From the hearts of defectors

When I was a child, I was told a story at youth group that went something like this:

A man with a gun crashed a party, or even a church service full of youth like me. He lined the kids up, and one by one, held his gun to their foreheads and asked, his voice a raspy, hate-soaked sneer, “Are you a Christian?” Desperate for their lives, each of the kids said, “No.” And he spared them.

Until he got to the last one, however.

One more time, he asked, “Are you a Christian?”

And this brave soul, straightened her shoulders, leveled her gaze to his, and said. “Yes, I am.”

He shot her point blank, and she died. 

She chose correctly.

But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:33)

At the time that this story scorched itself into my mind, I was only about twelve years old. I was so shy I didn’t have close friends at school. I was falling in love with gymnastics. I climbed trees and wrote stories every chance I got. I earnestly wanted to be a good person, and was so afraid of growing up.

Logically, I looked to the church for cues on how to relate to the world. How to be a light.

This was just one of many traumatizing cues it provided.

This was the age that I was taught by the evangelical church that the world would hate and revile me for my faith. I began mentally preparing myself for it, to lose jobs, friends, favor, for the day a man with a gun would issue an ultimatum, and I would have to courageously proclaim my love for Christ and take a bullet to the head. Because I was taught that even as a child, to lie to a crazed radical in order to preserve my life was eternally binding, and that God who was supposedly benevolent would turn his back on me. 

Yes, Christians face very awful persecution in some parts of the world. But in the United States of America, Christiandom holds power. So much power, in fact, that we would surrender anything, our bodies, our consciences, our lives, to preserve a status quo that actively harms us just because it tells us what we want to hear. We were primed to take a victim’s posture against issues and people that are asking us to confront hard questions, and pursue justice and accountability. Under fundamentalism, I was taught humanism was dangerous, and that modern social justice movements were misguided and inappropriate. If we were in the end times as we believed, then things weren’t supposed to get better. So, when we’re called out as part of the problem, or are at least asked to participate as responsible citizens, we either dismiss it as a trick or recoil and cry religious persecution. 

I’m seeing it more and more as our political climate continues to heat up. Like popcorn going off in the skillet, we feel the tension, and we think this must be the religious persecution we were warned about all along because it loosely impacts our religious expression. Instead of being the creative, courageous people of transformative hope idolized in my childhood, we buckle under some temporary safety regulations. As if postponing mass worship services will usher in the anti-Christ. As if fellow human beings demanding fair treatment could ever be against God’s will.

I’ve been strolling the wilds outside the fences of organized Christianity long enough to find that people don’t dislike American Christians for their faith in God. They hate that Christians are such jerks about it, that they exclude and guilt and patronize people, and actively justify their flawed moral elitism as divine work, punishing the sick and the poor who don’t suit their narrative, and rejecting scientific fact to get their way. In the sociopolitical sphere, people in the outside world are afraid of us. What we’ve become, what we will do. Because we’ve already taken it this far.

We were weaponized. We’ve been divorced from our bodies, our emotions sanitized and repressed, self-policing our thoughts to perfect obedience, and somewhere deep, we expect that someday we’re going to be martyred for our beliefs even though Christianity not only controls the core power structures of this country, but is racing toward authoritarian theocracy. In other words, we are becoming the same kind of threat as the Islamic religion-state scare that evangelicalism peddled in the early 2000’s. Except we welcome this version of it, because we believe we’re objectively, unquestionably correct. And we’ve become so certain in that, we believe we have the right to force others to come to heel.

Purity culture, disembodiment, and emotional abuse among other theological failings, have traumatized my generation while programming us to defend it. We ache for accountability but are shamed out of following through, as experiences that threaten evangelicalism’s message or influence are often controlled, silenced, or discredited. We assume, as we’ve been groomed, that the problem is just with each of us. I felt alone for years in the illegal feeling deep in my soul that something wasn’t right and that the church had betrayed me.

But over time, I found language, and I found others. And my parents raised me better than to see corruption and look the other way. So here I am, drawing my line in the sand. 

On the surface, evangelical Christianity is a champion of love and grace, but mired in the cultural fabric of too many Christian spaces there are vast libraries of unwritten rules, thought binaries wrapped in barbed wires, and threats of eternal damnation for people who stray too far from the rota. The church isn’t perfect, obviously, comprised of complicated, imperfect people, and I would argue it’s normal to feel unsafe in an organization of this magnitude at least once. But let me ask, were these feelings ever resolved? Did you ever speak up about it? How was it handled? Were you lucky, and your voice was heard and change happened, or was the reaction different, putting the onus of shame on you? Your lack of faith, your overreaction. Were you asked to accept submission and then pretend everything was fine again even as the abuse continued?

Granted, this is something found just as easily outside the church, but inside the church, pushing back against oppressive social patterns is often rebuked as rebellion against God by human beings in power, whom we are taught never to question. Speaking unsafe, nuanced truth for evangelicals, then, becomes not just a social hurdle, but we find ourselves putting our eternal souls at risk.

And for people who were raised under this framework, it’s not even a thought in our minds to consider calling out the dark corners of church culture. We were born into a spiritual army, after all. Fundamentalism asked us as young as six years old to take moral responsibility for saving strangers from eternal damnation, to be prepared to become a martyr at twelve, to grow up into adults unequipped to reckon with reality because the movement was supposed to be countercultural. We feel so much fear and arrogance toward the outside world, but we push it deep where we think people can’t see, because we’re not allowed to acknowledge that we’re afraid, or that we’re not sure everything about evangelical Christianity is ethical. Doubt is a slippery slope, and we’re so afraid of sliding that we don’t stop to consider that a God worth following can withstand the steepest of doubts. 

Keeping a soft heart in a cruel world is brave and necessary. The church taught me that. The church also demonized that when it started getting too serious, when I started listening to outsiders and realized it all sounded too familiar to ignore.

We were supposed to be the example. The light. I look at evangelicalism’s posture toward the world, and the posture it forces on its followers, and I don’t see light anymore.

I have watched the church attempt to destroy my friends just for trying to be their truest selves and take seriously what the church taught about claiming a life lived fully. I have watched gaslighting, deflection, and bitterness come out of the church toward people whose authentic, lived experiences didn’t fit in with what the church preached about how to find freedom. I have heard story after story of all forms of abuse being excused and protected just because the abuser was in a position of power in the church. Little by little, I became aware that this friction, this cognitive dissonance, wasn’t normal, or even acceptable. The harder I fought to keep my place in the fold, the further I felt myself slipping. And I began to wonder, maybe the backsliders weren’t at all what I was led to believe.

Despite my sheer level of indoctrination and mental programming to serve the narrative of fundamentalist religion, I couldn’t unsee it, and my questioning, the compassion that growing up with faith had suffused me with, sapped its most insidious messages and expectations of their potency.

Young people are leaving the church in a mass exodus. I’d always heard that statistic as a lament to the depravity of the world, or the narrowness of the path, but over the last several years, I’ve found it to be a canary in the coal mine. We who have been raised in this seriously wish it could have worked out. It can be devastating to have to leave the thing that informed our entire lives. We were Christians before we even knew what that meant. It was literally wired into the structure of our brains as we grew, but even still, staying was too high a price. We felt deeply that something is so wrong with the current climate that we would rather lose the entire non-negotiable framework of our identities than continue to be poisoned by it.

We walked straight into the open desert after truth because we believed. Because it was real to us. Because no matter how committed we were, evangelicalism, fundamentalism, has failed.

If you haven’t heard the terms before, or references to the harm it has done, it’s difficult to define concisely. But ask anybody about toxic church culture, of oppressive, unwritten rules, of direct or indirect emotional abuse as it relates to doctrine or church leadership, of mishandling of mental health crises, of things people don’t feel like they’re allowed to talk about, and you’ll start to get a glimpse of the ideological powerhouse that helped create the current sociopolitical climate. 

We were part of one colossal experiment where loyalty and obedience became the bottom line. Among those who have left fundamentalism, some of us have found homes in other church denominations, others have had to leave completely for our own recovery, still others hopped directly to new dogmatic groups out of habit and have yet to find our own way. But we are all part of an urgent, ongoing conversation.

I have been afraid to openly join that conversation, because I have spent enough years watching what evangelicalism does to people who criticize it, but I’m less concerned with being accepted by it now. I hold no more loyalty to the golden calf of ideological certainty, wealth, and control that fundamentalism has passed off as God. I am so incredibly tired of watching dutifully while people I love are ushered into the furnace, or bound and gagged in the pews.

And the longer I stay silent, the longer I continue to watch compassionate, good human beings who have worked so hard to remain loyal, find themselves instead crushed under the weight of spiritual victim complexes using voices that don’t sound at all like their own, letting fear and prejudice warp their connection to their community, people who feel the tension like a lit fuse, tolerating their life waiting for the apocalypse when they could be living and working for good right this very moment. I hear whole churches parroting the propaganda of power structures that will not hesitate to snuff them out as soon as they fail to serve its agenda.

We deserve so much better. I want so much better for my family and friends, for my community. I want us to be able to show up as our entire selves, to build a place of safety. Of hope. Of life.

When did we jump from pursuing goodness and truth, to outright worshipping authority?

Evangelicalism, the brand of Christianity that holds the most power and influence right now in America, is nothing to feed or celebrate. It’s hazardous. You have been deceived, and maybe you’ve felt that all along, deep down, but power is good at pointing out a scapegoat. We, as truth-seekers, as human beings, reserve the right to reject the machinations of empire, to build a gentle, grounded faith worth embracing. Or, if the church we’re trying to save refuses to take accountability and grow, we also reserve the right to walk away altogether.

Wherever you land, whatever this piece has made you feel, I hope you can find the courage to sit with it. To examine how your deepest knowing responds, to get curious about what emotions come up, and where you hold them in your body. About how the church would actually respond if you told somebody.

I would invite you also to ask yourself: What parts of your story are you editing? 

You may find some things that don’t line up, some discrepancies whose implications scare you or fill you with grief or rage. It’s a fearsome process, full of unsafe and unsanctioned emotions, but once they’re allowed to run their course, the path to moving forward becomes clearer.

You’re not losing your mind, and you’re absolutely not alone. There are a lot of us out here doing this work, creating resources, connecting with each other, telling our stories.

Christianity provides a stellar starting point for humanism, justice, and stewardship, but in modern American culture, it has become about keeping and imposing power rather than walking with compassion and grace.

The grace to not know all the answers. To let go of the need to be right, to embrace nuance and paradox, and the vibrant, organic push and pull of what it means to be human.

Let us give ourselves the permission we’ve been waiting for.

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Growing Pains

When I was in high school, I always prayed for empathy, and I thought I understood the world perfectly:

There were us humans, created for good but with destructive tendencies.

And there was God.

The world was black and white. Right or wrong.There was a cut and dry answer to every question ever.

Homosexuality was a choice, and it was a sin.

Evolution was a stupid worldly thing that in no way existed. Like global warming.

All of the Bible was objectively, literally true and did not contradict itself whatsoever because if it did, it would delegitimize itself.

A spirit was for sure imbued at conception, and abortion needed to be illegal at all costs. (Darn that liberal agenda.)

American Christianity was the “right religion.”

I knew all the words. I believed them all.

And then college happened. Little by little, what I thought I understood at the ripe old age of 18 was dismantled. Gently, quietly.

Until it wasn’t so quiet anymore.

Halfway through my fall semester senior year, I was sitting wedged between people in the bustling meeting room of a coffee shop. Even more members were due to arrive. It was a jovial space, a safe space. We were going to talk about gender this meeting. I was still trying to feel comfortable in this group, who I sensed had grappled far more than I had, regarding far more difficult questions I still had my collection of easy answers to—although these answers were considerably more tentative than in previous years.

These people had been eschewed from the system I had previously thrived in, hidden under. I knew I had so much to learn and I was terrified of that.

About this time, the pro-life club on my private Christian university campus had made an innocent, but very negatively received mistake regarding flyers in campus bathrooms, and on this particular evening, the college students around me were freely deriding this mistake as I sat among them. I knew they didn’t mean any harm, but I froze.

What seemed so obviously naive and assumptive to them, I had just realized maybe wasn’t a good idea.

They didn’t know I hadn’t thought in depth about this yet.

And in that safe space, quietly, I didn’t feel so safe, anymore.

It wasn’t their fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault.

But in that moment, I began to understand what I was doing to myself that semester. Something necessary and terrifying and rife with sharp growing pains.

Earlier that summer I’d realized I was asexual. For those unfamiliar with the term, asexuality describes a person who does not experience sexual attraction, as separate from romantic attraction. I’d always thought I was just a late bloomer, and I faked crushes to fit in. I remained sex repulsed for most of my known life up until that point. And it was nice to find out there was a label that fit me better than the assumed one. It was like, after years of adolescent size changes, finding that one pair of jeans that fits like a miracle.

And after that realization, my point of view shifted. I understood, like a pound of concrete settling into place, that alternate sexuality was not a choice. The question of alternate sexuality vs Christianity was no longer just an intellectual topic. It was me. It was the friends who had just come out to me, as well as friends I intended to meet.

And I understood the world was not as black and white as I had presupposed. I felt it as close as my own skin.

As soon as the fall semester started, I reached out to the LGBTQ club created by students from the school; a club which, despite the invaluable support and solidarity it offered other gay and trans students at the university, hadn’t received official recognition by the university.

The leaders enthusiastically welcomed me into the fold.

Also that semester, I was taking a professional writing class, in which there was an overarching public relations project. My friends were starting up a pro-life club on campus, and they agreed to let me do some PR for them.

I sat through the meeting that night, feeling like a complete liar, and bombarded by a confused, panicky sort of shame (self-inflicted, of course). By affiliating myself with the LGBTQ club, was I somehow betraying my conservative Christian friends? And by affiliating myself with the pro-life club at the same time, was I betraying my LGBTQ friends?

I was more afraid of what the latter would think of me if they found out. These people who had endured so much hatred and fear from people like me, finding out that the dictionary illustration of a proper American Christian sat among them. Asexual but still hanging onto ideas she herself hadn’t arrived at on her own.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone.

But I’d stepped off the dock and there was no denying I’d gotten wet. I couldn’t go back. The mechanism was in motion, and I had no choice but to press forward (or shove my head in the sand but we all know that wasn’t an option).

My attendance of both groups dropped. I was too exhausted and confused to put myself through that anxiety every week, but I grappled long and hard with everything I’d thought I’d known.

I contacted one of the leaders of the LGBTQ club, a friendly political science major named Jen. I admitted my current position regarding the pre-meeting conversation the other day, and said I wanted to know more and hear what her perspective was on the issues of “pro-life vs pro-choice.” Something was off kilter and I really, truly wanted to understand.

We had a long coffee date, and as I walked back to my house on campus through the wet, leafy Oregon autumn, the framework I’d thought was impenetrable–obvious and logical and unquestionable–was breaking.

I talked to my friend who was helping lead the pro-life group, and she, too, was having doubts about how the “pro-life” movement, as it was, currently operated. We sat on a bench one afternoon in the center of campus, which was deserted for the weekend, and talked it over until we didn’t have anything else to say. Neither of us had reached any solutions, but we had at least admitted to ourselves that there were things that needed to change in the way we tackled the issues of maternal health.

I tried to apply more sensitive tactics into my PR material for the pro-life club, most of which weren’t actually used. Which was all right. It was just an assignment, and the club was still young, so it didn’t need much in the way of brochures. I have no idea how it’s doing currently, now that its founders have graduated. I hope maybe it has regrouped.

The LGBTQ club at my alma mater is still going strong, and I am very grateful to everyone who welcomed and supported me. I was asked to say a few words at the club’s graduation ceremony my very last semester, and that was extremely hard for me, since I did not feel the least bit worthy after how absent I had been. Even though I was trying to figure myself out and find some solid ground again.

Then I moved away to the San Francisco Bay Area for graduate school, effectively leaving the white-washed Christian suburban bubble of northwestern Oregon. This led to my current grappling with racism and how to help the violent racial tension in the United States, even though I grew up in a rather benign area. Being out of my home environment has considerably furthered my development into someone that may have shocked my high school self. She’d think I’d have backslid, gone completely off the deep end.

Maybe she’d despair that this version of me looks so different than she envisioned. Maybe she’d be intimidated, but I like to think she would understand, after a while.

I marvel at how much of a difference 6 years make. How a dutiful prayer has turned to genuine desire. When I was a kid, I didn’t fully understand what my pleas meant or why I made them. Only that I wanted to make the world a better place. I wanted to care. I wanted to think. I didn’t want to be left behind.

I’m pleased that this journey, for me, began on a conservative Christian university campus. The familiar space combined with all the people I had the honor to meet and speak with there was the perfect springboard into my adult life, into the deep end that grows ever deeper.

That evening in the fall semester of 2014, I began to understand what it is to be in the middle ground. What it is to think hard about things with a logical, open mind. To not be afraid of nuance and confusion and lack of answers, but to pursue empathy and compassion over being “right,” and to have the courage to show up when I am needed.

I firmly believe that if you search for truth, you will find it, and this is where my own search has led me.

And lately, I’ve been reflecting on how everything I’ve done in my life has fed very deliberately into where I am now, though I didn’t realize it while it was happening. Looking back, I can see the ties, trace the wires, and I stand amazed.

Be careful what you pray for, kids. God does not confine himself to the neat and predictable, and He may just bust your life wide open.

The Death Throes

I’m scrubbing my soul with lye.

The witching hour approaches, and I’m tired of choking on lingering spores.

On paper, it sounds so simple. The cause of the dark circles under my eyes, the heaviness of my limbs, the pain in my stomach.

I look at the synopsis. Stated so simply.

Was that it? Was that all it was?

Mere months of toxicity?

Mere mold, spreading, creeping up the walls and hanging around the human boulder on the living room floor. Fruiting bodies, releasing toxin.

Across the room, spores whispering around my head like gnats, burrowing into my skin. Rooting, spreading, suffocating. Was that all it was?

Behind my eyes, I watch the months in hyperdrive. Over and over again. Every time less raw. Less crisp, perhaps less reliable.

I was cornered because I didn’t know. Wasn’t that it?

Naivety, hope, guilt. Trying and trying, but never able to change anything.

It wasn’t my fault. Was it?

The apartment is clean now, but the embedded hyphae secrete toxin as they slowly wither away.

A red noxious film, a splotch on my heart, a craving for blood, for recompense I will never hold.

The more I want it, the more it binds me.

I gape in despair at the apparition of spores and pain and fumes. Shadows strung up like cobwebs. I thought I’d fought them all.

I thought this was finally dead.

The paper is soaked in toxin. It stings, burns, fills my mouth with bile.

The paper sees it first, in the dead of night. My creator reads over my shoulder, as the witching hour approaches.

I tell my loved ones in daylight.

I have been poisoned, and I will not hide my weakness from those that will pull me up.

The festering is dead and the hyphae are fading, but there may still be some stubborn embers.

Do not let me become what hurt me.

May this aftermath never be more than a passing sickness.

This lingering pain, the sting of antibiotic.

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A/N: It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Learned a lot of life things this year, including things about negativity and toxic people. Haven’t had the headspace to comment on them coherently, and I apologize for my recent absence on this little corner of the Internet. I hope to get back to a regular blogging schedule soon (one that will also be compatible with my soon-to-begin school year.) Thanks for bearing with me!

America the Broken

I am so incredibly heartbroken and disgusted by what has happened in the last few days. Brutal, unapologetic rapists get a 3 month prison sentence, a young rising singer loved by everyone who knew her murdered in a senseless act of violence, and then I wake up this morning to learn about the horror what went down in Orlando.

And I don’t have words. Certainly not civil ones.

All year, we’ve been hearing “Make America Great Again!!” along with “It’s ______’s fault.” The immigrants, the gays, the Muslims…etc etc etc. Things aren’t the way they used to be, and we are freakin’ uncomfortable with that.

But what happened to the still small voice of love in our hearts, against which everything is weighed and compared, which helps guide our responses and actions? Are we listening to the small, scared voice of our comfort zones instead?

I do not feel safe in my country and that has not always been the case, simply because I did not used to know what horrors awaited me in the real world. The kind of Great America that too many of us are hoping for does not exist, and it will not be solved by any one presidential candidate. Pining after such an illusion is like obsessing over the golden days of childhood—the blissful ignorance of privilege we simply cannot afford to entertain anymore. People are suffering, people are dying. What kind of modern, development-oriented society are we that allows this? Since the dawn of forever, the marginalized have been silenced, and now that they have fought and sacrificed and paid very dearly for the most basic of introductory footholds to make their voices heard, how dare we not listen. How dare we push them away and whine for the good ol’ days so we can ignore reality and sit in our cozy privilege and look after only ourselves and our posh, 2-dimensional ideas? 

The more I see of our downward spiral and notice the patterns in our history, the more I think perhaps America has never been “great.” We have used our power and wealth to meddle and abuse for as long as we’ve had the means. We are proud to be a melting pot, but at the same time, we stand on the bodies of the peoples we exploited to make our country what it is and continue to exploit them. We have sanitized and domesticated and commercialized ourselves and our ideas to a point that, quite frankly, no longer looks human to me, and our modern worshipping of firearms and status quo has led to the caustic, systemic plague of violence and hate exploding all around us.

And amidst all this horror and pain, how dare we think self-preservation is worth the monstrosities we are permitting?

Love is the greatest weapon against hate. It is a compass, a counterbalance. But faith without action is dead. Making this life count requires something of us, and if we want to do good in this world, it will not be from the tiny boxes we’ve decided are big enough.

The American Dream is over. It’s time to wake up.

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A/N: I’ve kept my wrath to myself the last few months. I may just be one young, angry voice. But something needs to change, and I will add mine to the call.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Today I was surprised to wake up and find out about what happened in the United States Supreme Court this morning.

It seemed quiet to me, for such a big decision. But perhaps that’s just because I don’t live near any big cities.

But by now, the noise is beginning to grow. Much celebration, much dissent.

I am optimistic, and excited for my friends. Even though this came about perhaps a little more forcefully for comfort government-wise, and even though this sparks a variety of other questions and concerns for the future, I sincerely hope this is the beginning of something better.

I hope we will be able to treat each other with so much more grace than we have been. This won’t work well without it. In fact, not being able to love each other will kill our country far faster than redefining traditions ever will.

We don’t necessarily have to agree. With such a diversity of experiences, that’s just not possible. But let’s not demonize or silence each other. Let’s not hurt each other to make a point, or cheer on the ones that do. (Looking at both sides, here.)

Love wins. Christians believe that more fervently than anyone else I’ve ever met. Let’s have a little more faith in it.

Opinions aside, let’s make this a positive mark in the history books.

Speaking up

I care far too much of what people think of me, and perhaps this post is one of the first public manifestations of a long string of minor subterranean adjustments. That finally I am willing to bare my soul on this subject, knowing full well that people will read this and will disagree, and may feel compelled to tell me in no uncertain terms.

To that, I say I hate arguing. I refuse to engage in a passive aggressive Facebook-comment-esque fight over politics and ideologies. But I do want you to think. To extend a possibility that some of you might not have considered.

I only ask that you make no quick judgments as you read this. Not for my sake, but for yours, and for the sakes of the marginalized. For this whole battle of technicalities we are engaged in, which is pulling us further and further from the real focus.

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Society is changing. Some aspects for the worse, and some for the better.

I personally consider the feminist and LGBTQ movements to be among the better.

Why?

Because, man or woman, straight or otherwise, we are people. Human beings. As a culture, we are moving to find and embrace whatever we are, whoever we are. To get to know ourselves and assert our value despite being misunderstood. We do not fit in a preconceived box or align well with dominant culture. And that is valid. We are valid. Because God says we are.

Believing it for ourselves is harder, though, and that is why I think the major social movements of our era are so incredibly important.

Because God cannot be contained in a box. Should not His people also transcend boxes?

But we are warned about being like the world. Left to our own devices, humans tend toward destructive behavior and we must not compromise ourselves and blend in too much with the dominant culture. But, to some degree, sanitized, Christian, evangelical culture has become like a secondary dominant culture.

And the dominant cultures are still unaccepting of marginalized groups (which isn’t a new phenomenon). We still tend toward forming sanitized, gated communities and wondering why the outliers are so averse to that. We get so stuck in our ways of thinking and doing things that we get too comfortable and stick to what we know, to the detriment of those our systems don’t take into account.

But where is the line between compromising our moral standards and being even remotely relatable to real people? How much is our in-group mindset and how much of the alternative are we better off embracing?

Isn’t lifting people’s spirits good? Isn’t convincing them they matter good? Isn’t it good to fight against cultural and racial and ideological barriers that tell people they should be who they clearly are not, and whose persistent denial is serving no productive purpose?

That is not to say we are to baby people and only tell them what they want to hear. Because that isn’t loving. That’s lame and patronizing, and counterproductive. I’m not saying we should avoid setting people straight when necessary. But we must really think hard about what we’re trying to set straight and decide before we hurt someone whether it is something that really needs to be fixed.

“What feels right” is a term scorned by the conservative, evangelical community I grew up in. But there’s a lot of truth in it. “What feels right” is a valid starting place. Follow your heart, your head. But follow God. He’ll work with you in the spots He’s not cool with.

Learn, grow, keep an open mind. Dare to be wrong for a little while in search for what’s really true. Because I know for a fact that God is very much not cool with stagnancy and marginalization.

But am I getting desensitized? Desensitized to the blatant depravity of the world and its devices? Buying a lie? Slipping to the dark side?

The Holy Spirit lives in me. God guides me, and watches out for me. And right now, I see our sticking to our guns—our conservative, men and women have their places, gays will tear the world apart mentalities—as doing so much more harm than good. It is divisive, and smells too much of “I know your place. Here, let me put you in it.”

The territory’s uncertain, so of course we’d be apprehensive, but we’ve come a long way as a species. And maybe the world will come to ruin. In fact, unless drastic intervention takes place, I believe it will.

Because I see the signs everywhere:

Violence, dehumanization, objectification, and abuse.

No desire to understand, no empathy, no selflessness. No care, no time,

Addiction, destructive sexual habits, destructive relationships.

Unspeakable things done to other human beings out of greed.

Ignorance, arrogance, spite, entitlement, exploitation of the defenseless.

I don’t see self-acceptance, validation, empowerment, protection, or equality fitting into that list.

Anywhere.

If anything, the very social movements I see pushback against are in part solutions to the problem—persistent humanization and validation of people as people, and support as they search, as we all are, for our identity.

In my ignorance, I once invalidated the very people I now defend. And I regret it. I pray that I never do that again. That I never be the person to tell someone their feelings and experiences are invalid.

I pray that I will be open-minded, patient, flexible, and brave. That I will be able to distinguish the key components of my moral compass at all times—that God’s business is God’s business, and love trumps absolutely everything.

I pray that we not become, or remain, “Pharisees,” freaking out about doctrine and technicalities so much that we miss the point and reduce people to mere problems. To poor, misguided souls.

I follow God. The wild, confusing, benevolent, persistent God.

I believe technicalities are not nearly as important as a person, and I will always do my best to keep my current biases and prior conceptions out of the way.

I believe the push for gender equality is so incredibly necessary. For the sake of everybody, not just women.

I believe the LGBTQ community needs to be welcomed, respected, and embraced. They are not a threat to the world order, or to the human race. In fact, we could learn so many things from them about honesty, identity, courage, and self-acceptance.

I believe the American church has some wires disconnected, but that they are beginning to reconnect. I believe we can repair this ostracization.

I believe that men and women are different only in genetics—and the physicality and hormones that arise from that—but that the differences have no bearing whatsoever in their roles as human beings. Biologically male or female or in between, we can be whatever the heck we want to be.

I don’t doubt I have more to learn. I will have more to learn until the day I die and then some, but for now I don’t want to be right.

I want to be real. I want to be useful and nurturing and understanding.

Because maybe all those prayers that this generation would open up their eyes are working.

+

I know for some this must be extremely uncomfortable to read. By now, you may be feeling an odd twisting inside your chest, a direct challenge to what you thought was cut-and-dry, a discomfort with the subject and a temptation to retreat and hold to what you’ve already figured out. I have felt it many many times along this journey. We just want things to be black and white, right and wrong—but there are far too many factors rendering such simplicity impossible.

So thank you for making it to the end of this piece. Even if you ultimately don’t agree with what I have said, I appreciate your time, attention, and your willingness to think about this.

Because in such a revolutionary time, there can be no complacency.

There can be no “us” vs. “them.”

Bitter

Bats fluttered above the amphitheater.

The two dark figures rose and wheeled, dipping in and out of the trees in the dying light–so close I could almost see their faces as I tipped my own toward the sky.

I stood among hundreds of my classmates. Feeling alone in the crowd, I fought the unidentified emotion tugging at the back of my throat as I sang.

Every word uttered with the music translated to a repeated, burning question.

            Why, God? Why do I feel this way?

Because it was still just the Saturday before school started and I was already overwhelmed. Disillusioned. Angry.

I had little to no interest in meeting new people, of “putting myself out there,” of participating and pressuring myself to go along with everything because I’d be hiding in my room otherwise. But it hadn’t really mattered during the summer, because I spent half of it in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona, and the other half on a relatively deserted campus crunching numbers.

But now, here were my peers, all showing up in excitement and enthusiasm, looking forward to a great year with their friends. Families had helped their loved ones move in. Couples strolled around campus with fingers interlaced. The air was filled with a stifling amount of high spirits and enthusiasm.

Not like I’m a grump and I hate that sort of thing, but it certainly felt a little sand-paper-esque to me.

I had grown accustomed to emptiness and moderate seclusion, partially from my summer exploits, and also because of the fact that the two-story house serving as my on-campus housing this year remained mostly inhabited for a good two weeks before anyone other than myself and my roommate moved in.

An altar call was issued that night in the amphitheater. The instructions were simple. We could make an origami fortuneteller with the provided paper and instructions we received upon arrival, and write inside it what we felt we needed to lay down. To let go.

I sat turbidly on a layer of concrete set in the grass, my back a little sore from standing and sitting upright for the duration of the sermon. I contemplating not having anything to do with the altar call. I wasn’t going to follow along with this. To let myself be inspired to press in, get closer. Again and again I have scoured my soul, searching for what’s wrong, taking everyone’s word as exactly what I needed in the moment I heard it. For years I have done this. Endless repetitions of playing along.

I know something specific is broken these days, but I’m still not sure what.

And I didn’t want to be taught to anymore. I didn’t want to hear a sermon and every single time agree wholeheartedly, to internalize and soul-search and aspire to follow the advice and figure out how I can apply what I heard like Christians typically do.

I wanted to leave as soon as the music stopped, but out of courtesy and an aversion to attracting attention to myself, I stayed through the message.

And when it came time to perform the altar call, I scowled inside, reached over, and grabbed one of the crayons provided. If I couldn’t think of anything, I wouldn’t write anything, simple as that. I wanted to be honest with myself, so I would be honest. Even if it felt like succumbing to a game.

Three words came to mind. Three words I had hoped weren’t actually the things plaguing my aching soul. But they came to mind, so I gruffly shoved my pride behind me. Broodingly, I picked apart the fortuneteller until I found its center, and wrote them down:

 

Bitterness

Cynicism

Fear

 

I’ve been justifying bitter feelings for quite a while. I just never pictured myself as a bitter person, and I loathed to think that I was capable of bitterness. Or that cynicism could truly start to turn dangerous. And fear—that’s always there, isn’t it? Just when I think I’m doing relatively well, fear seeps up through the floorboards like acid.

So those words have appeared, but I still don’t quite know what’s broken. I don’t understand why certain things that shouldn’t hurt still elicit a sharp stab when I encounter them. Why I still feel alone when I know I’m not. Why I run.

But since that night, though I’ve been frustrated, fatigued, and angry over the course of the first week of classes, though I still feel the chronic stabs, while I’m surrounded by droves of new faces, I feel something’s changed.

Not sure what that is, either. Perhaps I’ll never know, but for some reason I’m coming back.

Tentatively, warily, I’m coming back.

Doubt

A couple months ago, I saw the Heaven is for Real trailer in theaters, and it brought tears to my eyes. Not from joy, nor expectation, nor from an overwhelming sense of goodness.

Instead, the sudden, surge of emotion pulling at my ribcage came of desperation.

Most Christians, I imagined, should have been getting chills of excitement to see such an inspirational story become a full-length movie that will probably reach millions, spreading the truth about God. To see Christianity boldly permeating the highly competitive film industry. Perhaps I should have reveled in the anticipation of a strong story of hope and reconciliation.

But it was with a deep sense of grief that I watched the wholesomeness flash across the screen.

I had read an article earlier that afternoon. Honey Grahams had released a commercial involving diverse types of families, including a homosexual couple. And, as with any controversial subject, they received quite a bit of flack for it. So they decided to turn the hateful comments into something beautiful. In a subsequent video, a couple of artists took all the negative comments printed out on pieces of paper, rolled them up, and stood them up to arrange them into the word “Love.” This word, then, was surrounded by a sea of all the positive feedback they had received, which, rolled up and stood on end like the previous words, took up almost the rest of the floor around the word “Love.” The main component of families, they argued, is love.

I was inspired that they could respond so gracefully to the hate.

But then I made the mistake of reading the comments, and the hatred there blew my mind. Hatred toward homosexuals, hatred toward Christians. The caustic discourse just continued on and on, and anyone who tried to step in was chewed out and the argument began anew.

I have seen this trend on tumblr as well. The shift from pushing so hard for acceptance of the trans that people have started to hate the cis. And Christianity has come under fire for being overbearing, traditionalist, and judgmental, supposedly leading the charge in resisting this area of civil justice.

Christians haven’t had a spotless history. Take the Crusades and the Inquisition, for example. We have a reputation for being narrow-minded, judgmental, and hypocritical, and we as a group are often hated for it. Yes, we are human. Everyone struggles, but the sheer amount of judgment and pride that goes on in the church, and the almost venomous secular response against the evangelical, conservative Christian ideals screamed in my face, and I felt I had been stabbed.

What happened to love, I wondered. How have we let this happen?

Where is the line between fudging ideals and being accepting? Are we taking verses out of context or being too literal?

Ultimately, relationship with God is what matters. If a personal choice doesn’t hinder their relationship with God, I’m not going to nit-pick it.

So I commend Honey Graham’s audacity, and I think Heaven is for Real looks like a ridiculously fascinating movie and I want to see it. But it is infuriatingly apparent that both sides of the social change discussion obviously have many prejudices to get over.

As for me, I’m only certain of a few things:

I dislike overbearing traditionalism and hoop-jumping.

I hate arguing (which is why I would make a horrible debater and I avoid opinionated political discussions like the plague…).

I never want to be the one to tell a fellow human being that their feelings, struggles, and victories are invalid.

God is mysterious and unpredictable and if we think we understand something, we don’t.

And finally, that God is loving. So I will love.