I’ve had the opportunity to re-read some of my blogs lately, and every now and then I see an ugly monster rear its head. And I want to address it. It’s not envy or jealousy, but rather is hypocrisy. I’ve noticed that in recent years I’ve become a version of the very thing that bugs the hell outta me…judgmental, critical, and self-righteous. I’m not proud of it, but I am owning it as true. Otherwise, there’s no other way to begin to change it, because there’s no acknowledgement that a problem exists. Isn’t that the first step to recovery? Well, I’m diving in.
Being raised in differing denominations of Christianity, and attending a Christian university, I had some very fundamental religious concepts instilled into me. Things like original sin, the necessity and grace of salvation, resurrection, hell, holiness, purity, trust in a just God, God’s sovereignty, the smallness of man, and so on. (I’m not a theologian, and never claimed to be one…so if any of these things aren’t technically “Fundamental”, forgive me. When I say “fundamental”, I’m referring only to the things that were basically drilled home on a regular basis…not official dogma.)
My early years were lived in a more liberal type of religious environment, but the fundamentals were the fundamentals…so they were basically the same. But beginning with my sophomore year in high school, I changed homes and began to attend a more “charismatic” church. Here, the fundamentals were LIFE. Not only were they taught, but they were lived with a vehemence that I’d never experienced or encountered before – complete with tracts, door-to-door witnessing, altar calls, lock-ins, and the like. Straight up “kingdom business”!
In my early years, I attended church regularly because it’s all I knew. It was what my family did. But the lifestyle wasn’t as restricted and constricting as it became when I changed homes and churches. Funny thing is that my home wasn’t restrictive (quite the contrary…it was more freedom than I’d ever known up to that point), but there was a religious regimen in place that left no room for anything other than the teachings being presented. It wasn’t mandatory clothing and no make-up, but the culture was that of strict compliance to the Bible – God’s holy word. Anything to the contrary was cause for not only concern, but depending on the infraction, prayer, fasting, laying on of hands, and possible pastoral counseling.
In this environment, I went from a sometime-y churchgoer to the Lord’s cheerleader. I learned what it looked like to actually “live” what I’d been taught in the other church environment…and I was faithful. I felt a strong sense of obligation to the tenets that my spiritual understanding had been built upon to that point. But I also felt a strong sense of guilt whenever I wasn’t as excited about the Lord’s work as it seemed I should have been. It was in this environment that I learned how to judge.
I saw how well other people were treated when they were serving God and doing it “right”. I saw how “lost and lonely” other people looked and were treated when they tried to master being faithful to God, but somehow fell short. I learned how to do the right things, and stay on the right side of righteousness so that I would be treated well. And I also judged myself, based on all that I saw, because I saw others being judged…and I didn’t want that stigma.
I loved the aspects of restoration, reconciliation, and grace but was horrified by the idea that the God I served could be so mean and cruel as to cause (or graciously “allow”) bad things to happen to people if they weren’t holy enough. Mortified by the idea that not only would He allow bad things to happen to them here, but if some freak accident caused them to die while they were thinking or doing something unholy, they would burn in hell for all of the rest of eternity. No chance of parole, and no pardons…no exceptions.
That being the case, after high school, I wanted to make sure that I stayed “in grace”…so I continued on to a Christian university. Here, I saw and heard of all MANNER of hellbound activity! Everything from cursing, drinking, premarital sex, listening to secular music, partying with heathens…the whole nine. My Christ cheerleading pom-poms were almost worn out by the end of freshman year…and I can only imagine how ridiculous I looked for condemning my roommate for ROCKING to Michael Jackson (she was in LOVE with him). It was a lost cause and I felt myself “backsliding” because I started to actually “like” Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love”, thanks to the hellion of a dorm beautician who had her music on blast mode. Yeah, I was falling and falling fast.
That way of living seems so far removed from me today, as I chill my sweet moscato, listen to the soothing “secular” jazz sounds of George Benson, enjoy a schedule that’s not dictated by spiritual emphasis weeks, visit different bars and do karaoke without feeling “convicted” or compelled to tell them about Jesus, and acquaint myself with the sound of my own voice rather than waiting to hear if what I want to do is “normal” and okay with the churchgoing public.
But these days I find myself plagued by a different version of the same judgmental virus. Only it’s directed at those who now live the life that I once knew and followed oh-so-intimately. It’s almost like a lashing out and poking fun at them…how small of me!
Here’s what I know… Although I do not subscribe to the same ways of conducting my life, it’s not my place to judge them for how they conduct theirs. HOWEVER, with my emancipation has come a yet untrained tongue and face (it seems to have lost its ability to bullshit anymore) which can be quite sharp in asking a “soldier for Christ” to back up off me should they push me to that point…I’m working on reclaiming my grace. Nevertheless, I’m saying that I realize that there is a way to be free of what is no longer authentic for me without antagonizing those with which I once closely identified.
Because the truth of the matter is that judgment is judgment…regardless of where it’s aimed. And I neither desire nor have the right to be anyone’s judge. It’s just that I sometimes feel the need to “set the record straight” and go out of my way to prove that something is a certain way…when it’s absolutely unnecessary. It is what it is. I am who I am. No need to prove anything, or set anything or anyone straight.
It’s pretty much a fight or flight type of response to what I perceive to be a potential threat. But threat to what, is the question. Threat to my personhood? Threat to my liberty? Threat to my future? Threat to my own definition of who I am? None of these things can be stripped of me…I’d have to surrender them. So where does the fear come from? What am I really afraid of?
Marianne Williamson’s “Return to Love” suggests that maybe I’m afraid of myself. My own brilliant, incredible, amazing, resilient self. And you know what? I’m inclined to agree. Because I’ve compared myself to so many others over the course of my life and journey, and felt as though I didn’t shine like them in some way or another. But what I’ve come to realize is THAT’S THE POINT!!! Living in other people’s shadows and under their umbrellas of what’s possible or acceptable is overwhelmingly exhausting! And it is IMPOSSIBLE to ever grow into fullness and pure and genuine fulfillment coloring myself by someone ELSE’s numbers.
Judgment isn’t me. That was someone else. So while I know I’ll continue to speak about my various experiences and how I believe many of them made me shrink into a way-too-small version of myself, my goal is to learn to do so without venom and without contempt. Beauty, grace, dignity, authenticity, humility, and truth is who I am…and how I want to deliver. So when I look in to mirror today, I won’t see yet another “version” of me…but simply Dionne.
Does this mean that everything will be diplomatic, “safe”, and virtually pain-free? Not at all. There’s no way to satisfy or protect everyone. But the point is my AIM should not be anyone or any group of people. When I share, I want all of me to be free and have a place wherever I am. But in this space of genuineness, I no longer have to fear that I won’t fit and therefore force myself into yet another space that doesn’t honor my truth.
Learning how to balance all of this is such an interesting journey, but one that I’m so glad to finally be on.