I went to the UU church again this morning, and the sermon was a discussion about how to respectfully dialogue with people who hold very different beliefs than oneself. The speaker described a recent experience he had had, being a representative of UU in a series of discussions with leaders from many different religions and sects.
It was a very interesting talk with a lot of poignant moments. One of the things I found most resonant with me was the injunction to remember that our common humanity must be our first touchpoint of dialogue. Our ideals and beliefs and practices all follow this important reminder. We must learn to set aside our feelings on how we disagree with the Others, and see them first as humans, just as we are, at our core, humans. This process of setting aside the disagreements, and all the emotions around them, is a difficult challenge, but important, if we want to treat others and listen to others as we would like to be treated and listened to.
This reminded me of how I, myself, had managed to extricate myself from Fundamentalism. It was a process of meeting people who weren't Fundamentalists, and getting to know them, and learning to love them. In other words, I had HUMAN encounters with them. Of course, this caused plenty of cognitive dissonance. (One example: "My faith teaches that these people will go to hell for bearing the wrong belief system, but my heart loves these people." Another example: "My faith teaches that these people are deceived by demons into believing and practicing as they do. But their lives don't seem to be any less loving and fruitful and helpful than most Christians, who aren't deceived. If demons are leading these people, why would the demons not lead them into much worse results?") The cognitive dissonance that arose in me caused enough discomfort that I sought answers. Evangelism ("if you love them, you will try to change them to save them from hell") didn't prove to be a satisfactory answer, and eventually I abandoned Fundamentalism.
There were many other great points about the sermon I could comment on, but I wanted to focus this blog post on my intense experience following the church service.
As I've said before, I have an ongoing health problem with getting shaky and light headed, in addition to my other health problems. I've assumed it's a blood sugar thing. I've had a mild case of it for at least 3 years, maybe more, I can't really remember when it started. It usually responds to food, so if I remember to eat every couple hours, especially if I make sure to get a lot of protein, I can usually keep it at bay. But lately, as my health has declined, this blood sugar problem (not sure if it's blood sugar?) has gotten worse, and there are many days when it doesn't respond as well to food. As in, I'll get shaky and dizzy and brain-foggy, even if I eat a large meal. It seems not to get as bad if I eat preemptively, but it still comes, nonetheless.
So after church today, I felt it start to set in, but it felt worse than normal. So instead of driving home (about 75 minutes from the church to my home) to eat lunch, as I had planned, I quickly pulled into a fast food restaurant to get something into my stomach ASAP. I ate an entire burger and order of onion rings, and my stomach felt full. But the light headedness seemed to get worse as I drove. My hands felt pins and needles, my knees ached, and I was dizzy. I was actually a bit scared to drive like this, not sure if it was safe, so I pulled over for a few minutes to put my head down between my knees. That didn't fly too well with the kids--they didn't like just sitting there in their car seats doing nothing--so I decided just to try to make it home. I texted a few friends, asking them to pray for me as I drove.
As I drove, I thought back to the sermon, and I thought about the psychic's and the chiropractor-kinesiologist's diagnoses of me, that my health problems are rooted in emotional issues, and my mind put 2 and 2 together.
Back in my undergraduate days is when my ecumenical exposure and the questioning of my faith really began. There were many contributions to the process, but it all intensified when I met "Aaron" (name changed). He was earnest about his faith (a different one than mine), smart, not afraid to discuss controversial subjects, and (did I mention?) oh, so handsome. We were decently close as friends. Not as close as I wanted! But his presence and our discussions were enough to affect me deeply. He lent me a book that shook my foundations and brought my cognitive dissonances to the forefront of my awareness. However, I don't think he knew how much he was affecting me, because not only did I not tell him, but I didn't offer any outward clues about what was happening. I didn't actually leave my faith, decrease my church attendance, or even remotely change any of my doctrines, until years later. It was a weird thing that happened, though. I don't know why, but I got into a weird mental habit of thinking to myself, "I wonder what Aaron would say about this," at every church service or religious meeting I went to. It was like I started carrying him around with me, allowing his perspective (or my imagination of what his perspective might be) to provide a second commentary to my own running commentary on everything that I experienced, at least religiously. Usually his disagreed with mine, or at least he stood dumbfounded, skeptical, or quizzical about the things going on, such as the ecstatic Charismatic experiences that I found so normal and valued. It was an interesting mental state I put myself in every Sunday, as the old Me on one shoulder explained to the inner Aaron on the other shoulder what was happening and why, and the current Me stood in the middle, trying to decide if this was worth it, which side was right, and what was going on here.
It's odd to confess-- even though anyone else could have seen the writing on the wall-- I actually thought at the time that HE would eventually come around to MY beliefs, because I prayed for him so earnestly and regularly. (I've never been much of an evangelist, though, so I didn't ever push it. I just lived my faith openly...) I was sure that all these inner conversations I was having between myself and the imaginary Aaron, I would eventually have for real, and he would eagerly join my side. This is what psychologists call "projection," I guess. I couldn't bear the emotional trauma of facing and owning my own doubts, so I put them onto him. By imagining optimistically that he would eventually come around to my faith perspective, I was really hoping that the wholeness I thought my former worldview held would be restored.
I've come a long way since then, and suffice it to say, I no longer hope that Aaron (or anyone!) will convert to Fundamentalist Christianity!
Anyway, back to September 8, 2013, as I'm thinking of all of these memories in the car. I realized that my severe shakiness problem could be related to unconscious stress-- the stress induced because the church service about dialoguing between religious faiths was a trigger for these memories, and, by extension, for the memories of the later tryst with Aaron that ended so catastrophically last February.
I realized with shock that my experiences with Aaron were probably only 20% about the real Aaron, and 80% about me. It was mostly about my core wounds, and the trauma of my own doubt. That falling in love with Aaron was 20% about how great he was (and there was a lot to love, I'm not diminishing him) and 80% about trying to unite my past self with the split off part of myself (the skeptic) that the inner Aaron had come to figuratively embody.
I realized that although I had had many conversations with the inner version of Aaron, I didn't really know the real Aaron very well at all. (Though it wasn't for lack of trying.)
I don't know what to conclude from all of this, it's so fresh. It's been there all along, but I'm only now seeing it, as a kind of gestalt. Apparently, since it's still affecting my health, there's still something to resolve. Or maybe I've already resolved it, and this is just a residue, a stuck emotion that needs to be simply deactivated. I'm really hoping I'll find out tomorrow!