Détente

dinner table

Détente, n: The easing of strained relations

It’s my friend Pascal’s word. I guess it’s really anybody’s word, but he was the first in my circle to use it in the context I’m writing about.

Where is the tension? What relations are strained? So many. I’ll start on the inside and work my way out.

There’s a battle within me. I want to believe, but I can’t intellectually justify it. The tension is so great that I’m discovering that it’s the one thing I can’t really even talk about with my usual eloquence. I can’t figure out the denouement of my own story.

When I try to tell it, I start with the background story of why my faith matters to me in the first place. I went through times when it was the only reason I had enough hope to keep living. My faith told me that God could bring beauty from ashes and restore the years the locusts had eaten, so I kept going. Perhaps at least my story could encourage someone else. What is my story?

Despite his strong religious conviction, my dad was in and out of prison for years at a time for drug abuse and physical abuse—he drugged my mom. My mom was often too depressed to function as a mother. Between my dad’s addiction and my mom’s depression, no one noticed that the church that should have protected me hurt me deeply instead, in the form of the all-too-common, too-little-addressed tragedy of sexual abuse. My family still doesn’t know. All four of my half-brothers hated my dad and left home in their teens—I have only heard from one of them since. I was left to deal with the debris that remained after my family imploded and my church failed, and I reached out to the Father of the fatherless, the Friend who is closer than a brother, the One who provides a door of hope in the Valley of Achor.

I filled journals with prayers. I filled lonely hours crying out to God after my sister was asleep in her room. Sometimes I literally prayed on my knees, and sometimes the weight of my circumstances was too heavy—then I prayed flat on my face. And I felt peace. I can’t explain how—I never saw Jesus. He never held me. He never spoke. But the calm in the storm was undeniable.

Eventually, the storm was over. My dad emerged from prison for the last time, a broken man. He and my mom dated again and ultimately decided to stay married—my mother was faithful to him for better or worse, even though most of their almost twenty-nine years together have been the latter. My dad, who wore the scarlet letter that starts the words addiction and abuse now wears the letter A for atonement. Everyone who knows him knows the story of how God saved him from himself. He scoffs at any skeptic—just look at his life. How could you doubt? He was always a stubborn man—you can’t win arguments with my father, even if you are right. And now that his beliefs are so deeply rooted in what he calls a miracle, I would never dare to share my doubt with him. My dad has been free from addiction and faithful to my mom for almost ten years. And what about my secret burden? I found healing through prayer, scripture, forgiveness, and the safety of my husband’s arms. So much tragedy redeemed. Doesn’t that mean anything to me?

Oh, it does. That’s why I’m at war with myself. Have I forgotten the change in my dad? Have I forgotten the provision and protection that I attributed to the Father of the fatherless? Do I not remember the companionship of the Friend who is closer than a brother? What about the door of hope that showed me a way out every time I fantasized about ending my own life as I walked through a valley of trouble? I have not forgotten. I remember. But I also know that I was weak and thirsty and desperate. Picture the desert traveler—prone to hallucination. My mind tells me it’s impossible. I can’t trust my own heart, my own perceptions. Haven’t others felt the same peace from other gods? Haven’t others perceived things from God that were completely imagined? It would be ridiculous to think that my subjective feelings reflect reality for the world. I’m prideful if I think that only my God could be true. So why this desire—why can’t I just let it go? Is this how he calls us? Is he the one not letting me go? This is the battle I fight with myself every day. The doubter in me mocks the believer. The believer begs the doubter for silence.

The next ripple out from the center is my husband Russell. I have recently shared our story, so I won’t go into detail here. Has our marriage been strained? Yes. Have I even been hostile? Yes. Will I ever leave? I will not. I have wanted to at times. I’m not sure what it would solve. He doubted first, but I might have gotten there on my own (see The Artist, where I describe my own awakening into doubt). It was easier for me to acknowledge my doubt since I knew he was traversing the path with me—but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have doubted without him. It just means that I would have done it alone. What benefit would there be in leaving now? Would my doubt disappear? I think it would stay—and I fear what I would lose too much to ever risk it. I guess our definitive détente happened on our anniversary right after the new year, and you can read about it in Days of Auld Lang Syne. The more I think about our marriage vows, the more I realize that the promise we made to each other was not that we would never change—he didn’t break a vow when he turned from faith. We never promised that we would stay the same—we simply promised that we would stay. And I will.

Another band in the expanding circle belongs to my family. They cannot know the state of my heart—they would hate me if they did. They speak of non-believers in a way that makes me tremble. It would break their hearts to know of my doubt, and I love them too much to hurt them like that. I could never tell my dad that I don’t believe in the God who changed his heart. I can tear down arguments, but I can’t tear down stories. They mean too much to me. There can never be a détente with my family as long as they do not perceive the tension.

And finally I come to you. All of you. My outer circle. Strained relations? Sometimes—of course, you see it. A quick perusal of comments on other faith-related blogs will show you brutal hostility. I have been fortunate here to be left out of that. I do see it at church, of all places, where only a few know of my doubt. The unsuspecting others speak against disbelief with disdain, not knowing that one they would consider an enemy walks among them. This blog is my détente. It is a safe zone, a place where hostility can be lifted as we share honestly together. An incredible example of détente in blog-form is my brother-blog, Russell & Pascal, where my husband (an atheist) and our Christ-following friend Pascal write with gentleness and respect and welcome you to do the same.

A wonderful détente happened last night at Pascal’s house. Pascal, Mrs. Pascal, and the oldest of the little Pascals welcomed me, Russell, some of our atheist and Christian friends, and a few blog readers (strangers until last night) to their table for food and fellowship. We all had different stories. They all matter to me. We listened and learned and loved. I shared my story and I struggled with my inability to wrap it up in a nice bow—to give it a conclusion. So many reasons to believe because of what I’ve witnessed in my dad’s life and experienced in my own—yet I find myself doubting my own perceptions. Still so many reasons that I can’t believe—but am I being faithful to my commitment to doubt my doubt? I’m completely lost.

I need that détente. The survivors, no matter their final positions, can encourage the desert wanderers who can’t tell if they’re chasing reality or a mirage. The fellow strugglers can stand together, friends even if we disagree. The young and faithful one can be warned of what may come, and he can come to this safe harbor if everything solid in his life starts to sway. No hostility. This is how it’s supposed to be. This is what I want for my children. This is what I want for the world.

This is all I wanted when I reached out to Pascal a little over two years ago and asked him to walk with my family through doubt. He was a teacher; I had once been his student. He was approachable; I needed help. I introduced him to Russell, and they began to meet at a breakfast table. Almost one year ago, they started meeting even more frequently at a virtual table—Russell & Pascal. Last night, a group of ten met at a physical table born of the virtual table and shared our stories with gentleness and respect. Pascal may never persuade Russell and me. As our group of ten grows, we may never reach a unanimous vote—and the beautiful thing is that we don’t have to. It’s a safe place to believe and a safe place to doubt. It’s exactly what I hoped for when I gathered the courage to share my doubt with Pascal, a strong believer. Détente. 

Seek détente along with me. Seek relief of the tension between your head and heart, of the hostility between you and those around you. There’s a seat for you at the table—this one if you are far away, and the physical one if you are near. Find your Russell. Find your Pascal. Find your Zoe and Ruth and JJ and Howie and Toad and Mike and Rafols and CC—and find your détente.

(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, by author Rick Harris. Source linked to photo)

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24 thoughts on “Détente

  1. Hi CC,

    Wow, I enjoyed reading your story. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live with such strong believers around you. I come from a background of religious apathy – a thing I think is a blessing and a curse at times.

    I am honored that you mentioned me among your list of absolute, top notch bloggers (I feel a crushing inadequacy beside such amazing blogs). Your blog, along with Russel and Pascal’s, Ruth’s and Howie’s are blogs I follow and have especially drawn much inspiration from. Your gentle, humbled approach is what I try to emulate. The reason I started blogging was to share – to connect with a community of others who are thinking about belief and are happy to talk it out. I think I have found it in all you wonderful people.

    I hope for détente. I pray that we all might maintain the strength and humility to keep this virtual table safe for all beliefs and creeds. The specter of bigotry and hubris always looms when discussing these highly charged topics. Peace be with you CC, and all those who come to this table.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Hi CC,

    Your posts have a way of grabbing at a person’s heart. I am so sorry for the things that you went through in your childhood. They sound so traumatic and painful. I am so glad you and Russell have found each other.

    CC, I am a humble man capable of realizing (and unfortunately thinking about it a bit too often) that my own reasoning can always be wrong, but one of the things that sticks with me a lot is realizing that if there really is a loving God that exists and that created human beings for fellowship then I am unable to see how it could be so terribly vengeful about the fact that I doubt it’s existence and doubt the existence of a supernatural realm. I am personally a lover of things that are good. I care for and love my family and friends, and even my enemies I try hard to be as kind as I can muster. This was why I had followed the Christian worldview and the Jesus I thought still existed for those 5 years of my life. If a God exists that represents true complete goodness then it is more than welcome in my home and heart. Does a doubt of metaphysical claims which tend to look a bit mythological really matter more than love and care of our fellow human beings? I just have a difficult time seeing it. I say this in the hopes it will help you in your own doubt, but I can’t know for sure since everyone handles doubt differently.

    “A quick perusal of comments on other faith-related blogs will show you brutal hostility.”

    This is so true, and I have been in the midst of all that and unfortunately perhaps sometimes at fault in some of those discussions. Last year I considered closing up my blog several times due to the vitriolic nature of the discussions on some religious blogs. It only hit my blog a little bit, but a blog of a good friend of mine became a place of too many painful exchanges. I think I mentioned this on Russell/Pascal’s blog, but finding their blog was very surreal to me against that backdrop of the blogosphere.

    I am very glad for all of the blogs you mentioned as well as yours. Thank you so much for listing my own. I seek détente as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Howie,

      I can relate so strongly to what you wrote. When I read scripture, it doesn’t make sense to me that they call this God good. If he is all-knowing, he knows that my heart only seeks truth through evidence. If he’s all-powerful, he could find a way to save me even if I never acknowledge him. If he is all good, he must. My failure to acknowledge God has not been because I want my own way—it has been because I can’t find justifiable reasons to believe. Surely he could understand that, if he does exist and if he gave me the mind that reasons itself out of faith.

      In my weakness, I keep hoping that we’ve all got it wrong—that I’m wrong about his non-existence, but also that others are wrong about his vengeful nature that would refuse a seeking heart that never recognized the evidence of him. I want him to be a God who would say at the end, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You didn’t know me until now, but you always sought the truth with humility.”

      Most of us don’t have trouble welcoming those who acknowledge us and return our love. The more powerful love is the unexpected, undeserved love—a love that refuses to let me go even after I spend the majority of a lifetime rejecting it. That’s a love that could change my heart. That’s the God that I hope for.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’ve worded that very well CC. If there is a god that truly cares about all humans and will some day welcome us that would be a pleasant surprise, but you are right that the god as described in several places in the bible doesn’t come across as very pleasant and some passages can be very troubling – things that caused a lot of cognitive dissonance for me when I was a believer.

        Like

  3. Reblogged this on russell & pascal and commented:
    On Friday evening, Pascal and his lovely wife did something amazing. They opened their home and invited me, my wife (CC from The Counterfeit Christian), and six other people (including their oldest son and a couple that we’d only previously met as bloggers here) to sit down with food, wine, and fellowship. We each listened intently to those with sometimes similar, and sometimes wildly different world-views — but we did so with gentleness and respect. Free from hostility we were able to be open and vulnerable. This environment was very refreshing and led to real connections. We were each advocates of the legitimacy of our adversaries as people, which often led us to legitimize one another’s point of view.

    CC wrote about her experience that night in this excellent post that I’m reblogging.

    When Pascal and I started the online adventure that is russellandpascal.com, we hoped it could grow to be more than a blog. Gentleness and respect was and is more than a tag-line — its a recipe for understanding and friendship. Our meetings originally started across a physical breakfast table and continue there. The blog is just one medium of our communication. We wanted the meaning behind the blog to be a movement that reached into lives of people.

    CC describes a ripple effect in her post, and that’s a bit like what’s happened here. This blog is just another tiny pebble dropping in the pond. We didn’t start the ripple, it’s been emanating for thousands of years — but we do want to join it. We hope that each of you will take it to your own communities and the effect will grow.

    Pascal decided to call this meeting a détente, which means the easing of hostility or strained relations. It’s now a monthly affair. Consider opening your homes and lives to those of different points of view in your own détente.

    Questions

    If someone cared enough to invite you to a meeting like this, would you go? Why or why not?

    Would you consider hosting a détente of your own? Why or why not?

    Gentleness and respect,
    —Russell

    Liked by 2 people

  4. This was brilliant to read. Your story is heartwrenching but your perserverence is inspiring. As a strong atheist, I know it is difficult to live amongst strong believers, but you are surrounded by great people who will only help. Take care of yourself.

    • a new follower

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for joining me here! When I walked away from faith, one of the things I grieved the most was the sense of no longer belonging to a community. Through new friends I’ve found here, that grief is quickly evaporating. Some of my favorite viewpoints to explore are those of people who identify themselves as “strong” on either side (either theist or atheist)—I am a weak atheist…weak enough that the lines between theist and atheist can sometimes blur a little.

      I’m so happy to add another strong atheist to my circle here. Your perspective is always welcome!

      Like

  5. Oh my word CC you caught me totally off guard at the end of your post. I was not prepared to see my name there, and with so many others who I have come to respect. My goodness. Thank you.

    I envy your getting together with others. My PTSD kept me isolated. I spent two hours talking to my Christian friend today and we talked about how my story isolated me. How I needed to protect myself, save myself so-to-speak by removing myself from most Christian friends. But it wasn’t only about saving myself, it was about saving them too. What can you do when people just don’t get it or understand? Sometimes leaving is all you can do when you don’t have the energy to give to keep connections. It requires more than just one person to make it work. It sounds like you’ve got more than a few willing to work at it. 🙂

    (((hugs)))

    Liked by 1 person

    • Zoe, for every Christian at that table there were two more who would never dream of being involved in a gathering like the one we had. Sometimes you do have to move along.

      It took me years of vulnerability to reach this point—and it was so worth it. Your online presence is such a valuable start though, even if you’re not physically surrounding a table.

      I’m certainly glad to “know” you here—although I’ll always wish we could share a meal together!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I, like Zoe, have been caught off guard. The words I want to say, that are floating in my mind are getting mixed with the tears that are falling. I don’t exactly know why they are falling. Probably for a number of reasons.

    “This is the battle I fight with myself every day. The doubter in me mocks the believer. The believer begs the doubter for silence.”

    This line, just – YES!

    I’m so glad you were able to go to that Detente meeting. I’m glad you are finding a place at that table.

    (Hope my quote thing worked – I’m still not 100% sure on all these things.)

    Like

    • Thank you JJ—wish you could be around the physical table too. And I don’t know what the “quote thing” was supposed to look like, but the line definitely showed up within quotation marks. I don’t know how to do the “inset” quotes, though—my husband is that blog-savvy, but I am not!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: not a missionary. | theconflictedchristian

  8. For whatever reason, I only just now got this post popping up on my reader thingy (which is, I believe, the technical term). My apologies for not commenting sooner.

    Thanks for the kind mention of my somewhat jumbled blog. I can relate to your thoughts on the brutality of Internet commentary. Sadly, I was born with a quick temper and a strong sarcastic streak, both inherited from my father, and I fear that all too often I allow myself to be dragged into the mud along with everyone else. Which is yet another reason I no longer have a Facebook account–not unlike assumptions, it always tended to make an ass out of me, at least. So I am honored that you would consider mine a positive voice, and I sincerely hope that you will let me know if and when it becomes the opposite.

    One of my biggest frustrations as a “non-Christian”-ish kind of guy is the equation of that non-ness with a lack of faith or belief. Taking whatever God or gods out of the picture, I am a man, I like to think, of very strong and vibrant faith. I just happen to locate that faith in my fellow human beings. And interacting here with folks like you underlines and strengthens a faith that all too often flags and fails. So my thanks to you and everyone else involved in this e-conversation. Here’s to believing in each other…

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I think “reader thingy” is totally legit.
      2. I have a sarcastic streak too. It’s totally unbecoming, and I’ve been working on it. I’d say I’ve reduced sarcasm by 80%, and I’m going to conquer that last 20. Time to grow up and say what I mean—and say it with gentleness and respect.
      3. No matter how much faith I put in human beings, they always, always eventually fail me. My parents, my siblings, my closest friends. Russell. Pascal. And I’ve failed each of them, too. My favorite thing about Jesus was my belief that he would never fail. I’ve come to realize that I would rather have a God who might sometimes fail me than a God who cannot fail because he does not act in my life. So yes, I agree with having faith in my fellow human beings—not because they won’t fail me, but because they are so present in my life that they inevitably will.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow, CC, I’m honored to be among those other names and other blogs. All of them I respect so very much. I hope that people find in my blog a safe place to share doubts and find comfort.

    Much like Zoe, I’ve pretty much isolated myself in the real world. How I wish there were a group like the one you met with locally. It’s awesome to hear people of faith and people who lack it coming together in a loving and safe environment.

    Unfortunately I’ve been privy to those awful internet exchanges. I try really hard not to get sucked in but sometimes it happens. Moreso than arguing against a belief, though, I’d like to think that even the staunchest believer could relate to some kind of doubt if not outright disbelief. When the believer acts as though it’s astonishing that anyone could not believe and becomes indignant about it sometimes I dig my heels in.

    I love to have rational, calm discussions about the ins and outs of believing and not believing. I’ve found a place here, on the internet, to do that. Mostly. The bad exchanges are not nearly as frequent as the good and productive ones.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “When the believer acts as though it’s astonishing that anyone could not believe…”—this gets to me, too. I love that Pascal and the rest of my believing friends on here have never said that. I’ve only had one follower who has, and I’ve learned not to engage him. It does make my heart race a little, though!

      Like

  10. I love so much of what you wrote here…as you can see I am catching up with your blog today. To answer Russell’s question: the dinner party referred to as the détente is something like what I have longed to have for years. A meeting of hearts and minds of various beliefs shared with respectability and without coercion. (I have only experienced this thus far on email lists) CC I think I understand the battle you have in you and recognize something similar which happened to me years ago. So because of that and because you want the battle to end and because of your eloquent writing, I offer a bit of advice if I may: Sit quietly in a room when you won’t be interrupted and write your feelings as they come. Write it all down. The second piece of advice is to forget everything you were taught about God, religion and Christianity (and yes I do call myself a Christian) that you find difficult or uncomfortable with. Trust your instinct. If you cannot believe in God, get in touch with your own spirit through creativity and meditation and discover what you do believe in. Many churches have a sort of credo of what their beliefs are. Perhaps your goal is to make one of your own eventually. It doesn’t have to be set in stone. Allow yourself the freedom to grow and change your credo from time to time. Sorry to be so long winded.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is beautiful… what a stunning place to find yourselves – all of you… it brings me such a ‘peace and hope’…may this – detente – be what our futures hold for all of us. In gentleness and kindness. Yeah… about what the world needs.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask, Week 3: Can we trust scripture? (Part 1) | The Counterfeit Christian

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