God lends no favor to the curious. He has no compassion for those who seek anything other than blind and dark solace. He does not look kindly upon those who would ask him why he burnt those Old Testament lands to the ground or why he allows his own men to harm the children they are meant to protect. He doesn’t like questions because he doesn’t have answers. But it would have been different if I had only been dealing with God. Would he have told me he was omni-benevolent? Would he have looked into my soul and called me only evil? Would God himself had told me that it was my fault when a 30 year old man had sex with me at age 13? Or was it The Church? Is there...has there ever been a difference?
I am a painting of The Crucifixion. I am not Christ, I am one of the sinners hanging next to him. If you saw us all three at a time, at Golgotha, you would not know.
Sunday schools were fun when I was small. Parables, morals - anecdotes that teach you how to be good. Or rather, how to not be shitty. Painting and crafting and laughing and the story of Noah narrated by cartoon animals. Bible stories relayed by cute living vegetables. But the Wall of Jericho was still a massacre, even if the characters were peas. And the moral of every story was that the moment we came into this world we were evil to the core. Classes were corrective. Catch the disease early and maybe the maintenance won’t be so hard. Maybe you’ll live longer. Or maybe you’ll get into Heaven.
The disease is Sin. It always was. It runs through the veins of the whole human race. So the disease is us. But in crayons and puppets, it didn’t seem that way at the time. Sin was the dirt on the bottom of your shoes and that angry feeling you got when someone pushed you on the playground. Until you were old enough for Confirmation. Then, you were Sin - the sins of your mother and the sins of your father, all perfectly folded into an entirely new person who didn’t understand why it was they were so terrible at heart. What god would craft a world in this way?
Confirmation was a beast in itself, as we graduated from children with soft skin and soft hearts into filthy and traitorous teens. Borderline heathens in a parent-mandated weekly corrective class. We were sluts. We were stupid. We were irreverent and irrevocably marred by this world. But they kept telling us we could be saved - if we just worked hard enough and believed hard enough and swallowed all our doubts, we might become redeemable. I never understood why the New Testament calls for believers are simply to believe in The Savior and to love your neighbor, but instead we hated our neighbors, hated each other and hated ourselves. Instead, we turned away everyone who needed us, including our own. Spiritual cannibalism.
Love the sinner but not the sin.
But love wasn’t kind or lighthearted. Love in The Church was fear and guilt and control and condemnation. But it was all I knew. All I had grown up in. All I had witnessed three times a week since I was four years old. Judgement is righteous if you’re trying to save someone. Rescue isn’t kind or compassionate. Were we ever really worried about the people who needed saved? Or were we just worried that if we didn’t do enough saving, enough proselytizing, enough street preaching, that when we got to Judgement Day, God would throw us to the pits of Hell under his outcast brother who had also asked too many questions.
I remember the first day I began to lose faith in this lifelong reeducation camp. Some things never go away. I was 11. He was 18. Youth group was youth group and we were all lost. The Elders hated us. Our parents hated us. We hated us. Maybe if we had had one more Bible study, one more devotional, one more public service, things would have been different. But they weren’t and they aren’t and they never will be.
He told me God had appeared to him and told him that I was meant to be his. He had a calling, a prophecy. And I believed him. I fell over myself and into him and committed the ultimate sin of putting faith in man and not God. He told me that only he could redeem me; I could become more than I was if I followed him. And so I did. In a dark room past the stairs behind the altar of the sanctuary, he slid his hands up the inside of my skirt and touched me, all the while quoting Corinthians 1 and the isms that women who are obedient are redeemable of Eve’s original Sin. She was the reason we were all born broken; she was the reason we were evil - we were temptresses. Then he undid his belt, turned me around and took something away from me that I could never get back. He pulled my head back by my hair with one hand while he raped me. And the whole time he said I was dirty. I was a slut. He was the only one who could redeem me. And he made me thank him after, for putting The Holy Spirit in me.
I was nearly 33 before I understood what happened that day. I thought it was my fault. I had tempted him. If I was better, maybe God wouldn’t have assigned him to make me better. He tried to make me better off and on for the next 7 years, in dark corners, at the end of Sunday Service, in the basement on the floor or the supply closet on the mezzanine level.
Love is not kind. Love is not patient.
My parents found out a year later what had happened to me. Or rather, what I had done. And they sat me across the room from them on the opposing couch in the house I never once felt safe in, and they told me that I was ruined. I was irrevocably scarred and wholly empty, and now I had nothing to give a Man of God. Who would have me now? God was angry. God was always angry.
For years, I read my Bible for hours every day. In the hopes that it would breathe life back into me, in the hopes that I could quell Sin if I memorized enough verses, in the hopes that somewhere in The Good Book I would find answers that would justify who I was. Why I was like this.
Two years later it was the same but it was different. I was Confirmed, so at least now I could find solace in the promise of Heaven. But The Elders made sure I knew I would never make it past the lowest level. It was always too late for me and everyone except me knew it.
I was 13. He was 30.
He was the pastor’s son, so he wore the light around his head that The Disciples and Jesus himself wore. He was blessed. He had the best intentions. He could do no wrong.
He suggested to my parents that he have private tutoring sessions with me. 3pm on Thursdays every week for two years, in the conference room above the north end of the sanctuary. At first, he sat adjacent to me across the table while we read scripture and discussed the implications of all my sins. I trusted him. But eventually, he sat next to me. Eventually, he put his hand on my thigh. And eventually, he laid me down on a pew an afternoon when the sanctuary was deserted, and he tried to give me The Holy Spirit, too. After that, tutoring sessions were not tutoring sessions, they were sexual exorcisms. How lucky was I to have had two men trying to save me from the inherent evils of my body, of my existence as a daughter of Eve. He always told me it had to be a secret, because people who weren’t like me wouldn’t understand why I needed to be cleansed in this way. And I believed him, because I was always less than. All my intentions were bad and so was my heart.
Love does not boast.
I was getting special treatment.
I remember once, when I asked him if we could skip the ritual that week, he slapped me across the face so hard I fell to the ground, at his feet. I was always at the feet of some man, some priest, The Savior. They’re one and the same. He scolded me for being lazy and reminded me that our spiritual work was the only thing keeping God from changing his mind about me. And I believed him. So he turned me around and bent me over the back of a pew. He made me bleed that day. The silence in the sanctuary was deafening. I remember looking around at the stained glass windows and wondering what it would be like to jump through one. I’d break away from him, from here, from God, and hopefully I would be impaled on the broken edges of the blue and yellow glass and finally waste away. Finally have some peace. Blood is thicker than wine. And darker.
The thing about The Church is that, to leave, to truly break free from the darkness and the fear and the abuse and the overwhelming hypocrisy of its men, is to truly believe that an eternity in Hell would be better. But the prospect of Hell is so gruesome that it took me longer to get there than it should have.
I married the man who had told me, all those years ago as a child, that God told him I was his. I believed that if I followed his prophecies about me that someday Love wouldn’t hurt so much and all my sins would be atoned, because I was being obedient in the biggest way possible.
I was wrong.
The birth control was an affront to him. He threw them away until I gave up. My clothes were disrespectful. He covered me everywhere. Except in the bedroom or on the couch or over the stairs or in the kitchen. Anywhere he wanted from me, anything he wanted from me, it was my spiritual duty to obey. My eternal life depended on it. But the longer I went to school and the more questions I asked and once, when I made a friend… everything, everything I did was wrong. I was still made of bad intentions, even after this lifetime of work and sacrifice. He never stopped calling me dirty, irreverent, a slut. He called me Jezebel more than he called me by my own name.
And then one day I broke. Something inside me finally ruptured along one of the many fault lines throughout my addled mind. I had bowed my head one too many times, and this last time hurt me so much so that when I looked up, I saw a world that was made of colors and decent people, for the first time. The first time. Not the world I knew, where the sky was always dark and the people were evil and God was always angry. A world I had never seen where someone on the sidewalk asked me if I was okay. A world where the sky was blue and calm. A world where there was just…function. And I thought to myself that even if it was only a shiny surface with a dull center, it was better than the fire and blood and bones of The Church. That moment, I truly believed in my heart that Hell would be better than the dark version of the world. It wasn’t me, it was The Church. Even if it was me, I didn’t care anymore. What was so bad about Satan anyway? All he wanted was his questions answered. If that was evil, if all this time that was the root of my corruption, I thought to myself, then what the fuck am I doing here?
God was oh, so big. But his heaven was small. I had spent my life trying to make a space for myself there, never realizing there wasn’t one. Never realizing The Good Book, God, The Holy Spirit, Sin - they’re all the same thing. They’re the credentials men had used my whole life and for the lives of centuries of women to ensure I never felt any comfort, any love, any power.
And so when I was 21, I finally left.
I left my husband. My rapist.
I left The Elders. My prison guards.
I left my family. My tormentors.
I left The Church. My violent and fascist government. The Fundamentalists.
And that peace they always told me I would feel when I finally had the sufficient amount of blind faith to hear the voice of God? The peace I was supposed to feel as I was held down by the back of my neck and violated by some man’s version of The Holy Spirit? I finally felt it. And “God” was nowhere to be found.