. I’ve met other sojourners who have helped me understand myself and the world better through their writing and their friendships. The whole blogging experience has shown me the potential for a more meaningful life by loving well.
However, I still see these patterns of fear, shame, and coping in my own life. They keep cycling back in different forms, in different situations. When I look back, I can see growth; I know I have been more honest and authentic with myself and with others than at any other time. But the same coping mechanisms are still present and easily accessible. Using these old ways prevents further growth. When I use them—and it is so easy to do so—another cycle of shame and coping begins.
My guess is that I haven’t fully grasped how fear and shame tore my humanity to shreds. I also believe I haven’t fully mourned the loss of the god of my youth. That god was also a coping mechanism. He (my god was definitely a “he”) was anyone I wanted to be on that particular day: comforter, savior, santa, father, or king. Maybe this is one reason I still so readily rely on those old ways of coping: I’m trying to hold on to youth itself.
As I look back over the list of coping techniques, I think I can see a way forward. If I can somehow be aware of when I’m using these techniques...even just being aware of when they occur could be valuable…
Regarding the loss of my own image of God (and using this image as another coping mechanism), I’d like to quote Morgan Guyton, an amazing writer who is also a pastor, who provided an astoundingly brief but accurate summary of the philosophy of Slavoj Zizek:
“…Zizek makes the provocative, paradoxical claim in his recently published behemoth of a book Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism that the most faithful way to be a Christian is actually to be an atheist. In his reading of the New Testament in the light of 'death of God' theology, the cross represents the death of the idea of a transcendent god. Subsequent to the cross, for Zizek, the Holy Spirit becomes the collective 'spirit' of the faithful community rather than a transcendent being outside of that community.”
This really speaks to me. It's close to where I stand at this particular moment in time. For now, I am abiding in the mystery of the unknowable God and learning how to truly mourn.