Thursday, October 30, 2014

My Worst Nightmares

Trigger warning for eating disorders and abuse.

    I figured out how to fly in middle school. And to this day, I still use that magic necklace.
    On a thin gold chain hangs a small, rounded rectangular stone encapsulated in crenelated gold. The colors are mystifying, innocent swirls of pink and cream. But when you place your forefinger on it, the stone churns blood red, and as long as your finger stays there, you stay invisible, and you can fly.
    Hey - flying is hard work - you have to tread the air like swimming, but it's worth it, to rise above the trees and see the birds whizz past your face.
    The best part, however, is the invisibility. No one can even feel you. No sword can hurt you, and if you touch someone else, you can bring them under the safety of invisibility.
    This necklace has won wars, certainly, but it's also the necklace I invoke in all my nightmares. Whether I'm chased by a human murderer or an orc, I can invoke the necklace, and I and those I love will be safe.
    I'm not sure how I remember to do this in my nightmares, but I do.
    In my nightmares, hiding is the only safe spot.

    Yet the worst nightmares lack stalkers and a hungry Tyrannosaurus Rex. The worst nightmares aren't solved by my necklace, because in my worst nightmares, I would have to hide from myself.

     I've been begging for reassurance about my weight since I was eight. And I've been having nightmares for almost as long.
    Because there's so much safety promised in hiding. The monsters can't get us. People can't judge our love handles and hips. People can't know we're rotting inside.
    But in these nightmares I know I am, and there's no hiding from myself.
    In these nightmares, the fear isn't what the monsters will do to me. There are no monsters, only people. People who see me despite my efforts to hide.
    They see me, and they reject me because I have grown fat.
    They use my weight as an excuse to hurt me.
    In my dreams, my own parents lament what they have done wrong to produce a fat daughter. They're almost as repulsed by me as I am by myself.
    In my dreams, a stranger torments me over my thighs and I retaliate - violently. Then the stranger says it's okay, he or she knows what it's like to be fat like me. But there's no comfort in their words, because I hate myself so much.
    I'm trapped, I'm trapped, I'm trapped - in my dreams I want to shave off my fat with a knife, and I hate myself so much.
    And then I wake up.

    With an unsettled feeling in my stomach.
    And then I realize with relief: It was just a dream.
    No, I am not fat. I am not violent. And even if I were fat, the violence would be the problem. Not my weight. Weight can't add or subtract worth from me.
    But I still can't shake the unsettled feeling.

    There was an incident - I don't know if I was seven or eight or nine - when something very similar to my nightmares did happen. My parents got mad because I was too tired to take a walk after soccer practice. They ranted that I was getting chubby and they forced us to take a walk, and the entire time they berated us for the whole neighborhood to hear. To call the incident humiliating doesn't do it justice.
    For what it's worth, I was a rather thin kid. I think they were just mad about something else and took it out on me and my sister.
    But in my dreams, I am actually fat.

    Maybe that's why I'm writing this here. I don't know if anyone can relate to these nightmares (although probably you can), but maybe by telling you all about them, I can reduce their power.
    Because being what society deems fat or skinny doesn't mean squat in our lives. And health is, as I'm sure you all know, usually found in the middle anyways.
    But I can know and support all this for everyone else, and I do, yet my own feelings say something very different regarding myself. Inside, I feel shame every time I pull on pants.
    And so I will write it out here until the shame disappears.
    I won't be invisible, but maybe I can still fly. Figuratively, at least. :)

    And if you're trapped in nightmarish secrets and shame, I will pray for you and love you right where you are. I'd love to talk further, friends. <3

*Please note that my parents are not bad people and I will not tolerate any disparaging comments towards them.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Question on Inerrancy and Sex

    *Content note: a scientifically frank discussion of sex and women's bodies. The horror.*
     So if you're a girl, chances are you learned at some point you're supposed to bleed the first time you have sex, thanks to a vaginal barrier known as the hymen. (Obviously, I can't say if boys learn this or not).
    I do remember, however, being confused by this. Women shed blood every month, out of the same opening. Like, how is that possible if it's barricaded by a membrane?
    Well: it's not.
    The hymen is not a barrier - it's simply an open scrap of membrane that protects the vagina when women are growing up.
    So all that stuff you hear about maidenheads, about an intact hymen and blood proving virginity?
    It's a load of crap. Cultural hoopla descended from millennia of patriarchy. Some pregnant women have intact hymens, and some women have none at all. The hymen only tears during sex if you are too fast or too violent.
 Language warning for video, but it is quite informative.

    Yet, enter Deuteronomy 20:13-21.
    "If any man takes a wife and goes in to her and then hates her 14 and accuses her of misconduct and brings a bad name upon her, saying, ‘I took this woman, and when I came near her, I did not find in her evidence of virginity,’ 15 then the father of the young woman and her mother shall take and bring out the evidence of her virginity to the elders of the city in the gate. 16 And the father of the young woman shall say to the elders, ‘I gave my daughter to this man to marry, and he hates her; 17 and behold, he has accused her of misconduct, saying, “I did not find in your daughter evidence of virginity.” And yet this is the evidence of my daughter's virginity.’ And they shall spread the cloak before the elders of the city. 18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip[a] him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels[b] of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin[c] of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days. 20 But if the thing is true, that evidence of virginity was not found in the young woman, 21 then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones, because she has done an outrageous thing in Israel by whoring in her father's house. So you shall purge the evil from your midst." 

    According to the Bible, in these verses God says virginity is proven with blood. God says something demonstrably false.
    I've never seen any Biblical scholar address this issue (possibly because it involves a culturally awkward discussion of vaginas?). One article mentions that lack of bleeding would not necessarily condemn the woman due to the need for at least two witnesses, but the author still acknowledges that it is evidence against her virginity.
    Something scientifically false could witness against a person in a life-or-death situation. I find that extremely troubling.
    Frankly, it seems to me that this verse is incompatible with a literal Bible, unless you want to argue that hymens have evolved over time. Or that God is advocating marital rape, I suppose.
    Honestly, it makes more sense to say the Israelites were adopting a cultural misunderstanding/norm into their law, than to say God is a liar.
    Don't get me wrong. I confess that all Scripture is inspired by God, a good God, whether I like it or not. Maybe this passage exists to emphasize the importance of commitment to one person. Maybe, much like Moses' law of divorce, this this was God permitting them their hard hearts - I don't know.
    But I do think Deuteronomy 22:13-21 is evidence that Bible is not flawless. At the very least, I don't see the notion that the Bible is scientifically accurate as tenable.
    Inerrantists, if you have another explanation, please let me know. I say that in all sincerity.
    Thanks for listening, friends.


*Update: I love getting answers on Twitter - yes, really. As my friend Peter at The Places You'll Go Music points out, equating the modern body with a body from 4000 years ago is probably not the most accurate comparison.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Abandoning Answerianity

    Am I allowed to ask?
    Am I allowed to say it is ridiculous to bar a gay person from committing to the one they love, just because of a few controversial verses?
    Am I allowed to ask why some people insist that Jesus had to die for our atonement in some sort of child-sacrifice, when that's a very recent opinion?
    Am I allowed to say I think mainstream Calvinism, and definitely genocide, is cruel and wrong?
    Am I allowed to say I love liturgy, I really like Catholic Mass, and I believe evolution is the most realistic origin for life?
    Am I allowed to say I only want God if He is good, and if He is not good, I'd rather be in hell?
    Am I allowed to ask if God exists?
    Now for the age-old question: am I allowed to do this and still be a Christian?

    If you answered "no" to any of these questions, if my questioning is "proof" of me sliding away from faith, then...okay. This post isn't my defense of my orthodoxy or lack thereof.

    But if you're angered by my opinions and you want to know more, then please listen.
    Please, church, please listen. I am begging you.
    Can you hear our tears? Our howls of despair?
    It's the despair of a generation of evangelicals who were told Christianity is so, so much more than loving God and our neighbors.
    We were told Christianity was a culture war, to never listen to our hearts, to keep those legs shut before you ruin yourself. We were told Christianity was the Right means to heaven and the Last Days were upon us and the Earth was damned, so we might as well let it go.
    And when we started searching, we didn't find x amount of questions. We found questions that led to more questions that led to more and more (in math: not Q * x, but Q^x).

    Look at the condemnation heaped upon Gungor for questioning evolution. Look at the smug claims of "heresy" toward Rachel Held Evans for using feminine pronouns for Our God and for questioning if God really wanted Abraham to kill his child. And, of course, all those claims are done in online blog responses that leave me wondering how much you actually care about the person versus asserting how awesomely orthodox you are.
    Look at ten thousand faces abandoned by those who needed to prove their disagreement on LGBTQ issues once more, as if most people don't know how most of the church feels about them.
    Then look at those running out of church.
    If you don't see a correlation, you are very, very wrong, my friend.
    Brothers and sisters, do you know, every time you condemn them in the name of upholding what your think is true, you condemn us, too? We've gone through science classes and seen and loved people so, so different from ourselves. We cannot fit into your bubble without amputating our heads and hearts and we'll die if we do.
    You don't have to agree. I respect your differing options, and you're not evil or antiChrist or stupid for thinking differently.
    But your condemnation, your rush to prove a point over a person, your caution that we're asking the wrong questions just because they involve messy human bodies and/or weird emotions - nothing disgusts me more.
    Hey, we're a generation who's pretty screwed-up in a lot of ways, but for the most part we want justice. We want our neighbors to be loved as ourselves. And we constantly see the church denying that justice far too often.
"I'm locking you out, hooman. Hahahaha." - church and cats.
    I don't think my questions and doubts make me a heretic. I want orthodoxy. I want every. word. in. this. creed.
    I want the messy beauty of a God and Man in One, of three Godheads in One, of dying and love and resurrection and forgiveness and life everlasting.
    I'm willing to be wrong on many things. Correct me if you want. If I am heretical, feel free to email me or something. I'm willing to listen.
    Can you please do the same?
    Because every day, I'm still searching for Jesus. For the most part, I am finding Him present in Christianity, not black-and-white Answerianity.
    Only God alone is good, so only God alone is right.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Lock in My Pacifism

Update: I am talking about my confusion with the pacifism I see commonly represented in the more left-leaning Christian blogosphere, and in no way mean to diminish the importance of ending violence or the work of personal heroes such as Gandhi or Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I'm sorry for any confusion and I will try to do better next time. 

    You can call me a wannabe pacifist.
    The Bible is clear...
    Just kidding. I won't do that to you, I promise.
    But I do find Jesus' instructions to "do good to those who hate you, bless those who persecute you" pretty compelling.
    So compelling, in fact, that I can't escape the beautiful thought that good in the face of evil could transform, could even save, the world. What would happen if we were brave enough to do good, not just "understandable?"
    Ah. Oh. Right.
    That's the lock in my pacifism, I think.
    Because if someone was actively hurting my family or friends, I would certainly be furious. And honestly, I very well might respond violently in defense of those I love.
    Sorry. But it's true. And, in short, that's why I am a "wannabe" pacifist.

    I also fear much modern-day Christianized pacifism frequently comes from a place of privilege. For instance, it's easy to say submit to authorities when you've never been abused. It's easy to say "no war!" when thousands of your friends aren't being slaughtered for having a different religion or a different color of skin.
    I'm not saying you don't care about the abused or the murdered - but it is always different when people have names, faces, that are known to you. There's more feelings involved, whether that makes it right or wrong.
    And what of the extreme cases, like World War II, what then? Maybe pacifism, civil disobedience, would have stopped the Nazis in their infant stages (I'm not a historian so don't quote me on that). But, by, say, 1941, was there really another option besides fighting?
    I mean, besides everyone rising up and saying "we have decided not to be afraid." Which would be cool, but how realistic is it when someone is pointing a gun at your family?

    Let me be clear.
    What is good?
    Not war. Not violence.
    Ending violence is good. By non-violent means. Because in our many thousands of years of human civilization, violence has not brought peace.
    Pacifism is good.

    Still, I guess what I want from current pacifists is more grace and understanding. Jesus was about grace, was he not?
    So those who join the army? Maybe they're joining because they want to help something larger than themselves. Maybe the people who support war do so because they genuinely think it's the best way to help others.
    Now, history is proof that violence doesn't solve anything. Keep spreading that message, sure.
    But please don't draw dichotomies that say you can't be a Christian and be in the army, or support wars. Please.
    Instead, please, keep your idealism and keep suggesting and implementing ideas for justice. Keep challenging us towards pacifism.
    The more cynical of us, we need you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Monster in the Mirror? It Isn't You

    Every morning, I shuffle to the kitchen to feed the ever-exuberant kittens. Then I shuffle to the bathroom, where I dress and clean my face and brush my hair, where I decorate my sleep-filled eyes with makeup. Where I stare at my dim reflection in the mirror.
    Every morning, before breakfast, I also twist open a white-capped, translucent orange bottle and take out a green and blue pill.
    And every morning, I swallow it with water and a twinge of thanks.

    I need us to know, I need us to understand: there is no shame in being sick.
    There is no shame in crying curled up in a corner, in clawing at despair - and sometimes, yes, ourselves.
    There is no shame in losing yourself to the black depression, in collapsing under the loneliness, in trampling yourself with anxiety, in burning yourself down with mania. In losing another battle against the addictions that provide a fleeting reprieve. Whether you swallow down the panic attack or are ravaged full-force, there is no shame.
    There is no shame.

    It is okay to be sick.
    It is not okay that we're sick, oh no. We don't deserve the torment in our mind and whatever - genetics, trauma, sensitivity - triggered it. But we are not wrong for being sick.

    Maybe there's a part of you, and me, that hates ourselves.
    When I was younger I heard preachers say we can't truly hate ourselves. There was always a small part of me that scoffed at them.
    Because somewhere deep inside, I did hate myself. I knew I deserved the bad things, the pain and anguish and tears and shame.
    I. Hated. Myself.
    And in that grotesque, insidious piece I knew I could never be loved because I wasn't strong and I wasn't brave and I wasn't...I wasn't what I was supposed to be.
    It never stopped screaming, You are not loved!

   There was a part of me, you see, so sick and black I couldn't clean it out. Devotion to prayer and Bible studies, grades, and even inviting God Himself inside me, didn't clean it out. Hatred and denial, desperation and rage didn't bleed it out.
    So I took the blue and green pills, unsure if I was condemning myself deeper, unsure if I was just plain damned. Blue, the color of tears, met green, the color of life. My favorite colors, on a simple aromatic compound that would somehow regulate the chemicals in my brain.
   It's a fierce fiend, that demon. But the cleansing only started when I talked about it - in therapy, with friends who (surprisingly) did love me, on this blog.
   The shame fades and fades, because the more you open up and the more people and God come in. And the more we open, the more we are changed.
   It doesn't leave easily - it's still there. Oh yes. I got a B on a homework assignment recently, and oh, how the shame washed over me again (that's why I'm writing that here, I suppose). But it is fading in the light of grace, of God and of people.

   But first, I need you to know, I need you to understand: we are all loved, and more than that, we are all wanted.
   You're not the monster in the mirror.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

God Our Author: Annihilation vs. Creation

    As a writer, I get crazy excited about God the Creator.
    I mean, just think, He invented color. And quantum mechanics and atoms and organic chemistry and space-time.
    And people, all of us unique.
    And cats and cats and cats (I had to mention them in here somewhere).
Aren't you glad I spared you the actual Nyan Cat song?
    In Him, a God somehow three in one, a paradox of possibilities, lives redemption and resurrection and hope and love and stories. He so deeply loves His creations He became one of us.
    This seems like a God who is supposed to be good.*
    Which is why I'm always puzzled by annihilation theory - that those who don't know God simply cease to exist when they die.
    Look, I get the appeal: no eternal torture!
    But there's no peace for the annihilated, either. There's nothing. They. Are. Not.
    Annihilation is the opposite of creation. Annihilation (like eternal hell) says redemption can never be found for someone, that someone is hopeless. But unlike hell, annihilation also seems to say that God's image doesn't matter anymore. I'm not a theologian, but it seems like God's image must separate from a person, somehow, for them to be extinguished.
     I don't know whether that means God's image in people gets destroyed or taken back, but I find that quite disturbing.

    Now, I love crafting my own stories. I love developing characters, getting to know them, sometimes imagining what would happen if they appeared in my life.
    And sure, there are some stories I have decided to scrap or adapt, some characters I've merged into one or deleted from a story. But rarely, if ever, do I cut out a character without using at least a part of them in another character. It's like I can't forsake them. And I can never forget them - not even Lemon-Lime, the yellow and green cat from the first story I wrote in first grade (she had a scary encounter with a shark and ever since her narrow escape, all cats have feared water, if you must know - and yes, I did name her after my favorite sherbets).
This poor cat may want people in hell after this, however. 
    If I, a mere mortal and a sinner saved by grace, cannot forsake my characters, how can God utterly erase those He has created?

    Maybe there's an explanation outside of this world, since that's where God is.

    But wouldn't He have to stop loving the annihilated? Wouldn't love have to stop, because the person no longer is? Because, in annihilation (and ECT), love can no longer "hope all things."
    The idea of a perfect love like God's ceasing is, again, quite disturbing.

    I know there's plenty of compelling evidence for annihilation in the Bible. There's plenty of evidence for ECT, too, and even Christian universalism. So if people want to believe that, I'm not one to judge.
    But - but - can we stop pretending it's more merciful?
    Because it involves a person extinguished. That's really disturbing. To me, it's more disturbing than eternal hell.
    I know, I'm getting emotional here. So...if I've overlooked or misinterpreted something, do let me know.
    What are your thoughts? If you believe in annihilation, what have you found compelling about it? How do you reconcile annihilation and the Imago Dei?


* Problem of Evil to be incorporated into third post.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

I'd Risk A Thousand Shelobs For You

    Do you know, I'd cross the expanse of space-time to get you back?
    Do you know, when I say hello and you look everywhere but my face, I'd risk a thousand Shelobs to have you smile at me?
    Do you know I'm sorry I kept thinking I'd have time to talk on the phone to you, but it was always, always later? I'm so, so sorry.
    I'm so sorry.
    I'd sacrifice my own mental health if I could feel your tender arms around me, knowing who I am.
    I'd go through a hundred Odysseys, descend through a million circles of hell, to find your memory and relieve your suffering.

    I'm still praying for you. You've got me praying regularly again, of course you have.
    I know you always prayed for me, and honestly, I wonder if your prayers are the reason I survived this far.

    You seemed to recognize me for a little while, twenty minutes or so. You told me the story of when you were little and a hurricane blew your roof off.
    You grew up so different from me, an extroverted model, the second-youngest of seven siblings who married a wonderful Italian-American while she was still a teenager. I remember you telling me about your adventures with your sassy sister Phyllis, about your boyfriends and your ice cream job.
    I remember how you got your license even though you didn't need it, how you went to college when you were older,  how you worked until 82 because you liked it.
    When I was little I wanted to write a novel based on you. Sometimes I still entertain the idea.
    Do you know your house was my safe place when I was little? How I looked forward to our visits like vacation? The rhythmic rush of cars down the main street, Papa chasing us twins as the Big Bad Wolf, drinking "fizzy water" at your minibar and playing in the triangle-shaped tub, they were such soothing treats to my little soul.
    Your generosity, in true Italian family style, is still what I think of whenever I'm serving pasta or ice cream.
    It's only a slight exaggeration to say your fudge changed my life. And the bacon - my word, I got sick on too much bacon at your house once!

    And do you know your orange tabby, Terry, was the one who triggered my love for cats?

    I love you. I miss you.
    Mimi, I hope I'll see you again soon, in the hospital or (I hope) back home. And I hope this time you'll see me, too. There is so much love, you know, our days can never be enough, but I guess that's how love is.
    I guess you already knew that, though.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

God Our Author: When Love Tortures?

Random: I still love this movie.
    The idea of hell never used to bother me. Like any good Christian child, I knew it was a necessary evil, something Jesus spoke about more often than heaven.
    Then I went to college. And met more and more people who didn't believe in God, or Jesus.
    My heart and my head and my stomach pounded, twisted, vomited, at the thought of them in hell.
    I would go to hell in place of them, were it possible. Perhaps that meant I didn't have a proper view of the glory of God, but I couldn't let my loved ones suffer for eternity (a theory called Eternal Conscious Torment).
     If they were in hell because, for whatever reason - be it suffering, confusion, unanswered prayer, lack of belief - they didn't follow Jesus, there was no heaven. Not for me. Either God would have to brainwash me to forget them, or His glory would simply outshine everything else.
    But forgetting someone you love? Ceasing to love them?
    I felt even queasier.
    They were people, created by God. In that sense, can not loving people can be a way of loving God? How could ceasing to love them be moral?
    My morality is depraved and confused.
    Now, I don't deny that this is true. My thoughts towards, say, ISIS at the moment involve quite a bit of F-bombs and murder (sorry).
    But how is torturing people alive (be it through actual fire or the lack of His presence) for a few years, for a vapor, of evil, justice?
    My morality is intact enough to know that it's wrong for me to, say, kidnap a terrorist and torture them for the rest of their life. So how is it good for God to do that for eternity?
    I don't grasp the evil of sin.
    Since I still mock and hate and gossip and lust like many people, yeah, clearly I don't.
    But I know, good heavens, God has to be just, because justice is good and God is good.
    So is hell justice for a crime I can't even see?
    I'm not convinced. Because what if justice is mercy, and mercy, justice? What if they are, pardon the cliche, two sides to the same coin? (For instance, for a murderer, maybe punishment in prison is a mercy because they now face the reality, at least physically, that what they did was wrong).
    So is hell a mercy?
    I don't know. I don't think so, honestly. Prison is really not the same as eternal torture.
    Now I fully realize we're all trapped in this world and, yes, it's true that we don't grasp the depravity of our sin. But because of this, we also don't grasp how good God is.
    I'm unconvinced that I can be more merciful than God. I don't deny that I'm a worse sinner than I know, but I'm not sure my conscience is wrong for being too sensitive, too good.
    Because I'm not sure God can ever be too good. It truly bothers me that the same people arguing for our inability to discern how evil is really good for God, are often the same people arguing that our consciences prove His existence. I know their argument is that only a semblance of conscience remains, but ... it doesn't sit well with me.
    The Bible says God is Our Author.
    As a writer, I love my characters after a fashion. I delight in them, the good and the bad. My heart sometimes aches when they make wrong decisions and do terrible deeds. My ire awakes, and by the end of the story, at the very least some sense of hope must remain.
    I cannot imagine creating a character, even a deplorable one, and writing about their eternal torture forever and ever. I even have sympathy for the villains I'm writing about now - so many factors, good and bad, have influenced their decisions.
     What kind of sadist would I have to be to write about a bad person for a chapter, say I love them, and then revoke my love (because Love Does Not Torture) and describe their hideous, beyond repugnant agony for the remainder of the book? (With an epilogue saying "the anguish will never end. Glory be!").
    Hey, it might sell nowadays, who knows. But that's kinda sick.
    God isn't sick.
    And so this is why I am very, very uncomfortable with "Eternal Conscious Torment" theory.
    Do you believe in hell, and if so, why? What are your thoughts, questions, sentiments?
    Eternity is kinda a topic I like looking into, even though it's impossible to know. But I do think it can have a negative or positive effect on human relationships, so I will talking about it on this blog for the next few entries.
    As for annihilationism and Christian universalism, stay tuned for Part 2 and Part 3 of us exploring eternity from the perspective of God being Our Author (but, spoiler alert: don't hold out hope for a conclusion).


Sunday, October 5, 2014

We Celebrate a Wedding, We Celebrate Life

    I may be melodramatic, but, you know, the world is still falling apart.
    Instead of marrying his girlfriend, a man lies very, very sick with Ebola in Dallas.
    An aid worker had his head cut off by extremists who mistakenly believe that violence will fulfill them.
    And now another aid worker, who isn't that much older than me, will might be next.
    Justice has been reduced to a wisp of a word down in Missouri.
    All my concerns about exams and perpetual singleness, all my fascination with chemistry and atonement theories and fantasy stories, stories, stories - they feel very small indeed.
    No, in truth, they feel stupid. Shallow.
    When people are dying, when a psychopathic North Korean dictator imprisons people based on preposterous lies, how can I dream of romance and idealism and mystery? How can I smile, even?
    And yet what can I, what can we, do?
    People are dying, and I can't help them, and it is killing my soul.

    They tell me to pray. Why?
    It feels hopeless. What good will prayers do when a body is too weak, when a person is too brainwashed, when a person is too trapped to save themselves?
    And yet I remember that night, on my knees, screaming up at God.
    I remember crying when someone was saved from death.

    I remember not only that answered prayer, but also the epiphany of sorts I had afterwards: I can no longer give merit to the power of evil.
    This isn't a dismissal of evil. It exists, oh God! it exists.
    This is a choice, of sorts. A choice that says I am trying, desperately trying, not to let evil have credit in any more of my life. I don't want to cower before its blackness, to believe its caustic despair, to be enticed by its smiles.
    I just want good, whatever it is. And ultimately, I hope and put my faith in good being God.

    And so when I ask what point are our stories, what point are our hopes and dreams, what point are our smiles and laughter and weddings, I wonder if the point is the things themselves.
    Because they are life.
    Stories begin with creation, with life. Stories testify to life.
    Hope keeps you hanging on. Dreams inspire you forward. Smiles and laughter, they celebrate.  
    They're all life.
    And weddings - if even two people come together when everything else has fallen apart, death and evil have not won.
    And so we will celebrate a wedding (like the Weasleys during Voldemort's takeover), because maybe in a wedding, a small part of the holy grace of hope comes alive.
Kittens are life too. Don't deny it.


P.S. Congratulations to the lovely cousin and her fantastic husband whose wedding inspired this post. :)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Killing My Church Darling

    Within the the never-ending advice to writers, one common phrase is "kill your darlings."  
    That beautiful passage you've written?? That scene you love, love, love so much, even though it doesn't quite fit into the direction your story is taking?
    Kill it. Edit it out. (I have personally spent many an agonizing day on editing issues).
    And man, is it painful. Because, like, my story won't be the same without that golden metaphor right there...AND I LIKE IT THERE!!!

    Now, there's probably many real-life analogies we could make here. One particularly relevant one for me of late has, for better or worse, been church.
    Church had been my darling for a long while. My attendance proof that I was The Good Christian Making Effort to Keep Up With God. Oh heck no, I wasn't walking away from God. Not me.
    Then, last winter, when I started climbing back up after months of severe depression, I realized I was just plain sick of church.
    Not of God or people (okay, not most people), but I was sick of doing What I Was Supposed To Do. I was sick of following a formula that, for me, led to more anxiety and frustration than anything else.
     Simultaneously, I began reexamining my beliefs in general, a reexamination catalyzed by the advice I'd often received: "spending more time with God" would cure cure my depression. Because I now knew this wasn't necessarily true, I began wondering what else might not be true.
    And as welcoming, as nonjudgemental, as lovely as my church in Boston was, I became very angry at Christian Culture in general. I was furious that mentally ill Christians are largely considered "lesser" for their struggles. I was furious at the way many denominations reflect our culture's oppression of women, dressed up in hollow words like "God's design." I was furious at the way many Christians thought abandoning a child would convict gay couples of their sin.
    I'm still furious, to be honest.
    So I killed my darling. Meaning I cut out church out of my life for nearly a full semester. Silently I fretted that I'd slipped away from God and was sliding down a path of eternal damnation, but those Sundays at home certainly left me in a less anxious go-go-go state of mind.
    Then I went to the Mideast and saw people who acted out the part of church for me. I finally felt what my pastor had been saying for years: church wasn't a building or an event, but people. I was safe, happy, loved, and free, free, free, with these people. We could question and doubt and cry and laugh and embrace and be embraced and all that truly mattered was Jesus loves us all. Not to say there wasn't conflict and everything was perfect, but we were a community.
    So when I moved to Cambridge this fall, I was like, sure I'll try church again.

    And then I realized just how many churches there are in Cambridge.
    Thus far I've visited a modern evangelical church, a Southern Baptist church, a Catholic Mass, and an Orthodox Liturgy. And, yeah, I had some fears about all these services, along with some admitted prejudices against Southern Baptists. But instead of having my fears met, I found lovely communities where people were friendly, welcoming, and not judgmental.
    There were no assumptions that I was a heathen who needed to be interrogated on Gospel 101. Only kindness. Love, maybe I would call it.
    "What's your name?" asked countless of the people at the Baptist church.
    "You're so colorful," said the Catholic priest by way of greeting, which made me grin (I wear bright colors because they make me happy).
    "You can't do anything wrong here," assured the Orthodox Father with a gentle smile.
    And then I realized "I like all these churches now-what-do-I-do," and "Oh yeah, I wanted to try the Episcopal church and that other Baptist church and the Lutheran church too. And the UCC" - now that I finally realized they're not universalist.
    And that's how my anxiety started settling back in.
    So: I decided this semester will be dedicated, on Sundays, to visiting churches of all different traditions. So far God's shown up in the music of the evangelical church, in the people of the Baptist and Orthodox church, in the hymns of the Catholic church. Maybe next time He'll show up with a talking cat, who knows.

    I don't know exactly what I'm looking for in a church. Someplace where questions are encouraged and people love God and me.
    It'd be kinda nice if God would drop a sign and say "Here is Where You Should Attend Church Kelley," but I doubt He will (feel free to surprise me, Jesus).
   Until then, I guess I'll have to content myself with waiting and searching. Nice life lessons, I suppose.
    In retrospect, killing my darling wasn't so bad after all.