I’ve been writing this blog for a year now, which means a number of things:
- The world hasn’t ended yet, so (according to Message lore) the earliest possible date on which the Rapture could have occurred and left me behind is August 27, 2008, 11:59pm.
- I haven’t been stricken down by lightning, cancer or bad guacamole, so if God is overly concerned about my blaspheming the prophet, I must be way down on the queue of people he needs to punish. Either the heavenly justice system is just as bloated with bureaucratic delays as its earthly counterpart, or I haven’t committed a crime.
- I have been out of the Message now for five years, two months, three weeks, and five days (at least I think that was the right date – it was totally sometime in June, anyway). If you add that time to my years before the Message, I have lived as much time out as I have in it.
- What I’ve written here has been read (or at least glanced at) about 11,000 times. This is very humbling and I’ve deeply appreciated every encouraging email and comment. Thanks so much, all of you!
This year, I’ve learned to have the courage to speak out about what I’ve experienced in Christian fundamentalism. I’ve learned that there’s nothing special about the Message: there are people all over the world who understand what I’ve gone through, who have also left and done just fine. There was never any reason to be so scared.
The greatest lesson I’ve learned through contact with No Longer Quivering and writing this blog is always to search for things I have in common with others. Even if someone else has never heard of the Message, they might have read the same horrible Elsie Dinsmore books, or been told to shut off their minds and aspire only to “godly” callings someone else designed for them. Maybe their family dynamics mimicked the power struggles I’ve seen in the Message.
I’ve learned that it’s necessary to make a critical choice about how to deal with pain: you can choose to jealously guard it, to make it a part of your identity, to become an expert on your own suffering and refuse to let others touch the wounded part. I could say, “No one knows what it’s like to have been raised in the Message as an only child of divorced parents with a father who didn’t believe!” When I frame my experience in those terms, when I keep adding qualifiers, it does make me seem quite unique. It’s so specific that I’d be hard pressed to find another single person on earth who could relate to all I’ve been through. But doing that diminishes my ability to connect with others. It creates a ridiculously refined ideal of what it takes to feel another person’s hurt. It effectively walls off the world, protecting me from other people who might have gone through something close enough to be relatable, close enough to make me not the only one. It prevents me from healing.
You don’t have to have been in the Message to understand me. I don’t have to have been a Seventh Day Adventist or a part of one of Bill Gothard’s ATI groups to understand you. There is no perfect other person that any of us can find who relates to us on every point – to hold out for that kind of understanding is to seek another self, something that is impossible in this world and ultimately unhelpful anyway. How can we grow without recognizing commonalities with others who are in some way unlike us? How can we feel connected to others who, just by virtue of being others, are not ourselves?
We can jealously guard our pain if we choose to. It makes us feel special, different, visible, unique. Or we can share it, and admit that what makes us ourselves is not how we were hurt, but who we became afterwards. Once I began to see the Message not as some great anomaly, not as some strange experience no one else could possibly relate to, I was rewarded with the incredible warmth of being able to speak freely about the things that I’ve experienced with people who have never even felt the grip of fundamentalism. To all of you who have shown me that I’m part of a bigger web: Thanks.