The other night I had a dream. I was supposed to attend a service at my old church, but overslept and didn’t go. As people started returning from the service, one was the Pastor’s Wife from when I attended. Only it wasn’t her. It was a very old, very disfigured version – unrecognizable. She was almost hairless and out of her mind, mumbling incoherently, and very near death.
I picked her up and carried her to the bedroom and laid her on my bed. She was naked, and I wrapped her in the blanket. Then I went back to the kitchen, where my current spritual teacher went off on the old Pastor about how the wife needed help and they weren’t going about getting it correctly. Arrangements were made, and I went back to care for her. About an hour later, several men from a hospital or nursing home of some kind break into my house to take her. Before I let them near her I tell them very passionately that this woman isn’t just anyone. She matters. She is not to be mishandled, and you will NOT take the blanket off and disrespect her.
I woke up and spent the whole next day thinking about this dream. There’s a lot more to it, but that’s the relevant part for now. I realized that the Pastor’s Wife represented my spark, my fire. The real me. And that over the course of 20 years, The UPC and its doctrines systematically tried to stamp it out.
A couple days later, after a long day at work I was laying on my bed trying to get my mind in the right place to do a devotional meditation to The Morrigan, the Goddess I’ve been working with. Suddenly, the image from my dream flashed back into my mind, and a wave of anxiety and emotional upset washed over me. I called my best friend, who talked to me for two hours.
It was in this moment that it hit me that I have suffered real trauma. 20 years of my life where my every thought was policed. Where everything that was ME was bad because it wasn’t Jesus. 20 years of submit, submit, submit.
Not to mention the psychological trauma of truly believing my Grandfather, the sweetest man I’ve ever known, was burning for all eternity in Hell because he wasn’t baptized right.
It’s been nearly 3 years since I even set foot on the property of a UPC. I’ve come so far in those 3 years, so far back to the real ME that was suppressed for so long. Somehow, I thought I was over it.
Clearly I’m not.
I emailed my teacher – Lora O’Brien, who’s course on The Morrigan is having a truly deep impact on me (obviously) about this. She responded that yes, the Church is responsible for lifetimes of trauma, and I am a victim. She said to own it, explore it, and settle it.
Since that conversation, I’ve started cataloging some of the ways I was harmed over the last 20 years. I’m going to write in more detail about some of them in the coming days or weeks. The family relationships that were tainted and strained because I’d been convinced everyone around me was a lost sinner on their way to Hell. Worst of all was that the last decade of my Grandfather’s life happened during this time. Every interaction I had with him was tainted. I said and did things that hurt him because I was trying to be Mrs. Righteous and disapprove of his “sin” (smoking). A few months before he died, I joked with him about something, and said “you know I’m only joking.” He got misty eyed and said, “It’s been a long time since you’ve joked with me like that.”
That man was my heart. He was injured in WWII, and suffered the rest of his life from shrapnel left in his wound. When I was a little girl he had to have that leg amputated, and walked on crutches until he couldn’t walk any more. When I was 8 or 9 and we still lived in the same town, my parents and I were driving to their house one day and my dad was teasing me about something or other, needling me until I snapped at him. When we got to their house, he took me straight to the spare room and gave me the worst spanking of my life.
I’m told that the next day my dad (who, by the way, is 6-foot-five and a VERY big guy) went back over there, acting as if nothing had happened. My grandfather (old and one-legged and not healthy) interrupted him and said, “Let me tell you something. If you ever lay a hand on that girl again, I will take these crutches and see just how close I can come to beating you to death.”
I never got another spanking like that. Ever.
And my relationship with him was tainted. Soured. Not quite destroyed, but nowhere near what it should have been, because the UPC convinced me he was on his way to Hell. A man who prayed and read his Bible daily. Who loved that god and was the sweetest man you’d ever meet. Who wouldn’t even hate the German who shot him because “he was just trying to survive, just like me.”
That’s wrong. And that’s just a tiny part of what the United Pentecostal Church did to me.
Your story is one I can identify with. My parents and grandparents were Catholic and fine people like yours, but they didn’t hold to the doctrines that the UPC does, so they were lost. I had something of a strained relationship with my parents because at 19, I knew better than they did what the Bible teaches. I had more knowledge than all the Catholic theologians over the centuries. I mad my Mom feel bad about her beliefs on more than one occasion anc I often think of it now and wish I had never accepted the invitation to visit the oneness church I went to. I understand now that I was the one who was wrong. Not because everything my parents believed was necessarily true, but because they were the ones who had love in their hearts and tried to accept their son who was attacking them for what was dear to them. Their faith was really important to them, but they never told people of other beliefs that they were going to hell. I wish I could be more like they were. I long since left the UPC type of church, but I struggle with the whole idea of the exclusive nature of fundamentalist Christianity. I struggle with the idea of an all powerful God when I see such tremendous pain and suffering in the world. While each person who leaves organized religions has to go in a direction that makes sense to them, I suggest people just start thinking for themselves and forget about reading arguments that try to tear anyone down. Think of how your grandfather acted. He could have looked for reasons to hate the German soldier who shot him, but he apparently wanted forgiveness to be more a part of himself then to concentrate on what many would have considered a wrong. Follow in your Grandfathers way. Let love win over hate. I hope you move toward the positive. If you want to stop believing in God, that’s your decision. It doesn’t mean you have to prove that those who do believe are wrong or bad people. I think of my Mom and believe she was a sincere believer in God and a good person. She wasn’t perfect, but none of us are. I’ve decided to identify as an agnostic atheist, but I don’t think that puts me in the category of a terrible person. My goal is to do good for anyone who I see who is struggling if it is within my power. I encourage you to do good in the world. That is what I think is most important. Just my two cents.
NO SIR. You do not get to use MY grandfather like that.
The concentration camps had been shut down for more than 30 years at the time he said those words to me. That regime did not pose an active threat at that time.
Before he was shot, just outside of St. Lo, France, my grandfather fought his way across the beaches and up the cliffs of Normandy. He said he moved forward by pushing dead bodies out of the way with the butt of his gun and KILLING ANYONE IN HIS PATH. Because at that time, the enemy was still hurting people. The gas chambers and crematoria were running 24/7, and non-jewish, heterosexual and non-Romani civilians in occupied territories were being brutalized. There was no regret, EVER, for the people he had to kill to save their victims. And that forgiveness he expressed to me took decades to achieve.
The UPC and many other Evangelical organizations are currently, actively, inflicting trauma upon hundreds of thousands of people. Look around at some of the comments on this blog, of what people have gone through. Go to Twitter and check out #Exvangelical and #EmptyThePews to see the damage being done TODAY.
My grandfather was a hero for the men he killed because it saved others. A man named Neville Chamberlain tried the “be kind and do good” route with Hitler and see how history remembers him.
Obviously inflicting emotional trauma isn’t the same as systemic extermination (unless maybe you count the LGBTQ youths who’ve committed suicide after being convinced they were an “abomination,”) but the point is the same. People who hurt people have to be called out or it never stops.
And I’ve said from the beginning that I am not “attacking” those Christians who live good lives, love their God and try to be good people. I’m talking about large church organizations, and those who wield the power those orgs grant to do harm.
This blog IS me doing good in the world. It’s calling out a danger, and according to dozens of emails and comments its greatly helping people who’ve been hurt find healing.
So keep your opinions about how I should exercise my spirituality to yourself, and for DAMN sure keep my Grandfather out of your mouth.
Wow, this sounds so familiar. I had many church nightmares that eventually brought me to processing my time in the UPC. Writing my story and analyzing how I was tricked has been so empowering. I was unable to contact my grandfather (WW2 camp survivor) after he rejected the UPC message and was cut off from the family. I had finally decided to contact him anyway after I left the upc, but he passed before I could. I look forward to reading more. Best wishes