If you aren’t already following Humans of New York, cancel the rest of your internet usage and start immediately. Brandon has created an absolute gift to the world.
The latest story hit me really, really hard. Set aside 15 minutes to read the whole thing in order (1-15) and start here.
It is the incredible story of Detra who finally left her patriarchal, abusive life as a controlled, disenfranchised Fundamental Baptist pastor’s wife. She saw the whole rotten thing with clear eyes, declared herself free, and walked right out the door. She is inspiring and gutsy and wonderful.
At one point in the story, I started crying hot, frustrated tears. The number of Detras trapped in the absolute prison of religious patriarchy, abuse, disenfranchisement, and shame is endless. And frankly, the men are in the same prison, handed a story that begins and ends with an entitled abuse of power that will break their own human experience and everyone they subsequently harm. There are no winners.
I want to say this: The whole thing is fake. It isn’t even real. There is no divinity or spiritual wholeness in this made-up system. People lose their entire lives subjugated, ashamed, and bullied, and they are told this is “faithfulness”: women unable to have agency much less exercise spiritual authority, LGBTQ people traumatized in conversion therapy, young people shamed immeasurably for their emerging sexuality, people of color oppressed in the name of God.
This rigid, rules-based faith system predicated on hierarchy and abusive restrictions is a human construct, and it makes me want to scream and cry and break everything I can get my hands on. IT ISN’T REAL. It isn’t obedience. It isn’t a requirement. But it has broken hearts and minds and bodies and lives forever. It is a curse and a prison.
If you have ever trusted me as a spiritual leader, hear this: I don’t believe in this system. I don’t believe this is a God-sanctioned way to live at all. None of me finds this faithful, and I regret every second I wasted in shame and guilt and fear in some earnest attempt to obey God. I doubly regret teaching and leading teenagers and women to do the same.
For every ounce of shame I laid on someone’s shoulder, every burden I reinforced in gender and sexual and racial bondage, my sorrow is unending.
Let’s make this simple. An old text handed us a list of spiritual markers that will easily identify real faith, real faith communities, something true and good and following the correct North Star: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
These beautiful outcomes suggest the Spirit is present and active and creating human flourishing, the fruit of the tree if you will. It is kind of basic, but what a tool.
If the result of any given faith system or faith community or faith structure is shame, control, abuse, pain, any crushing of the spirit, any breakdown of someone’s humanity, any elevation of one person over another, one gender over another, one group over another… it is bullshit. It is utter and complete bullshit. Rubbish. It is a marauder and staying under the death crush of its weight is not a requirement; it never was.
Listen up: There is no lock on that prison door. We’ve been conditioned to stay in the cell, but the door is actually open; a secret the power brokers don’t want you to figure out. You can leave like Detra. You can pick up your purse and walk right out the door. Have the audacity to flourish. Choose the absolute hubris to seize love and joy and peace and all the beautiful things.
Life is a gift and it is meant to be lived to the outer edges of its possibility. You are a treasure, and your whole mind and body and soul is a delight to God. You are whole, by yourself.
You aren’t under some religious sanction to hand over your autonomy, or dignity, or identity. If someone is telling you you are, leave immediately. The system is rotten. It is irredeemable and you need not waste one more second under its misguided oppression. Not one more second. This is not disobedience but rather a move of bold faithfulness. What could be more faithful than choosing life instead of death?
Walk out of the prison, dear one. Let it rot and burn and self-implode. It doesn’t need any more casualties. There is no worth or honor or value in “trying to fix it” or shining up the few lovely parts. Tiny green shoots on a rotten tree are bound to happen, but the tree is still diseased and fit to be cut down.
Go live. Choose a different tree bearing the real fruits. Live free and true and beloved. Choose a new story. You can. You are allowed. It is not too late, no matter how much time you’ve lost. It is worth whatever you will lose. You will gain more, please believe me. What a shame, really a tragedy to choose anything less. Think of the most free version of yourself — not controlled or shamed or limited, not silenced or bullied or condescended to, not marginalized or maligned or mistreated in the name of God.
Now go be that person. Be free in the name of God. You are so beloved.