All her new friends

Lately we’ve been diving a bit into the swirling dark waters of Christian fundamentalism (The fundamentally toxic Christianity, yesterday’s She’s terrified of her growing attraction to Christ.) Ugh. Talk about wanting to put on a wetsuit and bring your own oxygen.

Check out this letter I got in just this morning. The subject line of the email was So ****ing isolated.

I left fundamentalism a few years ago. I started learning about sexual abuse (as well as emotional/spiritual/physical abouse) in the churches I’d left behind. I became energized and enraged and active against fundamentalism and abuse. As a result I’ve lost my extended family, who are fundamentalists. But at least I had the other former and recovering fundamentalists. We spoke the same language. We connected online and sometimes in person. At least I had them, right?

Wrong, as it turns out. I’ve been burned by other ex-fundamentalists who don’t understand how ugly the black/white, good/bad thinking is. You can’t disagree with them—and if you do they “separate” from you, like good fundamentalists do. They bully people, but people keep following them because at least it’s better than isolation. No one seems to know how to stand alone. We moved a number of times in the last few years. I don’t know how to make friends, because friendships always formed at church. I have been so innocent and trusting that after being hurt so often I don’t know how to recognize a good person from a dangerous person, and so now I have trust issues. I am not normal. I don’t know how to relate to the PTA moms or anyone else, really. I’ve moved far to the left of almost everyone I know. I am so lonely. I have nothing to show for my life. I don’t trust myself, so projects fall to the wayside. I’m not suicidal or anything. I just wanted someone to hear me. (Moses was a late bloomer. So there’s that.)

“Moses was a late bloomer. So there’s that.” Oh, man. I mean … how does that not at once break your heart and crack you up?

Would you guys please please please show this woman some love? Just a word or two here to let her know that we’re out here, that we’re listening, that she’s not alone.

This is the [bad word]ing nightmare of fundamentalism. People think that once a person has gotten up the nuts to leave fundamentalism, they’re sort of necessarily good to go. But leaving fundamentalism is at once a gloriously brave culmination and a dismantling, terrifying beginning. Fundamentalism thoroughly skews you. To you up is down and down is up and everywhere Satan droolingly awaits your weakness. Your sense of self is … embryonic, basically. Especially if you’re a woman raised in that mess. Talk about starting the race with weights on your legs.

Woman who wrote me this: Listen: you’re honest. That’s what’s necessary in life. That’s the only thing that’s necessary in life. That’s the power before which all else finally fails. The very best thing Jesus ever said (which I know is saying something) is The truth shall set you free.

The. Very. Best. Thing.

You have the truth, sister. Cling to it—insist on it—and soon enough your path will be clear. Just hang tight, stay low, let things flow as they do. If people betray or hurt you, let ‘em have the last word, curl yourself into a ball, let that crap roll off your back, and then straighten up and keep going.

Oh, and here’s a truth: being driven to have something to show for your life is completely detrimental to actually having a life. Show me someone with a huge list of worldly accomplishments and I’ll show you someone almost guaranteed to bore the crap out of me. Anything that you can show is rarely worth seeing. Again: the truth is the only thing worth having. And that you hold in the only place it can be held, which is in your heart. Which is yours, and yours alone, and subject to no display at all.

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter.

  • Debbie

    Please let the lady who wrote know that there are people out there willing to befriend her–she has taken a huge risk and shown enormous courage. I have a few friends who have escaped from fundamentalism, and they all echo this lady’s experience. But the world is not as narrow and cruel as the fundies would want you to believe–this is just a form of brainwashing used to keep you in line. The world is huge and beautiful and full of people who don’t hate you for thinking your own thoughts. My best to you–Deb

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      You just did let her know that, Debbie. Thank you.

    • textjunkie

      Can’t say it better than this…

  • sb

    I hope you don’t get offered tons of advice here, because I know that is not what you are asking. I just want to say “I hear you” and “I believe you” and “You are fine just the way you are”. Sending love and positive thoughts your way today, your words really touched me.

  • Shirley Valleroy Buntin via Facebook

    Done. What a moving article.

  • Anne

    Leaving fundamentalism is a lot like what happens once you get out of prison. Everything has been controlled by outside forces. All you want to do is be free but you find out that you don’t know how. You’ve been institutionalized.

    If you lived in the Albuquerque area, we could get together. Just hang out without any expectations. That’s a lot of what you need right now. That and finding a church that doesn’t beat you down. You might actually need to hold off for a bit on the church part.

    Living one day at a time sounds so trite but it really is what you have to do right now. Focus only on the moment. There is plenty of time to look at the past once it’s not all so raw and fresh.

    John has my email and I give him permission to forward it to you, if you’d like. You say that you’re not normal. Please remember, NO ONE is normal.

    “You are a child of the universe. No less that the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here.” (-Desiderata)

    • Tammy

      I love the prison analogy. It is so true. Also, the advice that it’s OK to not attend church for a while is good too. Breaking free of the bonsai-like teachings and starting to unfurl is difficult and painful. I am still branching and growing. I don’t think I’ll ever “arrive”. Stay true to yourself and learn, grow – be FREE! You are not alone.

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        Agreed. I’ve been out of church for a few years now and it has been so freeing to just rest on Sundays. Freedom is a beautiful thing.

  • Jill Joiner

    I want to reach out to you and hug and say precious you are loved and you are cared about. The heart heals I speak from experience on this. Never ever forget that you are loved. I can not say it often enough.

  • Jill H

    Ugh. I’m sorry. So very sorry. And you’re right (so is John)– escaping fundy life is not an ending to the effort. It’s a new beginning. Not everyone handles new beginnings, self-trust, and ‘going out there on your own’ very well.

    I was fortunate– I had an exceptional counselor to guide me. But it’s a scary thing. And I’m now strong enough at my ‘late blooming’ years to face the remaining black/white thinking for what it is– mind control.

    I hear you. I hope you can see that you’re by no means alone. Pretty soon you’ll feel it on the inside too. Best, Jill

  • http://www.facebook.com/jill.joiner.5 Jill Joiner via Facebook

    You are loved sweet woman.

  • Tara

    It seems to me that you are very strong, and have great courage. Blessings and prayers coming your way.

  • Jennifer

    Hang in there, sweetie!!!! It is a slow process. A journey. Some days it will feel like you’ve moved forward by hundreds of miles, others will feel like you are in a stall. But you are, indeed, moving forward. Look around…..really look around!!!! Notice nature….birds, trees, flowers, snow, rain, sunshine. All of these are gifts from our loving God. I let go of my fears by looking at the world around me. And when I did, I realized that God is far larger and far bigger than all the fear that had been instilled into me. Fundamentalists are EXPERTS at using fear to control and manipulate. But fear is not of God. Perfect love casts out all fear. It takes time, but I promise you that the journey is worth the effort. You will wake up one day and realize that you truly ARE the amazingly strong, intelligent and sincere woman that the rest of us who read your letter already see. May God continue to bless you in your journey, my dear!!!

  • http://www.examiner.com/sacred-living-in-long-island/sean-brennan Sean Patrick Brennan

    Hang in there, hon. I hope you’ll find a community or communities away from church who will make you feel at home. For what it’s worth, it feels like John has created a beautiful one here too.

  • Julie Eby-McKenzie

    I’m so sorry for the abuse/pain/disappointment/isolation you’ve had to endure. Wrapping sisterly arms around you!

  • Lois

    Normal? What’s that? Was Jesus normal? Paul? Moses?

    God loves you, as you are, normal or not. And there are churches where people love and accept each other and worship God and serve the poor–not perfectly, but on the path.

    Prayers that you will hear these messages of love and concern and affirmation, and hear God’s voice through them.

  • Mary Ellen Mayo via Facebook

    (((HUGS)))

  • Dag Anders Eriksen

    Well said, brave done, I hear you, I understand what you mean, I think there ARE people out there to connect with, I think a different world IS possible and worth struggling for. I hope you find people to be yourself with and at peace with.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfu5Nn93bMg

  • Jennifer Edwards

    There is very little in this world that it Black/White. Realizing that is very liberating. God loves you – who you were, who you are now and who you will become. You’re not alone!

    • Ember

      I like how you said this. I hope it strikes a chord with her, too :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/pauljevans2000 Paul J. Evans via Facebook

    The machine of Fundamentalism, the machine that echoes out false realities as truths, the machine of ultimate destruction. The scars are deep, when one finally walks out of the cave of fundamentalism and overcome the machine and realize everything was a lie, just to step out into the real world and not know what is real anymore.

    The machine knows only offense, it knows of no defense. The offensive attack is worse, because, it involves everyone to try to keep you in your place, once you leave, it has no more power, but the hurt that it creates runs deep.

  • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken LeonardPO

    I know how you feel.

    I belong to an Evangelical church where people will freely talk about politics with the assumption that we’re all right-wing Republicans or TP-ers. My pastor is actually not so, but a lot of the congregation is.

    It feels very isolating to have my brothers and sisters casually refer to “those stupid, God-hating lefties” (as happens frequently on Facebook or in post-worship conversation … the quote is from yesterday). But, you know what?

    We’re not alone. This is what Jesus did. This is how His disciples lived. Their message wasn’t welcome, either, to those in power.

    This is what is so wonderful about John’s blog and the Unfundamentalist community that grew from it. We’re here for each other, even if we’re not together in real life.

    Above all, love.

    • http://thethreews.wordpress.com Ken LeonardPO

      John, I assume that you fixed the comment to have the link.

      Thanks! I wish I’d thought of that.

  • Richard Lubbers

    When you are raised in fundamentalism, you tend to think there is no other way to believe in and experience God/Jesus/Spirit. But there is. Hang with us and you will find people who love and accept you for who you are, not for what you believe and have or haven’t accomplished.

    As you grow and continue in life, you will find love deeper than you’ve known, and strength you never knew you had.

  • http://www.facebook.com/blaine.williams.77 Blaine Williams via Facebook

    “yeah though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death…” – death is not the only shadowy valley we walk through in life. And we are never alone; s/he is always with us. Being in Christ is not always going with the flow. So if you are having friction and difficulties in your life because of a new direction u have taken, it doesn’t mean you have gone in the wrong direction or are not walking with God. Sometimes, like salmon, we have to swim against the tide. Swim on sister.

  • Jane

    At 50, I’m quite the late bloomer myself. I know that feeling of isolation, but there is great freedom in it as well. I have felt great comfort in this blog and others. There is a community out there just like you. Hang in there!

  • http://www.nightwares.com/ Warren

    Seems to me she’s still recovering, so it’s a bit early for her to conclude she has little or nothing from which to (re)start. The self-doubts will pass, and the butterfly will emerge.

  • Warren Adams-Ockrassa via Facebook

    Seems to me she’s still recovering, so it’s a bit early for her to conclude she has little or nothing from which to (re)start. The self-doubts will pass, and the butterfly will emerge.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Jones/50402231 Chris Jones via Facebook

    I’m very glad to hear that you were able to escape that environment, writer, and that you’re recovering from this without losing your faith. Know that you’re not alone in your way of thinking at all. There are many of us progressive, Unfundamentalist Christians out there who will all have your back. I’ll keep praying and hoping the best for you.

  • http://jasowl@earthlink.net Jane

    Is there a UU church near you? You might find friends and community there.

  • Chris J

    Since it didn’t look like my comment from Facebook uploaded, I’ll paste it here…

    I’m very glad to hear that you were able to escape that environment, writer, and that you’re recovering from this without losing your faith. Know that you’re not alone in your way of thinking at all. There are many of us progressive, Unfundamentalist Christians out there who will all have your back. I’ll keep praying and hoping the best for you.

  • Mary Higgins Squires via Facebook

    Fortunately you have the internet,because anyone can find a like community on this thing. They may be far away-but who knows-there may be people in this group closer than you think. Take all your extra church time and take some classes-in sociology you would have a great and valuable take in group-think. Friendships often happen slowly, and you are going to be socially weird for a while,like a lot of us.

  • Mary Higgins Squires via Facebook

    ON group-think.

  • Jennifer Spangler Wood via Facebook

    Not alone. You are heard. <3

  • Jess

    I hope my comment helps you to know there are Christians who don’t see everything in black and white. I came late to Christ and have found a warm and accepting church family. I wish the same for you! Your sister in Christ, Jess

  • David

    I am actually in a similar position to you, and I’m still waiting to find my footing as well. Seems like every time I right myself, something else gets thrown at me.

    But it has gotten better. And it will get even better. Rebuilding after an experience like that can take many years.

    Like-minded folk are in a lot of places. You just need time to find them near you, and in the meantime, hopefully online communications like this show you that you’re not alone.

    Much love to you.

  • Docia Richard via Facebook

    Dearest isolated one, I feel your pain. I’ve traveled that path, heck, I’m still on it. I was raised by fundamentals, and live in a town where most think that to follow Christ, you must be a fundy. But we know the truth, don’t we, and as John quoted Christ as saying, it has set us free. Indeed.

  • Liza

    I didn’t grow up in fundamentalism. Both of my parents did, so they decided to protect us from that and allow us to follow our own paths. However, that feeling of being so different that people not only can’t understand you, but wouldn’t be willing to understand you lives in me.

    When I was 6 years old I was sexually and emotionally abused by someone my parents thought would never hurt me. That experience became the lens through which I saw the whole world. When I sought community with others who had similar experiences I found I was living in the asylum and there were no healers!!

    I got stronger when I forged friendships with people by using a different matrix. People whose world does not revolve around abuse or around sex. People who were doing interesting things that I wanted to try. Basically, I acted as though I were normal, and now I actually feel more normal…not totally normal, but less obvious.

    Please don’t write off the PTA moms; groups like that are usually looking for people to help out. You can help with small projects and ease into letting them see who you are becoming. When you are comfortable, you can share who you were. With 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men experiencing abuse as a child, you may find you have people around you who understand more than you think.

    I can’t wait to hear how things are going! You have already done the hardest part; you survived!

  • http://www.facebook.com/joanne.elliott.3958 Joanne Elliott via Facebook

    Dear sweet woman. My heart goes out to you because you feel so alone & isolated. Even though I live in Australia, God’s Holy Spirit and the pure, sweet love of Jesus unite us.

  • chera

    You are a beautiful and amazing woman!

    I told John he could give my email address to you if you would like it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/KristiOutlerByrd Kristi Outler Byrd via Facebook

    Dear Friend, you are not alone! The entire system of fundamentalism is set up to make you doubt yourself and to feel fear. When you leave it, it is almost like having Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. . Give yourself the gift of time -a lot of time if need be – just to recover. Like John wrote, you don’t just leave fundamentalism and – voila – mission accomplished. Learningnto trust both your own instincts and others takes time. You are brave; you may not feel it but YOU ARE! ((HUG))

  • Kimberly Moser Musci Phillips via Facebook

    You’ve achieved the most important–and the most difficult–step: recognizing abuse for what it is, and then getting yourself away from it. Something to keep in mind is that a key component to perpetuating an abusive cycle is keeping the victim (I hate that word!) isolated, both emotionally and physically, from any opportunity for outside support. Isolation then becomes an integral part of coping w/ abuse. You’re right to sense, and pay close attention to, any controlling/abusive flavor in those around you now, because that reflexive recoiling inside you is a positive sign of healing. But it’s equally important to not allow yourself to be isolated socially from others. Hang out w/ some PTA moms and relate to them as just another mom, and make friends w/ those who seem to share your attitudes and who don’t set your radar to blipping crazily. Maybe consider a short course of therapy, so you can work out some of the biggest issues of your survival plan from here on out. But more than anything, know that there’s a whole new world waiting for you, on the other side of this.

  • Paul in Canada

    Dear Isolated – you may be surprised how many feel your pain. I do. Perhaps not in the same way, but I relate because of the fundamentalism lens. Leaving any community is terrifying. Finding one, only to find out they aren’t what you thought, is heart-breaking. There are so many things in life that bring us to a place where we just want to give up. But I suspect that you already know, deep in your spirit, that there is a wonderful Presence who cares for you, regardless of whether or not you are surrounded by family and friends, or out on that long and often lonely road of life. The good news is this – life is an ever-changing thing. Our circumstances, our living conditions, heck even our thoughts change constantly. But the Presence (God, the universal sacred power of the cosmos, whatever you wish to call God), is always present, always there to touch and heal the open heart. We simply need to “be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). God’s abundance will always be enough to ensure we experience peace, harmony, JOY, and love.

    Disclaimer – I’m an ex-fundamentalist. I now follow many different paths including Buddhism. But the destination is the same, a relationship with the Sacred and Divine power behind the universe. And it’s always, immediately available if we just stop and be present in God’s Presence. Nothing more is required.

    Take heart for you are God’s beloved.

    • Jill H

      Paul, I so appreciate what you’re saying. Thank you again for sharing. It means a lot.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson via Facebook

    I can see her dilemma… Even “separating” from fundamentalism might not be enough for some people to lose the mindset that got them into it in the first place, and maybe that’s what is going on with her “friends”. May the Lord be with her.

  • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

    Dear Isolated,

    You are not alone, but like so many of us, walking purposely from where man would have us be to where, I believe, God wants us to be. And yeah, it can be so out of the box different from what anyone expects or understands. That’s the scary part, it also can lead to a life of deeper purpose…and a peace unlike anything we’d imagined possible.

    I’m one who has also taken that journey, bears the scars, and can now look back and see that my path led me here, a place where dogma, theological opinions, and denominational affiliation matter less; God, God’s love for every last one of us, and displaying and sharing that love amongst every last one of us matters more.

    Welcome. You are among friends.

  • Rachel G.

    Easiest way to make friends is to get a dog; dog is God spelled backwards. God made dogs, and He made you. Save a dog, save yourself. We’re all out here, rooting for your success and happiness. So is God.

  • Connie

    I understand how you are feeling. We just left our non-fundamentalist Methodist church and I too am feeling adrift. It is hard. I feel like we really lost family when we lost our church family. I frankly am afraid to reach out and make a new church family because I don’t want to be hurt again. Admittedly I suffer from depression and that makes it harder for me. But I do want you to know that I understand and wish you the very best and you are not alone. God bless!

  • Leila

    Dear Isolated,

    May the Lord bless and keep you as you seek him. I understand much of what you’re going through, even though you and so many others have had it much worse than I have. Just keep seeking Jesus and walking in his truth, he’ll never leave you or abandon you, and remember we can be friends here with no strings attached. Keep fighting the good fight and stay strong, sister.

  • http://fairybearconfessions.wordpress.com Meghan

    I hear you, beautiful letter writer. My family are serious fundies on both sides, going back generations. My parents left their church/religion when I was 5. It was a huge shock wave for the community, in which my father had been an especially prominent rising star. We were completely isolated. I have dim memories of running through a sea of adult legs when we used to host parties and bbq’s when I was little. Then, after we left, we didn’t have anyone over for dinner for 10 years. Ever. Family reunions got Really Awkward, and I’m pretty sure we were only still invited to family reunions because some of the extended family were holding out hope of bringing me and my younger siblings back into the Truth.

    Besides the isolation, though, the other lasting imprint that fundamentalism left on my family was certain patterns of thought – black/white, inside/outside, right/wrong. The ideological perfectionism remained, it was just re-directed through a different ideology. My dad became an outspoken atheist, but he was a total fundie about it. He had his orthodoxy, and scorned anyone who wasn’t as enlightened as he was. He still needed so badly to be right (and for the fundies to be wrong), he didn’t know how to just be, and he didn’t know how to offer anyone else the dignity to just be. I read about your ex-fundie friends, and I heard my dad talking.

    All this to say that I have large compassion for your situation, and there IS light at the end of this tunnel. The fall-out of leaving a religion had a long-lasting impact on everyone, including me. It takes time. I was so young when all of this went down that I actually didn’t realize how isolated and weird we were until I was in my 20′s, and I looked around and realized that other people….talk to people. And not just when they’re working on school or work projects together. Not just when they need something from someone, and not just to persuade them of something important. They go to each other’s houses and talk on the phone about things like shopping and have lunch get-togethers and stuff! This was a huge revelation to me. And I realized that I didn’t have a clue how to make a friend, a real one. I hate shopping. I was really vulnerable for a few years when I could see both my desperate need for friendship, and my utter ignorance of how to find or build it. I learned, though. It can happen. It does take time, and self-forgiveness. I won’t give you more specific advice here, because I didn’t get the impression that that was what you were looking for, I just wanted you to know that I hear you, and my heart cries out for you, and it DOES get better. There are many beautiful people around who will embrace you and respect you where you’re at. One day at a time.

    • David S

      Meghan –

      I was blown away by this: “He still needed so badly to be right (and for the fundies to be wrong), he didn’t know how to just be, and he didn’t know how to offer anyone else the dignity to just be.”

      This need to be right is how I often deal with hurt and pain inflicted by my church and family; but it is a futile MO. For all of my insisting, my screaming, my seething, my pleading, my yearning to have them agree – what does it get me? They remain unchanged whereas I get even more frustrated and angry. My need to be right (and accepted and agreed with) is a destructive thing born of pain, hurt, and lack of confidence.

      Somewhere in this messiness, God is at work. My need to be right belies my faith in Him. So I try very hard to just live my life authentically and remember that God can and does change hearts and minds (including mine). That doesn’t mean I don’t stand up for myself or that I don’t express my beliefs. It just means that at some point, I have to have faith that God working in everybody’s life – even those people who disagree with me. Truth be told, I often fail in this act of capitulation. But I try.

      Thanks so much for sharing a part of your personal story.

      • Jill H

        David S, your need to be ‘right’ likely equals my need to be ‘wronged’! I’m still taunted by a little voice inside that needs them to turn around from their self-imposed oblivion and notice that I’m hurt and that I’ve gone.

        But I often think our need to right, to be hurt, etc. really belies our faith in ourselves. Equal self-love, not less, than the love shown our neighbors. Because yes people do change, but I’ve found out the hard way that it’s not meant to be at my expense.

        Having faith in yourself that you can find those who share love and respect with you is, in my mind, what exercising faith in God looks like. :)

        • David S

          Yes, Jill. Excellent point. Love our neighbors as ourselves (and love ourselves as we would have our neighbors love us).

  • http://FB Cory

    Hey! When I came out of the closet that automatically cut me off from my “fundamentalist” so called friends. These people don’t know what they are doing has nothing to do with faith or worshiping God. True fundamentalism is not really about these brainwashing right wing churches any way, its just the fundamentals of Chistian doctrine. I would suggest going to a more mainstream church than what you came from or even a gay affirming church if your still looking for acceptance because I know that our community tries really hard to include all people no matter their race, creed or color. Join a secular group such as a library book club or toastmasters where you are exposed to people from all walks of life. Try volunteering at a local animal shelter,soup kitchen or boys and club. Become a part of the Big Sister,Big Brother program. Become love and speak truth and reach out be a force of nature my wonderful friend. Jesus came to bring light and love not darkness and lonelieness so let any of the stupid,hurtful people who ostracized you make you think bad of the whole human race.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TheHereticalWay The Heretical Way via Facebook

    Take heart in knowing that your courage is strong and inspiring, that your deep love for others is a beautiful and empowering thing. Following Jesus is not always easy but it is rewarding, know that He is cheering you on. Keep trying to change the tide because hope and effort can achieve such things.

    • http://allegro63.wordpress.com sdparris

      Then there is this to hold on to as well…who’s opinion about us matters more than anyone else’s…God’s. And as God adores us more than anyone, with a capacity so huge it takes a universe to hold it, I think anyone else’s opinion of how we try to navigate through life as best we can, and how we do faith in all its myriad formats, should take a number…after God..and then ourselves.

      Then they can chime in.

  • Christy

    Dear letter writer, My shift Left began with children. Grappling with infant Baptism in the new PCUSA church we were in stood in sharp contrast to my IFB upbringing. Realizing that environmentalists weren’t tree huggers – but they were people who cared deeply about the food we eat and the air we breathe and the water we drink. And if I cared what went into my children, why not everyone else’s kids too? And I wanted what was best for my babies – so I nursed them as long as they were interested and it seemed to be mostly churchy people who had a problem with that. What’s wrong with feeding my baby the way God intended? And I found myself in this crunchy granola Jesus-y limbo. I didn’t quite know where I fit in.

    Then I met some mainline and liberal Christians – which I never knew existed because of from whence I came. It took trust to believe they were safe and good and ok and not of the devil trying to trick me away from the narrow path. And, little by little, I learned I wasn’t alone. There were others. And they were nice.

    We are here. We are here! WE ARE HERE!!!

    And, as I usually say to those who find John’s page from the former fundy crowd : Come on in. You can sit by me.

    There is comfort in talking to those who are familiar with from where you came. They know the lingo and the (nearly unbelievable) reality like no one else who hasn’t lived it can. But really – so many of us are hurt and bruised. Learning to trust and be vulnerable again takes time. But I have found it to be true, that finding that one golden, true friend and risking the vulnerability necessary to love…is always worth it. Good people do exist. I hope you find some comfort in them here. Blessings on your journey…(((you))).

    • Elizabeth

      Christy, thank you for everything you’ve done with Unfundamentalist Christians and for me. My platonic girl-crush is intact.

      • Jill H

        Ditto

  • that Mike guy

    Hugs and thoughts to her.

    Something to realize is that there is no one un-fundamentalism. The other other ex-fundamentalists are looking for a different path away from where they and she both started. And if they weren’t born into it, there was something that attracted them to fundamentalism in the first place. The big draw is the same thing as the poison and some leave a particular fundamentalism because it isn’t toxic enough.

    There is a big world out there, bigger than a binary fundamentalism/not fundamentalism. Take big steps, out past the war zone. Be with people who don’t care about fundamentalism one way or the other. Don’t worry about making friends. Just hang out with people and let friendships happen if they happen.

    • Jill H

      As you say Mike, and yet sometimes the ‘draw’ to stick with it is about survival– for what it’s worth I have been able to be ‘grateful’ for that in itself. Sometimes toxicity is all you know.

      And then, as many people here have said so eloquently, you locate a ‘safe zone’ far beyond all things religiously structured. An ex-fundy that doesn’t take time to decompress, work out those kinks, is liable to fall back into some kind of lockstep behavior.

      I’m learning too how genuine, constant, and kind people can be. In places you may not have suspected. ;)

  • http://www.facebook.com/maryterry17 Mary Knox via Facebook

    Dear isolated: First of all… I feel your pain. I have left fundamentalism a very long time ago. It does get better & easier, as time goes on. Don’t be too hard on yourself or expect too much at once. Take baby steps. Try to see yourself as Jesus sees you…… a magnificent creation, unique from every other human being. Take this opportunity to quiet yourself & listen, really listen to what your “gut” is telling you. It is really like a divorce or death & you need time to grieve. In this process, you will find out more about yourself & your relationship to God & how very much he loves you… just as you are right now. Just trust yourself. We are here & welcome you with open arms!

  • Rev. Carl Johnson

    Hugs and kudo’s to you on your growth. It gets better. And I cxonsole myself by knowing that the essence of any value system is this” That which is harmful to you, do to no one else.” That’s it in a nutshell. All the rest is commentary.

  • Isolated Writer

    as the original emailer, I have read every word of your words of peace and friendship and understanding today, and am buoyed on a tide of rare well-being not unlike the feeling I get after a bit of good wine. I had not realized how starved I was for non-toxic discourse until I felt the difference here–no sarcasm, stony silence, or coded phrases of judgement.

    Thank you all. I’m sending others here to read. We need voices like yours in our heads. The negative self-talk is exhausting.

    • Janice

      “I don’t know how to make friends, because friendships always formed at church. I have been so innocent and trusting that after being hurt so often I don’t know how to recognize a good person from a dangerous person, and so now I have trust issues. I am not normal. I don’t know how to relate to the PTA moms or anyone else, really.”

      Please, LW, don’t be so hard on yourself about having a hard time making friends. It’s hard for a lot of people, even those from a non-fundie background, like myself. Once I moved out on my own, it took me 3-4 years to figure out how to make new friends.

      For starters, aim low. See if you can find an activity that involves other people that you think you’d enjoy. Make superficial small talk with some of the other people there. Try out several different activities, and if you feel comfortable around the people there, just keep showing up and making small talk. Take things as slow as you need to to build up trust– don’t worry if it takes years or more. Most people won’t ever pan out as friends, but sometimes you get lucky.

      Good luck!

    • David S

      Dear letter writer. Loneliness sucks. Isolation is suffocating. I’m so sorry you have been hurt by people that you love and trusted, and I pray that God brings you into many loving and affirming communities (online and otherwise). Know that the people in this space are some of the smartest, most compassionate I’ve ever come across. Often, that compassion has been forged by painful personal experiences like yours. You are not alone. I didn’t grow up in a fundie church, so I can only imagine what you have gone theough and what you continue to go through. But I do know this: You deserve good things and you are loved.

    • Valerie

      I know just how you feel and it feels wonderful to have someone agree with you and to feel that you aren’t the only one! Hang in there!

  • Dan(Chicago)

    Isolated Writer, I very much identify with you, and even more so after the mention of wine. I often tell my friends that I feel like I am in a witness protection program. I’ve lost the 15 years of my young adult life, starting at 18 years old, when I was involved in a charismatic sect. I get depressed thinking of all those years and all the energy, love, (and a boat load of tithes, gifts, and offerings) spent that could have been spent elsewhere,almost anywhere, that would have been more meaningful and lasting. I do have a huge plus which makes it easier — my brother and sisters never liked my involvement in the church and actually like me better now that I am a gay agnostic than when I was a tongue speaking charismatic.

    It’s not easy, but I am deciding to stop spending time regretting. I find peace just closing my eyes and remembering how big the world is and how much exploring I want to do. Oh yeah, and the wine.

  • Brian

    Dear Energized, Enraged, and Active,

    You, little Missy, are EVERYTHING BUT alone.

    Although you most certainly feel alone, you are NOT isolated.

    You are energized, enraged, and most importantly, you are active. Remember this, and you will be find your power, which exists COMPLETELY apart from what anyone, ex-fundie, or not, thinks about you. You WILL do this. I have. Others have. Nothing makes me special….seriously. The world yearns for us. Those of us OK enough with ourselves to call it like it is, and be OK with the gray. To stand in the gap of LOVE and be a true testament to WHO the gospel is. And that is who YOU are, so thank you.

    You are loved, you are welcome, and you are a leader. Your heart burns for more, and you will give it more.

    We are created in the image of God. How did God create? He spoke. How do we create? We speak. Speak Truth into your life, right now. The fundies don’t want you to, but your heart does. Believe it will make a difference, and it will.

    You DO know how to make friends.

    You CAN recognize a good person from a dangerous person.

    You are trusting, because you are trustworthy.

    You are COMPLETELY normal.

    You DO know how to relate to the PTA moms, and EVERYONE else for that matter.

    You may feel lonely, but you are NOT alone.

    Your HEART shows through, right now, to me, and that is EVERYTHING that you have to show for your life.

    You trust yourself.

    Projects are completed.

    We ALL hear you.

    I love you. Thank you for sharing.

    Brian

    • Harrisco

      Good message, Brian. “Little Missy” strikes the wrong note, though. As I hear that term, I do not think it is something you would say to someone you respect. It might be meant to be sarcastic or funny, but it tends to undercut the valuable message it introduces. Others might hear it differently.

  • Yvonne

    Dear Isolated,

    I hope I don’t get into trouble for recommending my denomination, but I really want to encourage you to check out the Episcopal Church. There are some congregations leaning to the fundamentalist interpretation of what Jesus said, but there are many, many congregations who are willing to let you think what you think and love you as you are. You’ll even meet other people who also think outside the fundamentalist box and dare to entertain some interesting questions!

    I was raised in a fundamentalist community, and I still sometimes can get the creepy feeling that the devil’s gonna get me; but I remember that God is Love, and I’m God’s creature and I trust in God, so I’ve nothing to fear. I give thanks for my Thinking Brain and grow on.

    You will find a community where you feel safe and at home. In the meantime, know that I’m thinking of you and praying for your self-acceptance and trust in the God Who Saves You.

    Love, Yvonne

    • Elizabeth

      This.

    • David S

      Each Sunday, the minister at my Presbyterian church rhetorically asks and answers the question “what kind of people worship here? People who believe that God doesn’t ask us to check our hearts and minds at the door.” And sometimes he adds “In other words, you don’t have to be stupid or mean to be welcome here”. That makes me smile every time.

  • Carol VanderNat

    Just to add my own thoughts: you are surrounded here with love, friendship and acceptance! You HAVE made friends – us! At 57 years old, I recently came out…my family too, for generations, has been very hard-wired to fundamentalist values. My marriage is ending, I am living with friends instead of in my own house, and I’m guessing we have some very similar thoughts and feelings of isolation. BUT….BUT…you and I both are surrounded by this great “cloud of witnesses”…I will be sending all the love and light that god has placed in me – to you…know that you are loved, and accepted, and welcomed…not just by us but by the god who created you….Namaste….

  • alex

    My first thought is that a progressive church would help the loneliness and also using meet up.com to make friends who like an activity.

    God bless

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.withee.1 Kelly Withee via Facebook

    God bless and comfort you and give you strength as you continue on your journey. You are in my prayers. :-)

  • Tim

    Letter Writer,

    The main thing I would add is “Love yourself.” What meaning does Jesus command to “Love your neighbor as you love yourself” if you can’t love yourself? I mean, I know we can go all technical here, but if you don’t see yourself as worthy, deserving, lovable, trustworthy, etc. you will never get there with other people. You also say “we have moved” so I assume you have a nuclear family of some sort as well. Are they fundies? Maybe this is a good place to start a conversation about how you move forward.

    The way you do this is of course completely up to you, but in any case it is a marathon and not a sprint. I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, left that to become a Pentecostal (Foursquare Gospel, which is still extremely conservative but not fundy) and have gradually grown, developed, embraced nuance, etc. There is a depth to both God and humanity that we often discount by rushing things or imposing black/white on ourselves.

    Instead of “I don’t know how to make friends”, even if that statement is true, it is so much more helpful if you say “I haven’t yet learned to make friends.” View yourself as a work in progress. We all are. Then go out and learn. Whether that means social/civic/hobby activities, a therapist, or a more moderate-to-liberal church, the first step is the most important one. Love yourself just a bit and others will gravitate toward either your pain or your self-love, slowly at first. Before long, you will be more the one healing than the one being healed.

    God bless, sister.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

    What a blessing it is to get the get the kind of responses here we have.

  • MG

    I understand this young person’s pain. transition can be hard, and along the way you find that extremism of any color or shape poisons the air. Time will allow you to learn this and unfortunately life at times (many times) makes pain the tool it uses to help us learn. I wish this person all the love in the world and hope that as they move from one point to another, and they will change, that above all love yourself, and know that you are never alone, even if in the end it is just you and Christ or the Dali Lama, or another belief system. Stay in touch here and I’m sure you will find how truly un-alone you are….

  • http://earthbound-spirit.blogspot.com/ Earthbound Spirit

    Oh my. Where to start? Good for you for taking the huge step out of fundamentalism. Good for you for realizing that staying way at the other end of the spectrum forever won’t help you. There’s a big world of choices and decisions, and yes it’s going to be hard sometimes to figure out who to trust.

    I’ve been there, and eventually found a faith community that my spouse and I could both call home – a place where we raised our three children to think for themselves and make their own faith choices. A place where I ultimately discerned my own call to ministry!

    I never would have gotten to where I am now without leaving the fundamentalism of my teens (where women were still expected to be silent in church). I never would have gotten here without the support of my amazing spouse, and our now-grown children. I never would have gotten here without learning difficult lessons by trusting the wrong person, or doing the wrong thing, and having to work that through. You are loved. You are not alone. You are just beginning an amazing chapter in your life, which can be scary & lonely. But, boy, is it going to be fun discovering what’s ahead for you! I’ll be holding you in the light…

  • jennifer

    john is soooo right. fundamentalism stunts you as a person. then, you get really pissed off, because you feel cheated. don’t know if i have anything to say, other than, yes! everything john said! i would just add that being embryonic isn’t entirely a bad thing. try to find people who can help you change the way you’re looking at your situation. you’re a grown woman who, as a result of where you’ve been, can still see the world as a child does. everything’s new! get out there and experience it! read books you’ve never read. listen to music you’ve never listened to. watch movies you’ve never seen. it’s never too late to begin your life. this is going to make you stronger. i know that’s so hard to see now. just hang in there and keep following your heart. bless you. a book keeps coming to my mind. it’s called the spiral staircase by karen armstrong. it’s her own story about leaving nunhood. a very good, very comforting read. she ends up coming to the conclusion that her experiences have indeed made her a little weird, but, that’s okay. she goes on to find a niche for herself in this world. it’s possible. and many people (including myself) know exactly how you feel. take care, and keep your head up.

  • Kate

    Dear Masterpiece-in-Progress,

    What I have learnt is that who we are is never set in stone. We are dynamic beings who are always changing, always on a path to becoming more fully who God created us to be.

    Our past, all the things we have done, all the things we have suffered, have been the chapters leading up to where our personal story is now. It may be a difficult process, but we need to make peace with our past, to embrace it, because it is has brought us to where we are now. The trials we have experienced have made us stronger. The pain we have felt will make us more compassionate towards the pain of others.

    Go forward into your dynamic, changeable, exciting, potential-filled, not-yet-written future, and know that you are loved and accompanied every step of the way.

    May love and laughter and light be with you. My thoughts and prayers will be :)

  • Drew Meyer

    Oh friend!

    Take heart! It is a long and often difficult journey you are on…..I “officially” left fundamentalist in October of 1996 when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church. But I really left about four years earlier when I moved away from my home area. It is nearly 20 years ago now and I am still dealing with issues that come up. It seems at times that I will never be free from the influence of my time in fundamentalism.

    Yes, you are different. You have had a large part of your life taken from you (all in God’s name). You are grieving the loss and may continue to do so for a long time. You may want to scream and yell at the God who “let this happen to you.” My advice: Do it. God is big enough to handle your “tantrum” and then let you know that you are so loved! He/She/it understands how you are hurting and how you have a hard time trusting HIm and other people. You are groaning and growing. You are loved. There are so many people out there who know exactly what you are talking about.

    The passage of grief is as individual as you are. Let is happen and know that God is not only waiting for you at the end, but with you in the middle. I could go on for a long time, but again know that you are loved!

  • Trina

    I know your pain as do others here… Your life is going to be remarkably better. It is a painful process but it does get better, MUCH better. Now I close my eyes and wrap my arms around you tight and say it will all be okay. Real truth: there are many where you are in the church, they are just too afraid to admit it or leave for good reasons. But whatever there is in you has given you power and courage in the face of tremendous fear and pain to leave. Leaving see,s like running away or abandonment or cowardice, but the truth is leaving is walking towards something greater and more powerful: freedom, love, authentic life, healthy individuality, healthy open-mindedness, beautiful self discovery.

    You will soon rejoice in discovering the weaknesses and vulnerabilities about yourself that led you to unhealthy religious ideologies, and also things about your personality or character that made you drawn to that and THEN you are more able to guard yourself from that in the future as well as develop new tools for learning how to love others aright as God would have you, but also love yourself and the truth of who you are. It is a lonely road sometimes, but in hindsight, those were moments where only God could give me the truth and comfort I needed; tge affirmation to know that I am good and safe where I am and that place I left was toxic and killing me. Patience and tenacity are required but you’ll be amazed by where you’ll draw your strength. Continue visiting blogs like this and other survivor sites. You’ll learn a lot and learn to trust again. It is good to relearn what trust looks like and that it should be earned. Healthy people won’t force themselves into your life but will wait patiently to be invited and respect you where you are.

    Life and liberty to you!

  • Steve

    Fear not my friend :-)

    There are strengths and weaknesses in fundamentalism. What you are noticing now are the weaknesses. Soon, you will realize that some of the interpersonal skills you have are precious and rare. You fear betrayal because you know how to trust. You shun superficiality because you know the beauty of truth. Remember that others are as fearful about the “other” as you are. We all hurt each other unnecessarily. When we’re drowning in our fears, we don’t realize that our thrashings are hurting others. But you know how to step past this with the ability to trust and patience – skills in friendship that many have never learned. Trust yourself. People will love you because of your imperfect, gentle humanity – not in spite of it.

    I’ve got the t-shirt hanging in my closet too.

    • liza

      Very cool! It is an amazing thing when we take a leap of faith. The exiliration we feel can make us 9′ tall and bullet proof. More than that, whether the risk turned into a positive experience or not, you showed yourself you could take the risk and that is what is most important. Bravo!

      I do hope it was a good visit! I love having brunch, it feels so grown up and civilized and I so rarely do myself! :-)

  • Isolated Writer

    I took a big step today and invited a school parent and her daughter over for brunch. Whew. Would not have done that without the encouragement I found here, which has reverberated into my brain these last couple of weeks.

    • liza

      Ok…I am fighting a cold and my reply to you looks like it posted to Steve’s posting from a couple weeks ago. Sorry. I think I need some tea and my sofa.

    • Harrisco

      I am massively proud of you. I am in tears. I know what it’s like to be there. This is a big deal. Like I said in my other post, you are on your way–though you may not fully realize it.

  • Harrisco

    To the Writer:

    I hear you. I do.

    You ask what you have to show for your life? Here is what you have accomplished: You survived the gates of hell. You stood up to a family that wanted to keep you there. You had the courage to step into your own new life and you refused to be kept in place. You became a threat to anyone who wanted you weak–and those folks will spew like Vesuvius. Now some other exes want to tell you how to be. Listen: You have gained the ability to recognize bullies and you only get better at it the more you see it. They might have left fundy land, but they have brought some of its worst characteristics with them. You know this. It is in your letter. Get a good therapist to help you learn even more–and not one trained at the nearest Bible college. Slowly build up the true self that could never really show itself in a fundamentalist atmosphere. Let that person live. You are already well on your way. It is exciting to see!


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