With my grandfather’s death and funeral I was reminded of the kind of Christianity my family practices. It isn’t the kind that believes in grace as acceptance of all those who are not worthy. It isn’t the kind that believes in mercy or forgiveness for every sinner. It is not the kind that believes in being devoted to one another in love. It is the kind that believes only certain people are worthy of grace and that the “ungodly” act as catalysts for destruction. It is the kind that believes God’s judgement can be delivered via a human vessel. It is the kind that believes some people are superior to others. It is the kind that makes its own rules. Rules that alienate, that have alienated their own family.
During the sermon and burial services I was reminded that, to them, I am the “ungodly” and I am the sinner not worthy of grace or mercy. No matter how much I wanted to be “born again” or “saved” it was never by their God. I wilted in the shadow of that God.
I died a thousand deaths amongst a family that is born again. Religion has always existed just on the other side of a vast chasm, a dark, intangible void. Christianity never was something I could fathom. But it has always been a thing within which I had a role to play. Cast like a sacrificial lamb into the scorching fires of Hell, I was always meant to be my mother’s scapegoat, her ticket to redemption. As if by summoning the demons in me, she could tame the demons that tormented her, could prove somehow she was pure. Except I never was any good at playing the martyr or the victim, that was her game. But I fell into her trap all the same. Made it easy for her to condemn me to eternal damnation, as if she were the very hand of God. I know now it doesn’t work that way but I never knew that then.
She told me I was ungodly, told me I was an abomination, a sinner, that I never could be saved, that I was going to Hell. Reminded me daily that I’d never be good enough unless I came to God her way. Whatever way that was, I never knew. I only knew that I had to pray harder, that if God wasn’t answering me then it was my fault. I wasn’t doing it right. I wasn’t praying fervently enough or long enough. I must not have really wanted salvation because I was too busy succumbing to temptation.
Divinity was weaponized against me, used as a tool to reinforce my inadequacy. Not even God could love me unconditionally. Certainly he never cared enough to protect me or this body, no value in this earthly vessel. They say the body is a temple for the holy spirit, but not mine; mine is a barren and desecrated wasteland, a “living sacrifice.” The site of my corporeal atonement. Expiation for my inherent wickedness. I was forced into repentance as man laid hands upon my flesh.
Cries, like prayers, fell upon deaf ears as my innocence was ripped from me, plucked like petals from the last flower in Eden. My childhood, floating away on the incantation of love strictly unrequited. Each petal accompanied by the staccato “he loves me not.” Because who could love someone so wicked, so soiled, so dirty, so tainted? The embodiment of “naughty.” At least, that was another lie I came to believe. It filled the silent void of the God who does not answer and the mother who disappears. It filled the empty spaces left behind by the vile acts my mother convinced herself that I wanted because better that than a child who was too trusting to fall victim to the carnal sins of men. And anyway, the only victim in the family was her; she would have it no other way.
I never wanted to be a victim but it was my pain, my punishment. Yet, somehow, she found space for rage and jealousy. The audacity of her harlot daughter. She unleashed upon me a wrath far fiercer than deluge or famine. Abandoned me in a desert, devoid of love or compassion. Left me shrouded in shaming silence. Taught me that love, terrestrial or celestial, had to be earned. And I would never be up to the challenge. So within this family of born again Christians, I disappeared. Made myself small to hide the blemishes of my unworthiness. Rejected all that rejected me, even indirectly. If my mother or my heavenly father didn’t believe in me then neither would I believe in them.
Except faith and hope never really work that way. I still look for signs, look for evidence that maybe God’s there. That maybe there is some divine father that loves me, that wept when I withered in anguish. That subtlety guided me to strength when I was downtrodden. That has left a light on for me, waiting for me to find the path that leads back to him. But I don’t know… I just don’t know… because is that the kind of thing that really exists or is it a fantasy, a fairy tale we tell ourselves to allay the misery of living?