Chrystal’s Story: The Year I Left Christian Science

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This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


A Wedding at Principia During my Reunion Weekend

A few years ago, I went to my brother’s wedding weekend at Principia College’s Chapel (it’s a beautiful campus, with buildings designed by nationally renowned architect, Bernard Maybeck. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICioQ12vTo0 ). We were there for several days. It happened to also be my class reunion that weekend. The way Principia does their reunions, they do two classes at the same time, and then every 5 years above that, two more classes go for their reunion too, all the way to the 1920s or so. Potentially, it could be 100s and 100s of people showing up, of all ages. (Like: 2000, 2001, 1995, 1996, 1985, 1986, 1975, 1976…) I showed up for my reunion, and it was also for the students who were a class ahead of me. I would not have attended the reunion, except that it was my brother’s wedding that weekend too, so I figured, “why not, I’ll go 1 day early and catch some of my reunion.” No one, and I mean that literally, no one else from my class or the class ahead of me showed up for our reunion. Zero. I was the only one. And even I wouldn’t have been there (despite it being my 20th reunion), if my brother hadn’t been getting married in the Chapel that weekend, and I really love my brother. (Can you imagine it’s your 20th college reunion and NO ONE shows up except you?  #Awkward )

On Sunday morning, after the wedding, we all agreed we would attend the Chapel service. It was super hard to sit through. I remember the days when I was a Practitioner and I would love to hear “The inspired word of The Bible” and “correlative passages from Science and Health,” but this day at the Principia Chapel just felt tedious (no matter how much I love that Chapel as a building  and I love looking at the architecture). The organ felt too loud and blasty, the Readings were tremendously long, the solos always grate at my ears. I realized I no longer fit in this sort of church experience at all. I was so glad it was only an hour and I was so glad when it was over!

I have now been in the Quaker Meeting as a member for almost 2 years, and my beliefs continue to mold and change, and I love that I have complete freedom and support from my Quaker Friends to be Me. They love me for who I am, and they support me 100% as my beliefs change. I feel completely accepted and loved and cherished. I finally have friends, and I don’t feel like “I am better than anyone.” I feel at peace and equal with everyone. I have a Friend who was incarcerated for a minor offense. And it is good for me to learn his challenges, so I can be educated.

Quaker Women

I have many Friends who are women, and we go out to lunch. We laugh, we cry, we share everything. I can share absolutely anything, and they empathize with me. They support me. They bring me food if I need help, and I take them food when they need help. We mail each other cards that say, “I love you and I am thinking of you.”

I got a card from one of my new good Friends, a year after my dad died. I opened it, read the compassionate note, and just cried and cried. It was so loving of her to remember my dad’s death and send me a compassionate card a full year after his death. I never received cards from Christian Scientists upon my dad’s death, but the Quaker Friends sent me multiple cards. I had barely walked in the door at the Quaker Meeting, and a few short months later, my dad got really sick and died. The doctor had given him a clean bill of health (other than the Parkinson’s) just a month before. 

 

He had predicted my dad could easily live another 10 years. Then, he was gone within a month. My new Quaker Friends mailed me cards and attended our Memorial service in my dad’s Christian Science church (the one I mentioned that never used to allow memorial services or weddings). That church has had a couple of memorial services now, which I think is wonderful and appropriate. Both members died way too young. (What kind of church doesn’t love its members enough to honor important moments in their members’ lives?)

At my dad’s memorial service, the church was so filled – there were so many people standing at the back, and the foyer doors were opened, and the whole entry way area was completely filled, and people even had to stand on the stairs going down down to the Sunday School. That’s the last time I set foot in a Christian Science church. I don’t know if it will be my last, but it was amusing (or sad?) to see it filled to the absolute brim. I think there was only a handful of Christian Science church members there at that service. All the rest of the people attending were friends, family, neighbors, and my Quaker Friends who had never even met my dad.

Feeling Real Grief

After my dad died, I was grief-stricken. He was the only parent I had who had been with me and cared for me my whole life. Everyone else in my life had come and gone, or come in later. My dad meant the world to me. Christian Science teaches us we can’t grieve, because death isn’t real. 

My emotions were so squashed for so many years, though, that I couldn’t help but grieve. Two friends who had left Christian Science suggested that I go to therapy for grief. This was a radical concept to me. I was afraid, and it is against Christian Science. I can’t explain what I was afraid of, but it was definitely not an idea that I was comfortable with.  

I knew that in Christian Science, I had always been taught that to counteract grief and depression, it’s necessary to sit down and write “gratefuls.” I challenged myself to write 100 things I was grateful for, and I figured it would heal my grief over my dad. I sat down and without stopping for any breaks, I easily wrote 112 things I was grateful for. I decided that was enough things, and I put my pen down. My mood hadn’t changed. I was still as depressed and grief-stricken as ever. I decided it was time to get real counseling. I didn’t want to futz around, so I did a search for a high rated female counselor, covered by my insurance. I went in, told her I was grieving over my dad, and we began weekly counseling sessions. She was a phenomenal person. She sat by me and helped me figure out my next path. It turned out that she helped me realize Christian Science was no longer a path that worked for me. She helped me gain courage to tell my family, to tell The Mother Church, and to leave my Christian Science Teacher.

Becoming an Ex Christian Scientist

Meanwhile, the two friends who had suggested that I go to counseling and I were talking more and more about our experiences growing up in Christian Science. We had many parallels, and it was incredibly validating to realize we had so many of the same traumas and experiences. It was almost eery. One of my friends did a search for “Ex Christian Science” and came across this blog and the Facebook group. We all joined very quickly, and found a whole new set of friends. This set of friends have been the most validating group of people I have ever known.

I have learned wonderful words – a whole vocabulary that was denied me in my Christian Science upbringing. I had learned big words like “equipoise,” “extemporaneous,” “perspicacity,” “necromancy,” “self-immolation,” but didn’t know practical words like “boundary,” and “narcissist,” “anxiety,” “immunizations.”  

I have healed and changed so much in the last two years since my dad died. It’s quite remarkable. I am finally finding happiness for real, and I’m able to express an appropriate amount of anger or sadness instead of constantly being on the verge of stifled tears that won’t stay stifled any more. I am a much more emotionally balanced and healthy human being. I no longer struggle thinking “that’s not a part of me, I better heal it, or someone will judge me, and I will be yelled at.” I feel centered and calm. I am a much better mom, spouse, friend, co-worker. My life is so much better than it was when I was a Journal-listed Practitioner – the goal I had wanted to have my whole life.

Chrystal’s Story: Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 2)

Chrystal's Story header image

This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme. 


Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 2)

At my particular Quaker Meeting, there are two of us who were raised in Christian Science. (The other one is the dad of that boy, J.V., from my 8th grade private school class!) Several people are medical doctors, and a few are atheist or something like it, though they don’t use that word. There are many of us who aren’t sure how to put our beliefs about a god-type-entity into words. I do know I no longer believe in the God that Christian Science taught me about – the one who inflicts pain and suffering when you are “far away from Him/Her,” and won’t heal you until “you change your thought.” I watched this version of God inflict 25 or so years of Parkinson’s on my amazing, kind, smart, creative, funny dad, and I watched my step-mom victim blame him. “If you only prayed more, if you only read Christian Science literature, you would be healed.” (In the end, my dad died a sudden death-by-starvation, due to not wanting a feeding tube. At that point, though, all he could do was curl up in a fetal position on the bed, and I know he wouldn’t have wanted to live longer with a feeding tube too. It breaks my heart that my amazing dad had to die that way. My dad fully expected to be healed, even as he started to enter the coma he never woke up from.)

My dad dying, as far as I can figure, was my final straw towards leaving my Mother Church membership. I had joined The Mother Church in Boston – “The First Church of Christ, Scientist in Boston, Massachusetts” when I turned 12. About 2 months after my dad died, I withdrew my membership. As I type this, I realize this was me rejecting Mary Baker Eddy as “my leader.”

Alertness to Duty: “It shall be the duty of every member of this Church to defend himself daily against aggressive mental suggestion, and not be made to forget nor to neglect his duty to God, to his Leader, and to mankind.” – “The Manual of The Mother Church,” by Mary Baker Eddy, Article VIII, Section 6.

In 2015, I wrote to The Mother Church through their website and never got a confirmation that I am no longer a member. I don’t get mail from them any more at least, including no more requests for the annual money from members. So that’s good! The Quaker Faith was fine with me being a member of the Christian Science Church and still attending the Quaker Meeting. I have learned that probably most Christian churches are fine if you are members at two or more, or are a member at one and attend another. The Christian Science church makes you choose only their version of “church.”

Christian Science, as far as I have witnessed it, teaches people to victim blame and chastise and judge each other. Any time someone wants to go to a doctor, they have to lie about it – lying by omission. They don’t tell their church family, they are so scared of going to a doctor, and they go because they need care, and don’t have anyone to support them. If they come home and need meals or care at all, they have nowhere to turn. If they admitted, “I went to a doctor,” they might likely be kicked out of the church, or at least ostracized. “If you only prayed more, you would have your healing,” they are told over and over again by people who truly think they are being loving when they are really judging and victim-blaming.

I no longer believe in a merciless god like that. I don’t know if I believe in a god or not. I have stripped myself to my core, and have laid everything I have in front of myself, and am examining my inner most beliefs to determine what I believe. At this point, I know I believe in Mother Earth and Father Sky. I see so much beauty in Nature, and so much beauty in the Sky. I love that my Quaker brothers and sisters recycle and compost their food, they push each other to be more kind, to be kind to the earth, to be kind to animals. I love the peaceful protests. I have heard a woman give talks about all the times she was arrested as a peaceful protester – she loved being arrested with her dad growing up. It was something they did. They would peacefully protest war or whatever was wrong, and get arrested and thrown in jail for it. Now she loves protesting with her daughter.

I have a new Quaker Friend who is a District Attorney, who works for all the cases of people who are thrown in jail protesting outrageous things. There were riots due to racism in a city not too far from us, and she gathered everything she needed to head into the rioting city, to prepare the legal documents and cases to help get the people inevitably get out of jail the next day. She gathered granola bars, lanterns and batteries (in case of power outage), snacks, her suit for court, paperwork and specific books. I love that the Quakers fight for the freedoms of people. She talked about how it felt, being a white person driving into a city that had protests and police locking down black people. She saw her privilege right then and there – laid before her. She drove easily through police checkpoints in the middle of the riot to reach her District Attorney’s Office so she could stay up all night, preparing to get the protesters out of jail the next day.

I thought “Quakers are peaceful, and they are conscientious objectors,” and that was initially what drew me to the Quaker Faith. But there is so much more to it. The Quaker Testimonies are nothing at all like Christian Science Testimonies. The Quaker Testimonies mean “Quaker Values.” The acronym for the Quaker Testimonies is “SPICES.” It stands for: Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Community, Equality, and Stewardship. (See: http://www.friendsjournal.org/s-p-i-c-e-s-quaker-testimonies/)

(By the way, The Quakers also have a “Journal.” It’s a monthly publication. The first time my dad’s wife saw my copy of the Quaker Journal sitting on my kitchen counter, she said, “That’s cute.” As in: “oh, they must have copied the Christian Science Journal by doing that.” Ahem. Quakers have been in this country for over 350 years. It predates Christian Science by at least 250 years – IN THIS COUNTRY.)

Quakers were an integral part of the Underground Railroad. We sing black gospel hymns like, “Follow the drinking gourd” in our Meeting. I have found out these hymns have hidden messages meant to help the slaves navigate the Underground Railroad. I feel like I am part of something really big. I am on a committee dedicated to helping work out the horrendous Mass Incarceration problem in our country. A Friend I know is working hard to create transitional housing for people who are being released from jail and don’t have an ID and can’t get a driver’s license or a job. Transitioning from jail to freedom is not easy at all. And there is no ½ way house for most of them. Feel free to look up the Friends Committee on National Legislation. They do very cool things. I am just starting to get active with this organization, and it’s very exciting.

I don’t know that I necessarily think that Quakers are peaceful in the same way of what I thought it meant when I first walked in the door; Now I know they do fight – they absolutely fight – on the side of Justice. They are actively out in the community, fighting for people’s rights and freedoms, and they know that it takes time to change laws, but they work toward it (sometimes for decades, among huge resistance) and they don’t give up. Laws cannot be changed overnight, some can take years or decades, but the Quakers fight diligently and make progress on issues of injustice.

I am finally learning how to be an activist. I am finally learning how to help my community. Quakers have also always accepted folks from the LGBTA+ community. So many kinds of churches turn away LGBTQ+ folks. I know a transgender woman, and she is fully accepted as a woman in the Quaker community – she attends our Annual Quaker Women’s Retreat. It is hard for us to rent a facility that meets our needs and also accepts LGBTQ+ folks. We have gay women who are married to each other who attend our retreat, and they are not welcome everywhere. But we work hard to find facilities that will rent to our retreat so these women will be accepted and able to attend. Friends of mine marched in the 2016 Washington, DC LGBTQ+ parade with banners held high from the different area Quaker Meeting Houses. And they manned a Quaker booth the next day at the LGBTQ+ festival.

During my Christian Science branch church membership, I was always discouraged from going out into the community to find out what the people need and help them as a face of the Christian Science church. We wanted to do our annual lecture, to an audience of mostly other Christian Scientists, and the members felt like, “this is us fulfilling our duty.” They thought I was ridiculous to suggest that we actually DO something for the community. What should we do? I didn’t know. I had no guidance and didn’t know the issues. Everything I suggested was shot down again and again. In the Quaker Meeting, I hear about so many different things they are working on and being activists to help people in need. We even have the kids learning to be activists – they make 240 sandwiches and 120 lunches, once a month for the local homeless shelter. The kids love the activity, and it’s teaching them to do GOOD for the community. I love that all of the kids in the Meeting House are learning to serve the Community. It’s wonderful.

Chrystal’s Story: Finding The Way to the Quaker Path

Chrystal's Story header image

This is part of an on-going series, for all posts in this series see the tag Chrystal’s Story.


A note from Chrystal: I was born a fourth-generation Christian Scientist, and finally left the religion when I was in my 40s. In this blog series, I will do my best to share with you my 40+ year journey. I have done my best to make the journey sequential, but it’s also themed to a large extent, and sometimes it has been necessary to take things out of sequence to share a theme. 


My second chance at life — time to move.

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And: Finding My Way to the Quaker Path (Part 1)

Early in the spring of 2014, it became clear that our house no longer worked for us, and that we needed to move. My dad’s Parkinson’s had advanced so much that he could no longer come into our small house. The house was laid out in such a way that there were too many stairs. And our main level bathroom was way too small and could only hold 1 person at a time, so no one could be in there, helping my dad, which he needed at that point. Also, the 2 flights of stairs were tearing up my husband’s knees and my knees. (We took care of my dad several weekends per year, to give his wife a break from the constant care. It was my idea, and I was glad she took us up on the offer.)

The front and back yards at this house were non-existent, and my kids had to play in the parking lot which had a surprisingly constant flow of cars. There were other issues too, but all of it added up to “we don’t belong here anymore.” So we started house shopping. We did finally move to the town where my parents lived. Now I was closer to my dad, and I could help take care of him 5 days a week at his house. Our new home was laid out in such a way that family members could carry my dad to the main level of the house, and then he wouldn’t have to do any more stairs, and the bathroom was nice and roomy. We had my dad over one time only. He died a few months after we moved here. We do still love our house. It’s perfect for us. I am glad we got to have him over the one time.

We moved here in late spring, 2014. At this point in my church search, I had visited a few churches between leaving the Christian Science branch church, and hadn’t found a sense of harmony at any of them. I still felt like a rebellious person bucking everyone around me. Other churches weren’t working for me yet. I attended 1 that my husband had expressed interest in, but then he didn’t want to go, and they ignored Christians, belittling their thoughts. I wasn’t yet ready to give up Christianity, so it felt painful to attend that church. I attended another church which I had been taught “that’s an off-shoot of Christian Science.” And there were lots of similarities. The biggest and most important difference, though, was that the members clearly went to doctors and didn’t begrudge anyone needing or seeking medical care. I had a misunderstanding at that church with a member over whether or not I could teach The Bible to children (even though it was a Christian church whose minister talked about Jesus and Bible stories every week to the congregation), and I left without looking back.

I had, the previous week, bought a little journal with a tree on it at the church gift shop. And I turned to this paper journal as my “new church.” Any insight I had, I would write in the journal. I loved that little journal, and I felt like I could exist in this “in between” state of not having a church. I could write whatever felt inspiring to me. Now, I have many journals. Some are day to day recordings. Some are “I need to get this anger out of my body, so I will write it here and it won’t hurt anyone.” Some are just thoughts and ideas, and some are book ideas or article ideas I want to write. But this journal was special. I only wrote my best, most spiritual ideas in this journal.

All of a sudden, one day in August, after we had moved to our new town, I woke up to a bright sunny morning and realized, out of nowhere, “there is a Quaker church in the town where we live now!” (I have since learned it’s called “Meeting House” instead of “Church.”) Oh, I was so excited. I found their service times on their website, and showed up on the following Sunday.

I walked in the door, sat down, and had a wonderful experience sitting in Silence with these people. Afterward, everyone at this particular Meeting stands up and says their name and shares a joy or a sorrow (mostly, they are joys being shared). This was specifically started to benefit the one person in the congregation who is blind, as she wants to know who all is there. It is such a loving gesture. One woman stood up and talked about her bee ministry. She was biking all over her neighborhood and having wonderful talks with her neighbors about not using neonicotinoids. These are common pesticides that are killing off the bees in our country in alarming rates. I immediately knew that this was my new church. I knew I was home. I have attended regularly ever since, and asked for a Clearness Committee to help me get clear on joining.

I went through the Clearness Committee process and joined the church about a year after I started attending.

One thing I have loved about the Quaker Meeting is sitting in Silence. I thought I had done that during Wednesday evening testimony meetings at the Christian Science church, but the Quaker experience of Silence is nothing like the Christian Science Wednesday evening testimony meeting “silence.” At the Christian Science church, there is a yearning from members to fill the silence with testimonies. The silence drags on so long at those meetings, or a member will stand up and ramble for 15-20 minutes, which feels like such a drag. Often, the testimonies are about praying about a cold that went away, or a set of lost keys or a lost book that got found. (I once gave a testimony that I had lost a particular Bible and I had yelled at God then found it within 45 seconds.) There are other testimonies too, where someone shares ideas they just gleaned from reading a Bible story or a passage in “Science and Health.” I remember someone once giving a “testimony” about being freed from the desire to buy bandaids. She referenced the quote: “accidents are unknown to god,” from Science and Health.

“Accidents are unknown to God, or immortal Mind, and we must leave the mortal basis of belief and unite with the one Mind, in order to change the notion of chance to the proper sense of God’s unerring direction and thus bring out harmony.”  – Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, page 424

One time, I gave a “testimony” about a concussion I had after a severe fall on ice in a parking lot, and how I had forgotten so much, I couldn’t even remember my own phone number to tell the practitioner how to call me back. The Reader that Wednesday cut me off and said, “how about if you get to the spiritual truths you prayed, and don’t tell any more symptoms.” She was pretty rude. I had been trying to lay the groundwork for the serious problem I had, and then share the prayer of the practitioner, since I was in no state to pray myself. But I closed the testimony with the same old, same old, “the practitioner prayed, and then I took a nap, and I woke up, and I was fine, and I want to thank The Desk for the Readings.” (If matter isn’t real, why do we thank an inanimate object for reading to us?) (Note to any Christian Scientists who are reading this: that Reader behind the desk did a lot of work to bring those readings to the congregation. Don’t thank a desk. Thank a human being for working hard and trying to do good!)

Sitting in the silence at Christian Science services feels like torture to me. I was always trying to figure out some dramatic testimony to give, to fill the silence. Sitting in Silence at the Quaker Meeting feels wonderful. One of the first things I spoke about “out of The Silence” was, “I was sort of begging God for a break in my life, things are too busy. I need a pause button! And I realized: this Meeting, right here, is my pause button.”

I always leave Quaker Meeting feeling like I have had a mental rest. This feeling lasts for several days for me, and is starting to permeate my life. I was feeling rather hectic a few days ago in the morning, so I quietly sat down on my bed, and just sat “in The Silence.” It’s sort of like meditating. Maybe some people meditate, and maybe others do not. I think it’s an individual’s choice how they spend the Silence at Quaker Meeting. The goal is not to fill the space. The goal is to sit and hold the light, and if you are called to speak, then speak only the right amount of words, using not too many, and not too few. Use just the right amount, then sit down. Then, it’s important for this thought to be given time for those who are there to absorb this message. So there should never be a “popcorn effect” of people jumping up and talking one right after another. It is good to have time for Messages to be placed into our consciousness before the next Message is given. I love the time in between messages, because it lets me really listen and think about it before the next one comes.

Historically, Quaker Meetings are Christian. However, nowadays, people can believe whatever they want to believe. Everyone is honored and appreciated on a whole level I never experienced at the Christian Science church. When I first walked in the door, the whole experience was so foreign to me. I wasn’t being judged or chastised for anything. It felt like a foreign language. It was an alien culture to me. I knew it must be a good thing, but I couldn’t understand it, so I stayed to see if I could figure it out over time. (I have been attending 2 years now, and every time I show up, the members are so supportive.

I am so used to being criticized, that this support often brings tears to my eyes. THIS is what love is supposed to feel like. Not the unceasing judgement I grew up with. The concept of judgement is completely foreign to the members of my Quaker Meeting, as far as I can tell. They don’t have the concept. They only have love in their hearts. It’s a phenomenal gift to be in this atmosphere.