Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Culture Wars or Why I Can't Be a Christian Anymore

I don't love the phrase "the culture wars." It might be that I am a pacifist and wish to avoid conflict altogether. It may have something to do with the evangelical environment in which I was raised. But mostly, I think, it has to do with the idea of there being a right and a wrong side. As if there were actually only 2 sides to an issue. As if the same outcome would be the right outcome for all people. It seems to me that only in the arenas of religion and politics do we ever make that assumption. And it doesn't bode well for any sort of resolution.

This week I've been reading a book, Torn, which spends a good amount of time discussing how the church has promoted the idea of The Gays vs. The Christians. And it has me thinking a lot about how my experience in the church has mirrored this author's experience. I was spared the awful experience of revealing my sexual orientation to all of humanity while steeped in the world of mainstream Christianity. Because really, is there any kid who wants to reveal his/her sexuality, whatever it may be? I would have fallen over dead with embarrassment if I had needed to do so, whatever the reason.

Instead I had the misfortune of being a liberal Christian. To the outside world, this sounds like a non-starter. Who would care if a person is a liberal Christian? There are so many other things to be concerned about. But for me, this was the deal breaker. I found myself, at the ripe old age of 28, in a Christian community that found me anathema. It didn't matter that my theology was carefully considered, or that I had bathed my positions on many social issues in prayer. It didn't matter that I had taken classes at a Christian college or spent time on my own learning how to do inductive bible study. What mattered to the church, in the end, was that I was not like them. I didn't fit. I was outside the lines and I was simply wrong. Very few people cared to ask me why, or even try to understand where I was coming from. And, as it turned out, it was an impossible place to live.

In the end, it just became too hard to fight against it. I was exhausted from battling the constant wind against me; if I wasn't leaning hard into it, pressing forward, it was beating me from the side, leaving me drained and worn. I just couldn't shield myself anymore. And maybe that's what the good Christians around me were hoping for, that I would cave in and see things from their side. But in truth, I was beaten down into a severe depression and wanted nothing more to do with my abusers; it was too much and I left. And the sorrow of leaving almost broke me. I loved my community and my God. I had visions of being in leadership and raising my family there. I was a true believer.

It took years of talk-therapy, prescription medication, and support from my closest friends to get me to a place where I could recognize that I do still believe in the grace and mercy of Jesus. But I never want to be called a Christian again. I can't bring myself to be associated with the very people who turned their backs on me, told me I was wrong for just being me. And it wasn't until I read this book, about a man who had the same experience because he is gay, that my experience was crystalized for me.

I don't know if this is a typically Midwestern story, or if it has more to do with Christianity as a whole, but it has shaped my life more than anything else. I wished for a long time that I could be the sort of person who sees life as black and white. (I see every shade of gray instead.) I wished for a long time that I could have a simple faith and just be like the rest of the church. (But I am too much of an empath; I see so many sides, and that just raises more questions.) Today, I have stopped wishing, and I have realized that I like who I am. I actually enjoy being me. But I have not been able to experience that same joy in the church. I don't know if I will ever be able to. I certainly don't want to raise my children there because they are free thinkers too, and I cannot in good conscience subject them to the same fate.

Perhaps one day I will see things differently, but I don't expect to. I know I will not subject myself to being part of a faith community that cannot love me as a whole person: gay, straight, rich, poor, male, female, liberal, conservative, creative, analytic, transparent, private, married, single, black or white. I believe God made me the person I am with the strengths I possess. I honor that by freely being me. And I believe that about others too. I expect to find all sorts of people welcomed into my community.

Ironically, the church taught me that I would only find true community and friendship within it's own walls; but you know what? I have found some incredible friends who are not there. And they love me and support me without needing me to hold to a certain doctrine. For that I will be forever grateful. And I will continue to keep forging my own community, because I have no other choice. I need my people, and I need to serve others. So we find one another along the way and support one another as best we can. I still believe that people are mostly good. But I am wary of those professing loudly their faith.

(By the way, I'm sure you have a great church, where you find fulfillment, love and community. Many of my friends do and I am truly happy for them. But please do not invite me to attend yours. I am bone tired of visiting churches only to realize that they will welcome me as long as I change. Perhaps one day I will announce that I am ready to try again. But today is not that day. Thanks.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Just Keep Breathing

Four years ago we discovered our middle child had a life-threatening allergy. We discovered this the way most parents do: you feed your tiny, defenseless child a food that may or may not be dangerous to them and wait to see if there is a severe reaction.

We had a suspicion that he was allergic to peanuts after being on an airplane where they were served. Our baby started to break out in all manner of weird hives. Hives were not unusual for him, except that these new hives didn't look like the hives he would get from new clothes, or immunizations, or fever, or disposable diapers, or anything else we had experienced. So we suspected. And then we spent a harrowing day in the ER while our child continued to blow up and look like a prize fighter. They told us they could not confirm a diagnosis, but that they too suspected a nut allergy and we should see a specialist.

So we went to a pediatric allergist. That day our sweet 2-year-old was put through a torture test of pricks and intense itching to confirm for us that yes, our child was allergic to nuts of all kinds, and peanuts, and that we would now be trained in how to use an EpiPen incase he stopped breathing. BREATHING. It's universally acknowledged that breathing is an essential part of staying alive. It's a horribly frightening thing to realize that your kid could find himself unable to breathe just by eating (another universally acknowledged way to stay alive.) Suddenly the world seems like a much more dangerous place.

So we educated ourselves. I spent months learning about nut allergies and teaching the people around my child how to look for such poisons in our foods. I remember seeing a Mr. Peanut commercial around that time and thinking, how are they allowed to sell that stuff on TV?! I was incredulous. The day we cleaned out the pantry of all nut products our oldest kid cried, as much for our loss of food selections as for his brother's potential consequences. It took us a long time to become habitual in managing this allergy for a toddler. Jack was not allowed to eat any food brought into the house by concerned friends. No one was allowed to prepare food for him who didn't understand the danger of cross contamination. No cookie exchanges during the holidays. We inspected every item that came in the house for Halloween or Easter or Valentines Day. Pitch-ins at social events became a huge inconvenience; either we packed him a separate meal and still had to watch him like a hawk, or just didn't go. A preschool that was nut-free became our top priority. Suddenly I realized how much food was a central part of gatherings. We couldn't even go the the playground without a well meaning adult offering our kid a snack. It was life altering.

But today, we don't feel the consequences of his allergy in the same way. Four years later, it's just part of our lives, the way managing diabetes becomes part of your life. It's old hat and just the way we roll. Which gives me hope, because this week, that same adorable child was struggling to breathe, again.

This time it wasn't due to foods, but just a function of his lungs. Our precious boy has asthma. We've run into this before, in much smaller ways: the cold air in winter making him short of breath while playing outside, running around the yard in summer when the allergy count is high, but never anything as wicked as this. This time, he was struggling to breathe, and could not catch his breath. His entire body was working to take in just enough air. Off to the ER we went. And thank heaven we did. He was in need of some major intervention. After a full night and day, lived in the every-two-hour increments of breathing treatments, he was back to normal, breathing like the rest of us. Something I take for granted every day.

It's terrible to watch your child struggling to simply exist. Especially with nothing at hand to help. I am so grateful we now have the tools to help our kid when he is in distress. The doctors and nurses and therapists who helped us negotiate this were incredibly kind. I am grateful to them and their willingness to keep telling this exhausted mom what we can do to make things better again. I felt confident leaving the hospital that we would not need to be back soon. And Jack is the same happy-go-lucky kid he has always been.

So now we are working to find our way through this diagnosis too, until it becomes just the way we live. And we will. Because that's our choice. We will forget what it was like before the asthma diagnosis and this will just become our new normal. Just like we have forgotten the ways peanut butter was a large part of our life. We will do this because we are fighters, and our kid is a miracle.

We will choose to find a way to just keep breathing.