Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Frog in a Pot
The human body does not always respond to pain as quickly as it should. The other day I was cubing up chicken and sliced off a small piece of my left index finger before my mind could tell my body, “Wait a minute Hoss, that’s not chicken you’re cutting anymore.” I felt the pain instantly, but it took some time for the “cease and desist” order issued by my brain to reach the muscles in my hands and arms. It may take a while but usually our brains respond to pain.
Sometimes though, we can be in pain and never even realize. If the pan is always there our brains will compensate. Like the proverbial frog placed in a pot of water which is slowly brought to boiling won’t jump out, we humans can be placed within painful situation and never get the message we need to hit the eject button.
While not literally true, the boiling frog metaphor is an example of something real which happens to humans called desensitization. When it comes to constant dangers our minds can betray us. Sometimes, instead of getting out, we adapt. I spent 33 years as the frog in the pot of fundamentalist religion. I was in terrible pain and I never even knew until a few years ago.
I knew as soon as the phone rang and it was a colleague from the church I worked for calling, I was in trouble. It was a holiday (Labor Day, maybe?) and he would not have called unless something was wrong. It could have been any number of things, being a pastor to the homeless was loaded with calls at inconvenient times to deal with emergencies, but I knew in my gut the call was about me. Maybe, I had been expecting it. Maybe, I was psychic (I’m not psychic).
“Brent, I am gonna need to come to my office and talk with us.”
“Okay. Can’t we just talk over the phone?”
“No, I need you to come here to talk with us.”
“Well, can you at least tell me what it is we need to talk about?”
“I really can’t.”
I heard the distress in my colleague’s voice and I knew I was to be hauled in for an inquisition. Even though I had been expecting this moment my mind bounced around like a fishing bobber on a windy lake and my stomach felt like I had been eating metal shavings for breakfast instead of Kashi Go Lean. I was nauseated and panicked. I was a paper cut awaiting the lemon juice.
I drove to the meeting nervously wondering which specific heresy they would castigate me for. It really could have been any number of things honestly. Almost everything I had taught during that time period was “heretical”. I had taught against the doctrine of sacrificial atonement, denied hell was a place of eternal punishment, disavowed the belief only Christians would go to Heaven, publicly said I saw nothing wrong with homosexuality, and to put a nice cherry on top of my apostasy sundae, my wife and I had begun broadening our sexual horizons together.
We both had grown up under the oppressive weight of believing there was something bad about sex, with added damage from both of us being survivors of childhood sexual abuse. After years of counseling we both decided could be a very good thing and we had been missing out on just how good it could be. We wanted the freedom to explore our sexuality and redeem what had been taken from us in childhood. I will not tell you exactly what we did in our sexual exploration (this is not that type of story, sorry.) I will tell you everything we did was responsible, legal, and done together as a couple. However, what we did were definitely not things fundamentalist pastors and their wives are allowed to do.
I had given my accusers plenty of ammunition for their firing squad. In truth it did not really matter which of my “sins” they would castigate me for, the results would be the same. I was not going to be a pastor much longer. I had made my heretical stands and now I would pay the heretic’s price. I would burn on a pyre.
I paused in my minivan when I reached my destination and tried to calm my nerves before heading in. Eventually, I realized the futility of this attempt. There would be no calm for me and I knew it. Like a lemming to a cliff, I headed to the office. Two of my church colleagues were there waiting. They told me they were worried for me because they were aware of some things I had been participating in which were “ungodly”. I did not deny the charges.
I did for a brief foolish moment try to defend myself, try to show my point of view, but I spoke a foreign language. They had, what they believed to be, the inerrant words of God on their side. How could I argue with such thinking? I became a monolith, not moving or speaking; just waiting, listening. They wanted me to repent. I thought of my ancestor John Proctor who was murdered by zealots in Salem. Maybe this was fate. I desperately wanted to tell them to go fuck themselves. I wanted to stand my ground and burn. Instead, I told them how sorry (I wasn’t sorry) and repentant (I wasn’t repentant either) I was. I had a wife and kids I needed to care for. Heretics do not make much of an income.
Because I repented, I was not immediately forced out. They allowed me to retain my position in name only (clearly they could not trust me to teach anymore). They gave me a few months to find a job. The young man I trained to take my place (I had already made plans to leave the church) would just have to step in about six months earlier than expected. I got up to leave, and thanked them for their “mercy”. They begged me not to lose sight of who I once had been. I left. I stepped through the door and into the sun.
I stood, shocked. I had give all of me for ten years. Ten years, I cleaned up after drunks who would stumble in and piss on the floors. Ten years, I broke up fights. Ten years, I helped addicts try and fail, and try again. Ten years, I put their God before my wife and children. But, now I was only broken rules and doctrines, a “sinner”. I realized the scales upon which religion judged were imbalanced. I felt the cut of religion thirty-three years too late, and I finally recoiled.
I realized when it came to religion people were of less importance than God. Religion often hurt people, who undeniably exist, for love of a God, who may or may not exist. Humanity is Isaac, and religion is Abraham. People had too often been placed on the altar as a test of faithfulness.
I hadn’t hurt anyone. I had loved people deeply and helped many. I hadn’t embezzled funds. I had sacrificed immensely monetarily. I had broken no laws. I had simply thought and behaved differently. Religion had not seen me, it saw only my sin. The unfair judgment had woken me, and I finally jumped out of the pot. I am lucky, many frogs never make it out.