It’s been a really long time since I’ve found myself cornered by an Evangelical Christian hell-bent on telling me all the ways that they aren’t “religious” but “in a relationship with Jesus” who, of course, is the best friend, counselor, teacher, etc. that I could have if I would only convert.
This week brought that streak to a sudden halt.
It came out of nowhere…it had to in order to catch me off-guard and prevent my escaping before it happened.
I was surprised by what it brought up for me. Or rather, what it didn’t bring up.
Generally when I have previously been witnessed to, I’ve been able to hold my ground, but inside I’m trembling, triggered, angry, and secretly terrified that the spiritual onslaught will never end. I’ve never been the type to lash out at those who try to slip their proselytizing into a “casual” conversation, but I’ve never felt particularly strong or compassionate either.
Usually it mirrors the way that I feel about getting harassed by a stranger at a bar. I might smile and decline politely, but it’s coming from a place of fear that suspects that things will only be worse for me if I express outrage. It’s a placating kindness.
However, when I suddenly realized I was in a room with someone who was going to “witness” as if my life depended on it (which to her it probably did), I was shocked to realize that it didn’t feel threatening.
I still didn’t want to listen. I’ve heard it all before. Hell, I’ve said it all before!
But the dominant emotion wasn’t fear or rage. It was somewhere on the spectrum of pity and amusement.
Amusement because despite her attempts to sound genuine as hell and to convince me she wasn’t talking about a religion, it was as canned a response as if she had broken out into a Hail Mary. They were memorized phrases that she had been instructed in how to use in her witnessing to convince others that her religious expression was more genuine than any other type of Christian’s.
The pity came in at the way that she couldn’t help but devalue herself in the process. In order to talk about how wonderful Jesus was to her, she had to talk about how unworthy she was of God’s love and how imperfect and depraved a person she was because, for her, the wonder of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice was in that it wasn’t “deserved” but given in spite of it all.
She couldn’t build up the object she wanted to share with me without creating a foundation that tore herself down.
I realized at one point that we actually shared something in common. As a Pagan, I also don’t believe I am particularly perfect. I have a shadow side. I have less than admirable motivations and compulsions to work through. I make mistakes.
However, the difference is that I don’t see myself as needing to be “saved.” I don’t see my flaws and imperfections as indications of how worthless I am. I especially don’t think that the answer is to eradicate myself and replace myself with an inner Jesus.
Within her framework, there is no room for anything but shame towards the self.
In contrast, my spiritual inclinations help me celebrate that I am not perfect. Perfection would be boring. Or just nauseating. It’s in the imperfections that growth happens…and growth is part of life.
I have no desire to destroy those parts of myself that are flawed. Rather, I want to engage with them, learn from them, integrate with them, and transform them.
Having come from the same shame that I saw her expressing, I can remember how devastatingly awful it was. Brene Brown says, “Shame drives disconnection.” That is true especially with the existential shame that certain sects of Christianity try to foist on members. This kind of shame drives a repulsion of the self, which in turn drives shallow interactions with others built on judgment and fusion.
I could recognize this time around that this woman posed no threat to me. She wasn’t even fully present in the interaction as she spouted off her memorized phrases. She was speaking from a fragmented and alienated self, and I felt sad that she was caught up in that and desperately thankful that I had escaped.