I haven't written in awhile. I haven't posted in an even longer amount of time. Some of it was the holidays and the business of moving again and starting to homeschool the kids again. But mostly, it was that I have no heart to say anything.
I have many thoughts, and I sometimes put them on paper. My purse is full of old Target receipts with crayon cursive notes on the ideas that come to me when I'm supposed to be doing something else. But I rarely have the will to do anything with them, and if I even get that far I don't care enough to post it.
I know, waaaaahaaaaa. Life gets overwhelming and kids are hard to manage. Marriage is a full-time job, and the dishes don't wash their own sticky selves, though I have tried every spell listed in the fantasy books I so adore.
I fluctuate between feeling genuinely sorry for myself and hating the fact that I let my depression become so damn dramatic. But on either side of that coin, I cannot escape the reality that is now holding my family in an iron-clad (and just as cozy) embrace.
In short, and without being ugly (Southern for mean spirited) we have recently encountered the proverbial Last Straw.
I really love thinking about those old proverbs or wives' tales. I wonder where they came from, who first put the genius together and how it caught on. Did a camel's back really break because of straw? Who was dumb enough to do that science experiment?
But let's go with it. A camel, a lion, a bear, a person, can only take so much. We know this. But then again, we also think that just one more leeeettle thing can't possibly hurt, right? Just ONE more late night. Just ONE more meeting or some such importance. Just ONE more piece of teeny tiny insignificant virtually weightless straw.
I don't know if it is modern man or American values or what. But it seems as if we think that if we continue to add...very...very slowly...or just pretend that we are VERY strong, we can continue to add to the pile indefinitely. We have grown too proud of our abilities. There is a breaking point.
Enter my breaking point.
I've lived in the world of church my entire life. My ancestors on all sides have been involved in pastoring, shepherding, cleaning, counseling, teaching, serving and leading churches for centuries. To say that it is in my blood is an understatement. Even those of my family that have other jobs are so thoroughly steeped in church that they all need a good wringing out.
I don't remember a time when I didn't feel sarcastic or cautious toward most church goers. I don't recall the first time I was duped by someone who used prayer as a means of gossip. Having my dad suddenly leave a birthday party because someone was in the hospital? That's just life. It is a family business whether you like it or not, and I have liked it...and not.
As such, I consider myself pretty realistic. I don't expect people to be perfect, and rather prefer those who don't pretend to be. I know that everyone stinks, everyone lies, everyone struggles. This isn't being false, it is being normal. I've been on the sidelines watching as church leaders were caught in the webs of divorce, affairs with women, affairs with men, embezzling funds, taking illegal drugs, taking legal drugs illegally, and...the worst of all of them....been total shit heads. Excuse the language, if you will.
I think that anyone can be tempted to do something they would otherwise not do. I've definitely looked at the Percocet from my last baby delivery and thought that it would make life MUCH easier and nobody would have to know. But I think it is far worse to consistently be unkind to people, to forget the difficulties of youth, to disdain the poor or uneducated, or to believe yourself superior to those whom you serve. I forgive the Percocet takers easier than the ones who exclude you because of your last-season shoes.
And still....life goes on. My faith in life or people doesn't have to be seriously altered because someone had a bump in the road. Times are hard, but times move on.
I've dealt with mean kids who wanted to laugh at the fat girl. I've faced the horrors of junior high in a new state. I went through countless medical tests and procedures to deal with the fact that I had a horrible eating disorder. I started taking medication for anxiety and depression before I left high school. I was abused by someone in my church. I helped my mother relearn how to walk and eat and use the bathroom. I watched my husband's father die. I watched my house burn down. I've had life-or-death scares with each of my children. I've walked with friends through job loss, death of parents, death of spouse, death of children, loss of homes, loss of sanity.
I'm not trying to say anything other than I am not a weak person, and I know what hard times look like. No doubt you do as well. We can all name some really bad things that have happened to us and those we love.
The reason that this is pertinent is that I want you to understand how devastating the events of recent months have been. How bad has life been to be worse than all of this together?!
The straw. The proverbial straw.
My husband is a pastor. He is a good pastor, in my opinion. He loves people and wants them to know about the loving being who made them. He isn't condescending to those who don't share his views, is enthusiastically involved in relationships with people who are totally opposed to his ideas, and actively looks for ways to make people feel good about themselves. He is a genuinely nice person, which is one of the highest compliments I can pay anybody. I'm genuinely not, which is why I value such qualities in others. I'm mean, I think bad things about people, and I always expect for people to let me down.
Austin loves to read, to discuss, and to teach. If there was anything that drew me to him (aside from his ridiculous good looks) it was this. We like to be informed, to banter, to draw out the meaning behind the meaning. It is for us as good a time as can be had. Give us a book, a pint, and an argument, and we are truly happy. Add a light saber for good measure, and maybe a wand. We are nerds, but at least he is a handsome one. I'm the witty one.
In recent months, Austin's views on certain Biblical/Theological topics have come under fire by people in our community. However, instead of talking it out or discussing the differences, as adult people should, he was secretly put on a Radar of Doom. All things we said were suspect, all posts on Facebook were key. Pictures of my children at their baptism ceremony were proof that we were communist-papist-new age-*gasp*democrats. Does this sound ridiculous? It is.
Austin has been reading the Bible as historical literature for a long time. Yes, he is only 30, but yes he really did start at age 10. Like I said, he is a very smart, very amazingly pretty nerd. His conclusions and ongoing understanding of different aspects of this book are based on years of study including the learning of ancient languages. Is he right? No. Is he wrong? No.
Many parts of the Bible are confusing and unknown. It doesn't have to threaten your belief or disbelief in one way or another. It was written many years ago, in a different culture, language, and to a different people. This means that there are several keys to unlock. But ultimately, the believers of all times have come down to some basic beliefs. Believe these, and the rest is...the rest. We get to discuss and banter about salvation and grace, but in the end we one and all have to accept that we one and all don't know much about it. Faith is mysterious. God is mysterious. The whole lifestyle is often mysterious. If you aren't comfortable with things you don't understand, you need to look elsewhere. Just as in science, you deal with ideas and evidence and hypothesis until something causes you to conclude that you have a real answer. In the meantime, dream big and have fun trying to work out the mysterious of the cosmos, God, Big Bang Theory, and all.
This doesn't mean that I think, nor does anyone if they are honest, that all ideas are equal. Many ideas are, but not all. Sometimes it is based on personality, sometimes on fallacy. It is my job to work out what I think about life, about God, about politics and art. It is also my job to speak eloquently about such topics so that I might be a good example of what I believe. It is never my job to disdain, ignore, or belittle those ideas that differ from mine.
Disagreement is supposed to be an adult practice. I do not agree with some of my family members on alcohol consumption. I think I am right, and they think they are right. But I am an adult, and can recognize their ability to choose what they see fit. I would intervene if I saw that my cousin wanted to beat her child. This would no longer be her right, as a life would be in danger. My need to interfere in someone else's life to the point of law or restraint is limited to those situations in which life itself is at stake. But when my cousin wants to let her daughter eat McDonald's, it isn't my damn business. (Though some would argue McDonald's does indeed put your life in danger. )
This doesn't mean that every man is an island. With those whom I have relationship, I am able to ask for input and advice. I banter, I read, I discuss. I come to different conclusions based on the wisdom or folly of the advice. Through such healthy and respectful interactions, I come to know myself better. I know more about life, and how to be a better traveler through it.
If we want to take this to a very simple level, here's a great picture: I can ask my sister if I look fat in my bathing suit. I want her to answer, because she knows me. She remembers the days when I wouldn't eat and my doctor said I was harming my heart. She knows my fear of people starting at me. She knows my fear of bathing suits. But she also won't lie because she doesn't want me to look bad. She will tell me the truth, praising me in truth, and delivering sad reality in truth. HOWEVER....if I take that same bathing suit to a pool and some wicked beyotch tells me I look like a tub of marshmallow fluff stuffed into a nylon prison, I'm going to literally hit her. Because it isn't her place. It isn't her business. It isn't important to her, because I am not important to her.
I can liken it to the accusations applied to the President on the front of The Inquirer. There are so many more things to be concerned with in a leader than if you think he has alien tentacles or a penchant for Pinterest. When there is war and people are without homes, why should such things matter? Does it need to be explained that a pastor can wear pinstriped knickers if he wants? Sure, he looks odd. But it doesn't hinder his ability to fulfill his obligations.
I watched from the sidelines as my husband and my father addressed emails and phone calls and secret meetings. They did so with grace, and far more of it than is humanly possible to give. I watched as my husband sobbed his eyes raw because of fellow teachers and leaders who told him he was a nothing. He replied with dignity and kindness, and then came home to bury his head in my lap. Friendships of many years turned to be nothing more than traps. People lied, people gossiped, and people made my mother cry. My mother never cries.
The straw broke my back feels like it is stuck in my throat. (Don't think about the physiology of such a statement, as it will only cause O.C.D. thoughts to sprout like mold.)
The thing is, I can deal with real life problems. Tell me that you are struggling with an addiction, and I won't bat an eye. Everyone has problems, and we can only love one another through them and hope to get to a place of greater understanding. Tell me that you want to rid my spouse of his livelihood because we baptize our children and I am shocked with the pettiness. You are the girl at the pool and your cruelty is overwhelming.
I struggle with Southern American Evangelical Christianity. I am fortunate to have learned that it is a sub-sect, and not the whole animal. There are people around the world, and even in my own church, that believe in God aside from the politics, the American flag, the rush for riches and the protocol of Southern Plantations. Jesus doesn't care if you wear white after Labor Day. Jesus probably doesn't even care about Labor Day.
If we claim to be concerned with things that exist outside of time, yet only become passionate if an usher smokes, how can we be surprised with the world laughs?
I don't want anything to do with these vicious people, and we are supposed to be lumped together in that great grey category of Christian. I am, anger aside, embarrassed to be associated with people who act this way. Some of the best people I know do not fit in or abide by the ever-shifting rules according to Scarlett and Rhett Butler. But they care about the poor. They engage in the ongoing discussion of social justice around the world. They read the works of the world's religious and social leaders and look to find their place in the cosmos. I identify with them in everything except that I claim there is one particular God who has a hand in it.
I cannot abide the deep-fried god of the south who says I have to discount scientific discovery. I cannot drink a glass of sweetened lies.
I'm interested in the ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. I love the stories and the drama and historical significance. Yet I've also always been intrigued as to how the ancient worshippers could delude themselves into believing that a grain goddess was angry with them. All facets of life had a god to answer to. The god either liked you or he didn't, and you could try to appease him or her with good behavior. It was exhausting and unending, and there was no safety. Question Zeus and you could be blasted. Fail to burn something to Apollo and the sun wouldn't rise. So much to keep track of, and so many ways to fail. There was only time and energy to try to rise higher than your neighbor. Make Hera like you more than your sister. Let the wrath fall on her, pathetic wretch. Keep climbing. Keep throwing people beneath you as you go. Restrict the carnage to anyone other than yourself.
The only thing that seems to have changed is that we now call it all God and when something goes unexpectedly right, we brightly say something about Grace or Favor.
I've never felt threatened by those who don't believe as I do. Instead, I feel threatened to the point of back-breaking proportions by those who say that my belief has to look like, smell like, talk and walk like theirs, and theirs isn't molded by anything other than preference.
My extended family, my husband's extended family, have expressed their outrage and hurt over the situation we find ourselves in. They know it, because they've been there. Pastors have always been there, always will be there. But let's call it what it is. Let's not say it has anything to do with Jesus. People need power and money, and the importance that they have oddly connected with the church. The Middle Ages are notorious for the actions of Popes who dabbled in the same vices. At least the Popes were usually honest about their needs. They rarely claimed that God told them to kill people. They just did it.
This sounds full of hurt, and I realize that it might sound over the top to you. I hope so, as that would probably indicate that this is a side of church world you aren't familiar with. I've waited months for the ability to separate my anger from the events, and write about just my frustration bewilderment. I do feel honestly that I am there, at least most days. I can move on without wanting to hurt someone or get revenge. But I do want it all to stop. It should stop.
The reason my husband's aunt teared up last week is because it didn't stop. The reason my mother cried is because it hasn't stopped. The reason my family finds itself with fewer friends is because it just won't stop. People are mean-spirited. They are ugly. They don't have the grace to say that they just want what they want, and they will do whatever it takes to get it. The collective years and tears of many a pastor's family could be saved if people would be more like the Popes of yore and just be honest about their treachery.
As it is, I don't want any of my children to go into church work. I want them to love people and do something that matters in the world. I want them to find joy, and when a college or boss treats them badly, I don't want it to be at the cost of their faith in humanity. I don't want them to struggle with the church ladies that tell them "God said" they are to stop wearing sleeveless dresses. Life is too short and too beautiful to deal with all this straw.
There is a verse in the Bible that says that God has made himself known through creation. There are so many beautiful things to be said about this passage, and one day I might say those things. For now I'm grateful that God is known in creation, because he is frequently unwelcome in his own church.
When he does show up, let's hope he doesn't wear white after Labor Day.