I often think about other pastors’ kids, commonly referred to as PKs. I think about the parameters that were created around them, the worlds or experiences they were allowed or not allowed to access, the parents who were both present and absent; who were accessible at all hours, all days of the week, who belonged to everyone else but them, the fathers who led less devout lives outside of the church – behind the congregation, the pastor’s wife – the PK’s mother who was kinder and softer with other people’s children and their sins, than she was with her own.
I often think about how the need and pressure to be perfect and an example, how being watched, picked apart, seen and unseen has manifested in the PK’s adulthood, the workplace, school life, relationships and personal aspirations. I wonder about the kind of habits that have grown from the fractures that happened when no one was looking or when people who should have been looking were either praying or looking in other people’s homes. I wonder about the resentments that have built up over the years: for God, religion, structure, forbidden things, parts of your selves, other Christians, your father, the church, all the things that have robbed you of a childhood not built on doctrine, isolation and harmful teachings disguised as love or protection, i.e he who spares the rod.
If you had asked me a few years ago what kind of people were you raised by, I would have probably given you my parent’s professions – as a marker for how they moved and operated in the world, what took up most of their time and informed the ways we were raised. If you asked me the same question now, I would say: I was raised by healers. Both of them lay hands on the sick. Both of them use prayer as medicine and hope for a miracle, they give counsel where and when it is needed, the one buries the body when its soul has left the body, the other holds the body when the soul leaves – they both hold the family of deceased when the news is delivered. I think a lot about death and grief and the process of mourning the people who were called and needed by the world more than they were present for their children. I was raised by people who loved the word, to speak it, to live by it, to teach it. I now hold that same reverence and love for the word – it’s ability to move people and shift realms.
I was raised by people who occupied a different kind of using the word, but a word that served the same function as the one I have come to love and occupy. The former operates on people with machines and medicines, the latter operates on people with stories. I would say this as a way to mark my shift in understanding how or why certain things played out the way they did, even if I don’t fully understand all of it just yet.
I think a lot about death and grief and the process of mourning the people who were called and needed by the world more than they were present for their children. I think about this process of mourning people who are still alive, the fissures that happen when we become the people our parents have to mourn, and in return, the parents we mourn when we begin to realize that we lost them to the things they were more present for than our needs. It’s not a thing that makes me sad or upset, I just, you know, think about it – often. But even if it were upsetting, this too, would be ok.
When you have been raised as Christian for 23+ years, you start to realize that the process of detangling from your upbringing and doctrine is going to be lifelong commitment and practice. It’s weird – because in many ways I feel like we were also raised by liberals. My parents believed in the power of making your own decisions, speaking your mind and pursuing your dreams – which is huge in any household. The day I told my parents I wanted to pursue journalism , they did not flinch, my mother said “ if that’s what makes you happy, then that’s what you must do” – and in the list of things I do not fault or resent them for, I add that not-so-small blessing.
So, I grew up in this environment where you could kind of follow your heart but as long as your heart was not offensive to God or the things of God, or an embarrassment to the photo-op that had to be upheld at all costs.
The things that have come with that dance, the split persona syndrome we develop over time to keep the peace and maintain facades at the expense of being able to be our full selves, is a tough one to go into battle with and undo. Not sure if it is something that you can ever fully undo or unlearn, especially at the intersection — friction that is family and queer life and so many other things. But, I’m beginning to learn that choosing to be your full self with family will sometimes cost you, but being the version of yourself that is acceptable to them, costs you even more. It’s a kind of death — really. Hoarding multiple lives in one body gets heavy and tiring, and at some point you have to shed the bodies that no longer serve or protect you, the facades you put on that make you invisible, the voice you use that muffles you even when you are speaking.
These days, I’m holding the little girl inside me and gently nudging her to let go, to shed the bodies, to live, to try things, to experiment, to dispel the myths around recreational drugs, and substances, secular music, other kinds of people, loving women, religious practices outside of christianity – to not be scared to dive into the new or unfamiliar.
Sixteen year old me was busy accepting Christ as her lord and saviour, getting baptised 20 millions times just to cleans last night’s debauchery. The furthest she was willing to go where experiments were concerned was with risky sexual experiments in backrooms, Stuyvesants, and Russian bear (yes, me too!). Drugs were a hard no-no. Ancestral practices were a hard no-no too, (remind me to touch on the relationship / tensions between Christianity and ancestral practices in another blog post).
The conservative part of me has manifested itself in different ways in my adult life. I have had to face how I am not as “open-minded” as I thought I was. I have had to face how insidious indoctrination is, how deep and complicated the hooks and strongholds of your upbringing can be, and how they will play out in different settings and when you least expect it – how moving towards healing and undoing will feel like funeral and a birthing ceremony.
It has taken me 23 years to say it’s ok to cut through this parameter, to give myself permission to indulge my curiosities and complexities, to research the risky things I want to experiment with, so I can do them safely and knowledgeably, to sit in the mess and beauty that was my childhood and begin to give the aftermath of that other names; names that do not shame me, that do not make me invisible, that do not demand smokescreens or my silence, to sit in the experience of psychedelics and surrender to the grief , joy, and transparencies that come with it, to ask more questions, to seek more, to lean into that avenue of healing and discovering self, to not group psychedelics in the same WhatsApp group as sin or harm.
Coming out of the shrooms experience, it dawned on me that I don’t have boundaries, and that I don’t insist on them either – this has been dawning on me for a while, but after the experience, it was made clear how most of my relationships do not have clear boundaries, that I have moved through the world without having interrogated and thought more intentionally about boundaries when it comes to people and peopling.
Part of that learning, that people can have full access to you however, whenever, at the expense of your everything – comes from observing the ways the world has had access to the healers who raised me. The 24/7 open door policy we grew up being subjected to, the non-discussions about strangers slash church folk who pulled up with their mattresses and became family; family we took in but never took us in in return when it mattered.
Visibility and hypervisibility is a blessing and a uncomfortable monster to navigate. I often have weird online experiences with people crossing boundaries and feeling entitled to my time and audience. Before, these encounters were things I would address with a boundary I improvised on the spot.
I think about the ways we had to be available and eager to be accessed as PKs To kiss this person. To greet that person. To read that verse. To show up and show off parts of ourselves that were engineered and detrimental to our well-being. I think about and hold PKs close often. The skills they have had to learn. The brick and mortar we built around our hearts at the expense of our vulnerability and the freedom to just be our full selves – in public – out loud- without judgment or fear of hell or banishment and failure.
I often joke with the people who really know me about how conservative I really am. I am taken aback by it every time a situation happens that shows me back to myself. Of late, I am reconciling with my upbringing. No one can prepare you for how the funeral will often feel like a birthing ceremony, and really, all you can do is show up with the tools you have.