To be clear, I am not a mainstream faith follower. I’ve been transparent about this fact with several in my circle of influence. Even though I have several colleagues and friends that are from all branches of mainstream faith, I hold my ground with my choice. Faith is a very personal and private matter to me. This is my life and my journey. John Pavlovitz once encapsulated my sentiment succinctly. I’m not looking for a cushy seat in heaven. I don’t care what happens to me in the afterlife. I do care about what I do in this current life and I do care about holding true to my values, morals, and personal ethical codes to the best of my ability.
The interpretations of an ancient text were the first book I ever read when I was four years old. Specifically, the King James Version because I was christened Catholic. I read the book from Genesis to Revelations because reading the bible was a ritual we did at the end of the day. At the same time, I observed oppositional behavior in the adults to the words that I was learning to read. By my interpretation, the ten commandments were the primary moral code to live by.
“Honor thy father and thy mother,” was a common parental weaponized message to shame me into noticing that I was being a disobedient child. Insolent, even. I mimicked a few of the adults and demanded that my neighbor’s daughter was ‘going to hell’ because she is a sinner. Mom snapped, “Christine! That is NOT your place! You do not get to judge!” Confused, I wondered, “Why do the adults do it all the time then?” Then, more shame because I remembered the passage of Jesus admonishing the male disciples, “May he who has not sinned cast the first stone!” Yikes, okay.
Raised in a Christian family, I grew up in a state of cognitive dissonance between wanting to be a good girl and never being able to be one. I learned to live in a constant state of shame and the traumatizing abuse I was experiencing as a child was the punishment that God wanted me to learn from. What did I need to learn from being locked in the backyard and being used as a B-B gun target by my biological father? What lesson was I supposed to be learning when my biological father would hit me with wooden nunchucks at two in the morning while he drove around Redmond?
An important lesson I learned as a child was that hell is earth because children will experience all kinds of horrible and awful things and nobody will listen or do anything to protect us. I wondered if I was supposed to really honor my father? He was not behaving in an honorable manner. Why should I have to honor him?
After years of abuse from my biological father, abuse from my grandmother, and being violated by members of the church, by seven years old I decided I wanted nothing to do with God and his followers. I decided that people were liars and people go to church to pretend to be something they were not dressed in their pretty Sunday best. While behind closed doors, they were doing terrible and awful things and children should never have to go through that.
Revisiting my values for my 2022 goals, I realized that at the core of my values is my moral code. I do believe in the ten commandments and I’m still puzzled by the opposing behaviors of those that claim to be living into their faith. Turning to a trusted Jewish source, I asked, “The ten commandments say that we are to honor our mothers and fathers. Except, I cannot see myself doing that if they have not behaved honorably. My mother did the best she could with what she had. She was also a victim. My biological father, however, did not have any redeeming qualities that I can remember. He was abusive and he violated me and he stole my childhood innocence from me. He turned me into his slave so he wouldn’t have to do his job as a parent. Am I really supposed to honor him? I can’t do that. How can I live into my values if that is something I cannot do?”
It was shared that I can honor that he is my biological father that is a part of my heritage. I do not, in any shape or form, have to smear the boundaries of my values and principles by honoring a dishonorable person. I can honor that he exists and, that’s about it. I’m interpreting this as radical acceptance because that makes sense.
I can accept that he is the sperm donor to my existence. He told me that he hated me and wished I had never been born and I can accept that. I do not have to honor him despite that. What he did to me as a child is unforgivable to me. Maybe the powers that be can and that’s their job. Some folks enjoy pressuring traumatized people to forgive. “You have to forgive to move forward.” No, I do not believe that at all. I do not have to forgive to move forward and I do it all the time.
There are varying degrees of offenses. I can forgive people that make a mistake and can admit that they made a mistake while doing the best they can to do better going forward. I can also forgive people that make mistakes and never try to do better and, at the same time, I will often keep those people at arm’s length because lack of effort gives me a reason to lack trust. That’s me. There are some people that I will never forgive. They are very few. It’s less than five people, to be specific because some behaviors are unforgivable and it’s not my place to forgive them. Murder is one of them. “Thou shalt not kill.”
What happens, then, if I have to kill in self-defense? How is that defensible when it goes against the ten commandments? Well–circling back to my original statement–I’m not a mainstream faith follower and to me, the bible is an interpretation of an ancient text that does have wisdom that I can think about and consider. Not because I want a cushy afterlife in heavenly bliss but because I desire to do my best to live according to my values and my personal code of conduct so other humans can feel seen, heard, and understood.
The generational conditioning that punished us into striving for perfection has made it difficult for us to be willing to be vulnerable with our imperfections. We’re not living if we are not making mistakes and if we aren’t making mistakes, we are not learning. Humility is worth striving for and we are all students of life if we are open to the lessons that life has to teach us and that does not mean that we have to, “buck up buttercup.” It does mean that we get to choose and we get to choose when we’re ready to do the hard work and the homework. We do not get to choose the consequences of our choices.