282. doldrums

Standard

The period in the weeks and months after school lets out have been some of the most listless recently. I am doing a practicum internship this summer, but that’s not the same as class.

As one who depends on adrenaline energy to get through the day, lacking the power of structure and urgency to propel me takes the proverbial wind out of my sails. One day is much like another.

I have one more semester and then this is real life, albeit with a master’s degree.

Thankfully I have the nonsense with the American government to distract me.


Recently I’ve been doing some more formal reading on AD/HD to get a better handle on this condition and how I can prevent it from wreaking any further havoc on my life.

  • Barkley, Russell A., and Christine M. Benton. Taking charge of adult ADHD. New York: Guilford Press, 2010.
  • Sarkis, Stephanie Moulton. Adult ADD: a guide for the newly diagnosed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2011.

As Vivian observes in Wit, “My only defense is the acquisition of vocabulary.

As I observed in a previous post, one theory about the cause of AD/HD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder) is that it is due in part to a dopamine disorder, the neurotransmitter that helps to regulate emotional responses and take action to achieve specific goals, along with feelings of reward and pleasure.

It’s thought that AD/HD may be a deficiency of dopamine receptors, meaning that although dopamine is produced at normal levels in the brain, there aren’t enough receptors to process that neurotransmitter.

There may also be higher concentrations of proteins called dopamine transporters in the brains of AD/HD people, meaning that for these individuals dopamine is prevented by that protein from moving from one cell to the next.

This helps outline three of the most prominent hallmarks of this condition in my life: namely, an inability to regulate my emotions, an inability to follow through on my goals (despite all my best intentions), and experiencing a hollowness when it comes to rewards and pleasure.

Even when I do manage to achieve a goal, or manage to do something impressive, I can’t enjoy it.

At the conclusion of my senior composition recital in college, I recall standing in front of my applauding peers and teachers just after the final notes of the last piece, and feeling as if all of it were an afterthought. I’d already moved on to the next thing, but I had to act as if I was enjoying the moment. It was awful.

I always thought this was because my parents consistently downplayed my successes lest pride go to my heart, instead attributing my efforts to Jesus’ work.

Maybe it’s simply a lack of dopamine in my brain.

Dr. Russell Barkley calls AD/HD a “blindness to the future” or “intention deficit disorder” rather than an “attention disorder.”

It’s a “nearsightedness to time.”


As I alluded to several posts ago, like most AD/HD folks, I have an easy time starting projects, but a much harder time finishing them. I have eight promising bars of different pieces of music, but quickly lost interest once I’d begun.

My computer is full of writing projects that I started but forgot about or got bored with.

Even this blog has several dozen drafts of posts I began but never finished.

Any kind of long-term planning or habit formation is dependent on the successful function dopamine in the brain.¹ For those of us with AD/HD, that dopamine dysfunction makes it incredibly difficult to follow through with long-term projects because we don’t experience any of those chemical rewards that NT² brains do as soon as we’ve begun or meet benchmarks.

For me, AD/HD is characterized by the tyranny of the “now” and the “new.” Things are interesting or important so long as they are right in front of my face, or immediately looming on the temporal horizon. Otherwise, they are a problem for the me of the future.

And the frustrating thing is that I recognize that this is a problem. I have so much field data about how I’ve fucked up by waiting until the last minute to start projects, missed deadlines, and lost out on opportunities because they just weren’t urgent enough.

Even worse, my behavior is mystifying and frustrating to those close to me. You’re very intelligent, they say, so why can you just work hard to apply yourself?

Great question. Let me get back to you on that.³


The personal ramification of AD/HD for me is that it makes long-term relationships very difficult to manage.

Like with projects, unless I see people every day, I’m going to forget about them, no matter how good of friends we are. My brain has trouble processing anything outside of the “now.”

Plus, I often test friends’ patience with my impulsiveness and short temper. A deficiency of dopamine, along with a practically inactive anterior cingulate cortex, means that before I’ve had a chance to think about the consequences of my blowing up, I’ve already done it and am horrified and perplexed by my behavior.

What this means for my dating life is that… well, nothing good.

To begin, all of the above can prove deterrents for potential boyfriends. Most gay men are actually pretty averse to crazy, and mine has a way of manifesting itself on its own.

A lack of emotional regulation means that, although I rarely feel attracted to a guy, when I do, holy shit.

My crushes are very intense.

If I’d been out in high school, I probably would’ve learned coping techniques to avoid verbally vomiting on guys I like as often, or to avoid my anxiety turning me into a veritable tweak-fest of awkwardness around someone.

It’s also very difficult for me to retain romantic or sexual feelings for most guys beyond an initial encounter. Without the dopamine rush of reward in a sexual experience, romantic feelings are tough to sustain.

I worry that AD/HD has ruined my chances at finding a decent guy.


References/Footnotes:

¹ Georgia Health Sciences University. “Habit formation is enabled by gateway to brain cells.” ScienceDaily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111221140448.htm (accessed July 4, 2017).
² NT = Neurotypical.
³ Though I have every intention of actually getting back to you about this in the moment, in actuality I’ll have forgotten that we even had this conversation within two minutes, meaning that I won’t get back to you and you’ll think I’m a complete flake.

254. probity

Standard

Jessica_Jones_NetflixA few weeks ago I decided to check out the Netflix show everyone in my social media circles had been talking about.

Jessica Jones.

The Wikipedia article on the show offers a good summary: “Following a tragic end to her brief superhero career, Jessica Jones tries to rebuild her life as a private investigator, dealing with cases involving people with remarkable abilities in New York City.”

It’s an adaptation of a Marvel comic character of the same name. Based on the reviews of social media posts, blogs, and reviews, I thought it worth checking out, especially with its themes of dealing with trauma, recovering personal agency, and rebuilding one’s identity.

Without giving away any spoilers, the show certainly lived up to the hype. The main villain, Kilgrave, played by David Tennant, was alarmingly creepy and sympathetic at the same time. In a Guardian interview, Tennant described Kilgrave as having the power to compel people “to do whatever he says.”

Of his character, he added, “How can you tell if people are doing things because they want to or because you’re asking them to? How can you have any sense of what the world is or how the world should be if your world is so particularly unique?”

The show affected me in ways that were unexpected, particularly in the relationship between Jessica Jones and Kilgrave. At one point early on, Jessica rescues a young college girl who’s been under Kilgrave’s thrall. Once they’re back at Jessica’s office, she makes the girl say, “None of it is my fault.”

As the series progresses, Kilgrave compels people to do darker and increasingly destructive things, things that suddenly seem to them perfectly reasonable and rational once he asks.

The show asks some fundamentally unsettling questions about human behavior: namely, is Kilgrave planting desires in people’s minds, or is he just accessing something that was already there?


Jessica Jones triggered some pretty powerful memories and feelings, having been a willing prisoner of sorts myself for twenty-eight years. That’s something one hears a lot in circles of survivors of Christian fundamentalism. You can’t know that you’ve been programmed virtually from birth to accept:

  • everything in the Bible as inerrant and immutable;
  • anything a pastor or divinely-appointed leader (essentially, every adult male studied in the Bible) says as absolute truth;
  • that any natural human desire not sanctioned by your church as part of God’s design (and let’s face it, your church always gets it right and everyone else is headed down the road to perdition) is sinful and an abomination;
  • that there’s only one way to heaven, and that’s the path your pastor and your church sets.

It’s not that fundamentalist Christians are mindless robots who can’t think for themselves. However, for those raised in sheltered communities where there were no other voices, no alternative perspectives to challenge the Bible-centric conservative Christian views, and especially in communities where insiders are taught to fear and mistrust outsiders, the question of agency becomes much fuzzier and difficult to unravel.

So when I see videos of children at Creationist seminars proclaiming that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, that humans rode dinosaurs, and that evolution is a lie from Satan; or homophobic Christians at rallys with signs declaring that gay people are an abomination, I don’t see much difference between them and the people Kilgrave turns into murderous maniacs with just the merest hint of suggestion.

As the Jesuit saying goes, “Give me a child until the age of seven, and I will give you the man.”


I found myself identifying most with Kilgrave’s victims, individuals who wound up on the other side of what essentially comes down to rape, and are now unsure of where the line between before and after is. They didn’t want to do whatever it was Kilgrave compelled them to do, and yet the desire to follow his command was stronger. To violate someone’s agency and compel them to act against themselves and their own values is a deeply perverse act.

Right now, the word counter at the bottom of the page reads 666. The rational part of my brain says that it’s just a number. No special significance. Yet there’s another part of my brain that still sees that as a sign of the Antichrist, a being that is very real and will appear soon. I know that the latter thought is irrational, yet it sometimes still springs to mind first.

For me, and many others, the words “None of it is my fault” are nearly impossible to say, because they don’t seem true. All of those times that my mind and body were telling me I was attracted to men, but the part that was under the thrall of evangelical Christian teachings told me that was sinful and disordered… that was still me that believed it.

True: it was the fault of having been raised in that environment my entire life, of being exposed daily to that ideology, and of the people who were supposed to be my guardians, but it was still me that performed the action.

… it’s a deeply unsettling constellation of emotions.

For victims of Kilgrave, they can’t return to the person they were before. But for survivors of fundamentalist Christianity, there is no “before” to go back to. Only a past of lies.


The question I raised most recently with my therapist is whether I can ever truly escape the influences of the brain I grew up with—if I’m building a new identity with old tools.

Of course, my perspective is different now. My beliefs are radically different. Yet I still view relationships through a lens of fear. I still see myself as unworthy, worthless, and broken.

It’s how to move forward that is the challenge. When you have nothing really to look back to as a frame of reference, it’s disorienting to try to find a workable path on your own. Others can help, but it’s usually just you, the ghosts, and the demons.

Happy New Year.

242. accouterments

Standard

IMAG0774To your reply, I/we (your family) don’t expect you to be static. We are not static either. The reason to spend time is to keep up with those changes. It sounds like you think we don’t change, but in small ways we do, all the time. We just want to know who you are regardless of who that is. Sure, we wish things and you were different, but they’re not. But you’re missing out on your nephews and niece and the rest of us in who we’re becoming.

To me and us it’s not a matter of commonalities. It’s just relationship. For me/us there does not have to be a shared future. We just want a future with you. From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives. If that’s the way you want it, we’ll accept that. But I/we want you to know we want you—always have, always will. We don’t understand why you feel so intense a need to erase the past or put it behind you. We are all made up, like trees, of who we were, who we are and who we’re becoming. Seems to me that gutting the tree leaves you less a tree and a weak one at that.

Our door is always open to you. We love you.

Dad


Dad,

You wrote: “From my vantage point, it looks like you’re the one who does not want to be part of our lives.” Again, it’s not that I don’t want to. Rather, I’m struggling to see how it’s feasible.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this, and I’m curious how you think we can all be together, meaningfully, when there are so many issues we have to avoid and dance around—religion, ethics, politics. Your faith is a significant part of your lives, and it makes sense you’d want to talk about that together as a family. However, you know my views on religion and Christianity, and that I can’t participate in those discussions in a way that is authentic and affirming for everyone.

The fact is that I do recognize you’re not static, and that you are changing. But that’s the central issue here: where you seem to be becoming more conservative, I’m becoming more liberal in the same areas. For example, from our last conversation, it sounds like you’re disturbed and saddened by growing secularism, by what you see as increasing godlessness in society, and by the sense of alienation and displacement you’re experiencing from that as a person of faith. You expressed a sense of there not being a place for you and other evangelical Christians in this brave new world of equality and secularism—at least not in a way that wouldn’t force you to compromise your beliefs. I suspect that the others share your concerns.

I, on the other hand, see all of this as a positive development. And that’s just one example.

But the need to, as you wrote, distance myself from the past is less a desire for erasure as it is a struggle to find context for it. For me, it truly feels as if the person who I was four-and-a-half years ago died the night I became an atheist. It was a life-changing and traumatizing event, on top of growing up gay in a fundamentalist Christian community. Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but from our conversations you and mom don’t seem to think it’s quite as serious. Your experience with Christianity has been a beneficial one, so why would you? There may be elements of your faith you struggle with, but your lifestyle integrates overall with (and is affirmed by) your beliefs.

Why would I want to erase the past and put it behind me? Because it was horrific. My memories and experiences are colored by the intense pain and sadness of believing I was broken, sinful, perverted, and would be a disappointment to everyone if they’d ever learned I was gay. Yes, it manifested in often unhealthy ways, but the risk of sharing the reason I was so angry back then was too high. Living that way for fifteen years created the sense of alienation and isolation that made fear a fundamental part of how I relate to other people. I need to move beyond that because the ghosts of those beliefs are making it near impossible to function as an emotionally healthy human being.

So it’s difficult for me to be with the family when no one has acknowledged that any substantive harm was done, and when I’m in the process of trying to heal from that damage. Again, correct me if I’m wrong, but you likely see the underlying problem as a spiritual and not a psychological one: specifically, rebellion against God and his plan is what caused the distress of my adolescent and young adult years. You even said on numerous occasions that many of my troubles would be eased if only I’d give myself to God, so it’s plain you don’t see the brand of fundamentalist theology I was raised with as being a cause for my suffering.

But frankly, I do feel that a significant, pervasive wrong was done, one that you and the family cannot acknowledge or address because of your religious beliefs. That is, you can’t do that and leave your Christian faith and worldview intact. This is what makes it difficult for me to want to be around the family, or to believe that there’s a safe and welcome place for me at your table.

To be clear, I don’t think anyone intended harm, but this is the roadblock that I can’t see any way around. It wouldn’t be fair to ask you to revise your beliefs unless you were genuinely motivated to do so. But I can’t keep holding out hope that you will someday, nor is it healthy for me to keep going as if nothing happened.

David

229. baleful

Standard

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

− Richard Dawkins, “The God Delusion”

Musee_de_la_bible_et_Terre_Sainte_001

This past April, I was delighted to reconnect with a friend from college, Noelle, who is currently documenting the rebuilding her life after leaving fundamentalist Christianity:

https://noellemarieblog.wordpress.com

She writes with such elegant frankness and vivid detail of her early experiences as a young Evangelical. In one of her recent blog entries, she recounts when her father sat her down to explain the facts of life: that is, that we are disgusting, perverted sinners who deserve an eternity in Hell for the heinous crime of being born (because Adam and Eve, y’all); whose only worth is the fact that Jesus loves us in spite of our hideous, evil selves.

Noelle’s Jesus is not the Jesus of recent evangelical Christianity, the deity that Richard Dawkins pointedly describes in his controversial 2006 book. She believes in a loving God that bears no resemblance to the hateful, spiteful, malevolent deity we were taught to believe in, love, and fear as children. Though we aren’t geographically close, it’s been an honor to renew our friendship and to be able to encourage her in whatever way I can in her journey towards rebuilding a life based on truth and authenticity.

It’s an interesting time to reconnect as I’m essentially doing the same work of rebuilding my own life after living adrift for so long. It’s daunting work, especially the further down the rabbit hole I get into therapy, as I realize how many unhealthy fundamentalist Christian scripts there are still rattling around in my mind.

In talking with other ex-Evangelicals, one experience we’ve all had in common is how ingrained mask-wearing was to our upbringing and daily lives as Christians. It’s a curious phenomenon, especially in a culture that supposedly holds honesty as a virtue. From an early age, we were inadvertently taught that there are certain faces you wear to church, our in public, at home, and with different social groups.

There’s a lot of pressure to appear spiritual, godly, and pure. Shame is employed as a means of policing behavior in the church under various guises, usually as concern for someone’s spiritual well-being. Prayers would be offered, sometimes publicly, for people who were known to be “struggling” with certain sins. “Helpful” advice would be proffered, with corresponding Bible verses to justify behavior that would otherwise be considered intrusive and even offensive.

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:1-3)

As I grew up, I developed personas (even different personalities) for various situations and people. I knew which face to wear at church, at Bible study, at choir practice, at youth group, at church band rehearsal, and out at the bar with friends. When I came out gay, I was one person when out with friends and another just a few hours later when I’d go to church. I even went to service one day after having had phone sex with my first boyfriend the previous night.

It was schizophrenic.

And none of this would be were it not for the culture of externalized self worth and affirmation that’s central to the fundamentalist Christian worldview. Every desire and action for the evangelical Christian is subject to the approval of God via the Bible — that is, the approval of those “qualified” to interpret the Bible based on their personal beliefs and prejudices.

The result is that for many years, even after coming out gay and then atheist, was that I was constantly and unconsciously looking for the approval and affirmation of others who I looked up to and considered authority figures.

“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

I didn’t trust myself or my own desires. After all: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). It took almost an entire decade to accept that my same-sex desires weren’t pathological, or evidence of my rebellion against God’s will.

To an extent, I still don’t trust myself. I struggle with the worry that I spent too many years ultimately pursuing the wrong career and educational path for me, having allowed other people’s ideas about what I should want for a career trump my own desires; that I lack the practical experience to make informed opinions about everything from dating to job searching; that, after everything, I’m just a poor imitation of a real human being.

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4, ESV)

An insidious effect of these early formational lessons was coming to believe that what I wanted didn’t matter. To have personal desires was to be selfish. “Dying to self” was the chief ambition of the Christian. “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.”

I’ve often said that fundamentalist Christianity relies heavily on Stockholm syndrome—of teaching people to be their own jailers and tormentors. And the system only works so long as you believe in it. The moment that you stop, it all falls apart, emotionally and psychologically.

Until a few months ago, my personal desires were virtually indistinguishable from the desires of people around me. Understandably, this had profound effects on friendships and romantic relationships.

More on this next time…

224. ethos

Standard

Malkovich

A few days ago I was watching a video in Hank Green’s psychology Crash Course on attachment style theories, parenting styles, the development of self-concept, and Kolhberg’s Stages of Morality:

The course has made me remember how much I enjoyed taking psychology classes, and how much I’ve forgotten in the intervening years.

This bit from about the 6:45 mark stirred up some recollections in my thinking space:

“… if one of infancy’s major social achievements is forming positive attachments then one of the biggest achievements in childhood would have to be achieving a positive sense of self. This self-concept (or, an understanding and evaluation of who we are) is usually pretty solid by the time we turn twelve.”

I’m not really sure what my very early years with my parents were like as an infant. I don’t recall my parents being overly distant or hovering. I can recall, as Hank describes in the video, that my parents were certainly authoritarian. There were sometimes reasons given for the rules we had to follow or why we were being punished, but those rules often seemed unfair and even a tad draconian at times.

“… by the time that tot is headed to kindergarten, their self-concept is rapidly expanding.”

Around the time that I turned twelve was around the time that I was figuring out that I was gay. So while my peers were getting settled in their “positive sense of self” as they moved from childhood into adulthood, mine was like to a field constantly being plowed and turned over so that nothing could take root. With every sermon preached on the sanctity of “traditional,” heterosexual marriage (although in those days there was no other kind), and with every winking or cruel remark someone in would unwittingly make about homos, it was gradually, painfully beaten into me that there was no place for me to be me in the world.

And, given the theology that I was raised with, a sense of self had virtually no currency towards a Christian’s future life in Heaven.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6)

It wasn’t until I got to public high school that I learned about attachment theory, or self-actualization, or anything that didn’t involve “becoming more like Christ” (1 John 3:2). What I heard growing up was that the chief desire of the Christian should be to literally one day in Heaven have your “earthly” self annihilated so that only Christ remains.

Apotheosis via annihilation. Quelle charmante

It reminds me of one of the weirder sequences in Being John Malkovich where John Malkovich climbs into his own head and everyone looks and sounds like John Malkovich.

Looking back on all of those Sunday school lessons, that’s almost exactly what the process of becoming “Christlike” is.


All that to say, virtually every day that I open Facebook to see the growing children of my friends who have been married going on ten years, and literally every day at home with my housemates, I’m reminded of the reality that I am today where most of them were about 10-15 years ago.

My friends Adam and Jesse who got married earlier this month met around the time that I was finishing college (age 19-20). They’ve been together for fourteen years. At that age, the idea of even being in a relationship with another man was something utterly foreign to me because it wasn’t even possible. One couldn’t be a Christian and be a gay man.

My friends Matt and Jason have been together almost twenty years. My longest relationship is barely 1% as long as that (i.e., nine months). Twenty years ago, I was just starting to figure out my sexual orientation.

So I’m just now starting to do the work at age 31 (well, let’s face it, at this point virtually 32) that most people start doing around age 12—that is, building a “positive sense of self.” And facing this reality is depressing and daunting, and bewildering.

Of course, most people aren’t even aware of the (metaphorical) demons that prevent them from becoming the best versions of themselves. They don’t even know that this is what’s happening to them. They go through life doing what is expected of them… or what they believe is expected of them. They punch the clock. Buy the house. Marry the high school or college sweetheart. Have the kids. Buy the lake cabin. Put the kids through college.

Retire.

Expire.

But I also know some great people who know who they are, what they are capable of and what they want, and aren’t afraid to go after that.

All this is to say that it’s incredibly weird to be in this nether region of being the same age as people who seem to have their lives together (or at least going in a direction) and being nowhere close to having any of that figured out.

“Kids with positive self-images are more happy, confident, independent, and sociable.”

What’s most daunting is that I’m trying to launch this two-pronged attack of getting myself to a place in life where I’m the best possible version of me, while at the same time trying to get over the negative programming that was crammed into my head from practically the time I was born. Because I was given, frankly, a pretty shitty self-concept growing up.

So at the same time as I’m trying to build a healthy self-concept, I’m also trying to build a career and (ideally—not hopefully) find a boyfriend who could possibly become a husband.

Let’s not even go into all of the minefield anxieties that surround that idea…

The bottom line is that, yes, this is a mess, but it’s not an impossible mess to fix. I have a good therapist who works with people from my background on rebuilding their lives.

And I have good friends.

That’s as good a start as any.

217. indelible

Standard

Bell_Rock_Lighthouse_during_a_storm_cph_3b18344While driving to work this morning, I had a rare moment of lucidity. I was thinking about the day and everything ahead. On that list of things to worry about is whether or not I’m going to have to take my former landlord to court to get my security deposit back.

Then one thought came to the forefront: You don’t have to give him any more bandwidth in your headspace. I asked myself: Will worrying about this influence the situation one way or other?

Probably not.

I’ve also been thinking in general lately about expectations — what I expect from my family, friends, potential boyfriends, myself, my career, my future.

In fact, most of the disappointment I’ve experienced, and currently experiencing, seems to stem from the failure of reality to live up to what I consciously or unconsciously imagine it should be. Sometimes I don’t even have a clear idea of how it is that I thought things should turn out — I’m just dissatisfied with the result.

In a piece for The Guardian, Julia Sweeney writes that in the first few months of being a parent, she rewrote her entire childhood. “Turns out it was probably not nearly as bad as I once thought it was. In fact, my newly revised attitude about my mother is that she did the best she could.”

I don’t know why it’s so easy to resent our parents for committing this unforgivable sin. That’s not to say there aren’t some horrific parents out there who truly fuck up their kid , nor that there aren’t childhood wounds to deal with and heal from. But how much should we expect from flawed human beings who find themselves tasked with taking care of and raising a tiny, helpless, blank slate of a human being?

For the last couple years, and probably before, I’ve resented my parents for failing their young gay son. Of course, they didn’t know that this was the situation. Frankly, I’m not sure what the outcome might’ve been if I’d come out as a teenager; said that I didn’t want to be heterosexual, nor that I needed “therapy.”

So what should I really expect from them now, as an adult? A few months ago, my mom told me (again) that, should I ever get married, that the family would not attend my wedding. I’m not sure about my sisters. My youngest sister probably wouldn’t. The younger one might. She’s the only one who has seemed at least outwardly accepting.

It is hurtful, to say the least, to have the memory of how big a deal they made over my younger sister’s wedding in 2008. I even played piano and wrote a piece for the ceremony. I suppose my expectation is that family might trump their narrow religious views; that they would be happy just to celebrate with their only son over his finally having found love and commitment.

What I suppose that means is that I expect them to be different from who they are, which seems as unfair as their wishing that I were heterosexual — which is to say, cease to be me. Of course, their religious identity is not written into their DNA. They do have a choice in their belief system.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I feel judged by virtually everyone I come in contact with, especially people who I perceive to be better off than me. I recently had a realization about that: namely, that really the only person who’s judging me is me. I’m projecting my negative thoughts about myself and my perceived lack of worth on to everyone else.

Like Julia, I’ve been rewriting my childhood as of late. I wonder now if it wasn’t my parents who were super critical of me, but rather that it was me all along. That’s not to say that the religious views of my home and church didn’t influence me. In Christian fundamentalism, we’re taught to view ourselves as broken, flawed, perverted, dirty. “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” (Isaiah 64:6)

We’re taught to search ourselves for wicked thoughts, and to assume that anything we think or do is sinful and evil: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) If you’ve seen documentaries like Jesus Camp, children are pressured into making confessions, even to point of manufacturing sins just to be forgiven and avoid hell.

My parents didn’t always do the best job of making my sisters and I feel loved and accepted, just as they likely didn’t always feel loved and accepted as children. They’ve asked forgiveness from us for past mistakes, so we’re all trying.

I’m not entirely sure how my sisters internalized our early upbringing. For me, it made me hyper self-critical. I’d get angry with myself before anyone else could, sometimes for things that even my parents weren’t angry or disappointed over. I wanted to prove to everyone that I expected nothing but perfection from myself. Consequently, I grew up hating and despising myself for failing to be all that I expected myself to be.

When I get angry over mistakes or losing a game, I’m really angry at myself for failing to be perfect — to catch on to the rules, to notice patterns, to develop strategies. In essence, in those moments I wish that I could be someone else. To cease to be me.

So why is it so hard to stop? I suspect it’s partly that I’m so used to this that I’m afraid of any positive change, unsure how to live without the negative voices and energy, even though it’s psychologically and emotionally draining. It’s the same reason why I’m struggling to let go of my feelings for Seth. I haven’t felt anything like since then. Feeling something is better than nothing.

One step at a time.

214. coterie

Standard

800px-UssupremecourtinteriorGoodness, so much has been happening the last couple of weeks. It’s been hard enough keeping up with my own personal writing, so I haven’t had as much time to blog. I’ve started a new job in document control with a construction company, and the learning curve of both a new environment and a new industry has been challenging.

In case you missed it, yesterday morning the United States Supreme Court handed down its ruling on Town of Greece v. Galloway. Spoilers: it didn’t go very well for religious liberty.

Brief summary on the case: From time immemorial, city council meetings in the town of Greece, NY, have opened with prayer. Specifically, Christian prayer. Then Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens sued the town, arguing that the prayers violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled against the town, so the issue that came before the Supreme Court last year, and that they ruled on yesterday, was whether the prayers were constitutional.

And yesterday, the Court decided that the Town of Greece may open each legislative session with a Christian prayer, so long as they make a reasonable effort to reach out to all religious groups within city limits and invite their leaders to open sessions as well.

Justice Elena Kagen wrote the dissenting opinion, beginning with an acknowledgment that our country has a tradition of opening legislative sessions with prayer, and that we also have a diverse religious landscape. “I believe that pluralism and inclusion in a town hall can satisfy the constitutional requirement of neutrality,” she wrote. “Such a forum need not become a religion-free zone… when a citizen stands before her government, whether to perform a service or request a benefit, her religious beliefs do not enter into the picture.”

However, she notes on page 57 that

Greece’s Board did nothing to recognize reli­gious diversity: In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the Town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions. So month in and month out for over a decade, prayers steeped in only one faith, addressed toward members of the public, commenced meetings to discuss local affairs and distribute government benefits. In my view, that practice does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.

By intentionally or unintentionally favoring one religion over all others and forcing a citizen to “make her dissent from the common religious view, and place herself apart from other citizens, as well as from the officials responsible for the invocations,” religion becomes a dividing rather than unifying element.

Kagen again: “When a person goes to court, a polling place, or an immigration proceeding… government officials do not engage in sectarian worship, nor do they ask her to do likewise. They all participate in the business of government not as Christians, Jews, Muslims (and more), but only as Americans.”

Justice Breyer also dissented from the ruling, noteing that “Greece is a predominantly Christian town, but it is not exclusively so,” and that a map of the town “shows a Buddhist temple… and several Jewish synagogues just outside its borders.”

He also noted on page 51 that “during the more than 120 monthly meetings at which prayers were delivered during the record period (from 1999 to 2010), only four prayers were delivered by non-Christians. And all of these occurred in 2008, shortly after the plaintiffs began complaining about the town’s Christian prayer practice and nearly a decade after that practice had commenced.”

Those actions and inactions included (1) a selection process that led to the selection of “clergy almost exclusively from places of worship located within the town’s borders,”  despite the likelihood that significant numbers of town residents were members of congregations that gather just outside those borders; (2) a failure to “infor[m] members of the general public that volunteers” would be acceptable prayer givers; and (3) a failure to “infor[m] prayer-givers that invocations were not to be exploited as an effort to convert others to the particular faith of the invocational speaker, nor to disparage any faith or belief different than that of the invocational speaker.”

The decision handed down yesterday by the Court seems to assume that the vast majority of Americans will treat each other with fairness and without prejudice. It assumes that, given a plurality of religious views in a given setting, leadership will take the high ground in making sure that all views are represented.

Which is why, I suppose, in 2007, when Rajan Zed, the first Hindu priest to open a session of the U.S. Senate, began his invocation, three protesters immediately interrupted him.

Lord Jesus, forgive us for allowing a prayer of the wicked, which is an abomination in your sight. This is an abomination. We shall have no other gods before You. Lord Jesus, have mercy on our nation for allowing this abomination, this idolatry, for violating the First Commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’ God forgive our nation!

The first man was taken out, loudly quoting Bible verses as he was dragged from the chamber. Another shouted, “Father, forgive us for betraying your Son Jesus!” before she, too, was escorted out. As they left, they shouted directly at Zed, “No Lord but Jesus Christ!” and “There’s only one true God!”

According to the Wikipedia page on the incident, the protesters were there “to lobby against a hate-crimes bill that would extend certain protections to gay people.”

The fact is, religion isn’t going anywhere for a long time. I’m willing to work with religious people to find ways to live together peaceably. And a vast number of religious people are happy to do the same.

It’s a vocal minority (fundamentalist Christians, mostly), however, who refuses to come to the table and is resisting change and stirring things up. How are we supposed to work together when they won’t even budge?