Tag Archive: faith


Note: there are spoilers here for those who have yet to read the book or see the movie. So proceed with caution.

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Alrighty then, here we go…

It’s been years since I’ve read the book. At the time, it tore through my heart, forcing me to examine my faith, and left me reeling as Mack’s grief reflected back at me something I’d long been trying to avoid. His questions were the same ones I wrestled with, and seeing them in print was shattering.

Like Mack, the Father Heart of God wasn’t a love I could understand. Back then I was a broken young woman who’d grown up in spite of terrible trauma, one that had blackened my soul as I’d bargained my own worth for what I saw was the greater good. Left alone to struggle through the aftermath, and shut inside my own pain lest it bleed out and infect other people, there was no beautiful figure of love and gentleness to walk me into a place of healing. I called it My Story  and it was as raw and as terrible and as gut-wrenching to me as Mack’s grief was to him. I wept so hard through The Shack book that I had to read it twice.

I was very excited to see the movie.

The Shack movie is devastatingly beautiful.

There was a part of me that was already emotionally tense as the opening scenes unfolded, because I knew what was going to happen, and I knew it was going to be a journey in need of Kleenex. I wasn’t wrong. It stays true to the book – not surprising since one of the producers is also one of the co-writers of the book – and it’s not long before we see the broken Mack (played by Sam Worthington) who’s been devastated by his daughter’s death. As the story weaves between what was then and what is now, we relive the flashbacks of the better times, the laughter and sparkling beauty of a family that is warm and tight. We see the days when Mack’s eyes are bright and his smile effortlessly creases his face, and we compare that with the shattered man whose universe has caved in upon itself until he can only see through the knothole of his pain.

There’s no easy answer that’ll take your pain away.

– Papa (The Shack)

Grief is complicated. It manifests at the most inopportune times and, when it does, the heart crumbles under the weight of its own anguish. As Mack grieved for his child and wracked himself with guilt over being helpless to prevent it, I felt an empathy roll through my soul and leak tears down my face, because I realized I understood. Though our circumstances were vastly different (and his was, technically, a fictional movie), having had four miscarriages over eight years made me far too capable of relating to the rage and devastation he was feeling. The whole time up to that point, I’d been telling myself I was finally fine with it and had moved on. But I was wrong. I was horrible, furiously wrong. Mack was speaking for me and I was heartbroken for him, and we were both angry beyond words at God.

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As we journey with Mack to the place where it all went wrong, the snow covered shack in the middle of the woods, the scene is wonderfully crafted to be both haunting and lonely. The stillness and the thick snow speak metaphors to the layers of nightmares, anger, and guilt which have stacked themselves upon Mack’s soul, yet we still see the remnants of the tragedy upon the floor. It’s a stark reminder that no amount of snowfall can cover the truth, and I found myself aching with him. Though I’d read the book, and I knew the beautiful journey that was going to come next, there was something hollow in my stomach as I watched his pain explode across the screen, for this is the two sides of grief – the screaming and raging at God and the world that rips out of your being because it’s too huge to contain, and the empty space inside your heart where your hope and promise and tomorrow used to be before it all went wrong. I wept.

Mack: Where were you when I needed you?

Papa: I never left you. I never left Missy.

(The Shack)

Octavia Spencer is wonderful as Papa.

Papa is gentle. Papa is kind and soft even when Mack is angry and withdrawn. Instead of a God figure who is distant and somewhere outside of the story, Papa is right there beside him, not pushing him or preaching to him, but loving him with a purity of heart that your own soul aches to know. A love that lets you be you while nudging you ever so sweetly towards the healing that you so desperately need, that’s a rare love to behold.

The movie reveals to us how our image of a Father God is tainted by the flawed human father we’ve each been given. For those who grew up with a violent father, the idea of a loving Father God is a foreign, troubling concept. It’s one of the reasons Papa appears to Mack in the manifestation of a wonderful woman who is familiar to him. For me, in the film and in the book, this resonated deeply with me because I’d gone through such a trauma as a child and there were no authority figures who stepped in and stepped up to see me through it. As I stumbled into adulthood, there were very few adults who were nurturing to me and, like Mack, there were very few sweet, kind people I’d let through the walls I’d painstakingly built to protect myself.

The film made me realize that the God I picture in my head is a collage of how other people I trust see Him. I don’t fully comprehend a God that is loving to me because I’ve only experienced glimpses here and there, like reflections in a pool or an echo within someone I know. I can count a handful of times God has talked to me directly, the most profound of which was Him saying to me, “I’m not going anywhere.” That statement changed my life, and just over a year later I was living in a new country, with a new husband, a new name, a new family of friends, and a whole new existence outside of the broken child I’d long held as my identity.

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The representation of Jesus (played by Avraham Aviv Alush) is who I imagine the real Jesus to be. He’s confident but not arrogant, at ease yet always vigilant, and with infinite patience and kind humor that makes me want to sit at the dock all day and talk to Him. He’s the friend you need as much as the one you want, and it’s delightful to see the bond forming between them. The film uses beautiful visuals and angles to show Mack’s journey into letting himself trust Jesus, and the trailer itself gives a peak into how much fun that trust leads to.

As we weave our way through Mack’s journey, there are moments when I’m panged with knowing what’s to come and the ache in my heart is almost unbearable. When you have to face the ghosts of your past, whether as an adult looking back on childhood trauma, or as an angry, broken soul raging against your version of God who is cruel and unkind and unfair, there’s a lot of emotional unpacking that needs to take place. This was no less true for Mack, who had to make the choice to forgive the person who hurt him the most, while fighting with his inner self who wanted the person to feel the depths of his pain.

Since I first read The Shack, I took that journey and it wasn’t easy. The innocent child broken by trauma had evolved into an adult who struggled with anxieties so crippling it kept me anchored into the past, forever defined and controlled by a sequence of events I couldn’t change. Walking through it was the hardest thing I had to do because there would never be an acknowledgement from the perpetrator of the pain, something Mack has to realize too. At first they feel like words that would sooner suffocate you than leave your lips, for a part of you knows that if you let go, everything you’ve known up to that point will change. Perhaps it’s a fear of the unknown, perhaps it’s a fear that the God we think doesn’t love us enough to nurture and protect us will in fact magically absolve the perpetrator of every wrongdoing beause we said we were fine. The forgiveness I learned (‘forgive and forget’) was not the one I walked through, and neither was it like that for Mack. It was raw, and honest, and gut-wrenching, and powerful.

Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive.

– Papa (The Shack book)

As Mack walked through his forgiveness of the perpetrator, preparing himself to complete the last part of his journey, he’s repeating “I forgive you, I forgive you,” each step of the way, and I’m not the only one weeping with him. It’s a powerful, beautiful, sensitively crafted moment that speaks truth to what it’s like to forgive someone you’ve only ever wished harm upon. It’s a process, and you have to go there over and over until you get to that point where you feel Papa with you in it, and it’s memory no longer has the power to consume your soul.

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Mack has to close the chapter on the horror which befell Missy with some powerful, tearful moments that make your heart swell because they’re so elegantly and carefully crafted. You feel his pain, yet among all the beauty of the garden there’s a sense of release, of taking something that was dark and tragic and terrible, and transforming it into something that is lovely and whole and wondrous.

It’s more beautiful than my own journey which was far less graceful, and layers more complex, but it’s what I hope mine turns into eventually. For there’s a peacefulness that comes from understanding this garden; this jumbled chaos of wondrous plants is a representation of Mack himself. The hole they dug in the midst was to transform the pain of  his grief into fresh new growth, fed by the tears that had been lovingly collected by the Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). It was a symbol, to me, that our tears aren’t wasted. They don’t fall into the darkness to be forgotten, but are seen, heard, and acknowledged by Papa.

As Mack returned home, and we see the pieces of his life fall back into place, we also see the transformation of his daughter, Kate (played by Megan Charpentier), who’d been carrying her own horrible guilt over the tragedy. It’s a testament to the power of forgiveness, and it’s a wonderful representation of God’s love that isn’t preachy or overly scriptural, but is raw and real and personal, the way Papa’s love is supposed to be.

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The Shack movie, much like the book, left me asking myself so many questions about how I saw God. He really is a collage of all these other representations and testimonies I’ve been given by those I love, but the movie poked a hole right through my own grief to show me I’m filtering Him through the knothole of my own pain.

Going through the miscarriages was brutal for we never made it across the six week mark so there wasn’t even a sonogram or the memory of a heartbeat to cling to as the depths of our pain began to drown us.  Through it all we had nobody to share it with, so we plodded on until we were spent, and then we buried it inside and pretended we were fine. Someone said, “it’s probably for the best,” with well-meaning, but it just stabbed at the unfairness of our failure, but the most brutal heartbreak came from someone I once looked up to who made it clear to me how disappointed they were in me for not making it happen.

Then The Shack came along with its big emotional stick and poked it right in the heart of that pain.

 

 

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The movie showed me that the God I see in my mind is not the one of love, but one still being filtered through the lens of My Story. The little child abandoned to the trauma of my childhood is still inside me, shaping the view of this father figure into something more human and mean than the gentle, sweet Papa that He wants us to know.

That’s painful, because it calls for a lot of introspection and soul-searching, and I know it’s not going to be easy. But that’s how we grow.

In conclusion:

The Shack movie is beautiful, heart wrenching, sweet, loving, humbling, and will make you cry.

xo

 

Live in the lower case

Everyone has something that defines them. Whether it is something heroic, or a challenge they’ve overcome, or a spectacular failure they vow never to repeat, we all have something. It’s the yard stick we measure all else against, but sometimes it’s a pain we fiercely hold onto lest we forget its lessons and find ourself knee deep in the very thing we’ve spent our whole lives running from.

I call mine, My Story.

It was a long time ago now, but My Story begins when I was ten years old. I was sexually abused by someone with authority over me. He raped me once, and I remember staring at the corner of the doorframe as the world crushed against my chest and my legs, while I willed my mind to imagine what it would feel like to be a tiny bug crawling up the doorframe. There was no option to scream or cry for I’d been manipulated into making a deal – one that I carried the weight of for years to come – where I would do whatever was asked of me if it meant my siblings would remain unharmed and oblivious. Despite the breaking of my character, and the theft of my innocence, I learned a long time later that he’d actually kept his word.

My parents suspected. The abuse went on for many months until one day I said that I didn’t want this person’s authority over me any more. They respected my wishes, but they never asked for details and, for years after, I never told them. When I finally broke my silence, at an age where I was old enough not to be removed from my home, things in my life began to fall apart.

There was a lot of guilt and shame when people suddenly learned My Story. There was the close friendship of our families to deal with. There was the deafening silence from those who knew the truth but didn’t want to get involved. Then there was the chipping away at my story and my soul with words like “if that’s what really happened”, or being expected to get over it without structure or support. Amidst it all, it was hard to consider myself a victim of his abuse for I’d helped write the rules: trading me for them. Unprotected and alone, I struggled through My Story now loose inside our community, but with my trauma being a private anguish nobody wanted to help me through.

I look back on My Story, and I’m desperately sad for the child-me that went through all of that with nobody there to defend nor protect them. I’m angry at the family who let the perpetrator do these things, and at those who revealed I wasn’t the only person whose childhood was stolen by this terrible person. I’m angry for the friendship between our families that went on through the years until long after I was married and living in America, in spite of My Story. But mostly I grieve for thinking that God, Himself had left me in the midst of it to fend for myself.

Last week was a powerful one for me. I learned that I don’t have to carry the weight of My Story with me everywhere, all the time, by myself. My beloved church family and I were at our regular bible study, and testimony was being shared of how God had brought different people through the horror of Their Story, and transformed them into people of grace and forgiveness, and hope.

It was hard for me to process though, for hearing other people’s pain from being abused hurts those parts of me that want to take their pain away, but knows it isn’t possible while my own is out of control. The tsunami of guilt and grief overwhelmed me and I had to leave the room lest I unravel completely and let the ugly stain that is My Story wash into the room and ruin everything.

Unbeknown to me, my beautiful church family heard a little of My Story, and were – at that moment – praying for me. I found a peace and a courage growing inside me to be able to walk back into the room and sit among them, puffy eyes and all.

God filled me with such warmth and gentleness that I didn’t feel the pain of My Story weighing me down. I even got to share my gratitude for this beautiful family He has given me, and acknowledge that I’m not alone.

I know it’s going to be a long journey before I can unpack it all and leave My Story at the feet of Jesus. But that’s okay. This week I got to take the straps off my shoulder and see that I’m closer than I think. It’s also dawning on me that I’m not alone at all, but the enemy wants me to think I am. An army of God’s warriors surround me, in flesh and in spirit.

Now here is why I’m sharing this with you. I know what it’s like to allow yourself to be defined by your story. My Story is a part of me but it’s not the whole sum of who I am. It’s a small piece of an intricate puzzle that is me, and it’s not the only – or even the first – thing people see when they look at me. When I smother it into silence, it grows in power until the darkness of My Story is like a deafening roar determined to destroy everything it touches. But here’s the funny thing. My Story is a liar. It’s a little part of me that those who love me can already see, yet they love me anyway. The only one who was truly afraid of My Story was me.

But no more.

When I shared this on Facebook, a friend said to me, “Live in the lower case.” What a great motto to adopt, don’t you think?

My name is Annie Bergin, and I survived rape and sexual abuse. It’s my story (lower case), but it’s only a small part of who I am. I’m a fighter. I’m a warrior. And I have an army.

The headline to this blog post might not make much of a statement to you, but to me it’s been something that has nagged at me for a while now. So what better way to process it than to pour it all into a blog and throw it into cyber space to see what the internet thinks.

IMG_7616A while ago I was given a beautiful cross pendant, one that sparkles when the sun hits it and looks far nicer and more feminine than my usual jewelry choices. I wore it for months with pride, not just because it was beautiful, and not just because it was a gift from a dear friend, but because it was also a symbol of a part of myself I didn’t tend to share very much. My faith. Of course I live my faith every day, and try to be a good person, and of course I have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. And yes, I go to bible study, and all that. But for a while now I’ve really grimaced at the thought of admitting out loud that I am a Christian. Not because I’m ashamed of my faith, goodness no. Rather I’m reluctant to call myself a Christian because I see what some people who profess to be of the same faith as me do to those who disagree with them.IMG_7613

So a while ago I switched out this beautiful cross pendant for a different one, a heart with the American Flag engraved across it. It’s a symbol of something else I believe strongly in – this country – and it’s something I wear proudly every day, whether people know what it means or not.

And I’m not alone in my thinking. I’ve read many blog posts and opinion pieces from other Christians who go to great pains to point out they’re not like ‘those’ people, the angry Christians. The ones who want to pass legislation to say that being gay is a sin and that marriage equality is an abomination. The ones who think that discrimination isn’t discrimination if it’s wrapped up in some belief system that is protected by the constitution. Well, I hate to say it, but hate is hate. And from the Messiah himself who said:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. (John 13:34, New American Standard Bible)

it makes me wonder what these angry Christians are thinking. Because the love and grace and kindness Jesus spoke of was not conditional to whether you are gay or not. His message was one of hope and salvation, not tearing down another person whether they are good or not just because you personally don’t believe in their ‘lifestyle choices’. Which, for the record, is no more a choice than me ‘choosing’ to have green eyes. But we can argue that until we are blue in the face and the angry Christians will still choose to tell me I’m wrong. Whatever. To them I say this: I would rather be wrong, and live my life treating other people with love and respect, seeing them as the beautiful people God made them to be, and be wrong, than seeing them the way you do and spending my life hating them, condemning them, judging them, or whatever else I am expected to do as a follower of Christ. My judgement will come, and you will not be there with me to hold my hand, or vouch for me. Only I will be standing before the Lord being accountable for my actions and my words.

A long time ago I was a part of a church that believed the only way to heaven was with hard work. And boy did I work hard. I bent over backwards to share my faith and its message, and I took part in every aspect of the church environment it was possible to, until my whole social calendar was chock full of everything church, and nothing of anything else. It was exhausting because I never felt as though I was accomplishing anything. The harder I struggled and worked towards all these goals, the more I fell short, and the more I believed my salvation was at stake. I asked questions, and wrestled with the answers because they were all based on this false doctrine that said the only way to get the rewards in heaven were through hard work and many layers of atonement to gain worthiness.

I left, but not before their twisted doctrine had chewed up my insides and distorted everything I thought I knew about God and Jesus and salvation. They also believed the cross pendants I owned were representative of the death, not the resurrection, so confiscated them. In essence, they took everything they could of the faith I brought in with me, and flipped it on its head till what I had left was barely recognizable. They would say “the bible is accurate only as far as it’s translated” but I chose to hang onto this one verse in spite of all that, the one about faith as small as a mustard seed being enough to move mountains. And truly I clung to it. When I left the church I had no friends (because I was now a ‘corruptive influence’), and no social calendar because my whole time with them was living and breathing everything to do with their church. I was adrift, so to speak, in an ocean that was as dark as it was foreign, with nothing on the horizon but more darkness. It was the hardest part of my faith walk because I was truly alone. There were no church friends to lean on because I was now isolated from them, and their doctrine was flawed anyway so what would it have gained me to reach out? Only this mustard seed faith, this tiny grain of hope that Jesus loved me, and that I was worth loving, pushed me on.

IMG_7615When I was in an antique shop in England one day, I saw a beautiful gold pendant. It was a cross, not very big, nor very expensive. But it was beautiful. And I could afford it. In spite of the confused state of my faith, this tiny morsel of a mustard seed gave me the confidence to buy it, and I had it inscribed with “no matter what”, to remind myself every day that, no matter what, Jesus loved me. I wore it for quite a few years, and every time I touched it, my mustard seed of faith was reminded that Jesus did indeed love me. It was a symbol of hope to me, something to draw courage from, and something that symbolized the promise Jesus made to me that – in spite of their best efforts – this church had failed to destroy. It is perhaps the only time as an adult I’ve worn something so symbolic because I’ve needed to, because my brokenness wasn’t brave enough on it’s own, and the gold shaped cross around my neck somehow made everything all right.

Of course, the journey to undoing indoctrination is a long and complicated one, and it is a journey that is still ongoing even today, oh so many years later. But I guess that’s what happens when you invest three years of yourself inside a lie. You’re vulnerable and at risk of falling far more times than you care to count as you work your way back to being strong. I joined another church eventually and enjoyed it for a while. But I’m an opinionated soul, for those who didn’t get the memo, and I never seemed to feel truly comfortable in this new Christian gathering. Perhaps because it’s hard to find people who believe 100% what you do (unless you’re all in a cult – not recommended). Perhaps it’s because hypocrisy drives me crazy and I have this compulsion to call it out when I see it. Or perhaps it’s simply that I don’t trust people who don’t seem to want to trust me.

I’ve grown a lot since those days. I’ve also moved countries and built a life here surrounded by people who want to build me up instead of tear me down. It took a lot to get there, but I made it. And my faith is stronger than it has been in a long time. It’s not where it should be, I know that. But it is bigger than a mustard seed, and for that I’m happy. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can quote bible verses at the drop of a hat because it requires me to know them, but I have no patience or inclination in putting in the effort to do so. Call it a residual of indoctrination. Call it laziness. I just consider it a flaw that google can fix at the drop of a phrase into a search engine. There is also the horror of praying out loud, something I have never liked doing but am more phobic of now because there are so many rules and I don’t remember which ones are the good rules and which ones are the ‘earn your way into heaven’ rules. I also get tongue tied when I’m put on the spot. And I tend to swear. Who am I kidding, I swear even when I’m not put on the spot. But if I’m saying something special to God and a room full of people are listening, it’s most definitely not acceptable to drop an f-bomb or a cuss word into the mix.

Which brings me right back around to my pendant debate.

I look at the entertainment industry I’ve chosen to build my career in, and I see a lot of roles that are not suitable for a Christian to accept. And not just the ones that post ‘contains nudity’ in the breakdown. Now I’m not a prude. Well, yes, I am. But other people are not prudish, and when things are tastefully done, it’s all good. I’m also more than happy if it’s not my character that has to be the nude one, because it’s not something I’m comfortable with. And not just because I don’t look like a Victoria Secret swimwear model. But if it’s important to the story – and I’ve gone on auditions where it is, and have been very excited by the projects – I am supportive. But if I wear a cross, am I already giving more information than I need to the casting directors? I know that you don’t have to be a bully to play one on tv, and I certainly believe that you don’t have to be gay to take on the role of a gay character. But if I wear a cross to an audition, or in my profile pictures online am I revealing more than is true of myself to each of the people making decisions about my career? It does come down to being ‘not like them’, in a sense (thinking of the angry Christians I spoke of earlier), but more than that it’s because I don’t really consider myself a regular Christian either. I support marriage equality. I am pro choice because I can never advocate for something that removes a woman’s autonomy over her own body, no matter how it makes me feel. I don’t quote the bible (I’m prone to paraphrasing with hilarious results), and while I do go to bible study, I don’t go to church. I loathe the church environment, and I am not a fan of the mentality that you are a better Christian than someone else because you DO go to church, especially when it’s only to tick the box marked ‘church’ off on your 101 Ways To Look Like A Good Christian list.

When it comes down to it, I’m the bare bones Christian. I’m the ‘Jesus Loves Me’ Christian, the one who might well still have just a mustard seed of faith when it comes down to it. I read the scripture about being a light unto the world, and loving your neighbor as yourself, but when it comes to most of the other stuff, it’s all about the interpretation. And the person doing the interpreting makes the rules. This is what I mean when I say the residuals of indoctrination linger long after the church has been purged from your system.

But then I look at the world we live in, and I start to question this choice. It may only be a symbol, and it was my anchor for a while when I needed it most, but is wearing a cross not something more important today? Now more than ever?

You don’t need to go too far into the news to read about Christians being kidnapped in the middle east, or the terrible things done to them. You don’t even need to leave the USA to see stories of religious persecution, be it a Jewish student being judged for her faith right here in Los Angeles, or the Anti-Israel sentiment sweeping our universities here and here for example. And that’s a drop in the bucket compared to what’s happening in Europe and the rest of the world.

So is wearing a cross pendant the way to go? Is it more fitting for me to declare my faith and stand up for what I believe in, in the face of opposition or persecution? I’m very lucky to live in a country where we have the freedom to practice (or to not practice) religion, and thus the judgements I am likely to face will be from other Christians. Being ‘not like them’ has served me well because it has opened me up to friendships and conversations I would have been too narrow to consider it I was made any other way. But will it burn more bridges to say I am a follower of Jesus, but not a ‘Christian’ like you read about in the news? Or is this all just a symbolic gesture that means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and rather it is the character of the person we should judge, not the piece of jewelry around their throat?

I await the comments with interest, for I genuinely want to know what people think.

Take care and much love,

AnnieB

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