*edited - important addition added with asterisks below. A PS/update was added today (12/27/2023)
So I had a wonderful Christmas - seriously, the best one I've had in years! 😊
So don't get me wrong when I say what I'm about to say, here, which in fact is just a reaffirmation of what I believe (in the points later on in the post) - reminding myself (or anyone else with overly religious relatives) that it's okay to believe differently than they do.
It does NOT mean something is wrong with YOU because you don't believe that same way.
It does NOT mean that you're not really a Christian, that you're a bad person, that you worship Satan or are under Satan's influence, that you're a witch or demon-possessed, that you're self-deluded or "ill," or any of the other things that insecure Christians like to say about others who don't believe exactly as they do.
So the impetus for this was something my mother told me my little sister requested tonight - and it shocked me.
She told me what she thought was a funny story, about how my little sister supposedly asked her to anoint her car with oil and pray over it before her car trip (particularly when she returned back to Atlanta from Newport, later this week) - but she was out of olive oil, so she had to use cooking spray, which she thought was hilarious.
Erm - I guess?
I didn't laugh as heartily as my mom did, so she asked if I didn't think that was funny, considering she knows I laugh a lot and have a good sense of humor, so I just said "Oh, I'm just tired, I'm sorry" - just to keep the holiday peace.
It was true that I was tired - but the full truth is that kind of shit just freaks me out lol.
That is because I think anointing cars with any kind of oil and praying over them is not only ineffective (my friend Marian being killed by a drunk driver is proof), but is also just completely effing bonkers!!!! 😆
But I didn't say that - I said I was only tired, to keep the peace, and because she has the right to believe that - but the constantly finding a way to work in her beliefs into almost every conversation does eventually grate on my very last nerve - and now she pulled my little sister into it to support herself.
I feel the same way when people - already knowing my politics are opposite theirs - inject their politics into every conversation, trying to "convert" me by persuasion, intimidation, even bullying to their point of view - and in this day and age, it's usually the same people doing this with both religion and politics, considering the Republican Party has stuck their flag in Christianity as if they have exclusive ownership of Christianity.
(I will say except for the fact that my Mom does not support Trump. She did, but now she doesn't, after January 6th and his evasion of prosecution for his obvious crimes. However, she still supports nearly ever platform he pushed.)
What really disturbed me about this story wasn't that she did what she usually does, which is inject her version of Christianity into every conversation - but the fact that my mom said my little sister requested it - when that doesn't sound like my little sister at all?
TBH, I'm not sure what either of my sisters believe now because I don't talk about faith with them, except in a general sense, because it's none of my business. (Well, I don't talk to my older sister at all).
However, I have gotten the sense that neither of them believe like that anymore, at least to that extent anymore - but that definitely didn't sound like something my little sister would request?
Also, she said my little sister was laughing so hard, in a way she'd never heard her laugh before - which made me wonder if it wasn't true, that R asked her to do this, and instead, R actually thought it was just as bonkers as I did, only she just laughs at the situation, rather than gets freaked out like I do!
Who knows, though - maybe she really did ask my mom?
She does fear confrontation/conflict to the point of sometimes saying one thing to one party and another thing entirely to others to keep the peace/avoid conflict, but she's getting better about that.
Plus as I mentioned - and I will talk about further below - our very religious close family friend was killed by a drunk driver last May, despite anointing her car with oil and praying over it every day - and my little sister and I specifically talked about how none of that ritual and those type of prayers every day protected Marian.
But my mom's story was completely inconsistent with that.
But you see, here's what's also true about my mom - less so now that she's on meds - is that in times past, she has sometimes pulled this dirty trick of dishonestly pulling others in to support her perception and beliefs, just to make it seem like she's right and I'm the only one who sees things the way I do, to try to make me feel like something is wrong with ME for NOT seeing things her way - a subtle form of gaslighting (but born out of insecurity).
And I am NOT talking about it said in a way like "I know I'm not completely crazy because so-and-so noticed it too" sort of way - I mean more along the tone of "EVERYONE else thinks so, you're the only one who doesn't" sort of way.
See the difference?
The former is a self-check of your own perception by bringing in third-party perception - the latter is a dirty trick meant to subtly or not so subtly manipulate, peer pressure, bully or gaslight the other person into feeling like the only one who sees things the way you do and that there is something wrong with YOU for NOT seeing things this way.
*I need to clearly state here that I do NOT think my mom was doing that, this time - I think she was just telling a story she thought was funny - but it was just a reminder of that past stuff, anyway, if that makes sense?*
But even if she was again, and even if it were true that everyone else believed that way, I have the right not to - because hell, look at how many Christians follow Trump, which also freaks me out, considering literally almost everything Trump does and says is the polar opposite of everything Christ said and stood for!
Also, mob rule does not make the mob right - particularly if the mob is full of unhealthy, dysfunctional, untreated, and toxic people, wanting to hang somebody, some group, or even the supernatural for all their issues! 😂
Now - we all know that the reason people pull that "everyone thinks so" trick is actually out of their own insecurity/shaky belief system that they refuse to ever question, just to get you to feel outnumbered - to get you to cave to (untruthful) peer pressure, just so that they feel stronger and "right" - but of course I didn't know that, as a child, and my mom had the whole church AND the whole family behind her, at the time.
Because if they really wanted to get you to check yourself before you wreck yourself, they wouldn't pressure you like that - they'd just gently ask you to reconsider your perception of that person (sometimes harsher if that person is falsely accusing you personally), right?
*And again, I do NOT think she was doing that, this time, I think she was just telling a story - but it was a reminder of things past I didn't want to remember. *
And even though I know all of that intellectually now, as an adult - tell that to the gaslighted little girl apparently still deep inside, right?
Because that old fear of something being wrong with me, or the way I believed (or didn't believe), started to creep up again 😕
Thus, I'm writing out what I believe here, to myself or to whomever also has overly religious parents, to remind myself (and whomever) that I/we have the right to believe differently and it doesn't mean there is something wrong with us for believing differently - it doesn't mean we're not really Christians, that we're deluding ourselves, under Satan's influence, or any of that BS.
So for starters on what I believe, obviously, I am not charismatic evangelical anymore.
After being agnostic, even atheist for a while in my early 20s, I am now confirmed Episcopal since 2007 - but I don't even agree with their entire doctrine - and unlike most other Christian denominations, that's okay with Episcopalians.
In fact, that's one of the many reasons I chose the Episcopal church is that they don't demand that you believe anything or do A, B, and C to be Episcopal or even Christian, nor that you adhere to every iota of church doctrine.
Also, anyone can have communion with us, even non-Christians - because we don't believe it's the actual body of Christ after a priest blesses it, like Catholics do, it's merely symbolic - and we also don't want to "shut the door to the kingdom of heaven" in anyone's face for not following overly rigid, merciless law, like Christ said of the Pharisees.
We also allow for the possibility that we are wrong, which is unusual for most churches.
The only suggestion is that we inform the person of the symbolism of communion of ingesting Christ into your soul first so that they know what it means, but even that is common courtesy and not prerequisite.
You can even vary in your interpretation in scripture and that's okay; in fact, the clergy often enjoy discussion of these differences without feeling threatened because it makes them think and vice versa - it's a more rational, thinking person's/intellectual approach to spirituality rather than solely emotionally-based or fear or shame-based.
And if you don't adhere to every single bit of church doctrine or believe everything, nobody says you're not a Christian, that you worship Satan, or whatever else other types of Christians say out of their own spiritual insecurity.
(I'm not saying that there are no Episcopalians like that, particularly in the South, but the church itself makes no demands for church attendance or who to call Christians - that's a personal journey.)
I've also studied comparative religion at a college level and find that wisdom can be gleaned from all faiths, that no modern religion is pure (all having incorporated prior beliefs into their religion, to include Christianity), and that the original Koine Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic words actually used in original scripture do not mean what what most moderns Christians have repeatedly misinterpreted them to mean.
I also learned just exactly how much was removed from the bible at the Councils of Nicene and Trent conventions centuries ago because they didn't fit the church doctrine under the guises of "unable to prove authenticity" and thus were either deemed "apocrypha" and removed from modern bibles or they were completely destroyed and we have no idea what they were.
"Unable to prove authenticity" is of course is an absurd excuse for removing anything from the original scriptural text because you don't like it, considering you actually can't prove any of this stuff actually happened the way the bible says it did or who wrote what, when, anyway! 😂
This is why the bible often appears to contradict itself or appear disjointed - because stuff was removed and misinterpreted in English, often intentionally because it did not fit church doctrine!
In fact, the only "miracle of faith" in the bible that I've personally witnessed with my own eyes is how the message of Christ miraculously survived all of the chopping, slicing, dicing , and unintentional/intentional language misinterpretations from original languages that went on, based on what served the church doctrine and politics!
(This is why Jesus's words of love and mercy and forgiveness appear so different than everyone else's message in the bible - because it somehow miraculously survived the chopping! lol)
But I digress, back to the impetus for this post - and specific to things my mother said yesterday, and specifically tonight - here are my beliefs:
1) I believe that Christianity is mostly about stewardship for others - not to make ourselves feel better and uplift ourselves, using Jesus like a drug.
On a related note, that stewardship for others should NOT be done with the goal of converting others/saving souls, like a return on an investment - Christ did things for non-believers all the time, and sometimes they converted, sometimes they didn't, and sometimes we don't know - proof that conversion to Christianity wasn't the point.
The missed point by most Christian missionaries is, Christ did these things to end their suffering out of nothing more than his own compassion - period..
In fact, Christ never demanded anyone to do anything, and he only had one commandment: "Love your neighbor as yourself" - and that "All law should hang on love," specifically repudiating old-testament merciless law.
What he did NOT say was "Love your neighbor as yourself ... only if they are ____ " ... Christian, white, male, straight, legal immigrant, Republican " or whatever else Christians today fill in that blank with in order to justify your own fear, prejudice, and insecurities.
He healed non-Christians and Christians alike, sometimes making behavior suggestions later to avoid their own suffering/the suffering of others, but never demanding - but mostly, he healed and helped just because someone asked him to, Christian or not, and sometimes even when they didn't ask, just out of his own compassion.
In fact, he directly defied OT/Levitican law at least twice by healing on the Sabbath, as well as touching lepers - which was punishable by death according to Levitican law, because lepers were erroneously believed to have contracted the disease due to sin!
Speaking of Christ's only commandment earlier, note that Christ said "Love your neighbor AS yourself " - NOT more than yourself.
Because there is love and then there's codependency/enabling - letting unrepentant, unremorseful behavior go just because you're married to them, they're your family, or because share your religious or political beliefs is not love, it's enabling and not good for them OR you, and Christ never demanded us to be martyrs on his behalf - he said we would suffer, but HE is the martyr that paid the price, not us.
Christ was well aware of love versus enabling, or he wouldn't have made those behavioral suggestions, now, would he? He would've left it at "love your neighbor" alone - but he didn't. He told us specific ways we could better love our neighbors, didn't he?
And yes - he said to forgive 70x7, sure - but he never said to forget, nor to keep putting ourselves in harm's way repeatedly from harmful behavior, and/or enable unremorseful people we love or whose political/religious opinions we share.
Because in fact, forgiveness is NOT about the other person who wronged you or others at all - forgiveness frees YOUR soul from the the cycle and contagion of emotional pain.
It frees you from bitterness, which can increase the likelihood that you will cause others pain (sin) out of your own pain and perpetuate the cycle and spread the disease.
So sometimes you have to love and forgive people from afar to free your soul from pain and bitterness, and yet at the same time, still keep yourself safe.
Speaking of those suggestions, yes, he suggested repentance in some cases (usually within the church/temple congregation itself, not those on the outside).
And he suggested "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" as well as the one commandment already mentioned of "Love your neighbor as yourself."
He did NOT say "because the goal of doing nice things for others in Christ's name will cause them (or force them) to convert/save their soul." - that's not genuine compassion of Christ, that's expectation of return on investment, as well as it negates free-will choice.
Now - if they are drawn to Christ because you did these things, great - but that should not be the goal or the motivation for you doing nice things for others, or else it's not sincere compassion.
The goal should be emulating the compassion of Christ for others and extending the same mercy to others as he extended to you - period.
2) Conversely, I believe that the most effective prayer is about the self, change of the self, not changing our situations or others around us - i.e, "Help me have the patience and the strength to deal with my situation; help me gain insight and find the wisdom to make a good decision" - that sort of thing.
It is NOT "If I just say a certain prayer in this certain way, say or do A, B, and C, it's like a combination lock that is going to get me what I want or think should be done/"
And when praying for others, it's similar prayers - for them to be able to endure their trials and tribulations - for strength, wisdom, patience, etc.
You certainly CAN pray for healing, etc., there's nothing wrong with that - it's just been more effective and realistic for me to pray for better handling of situations than pray for them to go away.
But also, I don't think we should use types of prayers as a measuring stick of someone else's actual Christianity. We're not qualified, only Christ himself gets to determine who's really a Christian and who is not.
Also, you're demanding it of God as if it is your birthright, as if you're entitled to it, instead of asking him for it - and if you expect it to happen because of something YOU said or did, that's not giving the power or glory to God, that's giving yourself power.
And then in that sense of thinking you can control the outcome by "incantation" prayers, could somebody please tell me the difference between that kind of Christian belief and the witchcraft other Christians fear more than anything?
In fact, it gives both religions - Christianity and witchcraft - the illusion of their control over the outcome of situations, when we actually have none.
If God chooses to help you, he might - but then again, he might not - and we cannot presume that it's because of something we said or did that he did so.
So I find that whenever I pray for strength, patience, or wisdom for myself, I am never disappointed - but if I pray for healing, rescue, or salvation from circumstances - which I may or may not have gotten myself into anyway - I am almost certainly disappointed.
3) I do not believe that God, Jesus, nor the Holy Spirit actually "speak" to everyday Christians on a regular basis.
Perhaps with certain special people and/or in certain special situations, maybe, but not everyday people, every day.
Further, I believe that people that believe like this often have undiagnosed mental illness, that if the church/the family continues to enable as "prophecy," it never will be diagnosed.
I've seen that myself in several people, including my own mother, who was enabled for decades as "prophecy" rather than mental illness - mental illness that was NOT the result of the trauma my dad inflicted.
That is NOT to minimize the PTSD she also has, inflicted by my father - but she is also bipolar with an additional disorder (likely schizoaffective disorder, like her genetic brother and father) - because bipolar disorder alone does not typically cause you to hallucinate or have unusual religious-power beliefs or fixations.
In other words, I've seen firsthand mental illness masquerading as "prophet of God" and be enabled by churches like this for far too long, and thus, why this kind of talk terrifies me.
I believe that sometimes, the soul is grieved, perhaps even prompted by the holy spirit to reach out to hurting others or to avoid certain things, etc., but actually speak to you? No, except perhaps in life-threatening situations, but and even then, sometimes it's just our own human instinct or conscience prompting us.
So how did I get here?
Well, this actually began yesterday, though it wasn't TOO bad - though she did spend a good deal of time proselytizing to my Catholic husband (as well as trying to dig around in my husband's psyche, which is another issue I won't get into here, her former career being a psychiatric nurse for 4 years back in the 80s), while my little sister and I were cooking.
Mark tolerated this like a champ - but he told me later it really, really bothered him, and the only reason he didn't tell her to shut up/leave him alone was because she was my mother lol
Now, I need to stress that we both respect her right to believe this way - we just don't like having her personal religious beliefs shoved down our throats every 10 minutes - but and also don't want her to feel like she has to walk on eggshells around us, when in her mind, she's expressing her faith and "testifying" to the glory of God.
So what to do?
It seems efforts to subtly change the subject, even tell her how uncomfortable we are with the detail with which she goes in on this stuff makes us uncomfortable (without saying why) have had no effect.
And it really didn't bother us TOO much, yesterday, it was Christmas and you focus on the best in each other, right?
But then she called me tonight and told me some of that supernatural power stuff, including my little sister in it to support herself, and that was the straw that broke the camel's back.
I didn't say anything at the time, but it really stuck in my craw and I realized I had to get in touch with WHY it bothered me so much before I said anything about it, or if I even should?
In fact, I prayed myself about the best way to do it - how to balance her feelings and right to her beliefs versus my own, no one's feelings being more important than anyone else's.
After spending some time trying to get in touch with what was really at the root of why this bothered me so much, I determined that the reason it bothered me so much was - fear.
Because I have seen my mother hallucinate stuff that wasn't there and claim it was the devil, and tell me that God told her stuff that was not in her/other people's best interest - and it was mental illness, not God - and thus, it bothers me because it reminds me of those times and thus absolutely terrifies me.
It takes me back to the time when I didn't see these things she did, and I was gaslighted into believing I was the mentally ill one for NOT seeing demons in our chimney or something, and worse, finally expressing that to her as a teenager, that that I thought she had greater mental illness going on than the trauma dad inflicted.
Now - don't get me wrong - I appreciate all of her prayers and as I said, she means well - and I don't want to step into trying to control how SHE prays - we just pray differently and expect different results, and her form of prayer literally terrifies me.
Like I said, I believe the God might help you out, if he chooses to - but it's NOT because you said just the right "incantation" or preformed the right ritual lol.
I mean, it's okay if you do these things, in my mind, but to actually expect that God or negative energy or whatever will comply with your prayers or demands is arrogant folly.
Case in point - my "mother" when my mom couldn't be, Marian, prayed over her car trip every day, claimed "the blood of Jesus over it," anointed it with oil - and was hit and killed by a drunk driver this past May.
There was no one more faithful to God and who had the compassion of Christ than Marian - so I know that it had nothing to do with how she prayed or didn't pray, that day or any other time,. Despite her prayer, God didn't protect her, God didn't save her or rescue her, for whatever reason - it was just her time.
In fact, the only place that I could even see God at all in that situation was the fact that the doctor said she was put into a coma immediately, brain dead, until the family made the decision to remove life support- meaning she likely felt no pain whatsoever since the moment it happened, and further, that when they disconnected her, she was held and sung to by her entire family, singing her to sleep.
God neither protected her nor caused this to happen - we credit and blame God for too much - HOWEVER - he DID show up - just not in the way we humans think he should.
Regardless, subtle subject changes, mentioning how uncomfortable we are has had no effect, so it was time to get direct - so I chose to say this, which is verbatim via text - wish me luck/pray for me? 😂
"Mom - I need to say why I didn't laugh about the cooking spray (used as anointing oil for my sister's car before her trip, which my mom said was per my little sister's request?) as much as you perhaps hoped.
I want to allow you to believe whatever way you want to, if it helps you - but please also know that I'm extremely uncomfortable, even fearful, of that kind of belief that our prayers in a certain way can control the outcome of events, or that God speaks directly to us.
I believe in rare or dangerous situations, it's possible, but not on a regular basis. In fact, I don't see much difference between that kind of prayer and witchcraft, and further, mental illness.
In fact, I have seen mental illness masking itself as hearing from God, and thus, it terrifies me.
Thus, just as you ask us all to refrain from ever using the F word out of sensitivity of your history (with my Dad), may I ask that you be sensitive to mine - and not continue to to push that kind of faith?
I appreciate your prayers and your right to believe as you do, but please allow me the right to not believe that we hear from God or the Holy Spirit speaks to you or to anyone else directly on a regular basis, or that anointing this with oil, or anything else we humans think we can do will protect us.
If God chooses to protect us, he will, and not necessarily because we ask or do A, B, and C - that's what I believe.
If you believe that way, and it helps you, I respect that - and from what you're telling me, X (my little sister) does too, because she asked you to do it?
That surprised me. I respect whatever you all believe, but please understand that I do not. I do not believe that Jesus, God, or the Holy Spirit literally speaks to us on a regular basis and I'm never going to believe that way again because I don't think it's healthy, I'm sorry.
Feel free to continue to (believe that way), but pushing it on Mark and myself is actually having the opposite effect than you want, I'm sorry.
I love you and don't want you to talk on eggshells around us, but if you could just look at it like it's MY "F word" - your version of faith 😂
Thank you for understanding. I hope."
She might be upset - but I cannot apologize for this boundary.
I love my Mom, I truly do, but it's finding that balance of her feelings versus mine that I have trouble with, right?
PS - My mother responded that she didn't know we were uncomfortable because we never said so.
Sigh. Of course, that is not true.
I've told her that many times - just not as assertively as that text.
We've just done it more subtly - we've changed the subject, subtly hinted, made jokes and I've even told her straight up that I believed "incantation" styles of prayer not only sets me up for disappointment, but literally scares me, because I know too many mentally ill people that were enabled out of diagnosis and treatment for far too long by their churches and families as being "prophets/prophetesses" who actually weren't - they were mentally ill.
In fact, I wrote a post about how I'd mentioned it during our LGBTQ conversation, which ended me if asking if I even believed Jesus was the son of God anymore (and I said of course I do, and that anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion should NOT be requirements for being a Christian - that's a modern addition).
Regardless, interestingly, in that text, she changed her story - she said SHE asked Ru if she wanted her to pray and anoint her car with oil and not the other way around - though I'm 100% positive she said Ru asker HER, yesterday.
In fact, this is pretty close to verbatim: "R asked me to anoint her car with oil and pray over it. She likes me to do this, particularly when she goes back to Atlanta."
First of all, that was not the sense of R's religous beliefs that I got, as I stated.
Secondly, why would R believe her car needed more "holy oil" to go back to Atlanta, where she lives, when she loves Atlanta and would never leave it, more than any other city she visits?
That part especially sounded more like my mom's semi-racist beliefs about Atlanta - meaning that because everyone knows Atlanta has a higher-than-the-national-average percentage of people of color, race-biased people assume that Atlanta then must also have one of the highest crime rates in the U.S., when in fact, Atlanta ranks about 17th in the U.S. as far as crime!
I'm not sure why my mom said that - I think it was some mix between wanting to support her own beliefs and wishful thinking, but whatever, I let it go and moved on.
Then I told her for many people, faith is a personal, private issue they don't discuss with everybody, and that many people get very uncomfortable when it's injected into almost every single conversation - especially when that person already knows we believe differently.
Because she DOES know I don't believe like her anymore and she knows my husband is Catholic, and believes completely differently than my mom does.
So I told her that Mark and I both felt uncomfortable for different reasons - but that mine went beyond discomfort to flat-out fear (due to the above) - but he's simply uncomfortable because it's talked about with arrogance and assurance, and it always feels to him like she's trying to convert him to her way of believing or save his soul, because she assume he needs it because he's Catholic! lol
Whatever - as long as she knows that now, very clearly - we're good.
We had a great time otherwise and would visit again, but we decided it was time to place the boundary a little bit more firmly and clearer before we visit again.
There was something else said that really, really disturbed me, and not about faith, which I won't go into here, but I think I just need to take a deep breath and have a bit of a rest for a few days before we engage again - I've been going nonstop since before Thanksgiving and that won't help my diplomacy skills lol.