Thursday, May 29, 2014

Let's Show Some Compassion Regarding Mental Illness, Okay?

    I'm blogging! I'm blogging! I have internet and I can update you guys, and I will, very soon! But first, I have something on my mind and I'd like to share it with y'all:

    If you haven't heard, mental illness is kinda a stigma.
    In many religious circles, it's the result of a) not surrendering your whole life to God, or b) demon possession.
    In many secular circles, it's a weakness of your brain. Well, duh. Except it often means you're a burden, you're a danger - you aren't valuable to society.
    And so the insensitive, ignorant comments flow.
    Just read your Bible. I know God'll help you.
    He's got a screw lose.
    Depression is selfish.
    Look, I checked my clock twice! I have OCD (this is often followed by a laugh).
    Don't you know God says it's a sin to worry?
    [Religion, philosophy, anything I don't agree with] is a mental illness.
    Sounds like demon possession.
    I'm sure you've heard most, if not all of these. Can I be honest? I've said some of them, too, and thought more.
    I guess I could always understand why the idea of possession might be offensive, especially if you were speaking about someone who wasn't a believer. And the reality of trusting God is hard, so, yeah, I figured my sin nature made me offended by the idea that anxiety was a sin (except, Jesus was anxious in the Garden of Gethsemane, so what say you to that?).
    I do think sin is a real thing, but dismissing someone's illness as sin when you've not had a mental illness? That's not okay, because unless you are Jesus, you do not know them inside and out.
     Still, I never understood why the the OCD comment was offensive, until I had depression and anxiety. And although I don't suffer from OCD, I now know the sharp pain of a mental illness, and God forbid I use it as a joke anymore.
    Moreover, using mental illness as a put-down for a position you disagree with is ignorant at best; you-don't-want-me-to-say-it at worst. My depression and anxiety - illnesses that cause people TO SUFFER - do not make me suitable for your put downs.
    Because us mentally ill? We suffer every day. Every freaking day.
    You wouldn't put me down if I suffered from cancer, arthritis, fibromyalgia or heart disease. Why is it okay for you to put me down because my brain had or has issues?
    In conclusion, let's compare the rates of mental illness to the rates of cancer: one in four adult Americans has a mental illness. One in four Americans will also die of cancer.We're here, we're common, and we are not freaks. We are not your jokes and we are not your put-downs.
    We're people.We're many people.
    Show some compassion, okay?


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How a Sushi Cat Demonstrated Love >>> Rules

    Growing up a compulsive legalist, rules didn't get broken. Oh no. The guilt was too much for my brittle conscience to bear.
    I read that Bible every day, focused on every single word. Didn't swear, begged God to stop the unwanted thoughts that burst in my brain.
    Plus, you know, no lying.
    Not even white lies. Not even if my mom asked if something was wrong when I was actually confused over what sex was and whether I was the good virgin or not. I think I froze up rather than tell her what I was worrying over, but, you know, that was awkward (Screw purity culture).
    Also, if my parents said "tell the phone spammers I'm not here," I couldn't lie. But, um, I wasn't supposed to disobey the parents either. Cue panic mode. I don't really remember how I handled these situations - most likely, I did lie and ask for God's forgiveness, because lying was easier than dealing with their wrath.
    If God said you cannot serve God and mammon and I couldn't leave my eating disorder, welp, I kissed God goodbye for four long stinkin' years.
    You see, rules demonstrated my love for God - no matter how much I hated myself for failing, no matter how much I despaired of his goodness when I kept screwing up.
    Even in college, when I began to recover from my rigid cage, I wasn't breaking them important rules. And by "important rules," I mean if Boston University said no pets on campus, I sure wasn't adopting a kitten, no matter how obsessed over cats I am.
Try not to die of cute while watching this. I dare you.

    But in March, a friend's roommate smuggled a Russian Blue kitten into her on-campus apartment. She christened him Sushi, and, naturally, I enjoyed playing with the kitten quite a bit whilst not worrying about getting caught since he wasn't my cat.
    But after a month, Sushi's original owner decided she couldn't care for him. And so she returned him to a shelter.
    Cue many desperate phone calls between friends, which commenced in my roommate asking me if I could adopt him.
    Oh my precious rules, you are nothing next to a kitten.
    I called the shelter as soon as I could. Except, naturally, a terrible mix-up occurred: the shelter gave him away before I could pick him up.
    I cried and swore and even made up a ditty about the Sushi-shaped hole in my heart, in my heart, in my heart-heart-heart. To keep a loveable kitten with people he knew, I'd have broken the rules and enjoyed it, dammit.
    Four days passed. I was in Whole Foods (I'm embarrassed to admit that sometimes my laziness trumps cheapness) buying oranges when my phone buzzed. When I answered, I was informed that Sushi's adoptive family had returned him to the shelter upon hearing about the mix-up. I had 30 minutes to pick him up before the shelter closed for the night.
    So I (very dramatically) sprinted out into the pouring rain (okay, drizzle) and hailed the first taxi I could find. Within 30 minutes, I had a very cuddly Sushi Lil' Ninja in my arms (okay, a cat carrier).
    A lovable kitten who needed a home versus rules?
    You must be joking. Of course I'm choosing the cat. No matter my nearly flawless record.
So long rules.

    Maybe, just maybe, this equation holds: cats = love >>> rules. Especially the love >>> rules part.
    Besides, rules don't purr.

P.S. I'm off to the Middle East later this week! (See previous post). If I don't communicate until July, here's lots of love from me. You got these upcoming weeks! ;)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Graduation, A Possible Hiatus, and a Series Announcement, All in One Post

    I finished my finals on almost two weeks ago.
    I graduated - wait, what?! Hold up!
    How? When did life start happening?
Yes, this is Sushi. You knew I'd work him in this post somehow, right?
    I'm a ball of mixed-up emotions and I don't even know where to start untangling them.
    It's fine. I'm totally cool. I'll go to grad school, do a postdoc, then be a professor and NEVER LEAVE SCHOOL. So long, adult world.
     Just kidding. Life isn't so simple to fall into my plans.
     I started a pre-med biology major and halfway through my first year fell in love with chemistry. In fact, I wound up dropping pre-med in favor of research into that wonderful mystery called chemistry
     And now I'm going for a PhD in chemistry and I'm really excited and happy and, oh, I finally figured out the necessary details to write the story I've been working on. Only took me seven years (really).
    But, anyways, I graduated Saturday.
There's a rumor that you won't graduate on time if you step on the Marsh Chapel seal. So, of course, the first thing we did after receiving our diplomas was jump on it.

    Which means, besides freedom (until MIT?), I'm able to head over to the Middle East with a college organization. Basically we'll be doing work with refugees and learning about a different culture, interacting with Middle Eastern college students, and, well, a lot more. 
    I've heard we're headed to a very friendly culture, which both excites and scares little introverted me. I'm sure many interesting challenges lie ahead - and probably a few tears and anxiety issues. What a great way to celebrate the end of college - no, seriously. I'm hoping this is going to be a good way to squeeze outta my very narrow comfort zone.
    I suppose I'm also hoping for space away from crazy American Christian culture, space to water my faith- space for a new perspective to blossom - space for me to wrestle with God and crash into Him if need be. 
    But it's a six week long project, meaning ... I might not be posting too regularly, if at all, until the second week of July. Well, I'm currently composing one more post for the end of this week, but I'm not sure how often I'll be able to post in the Middle East.
    When I do return to regular blogging, I'm hoping to post detailed reviews of both Matthew Vines' God and the Gay Christian and Al Mohler's response to Matthew Vines. I've frequently mentioned how confused I am over the gay conflict, how I feel like my heart and my spirit are torn to shreds over this issue. So why not explore deeper, with a series of (hopefully objective and organized) reviews?
    And prayers and well-wishes in the meantime are appreciated. I love you guys!


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When God Speaks Through a Catholic Hymnal...Wait, What?!

   For all my theological musings, I don't do religion. At least, I haven't done religion.
    I used to see it as kind of mindless, pointless to an extent. Why follow what someone tells you, why perform fancy rituals when you can directly communicate with God (i.e. Protestant tradition)?
    Plus, religion was boring. All I remember of my time in St. Ann's Catholic Church as a four year old was eating cereal from baggies my mom had prepared and making up stories with my sister. I tried to follow the priest once when my mom said he was talking about Adam and Eve, but I lost interest after not more than five minutes.
    I was just fine in my nondenominational church, thank you very much, where pastors were funny and relatable, where people didn't expect me to repeat every other sentence.
    Thankfully, my views became much more nuanced over the years, as I realized many in my family were both Catholic and true Christians, and as I befriended Catholics/Orthodox Christians my own age. No, faith is alive in religious churches too; I was wrong to assume religious folk were legalists and nothing more.
    But given my history with compulsive rituals and legalism, a religious church has never appealed to me. Outside of Communion, I'm resistant to rituals, even (I'm troubled to admit) baptism. I was baptized as an infant, and I've considered but never been baptized again, because rituals are, for me, burdensome.
    Up until this week, I've been in Boston University's Marsh Chapel exactly five times.
    My first time honestly freaked me out. Coming from a fairly casual church back home, the dressy outfits embarrassed the T-shirt-clad me. The hymns overall bored me (although my roommate has a stunning voice), and the repetitions felt stiff and awkward. I'd rather it be simple, me and God and a pastor giving good advice, y'know?
    I couldn't leave fast enough.
    The second and third times two were insignificant as far as religion goes; I went once to see my friends' choir perform, once for Bible study.
    Then last month, my discipler (mentor) asked if I wanted to go into the chapel and pray. So in we went.
    There was maybe one other person there.  The air was hushed, but not deserted. Sitting in a wooden pew, with stained glass portrayal of Solomon's temple to my right and carvings of Jesus in the wood above the alter, I felt for the first time a glimpse of God in religious rituals.
     I felt more than thought of the people all over the world who have gone before, worshiping God over the ages.
     I thought more than felt the symbolism behind the artwork, creations used to worship God. And it struck me that, that maybe, religious churches might be worth visiting after all.
    My fifth visit to Marsh occurred Friday. Exhausted from Americanized Christianity, brokenhearted, I sought refuse inside the gentle atmosphere of Marsh again.
    For some reason I opened a Catholic hymnal.
    I don't remember the hymn I opened to, but it repeated the idea that God loves us over and over and over.
    God loves me? Me, who shrinks from baptism? Me, so compulsive I flee formalities lest I have a panic attack? Me, who doubts God at times more than I believe in Him?
    God's Presence? It's here. In Catholicism, in Orthodoxy, Protestant, nondenominational, and everything in between.
    God is here and He loves us.

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Letter to Conservative Evangelicals: Of Halved Hearts and a Need to Love

Hi there, Conservative Evangelical,

    When my blood runs warm with the warm red wine/
     I miss the life that I left behind/

     I haven't been around in a while, I know. I've blamed school and illness for my absence, and heaven knows that's true, but not wholly true. And since I am starting to value honesty, here I am opening up to you.
    I have a library of thoughts I'd like to share, and maybe it'd be more appropriate in person, but since I'm a better writer than talker (and I'm scared of the look in your eyes), I thought I'd do it through writing.

     But when I hear the sound of the blackbirds cry/
     I know I left in the nick of time/

    I might as well just blurt it out.
    I never thought I'd doubt that the Earth was 6,000 years old!
    I never thought I'd question why homosexuality is supposedly wrong; I never thought I'd smile while seeing a gay couple embrace.
    I never thought my gut would tighten at the idea of hell. How could anyone not see the logic of hell or annihilation? I wondered. But I can't, not anymore. Now I wonder, how can anyone not see the wickedness of hell?
    How? How did this happen? I haven't stopped seeking God. So what went wrong? Did anything go wrong?
    I've turned, I've turned round and round, and I don't know what to do anymore.
    Do I want to be a Christian? Yes.
    But am I anymore? By the Nicene Creed, yes. But not by a lot of other definitions.
    Then hit the anger, a potent cocktail of rage and disgust. I've seen people mock progressive Christians as false teachers, knowing full well that, according to their theology, that person is heading to hell. Is that not evil? Don't you see?
    I've sobbed, I've shrieked, I've simmered. The pain will not abate, because, you see, the casualty of my angry cocktail is me.
    I'm so tired.
    When I wrote that post about leaving my faith at the alter, I hadn't experienced the difficulty yet. I hadn't seen Christians abandon 10,000 children over homosexuality, hadn't dreamed such bigotry (yes, it is bigotry) was possible. Honestly, I didn't know it was possible. I didn't know.
    Well this road I'm on's gonna turn to sand/
    And leave me lost in a far off land/
    So let me ride the wind til I don't look back/
   Forget the life that I almost had

    I know that Christianity is Jesus, but that's all I know.
    I still want Jesus.
    I just don't want many people in the church. I don't want to share with the mockers, the sexists, the bigots and the racists. I don't want to share with those who are ignorant not from chance, but because they choose not to understand.
    And that is evil of me, too - to want to slam the gate in your faces, to label you stupid and flee into the wild. I am no better than you, but oh, how I like to pretend I am. It's okay for me to hate you, but how dare you hate me.
    My word. The blasphemy of my selective criticism.
    I don't want to hate people, but here I am, consumed with bitterness. Ha, sin is all-pervading, isn't it? Is there no remedy?
    As I recall, you taught me there was. 
    And so I still crave Jesus.
    The longer I run/
    Then the less that I find/
    Sellin' my soul for a nickel and dime/
    Breakin' my heart to keep singing these rhymes/
    And losin' again/

    I am still distraught, brokenhearted, disgusted, livid. Weak and wrung out for refuse.
    I need to leave, to pull away from American Evangelicalism.
    This stuns me more than anything, but my heart is halved and my heart is dying, and so I need space. Maybe for a week. Maybe for a lifetime.
    Please pray for me, my friend. I remember you believed in prayer.
    (A sidenote: if my decision makes you rejoice or condemn further with a brusque comment - if your faith requires you to rejoice or mock another's pain - please examine your heart, too).
      Tell my brother please not to look for me/
      I ain't the man that I used to be/
     But if my savior comes could you let him know/
     I've gone away for to save my soul/

    Please do not judge me. I am still a follower of Jesus, a child of God, a member of the universal church.
I just need a break from evangelicalism, not Jesus.
    I am leaving not to call you "other," full of hatred, but because I want to love you again: sister, brother, friend. We are God's children, the both of us. And so I am leaving, to seek water for my soul.
    He who seeks shall find. Not all who wander are lost. One said by Jesus, one by Tolkien. Two of my heroes.
    If I wander til I die/
    May I know who's hand I'm in/
    If my home I'll never find/
    And let me live again.

    Somewhere, somehow, I must learn to love you again.
    I need to love you.

With tears, a runny nose, and a cracked smile,

**UPDATE** What I am saying: I've questions. Many questions, and they hurt. And when Christians react to my questions without compassion, I am further hurt, and so I take it out on them. That's a horrible cycle in which no one wins. I am confused and I need to spend time praying and listening to Jesus, not to myself, conservatism, or liberalism.
What I am not saying (and, God help me, will never say): conservative evangelicals are dumb/wrong, I am leaving the faith, or I think it's okay to ignore what God says.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Only Fear Kept Me Alive

     God will work everything for good for those who love Him.
    Too bad I didn't love Him, at least not enough to stop starving myself. Now, surely He was against me, surely now He would beat me down until I became What He Wanted.
    I held the scissors to my wrist and scratched the skin. What would it be like to dig deeper, to splatter cherry-red blood across the white porcelain sink?
    Served everyone right for their careless, cruel words. Served me right, killing such a selfish little prick as myself after only sixteen years. What kind of ass gives up God and family for a skinny body?
    Then I thought of hell. I've never believed heaven is off-limits due to suicide, but I was pretty sure I the Faithless wasn't going to wind up among the faithful.
    I hesitated. Eternal torture didn't sound so pleasant.
    Then I realized that everyone in my community would know. They'd see beyond my straight-A, meek facade into the depths of my selfishness. They'd know I was in hell.
    There would be no going back; even if I survived they'd know. My damp fingers gripped the scissors even tighter.
    In fear is the absence of love.
    And yet, fear kept me alive. Not love, not the faintest thread of hope. Fear.
    O my God, what did You do?
    Fear, where love is absent, but God who is Love still entered.
    God is holy. But the God of Holiness entered unholy fear, used something so dead as fear to keep me alive.
    This even doesn't make sense, and so I think we have a tendency to oversimplify this mystery. Oh, God wanted you to fear.
    Nope. Nopenopenope.
    I don't think God wants one evil thing to befall us. Not one.
    I also don't think He looks at said evil thing like "Oh too bad, but now I've got 'em crawlin' to me!"
    I think maybe He weeps and wails with us, uses every chance to turn evil for good, and where evil seems to win, He promises us This will not be the end.
     This wasn't my only temptation with suicide. The desire flew back many times I seemed to fail throughout high school and college, to be honest. But they weren't more than thoughts until last semester.
    Last semester, in the blackness, I had it planned again. Often.
    This time, love for my family and friends, a faint hope for better times, pulled me back.
    They say everyone must grow. What a strange way to see growth.
    This time, with encouragement from many friends and family, I opened the door. I went to a doctor, who, along with the right meds, family and friends, allowed me a glimpse of heaven's love.
    And I thought that, dare I say, I wanted life again. I don't remember the last time I consistently wanted life, for months on end. There have been many months where I wasn't suicidal, but I'm not sure I wanted life.
    Behold, I am doing a new thing.
    Wanting life is a new thing for me.
    I am thirsty for life.
    But if you're parched and crawling in the dust, if everything you are is naught but skin and bones -
    Keep pressing on, and if you can't, I'm offering you my hand and all I have to carry you. I'll stand, sit, crawl, rest with you. I love you. I'm not giving up on you, no matter what you've done or suffered.
    Not until we see the truth of those words written by Paul two millennia ago: God will work everything for good for those who love Him.

We'll make it, I promise.


Saturday, May 3, 2014

I Learned About Sex from Twilight

    I grew up knowing that sex was, uh, that something my parents fast-forwarded during the movies. So, yeah, whatever sex was, it was bad.
    In middle school, I learned more: cover your body so boys don't lust after you, and guard your virginity until marriage. Because, above all, God wants sex for marriage.
    As for what sex was ... well, sex involved touching someone else's genitals. People stacked on top of each other for something called intercourse, which made babies, and oral sex involved...well, ew.
    That's all I knew.
    But...what if I, in my  perpetually clumsy state, kicked someone in, you know, the wrong place by accident? Was that sex?
    And, more importantly, did the fact that I'd apparently masturbated whilst only knowing that it was something that felt good, disqualify my virginity? Would no guy want me now? Was it better not to get married?
    And why were all these questions and "inappropriate" thoughts popping into my mind? Was I lusting, when I didn't want to think such thoughts? Did lusting mean I wasn't the all-important virgin?
    Clearly, I wasn't pure. So, in my sullied state, marriage and kids were unattainable, because they required a level of honesty I didn't have.
    All of these questions spiraled in my brain and sunk me into what was probably my first depressive episode, which lasted over two months. January through March.
    I was thirteen.
    Eventually the depression passed, and high school commenced, but with a class of eleven kids, no health class was offered, and so "sex" remained a huge question mark.
    Then, when I was seventeen, I read the not-terribly-explicit Twilight series. And based on a couple lines in the fourth book, I was like... o.O.
    What? Oh. That meant - ? Ohhhh.
    Yes, really. I learned about sex from Twilight.
   (Took me a few more years and close friendships to learn about other things like "orgasms" and all; in fact, last year, a friend's mention of oral sex still made me blush all the way to my arms). 
    But, really, why was this such a big secret? Why all this shame associated with a physical activity?
    It's sex. Not murder, okay?
    Much has been made of the negative effects from our shame-based sex culture. Whether you're sexually active or not, there's shame dumped on all of us for anything remotely related to sex. 
    Shame on you for saying anatomical words like "vagina" or "penis." Don't you know we can't talk about sex, lest everyone obsess over it and do it and spread diseases, and morality collapse.
    Shame on you for talking about your sexual abuse.
    Shame on you for willingly having sex. Now you're the equivalent of used chewing gum. No one will want you for marriage.
    Shame on you for not having sex. Technically, yeah, it's your decision, but don't you know you're setting yourself up for future problems by naively limiting yourself to marriage?
    Congratulations, you're married! Now you're deflowered (if that's not shame, I don't know what is).
    In short, to quote Allison in The Breakfast Club, "If you say you haven't, you're a prude. If you say you have you're a slut. It's a trap."
    Seriously. Christian culture and popular culture use the exact same guidelines regarding sex: shame. Heaps of shame, trapping you no matter which way you turn.
    You know what?
Just, no.
   No to shame. No to sex = worth.
   My worth comes solely from the fact that I am a human being, made in the image of God.
   I am human. I bear God's image, and that can't be taken away, sex or no sex, bad sex or good sex, stigmas or freedom.      
   I'm a little bit scared to publish this, because, well, sex is something we don't like to talk about. And that's exactly why I am publishing this.
   This cycle of shame has to stop. Shame breeds in secrecy, like the secrecy that surrounded sex when I was growing up.
   So, no, I don't have any new insight into stopping this cycle, but I do believe openness and facts will play a prominent role. Facts are facts are facts - it should not be shameful to use correct terminology and teach people about a basic act most of us are going to do at some point or another. Furthermore, perhaps teaching people to respect - to truly respect - others as fellow images of God just might help people make healthy sexual choices, free of shame and fear-mongering.
    I mean, seriously: openness and a good health class could have saved me a heck of a lot of agony.
    Because teenagers should not be learning about sex from Twilight.