Walls: Inside and Out

storm waves

There are popovers in the oven right now. Because somehow the smell of rolls baking is comforting and, to be honest, a hot popover drowned in butter and a hot cup of tea are probably as close as I’ll get to communion today. Yesterday was a tough day. Last night was a long series of disjointed dreams and I woke up just as exhausted as I was when I went to bed. My prayer on opening my eyes this morning was, “You know what God, I am not in the mood the deal with you today.”

Despite that, I drove to the beach as I do every morning to spend an hour or more with God, although it was more out of habit than desire this morning. The remnants of Harvey had waves crashing over the seawall and the air was full of salt spray and misty rain. My boots happened to be in the car and a walk in the storm seemed more fitting than the idea of going to church because being surrounded by love and joy and music and people was way more than I could handle.

It has been something of a theme of 2017 that life is too short, too precious, and too fragile to be wasted on fakery of any sort. We always think we have time and the fact is, we never have as much as we think. Part of my foul mood this morning was that I resented feeling like I needed to get up, be presentable enough and pleasant enough to show up in church to be around people who don’t even really know me. That they don’t know me because I intentionally haven’t put down roots anywhere is a post for another day, but suffice it to say, I wasn’t up to the shallow pleasantries this morning and God knew that.

God knows this black mood of mine quite well. It happens that sometimes that life gets to be more than I can handle and I pretend like I’m completely fine when I’m really not. And that goes really well until I suddenly find myself feeling about as social and lovable as a pissed off hedgehog with a bad attitude. But every time I sink into this toxic sludge of a space, God meets me there. Today was no different. I walked until I ran out of beach, which given the tides and the storm waves, wasn’t much of a walk. But standing with my face in the wind and the waves crashing at my feet, I felt the power and grace of the Creator who is so much bigger than the storm that was raging inside. That was enough to drive the darkness back to tolerable levels of gray.

So as it turns out, it’s not that I don’t feel up to dealing with God today. I didn’t feel up to dealing with church this morning. And that distinction is one I need to get better at making. God was the only one who was going to understand the tangled mess of emotions I was feeling today because even I don’t know what I’m feeling. God knew that too. Maybe what I needed today was outside the church walls because what I needed, more than anything else, was to meet God inside my own walls, in the spaces where no one else is allowed.

Accountability

Some recent comments from a Catholic archbishop in Spain made a bit of a splash earlier this week on the internet when he spoke in his homily about domestic violence and how women draw a macho reaction by rejecting their partner’s demands or by asking for a separation. You can read the story here or here.

In these modern times, when more attention than ever has been focused on women and their roles in society, domestic violence has been hauled out into the light and exposed for the widespread, insidious evil that it is. We can read more than ever before about the various forms of abuse and its short- and long-term effects. Articles abound which detail the ways in which abuse is often perpetuated in other forms long after a woman exits a violent relationship. There is plentiful research, much of which has been translated into layman’s terms, that demonstrates that not all abuse is physical and psychological damage from abusive relationships can last for years.

So that brings me back to church. As one who is actively dating other churches, I spend a serious amount time reading official statements and following various synod gatherings, especially from Catholic, Evangelical Lutheran, and Episcopal churches. Back in November, a document was issued from the ELCA which specifically addressed gender-based violence. It contained a confession of individual and corporate sin in which the church admits to failing in the past to address such violence and for its role in not doing enough to counter bad theology which allowed for a misinterpretation of scripture in such a way as to promote patriarchal systems based on the view that women are ‘lower’ than men in creation. It went on to address the practicality which every congregation is likely to face at some point: having a woman and her abuser both as members of the congregation. In this situation, it was stressed that the safety of the victim is to be the greatest concern. Abusers, while they must be cared for, must also be held accountable not only to the victim but also to the community of faith. Congregations are strongly encouraged to have specific guidelines and plans of action to cope with such situations.

As a domestic violence survivor, I read it with great interest when it was issued but I didn’t do much of a real comparison with Catholic statements at the time. The comments this week from the Catholic archbishop touched a very raw nerve and so I decided to dig a little deeper. As I had written on this blog previously, the recent Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome did not have much to say about domestic violence except as it explicitly related to women’s role as mother. As I scoured the internet now, I did manage to find a relatively new document from the U.S. Catholic bishops on domestic violence that was long on scripture and short on any real practical guidance. Accountability is mentioned only once as a bullet point with no specifics whatsoever.

When a woman finds herself under attack at home and seeks the help of the Church, the clergy especially have a responsibility to not only refer her to specialized counseling services but also to ensure that she has a safe haven within the community. Abusers can, and should, also be referred to specialized counseling but they must also be held accountable for their actions.

This leads me to ask the questions of my Catholic brothers: what does real Christian accountability look like? When do we need to move beyond pastoral care to exercise the pastoral authority we claim to have been given through apostolic succession?

Perhaps it means the messy work of assisting an abuser in transitioning to a new parish away from their victim.  Perhaps it means putting safeguards in place that allow a victim new to a parish to ensure that their abuser does not follow them. But for as long as accountability remains an undefined bullet point, victims will continue to suffer needlessly and for this the Catholic Church is accountable.
ELCA Foundational Document & Related Social Message

USCCB Statement When I Call For Help

What I Wish My Church Knew (About My Divorce)

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November 7, 2008. Divorce finalized. That’s my anniversary now. And it’s a very lonely one marked by no one but me. Being part of church community after a divorce can be extremely hard and there are some things I wish I’d been able to say over the last seven years but could never quite find my voice. So these are the things I wish my church knew about my divorce.

I need you to believe me.

When I say that things were bad, I need you to know that what little I’m able to bring out words is a thousand times bigger and darker than what I can manage to express. When I come back to you after the divorce saying I need help to negotiate a way for myself and my children to be a part of the community because my ex has now decided to joined as well, I honestly need your help. It’s not a bid for your attention or some game to slam my ex. I don’t feel safe, whether that’s physically, emotionally, or spiritually doesn’t really matter. Church is meant to be a sanctuary, a safe place, and you are the one I’m trusting to help me find that space. I need practical, pragmatic solutions not platitudes or a lecture. I know it’s messy. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t need your help.

Sometimes I lie when I say I’m okay.

When you ask me how I am, look at me. Really look at me. See the circles under my eyes and the tear stains on my cheeks. Hear the strain in my voice. Because there are days when it’s just easier to say I’m okay than it is to explain why I’m not. I know you really don’t have the time after the service to listen about the umpteenth battle over child support or the way my kids have started talking to me the way their father used to or how much it hurts that the guy who I really enjoyed having coffee with will never call me again because dating a divorced woman with teenagers was more than he wanted to handle. I know you have a hundred other people to say hello to this morning so I’ll say I’m okay even when I’m not. And something as simple as hug or a reminder that you’re there if I need to talk goes a long, long way towards letting me know it’s okay to not be okay.

Just because I’m in pain doesn’t mean I’m bitter or unforgiving.

The pain of divorce doesn’t end when the ink is dry on the divorce decree. And that pain changes over time. But that doesn’t mean I’m bitter or unforgiving. I will celebrate a thousand little victories this year that you will never know about and I find great joy in those things that would be silly or mundane to anyone else. I will change my hair or wear that shade of nail polish or go out to dinner alone and it that will feel like I’ve conquered the whole world, because for me, I have. But you’ll never see that. You will see me flinch when you preach against divorce when we read Mark 10. You will see me cringe when you preach about marriage. You will see my tears when you preach about forgiveness. Yes, I am in pain. But that doesn’t mean I’m bitter. And forgiveness for me is everyday thing. Especially when, because of the kids, I still have to be in contact with the one who hurt me so deeply. Instead of assuming I need to let it go or to move on or that I’m resentful, ask me what hurts and then listen to my answer. Listen to what I don’t say and ask me about that too. I already have a lot of people who make assumptions about my life, so please, please don’t be another one.

I feel invisible.

I hear your sermons on marriage and against divorce. I hear your sermons about relationships, including the relationship with God and how you use a good marriage as your example. I feel left behind as I don’t know what that looks like and I don’t know that I ever will. I see happy couples renew their wedding vows during a service and it’s bittersweet for me. My marriage was real. It no longer exists, but it did once. I went into it with such huge hopes and dreams and when I took my vows, I meant them. Seeing couples who have stood the test of time gives me hope that such love is real and possible and I love that you hold them up and celebrate their love. But I wish the church that offers an annual service for all married couples to renew their vows would also hold an annual service of healing for those of us whose marriages imploded. Give me a litany of my defeats and my victories and let me celebrate that by the grace of God I have survived what I thought would destroy me. Acknowledge that I exist and that my situation is not so uncommon. I know a lifetime marriage is the ideal but show me that I’m not alone and that I still matter as much as I did when I was a married woman. Show my children that church is a place of healing for the broken times in life.

I am more than my grief.

I have been divorced now seven years and one day. I lost everything in my divorce, far more than mere property. I came away with my confidence destroyed, my reputation under attack and my dignity in shreds. But I have worked through my grief. I spent time in your support groups and made retreats with other divorced people. I have spent time in therapy and remain in spiritual direction. I have learned who my friends are and sadly, who they are not. I’ve grown and changed and I’m in a different place now. I’m looking for new ways to connect with people. I want room to grow and a channel for my pain. Give me a space to be constructive, beyond working with other divorced people. See that I am more than my divorce. Let my experiences help to improve your pre-marriage preparation program or your marriage ministry or both. I know where I made my mistakes. Let me share that wisdom. Ask me how my divorce has changed my relationship with God. My answers might surprise or inspire you.

These are only some of the things I wish my church knew. What little I’m able to bring out words is a thousand times bigger and darker than what I can manage to express. It’s a question no one has ever asked me but it’s an answer that needs to be heard. We’re all so many different people in so many different situations in life, sitting in your pews, seeking so many different things and in so many different ways. Maybe it would help if you would ask the question: What do you wish your church knew? And then, without judgment, listen to the answers.

Dating Church

It’s been almost a year since reality set in that I had moved beyond the point of Unhappy with the Catholic Church. Over the past year, I’ve been through a grieving process that felt – okay, feels – all too familiar. The same storm of emotions that swept through me during my divorce returned and with a greater force than I would’ve expected. This was different. It’s not like I had to go to court or deal with the lawyers. There was no case to made as things were divvied up. No other party to be offended. The great Roman Catholic Church will hardly notice the departure of one broke divorced woman. So why was this so freaking hard to face?

Because being Catholic was who I was. Or more precisely, who I thought I was. It’s not. It was a part of who I was but it was only a part. And as I’ve grown and changed over the years, that part of me has died.

That realization scared the shit out of me.

It was far easier during the divorce to deal with the fact that the marriage had died, probably before it ever really drew breath. But this was different. I had lived out of this part of me for 40 years. Now it was dead.

It was time to start over. From nothing. But how?

For the first few months, I pretty much panicked. For many years, I had associated God so closely with church that separating the two was – and still is – a painstaking process.

Gradually, the panic started to subside somewhat and a lot of the subsequent conversations God and I have had over the past nine months or so boil down to one simple exchange.

“Now what?”

“Trust me.”

“Really? Again? I just did that yesterday?”

“Yes really. Again.”

I really hate it when He says that.

Trust and I parted ways a long time ago. Too much Being and not enough Doing for my taste. Too much outside my control and way, way outside my comfort zone.

About a year after my divorce, I met a man and we dated rather amicably for a few weeks. But honestly, I wasn’t ready to be in a relationship. Forget about not being close to ready, I couldn’t even see ready with a high-powered telescope. I still needed time and space to heal. I quickly figured out the hard way that I couldn’t be in a healthy relationship if I didn’t even know who I was. I couldn’t trust anybody yet because I couldn’t trust myself.

My relationship with church is even more complicated. I need to know who I am. I need to know who God is. I need to know where God and I stand and be able to trust that space before introducing any church community into that equation. My time spent alone with God on Cape Cod in March gave me the solid footing I needed to take another step. I have recently started to visit other churches.

Am I going to join a new church and start bringing my kids there? No. Not in the near future. Why? Because I’m not ready to go that far. That’s too big of a commitment right now.

Church and I are honestly not even dating yet. We’re more at the Let’s-Have-Coffee-And-See-If-We-Get-Along Stage.

As for my ties to the Catholic Church, that relationship, much like my divorce, is insanely complicated because of my boys. They’ve been raised in the Catholic Church and in this world I know they’ll need strong roots to thrive. So for now, I bring them to Mass and teach them what I can. I do from time to time point out where the Catholic Church may need to rethink its alignment to the teachings of Christ, but only so that they learn enough to think for themselves.

As for dating, I made The List of all the things I need and want in a man and handed it over. Okay so I handed it over with with the very strong suggestion that if He wants a man in my life, He’ll have to put him in front of me and smack me upside the head so I notice.

As for church, we’re still working on finalizing The List and I suspect that may take awhile.

God and I are just moving this through a little at a time. There’s been a whole lot of ‘Trust me’ going on and that’s getting to be an okay thing for me to do on a regular basis.

And yeah, I still hate it when He says, “Trust me.”

And yeah, I still let Him know about it.