Friday, May 8, 2015

Beware the Demons in the Church Pews


Recently, I found a little gem mentioned almost in passing in the introduction of The Artists Way by Julia Cameron and I’ve been thinking quite a lot about the idea she expresses. I’ve been expanding it over the course of the past few days and thought it worthwhile to share. It’s about the trajectory of life’s path, asserting the notion that that it isn’t so much a linear one as it is a spiral.
I took this photo of a spiral staircase at
BYU in the building built on the site where
electroshock therapy was used on gay students.
So rather than thinking of life as an obstacle course with a new challenge at different points along a linear trail- this circular path alludes to the re-visitation of specific points along our journey. As we gain elevation and reach a higher plane, we inevitably circle around to some of our most persistent "demons," each time battling them anew at some deeper level before being rewarded with another gain in elevation. As frustrating as it is, I have found this to be consistent with my experience.



Ironically, I have found religion to be the mother of my life's most menacing demon. Believers and church-goers may find it hard not to roll their eyes at this pronouncement and declare it just another ridiculous notion by a God-hating atheist. Rest assured that I am no God-hater, nor am I an atheist. Though I am not religious, I was raised in the tradition of Christianity and know it quite well. Enough to know that, in fact, there is precedent for this very idea embedded right in the sacred texts believers clutch to so tightly.

In the bible, for example, it is well documented that Jesus condemned the Pharisees who were the leaders of the most numerous and influential religious sect of his day. They taught the law of Moses and required strict adherence to it, which in-turn became the justification for neglecting, marginalizing, or punishing certain groups of people. To those people, religion was their tormentor. The religious leaders despised Jesus because he broke these laws in order to serve those which religion turned away. Jesus exclaimed,
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.”
-Matthew 23:13
Right there in the New Testament, Jesus, the object of the Christian world’s worship, declares that the biggest, most influential, law-of-moses-abiding religion of his day was a stumbling-block to the salvation of men. Clearly, Jesus himself knew religion could produce demons capable of cutting souls off from the Christian prize of salvation.

My brand of religion was Mormonism and so I also know about the fact that in the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Alma explains how
"the people of the church began to be lifted up in the pride of their eyes... and they began to persecute those that did not believe according to their own will and pleasure… And there began to be great contentions among the people of the church… and the wickedness of the church was a great stumbling-block to those who did not belong to the church; and thus the church began to fail in its progress.”
-Alma 4
Again, this revered Book of Mormon prophet witnesses to the fact that religion can become a "great stumbling-block" in our lives. The LDS Church has been criticized for building a 1.5 billion dollar mall and erecting expensive tithe-paying-member-only temples, even in the backyard of some of the most impoverished peoples of the world. It has all but declared war against the rights of LGBT people and the dignity of their love, relationships, and families and its newest crusade is state-sanctioned discrimination against those who don’t abide by its beliefs in the name of so-called “religious liberty.” Oh yes, there is no doubt religion is capable of being a stumbling block in the lives of believers and non-believers alike. But while these do plenty damage in the world, they are nothing compared to the demons bred within the very walls of its influence and introduced into the impressionable minds of the pure in heart who sit in those pews if they are not vigilant. This is the most sinister kind of demon which often goes unnoticed as it works its damage within the hearts and minds of its victims. I want to introduce you to one.

My most damaging, most persistent demon is the one that tells me I am unworthy of love. I’ve named him Metus. He is my greatest stumbling-block. My battle with him is the pivotal struggle of my life, one that threatens to crush my creative potential as a spiritual being. And just when I think I’ve won and rise to a new height in my life’s journey, I circle back at each new level and meet those same dark eyes, always more menacing than the time before.

I met Metus in church. I was told he was simply there to encourage me to follow God’s will and, as a youth, I wanted nothing more than to show God how committed I was to following Him. Metus seemed to be popular enough. He was embraced by the other believers, and I had no reason to be suspicious of him. He was dressed quite well, had a caring face, and deep dark eyes which seemed to be able to peer into my very soul. He made sure I stepped in-line and followed the prescribed path. By the time I began to realize how dangerous he was, my ears had already grown accustom to his familiar and frequent whisperings. I knew them so well, I could finish his sentences.

At the US Supreme Court on  April 28th- the day
oral arguments were presented for/against marriage equality.
Scripture was cited by most of the opposition in the crowd.
When I began to recognize that I wasn’t like the other boys, and rather, found myself liking the other boys- I immediately buried the thought. I had no intention of giving any credence to it, let alone of telling anyone. I knew what God thought of gay people- I learned about it in church. Besides, I was a good Mormon kid who could never be anything so bad as a homosexual. I was sure that this little problem would go away on its own as long as it never saw the light of day, but nothing could be buried so deep as to evade Metus’s piercing gaze. He would never allow me to forget it. “If only they knew,” he’d say.

I continued to walk the church-approved path, but not without the constant whisper of Metus’s voice in my ear, “I know what you are hiding, and so does God. You’re an imposter.”

It wasn’t long before Metus had managed to convinced me that God couldn’t possibly bless me or help me, let alone love me. He convinced me that while people might say positive affirming things to me, it was only because they didn’t know the truth. “If only they knew,” he’d say.

There was a certain truth to Metus’s words. Coming out did change how my community and society viewed and treated me. My love was illegitimate. My relationships, counterfeit. My life- less valued. The very community that taught me about God and his love was united in striping away my ability to marry the person I love and to live a life of dignity. They named me an enemy to “God’s Plan” and insisted I, and those like me, would bring on the destruction of the family and perhaps even the end of the world.

Fortunately, probably due almost entirely to the most basic animal instinct to survive, I chose authenticity above acceptance and I won that first major battle with Metus. I immediately felt the excitement and liberation of that win. I felt myself “leveling up” as I climbed higher on the spiral staircase of my life. I felt more alive and confident than ever as I left the world of black and white and embraced life in full-color. It wasn’t long, however, before I heard that faint familiar whispering and I knew who’s eyes I’d meet just around the bend, and my heart sank.

My demon was not defeated. All I had managed to do was exclaim, “I don’t care what they think of me!” A small act of defiance, to be sure. Once I recognized that I did not meet religion's conditions for love, I left it once and for all and I found people who loved the person I became after embracing this part of me that I had despised for so long. I started a business and began turning my dreams into a reality. Metus was probably laughing as he watched me climb, sure that he would crush me and that the fall would be so much the more painful from this new height.

The problem was that though I found others who loved me for me, I hadn't really learned to love me for me. I found myself growing weary of those who praised me with words of affirmation. Words like talented, creative, intelligent, hard-working. Words like, "I love you." It was as if people were talking about someone else entirely, like they had mistaken me for someone else. It didn’t matter who said them to me or how often, that familiar whisper would say, “if they only knew...”

I felt as though I was trying with all my might to be all those things people said I was,  but that I was constantly on the brink of failure. “Then they will finally see the fraud you really are,” Metus would say, “You can't fool people forever.”

Another one from the rally.
My brain was so wired to believe that there was something fundamentally unlovable about me- something that was an inherent part of my being which was simultaneously unacceptable to God, family, and society. While I had rejected the idea that being gay was evil or sinful… Metus was still there in my ear, whispering the same damaging patterns of thought in every area of life. My career, my relationships, my self-image… it was too much for me to handle.

In January, I packed what I could into my car, got rid of most everything else, said goodbye to everyone who loved me, and drove 2,000 miles to a farm in rural Maryland, sleeping at stranger’s houses along my way. This withdrawal from life as I knew it may sound drastic, but Metus is a powerful demon and beating him requires equally powerful actions.

I write 3 pages every morning. They
are filled with my thoughts, fears,
questions, and hopes for the future.
It hasn’t been easy, but I have found the solitude here to be very therapeutic. The withdrawal has allowed me to begin attaining an overview of my life and move to higher ground. It is both painful and exhilarating as I attempt to find the most authentic person inside my being and then try and love that person. I’m not there yet- but I am hopeful.

There are still moments, when I am find myself exhausted, that I experience anger toward my old religion for introducing me to this terrible demon. I wonder how anyone could be so cruel as to unleash such a monster upon a kid. But what was done cannot be changed and I’m getting better at managing that anger. The better I come to understand love, the more I realize the incredible power it has against all the negativity, both within myself and in the world. Love is the key to defeating this demon.

Metus has been a stumbling block in my growth and potential for much too long. He has instilled in me a deep sense of shame. Shame is that intense, unshakable feeling that there is some piece of me, perhaps a piece that I have yet to discover, that makes me fundamentally unworthy of love and belonging. Perhaps you have felt it too. Shame breeds fear which expresses itself in my life in many harmful ways. For example, it often causes me to push people away or sabotage my creative ideas. It is the singular most destructive force in my life. It is for this reason I named him Metus— in Latin, his name means fear. It is also why love is the antidote.

"There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear…”

I will not allow fear to continue its dominion over me. All that wasted potential would be too great a loss. And so, beginning with myself, I must learn to love. This is the reason I have sought solitude here. I hope to undo the damage that shame has wrought in my life and to start living a life based on love rather than fear.

Let this be a cautionary tale. Be weary of the demons in the church pews. They have a long history of hiding there. Love yourself for exactly the person you are— your flaws as well as your talents— and know that you are worthy of love and that you belong. The longer you believe otherwise, the harder it is to find it again. Love is the only key with the ability to unlock the infinite potential within. Once that potential is unlocked, you will change the fucking world.


About Me

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I'm a filmmaker a blogger and hundreds of other things. Life is full of possibilities, twists, and turns and I don't pretend to know exactly where the road will lead. However, I do intend to share the journey.