Browsing Tag



discovering the will of God


The bell rang, and I heaved a sigh of relief. My first day of attending classes was over, and I hadn’t made any major mistakes. Maybe being in a classroom won’t be as hard as I thought, and, feeling brave, I turned to look at the young man I’d recognized from auditions earlier in the week. We were in the same program, and he seemed nice– in a sudden fit I asked if he’d like to come to dinner with some of my friends.

I was shocked at myself. I’d just asked a guy to dinner. After I’d just officially met him an hour ago. After not even being on campus for a week. Samantha what were you thinking but I managed to keep a pleasant expression plastered on my face. He thought about my invitation for a second, then said “sure, where and when?”

“6 at the Four Winds? Meet outside?”

He nodded, then we gathered up our bags and left.

At dinner that night, as we introduced each other and made small talk, I realized that one of the “getting to know you” questions spelled trouble for me. Hometown, major, age– I had all those covered. But I quickly learned to dread the “so how did you know God wanted you to come to PCC” question.

I didn’t have an answer. At least, not an answer that I could give.


I started thinking about where I might want to go to college when I was a sophomore in high school, and at the time, I thought I only had three options. All through high school, I only ever really considered three schools: Patrick Henry College, Bob Jones University, and Pensacola Christian College. I’m not sure exactly why I never bothered looking into other schools like Maranatha or Cedarville or Liberty, but it probably had something to do with me thinking that they were all too liberal. Considering the response I got from my fundamentalist friends when I announced I was going to Liberty, it was probably the “liberal” thing.

The summer after my sophomore year I went to PCC’s “Summer Music Academy,” and I absolutely loved it. The environment was much more lax than what I’d grown up with, and I loved the music faculty.

When it finally came time for me to start applying to colleges, I took a more careful look at BJU and PHC– talked to people who’d gone to each, got their informational packets . . . but, in the end, I realized that attending PCC would mean that I would be closer to home, it was cheaper, and because I was already familiar with the campus and how the school operated I figured I wouldn’t be as nervous. Also, I’d made a lot of friends at the summer program who were going, and that seemed like a huge plus. So, I sent out one application. In the fall, I packed my bags, made the one-hour drive to Pensacola, and never really looked back.

However, when I started staring down the question how did the Lord reveal his Will to you? over and over and over again . . . I started wondering if I’d made a mistake. There was entire sermons and chapel services to the concept of “discovering the will of God for your life,” and some of the people around me were agonizing over decisions that I had never thought needed to be agonized over.

How did you to decide to be a music major? Uhm . . . I like playing the piano? (Corollary: it was a degree a woman was allowed to get.)

Did the Lord call you to education? Not exactly. I just don’t like the classes I’d have to take if I were in the ministry major, and the performance major was too much work.

And, the biggie: do you know what the Lord’s plan is for your life? No. Idea.

I’d decided which college I was going to go to based purely on practical, real-life considerations. I had friends there. It was close to home. I liked the faculty. And while those would probably be considered “normal” reasons to non-fundamentalists, they certainly were not the reasons I was supposed to have. I was supposed to feel “called” to PCC. I was supposed to have “guidance from the Lord” when I picked a school. I was supposed to just know that this is where God wanted me.

After about a month of hearing all of that, I called bullshit.

I believe that many of the people I spoke to honestly, genuinely believed that God had led them to PCC. I also believe that there were probably just as many people who were puffing up their stories with “spirituality” in order to get some bizarre version of Christian brownie points.

I ran into the same idea again in my senior year– only this time it was graduate school, and my process was similar: I wanted to study English and I needed a school that would accept my credits so I wouldn’t have to start over. Liberty was the only school I found that had an MA program that I knew wouldn’t be a nightmare to try to get into.

When I announced that decision to friends, though, nearly everyone told me that they would be “praying” that I would “find God’s true will” for my life. To them, there was no possible way that Liberty University could be what God wanted, and that’s when it hit me:

It wasn’t really about God’s will. Not really.

“Being in the center of God’s will” actually amounted to doing what your fundamentalist community approves of. Pensacola was one of the few viable options available for most of the people I went to college with, which almost automatically made it “God’s will” for a lot of them. However, when you’re inside that framework, there’s no real way to separate “God’s will” from “what fundamentalism allows.” They are taught to us as being the same thing. Fundamentalism allows this because it’s God’s will. So the second I stepped outside of fundamentalism and went to the-still-conservative-but-not-fundamentalist Liberty, I was viewed as needing to be “brought back.” I was straying away from God, backsliding, ignoring Him to pursue what I wanted instead of what He wants.

This mentality trickles down into everything– it’s God’s will for women to be in subjection to men. It’s God’s will for women to be modest. It’s God’s will for us to be keepers at home. It’s God’s will for women to be silent in church.

In the end, discovering God’s will becomes follow all the rules.


a peculiar people

Escher, “Relativity”

Salt of the earth.

City set on a hill.

A peculiar people.

In the world, but not of it.

Called out.



I wrote a post for Convergent yesterday talking about why I think legalism exists, and part of what I was thinking about the entire time was a concept that’s consistently bothered me over the last year. In an e-mail I received a long time ago, someone asked me why I had such a big problem with “the biblical doctrine of separation.” My initial response was that they’d missed the point, that it wasn’t separation at all that I was talking about– that I had a problem with Christian fundamentalism. Except, to this person, “fundamentalism,” which they proudly claimed, and “separation,” go hand in hand. To this person, and to a lot of the people I know, they’re really the same thing.

As I wrote about the “why” of legalism, I realized that there was an audience I was likely not going to be able to reach: fundamentalists. Because fundamentalists have an essentially ironclad reason for their legalism, and it comes down to the very definition of church: ἐκκλησία comes from καλέω and ἐκ, and means, literally, “called out.” Fundamentalist Christians take this incredibly seriously: if we’re the Church, we’re “called out.”

I have a book sitting on my shelf: Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church by Ernest Pickering. It’s a textbook for one of the Bible classes at my old fundamentalist college, and it lays out an argument for the necessity of separation. We must be separate, because if we’re not, we risk apostasy and corruption. We must keep our theology and our ideology pure, untainted by “wordliness” or “godless philosophies.” It’s the reason why Christian fundamentalism began, when the early leaders wrote and compiled The FundamentalsThey were worried about attacks on doctrine, about new and disturbing theologies that accommodated early post-modernism and higher criticism.

They would even go on to make the same exact argument I did yesterday: that God’s holiness demands his followers to have the same abhorrence to sin. That we must hate sin, and do whatever it takes to remove it.

Which is where legalism enters.

Every time, growing up, I heard a messaged preached on “sin,” it always, always included this reasoning. God hates sin, so we must hate sin. Except . . . I’ve never been able to really understand what “sin” is, not even when I was a fundamentalist doing my utmost to avoid it. I had this nebulous understanding that sin was “doing something God told us not to do”; but then “drinking alcohol” was a sin, and when the Bible includes “drink wine for your stomach’s sake,” that shit gets confusing.

And as I got older, and the pastor and the people in our church fell deeper into “separation,” more and more things became sin. Things that were obviously not in the Bible, and therefore could not be something God told us not to do– things like going to the movie theater or doing yoga.

Which is where “biblical principles” come in. The Bible might not explicitly condemn movie-theater-going, but we are supposed to “avoid the appearance of evil,” and some movies have all sorts of things in them that are clearly evil– how could anyone tell we were going to see Finding Nemo and not Saw? Better just to avoid the whole thing all together. Or what about dancing? The Bible has lots and lots and lots of dancing, but that wasn’t modern dancing. Modern dancing is always sexual, and doing sexual things in public is clearly not “avoiding the appearance of evil,” but embracing it. Or rock music– rock music comes from demon-summoning-African-tribal-music, and listening to it means that we’re not avoiding listening to the same “beats” that witches use to summon Satan from the depths of hell, therefore it’s sin.

If it wasn’t avoiding the appearance of evil, it was “becoming a stumbling block.” Don’t celebrate Christmas– it reminds some people of their secular/pagan days, before they were good and holy. Don’t listen to rock music– it could remind someone of when they used to do drugs. Don’t discuss philosophy– it could remind someone of when they were an atheist.

There’s no end to it. When you get into this mindset, there’s no place to stop, no place to draw a line, no way to have a healthy conversation about individual responsibility. And once you start thinking like this, it’s incredibly difficult not to get sucked deeper and deeper, and there’s no bottom. There’s always something else that can be avoided, another step you can take to become more holy, more consecrated, more set apart.

I think it’s because Christian fundamentalists have deeply misunderstood the meaning of holy. They’ve lost what it means for something to be sacred, and they’ve cheapened these glorious, beautiful things into a list.


God doesn't need our legalism


I have a guest post that went up today over at Convergent Books! This is my second post for them, and I’m proud to be a part of the community. I very much appreciate what Convergent is doing– they’re willing to ask hard questions, and coming from an religious imprint that’s rather incredible.

Legalism is so pervasive it has become invisible. Growing up, I would have denied any accusation that my church was legalistic. We didn’t force our rules on anyone; they were simply our personal convictions. But as I moved into less conservative environments, and as my definition of legalism changed, I kept running into the same claim: I’d be at a church, and if I saw legalism coloring the way the community approached things, I would be told, “we’re not legalistic! They’re legalistic!” “They,” of course, would be some other church that was seen as having more—and more restrictive—rules.

To many people, legalism means “excessive adherence to law,” and that is the central part of the problem. “Excessive” has a different meaning depending on whoever is making the rule, whether it’s a church leader or an individual. In the church my family attended when I was a child, we followed a long list of rules: women couldn’t wear pants, men couldn’t wear shorts, we couldn’t go to movie theaters, girls couldn’t sit next to boys, and we couldn’t use any version of the Bible besides the King James. The rules made us stand out. Other residents of our town could easily identify people who attended our church.  We were “that crazy church.” You know we were extreme when even the Southern Baptists on the north side of town would condemn us for our legalism.

You can read the rest here.


it's not the rules that are the problem


When the speaker walked up to the platform, he pulled a piece of fencing behind him. It looked like a Norman Rockwell-style white picket fence, complete with painted grass along the bottom. He set it up where the podium ordinarily was and launched into his chapel message. During the course of his talk, he moved around the white picket fence, moving closer, then farther away, at times knocking it over and jumping over it pell-mell. He was using it as illustration, and it was simple enough, powerful enough, to stick with me. It provided a helpful mental image, especially when coupled with the main thrust of his message:

Fences are there to protect us.

Fences keep us safe– they keep dogs inside the yard, they keep children from running out into the street. Some fences can even keep things out– like the seven-foot-tall chain link fences with barbed wire that surrounded campus. Fences, he said, are good. And not just the literal fences– especially not the actual fences we pin around our yards. No, the most important fences are those we use to protect our hearts, our spirits, our morality, our souls.

It’s not hard to tell what sin actually is, he claimed. Take sex, for example. Obviously, having sex (and by this we all knew he meant heterosexual vaginal intercourse), is a sin. That’s crystal clear, he said, and we all nodded along. But what about everything else? he asked us. What about… kissing? French kissing? Cuddling? Are these things sin, too? And he told us, no, probably not, but shouldn’t we avoid doing them anyway? Remember your fences— they are only there to protect us. To keep us from sin. If we never even cross the fence, there’s no way we can go anywhere close to the sin.


When I talk about the way I was raised– which, in real life, is not very often– I get a lot of significant looks. And I’ve found it doesn’t typically matter how brief I try to keep it, or how minimal a detail I reveal. Mouths drop open. Eyebrows disappear into hairlines. They choke, their eyes go wide, and they start sputtering things like “what?!” or “that’s insane!” or “holy shit, how did you survive that?”

And “that” is almost always legalism.

And that? That is nothing.

It’s easy for me to talk about the legalism my childhood, teen years, and college years were absolutely drenched in. Legalism was a huge part of my life, and it affected almost everything I did, almost every choice I made. It determined what I would wear, what I would read, what I would watch, what I would listen to, what I would pay attention to, the people I would believe, the news sources I could trust, the people I chose as my friends. Legalism, in my life, was virtually all-consuming.

But it’s the part of my life that I think is funny.

I tell stories about how the Dean of Student Life at my undergrad college had previously worked as a prison warden– and was proud of it. I joke about people carrying rulers around to make sure that my skirt was exactly three inches below my knee. I bandy around with all the crazy stories– all the ways that my life experience was so horribly different from theirs. About how boys and girls couldn’t sit next to each other, how there always had to be at least an entire chair or a foot of space between them. How we sewed all the kick pleats in our skirt shut, because skirt slits are like playing peek-a-boo with the backs of our calves. How I have five-minute-long songs memorized on why the King James is the only good Bible.

It’s the part of me that rarely ever bothers me at all, really. Living under it was oppressive, don’t get me wrong, but now… it’s mostly just something I can brush off and ignore. It’s fodder for good stories, and that’s about it.

So, when I start trying to talk about my experience, trying to explain what exactly about it that was so horrific, I am eternally frustrated by the fact that the only thing many people seem to hear is the legalism. And they respond with sympathy– “oh my goodness! All you went through was so horrible! I can’t imagine trying to live under the weight of all those rules! How like the Pharisees they were! Legalism is so awful!”

And then they move on, almost completely untouched, and I want to scream and pull my hair out because, to me, it feels like they’ve completely missed the point. Yes, legalism is awful. You won’t get any argument from me.

But legalism isn’t the problem.

Rules– they can be good. Healthy, even. Even when there’s a lot of them. Just because a system has what seems to be the presence of a lot of arbitrary rules doesn’t necessarily make it bad. I can understand why that seems counter-intuitive– to us Westerners, where individuality, autonomy, and independence are some of the most crucial parts of our identity, rules seem innately oppressive. Less rules somehow equals more freedom, and freedom is good. But that’s not always the case. Even though it’s difficult for me to understand Shari’ah  law, I can understand that the rules are not what make it oppressive in some places.

It’s the beliefs enforcing the rules.

But I have a much harder time explaining that, and when I start talking about a subject that includes some level of legalism– like “modesty,” for example– it suddenly takes over the conversation and it’s like we can’t focus on anything else. I want to talk about the beliefs, the entire complicated, messy, nuanced system that under-girds all the legalism, but then it all gets de-railed with one aside of “oh, I totally understand what you mean! Aren’t those rules so ridiculous? We just need to get rid of the rules, and then everything will be peachy!”

Or, I’ll read an article, blog, a facebook post, and they’ll build an entire argument around “we have to keep the spirit alive, but just get rid of all these pesky rules. Freedom in Christ, yo!”

And all I want to do is start stomping my feet and shouting “no, no, NO, NO, NO!”

Because the spirit, the beliefs, the ideas, the system that keeps the legalism alive is the problem. There’s nothing there worth protecting, and all of it deserves to be destroyed. Because this system is built on an ugly foundation of power, abuse, domination, and control. The people who perpetuate it aren’t there because they genuinely love people and want to protect them. Legalism gives them the power to wield massive control over entire groups of people– but they can only do that not because of the rules, but because of belief.

Belief in a God whose most dominant, over-riding characteristic is a demand for absolute righteousness, for the acknowledgement of his children that they are completely broken, miserable, worms, barely even worthy of his attention. Belief in a God that is so gracious and loving that he daily overcomes his disgust, his revulsion, to reach out of heaven and show mercy to us. Belief that we, as humans, must exercise all of our resources, all of our attention, in a daily battle to crucify our flesh and take up our cross— but these words mean something different, something harsh and bleak and wretched. Belief that everything about our human experience is tainted, stained, and worthless– that there isn’t anything that can be enjoyed, because all of it is unclean. Our bodies, our music, our entertainments, our world– all of it is is ruthlessly designed to pull us off the straight and narrow, and that if anything feels good, it must be bad, and if we enjoy something, it is only because our hearts are deceitfully wicked and who can know it. We must not ever follow our heart, trust our instincts, go with our gut, because that is only lust and once it has conceived it brings forth death.

That is what is underneath it all– dark, creeping, insidious.

That is what I want to shine a light on and expose. That is what I fight.

Because I believe something different.

I believe in a God whose most all-consuming characteristic is love, and it is that love that drives everything else he does. I believe him when he says that his very existence is that of love, and I trust in him because he loves us so much that he is angry with what we do to ourselves. He hates the oppression, the power systems, everything that exists that allows one person enslave another.

I believe in a God that is so gracious, merciful, and loving, that it compels him to continually create a world where justice and equality will be true of all of us, a place where there will be no fear, no doubt, no pain, and that he works with us, his creation, to build this world.

I believe that we, as humans, must exercise all of our resources, devote all of our attention, to loving our neighbor.

I believe that God looked on everything that he had made and called it good.


learning the words: legalism

chain link fence

Today’s guest post is from Timothy Swanson, who blogs about his literary explorations at Diary of an Autodidact. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

My family had been attending Bill Gothard’s seminars for a year or so, I believe, when my parents decided that we would join his home schooling program (we had homeschooled for many years prior to that– I had only one year of high school left by that time).

I objected to this decision for several reasons. One was that I had only a year left and didn’t want to make a change (I was allowed to finish, thankfully). One was that the program, which purported to make all learning based on and flow out of scripture, seemed to lack any clear academic organization and vision. It was more about indoctrination than real schooling. These objections were easy for me to articulate. I had the words for these concepts.

My bigger, overarching objection was more difficult. There was a word for it, but I was not allowed to use it, because it had been re-defined.

That word was legalism.

In the ultra-conservative Christian world, legalism has been re-defined to apply only to an extremely narrow concept: a belief that salvation can be earned.

It’s not that this definition is exactly wrong, but that it excludes much of what legalism really is. Conveniently, the narrow definition allowed us to say that other religions were legalistic, because good deeds would be weighed in determining one’s fate after death. Perhaps even Roman Catholics were legalistic. But “true” Christians could not be legalistic, because they acknowledged that only Christ could save.


There were all kinds of rules in the Gothard system (and in the similar ultraconservative systems). These rules were called principles or standards— and they were necessary to achieve “God’s best.” So, Christians should never send their children to public or private school; girls must wear skirts, not pants; women shouldn’t work outside the home; Christians should only listen to certain music and read certain books; and on and on. Of course, this wasn’t legalism. We just wanted “God’s best” in our lives. Never mind that we were encouraged to judge those that did not adhere to all our standards as probably not being real Christians.

So, I couldn’t use legalism to describe a legalistic system or belief. The closest I could come was rigid. That word was inadequate because it allowed the focus to shift from the problematic system, which insisted that “God’s way” included many man-made rules beyond the commands of Christ, and placed the focus on other people within the system who were perhaps a bit “rigid” in their practices. We could be a little less “rigid” than them.

The real problem was the legalism, which insisted that following Christ was really a bunch of rules and cultural preferences. But I couldn’t say that, because legalism had been taken away from me.


fun and learning to have it

ferris beuller

On top of going off the fundamentalist deep-end and realizing that Christians all have some basic things in common, I also started looking into some of the things I’d been told all my life were so horrifically sinful a good Christian girl would never consider even touching them.

I purchased Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone on audiobook for the 13-hour cross-country road trip I had to take to get to grad school. And instead of hearing a frightfully woven tale full of Satan-loving, demon-worshiping witchcraft, I was enthralled by a story that taught courage, loyalty, friendship, honesty, integrity, intelligence, and sacrifice. I went and bought the rest of books, and realized that if I’d read Harry Potter when I was growing up, I might have made Hermione Granger my role model– and learned to value myself because of my geeky, know-it-all awkwardness instead of in spite of it. I might have valued intelligence, knowledge, and learning even when nearly everyone I knew told me that those things were silly, inconsequential rubbish–for a girl.

One of the friends I made in grad school, right off the bat, was Morgan*. We hit it off right away over a shared love of all things geek– and coffee. She took me in hand and led me to Mecca– well, the Honors Office, where there was free coffee. At the time. Now its 25c for a cup. Not bad, even then. She also introduced me to that most wicked, most foul, of all television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (also, just so this is clear: Joss Whedon is a god among men). Anyhoo, when she suggested one late, late night after we’d watched Twelfth Night that we watch Buffy, I was wary. I knew that show was of the devil– literally. There were vampires. But, I nodded, tentatively, and settled in with a cup of late-night coffee and watched episode one. It was cheesy, corny, and absolutely brilliant. If you watch it and don’t like Spike, you don’t have a soul (pun intended, for you Buffy fans).

I also fell in love with comedy. This is true of conservative evangelicals at large, but, as par for the course, more especially true of IFBs. Things can be funny– as long as they are also squeaky-clean. And I do mean sparkling clean. No swears, no body humor, nothing even skimming the surface of innuendo. And IFBs jump at mere shadows of innuendo– they see it everywhere, even where “normal” people wouldn’t. Everything has been corrupted by “free love,” and our morally bankrupt, debauched society has ruined comedy and humor for everyone everywhere. Sometimes I wonder if they’ve read Shakespeare, who is absolutely ribald, but then I remember . . . no, my fundamentalist college edited all of that out. Literally. They re-wrote Shakespeare’s comedies to make him less funny. It’s a crime against literature.

Morgan also went through some of her favorite YouTube funnies. Like Eddie Izzard. Now, if you don’t know who Eddie Izzard is– he drops the f-bomb. This is a word that was not tolerated at all at home. My parents used Kids-in-Mind to see if a movie would be appropriate for family viewing. We still watched things like James Bond– with a lot of fast-forwarding. Mom and dad never particularly objected to violence– I watched The Patriot, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan and all the zombie movies I could stomach. Which is a lot. I love zombie movies (double tap!). But if a movie had swearing– oooh buddy. Nope. Eddie Izzard also does a touch of drag. He wears makeup and heeled boots. And he’s hysterical. As is Craig FergusonHow I Met your Mother, and the character of Barney Stinson, represents everything I was taught to despise and assiduously avoid. Turns out, despising him is part of the hilarity. I had been told that if I filled my mind with these, that I would be ruined for all good, godly company. Also, IFB types rarely had a sense of humor, in my experience. When I first started stretching my boundaries, I was called a prude more than once. At one point in my life, I would have worn “prude” as a badge of honor, as a mark of high distinction. I aspired to be as prudish as possible. But . . . when someone calls you a “prude,” I discovered, it’s not a compliment. It means they know you’re judging them.

I became even more daring, if you can believe it. I invited a boy over– when no one else was home— and we sat on my couch and watched TV. That was it. Just because we were alone didn’t mean we were suddenly completely unbridled by our raging hormones. I had grown up being terrified of myself. Of what I could be capable of doing. In one of the great moments in sci-fi movie magic, Forbidden Planet, Morbius explains how the monsters from the id (Freud’s term for the subconscious) destroyed a planet and wiped out an entire civilization. This was what I was taught about my fallen human nature. It is wholly untrustworthy. My heart is “deceitfully wicked.” Given even the slightest opportunity, my sinful nature will overwhelm my common sense and my conscience and force me into unspeakable acts.

When I started making friends and “hanging out”– a new concept to me, I’d never done that before– I initially resisted alcohol. Like most Baptists, IFBs see all alcohol as a sin. The only things I knew about “the devil’s water” were related to the radio program Unshackledand how alcohol always led men to their doom, caused them to beat their wives, and destroyed their families and their lives. I was told once that if I ever touched alcohol, I would probably be a “mean drunk.” I was terrified that if I ever let it cross my lips that I would be enslaved by an instant addiction.  Whenever someone offered me a drink at any of these “parties” (not the drunken frat-boy keggers I’d assumed they would all be), I turned it down, and learned to walk around with a Solo cup in my hand, just so I wouldn’t have to say “no thanks” every five minutes.

One night, I decided– to hell with it. I wasn’t going to be so afraid. I knew I wasn’t secretly some deviant that would go against everything I believed the instant my inhibitions were a little looser. So, I tried it. Decided that beer is terrible, whiskey is like drinking gasoline, and that the only thing I liked was a white Russian. And the only thing that happened? I asked a guy friend if I could touch his hair — which, if you know me, is not out of the ordinary. I’d do that completely sober. And I learned that there is a difference between drinking alcohol because it tastes good (white Russians are like a frapuccino, only better) and getting wasted and being an ass. And no, I didn’t turn into a jerk. I stayed up all night, laughing with my friend at his birthday party, listening to Squirrelex and Pink Floyd, playing video games and having– yes, oh yes– innocent fun. I crashed on his sofa, ate breakfast with his roommate’s girlfriend, and went home. And I was, shockingly, just fine.

And the best lesson I learned through all of this exploring was that hardly anything of what I’d been taught were the visible “hallmarks” of being a Christian mattered. I’d been so paralyzed by fear, by the unending agony of wondering what would they think if they knew? And I realized that most of my “friends,” for most of my life, were not really my friends at all. They were just another system of confinement. Friends, in IFB circles, are people who “sharpen” you. They exist not to support you, or care about you, but to make sure you stay on the straight and narrow. They monitor you, and “challenge” you when they think you’re slipping. Their only purpose in your life is to judge you. To condemn, not to love.

What I discovered when I branched out into “lasciviousness,” was, instead of a deep black pit of despair where I would be broken and alone, I found a place where no one could freaking care less about what I did. If I wanted to laugh at a fart joke, I could. If I wanted to shake it to “Twist and Shout” like Ferris Beuller, I could. In fact, my girlfriends would join in, and we’d dance and laugh until we couldn’t dance and laugh no more. I could stand on top of a clothing display in Wal-Mart and sing The Christmas Song at the top of my lungs. I could strut my stuff playing air guitar a la Marty McFly’s Johnny B Goode, in the middle of Aéropastale, if I wanted. I could be happy, and show it in any way that struck my fancy. Living life with abandon wasn’t going to kill me, or lead me into fiery damnation. I learned to embrace impulse and spontaneity, to drink in wonder, happiness, and contentment in a way I never could before.