A few people have attempted to answer and provide guidance to some conversation I brought to them regarding my blog “Dropping Out: Joining the Existential, Millennial Exiles” from a few days ago. Many questions have been posed, and I of course want to answer, clarify, and therapeutically explore where I am via my blogging. This post isn’t meant to be an attack, an accusation, a pointing of the finger at anyone, but simply an exploration and brutal transparency of my own thoughts and conclusions about where I am right now, which is that I’ve decided to take an ecclesial hiatus.
What does this mean? Basically, I’m “dropping out” as some would put it, not attending church, not seeking a faith community, or trying to find a Faith Tradition. I for now consider myself a Christian. Nothing more or less. As previously stated, I’m still quite Orthodox in some beliefs and practices, however, I’m stepping back from Orthodoxy, theology, Tradition, and the Church for an unforeseen amount of time. After much thought, I feel for my own sanity, health, and peace of mind this is the best move for now. I firmly believe active participation in a local church is required and expected for Christians, however, I don’t use a broad stroke to apply that value/belief. Sometimes, taking a break, gaining some perspective, and healing is the best we can do for ourselves when it comes to church attendance and activity.
As I’ve shared with many others, I feel I came into Orthodoxy and was/have been left to float on my own. Outside of any mislead ideas of being a priest, which I’ve forsaken, I’ve never been initially discipled. I thought I’d find that Orthodoxy, but I haven’t. And of course the entire time my ex-wife and I came into it our marriage wasn’t stable (nor was she for that matter) and things weren’t good. I can say that was a part if it for sure. A wise lady spoke to me concerning this and how shame could be lurking in the ever present darkness, and she said:
In my opinion though, your experience has been colored by all the traumatic events after your graduation and stuff. You and Courtney moving here and having a hard time finding jobs, her illnesses and hospitalizations, the reality that you were out of school, owed a bunch of money…The whole processing and working through of losing what you’d considered a vocation for a long time. So add all of that and wanting to integrate into a community that you were new to, and didn’t spend a lot of quality time…. [it can seem to some]… the story you tell to yourself is perhaps a bit colored by what you were going through at the time.
And it is shame (and the flip side of shame pride) that causes us to think people don’t like us, or that we are owed something, or don’t deserve anything. They are all unhealthy obsessions with the self.
They are also fairly typical stages that young people move through. Given your childhood trauma and upbringing, I’d expect the emotional maturity to be a bit delayed (and I speak as someone who knows!! ok? Trauma delays emotional development)…
I think it’s awesome that you are processing and working through all of this. Give it a year or two as you work through [grad school for counseling], and I think you’ll see a lot of growth.”
Shame of course is playing a large role among all the things that threw off what could have been a normal trajectory into the life of Orthodoxy Christianity. Of course the shame does drive some of the thoughts, feelings, and emotions behind all this. Nonetheless, I do feel like I don’t belong. Truly. These are not merely “ideas” as one priest told me. These are my thoughts and feelings behind the situation. I, of course, have a choice in how to move forward with my walk into Orthodoxy despite all these things. The decision to step away for awhile.
This isn’t a case of specific things driving me away from Orthodoxy. Yes, I have had some horrible experiences with fellow Orthodox Christians (mainly the Hyperdox Fundamentalists that troll the internet), and yes, I have had a lot of issues with certain teachings in the recent year post-divorce (the ecclsiology, marriage, sexual ethics, cohabitation, black/white thinking in practical theology, lack of strong discipleship, etc), and yes, I have had a lot of issues with assimilating into the ecclesial life of Orthodoxy (the primary issue), but this isn’t supposed to come across as a blog attacking Orthodoxy or laying it forth as its entirely to blame. There’s things I feel others should have done differently to help me, help my ex-wife as well, and that there’s many things I could have done differently as well.
Additionally, I’m struggling also because I have 2 sets of values being presented: Orthodoxy and those of the career field I’m going into, which despite some claiming they aren’t mutually exclusively (which in some ways may be true), I do find the two sets of values to be mostly at odds with one another. And so far I feel more accepted, embraced, and welcomed by the values in my career than in Orthodoxy. If that makes sense. I have found a more inclusive sense of community, a more open-minded approach to life and relationships, and a stronger sense of belonging hence why I’ll not be isolated on this hiatus and will have friendship, accountability, help, empathy, love, understanding, and a common goal of wholeness/healing.
Again, let’s address how shame may lurk even in this issue of values and such. One person commented with the following when I raised the issue with him:
I think something that is very likely true is that Orthodoxy and the Career values are like ‘sets of clothes’ you try on. They’re identities, in a way, and we look for one that we feel fits. But, in truth, neither are actually identities, but shame issues make us look for new identities. It’s like we get to become somebody else. New clothes. New me…
You are you, and not a Church or a Profession. And you need to bring you (shame and all) with you to whatever you do, and there is assimilation, healing, transformation, acceptance…etc.”
I can certainly understand how shame would drive me, or anyone, to see it this way. I can concur it is somewhat true. And a temptation I have to avoid is to see my self-worth and self-identity tied up anything like a Church or a profession as this person wisely stated. The definition of an existential crisis is my having a set vocation of being a priest for years and when that was removed entirely as a possibility, my life crashing and burning. Our worth and meaning can’t be tied up in whose church we attend or what job we have. I haven’t studied shame as long as the individual quoted above, but I’m very awake and in tune to my own shame, its triggers, how it impacts me, and that mainly it exists for me.
What I can’t foresee is how we can ignore complaints of not belonging due to shame issues, which means ignoring any other factors or issues involved. I’ve been with so many of my peers and hear how they too experience this sort of sense of not belonging within their faith communities. This isn’t just a Jon problem, or a shame-driven issue. Of course, I’d love to do my dissertation for my Ph.D on shame, spirituality, and faith issues, but I’ve racked my brain and sought others insights and can’t see this being a shame thing entirely by itself (Note, I’m not denying shame is at play in all this from beginning to end. Shame is everywhere and is a nasty epidemic). I think that ignores the deeper issues, which isn’t healthy to do in any individual’s life whose a part of a faith community.
So that’s pretty much it for those who are wanting a more nuanced, concise, exploration of why I’ve decided what I’ve decided. For my own good, I need a break from the constant worrying about these ecclesial issues. I need to step back, distance myself from ecclesiology/church attendance for an undetermined amount of time, and sort thoroughly through other more important issues. I need to be in ecclesial solitude for a bit in order to work on some other pressing things, gain perspective, let the skies clear, and focus on finding stability in my life.
I know that this means that for over a year or so I won’t be attending any Orthodox Church (or any church for that matter because this is about solitude not searching for me), which means I won’t be communicating at Eucharist or Confession. And in most eyes, that means I’d no longer be Orthodox because both are required at least once a year last I heard. I’m truly not concerned. Once I feel ready to venture back into the mess that all of this is I want to be ready, stable, prepared, and not distracted.
I may jump back into Orthodoxy, but then again I may not. Once I can devote myself to more theological study, catechism, and reading on all these matters I will. I don’t know if I’ll return to being Orthodox, or if I’ll be ending up in another door of the Hallway of Christianity. I do know that I’m very liturgically-minded, Eucharist-centered, sacrament-believing, and many other “high church,” “high theology” things. Those beliefs won’t be changing, but where I fit with those beliefs as far as a Eucharistic-centered faith community goes is now up in the air as I take this hiatus. When this does happen I like to think of it as a fresh beginning.
A new start.
I know many will be disappointed, lost, confused, and weirded out by my confessions here. I don’t ask you to agree, and I’m sure as hell am not asking you to preach, teach, yell, kick, scream, or tell me how wrong I am. State your disagreement civilly if you have it, but leave it at that. Offer prayers, incense, candles, etc. Do what you must, but I simply ask for prayers, thoughts, good vibes, encouragement (if you can relate) and compassionate understanding.
I appreciate the time you’ve taken to read this.
I didn’t want to put my church story in print because, the truth is, I still don’t know the ending. I am in the adolescence of my faith. There have been slammed doors and rolled eyes and defiant declarations of “I hate you!” hurled at every person or organization that represents the institutionalized church. I am angry and petulant, hopeful and naïve. I am trying to make my own way, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do that without exorcising the old one, without shouting it down, declaring my independence, and then running as fast as I can in the opposite direction. Church books are written by people with a plan and ten steps, not by Christians just hanging on by their fingernails.”
― Rachel Held Evans, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church“