When I told my sister that I needed to write a reflection for church about the word heretic, she snorted, and then burst into laughter. She laughed so hard she cried. She laughed so hard she couldn’t talk.
I was not amused.
Okay, maybe I was a little amused.
I’ve always been a bit of a…..troublemaker.
A status-quo challenger.
One of my first words was WHY?
Some of you know that I grew up in The Salvation Army – yes, the thrift stores — many people don’t know that it’s also a very strict, fundamentalist christian sect, so my questioning and trouble making didn’t always go over well with them. And when I became an adult and started working for them as a pastor and officer, I often felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. My mother tries to explain me by saying that “some people march to the beat of their own drummer – well, my daughter has her own band…”
Once, during a performance appraisal, my commanding officer asked me, in all seriousness, and with more than a twinge of annoyance, “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST CONFORM!?!” and as the good troublemaker that I am, I shot back, “I DON’T KNOW! WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO YOU THAT I DO?!”
When I left my life in the salvation army behind, I was forced to a paper that officially branded me a heretic. My inability to conform, my constant need to question, got me literally excommunicated from the only life I’d ever known – a life I’d always tried to fit into, but never really did.
I’m honestly still conflicted about being labeled a heretic, especially now that I’m a UU.
I’m really glad that I’ve found my people – that questioning and free thinking, and challenging, and protesting, and all those really great uu things – are celebrated now – that I don’t have to worry about conforming….it’s almost as if what is labeled as heresy in other contexts is celebrated here. And that’s great. It’s fantastic to have found such an amazing place where I fit.
But there’s part of me that doesn’t wear my so called heresy as a badge of honor.
I’m reminded a lot, through comments my blog and in person, that my label as a heretic is something I should hold up as a triumph. But it’s also come at a high price. Every time I write an article, or fight for legislation, or stand in this chancel and state that I’m not sure there’s a god at all…I’m choosing to go against everything my family, the people I counted as my friends, and many people in this community believes is true and right and ‘godly’. That isn’t easy. And in a way, I hope it never becomes easy…Because People matter to me too, and I never want to be that person who argues or questions or protests just to be contrary, or from a place of superiority, and just pushes people away.
I’ve been figuring out a lot of things about life ‘on the outside’ in the 6 years I’ve been out of the Army. Figuring out how to frame my own brand of heresy is one of those things. I’m no longer ashamed to be myself, to challenge the status quo, to stand up for what I believe is true and right and good, and I’m also still trying to learn which hills I’m willing to die on, so to speak. In the end, I’ve decided that it’s about finding a balance, and that’s something I think I’ll always have to work out in my own mind, as each situation comes up — and in the meantime, I’ll just keep dancing to that band my mom says I listen to.
Yesterday, I stood in the chancel of my beloved UU church in south central PA, and gave this reflection. I owned my heresy. I called out the church cult that gaslit me, abused me, and ultimately branded me a heretic by name. I ‘outed’ myself as an ex-preacher to the congregation.
It’s been an experience, getting back up in front of a church and speaking. I’ve been a nervous wreck – nauseous, sweaty…had an anxiety attack after the first time I tried to preach [and that was just in front of 8 people in a practice setting]. I was especially nervous this time, since it was the first time I would openly speak about what happened to me. I stood up, started to speak, and something….happened.
As I stood there in the chancel, with sunlight streaming through the windows in front of me, speaking my truth, something HAPPENED.
Hebrews 4:13 says that Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. This verse used to be thrown up as a “you can’t hide your sin – god and everyone else will find out” warning, and it scared the hell out of me.
Standing there in the chancel, facing those huge windows, looking toward the sun, speaking my truth, I felt the most honest, and the most vulnerable I’ve ever felt in the pulpit. And ….I wasn’t afraid.
There was no fear.
No trace of the shield I’d put up for so long.
My heart was open and laid bare….before me. ME. The only one to whom I must give an account. No more trying to please a deity, or a religion, or a commander….no more fear of not saying the right thing….it was enough to just be Chris.
My words were enough.
I was enough.
And if that makes me a heretic, then line me up, because, as Huck Finn said, “alright then, I’ll go to hell….because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog”
You can listen to the audio recording of this reflection here: https://soundcloud.com/uucv/july-23-2017-heretic