June Converse

My Journey from Awareness to Acceptance to Authenticity

Recently I wrote a blog on spirituality versus religion. The concept of spirituality has been swirling in my mind ever since. As most of you know, I was raised on the Baptist version of God and can no longer accept aspects of that belief system. But I do miss some aspects of that version of God, too.

I live with a murky, confusing duality. Can you miss something you no longer believe? Or does the fact that you miss something mean you do believe but you’re pretending you don’t? I can’t believe in a God who rejects massive groups of people because they don’t say the perfect verses. But I do miss several aspects of my former religious dogma.

What I Miss

I love gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. In the past, I considered these a gift from God. I had “someone” to thank. Now, I acknowledge that nature is a gift of the universe or the Godiverse. I can still feel gratitude but that feels different.

When you spend a lot of time in Bible study and prayer – and  when you believe ‘God so loved the world’ and ‘all things work together’ and ‘more valuable than the birds in the air’ – then you feel special. Chosen. Now, I recognize I am just one of millions of created beings. Sure, I have a bigger brain and I am more evolved than my dog. But I’m no more special than the atheist next door. Let me restate – I AM as SPECIAL as all of creation.

Being part of a church is having a ‘group’. A ready-made place to fit is one of the best and worst parts of organized religion. But a group is often exclusive and judgmental of those not on the inside. I learned this the hard way. Once I started to evaluate my belief system, I was summarily dismissed from the inside track {not everyone dismissed me, but most did}. I’d like to say that I was better than this. But, truthfully, when I look back on that time, I only had friends with the same beliefs. I was as exclusive as the next guy.

Another benefit of being a Bible beating Christian is a readymade excuse TO or NOT TO do xyz. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said – and heard – “I’m waiting on direction from God” or “God hasn’t put that on my heart” or “God told me not to …” or “God told me to …” Want the truth? I never once heard from God. Or if I did, it sounded a lot like what I wanted rather than some outside power. Now when I say yes or no, I have to own it.

Just as I could use a message from God to do or not to do something, I could blame God when it went to shit. Or even better, I could claim that every failure or consequence would eventually ‘work out to the good’. If I could profess God ‘told me to’ then obviously I could blame God when what he told me to do didn’t work out. Now, I have to own my decisions and I have to own the consequences.

One more benefit:  When there is a god in your life, there is always someone to talk too! And in the Christian faith, you believe that somebody is listening and actually cares whether I go for a walk or not.

Treat Other As I Want To Be Treated

I’ve yet to find a belief system that fits. Maybe there isn’t one. Or maybe I’m being too fastidious. Do I need a belief system at all?

When I look at all the belief systems, there is one commonality: Treat others as you want to be treated.

For now, that will be my dogma.

Click HERE for the Journaling Activity that goes along with today's blog.

Do those “John 3:16” signs at sporting events make you want to seek God? Do street-corner pastors make you want to embrace the church? Even when I was a believer, that type of showmanship made me cringe. Instead of bringing people closer, I think those types of display force people away.

The same is true when someone prays for you without your permission.

A touch of background: As many of you know, I had a mental breakdown in April 2012. At that time, I entered an intense inpatient rehab center in Chicago. I went into that center believing in God. I left that place no longer embracing the faith. I have a new view of the Creator and I hold a lot of animosity towards “the church”.  Me and church no longer mix. 

My parents, however, have stayed faithful. They quit going to their church only because it was too difficult physically. That was five years ago. In that time, as far as I’m aware, the pastor has not visited. My mother has been hospitalized numerous times and the pastor did not visit. With one exception, none of the ladies group bothered to keep in contact.That one exception, Barbara, has been faithful to my mom. However, being around her makes me very uncomfortable – she represents ‘the church’ to me. Whenever I’m around her I’m tense and judgmental. She knows this – it’s clear in my body language, the tone of my voice.

“Let Me Pray For You”

After my mother broke her hip and we were in the last days, I answered the phone when Barbara called. As expected, she asked how my mom was. She expressed her desire to come visit. Then, she said, “Let me pray for you.”

So far, so good. Well, sort of. She did not give me a choice. She did not give me a chance to tell her I’d rather she didn’t.  She said, “Let me pray for you.” Without a breath, she started to pray.

You see, right or wrong, I do believe in A GOD but also believe that either He/She/It doesn’t care about me or He/She/It likes to toy with me and see how much it takes to break me. THEREFORE, I WORK VERY HARD TO AVOID GAINING HIS/HER/ITS ATTENTION. This prayer sent me into fear and paranoia.

What I Wished I’d Said

Have you ever lay in bed at night and thought “I wish I’d said …”? When this person began to pray, my emotional mind went haywire. Anger. Embarrassment (for me and her), shock, disapproval and bitterness warred for control. My rational mind was shoved out. Rather than politely (or not politely) stopping her, I was paralyzed. Even after she said amen, my tongue was glued to the roof of my mouth.

I wish I’d said:

If you want to pray for me or us, please do so. But I don’t need to be a part of the experience.  OR

Please feel free to pray for my parents. But I ask that you leave me out of the Godiverse’s presence. OR

Listen, lady, don’t shove your beliefs down my throat. OR

I could have just hung up.  (this would have embarrassed my parents – it’s not a good option) OR

I could have explained the truth of my experience with ‘the church’. I could have told her how my Christian friends left me high and dry. How the church never contacted me or my husband while I was away for those weeks. How the youth pastor never reached out to my daughter. I could have educated her on how the church lets people down, shoves them off the pews and out the door.

What Others Do

I’m lucky to have some new Christian friends. These people do not expect me to follow them to church. I imagine they pray for me. But what they never do is force me to pray.  If they did, they would no longer be in my life. Instead of shoving their beliefs in my face, they quietly prove their love and acceptance. I told these ladies of my experience and each agreed this person was out of line.

I know some of you are faithful Christians. That’s wonderful – wonderful FOR YOU. If you want to pray for me (or anyone), then do so. I don’t need to be there for you to bow your head. BUT DO NOT FORCE ME INTO YOUR BELIEF SYSTEM. I won’t force mine on you either.

Salt in the Wound

The day my mother died, guess who called? The pastor! Wow! What was I supposed to say to him? He asked if we were doing a memorial service. No. He asked if we were doing a graveside service. No. I told him that my mother requested we have a family poker game. As tacky as it sounds, I got a great laugh picturing his face.

But you know what, he should have known my mother’s wishes. He should have known because he should have visited her and talked to her and helped her through all this. Hell, he should have prayed with her – she would have appreciated it.

All of my novels, at least so far, have an element of mental illness within a character. Decide to Hope is the most autobiographical in that I struggle in many ways exactly as the female protagonist.
- J.C.
June Converse with purple hair
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....
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