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Nosce te Ipsum: Part Two: It’s in the Water

All new updated selfie.

Let’s go back in time a little bit.

I was raised with a typically schizophrenic Protestant image of God:  one the one hand he was this all-loving daddy figure who wanted everyone to get along, but on the other, if you put a toe out of line he’d throw you into a fiery pit (because he loves you).  Honestly I never thought about it much; church was just something you endured until it was time to go home and have Sunday dinner.

During Revival season everything was turned up to 11.  If you aren’t Protestant or hip to the lingo, a Revival happens a couple of times a year to re-energize people’s commitment and uses charismatic speakers and guest musicians to try and bring new blood into the fold.  Sunday School had special lessons, got to watch movies, did cooler craft projects.  There were ice cream socials and all sorts of gatherings.  I always looked forward to Revival because people were a lot less dour – something about all the hallelujahs felt right, or at least more right than the muttered call-and-response of a typical service.

One year our teacher sat us all down and showed us a movie about something called the Crucifixion.  I’d heard of it in vague terms during hymns and sermons, but it never really registered that this was something that was actually supposed to have happened to a guy, and moreover, that God shoved his own kid off his cloud to be born, grow up, and then be tortured to death.  The nuances of the story and any sort of theological depth were of course lost on me – but the blood wasn’t.

Our teacher let us watch what amounted to a very mild version of Mel Gibson’s Jesus Chainsaw Massacre from a few years back.  It was definitely way more violent than children needed to see (this was back when people freaked out over children seeing violence, not just sex), but still fairly tame.  Still, I was cursed with a fantastic imagination, and the sounds of whips and taunting voices made me very uncomfortable.

(Looking back, the memory of that film reminds me very strongly of undercover footage I’ve seen of slaughterhouse kill floors.  Just think about that for a minute.)

What I wanted to know was why.  Not “why did people kill this good person,” because even at that age I didn’t need an answer to that one.  I wanted to know why any of it was necessary.

I was told that we were all sinners, and in order to save us, Jesus had to get the torture porn treatment.  Because God let stupid humans kill his son, we could get into heaven.  All we had to do was feel bad about it, then say we believed it was true.

Wait, what?

I didn’t really have the vocabulary or the mental acuity to work out why I found the whole thing just a little hard to swallow, but it didn’t matter: logical answers weren’t the currency of the Southern Baptist ministry.  The teacher began a long lecture, looking each of us in the eye repeatedly, telling us that it was OUR FAULT that Jesus had to suffer, and that ALL THAT BLOOD WAS FOR US, and LOOK HOW MUCH IT HURT, and YOU MADE JESUS DO THAT, AND DON’T YOU WANT TO MAKE IT UP TO HIM?

I’d never felt such soul-sucking guilt.  I felt awful.  Terrified, ashamed, small.  I thought that somehow I, a little girl in a ruffly dress with a heart full of secrets, had been so bad that my badness traveled back 2000 years and killed a nice man.

I cried.  A lot.  And whatever prayers or vows or penance the teacher gave, I hit my knees and did it.  I’m sorry Jesus.  I didn’t tell them to do that.  I would have told them not to.  I’m so sorry.

As I walked up the steps to the baptismal a few days later, in a heavy robe over my jeans and t-shirt, I had the weight of the world on my shoulders along with the scratchy fabric.

It had been a confusing few days.  Everyone was so happy for me, like I’d gotten an A+ in Savior-cide 101.  Didn’t they get it?  I personally was so bad, so fundamentally screwed up just by virtue of being born – let’s not even count actual bad things I’d done, or things that might have happened to me that I believed were my fault – that my badness forced God to kill his own kid.  I couldn’t even conceive of circumstances that would drive my parents to kill one of us for any reason. Sure, fine, we were all sinners and had fallen short and so forth…but I took it very, very personally.

There was no sense of joining a fellowship, no joy in finding a place at the Heavenly Father’s Table or even the Heavenly Kids’ Table.  I didn’t feel uplifted or blessed.  I wasn’t thankful for the great sacrifice that would lift me out of bondage.

I felt like a murderer.

I was nine years old.

I was so nervous when I waded out into the warm water (in case you don’t know, Southern Baptist churches that aren’t situated near a convenient dunking stream often have basically a wading pool up behind the choir loft, the walls around it painted to look like a riverbank.) that I forgot my teacher’s advice to hold my nose while my arms were in the dunking position; I sputtered and coughed, but everyone was yelling “Amen” and didn’t really notice.  The preacher, of course, righted me and made sure I was okay before patting my shoulder and sending me along so the next kid could have his turn.

Hopefully that lucky young man had no idea I’d just peed in the water.

Up next, Part Three: How to Lose Your Religion in Four Days

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Nosce te Ipsum: Part 1: …Not as I Do

All new updated selfie.

All new updated selfie.

Let’s start with something really fun.

I’ve never really talked about this in depth with anyone, so, writing it makes my stomach tighten up and my heart blip.

Disclaimer: Everything I’m going to talk about in these posts is as true as I can make it – my memory is terrible, and though I’ve kept records when I could I can’t guarantee there won’t be a few timeline errors or misremembered facts.

Continue reading

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Nosce Te Ipsum- Introduction

An old self-portrait from 2008 – I don’t even have my phoenix or Doctor Who tattoos!

There’s a story I’d like to tell you.

It’s a pretty long one, so I’m going to have to snip it into bite-sized pieces (well, big bites – this is me we’re talking about). I’m not going to bother giving it out in chronological order; I want to tell the parts that matter most while they still matter.

You see, not long ago I read an extremely popular book by an extremely popular online guru, and while it wasn’t the most inspiring thing I’ve ever read (this whole thing where self-helpy not-quite-about-business-and-not-quite-about-anything-else books have eighty different typefaces and bold every other line might be useful for people with the attention span of a gnat, but it gets kind of irksome for those of us who read things longer than blog posts), it did have some cool concepts, and together with some other reading I’ve done lately it got me thinking about the dreaded buzzword “authenticity.”

Use these authentic practices and your authentic self will emerge and live an authentic life of authenticity! Especially if you spend $100 on my book/e-course combo and another $200 for a year’s membership in the Authenticity Club!

I’ve known for quite a while that my aversion to the word was tied up with, well, my total lack of it. For years now I’ve been watching the person I used to be – the person I was when I started this blog, when I wrote my first book, when I was in my 20s and happier and in better shape and more social and on fewer medications – worn down into dust behind a gradually eroding shell of herself. I tried to inhabit that shell for as long as I could, but finally I was standing surrounded by the fossilized remains of Dianne Sylvan the Pagan Writer and Teacher, holding only a name tag and a ritual robe that no longer fit.

Parts of it had never fit in the first place, but that was no longer relevant.

Who had I become? I threw myself into the identity of novelist, and since that was what I’d always wanted anyway figured it was all upward from here.

Then my publisher decided to discontinue the series I’d poured my heart into since 1999, and just like that, an already fragile self-esteem standing on shifting sands tumbled over and fell apart. It wasn’t the end of my writing career – but it felt like it was. It felt like I had failed at the one thing I’d always thought I was meant to do…that I had failed at being myself.

(This was all, of course, blown way out of proportion by my imbalanced brain and paper-thin ego; I’m well aware that the publishing industry is in kind of a tailspin and it’s not a reflection on my talent. But there’s really no way to take someone telling you you’re not a good investment anything but personally.)

It’s taken over a year to get back to a place where writing feels good again. I find myself staying up late to finish a scene, something I hadn’t done in months. When I realized that posting chapters one by one like in the Days of Fanfic Yore was making me feel excited, I hatched the idea for my Patreon, hoping I could make writing what I loved lucrative again.

Still, those questions of identity and purpose remain. Here I am, 37 years old, with no idea who I am – after years and years of relentless self-examination the way only a Scorpio can manage it!

As I mentioned a while back the Gretchen Ruben book about habits emphasizes that you can’t expect yourself to change if you try to do things as someone else. You have to meet yourself where you are, work with the tools you’ve got in your toolbox rather than standing around wishing you could leap into discipline like a lean teenaged greyhound. That’s where all of this started in my mind, trying to work through her questions and figure out how I really do things. Far too many of my answers were “I don’t know.”

I know that these sorts of thoughts can take a lifetime to make sense of; I have no illusions that I’m going to magically poof into The Authentic ™ Me. I’m not after epiphanies or revelations, though if some were to come my way I wouldn’t protest. But that’s not really the goal.

The goal is to tell a story.

Part One – Coming Monday.

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Just a Quickie

Thanks to everyone who’s already joined my Patreon!  You guys rock my socks.

Meanwhile, here’s this week’s Agenda Journaling pages from the e-course offered by Hope at Besottment:

Agenda Journal April 6-12

 

I’m still trying to work out what I want to use my Agenda Journal for – it’s definitely a diary more than a planner, but I don’t know if enough stuff really happens in my life to need that much space to doodle about a day.  Then again, there are times when I’m crazy busy for weeks at a go, so, maybe it’ll get more crowded as time goes on.  Regardless, I’m having fun with it.

(Just in case you wonder:  I rate my mood level every day on a scale from 1-10, with 1 being “I just committed suicide, how are you?” and 10 being a state of bliss no human can reach.  When I’m hella depressed I hover around 3; when I’m hypomanic I sometimes get as far up as 7.  5 is a state where I feel pretty stable and able to get stuff done.  It’s not happy, really, but it’s functional.  I’ve had a nice string of 5 days lately and hope it continues, though I have had a few emotional whiplash moments.  But given I spend most of the year at a 4, 5 is good. We like 5.)

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