To toss or not to toss? Those books, literature, music, and trinkets from your spiritual abuse. I see this question frequently. What should I do with all the literature and reminders of the group I am leaving?
Some traditions will say to retire these items with respect and decorum, much like how a flag is to be retired. They would say the item should be burned or buried. But if you recognize the falsity of the place you have left, this will likely not be a concern for you. It can be empowering to do the opposite.
I got rid of all my religious items right away. Later I bought the literature again when I was doing research. It was healing to purge the reminders, but there are valid reasons to hang on to it. Each person should listen to their own intuition about what to do.
Some keep the literature because the group they belong to changes teachings constantly and is dishonest about what they previously taught. Keeping a hard copy can prove the changes, which is useful for activism. However, keeping the books serves as a trigger for most people reminding one of the trauma and spiritual abuse. My suggestion is to pack the items up and ask a friend to store them while you take time to heal. You can decide later what is right for you.
Keeping or tossing books, is a personal decision. You can postpone making it until you are sufficiently healed. If you need it for research or healing, you'll have it. If you need to get rid of it, you can sell it, or burn it, or create a life celebration ceremony out of destroying it. Invite people over to watch you reclaim your power. Some people save a symbolic piece or two. The main thing is, how do you feel having the items around? There is no right answer for every person. You get to decide.
One healing activity I did was take an old book from when I was a teen, and I re-read it but this time I argued with it from my new view; I wrote all over it: misogynistic, lies, isolating, scientifically wrong, manipulative, etc. It opened my eyes to the significant damage the book had caused me. I saw how it was propaganda and pure evil. It was healing for me to take on their "authority" and dismantle it.
You can also use old printed materials to do a healing art project, a collage or mixed media project. Use any topic: false hopes, lies, an ugly world view, etc. and create something meaningful to you from it. Creating art can take us where mere words fail.
If you are into making music it might be fun to dub some of the music into a new liberating song of your own creation. Some of the music I grew up with had a militaristic feel to it; this would juxtapose nicely with a song about what love truly means.
Creative acts can be used to take back your power. Breaking the rules, and using the “tools” of indoctrination in your own way, reclaims your power and takes back the emotional control. What you do with these reminders of spiritual abuse is yours to choose. Don't just let it stay on your book shelf causing you pain. Find a healing way to deal with the reminders.
"No one can tell you what to do with the books, music, and other reminders."
The first time I met a white supremacist, I was 19 and going door to door as a Jehovah’s Witness in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. The Awake magazine had a picture of four babies of different races. I started out with, "Wouldn't it be nice if all races could get along?" and the person replied with, "No. Not at all. You need to learn what you have as a white person." I was completely shocked. I was unaware that northern Idaho was a hot bed of white supremacy at the time.
I remember that conversation and in retrospect that person was as brainwashed as I was. We both were sold a philosophy and beliefs that excluded others. I eventually saw the truth about the organization I was involved in, and I was able to “wake up.” Some white supremacists “wake up.” That's the hard route, because to change one’s beliefs, it involves loss of community and loss of identity. It would be far better to teach children to love, and plant them firmly in a community of love.
But that's the micro level. We need to address the systems of oppression: the prisons for profit that hold mostly people of color, police who do not protect people of color, police killing unarmed black people and not being held accountable, the way we white people hoard resources that prevent opportunity for children of color (like school vouchers that help white kids avoid "bad" districts and go to private schools), to name a few things.
That's the macro level and it seems many of us are happy with it, but it is part of a system that protects white privilege.
Iyanla Vanzant was asked about racism. She said, "It's caused by two things: Superiority and Dishonesty. Someone decided they are better and that it was o.k. to mistreat others because of that lie." White superiority is a lie.
I think that's succinct and covers both the micro and macro levels of racism, personal and systemic. Until we white people deal with both levels, we can expect more civil unrest. We must become part of the solution through our words and actions.
Hell, I used to go door to door selling magazines because I believed it was important. I better be able to dig my heels in and work for equality. I promise I will.
The racism on display in Charlottesville didn’t happen in a vacuum, and whether we like it or not, the Christian church has been complicit throughout American history. Racism is yet another egregious form of spiritual abuse.
The Bible is/was used to elevate white people. It was used to perpetuate the lie of white superiority.
Using the story of Noah after the flood, preachers used the “cursed be Ham” line to say the black race was cursed by God. This was used to rationalize slavery and banning blacks from ministry.
Using Paul’s words, slavery was justified. Slave owning Christian's justified kidnapping, rape, breaking up families, and treating people like property, by using Bible passages like, “Slaves should obey their masters.”
Several Christian denominations used to allow black people to sit in the back or the balcony, but they did not let black people be ordained, using the “cursed is Ham” thinking. This two class system went on for many years after slavery was abolished; Southern Baptists ordained their first black minister in 1970.[i] In 2017, they are still arguing about whether or not they should apologize for slavery.[ii]
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons also originally prevented Black members from positions of leadership. In fact, if you consider most denominations, you will see this trend.
The Bible was also misused to promote the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny” which was based in white supremacy, and led to Christians justifying its Westward movement, and stealing land from Indians.[iii]
Too often, white people and white churches remain silent and expect people of color to fix the problem. (Who hasn’t heard of Martin Luther King, Jr?) However, white people created the problem and white people need to fix it. Yes, we must listen to people of color. But I am talking about taking individual ownership on both the micro and the macro level.
We must talk with our family members and our friends, making a clear stance against racism. We must draw a line in the sand, and if we claim to use the Bible, we must use the Bible in a liberating way. It’s not effective to just unfriend people. We need to risk talking about the difficult topics.
Until Charlottesville, I hadn’t even talked about my first encounter with a white supremacist. Since then we have talked about it and have talked about both sides the ‘debate’ on removing monuments. We will continue to have these discussions. Charlottesville opened a door and I am walking through it unapologetically.
We must be honest about history, about how Jim Crow law led to the mass incarceration of black people.[iv] We need to address systems that hold people of color down. White people need to read books, like The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander, and have discussions and take steps to right the wrongs.[v] We need to address the effects of racism's “Superiority and Dishonesty.”
We must challenge our preachers when they ignore the injustice of racism, or openly condone it. On Twitter, there is a hashtag #EmptyThePews which was started as a call to action. Stop going to church if your minister cannot or will not condemn racism. Stop giving financially. Until people know we are serious, they will turn a blind eye.
Until we take a stand, the United States, and perhaps even our favorite church, has become one big clanging cymbal. “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” [vi] Until we take steps to change things, the American dream will continue to be a nightmare. Our places of refuge will be places of spiritual abuse,
[v] I am willing to facilitate a book discussion, but I would encourage you to host a book reading discussion group. Challenge your local (micro) level, so together you can tackle the macro (community and State) level.
[vi] 1 Corinthians 13:1 New International Version (NIV)
My blogs take on all topics related to recovery, including commentary on the intersection of spiritual abuse and current events.
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