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Friday, August 13, 2010

Toxic Anger

The author Anne Rice, best known for her vampire novels, made waves last week when she declared to her 82,000 "friends" on her Facebook page:
"For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else."
Ten years after her return to Catholicism (she was an atheist before that), Rice said she still believed in God, but that,
"In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life."
In an interview with the LA Times a few days ago, she also said,
"I've also found that I can't find a basis in Scripture for a lot of the positions that churches and denominations take today, and I can't find any basis at all for an anointed, hierarchical priesthood. So all of this finally created a pressure in me, a kind of confusion, a toxic anger at times, and I felt I had to step aside. And that's what I've done..."
But is that even possible? Is it not an oxymoron to state that you are committed to Christ yet not a Christian? Isn't that a bit like saying you are a citizen of America but not an American.

The reality of such a claim would be that you belong to America, but do not want to be associated with America’s people in any way – really meaning some of America’s people, not all. 

I think I understand that.

I was talking this evening with an old friend. Well, I've known her for about seven years. She's 76 years old. She left The Church years ago.

"I'm spiritual," she said, "not religious."

She's said that often enough over the years. Tonight, I asked her why.

"Well, you know I have a son who is gay. When he came out, The Episcopal Church was not where it is today. They were brutal to him," she said as the pain, still almost as fresh as the day it happened, seemed to catch in her throat.

"I got so angry, it consumed my thinking. I couldn't pray. I couldn't go back to that church. I couldn't go to any church. I would just get too angry. The anger just seemed to poison my heart and my soul. So," she said, "I walked away. It was too toxic."

Ann Rice's son, Christopher, is also gay.  He's a gay writer and a gay activist. He's written five best-selling novels.

The Irish Times recently ran this story:
AN 80-YEAR-OLD woman is organising a one-day boycott of Sunday Mass “by the faithful women of Ireland” next month.

Jennifer Sleeman from Clonakilty in Cork said she wants “to let the Vatican and the Irish church know that women are tired of being treated as second-class citizens”.

She has called on the Catholic women of Ireland to “join your sisters on Sunday, September 26th. On that one day boycott Mass. Stay at home and pray for change. We are the majority. We may have been protesting individually but unremarked on, but together we have strength and our absence, the empty pews, will be noticed”.

She said: “Whatever change you long for, recognition, ordination, the end of celibacy, which is another means of keeping women out, join with your sisters and let the hierarchy know by your absence that the days of an exclusively male-dominated church are over.”
Whether or not this action will make a difference remains to be seen.  But, at least she's doing something. And, organizing other women to do the same.

What I've come to understand about the folks who come to read this blog is that you are very intelligent people. You've already made some connections, haven't you?

These three women are saying 'no more' to the toxic anger that results from the sexual abuse of innocent children at the hands of an 'anointed, hierarchical priesthood'.

To the denial of the right to women to have control over decisions made about the reproductive rights of their own bodies.

To the Pope's outrageous, embarrassing, hideous public suggestion that condoms - especially in the Global South - to control the AIDS pandemic was not a good thing.

To the equally outrageous public condemnation of a Roman Catholic nun because she approved an abortion for a dying mother in a RC Hospital.

To the misogyny that tries to keep women out of positions of ecclesiastical authority or "in their place" - which as been determined by dry, brittle, frightened old men - or insecure young men who have been very carefully taught - who lurk in the halls of power in every church and every denomination.

And, no to the churches that spent millions to come in to the state of California and deprive gay citizens of their civil rights to same-sex marriage.

Ms. Rice asked, "What does that say about organized religion?" She added,  "And finally, the pressure built up, the toxic anger built up, the confusion built up and I thought, 'I have to get out this. I want God to be the center of my life and somehow I'm in bed with the devil."

Toxic anger will do that to you.

Or, it will destroy your heart and your soul and, eventually, your mind.

I suspect more and more mothers - and their husbands and children - will be walking away from more and more organized religions.

And, I can't say as I blame them.

God needs to be at the center of our lives. God is not at the center of organized religion when rigid rules are used to oppress and intimidate and hurt God's people and creatures and creation.

I know many people - good Christian folk in good Christian churches - who are filled with toxic anger and confusion.

And, they are walking away. They are becoming "spiritual but not religious".

And, they're not coming back.

Ever. Again.

They are becoming, instead, "faithful outsiders".

It occurs to me that Jesus and his disciples were the "faithful outsiders" of their day. They were the "People of The Way". They were filled with 'toxic anger' at the organized religion of their day and left to start their own movement.

Yes, of course, there are "faithful insiders" - those who work for change from inside organized religion, like that 80 year old woman from County Cork, Ireland. They are angry, but their anger has not reached toxic levels. Or, maybe it has. They are still able to turn their anger into action designed to get the institutional church to wake up and pay attention.

I think these three women, these three mothers, are the Madonnas of the Body of Christ, who is being mocked and scourged by the religious zealots of our day.

There is an old saying that when a woman makes a decision to end abuse, something in the cosmos shifts - some energy is released, and the universe conspires - breathes together - to unleash the power to bring the abuse to an end.

I think that 'energy' is the Holy Spirit. Ruach. Shekinah. The Holy Ghost. The Spirit unleashed as a gift of the Resurrection of Jesus.  The Spirit present at the beginning of creation.

It is, I would submit to you, the power of The Divine Feminine.

It is the antithesis of toxic anger.  It is the power of God to restore justice and bring the healing power of mercy and peace to a broken, chaotic world.

It is not abandonment. It is "letting go and letting God."

The Spiritual Journey toward something new, something whole and holy, often begins when you walk away from the toxic anger in the places where you live and work and pray.

In the name of God.  In the Name of Christ. By the power of the Spirit.


claire bangasser said...

faithful outsider. Teresa of Avila used to call herself a faithful dissident. I have always liked that.

Elizabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, when asked why she was not leaving the Catholic Church if she disliked the pope (JP2 then) so much, answered, "It is not I who should leave the Church. The pope should."

Anne Rice's announcement has made a lot of ripples (from what I have noticed on FB). Some of my best friends have left the Catholic Church. My own children find it very difficult to stay in it.

The Catholic Church seems to be the last bastion of conservatives. And though some of us remain in it, holding on to what we consider is just -- even if entirely against what some in Rome say...

Godde is great and big enough to take us all in... :-)

Thank you for this post.

Paul said...

Sometimes one must flee the toxic environment or be destoyed by the toxins. I have seen it in work environments and in relgious and academic ones. I applaud those who stand up for their own worth and survival and I admire those who can work within systems to change them. Blessins on all who follow Ruach.

Griselda said...

OMG! Like my kids say...ohh my God/Goddess/all there IS....!

"There is an old saying that when a woman makes a decision to end abuse, something in the cosmos shifts - some energy is released, and the universe conspires - breathes together - to unleash the power to bring the abuse to an end.

I think that 'energy' is the Holy Spirit. Ruach. Shekinah. The Holy Ghost. The Spirit unleashed as a gift of the Resurrection of Jesus. The Spirit present at the beginning of creation.

It is, I would submit to you, the power of The Divine Feminine."

You nailed it!
Right on!
I am delighted to read something that makes sense...I am dancing in DE-LIGHT!

Thank you thank you...!!
Bright Blessings to you.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

You're right, Elizabeth. Something changes in the forces of nature when we rise up and say, "no more."

I don't like to talk about it, but many years ago in a galaxy far away, I was once nose to nose with a kitchen knife and the threat of "I can slit your f@#*in' throat right now if I wanted." Literally pressed against the wall.

...and a voice came up inside me that said, "Yes you can. Maybe you will. But you'd better put my eyes out and cut my tongue off too, b/c I will stare you down and spit at you with my last dyin' breath."

I had reached the point where I no longer cared if I lived or died, but there would be NO MORE.

And then a miracle happened.

He backed away.

The end.

I still believe God saved me from awful things, again and again, becuase there is still much left for me to do and more I need to be.

harvey said...

Thinking in preparation for a sermon on 8/22 re Jesus healing on the Sabbath, I'm going to start with the Anne Rice explanation of why she's left. As she had to abandon Xnty in the name of Xt, so Jesus had to abandon Sabbath regulations in the name Sabbath. Your piece is right on. Thanks.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Claire - I've always loved that E S-F quote. My favorite kind of uppity woman.

Yes, and while the RC Church is the focus of Ms. Rice's concern, there are all sort and manner of 'conservative' or 'orthodox' all across the board.

No one's hands are clean.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Paul - following Ruach is costly. That's why so few of us do it.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Griselda - I hope the same Shekinah spirit that caused you to delight leads you closer in your walk with Jesus.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - Your story made me gasp even though you've told it before. Something absolutely shifts when we say "no more". I've experienced it myself. It's pretty amazing.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You honor me, Harvey. Thank you. Oh, BTW, I'd love to read your sermon. Where will it be posted?

Paul said...

Very costly indeed, Elizabeth. Hence my applause, admiration, and blessings.

Abby said...

For a while, I was pretty fed up with the Church as well (and I'm a cradle Episcopalian, and a PK at that). I tried to leave it because I was filled with the toxic anger you speak of, and apathy to believe I could change things. Then, something amazing happen, the Holy Spirit moved me the way She likes to do, and I was off on a 600 mile bike trip to raise money for an ERD program called Nets for Life and my life was never the same. Now, rather than leaving the Church, I've changed the anger into passion--passion for change. I no longer identify as "spiritual but not religious", but rather "spiritual AND religious".

I also wasn't sure if you'd seen this "open letter to Anne Rice":

It also makes some good points.



Anonymous said...

I'm glad that we are having this conversation! I tried for 30 years to make my Catholic upbringing work! The i spent 20 years in a Baptist Church, serving, learning & growing. Recently i retired for the Staff of a Non-Denominational Church that i have worked at for the past 7 years. It has been quite a journey!

Only Jesus, the Living Word, is w/o sin! He is the Way, the Truth & the Life. No one comes to the Father (God) but through Him. And He want's everyone to know that He loves them and made a way for us to be with Him forever in Eternity. We find this and so much more in God's Holy and inspired Word. . . . The Bible.

It's not about organized religion. It's about a intimate relationship with our Creator and in living a life that will make Him say "Well done" when we are finished with our earthly journey and see Him face to face.

Pick up the Book and read in the Book of John the beloved disciple of Jesus who personally witnessed the live and ministry of Christ! You will discover many amazing things!

God is Love & Jesus intended that the church be a place of healing, love , comfort, support & truth.

Check these verses out in the Book of Acts. "They (The first believers) committed themselves to spiritual growth by studying the Scriptures together, sharing together, and praying together. They helped those in need by selling their possessions and generously sharing the proceeds with them. Their faith, joy and loving support were so contagious that many more became believers. Acts 2:42-47.

We are the ones that have screwed it up!

Blessings to all of you,

Unknown said...

Thank you. I left the LDS church in 2008 because of its out-and-out intolerance and hatred of women and gays in the name of God. Family and many friends are still there. Some are trying to change it from the inside. I respect their courage, but I felt it would be useless to try. I am beginning to feel it is okay to say I am Christian again, but I'm not there yet. I am still too embarrassed. If someone asks me, for now I say I am spiritual and that I love everyone without trying to put a condition on that love. I do miss attending church on Sundays though.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Abby. I left this note for Jane over at ECafe (I'm so glad you pointed me to it. I read ECafe almost daily and LOVE Jane. I just missed this one.)

As always, Jane, this is very articulate and well written. Thank you. I happen to disagree with you. Indeed, I think there's a growing number people who are now members of communities who have fled from the institutional church but love Jesus. They describe themselves as "spiritual but not religious" which I hear as a way of expressing their deep painful experience with organized religion and the profound longing for the church that is part of the Realm of God.

People in 12 Step Programs have a saying: "Religion is for people who are afraid of hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there."

Not always accurate, but for many in recovery, pretty damn close.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Laurie - I understand. Really. Every journey is made up of millions of steps. You may have a long way to go, but don't ever doubt that you've made great strides.

IT said...

I think that people have to pick their battles. when the cost of staying "inside" is too great, one has to tend to one's own health. I have seen my Beloved blossom with a new spiritual home that doesn't demand she hide who she is.Kudos to those who remain and can fight from within.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Anonymous - Thanks for your comments. It is about intimacy with Jesus. That's what so many people in church both want and fear most. So, we create 'skirmishes' and 'debates' because at least there's some heat.

Reminds me of my parents. They fought all the time. I came to understand that that was how they did intimacy. They were "good RCs" who had four children. Having intimacy any other way than bickering and fighting only led to more babies.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - kudos to your beloved as well as our much loved Fran and all others who are able to stay without 'toxic anger'. I couldn't do it. They are braver, stronger women than I.

Watson said...

Thanks for this post Elizabeth - it meant a lot for me.

I found you through Claire's FB page! Well, my human did. I'm a dog and don't have these churchy problems. :-)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Welcome, Daisy. We love four-leggeds here. You'll find a bowl of fresh water by the door. And, a treat when you let me know someone is at the door. There's a good pup.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I meant to say, Abby, that when you said "no", the Spirit still moved. S/he just wanted you to work for change for the inside out. It was she who helped you turn your toxic anger into passion.

But, others turn their toxic anger into passion for Jesus when they walk away, too. Just a different way of doing it.

Not necessarily "the better portion". Just a different one.

Muthah+ said...

Sometimes one has to walk away to get rid of the anger. But I don't think we have the right to just leave. It is Christ whom we follow. When the Church is doing that which makes it impossible to know the freedom that his life promises, then we need to speak out. When it continues its toxic acts, we need to protect ourselves by walking away for a season.

If we do not address the anger that such toxicity produces, and allow God to recenter us in the love, then evil wins. I refuse to allow evil to win. I must find a way to let the anger go for the sake of MY soul not the sake of those who who do damage to me. Because Christ is the Savior I must allow myself to know the salvation that going beyond the anger requires.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

What if the evil is in the church, Muthah? What if you've tried and you can't change it? Doesn't evil win then? What if walking away from the Church and following Christ is your only option?

Mike in Texas said...

I don't really understand all the fuss about Anne Rice's statement. I think she could have been clearer about leaving ORGANIZED Christianity, but other than that there is nothing new there. In fact, I think it is quite nice that she did this in such a public way.

These are the people John Spong has termed "Christians in Exile" for decades. I fled the toxicity of the RC church decades ago, went to the Episcopal Church and ended up fleeing the toxicity there as well. Even though Episcopal toxicity is much more tasteful than RC toxicity, it remains a toxin that I do not need in my life.

Lindy said...

I don't want to say anything, but I do wish there were a like button.

Jenn said...

I understand the feelings of Ms. Rice...I do not understand the exclusionary, judgmental practices of many of the forms we call "Christianity"...Even now, the world is so angry, that many in the right believe that the followers of Islam have no rights, and on some message boards that I have read, and from my Brother In Law, that they have no right to exist even...I shake my head...I try and defend, even though, brought up a Catholic (with too many others thrown in with my mother's explorations), I cannot condone, nor want to accept this fear, this hate...I know the world is a scary place, with scary people, but I would prefer to take care of the world around love my fellow man, to resist the temptation to hate, because, if nothing else, it only destroys very essence...

Anonymous said...

Here's a thought. Perhaps sometimes toxic anger is our own problem because we want to have our cake and eat it too. We want our will rather than the will of our Creator, which has been well spelled out for us in the moral law, e.g. the commandments, which, by the way, Jesus never broke. Rather, he fulfilled them perfectly. This law exists because it flows from the character of an all-holy, morally perfect God. It's a reflection of that character & those attributes. Instead of wanting our own way against the "restrictions" of the moral law, it's our task as children of God to humble ourselves and submit to the Divine will. (2nd Chronicles 7:14)
How can upholding innocent life be against life? That's absurd. The "reproductive rights of your body"? "Or know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have from God: and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Therefore, glorify and bear God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" - 1st Corinthians 6: 19-20
Pedophile priests, heinous? Yes, absolutely! But let's keep in mind the vast majority of RC priests are good faithful men. Other Denominations and religions have this problem too, but the RCC gets bigger press. Why? Because anti-catholic prejudice is the last acceptable prejudice in American society. Of which, this has been ingrained in American culture from its founding.
Toxic anger? I'll tell you about toxic anger, it's far worse to be a recipient of it. You can do something about it within yourself. Change your point of view, your attitude, your perceptions. You can't do much about someone else's, except remove yourself from it, if possible. The messages I got growing up were, "you're not good enough", "you never stick with anything", "you always...", "you never..." ad nauseum.
For me, the RCC is a refuge from all this. Let me tell you, having parents who are irreligious is no picnic. To be subjected to endless blasphemies hearing "G*d d*mn" over and over and over again is demoralizing. No, when I walk into that holy mass, the heavenly liturgy, I get to be close to Jesus, and feel his presence. And nowhere else can I be healed by those most holy sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Interesting thought Anonymous. I only printed it because it gives me an opportunity to respond. Next time, I won't.

The RC Church didn't get press because it's so "big". It got press because it did NOTHING - absolutely NOTHING - to protect children from men they knew were serial abusers and pedophiles. They contributed to the horror and terror of generations of children.

AS for joining the RC church as a way to deal with your issues about your family of origin, I have a few words of advice. Three, actually: Get some therapy. It's more expensive but, in the long run, healthier for you mind and soul and body.

Finally: Your post reminded me of a letter written by the psychologist Carl Jung to a young atheist. He wrote something like, "If I believed in the God you believe in, I'd probably be an atheist, too."

Your attitudes are precisely why intelligent people like Ann Rice are leaving Christianity.