My grandma died on Christmas day. Lunch time. A choir sang Christmas carols in the hospital cafe downstairs as her last breath escaped her tired body.
I wasn’t there: I was only six years old. That night in the dark, my mother knelt at my bed. She told me my grandma had gone home to be with grandpa who’d preceded her only four months prior. For two weeks my mom had sat and slept at her mother’s side in the decorated hospital. She’d prayed for her mom to stay and finally let her go.
“I’m an orphan now,” my mom would often say. It was something I’d never really understood until much later. How could my mom, a strong grown-up, be an orphan?
She dreaded the month of December, every year. Hearing Christmas songs made her tear up.
But still, a Christmas tree would appear. We’d have candles, a meal, a celebration with church and school, a book to read.
I tried to fool myself, but that only works for so long.
I think about this now. A season, an anniversary date, a song can cause such a sudden and overwhelming emotion that it can halt your breath. Losing someone during the holidays and then being reminded of it every year as you watch stores being decorated, hear songs played on the radio, must be especially gut wrenching. No wonder my mom dreaded Christmas season.
I didn’t think I was sentimental about dates nor the holidays, until recently. I tried to fool myself, but that only works for so long.
Years of having celebrated Christmas with the kids as a family produced warm fuzzy memories for me. As a mom I shaped a family tradition. Arriving as an immigrant to America without any family nor support, I felt it important to create traditions; you become dependent upon one another. I knew this would change as my kids grew into adulthood, went to college and moved away, yet I didn’t anticipate the effects this would have on me internally. I have always shrugged emotions off: I’m down to earth, I’m not bound to traditions, I’m an atheist.
I didn’t want to buy in to it: the commercialization, the designated date of family celebration.
Watching TV this Christmas Day and overhearing my girlfriend say her sister was spending time with her ex-husband’s family and their children I suddenly started crying. Just a comment. That was all it took. I had been feeling it of course - the absence of my children, the laughter, playing games together, the silliness. Yet, I didn’t want to buy in to it: the commercialization, the designated date of family celebration. Easier said than done when scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, watching TV commercials and all you see are “happy” family get-togethers.
Holidays are hard for different people for different reasons. These last weeks I’ve heard from people who can’t go home as their families don’t accept their sexuality, their partner, their religion or other life choices. Some can’t afford to visit family. Others lost family.
The Hallmark movies aren’t real life. The Instagram photos showcase the best sides of families. Facebook pictures let you see what people want you to see. This much I know.
Just - reach out to others, especially now.
In "Deconstructing My Religion" CBS tells the stories of Ex-Evangelicals: a diverse group of people who left the Evangelical faith of their youth.
Before I watched the special, I had read about it. Mostly positive feedback; people in my community of ex-fundamentalist Christians are happy to see more recognition about the issues we are experiencing in and out of the church when leaving.
I’d read one negative article written by Julia Duin. She called the CBS special a “tiresome diatribe on sex and evangelicals.” Her main criticism of the show was that the special appeared to be one-sided: only people who’d left the evangelical background were interviewed. I thought she had a point and decided to watch the show with an open mind. After all, I believe in fair and objective journalism.
Watching the special it occurred to me that this show was purely about people leaving the Evangelical church, the why of it and the trauma involved. This didn’t require the views of people still in the Evangelical church, as it wasn’t about the people who stayed. The topic was about deconstruction of religion.
Julia Duin comes across as defensive of Evangelicals. She says she didn’t encounter the purity culture (a movement to pledge in sustaining from sex until marriage) in the ’90s even though she covered religion. That makes one wonder. I lived in The Netherlands, even though purity rings were not a thing in my religious community, the purity mentality was preached in evangelical circles across the nation. Ten years ago, my daughter’s friend in Texas was given a purity ring by her brother.
Duin speaks of the movie “A Thief in the Night,” the ’72 movie about the Rapture that terrified young children. She finds it hard to believe that this movie is still being shown in churches today. Well, you better believe it. If it’s not this movie, there are a whole series of new "Left Behind" movies to show to youth groups.
Duin expresses her judgment when she says of Linda Kay Klein, writer of the memoir ‘Pure’: “More than one-third of the show was her complaining about how her rigid upbringing constrained her ability to sleep around later in life.”
Well, I saw the show, and I can tell everyone that Klein was not speaking of “sleeping around,” but even if she did, that would be her prerogative and it sounds like Duin missed the message here.
Duin has a case of plain envy, which she freely admits to: “Of course I am very envious of how Klein got a free 26-minute book trailer on prime time. Guess it’s who you know (and who you want to attack).”
“As I watched, I kept on wondering: What is the purpose of this show?” Duin asks.
Well, since you’re asking…
Chris Stroop, creator of the Twitter hashtag #EmptyThePews said it well: “Making it easier for others to leave and find community.”
Broadcasts such as these bring to the forefront issues that are still very much present in fundamentalist Christian and Evangelical religious communities. People who leave, do so with difficulty and pain. They pick up their lives, find new communities, but still carry the weight of traumatic messages.
As Julie Ingersoll, PhD. says in the special: “Voices critical of the movement deserve to be heard.”
Stroop, Ingersoll and Blake Chastain, host of the Exvangelical podcast, agree that people who left can be seen as stakeholders as they know the Evangelical movement from the inside out.
Ingersoll points out that we are in a critical point in our nation. Ex-Evangelicals are calling our attention to authoritarian threats and outdated concepts that are problematic to democracy.
What hurts me about Duin’s article is her lack of recognizing the trauma people have experienced in churches and the long-lasting effects thereof.
Linda Kay Klein speaks of PTSD symptoms when she talks about shame and the recovery from purity culture. Duin hears “sleeping around.”
Stroop and Chastain speak of watching Rapture movies. They recall stories of kids coming home from school thinking they were “left behind” when their parents weren’t there.
Duin dismisses this “I find it hard to believe churches were still showing that film two decades later, much less that there were huge swaths of evangelical youth who were harmed by it.”
I get it, Julia Duin, you choose not to see the weekly or daily indoctrination that youth across the nation and world are subjected to. You choose to dismiss the psychological effects this has on developing brains. This doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
In Fact, a new documentary is in the make. Former Evangelical Pastor Andy Herndon is telling the story of the Exvangelical community in “The eXvangelicals.”
More and more of our stories are coming out. They are stories of how we overcame feelings of shame and guilt. They are stories of how we are finding new communities and are redefining ourselves. They are stories of abuse, trauma and anxiety. They are stories of rejection, of loosing faith and finding faith.
There was a time in my life in which I thought I was alone. I thought no-one could possibly understand my fears. I hardly understood them myself. In the last couple of years, I have come to know a community of people who came from different religious backgrounds. As I opened up to them I noticed the similar fears and traumas we had in common. I can’t express how valuable it’s been to me to have gained an understanding of myself through the greater Exvangelical community.
Pietje - say Peach-a!