Category Archives: Personal

Ali’s Wedding vs. The Big Sick

Without realising the parallels between them, nor the fact that both movies were biopics written by their male stars about themselves, I added Ali’s Wedding and The Big Sick to my DVD collection in one 3-for-the-price-of-2 transaction. After watching The Big Sick a couple of months ago, Susan and I were finally in the mood for another rom-com recently, and despite the lingering sense of déjà vu, I think it’s safe to say Ali’s Wedding far exceeded our expectations.

Comparing these movies isn’t really fair, except that they were both:

  • autobiographical;
  • released in 2017;
  • written and performed by comedians whose parents emigrated from Asia to western countries;
  • preoccupied with the highs and lows of forbidden (or strongly discouraged) love.

Where Ali’s Wedding stands alone (aside from being set and produced in Australia rather than the USA, obviously) is the depth of its portrayal of an Australian Muslim family. According to Osamah Sami (who wrote and starred), it’s “the first Muslim rom-com”.

From the gently corrected misogyny of the men who came to his father for advice (his dad was the leader at their local mosque), to the community-wide gender roles and segregation (and the ways these are both challenged and respected), to the lewd but somehow endearing elderly polygamist (“temporary marriage”, anyone?), to the flashbacks to the horrors of Iraq and Iran, the bar has been set pretty high for this new genre of romantic comedy. It’s hilarious, warm, believable, honest, memorable, and… different. Unusual. Nice.

4 stars, and may there be many more dramas with this cultural backdrop.

Where have all the tech posts gone?

If you’ve been following lkrms.org for my tech-related posts, I’d suggest heading over to tech.lkrms.org and re-subscribing.

Having one blog that covers all of my interests has kept things simple, but the reality is that only the rarest of followers will be interested in both my “personal” posts and my “technical” ones (which are usually incomprehensible to non-nerds). I’m planning to write both types more regularly in the coming months and thought you’d be better served by keeping them separate.

If/when time permits (ha!), I’ll do some design work on both blogs, but for now, they look the same. Which is probably a bit confusing, but I’m sure you’ll cope.

Babylon Bee: “Ken Ham Ejected From Theater For Yelling ‘WRONG’ Every Time ‘Jurassic World’ Actors Say ‘65 Million Years'”

Babylon Bee: “Ken Ham Ejected From Theater For Yelling ‘WRONG’ Every Time ‘Jurassic World’ Actors Say ‘65 Million Years'”

It’s satire, but only just.

This send-up of Ken Ham at a hypothetical Jurassic World screening has disturbing parallels with how my father would have behaved under similar circumstances (although you’d never have been able to get him into a cinema–he needed to be able to censor everything first, to ensure we were protected from scantily clad women, naughty words, and the evils of evolutionary science).

I still remember him standing up during a solo end-of-year performance at my siblings’ high school (I was being homeschooled at the time). I believe it was “Fever”, and he didn’t approve of the song or the seductive way it was performed. A very loud “boooooooo”, clearly heard by everyone in the hall, followed. Even though, at 12 years old, I was still very much under the spell of his brainwashing and control (so I believed he was justified in objecting to the performance), I was utterly mortified. It would have been even worse for my brother and sister. And that poor girl… I sometimes wonder whether her singing career faltered after that (assuming that’s the trajectory she was on). Regardless, it would have been so traumatising for her.

This sort of thing was normal throughout my childhood. The delusion was that we (as right-thinking Christians) were significant players in a desperate battle for survival, and were therefore justified in boldly “resisting” whenever anyone or anything dared to accidentally challenge our values or beliefs.

It’s no wonder I’m in therapy.

Update: here’s Ken Ham’s response. I told you it was barely satire.

Not an actual review: “The Glass Castle”

Content note: this post includes references to domestic violence and emotional abuse.

Alcohol abuse and homelessness weren’t part of my childhood. As far as I know, my father’s violence wasn’t substance-related, and the austerity he subjected us to never resulted in skipped meals or malnutrition.

In countless other ways, though, my therapist was right. It wasn’t difficult to find parallels between Jeannette Walls’ childhood and my own, and watching the movie based on her memoir was, indeed, cathartic. Eventually. After I worked through the seething mass of memories it laid bare.

This is not a cinematic review of The Glass Castle. It’s a guided tour of how it has affected me. It’s an attempt to articulate the catharsis of processing repressed memories. It’s been written to help me, and shared in the hope that it will help you.

The mother

Unsurprisingly, Jeanette’s father (Rex, played by Woody Harrelson) is the central figure in this story of family dysfunction. He is unambiguously portrayed as responsible for most of the distress that plays out for everyone else. But there are moments that highlight the complicity of the mother (Rose Mary, played by Naomi Watts) in creating a traumatic, hostile environment for the children (and I’m not just referring to the opening scene, where Jeanette suffers burns due to her mother’s negligence).

The dynamic between my parents was similar, and it remains impossible, to this day, to determine how much of Mum’s role in my toxic childhood stemmed from being a victim of Dad’s abuse herself, and how much was a willing, conscious choice. The Glass Castle is similarly inconclusive about Rose Mary’s contribution to the Walls family dynamic.

My situation affords a little more insight, because despite leaving Dad 16-odd years ago, Mum’s abusive behaviour towards me has steadily escalated as the chasm between her values and my choices has deepened. Also, contact with her currently triggers far more significant post-trauma responses in me than contact with Dad does.

I mention this at the outset because Rose Mary’s abuse of her children isn’t necessarily obvious. She elicits sympathy as her husband’s victim, and the ways she enables and perpetuates Rex’s stranglehold on the family aren’t even noticed by the children (they’re too busy reacting to their father). But who could blame them? At 35, I’ve only just started to recognise these behaviours in my own mother.

The darkness

The setting and the specifics were different, but the oppressive darkness that settled over the family home during Jeanette’s teenage years felt uncomfortably familiar.

It was the unpredictability. No-one knew what would trigger Rex’s next outburst, who would be targeted, what sort of assault or destruction there might be. For Jeanette and her siblings, their father’s drinking was a determining factor; in my home (where drinking was seen as a deadly sin), Dad would lose his shit totally sober. Alcohol wasn’t necessary for him to snap without provocation, to crush us with broken glass and cruel words.

Not knowing how or when your father will next unleash hell–knowing only that he will, and that it won’t make sense, and that there might not be any warning–means your home is unrelentlingly, inescapably hostile. Starved of love. Desperately unsafe. Remembering those years, I can almost see the pall of blackness hanging over the house. I don’t think it was just the dark wallpaper and awful carpet.

School was Jeanette’s escape, and it was mine too. Whenever I could, I would stay in the library until it closed and catch the last bus home. Facing consequences for getting home late was better than spending those hours near my father, who was unemployed at the time. He would usually be hidden away in his tiny, cluttered study, obsessing over his latest theory or grand plan (not unlike Rex’s ‘glass castle’), but I never knew when he would emerge or what to expect when he did. Avoidance, occasionally disrupted by the naive belief that I could somehow be perfect enough to make things better, was how I survived.

As in The Glass Castle, there were moments of light, too. Acts of generosity and care from a man who was usually the opposite. Just enough goodness to ignite a feeble flame of hope that things were about to get better (they never did). Eventually I could see that even these rare moments of kindness were designed to help him get what he wanted.

The exceptionalism

Just like Rex, my dad was anti-establishment, anti-government, and pro-conspiracy.

Unlike Rex, Dad’s rejection of conventional wisdom was entangled with his particular brand of Christianity–a veritable Frankenstein of evangelicalism, pentecostalism, and seventh-day-adventism–none of which passed muster in their own right, due to glaring deficiencies only he could see.

Differences aside, Rex and my father were both deluded about how unique they were, and they both tried to assert their exceptionalism through their families.

They both homeschooled their children, because schools couldn’t be trusted to teach you what you really needed to know. (My siblings were spared this privilege. As the youngest, I represented Dad’s final opportunity to create a less disappointing version of himself, so he pulled out all the stops.)

They both made grandiose plans that never materialised, and promises that were never kept. The most obvious one in The Glass Castle is the actual glass castle–the solar-powered home that never progressed beyond a hole in the yard. My dad’s schemes weren’t usually so tangible (although he was briefly obsessed with a stock market hack that was supposed to net us a heap of money); instead, there was the constant promise of a happier future, when he’d be done with his countless projects (like his system for organising all human knowledge), and done with the mountains of newspapers that couldn’t be thrown out until they had served their purpose (the unlocking of his exceptional theories).

As far as I know, he still has most of those newspapers. (It’s like those scenes in A Beautiful Mind, except the secret messages embedded in The Australian in 1995 remain uninvestigated.)

Jeanette’s parents, and mine, didn’t believe in doctors. With very few exceptions, to this day, it’s self-healing or death, because rushing off to a doctor at the first (or tenth) sign of illness is what everyone else does–and we’re better than that.

Jeanette’s parents removed her from hospital before she had recovered from her burns. Mine refused to take me to a doctor despite years of debilitating cystic acne on my back and face. I’m still covered with slowly fading keloid scars, but memories of high school change rooms and the struggle to conceal fresh blood stains on my shirts are just as indelible.

Both Rex and my father wanted their children to believe they were exceptional–as long as they could define what it meant. In The Glass Castle, Jeanette copped it for merely being a gossip columnist, and her choice of husband was similarly condemned: “you’re better than this” (or words to that effect). I could hear Dad (and Mum) in Rex and Rose Mary’s cutting words.

Ironically, it’s fair to say that there have been some unfortunate choices in both Jeanette’s life and my own. Finding your way takes longer when you’re unknowingly carrying your parents’ delusional expectations and unhinged judgements.

The austerity

In The Glass Castle, it’s striking that Rex always has a cigarette in his mouth, and a hip flask in his pocket. The children might not have eaten for three days, but their father’s addictions are always fed.

My father wasn’t addicted to alcohol or tobacco, but his obsessions were expensive, and the rest of us had to help him fund them.

We had to use a bucket to collect cold water from the shower while we waited for hot water to come through (it would then be used to fill Dad’s obsessively managed drinking water filtration system). Dishes had to be thoroughly rinsed in an ice cream container (without replacing the water until it was basically solid), so they could then be washed in just one sinkful of hot water. We owned a car, but to save money, it was almost never used; Dad had to charge the battery overnight before it would even start. Sometimes, it still wouldn’t. Water, gas and electricity meters were read weekly and tracked over time. There were “consequences” if readings were higher than they should have been, or if our water handling was too wasteful, or if the dishes were too dirty, or if we requested transportation by car.

The penny-pinching was ruthless and never-ending, but somehow there was always enough money for Dad’s computers and encyclopedias.

The youngest

Jeanette is the second-oldest of four children. Maureen is the youngest. The movie includes a reference to Jeanette’s regret over leaving her little sister alone with Rex and Rose Mary after she escapes to New York, but Maureen’s experience as the youngest of the Walls children doesn’t feature prominently otherwise–The Glass Castle is, after all, Jeanette’s story. But as the youngest of three myself, I couldn’t help noticing a few hints that Maureen’s life was probably even more challenging than Jeanette’s.

There’s a seven year gap between me and my brother. He’s a year younger than my sister. Even now, they both comment that I had the better deal. We moved house less frequently after I was born. Dad was, apparently, less violent with me than he had been with them. And it seemed to both of them that I benefited from being the “only child” as they finished school–especially given my interests were similar to Dad’s, and were better supported than theirs had been.

But they were largely absent while I received Mum and Dad’s undivided attention. They couldn’t see that Dad’s enthusiasm for providing me with access to technology wasn’t about him “spoiling” me; it was him attempting to succeed where he had failed, by living vicariously through me. At 35, I am only just beginning to recover from his sustained efforts to control and manipulate me into being the person he wanted himself to be.

This wasn’t my siblings’ lived experience, so they get a bit eye-rolly when I describe it as abuse (especially when I refuse to let Mum off the hook for her role in letting it all happen). Each of the siblings in The Glass Castle responds differently to their parents, too; Jeanette’s brother, for example, seems content to remember the good things Rex had done while Jeanette is feeling uncertain about reconnecting with him before he dies.

Different children can have different childhoods despite having the same parents, apparently. Just ask the youngest child in a dysfunctional family.

The nickname

“Mountain goat.” It’s an endearing nickname for a child, but Jeanette is done with it by adulthood, and she says so. Rex ignores her, and the unwelcome moniker lives on. There’s a poignant moment in The Glass Castle where he tries to use it to connect with her as she tries to pull away from him. (He fails.)

It might seem like a minor thing, but it’s not. My father calls me “teddy bear,” or TB for short. I hate it. Every time he uses that childhood nickname feels like an attempt to assert control over my identity, to wash away all of his inadequacies and replace them with fond memories of a happy past that only exists in his head.

Pro tip: if you love someone, don’t use nicknames they hate.

The first marriage

Jeanette’s first marriage proves to be almost as dysfunctional as her childhood.

At first, her husband appears to be the opposite of her family. He’s calm and understanding; he’s successful and well-respected; violence and aggression doesn’t seem to be in his nature. In time, however, it becomes clear that his benevolence has strings attached; that he’s just as controlling as Jeanette’s father; that when he stops getting what he wants, the tables will turn.

Let’s just say that I can relate.

The ending

I’m not sure what to make of The Glass Castle‘s ending just yet.

It’s unsettling that Jeanette seems willing to overlook decades of abuse in order to remember her father as a hurting, misunderstood genius-hero, rather than the destructive force he actually was. Hopefully the book will shed some light on her thought process, but for now, I’m struggling to understand her apparent reluctance to reckon with the reality of Rex’s overwhelmingly toxic impact on his family.

As a society, we’re programmed to make excuses for male abusers. We believe that men who are capable of murdering their families can be “good blokes“, and we can’t see that by perpetuating this myth, we’re quietly endorsing every other “good bloke” who is a piece of shit behind closed doors.

So while it’s not surprising that Jeanette could be willing, and able, to remember Rex so fondly, I can’t help wondering if we’d be more likely to break the cycle of intergenerational abuse if we weren’t so busy suppressing our memories of it.

Credit where due: Australian Anglicans apologise for domestic violence

The Anglican Church of Australia’s apology to victims of domestic violence, offered at its triennial General Synod, has received understandable media attention this week. The full text is on page 14 of this PDF. Here it is in full:

Condemnation and Apology for Domestic Violence

Bishop Stephen Hale moving, The Ven Kara Hartley seconding,

The General Synod affirms that:

  1. All human beings, male and female, are created in the image of God, and are precious to him. So their value and dignity should be upheld by all, and rightly commands respect and protection.
  2. Healthy Christian relationships are characterised by servanthood and sacrifice, supremely modeled by Jesus Christ. So we encourage healthy marriages and families based on mutual love and respect. No one should feel unsafe in their own home.
  3. The Bible always condemns the misuse of power to control or exploit others, and rejects all abuse, whether physical, verbal, or otherwise expressed from one person towards others. Therefore domestic violence is sin, and Scripture should never be twisted to justify or excuse any abuse.
  4. No victim of domestic abuse should ever be pressured to forgive, submit to, or restore a relationship with an offender.

Our churches are committed to being safe places for all people, especially children and vulnerable adults, and we will therefore work to protect those experiencing domestic abuse as a first priority.

We grieve with victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and pray for their healing and recovery. We give thanks for those women and men, clergy and lay people, who have faithfully supported, cared for and protected such victims in our churches and communities.

However, we also confess with deep shame that domestic abuse has occurred among those who attend our churches, and even among some in leadership. We apologise for those times our teaching and pastoral care has failed adequately to support victims and call perpetrators to account.

We urge Anglican dioceses around Australia to ensure they have policies and good practice guidelines in place, along with education and training, for responding well to situations involving domestic violence within our parishes and organisations.

We also acknowledge our responsibility to work with the police, statutory child protection authorities and specialist agencies in responding to domestic abuse, including our legal obligations in reporting abuse.

Finally, this Synod again upholds Faithfulness in Service as our national code of conduct for clergy and church workers, specifically its affirmations
that:

  • Abuse of power is at the heart of many relationship problems in the Church and the community. In essence, abuse is one person’s misuse of power over another. Sometimes abuse will be a one off event and at other times it will be a pattern of behaviour. (§6.2)
  • It is important for clergy and church workers to be good citizens and obey the laws of the community, except where those laws conflict with Christian convictions. (§6.4)
  • You are not to abuse your spouse, children or other members of your family. (§6.6)

I’ve written previously about unhelpful church responses to Julia Baird’s report on domestic violence among evangelical Christians, and in the meantime have engaged directly with a number of church leaders and other Christians about church-complicit abuse. Unfortunately, even after getting past deflective and compassionless quibbling over Baird’s use of statistics, I’ve encountered ongoing resistance to principles like:

  1. Victim safety should be a higher priority than the continuation of a marriage (this is affirmed in theory, but in practice, the first step typically taken when dealing with troubled marriages is to suggest counselling to “work on the marriage”, without considering the risks this might create if the marriage is abusive);

  2. Non-physical abuse is just as violent as physical abuse (without bruises, abuse is often considered to be “just harassment”);

  3. Claims of domestic abuse should be believed by default (because abusers usually appear to be charming and godly, and expertly “groom” observers to doubt the veracity of their victims’ claims);

  4. Domestic abuse is rarely identified as abuse by its victims until after they’ve left the relationship (and pastoral responses to relationship difficulties should therefore follow a process that facilitates a professional assessment of this possibility).

It’s heartening to see a formal response from a large denomination that includes meaningful, compassionate engagement with all of these points, and urges the adoption of relevant policies, guidelines, and education to address this issue moving forward. Massive kudos to the Anglican Church for making this statement. Hopefully words like these will translate to cultural change within Christian communities, and domestic abuse will start to lose its foothold within churches.

We’re a long way from evangelical Christians really believing that “no victim of domestic abuse should ever be pressured to forgive, submit to, or restore a relationship with an offender”, but we’re a few steps closer than we were last week.

If you’re experiencing domestic abuse, or suspect that you might be, please contact one of the following family and domestic violence support services:

1800 Respect national helpline: 1800 737 732
Women’s Crisis Line: 1800 811 811
Men’s Referral Service: 1300 766 491
Lifeline (24 hour crisis line): 131 114
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277

Protesting too much: Christian leaders on “alleged” abuse

You would think that in the wake of the ABC’s damning report on domestic abuse among evangelical Christians, leaders of evangelical churches would take a moment to ensure they understand domestic abuse, consider the ways it might be hiding out in their congregations, and take proactive steps to help possible victims feel safe within their communities.

Instead, we’re seeing responses like this from a Newcastle evangelical church (published on the cover of its weekly newsletter on Sunday):

Response to ABC abuse claims

Despite the opening sentence, it’s actually one of the better responses–it acknowledges that Christian husbands are sometimes abusive, and that Christian wives sometimes accept it because they believe they should–but it’s also defiant, insensitive, and hypocritical.

It makes no sense to open with refusal to believe clearly presented evidence of abuse (“alleged link”, “ridiculously false”, etc.), while simultaneously promising victims that “we will listen to you” and “take what you say seriously”.

The ABC report was thoroughly researched and its accuracy remains unimpeached, despite spurious claims by Andrew Bolt and The Australian (see the ABC’s response to those). The reporter, Julia Baird, is an accomplished journalist who also happens to be a pro-church Christian, so claims of an anti-Christian agenda are equally nonsensical. And it’s demonstrably true that Christian abusers use the Bible to manipulate and control their partners, so arguing about whether or not this requires incorrect theology isn’t useful.

Stating, without evidence, that Baird’s report was “ridiculously false” creates immediate hostility towards readers who are abuse victims, deepens their sense of isolation and insignificance, and destroys trust in the church’s leadership. It offers the polar opposite of loving concern for victims of domestic abuse, who almost certainly exist in this and many other churches.

The flippant tone of subsequent acknowledgements of Christian abuse amplifies this error (e.g. “this is plain wrong!”). Domestic abuse has devastating impacts and failing to respond to it with proper seriousness demeans victims rather than supporting them.

The opportunity to properly describe the nature of domestic abuse is also missed. Victims frequently assume abusive behaviours from their partners are their own fault, i.e. not abuse at all, so this is unforgivable. Non-violent abuse (whether sexual, financial, emotional or spiritual) is widely regarded as equally if not more harmful than physical violence, but is consistently downplayed by victims and observers. This church’s superficial reference to “emotional and physical abuse” does little to help women who already doubt that they deserve better than what they’re getting from their husbands–a simple list of abuse types would have made a significant difference.

I won’t comment on “headship” as a “stewardship role”. The merit or otherwise of complementarian theology is a topic for another day, but including this sentence when talking about domestic abuse beggars belief: “So by my reckoning the closest person to experiencing abuse in marriage should be the man!” The writer’s point, I think, is that if Christian marriages were to match the metaphor of Jesus marrying the church, the man would be the one crucified (abused), if anyone is. It’s a worthless hypothetical expressed so poorly that it appears to be a flippant reference to male suffering–as if that belongs in a discussion that rightly emphasises the suffering of women in abusive Christian marriages.

The pastor goes on to suggest that although abuse doesn’t belong in Christian marriages, it’s not actually a reason for divorce, officially, but maybe it might be ok, except the Bible says no. In the final paragraph, he adds, “We will not give up on either of you or your marriage”. Or, to paraphrase, “Bringing your abuser into the conversation in an attempt to save your marriage will be more important to us than your welfare.”

Victims are assured that “we will do all in our power to see that you are safe”, but everything else about this response indicates they will do the opposite. They will quickly include the abuser in the conversation (risking repercussions for the victim). They will be unlikely to believe the victim (since abusers are expert liars, distressed victims rarely present as reliable witnesses, and according to this pastor, not even investigative journalists with relevant studies, hours of interviews, and an independent news organisation behind them are capable of providing credible testimony regarding abuse). And they will prioritise keeping the victim and the abuser married (because apparently the sanctity of marriage isn’t compromised by abuse).

But it’s ok, because “we will uphold the laws of our country where domestic violence is a criminal offence”.

Women deserve better than this. We must insist on it.

Adult chickenpox isn’t worth it

Greetings from Day 8 of my chickenpoxalypse.

At first I thought it was just man flu (stomach cramps, thumping headaches, fever, whole body aches), but on Day 3 the spots started coming, and on Day 4 my GP confirmed I had varicella, which is the proper name for that disease you associate most vividly with spotty, contagious children: chickenpox.

Treatment: rest + over-the-counter painkillers & antihistamines + soap-free cleansing products.

The fever and aches continued while the spots multiplied. I’ve been lucky; I haven’t had to deal with much full-body itching, but my scalp felt like it was on fire for several days. It got worse when I tried to put my head against a pillow (HELLO INSOMNIA). Now, on Day 8, I can finally declare that no new spots have appeared for 24 hours, that the other symptoms have mostly cleared, and that I’m mere days away from being Not Contagious.

Then I’ll just have to wait for the spots to clear enough to look a little less repulsive.

I do not relate this for sympathy or the joy of storytelling, but to suggest you:

  1. Find out if you had chickenpox as a child;
  2. Find out if you’ve been vaccinated for chickenpox (in Australia this was scheduled for kids in 2005);
  3. If neither are true, GET YOURSELF VACCINATED FOR CHICKENPOX.

I’m looking at 10 days minimum of lost productivity (not just mine) and a LOT of unnecessary pain (not just mine). If I’d been pro-active about getting appropriate vaccinations for myself as an adult, it could all have been avoided.

As a passionate advocate for vaccinating children on the recommended schedule, this has been an embarrassing moment for me.

Don’t be like Luke. Vaccinate yourself! (Or, you know, consult with your GP and get them to do it.)

What am I up to?

My blog has been quiet, and my social media updates have been sparse, but if extrapolating from limited information is in your wheelhouse, you might have guessed that my personal life has been, ah, somewhat complex since early 2016. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts, maybe.

Work-wise, there has been plenty of upheaval too. I left a toxic job as a school IT manager at the end of 2015, and spent 2016 writing code in a workplace that proved to be equally toxic. I resigned in December without another job lined up, just to prioritise my mental health. It was so liberating to tender my resignation that I decided to return to freelance photography and consulting, rather than pursuing another full-time gig.

At first, I was planning to simply revive my photography brands (“one fine day photography” and “LUKE ARMS photographer”), and do some ad-hoc web development / digital consulting on the side. But as I went through the process of getting this underway, it became clear that life would be much simpler if I established one brand for all of my work (including writing, which I’m now studying at Griffith University by way of an online Bachelor of Communication).

I settled on LINA Creative, and have prioritised commercial headshots as the centrepiece of this new brand. I’ll continue to offer wedding and family photography, but won’t be marketing this actively–my aim is to achieve a steady stream of Newcastle and Sydney headshot bookings. Meanwhile, I’ll be studying and keeping my eye open for suitable casual or part-time work to fill up my weeks. I might even find time to write some of the posts / articles that are sitting in my head.

Onwards!

To my former self: be more sure

Hello, 20-year-old me. You’re probably not going to listen to this, but I’m going to say it anyway. You need to hear it.

In some ways, you’re mature for your age. You’ve craved adulthood, with all of its benefits and obligations, for as long as you can remember. You’re not married yet (lucky break last year, dude), but that sort of commitment doesn’t scare you. (You’re also 100% certain that honourable sex only exists within marriage, but I’m not sure why I’m mentioning this, because it’s definitely not relevant.)

You can’t see it yet, but you’re not just an evangelical Christian who feels confident in his faith and values. You’ll hate me saying this–you think you’re pretty edgy, with that earring and all–but you’re also a willing and able participant in the patriarchal systems of family, church and state you were born into.

Your faith? It might be real, but it’s been almost exclusively shaped by individuals and groups you’ve chosen for reasons of comfort and convenience. God hasn’t had much to do with it. Don’t worry, though–you’ll be thankful for that when most of your Christian friends abandon you. Good thing God isn’t in the abandonment business, amirite?

And your values? They are yet to be properly confronted with the realities of life beyond your comfort and privilege. Soon, as your eyes are opened, you’ll find yourself loving and respecting people who used to offend and disgust you, and it won’t be a distant, self-righteous “love the sinner, hate the sin” thing anymore. Your new values will come between you and the patriarchy, and you’ll eventually realise there’s no point hanging around trying to convince people to behave more like Jesus.

I know you’re not convinced, but here’s the thing: you’re going to change in the ways I’ve described, for reasons you can’t even begin to imagine yet, and it’s awful to change like that when you’re in a marriage that depends on you continuing to be who you were.

Add kids into the equation, and it will be even more difficult. Because even if you marry the wrong person, any children you have together won’t be a mistake. They’ll deserve the best their parents can give them, and doing that separately is a lot messier and more complicated than doing it together.

So, are you sure? Are you sure your values aren’t going to change so much you barely recognise yourself? Are you sure the bond between you and the partner you’re considering could survive that much change? And if you’re not, are you sure you can live with hurting her in ways she doesn’t deserve?

There aren’t many certainties in life, but take it from 33-year-old you: you can be more sure than you are right now. And if you don’t take the time to figure out who you really are–if you start a family now, while your worldview is so narrow and ill-informed (sorry, but it is)–you will burden many others with pain and regret that shouldn’t be forced upon them.

Please, be more sure. I’m begging you.

PS: To the handful of Christian friends who haven’t abandoned me: thank you. To the others, whether you’ve responded with judgemental silence or vicious vitriol: thank you for validating my concerns. The pain is already worth it.

Losing my religion (part 1)

I’ve been reliably informed that “losing my religion” means something else entirely, but it should be taken literally here. And if I lose my mind along the way, consider it a tribute to R.E.M.’s intended meaning.

Also: tribes are great. I don’t have anything against tribes. I’m just looking for a new one is all.

Last month, I came to the realisation that after 3 decades of committed involvement in Christian churches–my entire adult life and most of my childhood–it was time to leave the tribe.

Over the years, I’ve preached, been on music teams, done beach missions, led youth groups, attended conferences, and done heaps of other Jesus-related stuff, so this is no small thing. Reaching the point where I no longer consider myself a Christian represents a pretty major transition. (An “epic fall from grace,” you might say, if you’re a Christian.)

I’m not writing about my “unconversion” with a particular agenda. Many others have shared similar stories, and I’m not delusional enough to believe I have an Edgy New Angle on quitting the church that definitely deserves to go viral. I’m simply trying to straighten out my thoughts. I’d also like to avoid explaining myself hundreds of times.

So, what does it mean to “leave the tribe”? Some of my Christian friends have tried to comfort themselves with the notion that this is only about taxonomy–that I’ll be calling myself something different but carrying on as I always have. I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to be rebranding myself as a “Jesus-follower” and living up to anyone’s expectations of such a person.

What I believe (or don’t) about spiritual things will be between me and a handful of others. Although I currently consider this to be more “identity crisis” than “crisis of faith,” I won’t be keeping you posted on how I’m tracking in the faith department. This is partly because I expect my spirituality to be a moving target (the more I learn, the less certain I am), and partly because I can’t see a good reason for you to know.

I’ll simply be another person trying to live a compassionate, wholesome, and balanced life. Please don’t assume that I’m an atheist, an off-brand Christian, or something in-between–I have no interest in the expectations or baggage of any religious (or irreligious) monicker.

I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue many friendships with people of faith, but I realise that some friendships won’t be the same anymore, and others won’t survive this change at all. There will no doubt be moments of grief as the reality of this hits home, but I’m sure the pain will pass.

Becoming progressive

Over the last 10 years, I’ve slowly but surely transitioned from “conservative straight white Christian male” to “progressive pro-diversity anti-patriarchy straight white Christian male.”

At first it was only my politics that changed, but my faith was gradually overhauled too. Although my theology remained conservative (mostly), I became less dogmatic and accepted the legitimacy of alternative views in many areas.

There were several critical moments at which I consciously chose to remain among conservative Christians. I believed it was important to challenge the idea that conservative morality could only be expressed through conservative politics, so I resigned myself to bringing that challenge from within. It was uncomfortable and multiple friendships evaporated, but I pressed on anyway.

Late last year, I become increasingly discouraged with the collective resistance of my fellow Christians to critical thinking, genuine compassion, and real-world action.

I was constantly locking horns with Christians, mostly online but also offline. The battle for Just A Little Bit Of Progress was unrelenting and mostly unrewarded (despite quiet encouragement from a few like-minded friends). My patience was waning, my ability to engage respectfully with bigots was slipping, and my mental health was suffering.

At first I thought it might just be my local church, so I disconnected for a few months and sporadically tried a few others. None of them felt right, all of them would have struggled to have an open conversation about issues that I consider important, and honestly, the weeks I stayed home were more beneficial.

Eventually, I accepted the reality of the situation: I just don’t belong in the Christian tribe anymore. That’s not to say there aren’t Christian individuals with whom I share common views / hopes / dreams. But, ironically perhaps, I’ve lost confidence in institutional Christianity as a vehicle for outcomes that align with the words of Jesus.

You might be wondering if I’m still “following Jesus”. My answer is no, because it’s a phrase that comes with baggage. All I can confirm is that my “Christian worldview” hasn’t been discarded. (But it’s under ongoing review.)

To my Christian friends: I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not sorry to have made this change. I already feel more authentic, more healthy, and more useful.

Welcome to Luke 2.0. The old has gone, the new has come.