My latest book idea is in response to the dramatic feedback about a blog post a few weeks ago. My website traffic the next few days was 100 times greater than normal. Following is a rough draft of Chapter One. I would greatly appreciate you taking time to read it and then expressing your thoughts, comments, pushback, etc.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes, 13 seconds.
1. A Modern-Day Prodigal
On a fateful day in June 2011, I lost over 10,000 Christian family, friends, and peers. In one day. My social networks and the Christian Arts conference which provided my income was rendered a barren wasteland. I went from having what felt like a strong tribe, to discovering in less than 24 hours that I was alone and had virtually no friends or natural support system.
Of course, they say I abandoned them, and perhaps they are right. After all, I had sinned. And as time passed, to add further insult to injury, my former tribe realized much to their dismay, that I had run away to what turned out to be a much happier and prosperous life.
Of all the parables, the story of the Prodigal Son is perhaps the most beloved by Christians…and the most ignored. The parable does not explain exactly why the prodigal son left home, but we do know this: he no longer wanted to live (or was no longer welcome) in his community. The son was sick and tired of living in the old ways—instead, he wished to try a new way of life.
The son eventually came to realize his loss of belonging and though his return was imperfect—being motivated by fear of continued misery rather than being driven by love for his former way of life—he came back home. The father sees his son coming from a far way off and runs out to greet him, kiss him, and tell his servants to prepare a feast for his son.
Though his son left home, the father never stopped loving him. The son’s request for his inheritance implies he did not wish to return home, yet the father yearned for the return of his son. And though the son expressed imperfect remorse, it was met with perfect forgiveness from the father.
It’s easy to focus on what the prodigal son’s father does; less obvious is what he does not do. The prodigal son’s father does not say: “You know, you left us; and unless you come back in sincere shame and repentance and beg forgiveness from all you have sinned against and mend your ways, you are not welcome back!”
The father granted unrequested and unconditional forgiveness. I’m happy for the prodigal son—but unfortunately, that is not what happened to me and to many others who are modern-day prodigals.
Thankfully, my Mom, Dad, and siblings loved me unconditionally, forgave me, and welcomed me back to the home of my childhood. But to this day, over eight years later, I have been abandoned by my nuclear family, by my former pastors, by all but a handful of my closest friends, by thousands of members of the churches I had served, and by tens of thousands in my social networks.
The psychosis of their religion had turned their adoration and admiration into hatred and loathing. I had lost my tribe—my sense of belonging.
I would walk down the streets of our little utopian right-wing evangelical town and those “Christian” people would coldly turn their heads, go to the other side of the street and act as if I did not exist. I was invisible. I no longer belonged with their kind. I had been caught in adultery, and far too proper to cast stones, they piously declared me unfit and dead to their world. For a human being to be rendered invisible is worse than being condemned.
Benjamin Corey calls it “ghosting” in this insightful blog post. He says ghosting is when someone abruptly ends a friendship with limited or no explanation, and when they proceed to quickly disappear from your life. They ghost people. They disappear from our lives. They abandon us. They sever ties. And they do it in the cruelest way possible: with silence.”
He goes on to say, “I don’t think they realize that on the day they ghosted me, it was the day that my life started to seriously unravel. No one cared if I survived as a person. Every waking morning was a reminder that none of them actually gave a shit about me.
I don’t think they realize that years later, the idea of going to church again or having Christian friends I can trust, is outside of what would be healthy or plausible for me.
I don’t think they realize that when they see us at the department store and turn to walk away before we see them, they’re not quick enough.
I don’t think they realize that I never fully recovered from that life event and that it still impacts me on a daily basis. I felt it yesterday, I feel it today, and I fear I’ll feel it tomorrow, too.
I don’t think they realize any of those things. Sadly I don’t think they care, either—because if they did, they would have attempted to bind up the wounds they inflicted without letting so many years go by.”
These heart-rending words uttered by someone else who has experienced the loss of belonging sound eerily familiar. And it’s not just Benjamin and myself—unfortunately, the ranks of the “ghosted” are growing at an alarming rate.
So, how does one survive the loss of their tribe? After all, a sense of belonging is a human need, just like the need for food and shelter. To belong means to be accepted as a member or part of something important.
Eight difficult years after being ghosted by my tribe, the following chapters highlight ten actions that helped me survive. Each chapter concludes with vital questions to ask. I hope they can help you as well. It has not been an easy road, but the payoff has been life-transforming.
The loss of the noise of my tribe has led to internal consciousness, solitude, acceptance and being. The loss of control (especially by religion) has led to spiritual freedom. The loss of mindless teaching has led to insatiable curiosity. The loss of sexual repression has led to sensual awakening. And the loss of self-denial and shame has led to intimacy and communion.
Has it been easy? No. Has it been worth it? Yes. A resounding yes!
I often say I wouldn’t want to repeat these last few years, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything.