Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Personal Faith Statement

Katie and I have decided to join Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church. We will get baptised and become new members on Sunday, March 30 during the 11:05 service. We'd love to see you sitting in one of the pews that day if you can make it.

In the new members class we were asked to express a personal faith statement. It could be a simple oral statement of our beliefs, or we could write it out and read it to the class. I decided to write mine out. I'm terrible at on-the-fly public speaking. I get nervous and shaky and my mind goes blank. When I'm speaking to people I don't know very well, I at least need prepared notes, and it's even better if I can just do a reading without having to look up from the page.

I had a week to write my personal faith statement, so of course I didn't start writing it until 9:30AM on the morning when we were due in Sunday School at 10:00AM. We live just five minutes from church, but still, after all the booze I drank last night I was really hoping to get a shower before I had to present myself in front of my peers at church. Nothing is worse than sitting in a pew next to someone and worrying if they're thinking "P.U." because they can smell the beer emanating from your pores.

I read once that some people procrastinate not because they're lazy slackers but because they're perfectionists. I like to present my slacker facade to the world,--oh I'm so laid back and easy going, no worries here--but what's really radiating from deep inside me is fear.

When I was twenty, one of my community college instructors who was also the music editor of a local paper offered me a writing job. I immediately turned him down.

"You have a fear of success!" he said to me.
"Or is it a fear of failure?" I asked.
"It's the same thing, really. They both come from the same source: insecurity," he said to me.

It's true. How does a person who has not yet found inner peace share her story with the outside world? I had far too much work to do on myself to begin a writing career when I was twenty years old.

When I as forty years old, I thought I was finally ready for my writing career to begin. My brother had just died of alcoholic liver failure. I had spent twenty years "working on myself" and was in a really good place. I had long ago forgiven my brother and his friend for sexually abusing me when I was a young child, but I had not shared our secret with too many people outside the inner circle of my close friends and family, and the secrecy weighed heavily on me. It's hard to let go of shame when you can't express it openly. I decided to write about it.

I began this blog in July 2011 with two goals in mind:

1) Improve my mental health and help others by openly expressing myself and sharing stories of my struggles and how I've learned to make peace with them.

2) Impress a literary agent with my amazing way with words so that she or he would email me a contract, find me a publisher, and I would become a rich and famous author who travels the world and heals it one book reading at a time.

So far so good with goal number one. I can't tell you how wonderful it feels to hear someone tell me that one of my blog posts has helped them feel better. I feel like responding that makes both of us. Expressing myself is healing in and of itself. Knowing that my stories help other people is a blessing beyond measure.

Several people at my new church, after reading one of my blog posts, have told me I have a calling. A calling? Holy shit. The pressure. Now I'm not just writing for my own mental health, or for my readers' health, but for God itself? You've got to be kidding me. I can't do that!

But wait a minute. Maybe I can.

I'm no longer the insecure twenty year old turning down a writing gig. I've grown more confident over the years. Perhaps too confident in my self. Now that I've decided to join Grace Covenant, I realize I'm no longer the forty-year old who so arrogantly jumped to conclusions that she could take a horrible event and turn it into gold and make herself a star. That's really shitty now that I think about it. I'm sorry, Brother Pat. I hope you can forgive me. (I know you can.)

It's been three years since my brother died. I'm no longer ashamed to share our secret, but I'm also no longer interested in turning our painful story into literary gold.

My mental health improves each day. I've met the objectives of goal number one. But I think it's time to retire goal number two. Instead of focusing on the gold in my pocket and being a shimmering star, it's time to focus on another kind of light. It's time to acknowledge that something bigger than me guides me to write. Something bigger than me shows me the way. Something bigger than me heals me and helps me heal others. That's a scary concept for a sexual abuse survivor. When you're a young child who is abused by an older person, you associate "big" with something to fear.

For many years I didn't fear God's bigness. I said fuck you to it.

I can take care of myself, I thought.

I don't need anyone else. I am strong and brave and smart and independent, I said.

But now I think I was wrong. I don't begrudge myself my former agnostic beliefs. I think they were a necessary path for me to travel to get to where I am today.

So where am I?

I'm ready to profess my faith. Here's what I read to my new member's group today. This is the reason I stunk like beer in the pew this morning. Instead of showering, I was busy transcribing the Holy Spirit's message into my personal faith statement:

I got drunk last night with a cultural "Assemblies of God" Christian who, as an adult, now calls himself an agnostic, and a cultural Muslim who, as an adult, now calls herself an atheist--my husband and our good friend Sarah B. This is a long ramble to explain my haste in putting together this sloppy personal faith statement.

My haste and my sloppiness, as well as my actions of getting drunk with an agnostic and an atheist, are an apt metaphor for my beliefs. God guides me in unusual ways.

I believe in God, the Creator of the universe. Because energy cannot be created nor destroyed, I believe all living beings are not static entities that are born and then die, but beings filled with this energy that neither begins nor ends but continues on its path. When we humans die, our physical bodies are eaten by detritivores and become one with the earth again. Worm poop is beautiful. Our souls, our Spirit, our inner energy--whatever you want to call it--continues its path in a different incarnation. I do not know what to call it. Reincarnation. Not necessarily. Just molecules of energy continuing to beat its path.

I believe that Jesus of Nazareth preached to us a way of living together in harmony on this planet. I do not believe that a person must follow The Bible literally or slap labels onto him or herself in order to be a "good" person or to achieve eternal life in the afterlife. I believe all life flows on its path. I do not believe in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell. I believe these concepts have been used (and misused) to encourage people to act morally by those that are in power.

I have decided to join a Christian church and slap a label on myself because I am tired of other so-called Christians hogging the label. Too often in contemporary society when we hear the word "Christian" it is followed by news of hate and judgment, not love and peace. I would like to change that cultural perception by calling myself a Christian while living an example of love and peace. I want to help my fellow humans--and other living inhabitants of our planet. I think joining this inclusive, loving, Christ-like community will help me help others.

My two favorite quotes from The Bible, which I try to follow, are these:

1. Matthew 22:36-40 NRSV
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest? He said to him 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."

2. Matthew 5:44 NRSV
"But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."

I believe all living beings are filled with an inner energy that connects us all to each other. Humans can tap into their inner energy through prayer, or meditation, or introspection. You can call this The Holy Spirit or inner energy. Whatever its name, it guides me each day if I listen to it. This inner energy has led me here.

In Peace and Love,
Becky Carleton