Archive for November, 2019

Love will come (Letters from the Coast)

Love will come.

This pounds in my head ceaselessly like a song you can’t shake or an argument you analyze over and over, one that makes you imagine a thousand responses you never made.

Love will come.

I can’t remember the first time I heard it. It seems so constant and aggressive that I feel certain it has been with me since I was a child. But I can’t pinpoint just one moment where the indoctrination began, can’t think of one pure instance where I heard and absorbed that level of hope. One day, it was just there, insisting on its own way in flagrant violation of the rules. Hope this big has no rules.

Love will come.

It is utterly unlike the bloodless love of a TV sitcom dad, or the florid love of a teenager, or even quite like the fierce, unreasonable love of a mother. It is both harder than a diamond and more fragile than a body. It’s like an overripe tomato ready to fall off the vine and detonate on impact, spewing inelegant red guts and tiny seeds and split skin fragments all across the earth, refusing to leave anything unmarked by its kenotic enthusiasm.

Nothing could embarrass it into holding back. Nothing could drain its potential on the vine. Pick it and it will paint your hand instead.

Love will come.

Bits and pieces surfaced as if half-remembered from some earlier, pre-conscious time until 2005 on an early spring afternoon in St. John Maddermarket, a dark defunct church in the city of Norwich. In a totally conditional world where I had fallen far short of my own strongly held convictions about how to be an ethical being, the voice came without condition, with utter certainty – the only thing I can say with certainty, the only time when my certainty does not contradict my faith:

Love will come.

It came then and yet it didn’t, because that was only the beginning.

And of course, it also wasn’t, because really it was less beginning and more stopping to tie my shoe after a bad fall, more pausing and starting again.

I started walking.

I walked for ten years.

The voice came again and again: uninvited, unexpected, desired, demanded, refused, ignored, shunned, welcomed, embraced, and back again.

It came when I asked for it.

It came when I accepted the call.

It came when I took what felt like a ridiculous risk, and started seminary.

It came when I had no strength for it.

It came when my father died.

It came when others could not see it.

It came (and remained) when I could not see it.

Ten years.

Finally, I walked into a church and received four joyful burdens there: confirmation, marriage, convocation, and finally, ordination.

Love will come.

Love came for me. Love will come for me again.

And love will come for you.

Love continues through our own ignorance of her.

And at the end of us, which is likely much closer than we’d like to think, she will come, and remain.

Love will come.

I cannot believe otherwise, for if I did, it would be better for me to have never been.

I will lie down and die if I ever have to give that up.

Love will come.

“This is our King,” (Reign of Christ Sermon, November 24th, 2019)

When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. [[ 34Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’]] And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!’ 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, ‘If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!’ 38There was also an inscription over him, ‘This is the King of the Jews.’
39 One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!’ 40But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.’ 42Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ 43He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’

Luke 23:33-43

Somehow the wheel of the year has come around again and we’re staring down the barrel of Reign of Christ Sunday, one of the stranger and perhaps more uncomfortable Sundays of the church year. Bearing the full and rather ostentatious title, “The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,” as well as the more common “Christ the King Sunday” or “Reign of Christ Sunday,” it was instituted in the Western church by Pope Pius XI in 1925. This feast commemorating the ultimate authority of Jesus was apparently instituted in a papal encyclical responding to disputes over the ownership of former papal states. After half a century of struggle and sieges, the Holy See, now limited to Vatican City, acknowledged that the Italian State owned these territories. The Lateran Treaty outlining this agreement was signed four years after the establishment of Reign of Christ Sunday.

This context was interesting for me to discover so soon after I finished Robert Paxton’s book The Anatomy of Fascism. Alongside these huge institutions battling for earthly dominion in early 20th century Italy, another movement bubbled beneath the surface, appealing to the basest instincts of humanity. The establishment of this feast was clearly anything but apolitical. The Roman Catholic Church, not immune to the desire for power, recognized the wave of nationalism sweeping the region, and provided an important counterpoint to the grasping hand of King Victor Emmanuel II: There’s only one King, and we forget at our peril. Subtle, but pointed. The church couldn’t afford in those heady days to be too upfront in their criticism. It was scandalous enough to have lost their properties to the state – they couldn’t possibly invite further disgrace.

The Gospel of Luke throws out such subtlety in its crucifixion narrative. This passage couldn’t be more scandalous, and the whole chapter surrounding it highlights this.

It begins with Jesus brought before Pilate. The religious authorities accuse Jesus of undermining the Roman Empire by calling himself a king. They were determined to protect their people from further bloodshed by the Romans. This was the easiest way to do that, to disavow Jesus as an insurrectionist.

The writer of Luke, of course, knew that this strategy wouldn’t work, because the community that formed that Gospel lived through the destruction of the temple forty years after Jesus’ death. Hindsight is 20/20.

Luke then includes something which isn’t present in the other Gospels: Pilate passes Jesus off to Herod, Rome’s puppet king. It doesn’t go well. Jesus shows contempt for Herod, who demands a performance of miracles. Herod sends Jesus back wearing, Luke notes, “an elegant robe.” Again, mockery – and irony.

Because this is our king.

Once Jesus returns, Pilate wants him flogged and sent away. It’s worth noting that Pilate is not portrayed as sympathetically as he is in other Gospels. He merely hopes to quell a potential uprising, which might have been in the air during the days surrounding the feast of Passover. Perhaps he had heard that Jesus made friends with rich folks like the centurion and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward and worried about his rhetoric contaminating the upper class. Perhaps he didn’t want a riled up crowd to know they could push him around if they yelled loudly enough. But the voices of the crowd prevail, and Pilate finally acquiesces, sending Jesus to be crucified. We hear the story of Simon of Cyrene, not given any context for being forced to carry the cross – for Luke the reason’s not important; the king needs a footman. We hear the story of Jesus meeting women on the way to Golgotha, and he addresses them in words that sound almost psalmic – again, royal undertones.

And finally we come to the crucifixion between two criminals. One on his right, and one on his left, almost an echo of the demand from James and John to rule alongside Jesus. It was pretty uncommon for ordinary criminals to be crucified. Crucifixion was reserved for insurrectionists, challengers of the Roman state. There was almost certainly some political slant to the crimes of the criminals. If they were thieves, as tradition often says, maybe their theft was less about obtaining wealth and more about humiliating a high-ranking official by stealing his horse or some other valuable item.

Whatever the reason, Jesus is placed between them, again in a grotesque mockery of royalty. He is, in a sense, named King of the Criminals as well as King of the Jews.

This doesn’t seem like a fitting figure for a day with a name as grandiose as “The Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.”

One of the earliest criticisms Romans leveled against the infant church was that we had aligned ourselves with, or in Paul’s case, named ourselves slaves of, a king of criminals and bandits. It’s scandalous.

Almost as scandalous as that very king being born in a barn.

It’s an inspired move, having this Sunday just before Advent. It’s is the perfect preface to the life of this man to whom we give praise, honour, and glory despite his beginning and ending in scandal; this man who began as a howling baby born in a byway under questionable circumstances; this man who like us lived through joy, sorrow, uncertainty, terror, and pain, weathered humiliation and fear and grief and sleepless nights and disappointment; this man who, like the Membari family for whom we have been praying, lived many months without a home, and had to trust in the goodwill of others despite knowing intimately the depth of human depravity; this man who made a mockery of social class and appropriate rules of engagement; this man who once again sees humanity’s deeply paradoxical nature as he hangs between two criminals, one of whom adds his voice to the insults and derision of the crowd, and one of whom defends him even at the very threshold of ignominious death – and not only defends, but understands, quite naturally, that he is in the presence of royalty: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Leave it to a criminal undergoing capital punishment to know what’s really going on here. And leave it to God, through Jesus, to redeem and welcome that very criminal to Paradise.

Source: Wikipedia

Was this God’s greatest scandal of all: coming among us to suffer an excruciating and shameful death? It’s hard to say for sure, because scandal is sown pretty liberally through Holy Scripture. So many of the stories of God’s use of holy figures are scandalous: unwed teenage mothers, little boys in the temple, sheep-keeping sons, persecutors of the church, murderers, tax collectors, exceptionally sloppy prophets, sex workers – God doesn’t dwell much on occupation or character when it comes to equipping reluctant saints. I don’t know if that’s good news or bad news but it’s what we got!

Indeed there may be days where we wake up in the morning thinking the greatest scandal God ever pulled was calling us to church!

And perhaps that’s the real good news. God chooses us, whether we’re living our best life or in the pit wondering how we’ll ever manage to climb out; whether we feel like saints or sinners; whether we think the battered, rickety, beautiful boat that is the church will steer us true or sink us miles from shore (God chooses the church too, how scandalous is that?)

God chooses us, because a scandal, better than anything else, helps us know and name our values; helps us question everything we thought we knew; helps us see with entirely new eyes.

I can’t think of a better prayer with which to end than the one gifted to us by the writer of Colossians: “May we be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may we be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled us to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.”

Tear it down, Part 3 (Letters from the Coast)

This is the third and final entry in my three part piece on Christian fundamentalism and the harm it can and will cause in people’s lives.


After years of spiritual gaslighting, eventually X experienced abuse at the hands of a trusted person. When X told, it was swept under the rug. Nothing happened to the abuser, and because the abuse “wasn’t that bad” (i.e. didn’t look like the kind of abuse that Hollywood loves to titillate people with in movies with little light and close-ups on trembling lips), X’s feelings of anxiety, depression, and fear were unacknowledged and belittled.

It got to the point where X could barely sit in church. Panic attacks would set in. Again, people X trusted waved it off, or, worse yet, claimed that this demonstrated an appropriate level of reverential fear toward the god of vengeance and ‘justice.’

As X grew older, things became more complicated. X started having feelings toward others of the “wrong gender.” Pickled in years of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and screaming spiritual abuse, X opts for conversion therapy.

“It’s my choice,” said X. But was it?

After a time that doesn’t even bear mentioning, X returns unchanged, except the panic, anxiety, and self-loathing are even worse.

X begins to discover that maybe they’re not even in the right body. When X shares this story, X is told, “You’re just afraid that no [person of the “appropriate” gender] will want you because you’re not attractive. It’ll be fine.”

X enters adulthood and finally decides that enough is enough.

The break from the faith is not dramatic, but slow and messy and awkward. It is never so satisfying as the feel-good Hollywood narrative shows. Instead, X feels constantly as though they have betrayed family, church, and god.

X tries out different churches, unable to fathom leaving Christianity at first. These are all churches X was warned against. Some of them are still fairly conservative, but much more lenient. Others are wide open and socially progressive.

Two have rainbow flags in their ads, so X steals in. One is truly affirming and celebrates queer Christians and their gifts. The other acts as though they are, and claims love, but eventually tells X that these feelings are a sin just like any other sin and need to be conquered. X leaves, feeling completely betrayed and gaslit.

Over the next few years X swings back and forth between a strange sense of peace and nail-biting terror. X has always been told that peace is not the correct feeling, that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, that X should feel “convicted” in church. When X tries to explain that they can no longer be at their old church because the anxiety is too great, they are told, “What anxiety? Why would you feel any anxiety?” Every time one of these new pastors tells X that God is a God of love, it feels like a cop-out, like a way for Satan to entangle X into taking the easy way out.

X starts to feel like they’re losing their mind.

X contemplates suicide, but is too afraid of the vengeful god that still haunts their dreams.

Finally, after getting into proper therapy, X starts to unravel the years and years of abuse.

X starts to date. It feels like a coup. It takes forever to even contemplate holding hands, much less having a long term relationship.

X starts to messily and beautifully struggle out of the mire they were born into.

And as X begins for the first time to prioritize their own health and well-being, X contemplates leaving the church altogether.

It feels like stepping off a plane with no parachute.

It feels impossible.

Over and over, X spirals through the questions, the tears, and the terror. The one conviction X has is that it’s bondage or freedom, life or death, now or never.

It takes months, but finally X makes the decision.

Some of the folks who make up the story of X did stay in Christianity, and some left.

Each choice was theirs, and I honoured it each time.

And I wept bitter tears for the beautiful broken souls who were put through such disgusting abuse.

There was no God, no Jesus, no Holy Spirit in the stories I wove into the story of X. There was only pain, self-loathing, self-doubt, and gaslighting. Worst of all, some of the people that made up X went through this in the ‘80s and ‘90s…and some went through it much more recently.

There are still churches that encourage conversion therapy.

There are still churches that tell young people they can change their sexuality.

There are still churches that use and abuse their people, and prime them for this abuse by telling them they can’t trust their feelings, because “the heart is deceitful above all things.”

This church still exists, and I believe it has tainted Christ’s Body with its lies and deceit.

And I will not rest until, through the rest of us, Christ tears it down.

Tear it down, Part 2 (Letters from the Coast)

This is the second in my three part series on Christian fundamentalism and the harm it can and will cause in people’s lives.


Years later, I found myself obsessively scrolling through a forum of survivors of IFB churches (Independent Fundamentalist Baptist).

I don’t remember how I got there. I’m absolutely fascinated by cults, and IFB churches are very culty, so that might have been part of it.

It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, over and over, I saw the same damn story.

Kid (often but definitely not always a girl) ends up in IFB church. Maybe she grew up in it, but there were quite a few stories of families transferring to these churches from other ones. Finds herself in a community that prioritizes male authority, and concentrates it on the male pastor, who might as well be God.

Sidebar: I always found this funny as IFB and other fundamentalist Protestant churches usually dunk on the Roman Catholic Church for its hierarchy and elitism, but then literally recreate it without any of the accountability they might get from the wider communion or magisterium – hence, independent.

Said minister, or one of the other many many men in the parish with authority then sexually abuses the child.

Obviously many of the kids never come forward, but quite a few do.

And everything goes to hell.

If the kid is a girl (and especially if it’s a girl over 10 and under 18), the abuse is framed as a “giving in to temptation.” Abuser and abused are judged by elders of the church, and often sat before one another and made to “confess their sins.” Often the girl is then forced to apologize to the man’s wife, if he has one. In some cases, she is even forced to confess in front of the whole congregation.

If the kid is a boy, often the same process is followed, now tinted with all of the anti-LGBTQ persecution you might expect.

If the kid is under 10, there might be less focus on the “temptation” narrative, but the abuse is still framed as a lapse and the abuser is, for lack of a better word, coddled.

Because IFB churches are antagonistic toward the “sinful” outside world, more often than not no-one will go to the police. In the stories I read, the abuser was never kicked out of the church or even subject to what I would see as real discipline…and went on abusing.

I was completely horrified by everything. All of the above was accompanied by gaslighting and spiritual abuse.

Sexual abuse within families is bad enough. Over and over, survivors have to put up with family bullshit – secrets, enabling, denial, all of it. All of this is assuming that the survivor feels able to come forward, which of course many do not. I know people who have always wanted nothing but the best for their children who, confronted with abuse years after the fact, are utterly floored.

Because kids will do anything to survive. They will smile and grit their teeth and get good grades and put up and shut up.

But how much worse when an institution which was meant to be built on trust, meant to be built on not causing any little ones to stumble, meant to be built on a foundation of truth-telling, liberation, and love, enables objectification and abuse and hypocrisy of the highest order?

All of this brings me to X.

X is a composite of a few people I know. I’ll be clear right off the bat that any personal details about X are altered or hidden. Rest assured, however, that the accounts are true.

X grew up in a hardcore fundamentalist church, in a family that has no patience for any kind of Christianity other than what they believe is “the right one.” I, of course, would be deemed unsalvageable and destined for hell in this church.

X is from a large family, as many fundamentalists are. From the beginning, X was not entirely convinced of the rigidity of the faith they grew up in, but what was the alternative?

X was taught from birth that the job of the true Christian is to save souls. One’s age should not be an impediment to this work, X’s church family insisted. Little children were responsible for the salvation of everyone they knew, and they had to work fast because time was running out. The apocalypse was coming, and it was up to their church – the right church – to save the world.

It might sound a little exciting, and I imagine that sometimes it was. But more often than not, it was terrifying and stressful.

Imagine being 6 and feeling responsible for the salvation of the whole world.

My mum was still choosing my outfits and brushing my hair at 6.

X was constantly on the lookout for Satan, who was not merely outside, but inside the heart, which was “deceitful above all things.” All of the children of the church were taught never to trust their own feelings. If they had questions, they were to ask their parents or their pastor.

“Look at the Bible,” they were told. “Look at the ‘plain meaning.’ That will fix everything.”

But of course, it didn’t.

Tear it down, Part 1 (Letters from the Coast)

This is a three part entry about my experiences with Christian fundamentalism, and the irreparable harm it can and will cause in people’s lives.



My last full year of university I arranged with a close friend to move in together. Since she was home in Alaska for the summer, I was put in charge of looking for places to live.

One place I explored wasn’t the cheapest or most convenient location, but it was newly renovated, and at first glance everything in the agreement seemed reasonable if a bit odd. Of particular interest was the bottom line: “This is a Christian house with Christian morals; please respect these principles.”

Oh God, I was so naïve.

I went to meet with the owners, a dour looking man and his wife. The man met me in a study in his home, with a ceiling-high bookshelf that was, I swear, nothing but Bibles. His wife never entered the room or spoke to me. She just hovered near the doorway.

First red flag.

We talked for some time. I had been careful to wear a cross and talk about my church back home on the mainland. I was vague about anything more than that.

I don’t remember him ever smiling. Second red flag.

I gave him a deposit and a move-in date of September 1st. Don’t ask me why. I was twenty and knew nothing.

My boyfriend was horrified. “This says you can’t have any overnight guests unless they’re approved by him. And what the hell does that last line mean?”

My dad grimaced. “The place has a separate entrance. It’s not legal for them to police who you have over. You need to ask what he means by Christian principles and how he would choose appropriate company.”

My roommate were both to carry a more-than-full course load that year. We imagined our erstwhile home as a burrow to hunker down and work. It didn’t seem to matter much at the time.

But I decided to ask anyway. I phoned the guy.

He first claimed that the “Christian house” thing meant that he didn’t want us doing drugs or drinking.

I said, “Well…you could have just said that.”

“I suppose,” he said, sounding a bit taken aback. “And we don’t want any…well, witchcraft or anything like that.”

My eyebrows shot up. “Uh…okay, I don’t…wow. No Wiccans, huh? What if a Muslim decided to move in? Would that be okay?”

Silence. Occasional stammering. He was at a complete loss.

Finally, I said, “I don’t think this is going to work. Could you please send me back the deposit?”

“Sure,” he said. Then, after a long pause, “You know…the wages of sin is death.”

I put my forehead into my palm.


Dodged a bullet, didn’t we?


This was one of my most vivid encounters with Christian fundamentalism. I had experienced low-level evangelical pushiness before, but this was way beyond. I have been so lucky in my life to avoid the worst of what my faith has to offer.

When I look back on it now, I’m even more unnerved. Something about his piercing gaze feels almost predatory.

All those identical Bibles were for distribution. He was probably from a door-to-door kind of church, desperate to save souls and win the prize for most wretched sinners claimed at the end of the race.

And the way he studied me, the way he looked wary, the way I felt on edge the whole time I was in that house (which in my memory is grey and cheerless and dimly lit): that is the image of fundamentalism that has been seared into my soul, over and over.