The priest was good and God was great;
life was a holy mission.
They said my friends would burn in hell,
and then I had some questions.
I started drinking wine when I was seven years old.
My mom took me to a store in Portland to pick out a very specific dress for the occasion. That Sunday I stood side by side with my peers in our itchy new clothes lined up to marry Jesus.
Lots of things were said by the grownups and we repeated the words just as we were taught. We had a cracker and a sip of wine. And we were told we would be saved. For now- as long as we didn’t sin before next week.
And in the inevitable case that we did sin- well, we were given the opportunity to sit alone in a small dark box with a chubby old man that you could smell but not see. We tell him the naughty things we had done and ask for his forgiveness. We recite more words. As long as we did that, we were allowed to have wine again that Sunday. It always made me cringe and feel not good enough, but hey, I should feel lucky that I have a chance to confess.
I confessed in the dark, I drank my wine in the light, and hoped I was good enough to be saved.
As I got older and refused confession I would sit in the pew as people shuffled past my knees to get in line for communion. With each hushed “excuse me” all I heard was “shame, shame”.
I always noticed my aunties took gulps of their saving grace, not sips, with slightly shaky hands. I would try to take a bigger gulp each week to seem more grown-up like them. I would anxiously glance around the church for a nod of approval that never came.
Now I am an auntie and I gulp my wine in the shower on a week day afternoon, no longer as a child under the blessing of a sweaty man in a robe looming over me.
I don’t look for approval in my wine any more, but perhaps sometimes I do still look for it to save me.
And Lord knows it does.
i was never
never went to church
unless my grandma
i never had to
bite down on
the straw that fed me
filled with self hate and
but i felt it.
when my grandma visited,
i could feel something wrong
with the air
or maybe it's just that
the act of
dressing up nicely and
who couldn't accept me.
once i had a friend
tell me i was going to hell.
i had other friends tell me
that i could be whatever i wanted
talk about it.
i brushed them off,
religion was made
afraid of their own
death never scared me,
even before i started
flirting with it.
i never knew the brutality
of coming out to a christian family
because my family was never really
i never had to decide
between god and my life.
i never had to decide
between heaven and hell
because i had never been brainwashed
into believing in all-or-nothing.
i never had to reevaluate my life.
i never had to force myself onto a new path.
i never had to change
because i was raised to believe in evolution.
i never had to argue with the science teacher about
the age of the universe.
i never had to rethink
because i was taught to think.
by Aaron Willis
Eve woke to a sunny morning in the garden. Yesterday it rained and the plants, lush and quenched, swayed in the morning breeze carrying the scent of wet soil. Adam snored and turned over, kicking as he did and clipped Eve in the belly, knocking her breath out for a second. She looked him over. A hairy-faced, hairy backed lummox. He hadn’t bathed in the pool by the waterfall for sixteen moons and his stench was deafening. Eve went to gather breakfast and to breathe fresh air.In a broad leaf, Eve collected some of the purple berries she loved and a few figs and nuts. She enjoyed them in silence on the hillock overlooking the waterfall. But her peace didn’t last long. Adam stirred. “Eve! Where are you woman?” She chewed silently, didn’t answer, wanted to pretend she hadn’t heard so she could extend the serenity for a few more seconds. “Eve!” He bellowed and stomped through the ferns.She shrank into herself as she sat, dreading. Now he would be angry. He searched and his eyes fell on her, his brow furrowed. “Why didn’t you answer? Did you forget how to listen you stupid bitch?”Eve stammered, “ Saw a humming...”He stood over her with hands on hips. “You what? I can’t hear you. Now I’ve forgotten how to listen.”Eve swallowed, “I saw a hummingbird, I didn’t want to frighten it away. It was so lovely.” Adam sat next to her, took the leaf out of her hands and funneled the berries and nuts into his gullet with one motion. “Why don’t you get some more,” Adam suggested, and with a stern look in his eyes made it clear it was not just a suggestion. Eve flinched, rubbed a bruise on her left arm and stood. He threw the leaf at her chest with a slap. “Be quick about it. Don’t get distracted by hummingbirds. If I have to find you again, you won’t like it.”Eve strode away, eager to be away from his stare and stink. She tried to remember happier times with him. He did save her from that wild animal, and in his arms she felt safe. And it was frightening to think of being alone. Eve wished a wild sabre-toothed anything would stroll through on a daily basis so his anger would be aimed at it instead of her.“You belong to me,” he told her when they first met. “You were made for me. My cloud friend told me. He made everything. He took one of my bones and made you.”Eve replied, “Where is your friend? I’ve never seen him.”Adam stood over her thrusting his chest into her. “You think you could see him? You think you’re worthy? Did you hear what I said? You’re from my bone! You’re a piece of me. Why would he appear to you? You’re less than me, a chunk of bone! You don’t get to ask questions about my cloud friend. You don’t get to question me about anything. I don’t take questions from bits of skeleton.”Eve snapped back into the present. A tree stood in front of her, its branches far above her reach, or even Adam’s reach. Among the leaves, red ripe fruit hung tantalizingly, dewdrops gathered on the underside. Neither of them had ever had it, and she wondered about its flavor, the texture. He came stomping through, found her staring up.Adam placed his hands on his hips. “Those. Yeah, I saw those a few days ago. Can’t get to ’em.”Eve pointed at one on the lowermost branch. “Could you get that one? If you jumped? I think it might be bigger today, heavier. It should be lower and...”Adam readied himself. He ran a few paces, jumped and scraped wildly at the air below the fruit, landed on his knees. He circled back, leaped again, stretched his arms out, but missed. On his third try, he started at a sprint, leapt and crashed sideways into the trunk. He cried out and tumbled into the grass, a deep gash in his forehead. Adam put his hand up to the wound, stared at the blood. Eve hid a smile behind her hand but when he looked over, changed her eyes to that of shock.“Oh no! Are you ok?”Adam sulked and furrowed his brow into a scowl. “It’s nothing. I just remembered my cloud friend said we shouldn’t eat those anyway. Said they were forbidden and bad things will happen if we get them, so that’s why I got hurt for trying.”He shuffled off to wash his wound by the waterfall pool. Seemed he always brought up his invisible friend every time he had a shortcoming. Eve plotted. She loved to make crowns by weaving the grasses on the hillock. She figured if she weaved enough of them together they could make a long rope and she would be able to pull down the branch.For the next few days Eve wove several small wreaths, and linked them together. The chain got longer and longer. Adam still sulked about his wound all week and kept to himself on the rock face, striking sparks with some flint. She only saw him when he came to the flattened nook where they slept. Most nights he would crush her underneath and thrust away as if she were nothing more than a...piece of his own skeleton. That week, he didn’t try to insert himself. He came back smelling of the fermented grapes, turned away from her, elbowed her in the ribs, then fell to snoring. Eve counted his ribs while he slept. None appeared to be missing. She doubted the cloud friend existed.When the chain was long enough, she went to the tree and threw the loop up four times and missed. On the fifth try, she caught the branch and the chain held. Eve wrapped the slack around her wrist, pulled and reeled in a little at a time. The branch got lower and lower. She felt the chain loosening and ripping in places. Before it broke altogether, Eve managed to grab two of the red fruit off the branch, and tumbled onto her back in victory.She sat on the hillock and bit into the firm juicy flesh. It was delicious and tart. She thought of eating both apples, but she decided to give the other one to Adam with a twofold agenda: to do something nice so he wouldn’t be mad, and to show she did something he couldn’t; which would make him mad. Eve wanted to be daring. She was more clever. She gathered the food. She solved problems. She kept them going. All he did was kill an animal once. He made things ugly and fearful. He was mean and forceful. What if all other food was gone and the last thing left was the apples? They’d starve. If not for Eve.She strode up as he lay back throwing from a pile of stones into the pool below the waterfall. Eve gently placed the apple in his lap. Adam absently picked it up and took a bite, threw another stone. Eve waited for a reaction slow in coming. After another bite, he finally looked at it. “Where’d you find this? Have we had this before?”Eve sat and smiled proudly. “No, we haven’t had this before. It’s from that tree.”Adam bit again and mumbled, “What tree?”Eve leaned forward, staring insistently. “That tree.”A few chews and then his jaw stopped. “No you didn’t. It fell off and you picked it up off the ground.” His eyes searched her for deception. “You can’t jump higher than me.”Eve said, “I made a rope to pull the branch down.”Adam studied her gaze and she returned it, defiantly. He broke the stare and stood up grasping a large stone from the pile. Eve brushed off some dirt from her thighs, began a list of things to say she’d been rehearsing. “There are going to be changes. First, you don’t touch me unless I want it. And I never want to be hit, pinched, slapped, called names, or yelled at. Second...”Adam said, “Look, a hummingbird.”Eve spun her head and he brought the stone down on the back of her skull. Before she lost consciousness, she smelled copper and felt a an itchy stickiness slide into her eyebrow.Eve woke to smoke everywhere. She stood and coughed, braced her arm over her mouth. Staggering here and there, she wove past burning grass, trees and bushes. The apple tree was blazing brighter than all else and looked to have a pile of blackened logs and brush at its base.Out of the garden area and into a clearing she found Adam, arms crossed and scowling. Smoke stained and sweat streaked, he resembled an animal.“What happened?” She asked.Adam hissed, “You ruined it. You ruined everything. You weren’t supposed to eat from that tree, I told you. I burn....it burned down. My cloud friend was angry.”Eve blinked and surveyed the torrent of flames that used to be home. “You burned it?”“No, my cloud friend did it. Told me to. He did it. Because you couldn’t do as you’re told. Now we have to find a new home. Come on, you bitch.”Adam grabbed her by the arm, but Eve wrenched it away. Her beautiful spot on the hill above the waterfall: destroyed. The lovely plants, the figs and nuts. Gone. Gone because of this brute. Her eyes seethed with rage and her lip quivered ready to scream. She stood with fists balled. They stared, neither blinking while ashes floated by.Adam held out his arm, gestured away from the blaze. “You coming?”
I am standing at the back of a church. The floor is a smooth expanse of red carpet, and there is a hallowed, protective feel within—the rest of the world might be destined for damnation, but within these walls, we are safe.
Gilded and gothic, its high ceilings and stained glass windows betray its affectation for tradition, but the church looks down on Pentecostal and charismatic practices. We live by faith—and extensive bible studies.
It is a Thursday, bible study day. I have been sick most of the afternoon, a phenomenon I am still unsure as to the nature of, but in a few years' time, a therapist will tell me it is 'an acute anxiety response' and I will think: yes, that is what it feels like.
I joined the church whilst on a year abroad, when I thought my grandmother might be dying and the ache in my chest matched mostly what my idea of desolate isolation must feel like. The pastor talked about belonging and I broke down and cried—but they were happy tears. I was sold a few months later when I sat in a room and a woman came in an hour late and Mona—one of the church volunteers— said only:
'Are you okay? Can I get you some coffee?'
I was looking for a sense of belonging, I was sold on the love, and, later, on the idea that God might heal me.
A trait my friends have laughed at me for is that I throw myself head first into everything I do. I am glass overfilled from the start. At the time, I had no awareness of this, and my initial bursts of energy soon had me roped into activities I didn't want to do.
I didn't want to always have to give food out to the upper middle class who visited on Sunday evenings, didn't want to give up my Friday mornings to church rearrangement, the occasional weekend to cook in a Welsh basement kitchen for a church gathering. I didn't want to be an unpaid nursery manager every Thursday and Sunday morning. I didn't want to be noticed as absent whenever i didn't show up on Thursdays, didn't want to be unforgiven for being busy with work and socialising and having a life.
There were not enough hours in a day for me to cohabit every world I belonged to, and church, I felt, judged me the most harshly for the hours I couldn't give. The enoughs I gave were never enough, and thank yous ran dry very quickly.
'Are you back for good now?' someone asked me drily. I said nothing.
'You've been away a while,' joked someone else.
'Sit down and tell me what happened to you.' a woman intervened—to save my soul, a kindness, I realised.
I felt guilty, scrutinised, like someone in a bad relationship. Guilty—always, perpetually, for everything. Guilty for being stupid enough to be a Christian—idiot, my siblings sneered— guilty for not being strong enough to always defend my beliefs and always be the weird Christian girl who didn't swear—God will help you get there, and accept it, my dearest friends said.
It has to be said, that Christians, the majority, are good people. Great people. I love them dearly. Even the ones who broke up with boyfriends because said boyfriends weren't against gay marriage. Even the ones who looked patient and pained when I said I wasn't straight. And I think I might have stayed, were it not for the Resurrection.
There was something very gross to me about the idea that I should sing hymns and be saved, while the people I loved the most in the world would burn up in flames—and for what? Could God really demand this? It seemed strange, to be absolved of all sin but one.
I believe there is a distinction between what God, or Grace, or the Universe, or Pre-determinism, might want, and what people who believe in God tell you to do. What is written in texts thousands of years old. Because people want power, and money, and more power. People cannot write the sacred down without corrupting it.
And I realised: it is wrong, for me, to stand within these walls, and be saved by a God who would choose me but not the many, many worthier souls I have had the privilege of meeting, some of whom were gay, some of whom made mistakes, but all of whom did not deserve the punishment the Bible promised. And so I walked away, from that gilded, Gothic church.
picture perfect people
It... well, it wasn't about me necessarily.
It was about everyone like me, everyone who didn't fit their picturesque description of what a person was allowed to be.
It was the late-night, mental-claustrophobia-panic-attacks of "I can't do this, I can't do this, I can't do this..."
It was the fake smiles and the forced laughter when someone said a harmful joke.
It was the hypocrisy of worshipping loudly in public to stave off the breakdown that was going to happen a few minutes later.
It was the "God is tempting you, don't look at girls. It's disgusting and it's wrong and if anyone found out they would hate you."
It was seeing your friends make fun of the boy who liked to paint his nails and the girl who wore short skirts because they were sinful and immoral, and laughing alongside them even though all you wanted to do was go up to them and ask, "How do you do it? Where do you find the bravery?"
It was coming to the realization at a young age that God loves everyone except girls who like girls and boys who like boys, everyone except people like you.
They wanted a picture perfect person, but they got me instead. They wanted to change me and "fix" me and cut off all the pieces they didn't like, but I am not dough for them to take a cookie cutter to and create what they want. I'm not done hiding, but one day I will be, and that's when I will shine.
i loved church until i was 17.
i was a freshman in college, and i was young, and i wanted to have a taste of the real world.
i met a boy. and i discovered the wonderful pleasures of what happens when all the clothes come off, and the lights are turned down, and no one else is around.
however, because i went to a Christian college my parents found out, and i was ostracized by my church, humiliated in front of all.
and i began to question how could you punish one person for something so beautiful and lovely that felt so good?
I used to pray to god because I was lonely; and afraid, perdition and fear were all that filled my head, rattling like a coin in a tin can--echoing. Questions that were rebuked and dismissed; dissatisfied I left to find answers and came to the conclusion that you weren't real, none of it ever was, only stories.
Be a Good Girl
I didn't grow up praying at the foot of my bed. I didn't have daily devotionals waiting for me at the table with breakfast. I did grow up Christian, though. I grew up being told that my duties were to please the men above me. I grew up being told that I had to give every part of me to others in order to be happy with myself. Give, give, give.
"You don't need to pay your bills, God will do it for you."
I was told I could pray all of my troubles away. I was told that if my prayers weren't answered, it's because I wasn't praying hard enough or doing enough for this invisible man to be my hero.
Throughout my adolescence, I went to countless youth groups, missions trips, and outings for the church. Growing up, I endured the most judgement, bullying, and hate from people I met "through God" than people I had met on the "outside world". As I grew and became more exposed to others, I began to form my own beliefs. I saw that good people aren't just Christians. In fact, there are bad people in all walks of life, no matter what goodness claims to be there. I felt betrayed, hurt, and lied to by the people that had told me the only "truths" I had known.
My truth now is not Christianity. Now I know that acceptance comes from all kinds of people. Peace is being able to have differing opinions and beliefs without persecution. I didn't learn to love others and myself through bible classes and tithing. I learned supporting others, being encouraging, understanding, and helpful is love. When I was being raised, everything was based off of judgement and doing your duties. Now, my life is full of love. My relationships and decisions are made out of thoughtfulness. I can love my neighbor, no matter their gender, race, preferences, and opinions. Because true love doesn't come with judgement.
Both my parents had been raised in Christian sects, Lutheran and Evangelical, in Germany. I only learned this when I was much older. In Canada, after leaving Germany, they found the Unitarian Church.
This was the religious community I grew up in and in many ways it formed the core of my beliefs. They believe there is only one God. The trinity was never taught, although the Bible was used as a basic guide to push growth in ethical, kind behavior.
This is why I have such a tolerance of diversity and acceptance of different lifestyles now. In our teen years, the Sunday school taught us about all the different major religions of the world. They then proceeded to teach us about the different Christian sects. We went to services at Catholic and Anglican churches, and found our way to a Buddhist temple. We were taught that all humans are our brothers and sisters and love is to be given freely, not because someone is deemed worthy. At Passover we held a Seder dinner to understand our Jewish friends and their traditions.
Love, kindness and caring are not to be meted out like a precious commodity, only when all the conditions are met. If you are straight, if you are the right race, if you are intelligent, if you are beautiful, never came into consideration.
And now I am a free spirit. I don't belong to any one religion but have taken the basic teaching at the center of most of them into my soul. Because at the heart of them all is one kernel of truth; be good, be kind, spread love because this is how we all survive to help each other through life's challenges.
I often feel like I am beating my against the wall of a world which seems to reward lies, cheating, and criminal activity. But I firmly believe that if everyone does their little bit, in their tiny corner, to spread kindness and care, to give love freely, then we can change the world into a much better place. So join me in my daily routine. Compliment at least one person, even if it's the stranger in the elevator. Smile when you encounter a someone walking toward you. And if a person starts to talk to you, listen with an open heart.
You never know when a little act of kindness will be the thing that changes another's life.