Grace and the sacraments

I’d like to talk about grace. Specifically, how grace is given and the mechanism for how it flows into the life of the believer.

I was a Protestant/Evangelical for a short time, but definitely not a theologian. So I might not represent the Protestant/Evangelical view on this point correctly. On the other hand, there may be multiple views since there isn’t one governing body among them to define orthodoxy on this point. Even so, I am open to being corrected.

It seems to me that under Protestant/Evangelical theology, there is no explicit “vehicle” to impart grace, no explicitly defined way that grace flows into the life of the believer. It is just sort of like an invisible cloud that somehow appears, surrounds, or is absorbed into the believer’s soul once faith in Christ is exercised. If faith in Christ ceases, the cloud departs. For those who believe in Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS), the cloud never departs.

Protestants/Evangelicals reject the necessity of the sacraments. I have had the impression that they reject the physicality associated with the sacraments. They seem to recoil at the idea that God has instituted something physical as a way to channel grace into the life of the believer. To them, grace is only imparted in an unseen, spiritual manner, like an invisible cloud.

As I have mentioned before, I spent a lot of time in a gnostic cult, where we actually studied different gnostic texts by famous gnostic authors (such as G.I. Gurdjieff and his most famous disciple, P.D. Ouspensky). So I am very well acquainted with it. Gnosticism has two main ideas: 1) there is special, hidden knowledge which is only given to certain people, and this knowledge is what saves people. 2) the physical realm is undesirable, evil, and/or ultimately unnecessary. It needs to be shed and discarded the way a snake sheds and discards his skin.

-The physical is bad!Because of that experience, anytime I see people rejecting the physical, claiming it is unnecessary or bad, my alarm bells go off.

The Church does not teach that special knowledge saves people, and she teaches that the physical is good. So good, in fact, that our physical bodies will be resurrected. Because of this, the sacraments make sense to me precisely because they are physically based.

The Church teaches that the sacraments are the normative “vehicle” through which grace is given to Christians. This physicality speaks to the goodness of the physical creation, to Christ’s humanity and his physical body, to the idea that the physical is good, that God loves the physical, and he uses it for our good.

I take the physicality of the sacraments as evidence for the the Church’s claim about who she is, not as evidence against that claim.

Edited to add: this post is based on a comment I left on a blog called Orthodox Christian Theology.

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When people say, “It’s not a big deal”

Here’s a tip for when people try to talk you into or out of something by saying, “I don’t know why you’re upset. It’s not a big deal.” Say to them, “OK, so since it’s not a big deal to you, then let’s do it my way, since it is a big deal to me.”

scales-balanced
“It’s not a big deal,” is like saying, “See, the scales are balanced.”

I discovered this tip not long after Dad and I got married. He liked my pillow better than his own, so kept taking it and giving me his. I’d take it back, then he’d take it again. He kept telling me that the pillows were the same. I finally realized that he didn’t really believe what he was saying. If he really believed they were the same, he wouldn’t be taking mine. So I told him, “Since they’re the same to you, then keep yours and stop taking mine, because they are not the same to me.” He stopped after that.

This is one reason why it is important to know yourself. I put up with the pillow-swap for a while since I was trying to be nice, didn’t want to rock the boat, and was completely used to keeping my mouth shut about issues that WERE a big deal to me. But when somebody says that something is “no big deal,” or, “they’re the same anyway,” when it IS a big deal to YOU, and they don’t seem the same to YOU, it is manipulative. Don’t fall for it.

scales-balanced-not
If it IS a big deal to YOU, it is OK to say so. In fact, you should say so.

“Don’t be a victim” is victim shaming

I can’t count the number of times the cult leader said, “Don’t be a victim,” or, “You just want to be a victim.” SO MANIPULATIVE.

H/T:

https://healingfromcomplextraumaandptsd.wordpress.com/2016/11/07/dont-be-a-victim-is-victim-shaming/

For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

calvinism-some-lives-matterThe day before Christmas Day is called Christmas Eve. The day before All Saint’s Day is called All Saint’s Eve. All Saint’s Eve is also known as All Hallow’s Eve. Remember in the Lord’s Prayer, when Jesus says, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”? Hallow means holy or it can also mean saintly. So Halloween is short for All Hallow’s Eve or All Saint’s Eve.

In some circles, today is also known as Reformation Day. It is the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation (which is a misnomer but that’s another post that I may or may not write). On this day 499 years ago, a Catholic priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenburg, Germany. The year was 1517.

In memory of what Luther started, I thought it would be a good day for me to describe what it was like for me to be raised under Protestantism’s structural faults. Please do not take this an at attack on any individual Protestant except perhaps Luther himself. I mean this sincerely. For one thing, I know that Protestants are sincere in their beliefs and they have Biblical reasons for believing what they believe. While I disagree with their Biblical interpretations, I also know that it is scary to even contemplate becoming Catholic. At least, it was for me when I first started on my journey to the Church and I’ve heard the same from other converts. So what I am about to say is my experience and is, in some respects, unique to me.

I have thought about this for quite a while, and this is what I see:

  • Protestantism created a lack of unity among my family members, more than 50% of whom are devout Protestants of various denominations who disagree with each other and will not go to the same church, even on Christian holy days such as Christmas or Easter. The fact that nobody perceives this to be a symptom of a larger issue troubles me.
  • The “Bible alone” doctrine made it possible for the cult to be formed and sustained
  • The “Bible alone” doctrine was used to justify child abuse and female denigration in the cult
  • I strongly suspect that the restorationist Protestantism practiced by my paternal grandmother alienated my dad from Jesus through its fundamentalism
  • A nearby Presbyterian church had catechism classes for middle schoolers, and when I was in middle school I decided I wanted to attend them. So I did. After I finished and was baptized and confirmed, I wanted to continue going to church there, but my mother and her husband didn’t want to do that. I walked to church alone on Sunday maybe 2-3 times, then stopped going because it was awkward being there by myself as a young person.
  • T.U.L.I.P. frightened me and provoked my tender conscience almost constantly
  • Protestantism’s early and enthusiastic endorsement of remarriage after divorce contributed to me feeling isolated and lonely for my entire childhood. My mother remarried in a Methodist church in the early 1970s. This made me vulnerable to the false promises of the cult

There really does need to be just one Christian authority. Multiple “authorities” have led to confusion. Adults might not perceve this confusion, being ensconsed in their particular silos, but as a child with parents who were only nominally Christian, I was chronically impacted by it. It was only after I became Catholic, and using Catholic concepts and ideas, could I understand my childhood. Prior to that, it was just chaos and confusion and I had no framework through which to view it.

I wish all of my family members had been as devoutly Catholic as they are devoutly Protestant. If that had been the case, I can’t see how these issues would have arisen. If they all had been Catholic, then the “cracks” in my family and family structure simply would not have been there. Of course, other very positive things would probably not have happened, such as the blessing of my three truly wonderful, amazing, and beautiful children. I’m not exaggerating about them–everybody who meets them says the same thing, and always has since they were very young. Thankfully, God writes straight with crooked lines. He turns plan B into plan A.

In case I wasn’t clear earlier: my experiences are unique and I fell through “cracks” that most people don’t fall through. Even so, this is one reason why I cannot get excited about Reformation Day. But I hope everybody has a safe and fun Halloween… a safe and fun All Hallow’s Eve.

The cult leader was not competent to give us parenting advice

One of the gals I follow here on WordPress posted an excellent essay called:

Book Review: Discipline That Connects With Your Child’s Heart

I hope you read it.

I’ve been out of the cult for over eight years, and in that time I’ve seen so much about what was wrong there. One of those things has to do with his influence regarding our parenting practices, especially when the children were infants. He told us that they had to be afraid of us, that they needed to fear for their lives! Yes, this is what he told us, not an exaggeration. Bible verses were used to justify this advice. And we followed it. I had to override my gut almost constantly, which, unfortunately, I was completely used to doing due to my chaotic childhood, where I had to override my gut on a daily basis in order to get along.

I remember my husband joking about spanking our newborn daughter, right after she was born (we were still in the hospital!). Oh my God I felt so angry and even said, No. He said he meant it as a joke, but now I believe that he was “virtue signaling,” meaning, he was letting me and our friends know that he was on board with the corporal discipline regime. We all “virtue signaled” at different times about different things so my intention is not to single him out. It’s just one example of what went on there.

I remember seeing one of the boys, as an infant, get spanked with a wooden paddle that was probably 18 inches long and at least one inch wide. This happened at a meeting; everybody saw it. The infant was maybe a year old or less. The cult leader openly commended the dad for doing this, saying that he was a good example of how to discipline a child. There are many other examples I can give, and people didn’t just do it to their own kids, they did it to others’ kids too. Unfortunately, I also participated in this inappropriate use of the Bible to justify taking out my anger onto my children, and other people’s children as well. It was wrong and when I think back on it, I feel sad and ashamed. So much pain, so much missed opportunity to express love, patience, forbearance, gentleness. Missed teaching opportunities, missed opportunities to forge meaningful connections.

**sigh**

Infants need to know they are safe and loved. That comes first and it takes time. I completely agree with this pyramid, which appears at the post linked above:

4 messages framework_NEWwithTag

Years later, while the cult leader was in the midst of an affair with one of the married women in the cult, he retracted those remarks in an attempt to please her. This all came to light when he disclosed his affair. That is when the spankings stopped. The eldest of the children were probably around 10-11 years old. It was the summer of the year 2000.

 

The cult was no help at all

I brought up reverse gaslighting yesterday for a specific reason. It is because of how few adults are talking about their experiences growing up with divorced (or never married) parents.

Based on my own experience, I can say that our culture reverse gaslighted me. The lie that everything was OK was deeply embedded in me, to such an extent that I repeated it for decades. However, I should have seen that the circumstances of my life were strong evidence that everything was not OK inside me. But nobody helped me put the pieces together until a few years ago, when I got to know the gal who became my Catholic mentor. Like pieces of a very complex puzzle, she was able to help me put everything together through a thoroughly Catholic lens. Remember how I mentioned before about the importance of making proper distinctions? She helped me do that.

The cult leader claims to be teaching an esoteric system that helps people have a “right relationship” with themselves, with others and with the world around them (paraphrased from his website), but that is a lie. Everything done there is supposed to be about psychological healing, but there were many issues surrounding my parents divorce and subsequent actions that were never addressed. I buried everything I felt because there was no avenue to express it, no language, no concepts, no affirmation of that reality. As just one example, rarely the cult leader would mention of how I never had a family–he mentioned it enough that I knew that this is what he thought. But he also severely denigrated my mother, publicly and often. He hated her, and I am not entirely clear why but I have an opinion that I may share here at another time. His denigration of her fed into my unresolved anger. He was crafty enough to see my lack of family and understand how vulnerable it made me, but he never helped ME to see it–I was in denial about that loss the entire time. Plus he didn’t affirm my mother or my father. He didn’t help me to honor them as the Bible tells us to do. In fact, he actively encouraged me to shun them, especially my mother. He did not acknowledge the legitimacy of my first family, that triad, that community of three persons who formed one family, the impetus of my being. His “esoteric help” did not help me at all. It was his way of keeping me embedded there as part of his narcissistic supply. The same could be said for my ex-husband, whose parents divorced when he was 16.

The ironic thing is that now I am a Catholic and because of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, I finally have a “right relationship” with my ex-husband, but he does not have a “right relationship” with me. In regards to his relationship to me, the cult has not helped him to forgive, to work through his rage, to stop his defamation, or to stop his sexual sin and alcohol usage… and he calls himself a true Christian. I recently learned about the restorationist movement. I did not even know that was a thing, but evidently it’s pretty common for groups to consider themselves as returning to first century Christianity. Well, that certainly describes the cult. But the fruit of the cult is bad, and that is one way to know that it is not based on Christ. He is still as stuck in those emotions and behaviors as he was years ago, if not more so. As it says in Galations 5:19-23:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

I am not certain I should be saying these things about him. But I am becoming indignant at his stubborn refusal to humble himself, to give me any leeway whatsoever, and his persistent determination to denigrate me to my own children. It is evil, and I am becoming less willing to remain silent about it. He is training my girls to accept that a man should treat a woman that way, and he is training my son to treat women that way.

Lord, please help me understand how to deal with this man according to your will. I must avoid and repent from any desire for revenge, because you alone are the judge. If I could cut him out of my life for good, I would, because he is advocating and practicing evil. But I cannot, since he is the father of my children and a grandfather of my grandchild. I know that he was created in your image and likeness, and in that sense he is good, but I am infuriated that my children still have to be subjected to his evil beliefs and behaviors. Lord, please do something. Please help him repent, help him return to his first love, help him to see how far away he is from your grace, give him the courage to face his fears, bring one of your servants into his life to tell him the truth and help him hear it. Please help me love him as you do. I hate having to use my kids’ dad as an example of evil behavior. It makes me very sad. Amen.

Edit: here is today’s Collect from the Latin mass I attended this evening:

Da, quaesumus, Domine, populo tuo diabolica vitare contagia: et te solum Deum pura mente sectari. Per Dominum.

Translation:

Grant, O Lord, unto Thy people, grace to avoid all contact with the devil, and with pure minds to follow Thee, the only God. Through our Lord.

INTJ and pattern recognition

I am an INTJ. It means, among other things, that I have a good sense of pattern recognition.

When I first encountered that idea, I mentally scanned back through my life and realized that this made sense.

I’ve since observed it quite frequently, this ability to locate patterns pretty easily. It’s kinda cool, really. In some ways it is like a shortcut to understanding stuff. But it can be hard to articulate the process behind the pattern.

halsey physics croppedFor example, sometimes I can solve an algebra problem without thinking about it. I just see the answer and write it down.

The first time this happened to me was in physics in high school. On one of the problems on a test, I just wrote the answer down because I saw how the problem worked. The teacher didn’t give me any points because I didn’t show a step-by-step solution. So I had to explain the solution to him after class, and it was hard to do because I just SAW how it worked. I don’t know how else to describe that experience. That was a fun class and he was a great teacher. But he didn’t let me slide! lol I had to work out the solution. This is him, Mr. Halsey. He wrote a very touching note to me in my senior yearbook. I’m friends with him on Facebook now.

So I think that happens a lot to me, more than just with math problems. I see how something works and I move forward based on what I see, but I have to struggle to describe the mechanics behind it.

Like when I decided to become Catholic. Not long after I left the cult I knew that I had to reject the gnosticism I had been taught there. I wanted to return to my first love of Jesus, son of God, second person of the Trinity, that I had when I was younger. For a couple years I considered returning to some sort of Protestant church but intuited that I would eventually become Catholic anyway. Meandering through Protestantism first, then converting to Catholic later, was a definite possibility, but at some point I realized that it would be inefficient. So I went straight to the Catholic Church. Seeing what I saw about contraception and how it harms the “one flesh” teaching of scripture was the main pivot point, but there were other things as well. For example, I needed a firm historical basis for the church I would join, and I found that in the Catholic understanding of apostolic succession. So again I saw the pattern of how things would play out and made a choice based on that. But articulating that pattern came later, and, in fact, I’m still working on it.

I have sometimes wondered if my friends and family thought I acted impulsively when I became Catholic, because it may have seemed like a sudden decision. But it wasn’t impulse. Setting aside the obvious role of God’s grace in all this… as far as I could see at that time, it was just me seeing the pattern of how things would play out eventually, then making a decision based on that.

Perhaps this gift of pattern recognition is one reason my childhood was so distressing. There was no pattern to my family. Nobody else had the “family” that I had. I bet most reading this can’t imagine being the lone member of a family. That doesn’t make sense, it is a contradiction, but that’s the way it was.

Read more about INTJ and pattern recognition.

 

 

 

Still picking up the pieces

I feel like there is something missing when I write about the cult, so maybe if I write about it more I’ll figure out what it is.

I first wrote about the cult here. Besides other things, I mentioned my brief affair with the cult leader in 1997, and how my ex-husband remains loyal to him, even to this day. The leader gets a pass on not only the affair with me, but with at least three other women. All the cult members know about the affairs. My ex is not the only husband to choose the leader over his own wife–another man did this as well.

I wonder how that works in their minds. The cult leader is so special that he gets to do whatever he wants… but your own wife, the mother of your children whom you claim to love unconditionally, remains unforgiven and an outcast. Plus now my ex is using a lot of alcohol, far more than he did while married. He is also involved with a woman whom my eldest daughter can’t stand and who is addicted to prescription pain meds. She has moved in and out, and is now maybe moving back in.

All this is done in the name of “real Christianity.”

That’s how the cult styles itself. It’s not “religion,” which they claim is a horrible, man-made thing. But it’s true spirituality, true Christianity.

What a farce.

Lots of misogyny there, a real hatred of women.

What is my own role in all this? Yes, I participated in a group that was extremely harmful to not only myself but others. Yes, I justified it through a strange brew of fear and pride. Yes, I regret ever being there. Yes, I see that my truly wonderful and beautiful children (and now grandchild) would not exist except for my involvement there. So that’s an unsolvable dichotomy. Making me choose between them is like holding a gun to my head. And I have no doubt that the cult leader has used that dichotomy as a way to justify his actions.

Maybe this is what is missing: I still love those people. I spent 22 years of my life there. There were some genuinely fun and even good times we had together, times we laughed, lots of funny inside jokes that developed over the years, the joy of our childbearing years and watching the children grow, many shared and delicious meals. We tried to create a tribe as a sort of shelter from this crazy world.

But it was built on sand, on the false notion that this leader was special, and that the normal rules of human engagement didn’t apply to us. I doubt any of us would have been friends outside of the cult. The arranged marriages would not have taken place either, since the partners would not have naturally picked one another. We thought we didn’t need our extended families, because they weren’t “spiritual” enough to understand what we were about. We often treated each other harshly, rudely, divisively, abusively… there was always a lot of gossip and backstabbing… all done in the name of telling the truth and being honest. But even that was a lie. We did those things to cover our own asses.

Towards the end of my time there, I wondered if I suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. Seems logical, right? But how is that diagnosed? If it’s true for me, is it true for others? Is it true of my ex-husband who is still there?

I’m divorced too

So yea, I’m divorced too. My crazy childhood propelled me into a religious cult where I had an arranged marriage. You might wonder why anybody would submit to that. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I was not forced into it, but there was a lot of manipulation. Plus I was longing for stability and to have a family, a real family where I was a full fledged member. So the cult was my attempt at filling that longing, at initiating myself into my own life.

Even though the cult was destructive in many ways, God still blessed me with a beautiful family. And I was super proud of that family, even though the marriage was doomed from the start. It was a three-way relationship: me, my husband, and the cult. There were only two names on the marriage license, but there was an implicit understanding that the cult was a 100% integral part of that relationship. It was like a wedge between us, a wedge that we believed would be like glue to keep us together, but it actually kept us separated from each other.

I went into it thinking that my husband would change, that he’d see the value of me and our family apart from the cult. But he never did. So I hung on  for a long time, hoping and praying for a change. I am embarrassed to admit that after about 7 years of feeling neglected, I had more than one emotional affair, plus I got physically involved with the cult leader. This same leader actually had at least four affairs with various women, and that’s what I know of with 100% certainty.

Continue reading “I’m divorced too”