Trauma Written on the Heart and Mind: The tragedy of Christian “Faith”

Old silver christian cross on bible

It was a violent birth. The term violent is something I’ve embraced only recently. My husband’s pained reaction “Yes. It was,” spoke truth to our memory. It’ was twenty-eight years ago today that I felt the searing pain of a labor and a delivery that would go terribly wrong. It’s not a memory of pain tainted by the death of our infant son, or made larger than life by the exaggeration of time and trauma – it simply was. I knew something was wrong. It was my sixth birth. I’d never been so out of control because of the intense level of pain.  I’d never been so afraid – but “faith” meant not to doubt – “true” faith meant everything would be OK.

“While the heart is the doorway to the self-transcendent, it is a doorway through which we cannot pass without bringing the mind” (Benner 2016, 89).

The violence of trying to deliver a baby that was “stuck,” and needing to be turned, the ignorance of statements like “We don’t turn the Lord delivers” is a glaring example of the kind of mindless “faith” that many forms of Biblicist, fundamentalists, engage. It’s a glaring example of the lack of compassion towards those suffering from grief, loss, and trauma, and mental health issues, present in many evangelical churches today. It’s also an example of the lack of critical thinking that leaves the life of Jesus as our model, the model we are to follow, pushed aside. Jesus’ life of powerless, self-sacrificing, love and mutuality towards others has been replaced by self-interests, wealth, and personal safety.

I’ve been told that I am “extreme” when I use our example as an example of the Biblicism that effects ideologies and beliefs such as gender, healing, immigration, and nationalism. I’m not. There is a fine line between what is good and what is oppressive and an even finer line between what people consider fundamental truths and the reality of who God is. It’s arrogant to think we can truly know the mind of God. It’s not led by sacrificial love – it’s not God.

I can’t help but think that if the birth happened today, an unassisted, homebirth as part of a Christian cult, probably would have landed Dave and me in jail. What would that have gained? Instead of growing up to be contributing members of society they would have been in foster care, split up (five children are rarely kept together), and most likely statistics of the abuse and brokenness of children lacking family structure and raised in the system. We all have our brokenness to contend with, but it’s better, a step closer to redemption, a step closer to Shalom. No penalty imposed could ever overwhelm the pain of missing our child and knowing the avoidable reason for his death.

My brokenness has helped me to empathize with others, to empathize with the micro-cultures of families and systems that cause us to make foolish and mindless decisions. It has helped me to forgive the church when her Biblicism causes oppression to the fatherless, widow, alien, genders, minorities, ethnicities, etc., and strive to do better myself. To model Jesus.

We never “get over” this kind of violence against us. We never “let go of the past” (all terms others have prayed for me). We never forget. To let go, to forget, to get over it, would be to remove ourselves from the pain and injustice of it all. It would mean we enter back into a mindless faith that is, in reality, devoid of the knowledge of the transcendent. We would remove ourselves from the very redemption and restoration granted us by God when we choose to enter into the suffering of all humanity.

On Thursday night I was reminded of the tragedy of checking our minds for a group religious identity – I was frantic and stressed out about completing my Masters Project which was due twenty-eight hours later. I reacted with the full-blown traumatic stress of the past instead of the redemption of my present. I was unaware of the day, the date, and the anniversary approaching. For fifteen years I lost the first two weeks of December, unconsciously burying any pain and remembrance of December 10, 1990, until it was well past the date.  I’m now very intentional about remaining self-aware in the early weeks of December, aware of the presence of God, and aware of embracing the pain of loss. I prepare my conscious mind to avoid unconscious reactions. My impending paper clouded my thoughts, and it wasn’t aware of the date until I was reminded on December 8th.

The ugly side of trauma is that it’s always with us even in the redemption and restoration. It hides in our shadow selves, waiting for the light to dim so we temporarily lose sight of it and it can wreak havoc on our lives and emotions.

As long as we continue to bring our mind with us into the transcendent the shadow loses the strength of abuse. Instead, it becomes that constant companion reminding us that our grief and trauma have a purpose. Our lives have a purpose. We bring the shalom of God into the lives of those around us when we engage our minds in the actions of our “faith.”

We were created to be more than we are, “more mature, more conscious, more aligned with the truth of our being, and more whole” (Benner 2016, 87).

Our trauma may not define who we but it should re-define who God is.

Human hands with bread

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Isiah 53:3-6 MSG

Benner, David G. 2016. Human Being and Becoming: Living the Adventure of Life and        Love. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

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