“Life After Faith”
Putting it back together when reality goes topsy-turvy
They reckon you need 3-7 connections with a Christian to convert or feel established into a new church.
I reckon you need around 5 connections to get you out of it.
A reader, we’ll call her Sarah, sent me this message this week:
I have been wanting to send you a message for a few weeks now, as I have been ferociously reading my way through your blog. Okay, that’s a lie – I read the entirety of your public posts in one evening, sitting on my couch with a bottle of wine and a growing puddle of tears. I want to tell you that I so deeply appreciate your honesty and authenticity in how you tell your story.
Much of what you share has resonated with me in some the big questions I find myself facing at the moment. I understand that these “all-the-important-things-in-life” conversations are best had in person (or at the very least, via hologram or Skype). If you ever find yourself in Melbourne, I would love to have a drink or few with you.
Of course the answer was yes. Aside from the fact that she said a ‘few’ drinks, I love talking about this stuff and catching up with people I only knew as a kid. I’m also personally so grateful to the everyone who was a part of my own journey out, even though for some of them it probably wasn’t that fun.
It made me start thinking of all the people involved in my own questioning journey… anyone else have similar sorts of people you talked to?
My poor friend Cassi.
She got the brunt of it. The deluge of new thoughts and shocking realisations, the constant to-ing and the fro-ing and analysing and discussing and processing of the first 2 years I began thinking for myself. Every new experience, every conversation or discussion or thing I read came pouring out over a glass of champagne in her spa for, quite literally, hours on end.
I didn’t mean to make our friendship purely about me processing the decision she’d already come to a year or so ago. She was just the only one I had.
There’s a period in your life where you’re questioning and thinking and wondering a lot but you’re still pretty entrenched in the whole thing. You can’t talk to your friends or colleagues or even your husband because they start getting scared that you’re going to hell.
So you need a Verbal Deluge Friend, someone who understands that just cos you don’t believe in Jesus today doesn’t mean you won’t be adoringly worshipping him again on the weekend. Someone who gets that there’s a difference between God and the Church. Someone who knows it’s a love/hate, emotionally devastating process to accept that there’s no god and gives you the space to process it. And especially someone who knows that you need to work this Stuff out for yourself and that it’s not gonna be over in a day.
Sam was my yoga teacher. A wiry, 50 year old, grey haired man who could stand on his head and fold his legs into strange angles, his eyes emanate the gentlest spirit of anyone I’ve ever known. Twice a week I got up in the dark at 5am in the morning, drove over to Manly Corso and took myself through the Ash Tanga MySore series under his direction.
He showed me that my body is not my enemy, to be subdued and fought against, but to be listened to and cherished. To just let myself fall without trying to prevent it and simply start the move again.
He taught me that life goes in cycles and some days you’re not better than yesterday, you’re just different. That sometimes simply breathing and holding gets the same results as striving and pushing.
He taught me that emotions live in your muscles and your physical body is as much a part of your soul as your mind and feelings. That Being is more important than Doing.
He told me to cry out the weeping that soaked from my muscles after every yoga class. The weeping that turned out to be unconscious grieving for the death of the idea of God and the gateway to acceptance.
I owe this man so much, it’s emotional to write about him.
When you’re letting go of truths, you need new anchors to hold onto. For a friend of mine, this was Richard Dawkins, for another it was a comedian. You just need someone who gives you a glimpse of what it’s like to live on the other side – any side of the other side – and makes it safe for you process that stuff.
That said, go to yoga. Go, everyone, to yoga.
Yvette was a business manager of another church overseas when she realised she didn’t believe in God anymore.
I knew her story for a year before I could bring myself to talk to her. Not just because she’s a naturally loud and opinionated person and I was a little intimidated but also because talking to her meant I had made a decision that it wasn’t for me, this church life. It meant that I needed advice on how to leave and get out of it, rather than just continue pretending that one day my faith would come back and let me go back to the life I knew.
At the time I didn’t believe what she told me, about what would happen after leaving. She told me my mentor and second-mum would drop communication with me. She told me the leaders of the church would get nasty as soon as I resigned. She told me my staff and friends would be banned from seeing me and most people, even my friends, would not be in contact, even to find out what happened.
I didn’t believe her at the time but was glad for the warning when all those things – and worse – happened just like she said they would. At least I didn’t feel like the problem was with me.
There comes a point when you’ll make a decision and some hard, practical advice on what that’s going to mean for your life is just the thing to get you through. If you can find them, someone who’s been in the same position you are (Pastor’s daughter, gay, Anglican, worship leader etc) is best.
I had no idea what to do with the salt shaker. A shot glass of tequila was pushed onto the counter top and someone started saying ‘ready?’. Kendyl jumped over and told me to lick between my thumb and forefinger and shake some salt on it. I got it done just in time to lick it off, down the tequila and suck the lemon just a couple of beats behind everyone else.
There’s going to be a lot of new experiences in your new life, especially if you’ve jumped straight from being a married Pastor to a single Uni student (for example), that you’ll have not the slightest idea about. You won’t have any club appropriate shoes, you’ll have boy questions, you won’t know anything about Sex and the City and most innuendos will go over your head so you need someone to help you navigate all this. You’ll also just need a good ol’ partner in crime.
That’s where your New Life Best Friend comes in. Kendyl was adorable and a deep well of never ending patience and fun. She didn’t care so much for the philosophical thinking and that’s exactly what I needed. An escape and introduction to the best my new life had to offer…
No one in your new world is really going to understand the part of you that once was a Bible-believing, Jesus-loving, tongues-speaking, Holy-Spirit-praying Pastor. They’ll find it fascinating… for the first 20 minutes, maybe a one hour tell-all session if they’re the Curious type but after that you’re on your own…
You’re on your own with that random night terror of Ps Chris sitting on a red chair in her office, wearing a multi-coloured kaftan, cackling over her new magazine coffee-table style book. You’re on your own with the incessant urge to read anything that has to do with some old Asian pastor convicted of embezzlement… with those moments you get contacted by Someone Else Who Left… and the pure awkwardness of running into a Connect Group of people you went to bible college with just two weeks into living in Sydney again…
All of these moments will seems like nothing more than a dream, a news article, a rumour and a random meet with old friends to everyone except your De-Converted Best Friend.
Jyana understands what a freakin’ big deal some of these things are and how much they jarred my day-to-day reality. She responds with a huge ‘Oh my gaaawwwwd, I can’t believe that happened!!!!’ and I don’t have to even go through the process of explaining what a Connect Group is.
I was in Portugal a couple of years ago whenI lost my camera (again). I went to an agency to get the police report translated for the insurance claim. I had to call the insurance company to check something about the documents and had a slight moment of shock when a girl with an Australian accent picked up the phone. I’d been travelling about 8 weeks at that stage through countries where english wasn’t their first language. It’s necessary to speak a different kind of english to officials, waiters, taxi drivers, shop assistants etc; a stilted sort of english where you reduce it down to the basics and say things nice and slowly.
Suddenly, I was talking to a native Australian and it was like jumping into a pool on a hot day. She understood me straight away. We had the fastest conversation I’d had in months and frankly, it was over too quickly. I hesitated when she asked if there was anything else she could do for me because I was trying to think of excuses to keep talking to her.
If you grew up in church, you need to speak with someone who speaks your native language every now and again – you just gotta let it out and go back there and reminisce and laugh and get angry and rant and gossip and confess and philosophise and all that stuff that’s impossible with anyone – no matter how much they love you – from the New Life. And that’s your Deconverted Best Friend (or friends, if you’re as lucky as I am).
If I can be any one of these people for you, please feel free to write me. To my friends Cassi, Yvette, Sam, Kendyl and Jyana… thanks. Xx
I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it too. At the time, it seems right.
Now I’ve received it. Multiple times. Maybe you’ve received one or two yourself.
I’m talking about The Email. You know the one. The one you send to That Person who’s not in church anymore.
You start off with nice friendly normal stuff. Then you let them know you heard about their new status and that you understand but are sad, give them some words of love to show them you don’t judge them and finish off by Leaving The Door Open just in case they ever want a Way Back In.
There’s something you don’t know about these emails though. I’m sure to hear it would break your heart.
What you don’t know is that on the other end of your niceness is a person whose heart has been bruised and day has been ruined.
I used to be a Pastor at an evangelical church in Australia. Now I’m not.
I’m not even a Christian.
It’s a long story that is taking a surprisingly long while to disseminate through the Christian acquaintances I used to have. It’s been three years now since I left but about this time last year, I got an email from a childhood friend who, I’ll admit, has always been made of much sweeter stuff than I.
She began with some niceties and then mentioned that she had read a few entries on my blog after seeing them on her Facebook feed.
Here’s the rest of it:
“To be completely honest with you, I was devastated to read about your “Coming Out Of The Closet” and no longer believing in God. You and I had similar upbringings and even chose the same path of bible college and becoming a Pastor. After reading your sudden thoughts on Christianity and God, my heart was saddened and I have felt sad all week just thinking about you. How could this happen? Why would it happen? Should I say something or just mind my own business? This message is not to judge or condemn you but to once again offer my hand of friendship. I don’t expect a reply or for you to change your new way of thinking and please know that my intentions are not to preach at you.”
If in the years to come the choices you’re making for your new life no longer bring you joy, and that feeling of loneliness is starting to eat away at your heart, where you suddenly realise that no matter how far away you travel you still can’t find what you’re looking for, please know that on the South Coast of NSW a childhood friend would love to take you out for a drink.”
Normally with these emails I just say ‘Thank you so much’ and let the person get on with their life. I understand where they’re coming from; they feel like they’ve done what they needed to do by reaching out to me and I know they’ll never get in touch again after the one message so… a polite nothing response is the win-win situation.
Behind my polite response though, my adrenaline is pumping. I feel sick in my stomach. It makes me want to lie down with the lights off.
I wish she had just never even bothered to send the email.
Why? I ask myself. ”Why do I get so angry about emails like this? Just reply, say thanks and move on.’
But I do. So this time (I get these sort of emails quite a bit) I thought I’d try an experiment.
What I did was, I took her phrases and substituted her beliefs about the lifestyle I currently live, with my beliefs about the lifestyle she currently lives.
It ended up as a reply email that contained – between niceties – the following:
“To be completely honest I hate receiving emails like yours mostly because I used to send them to people myself so I know how you’re feeling and that really at your core you want me to believe again in Jesus. It sends my stomach curling because just as strongly I want you to discover this wonderful new world I live in now. I wandered around the kitchen this morning wondering, Why are people so happy to interpret their life experiences only by what they were taught as a child? How can people believe a story they’ve never actually checked out for themselves is true?
If in years to come, you decide to explore the world and make a decision about what is truth for yourself and you discover that there’s actually a lot more you were never told and that realisation that its possible you may only believe what you believe because you were taught it as a child sends your world topsy-turvy, please know that on the South coast of Spain (or whichever country I happen to be living in) a childhood friend would love to take you out for a drink.”
Then I hit send without re-reading.
Yeah, I should know this by now – never hit send without re-reading.
Because the next day, I felt sick . I would never ever in a million years send such an email to someone, even though technically I agree with everything I said. I would never attack someone’s intelligence or ability to make life decisions so directly, encased as it is in an offer of friendship and expression of empathy.
It made me realise why receiving nice emails from nice Christians always makes me so angry.
It’s because they’re offensive.
It feels good to admit that. Sometimes it’s hard to say because I know the writer means well. I know it’s from a place in their heart that is all sugar puffs and cotton candy and wanting to offer love and grace and way of acceptance back into the house of the Lord if ever I need it.
Unfortunately that doesn’t stop it tasting like rotten egg. Or causing a reaction more akin to having been slapped in the face instead of soothingly invited back into a welcoming community.
The question is, why, when the writer means to be so nice, are these emails so offensive?
How could an email reestablishing contact with someone who has left the faith be written in a way that actually… well, reestablishes contact instead of just hurting them and redoubling their intentions to never return?
From my experiences on both sides of the email writing and email reading scenario, in my opinion, it all comes down to assumptions. Assumptions made by people and subtly expressed through the choice of words if not outright mentioned.
Here they are:
— – — -
3 Assumptions Christians Make About Backsliders That Make Connecting Emails Offensive
1. A backslider is (or soon will be) unhappy / lonely / scared / depressed / hating life…
A little after receiving this email, I went to a yoga class for the first time in about 9 months. Lying in savasana at the end of the class, I had a flashback to my first few months of yoga classes years ago as a Christian. I would lie on the ground at the end, eyes closed, body straight out, hands by my side and cry.
Cry for what reason I didn’t know at the time but it couldn’t be stopped. It was always as if the stretching had squeezed the crying out of my muscles. I would stuff the weeping feeling back down into my chest when it was time to go home and do it again the next session.
Lying on the ground in the duskiness again, I mentally ran a comparison of myself in savasana now against the memory of those first savasanas. Peace. Wholeness. Not a drop of weeping or emotional instability.
Despite losing my career, the respect of most of my friends, my home and large swathes of my identity, not to mention purpose in life, I was – and still am – the happiest and most stable I’ve ever been.
It’s not a phase. I am better this way. This is me on the other end of a conversion experience.
Christians want to believe that people who leave God behind are, or will be, unhappy. They think that, in time, their life will come to a point where their ‘new life no longer brings them joy’ and they will be ‘crying out in loneliness’.
This just isn’t the case.
Some people become happier discovering Jesus and many people become happier by losing Jesus.
It’s offensive to assume that someone is unhappy because they have left the church. It’s downright sadistic to assume that because of that decision they will someday be depressed and lonely.
If you’re writing a message to someone who’s recently left church/God, don’t assume they are or soon will be regretting that decision.
2. A backslider is on a journey searching for something
The assumption here is that I left church because it wasn’t fulfilling a need.
Apparently I’m looking for something to fill me up and I think I can probably find it somewhere else. Of course, Christians know that eventually I’ll realise it was under my nose in Christianity the whole time and just needed a ‘journey’ to realise this.
Firstly, I was really happy as a Christian. So happy in fact, I pretended to be one for a long time when I really wasn’t – even to myself – just to keep enjoying the experience of being one!
I didn’t leave Christianity because I wanted more from life. I left Christianity because it didn’t make sense.
Secondly, that thought pattern just doesn’t make sense. The first time I really allowed myself to think whether Christianity might not be true, I laughed and shook my head. Life just didn’t exist for me outside of Christianity.
If I did leave it because I felt I was missing something, what are the chances it was actually under my nose the whole time? Wouldn’t this be something wrong with Christianity, not me?
If you’re writing a letter to someone who has left church, please, you know it all and they’ll eventually realise how right you were. ‘On a journey’ is a condescending way of saying ‘Eventually coming around to my way of thinking…’ and that’s just arrogant.
3. I have had negative experiences from the church that made me turn away from God
This one wasn’t in my friend’s email above but is often in emails from people who knew me at the church I was a Pastor at. Bottom line is, a lot of people leave that church because of the way they were treated.
Not for me though. Sure, I look back on stuff now and think ‘that was messed up’. At the time I didn’t agree with everything that was going on, but that was the never the driving force behind questioning God.
I was always taught that God and Church are separate and I always considered them so. I never let my opinion about what people in the church did right or wrong form my opinion of whether God is real or not.
I began questioning God when I was most happy with the church and my role in it. I began questioning because I wanted to be more involved and more full of faith than I was. Not because I was hurt.
Don’t assume that the person has ‘taken offence’ and that’s why they’ve left church.
Some, actually most, of us left cos we allowed our brains to question things.
– – –
Mostly, these assumptions hurt my feelings because they insult my intelligence. It’s assumed that, at the core of it, it can’t possibly be that I decided not to be a Christian, in full and sound mind because of plausible, logical reasons that also at the same time made me feel good and right.
More than anything, I want to communicate to this person – to all people who email me – that they’ve got me totally wrong.
But that never happens because in reality they’re not interested in understanding me or getting answers to the questions ‘how did this happen and why?’ They just want to express their opinion and let me know they are waiting for my life to fall apart so I can agree with how they think again.
Newsflash: This doesn’t work.
If you have questions like ‘How could this happen?’ and ‘Why would it happen’… ASK! Just ask questions if you really want to know. I would have happily told my friend how it happened.
You don’t need to have answers. You’re just trying to connect anyway. At least asking questions would have given her an opportunity to connect with me, something that would seem a prerequisite to a drink if I was ever feeling low and like I needed God again.
What’s most incredible about this story is that I just went to check out my friend’s Facebook wall to see what she’s up to.
I can’t anymore. She unfriended me.
So I guess that drink is off the cards. Sadly, I doubt either of us would’ve taken up the other’s offer anyway.Read More
My dad and his wife are Christians. Liberal Christians, all considered, but Christian enough that a well-worn bible was included in the pile of things being cleaned away from the coffee table by my step-mum as I walked in the door.
My sister, her boyfriend and I, who stayed over at my Dad’s place on the weekend, are atheists.
In fact, we’re almost hate-theists, primarily because of the extreme environment we were brought up in that was the instigation of divorces, career-changes and all round identity crises in our mid-20’s. That stuff takes a while to get out of your system.
The unwritten way to deal with this in our family is to just not talk about it. Possibly writing a blog about it is breaking the rule but hey… it’s working for us right now, tender as we all are from the tumultuous ‘church exodus’ years. I’m a personal fan of recognising that there are differences that will probably never change and just embracing the goodness that can be found in the moment.
Which is all fine until you’re all sitting down to a table of steaming eggshell pasta and Parmesan and rocket salad as a family for what appears to be the first time since your parents separated – since you all separated – and there’s that tiny breath of space, just big enough for the thought…
“Are we saying Grace?”
For those that don’t know, Grace is the saying of thanks to God for food before eating dinner.
Grace was a big deal in my family. No one was allowed to even pick at a piece of food before grace was said.
Every night, we, and whatever guests happened to be over at the time, would hold hands, eying off which dish we were going to reach for first, and Dad would ask from the head of the table ‘Who’s saying grace tonight?’.
Which is like asking “Who wants to present their talk to the class next?”
Because there is such a thing as a good grace and a bad grace.
A bad grace is a lazy grace, “Thank you god for this food amen.” If you gave a performance like that you’d most likely be told to do it again and properly this time.
A good grace typically includes a plea for children across the other side of the world, a mention of one of the family member’s recent struggles brought out from last night’s Sharing Time and a blessing of the cook, always Mum.
Fitting all that in before your sister squeezes your hand off is an art form.
When the final amen is said, everyone at the table chimes in with a hearty Amen and it’s all on for young and old.
I still feel strange sitting down to eat and just picking up a fork to tuck on in. When at a home cooked dinner with friends, I’m always the one chinking glasses or saying something stupid like ‘2, 4, 6, 8, bog in, don’t wait!’ to kick off the meal.
There’s something in that moment of acknowledging togetherness that is even more sacred than the saying of words to a non-existent being.
We try hard not to throw our atheism in Dad’s face without pretending we’re people we’re not. Sometimes though we’re not entirely sure how much of what used to be important to him is still important now.
I figured as a family that they most likely said grace together every night. If it was hard for me to give up the habit, I’m sure it was nigh impossible for Dad.
So we sat, the three of us, bowls filled to the top with pasta, forks untouched, chatting as if we weren’t all wondering what the next move was, until my Dad sat down and smiled around the table. He hesitated, then picked up his fork and began to eat.
We didn’t eat, out of love. He didn’t pray, out of love.
It was just a beautifully awkward moment of respect and space, both parties stepping aside to say ‘No, no, you go first’.
It’s not always the best thing to ‘sweep something under the rug’ or, as my sister would say ‘play happy families’ when you’re not. There’s a difference though, sometimes subtle, between covering up what’s really going on and just having respect for those things that are important to each other. I think you can tell by whether it builds a relationship or goes someway to destroying it.
His wife said out loud a thanks to God for the food as we shucked eggshell pasta onto our fork. The Christians responded Amen. The Atheists didn’t.
And then we all ate food together.
One Big Happy Family. (Just joking, that line’s for my sister. Love you.)Read More
**This is the second of a two part series about saving sex for marriage… by someone who knows what she’s talking about. If you didn’t read the first part, you can read it here.
So, that would be so nice if it were true.
Sadly, more likely, the build up to sex on your marriage night has turned it into some ethereal, life-changing activity that will make you a unicorn before whisking you off into the seventh heaven.
And when you discover it’s not actually that, it’ll be your libido whisked to the seventh heaven instead.
Not that I’m speaking from personal experience *shifty eyes*
And, my friends, if there’s one thing that’ll kill a sex life, it’s an inexplicable lack of libido…
The other panelist on the Huffinton Post panel ran an abstinence website and seemed to think that if he saved sex for marriage, the rest of his 20-30 years of copulating were going to be a blissful honeymoon of happy, true, lovemaking…
…he’d never find himself in the position of needing to ‘spice up the bedroom’ with clown outfits or some other sort of low-grade activity.
To him I say, firstly:
- in a few years, you’ll be in the same position as a couple who had sex before marriage, except all the mystery and surprise that makes sex exciting will disappear sooner because you’ll be peeing together and balancing finances.
You’ll never have these experiences and I’m sad for you.
- although I’m pretty sure clown outfits are wayyy down the list of sexual fantasies there’s nothing wrong with them. Maybe this imaginary couple you’re so judgemental of is so sexually free they’ve discovered they like clown outfits.
Maybe YOU like clown outfits. Don’t you think it’s a shame you’ll never find out?
This is absolutely true. But we’ve jumped a couple of steps.
To be able to communicate you need to first have a) the confidence to communicate and b) something to communicate. If you’ve never had sex before it’s likely you have neither.
My ex and I could, and did communicate about sex. But agreeing it’s not all that crash-hot is like agreeing global warmings not a myth. It’s a step but it doesn’t change anything.
Communication comes into play when you’re able to actually use it.
Without ruining the mood or hurting someone’s ego.
That takes a special kind of comfort with yourself in the bedroom and, contrary to popular Christian opinion, that kind of comfort it not necessarily found by knowing the guy married you. It’s found from… well, being comfortable with yourself.
Definitely not a guaranteed outcome peoples.
There is such a thing as just simply being sexually incompatible. Anyone who has had a modicum of sexual experience will agree with that.
I really don’t need to say anything more on this subject. There’s a reason there’s such a big deal about good sex and that’s because it’s hard to find.
There’s only one thing that equals good sex and that’s good sex. You have to actually do it to discover it.
The reality is that some of you, not all of you but a good some of you, will get to a time of your life where you wonder what you might have missed out on? You’ll hear stories of people who experimented sexually and – shock horror – still seem to be whole and sane human beings and realise that you’re now in a pretty awful position…
The position of loving your spouse and not wanting to hurt him/her and at the same time desperately wishing for experiences you will now never be able to have without hurting him/her.
It’s hard to explain the heartache of this situation and I would never have believed it possible if I hadn’t had so many people tell me their own stories of experiencing it. Here it is in one commenter’s words on my original ‘I regret saving sex for marriage‘ post:
“I know this is an older post, but I need to comment. I totally agree with this, but I feel extremely guilty admitting it. I feel like this is something nobody wants to talk about. I have a wonderful loving husband who I adore. I wouldn’t trade my life with him for anything in the world. But waiting for all those years was lonely, humiliating, and emotionally damaging in so many ways. Now I feel like I never experienced my previous relationships fully, and now that I’m older I feel like I have missed out on experiences that should have been special memories. “
So there it is. Once you realise that sex outside of marriage is not going to turn you into an evil, horned person you realise you do actually want to experience it, like a normal person.
It’s Not Nothing to give up sexual freedom and exploration.
It’s a big deal.
Especially when you’re committing to do it for the rest of your life.
So… if all of that stuff you’ve been told by parents and teachers and leaders is actually bullshit, you have to ask yourself why all those people would tell a young generation that their lives will be better if they saved sex for marriage when actually it’d just be better if they:
Aside from big Daddies wanting to protect little girls from scary boys (who could possibly use a good chat with this dad who wrote a blog titled ‘Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex.’) the answer of why mature people encourage young people not to have sex before marriage is unfortunately super simple.
It’s because they have to.
They HAVE to make up reasons why saving sex for marriage is better than not because… wait for it… it’s in the bible.
And we all know how I feel about that as a reason to do anything.Read More
So I’ve been holding back on this blog for about, oh 2 years, cos, well, I was a little shy.
But just yesterday I had another comment on this article about saving sex for marriage from a guy who regretted it and it made me decide to share this. Cos maybe if I speak honestly about this stuff, someone out there will actually believe me (and all the other people leaving comments) and save themselves the heartache that comes.
As you all know I saved sex for marriage and Would Not Do That Again, even if that wasn’t a physical impossibility.
A year or so ago, the Huffington Post invited me as the Pro-sex Before Marriage advocate on a discussion generated from an article written by this brave but completely sheltered lady, Evette Holyfield.
Surprise, surprise her father influenced her decision to save sex for The One.
“We grew up in a Christian home. When I was around six years old, my dad said to me, “You don’t need to have sex outside of marriage.” He went through the whole spiel with me. So as I grew up, I thought, okay dad, if you don’t want me to do it, I’m not gonna do it. Then I started to really understand church – the words in the Bible and what the pastor is really saying. At that point, I wasn’t just doing it because my dad said don’t, but rather, I now believe that by waiting, God will bless me and bring me a great husband.”
I don’t suppose anyone has pointed out to her that God nor the bible ever promised that waiting to have sex until marriage would bring her a great husband…
…but I do hope it happens for her either way.
The problem with this sort of stuff is that it makes other young people feel guilty for not being as ‘pure’ by saving sex for marriage.
And I say, that’s enough of that.
The discussions behind the scenes of that Huffington Post panel were, for me, quite shocking.
If you’re going to go on national television with an opinion, you kinda wanna make sure it’s informed.
They had quite literally never come across someone who could confidently say ‘Tried that whole saving sex for marriage thing! Wasn’t so great.’
I was bombarded with questions that reminded me of all the things I had also thought about sex before marriage… before I got married and actually had sex.
So here are all the things I remembered that sheltered people believe about sex and saving it for marriage.
And here’s my response to those, now having been on both sides of the equation.
Just as a clarification:
I’m not saying you should have sex before marriage. There are loads of people out there, religious or not, who only ever have sex with the one person.
I’m AM saying that you should do what is right for you and not what the rest of the people around you say is right for you, even if they’re your parents or parental figures or gods representative or whats-it. Cos at the end of the day They Are Not You and – shock – You Are A Unique Person.
So… work it out for yourselves, lovelies.
Er… this is like saying you should only eat vanilla ice cream because if you try raspberry you might realize you like it more.
Listen, YOU WANT TO KNOW YOU LIKE RASPBERRY ICE CREAM MORE.
Raspberry ice cream is awesome! It’s a little bitey and unpredictable and has these bits that get stuck in your teeth that you’re thinking about for days afterwards…
Secondly, let’s say hypothetically you’ve had raspberry ice-cream before but vanilla ice-cream goes better with everything else on your plate for the rest of your life. You don’t have to live with Vanilla every single night…
Now that you’ve had raspberry you know how to bring it’s bity-ness to the table. Yep! You can make a delicious raspberry and vanilla ice cream dessert one night and maybe chuck some passionfruit puree on the top another. And maybe your partner has discovered he likes nuts so he brings those for a big nutty, vanilla swirl.
On the kitchen bench.
Thirdly, this was clearly said by someone who feels like they are terrible in bed and is hugely insecure about it.
There’s no such thing as a hierarchy of sex.
Everyone does it, and likes it, differently and it’s different with everyone! You can be the Queen of the Sac with one guy and a hugely awkward starfish with another – it doesn’t mean you or he is bad in bed, it just means you’re not compatible. Mint ice cream and raspberry ice cream are awesome separately but don’t match together.
For me, anyway. I’m sure there’s someone walking Oxford Street who swears by it.
Okay so 80% of people have mouth ulcers aka: HERPES OF THE MOUTH and we’re not saving that particular contraction for marriage, so could we all take a breather and relax on the STD witch-hunt please!?
This is what condoms are for peoples.
More importantly, and on a grave subject, I know two Christian girls who had abortions because every time they had sex with their boyfriend was ‘the last time’ so they were never prepared for the next time.
They were already feeling guilty for sleeping with their boyfriend – imagine the guilt over an abortion once the shock started to wear off and they began processing what they’d done…
(Side note: Do you reckon Christian culture could use some re-thinking around an environment so ‘loving’ a girl would override her conscience to the point of abortion rather than suffer the humiliation of being found out to not be The Perfect Christian?)
Anyway, the point is, attempting to NOT have sex, can actually result in a higher amount of unprotected sex.
You won’t get AIDs or pregnant if you’re approaching the whole she-bang with a bit of maturity, otherwise known as a condom.
Don’t think about a pink elephant. No seriously, stop thinking about it. Bad you! STOP! Pink elephants!!!! STOP THINKING ABOUT THEM!!!!
Welcome to being in a relationship where you’re not allowed to have sex.
You think about it… ALL. THE. TIME.
You fantasize about it.
You imagine what it’ll be like when you do get to have sex. Where you’re going to do it. How you’re going to do it. What it’ll feel like.
You’re a veritable porn site of imaginary, fantastical, completely ridiculous sexual fantasies that will haunt you after you actually do it with their movie-like innocence.
There’s no room for anything in there except when your wedding day is going to be. So you can have sex on your wedding night. Juuust like Brad Pitt and Rose Byrne in the movie Troy… Surrrrrre.
Firstly: NOT having sex distracts you from really getting to know a person.
Secondly: if you find someone who you can’t get to know very well because you’re too busy having loads of sex… This. Is. Not. A. Bad. Thing. Cling. Hard. And never let go.
Thirdly: sex is something you want to know about a person before you commit to doing it only with them for the ressssssst of your liiiiiiiiiiiife… Just sayin’.
Break ups are hard, period. But it’s not about sex.
It’s about your heart.
If you’re the type of person who can’t separate the two, then yes, save sex until you trust them with your heart.
I know girls who have been more hurt by a guy they had only sent a few text messages with than by one they had sex with. Actually, come to think of it, that was the same girl.
Having sex with someone as a purely recreational activity is possible and breaking up with them is not difficult at all. You just stop answering their calls at 3am after a night out. Or get the next train to Budapest.
Giving yourself to someone who is unworthy is a valid concern but it’s not protected against by not having sex with them.
Sex and heartache are two different things.
Four more shatterings of innocent beliefs coming next week… (Ahh I know you wanted the rest now but heeeyy, it’s a long one! And I know you’ll be back cos it’s about sex and they’re always the most popular blogs. And I like to stretch out the writing so that Facebook stops reminding me that I haven’t put a bloody post up recently… on that note, if you want to get the next instalment direct to your inbox, the box for your email address is over there ———>)
See you next week!Read More
No self-respecting Spanish gets out of bed before midday on a Saturday. All the people walking Calle Larios, the main street, at 10am are tourists. If it weren’t for the time of day, you could tell from the clothes anyway. Oversized t-shirts, a lack of accessories and hair bundled up or left scraggling around their shoulders.
These are not the Spanish chicas. Spanish chicas are brutal when it comes to fashion. They are perfectly bronzed, slight heels, covered in accessories, long hair flowing down their back.
There was this time about a year ago in Spain when I turned around and saw that end moment when you know two people have been looking at you. One of the chicas raised her eyebrow at the other and they laughed. Every girl knows how to read that message of, ‘As if you would wear that.’ or ‘What even IS that?’
It took me a moment to work out why I deserved it.
My dress was too big for me but I bought it anyway. You know when you love something. Not a fashionista (I only care so much) I’d tied the material belt into a half-bow, sitting at the centre of my back to make it the right size and promptly forgot about it. Out of sight to me, but not the chicas.
Of all the effort I’d gone to that day, the hair, the make up, the waxing, the nails, the perfume, the dress, the heels, she’d noticed one tiny thing a little odd.
It was a shame cos I was quite keen to be friends. My Spanish is better in Madrid, where they remember to use the ’s’ sound and breath between sentences. I watched them walk away a little sad that I’d been a little lazy about the oversized belt and that it was something that mattered so strongly to her.
Because I’m a Pastor-by-trade and there’s a freakin’ object lesson in everything, my mind reminded me that…
Focussing on the negative shuts life down. Shifting attention to the positive opens life up.
At that time, I was so negative about my life Before. About life in the church. I was processing anger over the way it had shut my world down and encouraged me to make decisions that weren’t right for me. I was dealing with the feelings of betrayal, the incredulity that no-one told me, that the whole time people were actively keeping me from knowledge of things under the guise of ‘protecting me’. I was working through what my relationship with the past was going to be moving forward; to forget, to pretend it doesn’t exist, to write, to be actively against, blah blah blah…
It reminded me that, while acknowledging the negative is crucial to dealing with it, focussing on the positive is a key part of actually moving on from it.
My experience growing up fundamental took away a lot of things. If I look hard enough though, it also gave me a lot of things.
For those of us who have gone through that, if we’re to live the next phase of our life to its fullest, we need to mine our past for gems that give us some appreciation of it.
This is acceptance. It is letting go of bitterness. It is rescuing the present from the clutches of the past.
An exercise. Here are the good things I’ve gained from growing up Fundamental.
So now an exercise for you… what good things did you get from growing up in religion?Read More
So writing blogs when you’re working full time is a *bit* harder than I imagined!! It’s also difficult when you need to move house twice in a month, because it became clear two weeks in that you live with Oscar the Grouch’s evil OCD twin… am happily installed just this morning in a new house, completely muppet free.
It’s now coming up to nearly two months living in Sydney in my new job and it’s nice to be able to say, I’m totally happy. Doing nothing in Spain for nearly a year showed me that I’m more than a career but being able to mesh earning money with something challenging and meaningful is totally the dream.
Daaamn though, but getting to that point was a PROCESS. After it became clear the world does not, in fact, need saving from Satan, all the rest of the job opportunities out there seemed, well, slightly lack-luster. Couple that with some existential confusion, disconnection from old friends and too much sangria the night before and you’ve got me in a cafe in Spain being all like ‘WHAT AM I ABOUT!?’
Frankly, it’s AWFUL not knowing what you’re about. Maybe it’s awful-er for me cos I’m wired that way but I’ve heard a lot of people trying to work this out and not just 20-somethings. There was a good six months there where I’d decided to move on from Spain and really Do Something and yet still had no idea what that Something was.
The worst thing is websites telling you to ‘List Your Passions’ and then work out how to get paid for doing those passions.
This is ridiculous.
You can’t list your passions if you don’t know what they are. Which means I must’ve been more lost than most people. Maybe that entitles me to some level of expert-navigator-of-life-decisions status or something…
With that title in mind, here’s my thoughts on how to Find Your Way when you’re just totally firkin’ lost.
1. Embrace Jealousy
I’m not jealous of the Prime Minister or a Scuba Diver instructor or a Fashion Stylist even though all of those jobs are pretty cool. I’m only ever jealous of people with their own businesses or in consulting. Jealousy is a clue to what you want in life, so ask yourself who you’re jealous of and start channeling that evil greeness somewhere productive.
2. One Step At A Time, Don’t Worry About Where It Will Lead
I found a business I totally loved around November-ish and noticed that the founder was speaking at TedX Amsterdam. I love both Amsterdam and TedX so signed up as a volunteer and used it as an opportunity to speak to the owner of the business. I met a few other interesting people as well and just generally fell in love with Amsterdam. If I hadn’t taken the one I did in Sydney, the fall-back plan was to go to Amsterdam. The more you know, the more secure you’ll feel in your options.
3. Take The Shot
Now’s the time to take a shot at all those things you thought you were never good enough for. Possibly you’ll find out you’re not good enough for them. No stress. At least you know now and you won’t be on your death bed all like ‘If only I had…’. I applied for those management consulting roles I’ve always known I wasn’t qualified for. The rejection was bitter sweet.
4. Notice how you feel
After researching design agencies I felt bored. After researching a business concept I felt tired. After researching Innovation Consultancies I was jumping through my hallway to grab my laptop for more reading over cooking a chicken risotto. Picking a direction to follow ain’t something you wanna do with your head. It’s all about the heart so just listen hard, then go with it.
On the other hand, if you find you’re feeling constantly depressed about Getting Onto Something or keep putting it off, you have to ask yourself why? I feel like that with this blog sometimes – there’s lots of should’ve done last year to make it ‘Popular’ but I just didn’t. I’m not a lazy person so to me that was a sign that this is a hobby and not a profession. You never know what letting go will open up…
5. It’s. So. Easy. To. Talk. To. People.
I don’t know if we’re just on the cusp of this socially connected world and so people are more open to approaches from random strangers they don’t know. Perhaps in a few years it will become such common practice that people get over it and stop saying yes. But right now, it’s totally possible to LinkedIn message any person you come across in an article and ask them if you’re able to catch up for coffee.
You don’t need to talk to the person doing what you want to be doing in 10 years. Just the person doing what you might like to do tomorrow. An analyst or design strategist is quite flattered to get a request to be taken out for coffee to talk about themselves and give advice.
6. It’s sickening.
On coming back from my visit to Amsterdam stalking said Business Founder, I mentioned to my friend that it hadn’t gone as far as I’d thought it would go, aka being offered an internship or even being able to see their offices. When he told me I had to mention I was looking for opportunities I wanted to vomit in my spaghetti carbonara. I’d just wanted to have a nice conversation without any soliciting.
This is just something you have to get better at. The best way to get comfortable with it is to see someone else do it. I saw a young girl do this at a workshop, looking for an internship. When you’re honest and intentional about your search, people understand that you’re not trying to screw them over and will connect you.
7. Ask for help
Everyone knows someone who knows someone who can help you. Now’s the time to ask for advice from people you only met once or twice. Anyone up a particular career ladder totally gets it and is more than willing to help out. The number of coffees and lunches I bought… the greatest value in these conversations was not necessarily connections but the way they allowed me to frame my experience and skills for the industry I wanted to get into. Each conversation refined My Story until I was sitting in front of my current boss, confidently spurting off the couple of lines that demonstrated my worth.
8. Give Your Heart A Break
It’s not the effort involved in searching that tires you out – it’s just living with the constant uncertainty. Don’t let yourself get so fatigued that you just take whatever’s in front of you rather than keep going for the dream. Give yourself a break every now and again so you’ve got the energy to keep pushing for the Best.
My greatest realisation is that these things take time. I used to be time’s worst enemy and now I’m it’s biggest friend. Relax into time, do what you can, follow the leads, give it your best and eventually opportunity will collide with your preparation to give you what you were looking for.Read More
I never relied on the mercy of God until I stopped believing He existed.
Before, if God had appeared before me, I would have pointed first to a prayer I said at an age young enough I don’t even remember it, then to my daily efforts to love Him, then to my volunteering and life dedicated to the mission he gave me as evidence of how worthy I was to be called ‘a friend of God’.
Now, if He turns out to exist, I will have nothing to point to except an integrity of heart. I would be actually totally laid bare before that higher power, completely lacking in anything He would consider valuable, except my full honesty. In fact, if anything, He would have good reason to consider me an enemy.
I would be, by the perfect definition, At His Mercy.
The image of me standing before Him with the circumstances of my life naked and shivering in His gaze, the decisions I’ve made… the things I’ve said… doesn’t fill me with dread, as it used to, or fear, as it apparently should for someone living as I do.
No, it brings a strange calm, a settling, like that moment your head finally lands on the shoulder of a long awaited hug.
Because God, if He exists, knows me. He knows me from the inside out. He knows how hard I searched for Him, how desperately I wanted to really, truly understand and have a rock solid faith that would never be shaken. He saw the tears of frustration, the hours spent reading books, the sleepless nights of sickening worry, the desperate attempts to lash the life I loved ‘in church’ with the honesty and clarity I was finding ‘outside the church’.
He will know how much it broke my heart to admit to myself what my subconscious had been pointing out for over a year… that it appeared as though He, after all, didn’t exist. He’d know of the grief that tried to split every muscle in my body as I pounded the steering wheel in childish refusal. He technically was there when I yelled at the sky to give me something, anything, that would stop the slide away from belief.
He’d know that He didn’t answer. And he’d know that I hung around for a year longer anyway, just in case I’d missed it, just in case it was something I hadn’t seen, just in case there was any chance I’d been wrong. He’d know that it would have been far easier to stay in belief, with my career, friends, family, house and husband all sorted.
When the Senior Pastor of my old church called me after I ‘came out’ as a non-believer, I told him the above, the rush of saying what I really thought for the first time pounding through my heart. I told I would be quite happy to meet God because I was confident He would know what I’d been through.
He said that sometimes God doesn’t reveal Himself to us for His own reasons.
I said, ‘Then its because of His own reasons that I don’t believe in Him anymore.’
“You know that if you get in the water without anything to hold onto but try to behave as you would on dry land, you will drown. But if, on the other hand, you trust yourself to the water, you will float. This is exactly the situation of faith.’
(- Alan Watts)
So this is the faith that I have.
If God does exist, He knows me.
I trust myself to the Water.Read More
There’s no doubt about it, if you leave Christianity – especially if you’re in a charismatic sort of evangelical brand of it – your life is going to change. Hugely.
Some of those changes will be good; you’ll start to think freer, you’ll be rid of cognitive dissonance currently making your stomach crawl and you’ll do all the things you thought were bad and discover they’re actually quite great.
Some of those changes though will be difficult to cope with; this is especially true if your family is super involved or if your, say, wage comes from the fact that you believe in God. While that bigger sort of stuff is better dealt with organisations like The Clergy Project there’s a few minor things that are worth mentioning for anyone considering heading out into the Great Unknown beyond church walls.
Here it goes, I’m giving it to you straight.
This is what you’ll miss about your Old Life if you leave Christianity and some of the stuff you definitely won’t miss!
Aka: feeling superior to pretty much everyone you meet. Having all the answers is a pretty sweet place to be in. You know what happens after you die. I mean – that’s huge. Also, you’re all sorted on the best way to live life. In fact, you’ve got it so sorted you’re one of the Chosen People who’s living life the right way, unlike the other 98% of people on the planet.
This sort of confidence booster just don’t exist in the real world unfortunately. You won’t know jack. It’d take you forty years and loads of reading to know half jack. No-one’s got the full jack sorted out. But don’t worry – not knowing actually becomes something quite exciting.
So… before when I was confused about what to do I would just go and pray. There was no chance I would make a mistake because God had already sorted out what I should do and when, I just had to hear what He thought. This is a really comforting sort of habit because, of course, hearing God is most often just confirmation of what you yourself think you should do. And if it seems like it wasn’t the right decision, you can always say It Was God Teaching You or it was Part of A Bigger Plan or something like that.
On the outside, you can stuff up. You can royally stuff up and nobody will be there to save you, unless you invent one / turn to the invisible, all powerful person you were taught about as a child (most people’s reactions it seems). The good news comes, when you realise that actually there’s no such thing as stuffing it up because you get to decide the goalposts. What’s a great life? You decide. Then live it.
I’m not surprised meditation is rising in popularity. There’s just no freakin’ silence anymore. In fact, silence is almost the new sound. Movies are using Silence to gain attention because it’s the only thing people will listen to anymore.
The thought of ‘needing to pray’ prioritises finding silent moments in the day, where you’re alone and reflective. This is possible to do outside of Christianity but it’s just so much easier to get railroaded by the urgent, burning need to check Facebook again.
Singing is freakin’ awesome. I know not all of us like it but there’s something to be said for the experience of a group of people singing together, even (or maybe especially) when you don’t have a good voice. Those church songs are written to make you feel good singing them, loads of crescendos and long aaaaaahhhhhh’s, simple words that mean you don’t have to think. There’s not really any substitute for this on the outside; a choir’s too formal and rigid, chanting is all easterny tones that are hard to follow and a couple of girlfriends bouncing around the lounge room leaves you exposed as a bad singer… I get my singing in in the shower these days.
All my ex-christian friends have noticed a marked difference in our confidence levels since not listening to a Pentacostal preacher every weekend. The reminder that you have a plan and a destiny set out just for you and the resources of an all-powerful being at your fingertips is… well, it’s a good one. On the outside, you have to dig in there and find the strength within. Or get it from Tony Robbins if that’s your thing.
Oh gawwwwd, it’s so good never having to see sickly sweet joy overflowing onto your Facebook wall.
It’s a dilemma; become the office pariah by offering to pray for a sick colleague or be a failure of a Christian by offering them an aspirin instead? These sorts of decisions are everywhere when you’re an evangelical Christian who believes in the Holy Spirit; speak to the person at the bus about God, offer to pray for a broken ankle, invite the neighbour to church etc. Their immediate dissipation on the realisation that You Don’t Have To Do That Anymore will make you feel so light, it’s a wonder you don’t just float right up off the floor.
I get a bit of a kick out of reading comments on any blog or article about Yonggi Cho’s recent conviction of embezzlement of millions of dollars. They’re usually stuffed with Christians arguing with each other about whether it’s okay to judge someone (though shalt not judge!) for stealing millions of dollars of congregation member’s money!!! *pant pant* </rant>.
Sometimes I look at Christian blogs / converted catholic blogs / c3watch blogs and my brain starts to twist around the problem of how to tell a false preacher from a real one and whether it’s okay to swear or not and if the bible really does teach grace over judgement… and then I blink, laugh and remember it’s ALL bullshit and get on with living. It’s a very freeing way to live.
Cos (as the thinking goes) if you don’t, then you’re not anointed for the day… and what if an opportunity comes along where you were supposed to hear the Holy Spirit’s voice and now you’re not attuned the Holy Spirit’s voice and you miss bringing a new soul to heaven? I genuinely had these anxieties. It was my solid belief that if you’re going to have a big church / connect group / influence in your job / new house, you need to get your prayer and bible reading in.
This concept is such a staple of the charismatic church movement it’s sort of strange to realise it has absolutely no biblical foundation whatsoever. Without that pressure, you’re free to draw from any number of wonderfully inspirational and super intelligent people, living and dead, for your mojo, wherever and whenever you want. Or not. You could just live and be average. Go for it.
You don’t have to defend Christianity as ‘cool’ and ‘relevant’ anymore. You’re not part of a weird group of people who think Jesus Is Their Actual Homeboy. You don’t have to explain why you can’t go to Sunday arvo drinks… or anything on Sunday actually. You don’t have to get offended by Southpark. And you don’t have to invite anyone to church to ‘prove to them’ that God is not just Some Old Guy In The Sky.
You can just be yourself. With whatever you believe. And what’s better is that it is actually what you believe and not what you sort of have to believe cos it’s in the bible (“Well, we love Gays they just can’t be… gay… anymore…eerhhhh”).
If you’re a Christian Renegade come, share with the not-sure-about-it-readers… what do you miss about the Old Life? What don’t you miss? There’s a hundred more…Read More
I’m claiming a twitter hash tag thingy.
I know, I know, how PROGRESSIVE of me.
It’s because I get these moments every day (literally, every day) where I think, ‘Far out, I’m so happy I’m not a Christian anymore.’
Like this morning when I called my Granny. My Grandad recently passed away and she’s been lonely. We had a 20 minute conversation during which she kept asking me if I liked being a Police Officer and I kept reminding her that it’s my sister who’s a Police Officer and I’m actually… well, sort of nothing right now. Which is probably why she continues to think I’m a Police Officer.
When I hung up from that phone call, I remembered that my Dad’s Dad, my Grandpa, was also alone and lonely for two whole years after my Grandma passed away.
I managed to call him once. Once in the whole two years.
Because I was too busy being a Pastor instead.
While that memory made me sad, it also reminded how wonderful it is that I’m out. Just another small moment of gratefulness in my day…
So I am claiming a twitter hashtag to start cataloguing these moments that remind me that I’m so happy for the new freedom that I now live in. Humanism, atheism, rationalism, just-living-ism, whatever you want to call it just doesn’t get celebrated enough I think. The most popular tweet I’ve ever tweeted is below:
Positivity. More of that peoples. Put it out there.
The hashtag is #withoutgod.
I chose it because there’s a lot of Christians using that phrase to perpetuate that life #withoutgod is awful through such ridiculous statements like those below:
Of course life without God works. We’re not all breaking down out here. And plenty of people are ‘successful’ without God having anything to do with it.
When I used to think of those backsliders, those who were blinded, who fell away, I used to think of them as sad. As people who were lost and searching for something. Even if they were successful, they were searching for something. I used to think my life would be awful and a mess without God.
I didn’t realise I would feel like I do now. Free. Expanded. Whole.
So I want to take it back. I want to make the conversation about life without God about what Life Is Really Like Without God, not just what Christians think it’d be like.
If you’re enjoying life #withoutgod then let the twitter-sphere know by hash tagging your happiness would you?