Friday, January 31, 2014

7 Quick Takes

This is totally a first-world problems post, by the way. Basically just getting some shit out of my system.

Netflix: Why did you take away King of the Hill?

I started watching KOTH on Netflix waaaayyy after it was completed, and I fell in love. I'd avoided it because I have bad memories of catching an episode of Beevus and Butthead at an impressionable age, so I avoided anything by the same creator (Mike Judge). I was so wrong. This show is so amazing, so witty, so full of heart, so character-driven. I could write love ballads to this show - at least about seasons 1-5. Because in the middle of my feverish catching up, I logged on only to find it was gone, poof! Just like that, no warning. For a few minutes I wondered if life was even worth living. Also, this show is, bar-none, the hardest to find on the internet. Why can't I just get free TV shows that are off the air at the touch of a button? It's so unfair.

My mom talked to me on the phone last night about the Atlanta "snow storm." She was shocked that I hadn't heard about it. I refrained from saying that people in other parts of the country don't keep tabs on which Southern cities got a light dusting of snow and freaked out about it. (That said, yes, it was very tragic how a totally-preventable catastrophe happened because no prep-work was done. But really. Two inches people.)

On the other hand, I remember what it was like to know nothing about snow/ real winter. The first time I traveled "up north" (i.e. above North Carolina) I asked my then-boyfriend what the big mounds of white stuff were. The answer "salt" told me nothing. 

Some women get confidence from wearing dresses and skirts, and that's great. I affirm you! (Not that it matters, you're an adult, carry on). Apparently I'm not one of those women. I hate buying pants so much that I avoided it until reality hit: it's 9 degrees outside, and I only skirts to wear to work. Not OK. Thankfully the pants gods were smiling on me and I found a pair at TJ Maxx in record time. And lo and behold, it was life-changing! I felt so much more productive at work the next day, probably because I could move around without worrying that I'd flash somebody.

Speaking of modesty, I am radically relative about it. The whole hand-wringing, angsty "will some man stumble because my knees are showing" attitude is the epitome of wasted time. Seriously, it is the definition of meaningless. There are men with fetishes for everything, and no way am I spending a second of my time trying to read their minds. And for goodness' sake stop judging people at church based on their clothes. You have no idea what kind of day they're having that prompted the stained shirt and jeans, and it's none of your business. 

That little rant changed nothing, but damn I feel better now. 

One realization I had recently is that I deserve to exist. I'm the woman who apologizes when someone else steps on my toes on the metro. Why? Because someone needs to apologize, and if no one else does then I fill in the void. But I'm realizing just how messed up that is. I actually do deserve to exist, to take up space, to eat. Isn't it amazing how we women can be pro-life about everyone else except ourselves?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Apparently teenagers aren't people...

... At least not in the eyes of the Washington D.C. government.

Washington, like a few other cities, guarantees shelter for the homeless when the temperature falls below freezing. In practicality it doesn't always work out, and some homeless people decide they would rather stay outside than go to the shelters, but in general it's a good policy.

However, homeless teenagers apparently don't count as part of the homeless population when it comes to shelter. The law guarantees shelter for families with children and for adults ages 18 and older. But if you're a homeless person on your own between the ages of 12-17? Sorry, that law doesn't apply to you.

This is not mere oversight: this is purposeful. Last December, the Interagency Council on Homelessness voted down a proposal by homelessness advocates that would ensure hypothermia shelter for people ages 12-17 without a family. They say that it is the job of Child and Family Services, which in turn defers responsibility to the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, which is simply not in the business of housing homeless teens.

Until last year (right in time for winter storms) the city funded Sasha Bruce house which provided shelter to teens. However, after funding was cut, none of the city agencies were willing to accept responsibility. This is also purposeful. As the director of CFS said to the Washington Post, "We found that the better practice was to stabilize the child with the family and bring counseling services to the family" rather than "encourage youths to run away."

Balderdash. Yes, that is the ideal situation. However, there are families which cannot be put back together with state-mandated counseling. There are teenagers who simply are not safe at home, for a variety of reasons. There are gay teenagers who are thrown out on the streets by their parents. And there are teens who break away from their families because they want to reduce the family's financial burden.

Moreover, those who work with homeless teens say that it's like pulling teeth to get them to accept help of any kind, mostly due to shame and embarrassment. Dropping funding for shelters isn't going to encourage teens to go back to home. What it will (and does) encourage is groups of teenagers squatting in abandoned buildings in the midst of violence, prostitution, and drugs. And freezing to death of course.

Check out the whole article. On a positive note, I am deeply in awe of Dan Davis who runs the only shelter for teens left in town. The work he does is amazing, and he is a real hero for reaching out to those whom the city has forgotten.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Being a body

Part of the baggage I carry from fundamentalism/ fearful groups is the idea of spirit or soul over body. On the one hand, we believe that Jesus was a human and rose from the dead, but we didn't talk about the body in a positive light nevertheless. The emphasis was not on matter at all, for specific historical reasons.

* On another day I'll get all intellectual and shit and talk about those reasons, and the theology of spirit over matter. Today is not that day. Today is a day in which I will ramble, and hopefully some of it will make sense.*

As I went deeper into puberty, it became clear to me that women would not have created an anti-matter theology. We can't, because we can never forget our bodies. The Cartesian "I think therefore I am" (which has done so, so much damage) would never have crossed our minds. That's because women are constantly reminded of our bodies, whether we like it or not. The man can, perhaps, forget that he is first and foremost a body, and that his thoughts and body are intricately connected. The woman can't - not for long. If she tries, her body will force her to remember, and not always in pleasant ways.

Last year was/ is painful for me, mainly because that was the year my body said enough.

One day I hit my head. Two months earlier I started on new medication for mis-diagnosed bipolar 2 disorder. I don't know what caused what. All I know is that in April of last year my body took over. 

It is difficult to explain what it's like to loose your mind. We use it as a euphemism for many things, but what is it like when the mind is lost? Where does it go, and how can one get it back?

It came to a head one day in April when I had a psychotic breakdown. This is also a euphamism. Unfortunately, those of us who truly experience it can report little, by its very nature. I remember talking to a co-worker and noticing that his voice was coming through a tunnel, that the words were no longer making linguistic sense, and that my vision was blurry. I remember being in my manager's office, sitting on the floor knees to chest, sobbing. I remember my husband picking me up at work and hailing a taxi. I remember clinging to the rails outside the ER and screaming. And my next memory is being in a wheelchair at the triage desk, getting a bracelet around my wrist and the cacophony of voices. I remember that the nurse was exquisitely tender and compassionate. I remember being taken immediately back, that I was afraid of the big double doors that swung open, that every bump sent a jolt through my body. I don't remember taking off my clothes or receiving a hospital gown, but I remember wearing it. I remember my laughter, my high-pitched hysterical laughter interspersed with sobs. I remember that the man one partition over kept saying "nobody loves me" over and over again, and I wanted to help him. I told my husband we should go over there and tell him yes, I love you, it will be OK. I remember being interviewed by 2 ER docs, and the man asking me if I wanted to harm myself or others. I remember, clear as a bell, saying that I did not want to hurt myself, but that a few minutes ago I wanted to punch the female doctor. I remember being wheeled away for a CT-scan which came back negative. I remember a nurse telling me it was negative and said "isn't that good news?" And I thought "what about that is good news? That just means I have no fucking clue what just happened to me." The diagnosis was "anxiety." The patient education packet suggested that I try deep breathing and positive thinking. "Do you ever feel anxious? Maybe you're going through a hard time at school or work...."

A few weeks later I had an EEG. That was kind of fun actually, because they put all these electric nodes on your head. My husband took a picture that's hysterical. It showed "slight abnormalities conclusive with a mild to moderate concussion."

Most of last year is a blur to me. At the end of the week when talking to my mom, she would ask what days I made it to work. I was unable to remember. I had a list by the door that said "REMEMBER: did you brush teeth? Shower? Take meds? Do you have: keys, debit card, license, wallet, metro card, office building card, cell phone? Did you charge your cell phone or have a charger with you?" I wrote this list after despairing that I would be able to walk out the door without forgetting 2-3 of those things.

And for funsies, my ability to self-edit disappeared. I said things to people that I can never take back - not mean things necessarily, but completely inappropriate things. I had a bad reaction to Xanex which made me seem like a cross between a toddler and a drunk. Perhaps it's a blessing that I have forgotten a lot, because I don't particularly want to remember in detail all the panic attacks. I already remember things I wish I could forget. I remember staring at a stapler at work, wondering how it functioned. I remember saying words that rhymed with the word I wanted, and being unable to say what exactly I meant. I know that my worst personality traits were exacerbated and, because of my inability to censor, everyone suddenly knew about them.

The control freak couldn't control her own mind, and the fear exhibited itself in interesting ways.

It got better: I got off the terrible medication, and I got a better diagnosis. My memory has slowly been healing, and I can "use my words" again. My ability to function has improved.

But my body didn't forget.

Sometimes my body reminds me that there is so much from my past that has not been dealt with.

I don't know what happened last year. I don't know why my brain is still struggling to heal, or even what it's healing from. I don't know how to keep my mind from spinning into sudden panic attacks - all I have now is medication (wonderful meds, without which I couldn't go to work), and certain coping mechanisms. And this blog, writing down my thoughts, has been amazing.

And yet, it's not enough. My body will not be ignored.

One thing people don't talk about much is how much anxiety and panic - or any issue with the mind - affects the body. For one thing, we still don't know, and science is still uncovering the fascinating ways that the body and mind (if the mind is even a separate thing!) are connected. I know that when the medication chemistry is off, that I change in drastic ways, and that being off medication is not an option. And my background, my toxic beliefs about mental illness, the societal stigma attached, doesn't help. But thanks to my body I have to face it head-on. I have to recognize that even on a good day my muscles tense up in all areas of the body, so that at the end of the day I'm exhausted. I have to recognize that I can't play "mind over matter" anymore.

So my plan for Lent is different from the usual. Typically one hears about using Lent to "overcome" the body: to show the flesh who's boss. In some spiritualities the flesh is not always connected with the body per se, but with sins. But let's be real: we Christians have some serious baggage when it comes to being a body, living in the flesh, accepting that bodies are good, accepting that Jesus was an infant who breastfed and pooped and needed the comforting body of His mother.

I can't be Cartesian anymore, and neither can my theology. So this Lent will be learning how to be a body: how to give my body the activity and exercise it desperately needs, to learn how to listen to my body's needs instead of shutting them down, to avoid harming my body. To let the body tell my mind to listen for once. And maybe, to accept my body in its own proportions, with all its quirks.

Friday, January 24, 2014

7 Quick Takes: Down with Time Management

If I never see those two words put together ever again it won't be too soon. There are people who are good at time management, and you know who you are. You were the kindergartener who carried a mini-hole puncher so you could always fit your work papers into a notebook. In high school you had 18 gazillion volunteer hours and were the head of this committee and that club. And now you're the teacher who has the best classroom on the hall, or the mom who color coordinates her children's towels. You were not the kindergartener who glued her hair to the desk in an attempt to do "artwork." Can we just admit that this is a genetic thing? Some are born with it. The rest of us need to relax. Here's how. (The Dilbert cartoons are not necessarily germane to the conversation, but I like Dilbert).

Never look at Pinterest, or Simple Magazine. Or any magazines marketed to women.

These things create problems that didn't exist. Maybe you were happily living your life when you decided to take a peek on Pinterest. Before you know it, there's a pin on "how to hold your sponge so it drains." You did not realize that this was a problem, mainly because the sponge is hidden under the sink-full of dishes. But now you know, and you can never go back. This is why your entire house will be a wreck while you're busy trying to make the "sponge holder."

Do something unorthodox for Lent

Can taking naps on my desk during lunch hour count as a Lenten discipline? I'd call it "quieting the mind."

If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.

 Repeat after me: the mommy bloggers need never see your house

Tell me why it's a problem again?

If this is genetic, then it must have evolutionary purpose. Maybe while the organizers were dividing the bones by animal-type in the cave, the others were out getting shit done. Those wildebeests aren't going to spear themselves.

Don't take a damn bit of this advice, or any other advice, if you don't want to

Because you're not me. I'm just some fool on the internet that you've never met. For all you know I could be living in my mama's basement eating Cheetos all day, so what makes me knowledgeable? It's your life, with your problems, and don't let someone else make you feel lesser for a second. Especially not for something stupid like sponge holders.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Mama Knows Honeychild - about being pro-life

Please pop over and read Heather's most recent post "Acting Like a Jerk Won't Save Any Babies." Her blog is completely made of awesome, but this post just hit me in the gut. Everyone who is pro-life should read this - or shoot, if you're pro-choice too. Especially if, like me, you've never been in a crisis pregnancy and don't know from personal experience what it's like.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Help those suffering hypothermia

Outside my window I see all the snow falling, and it is beautiful. I am privileged: I live in a comfy apartment with working heat and electricity, and I have enough food to keep us going. My job is an office job which closes on schedule with the DC federal government weather closures, which means I did not have to brave the elements at all. As I type, coffee is brewing, and I'm still in my PJs.

I'm writing primarily to other privileged folk: those with extra money or time or both. This is individual and subjective, by the way. Some folks feel the pinch because they struggle to pay off their mortgage, while some of us think "but you have a mortgage!" We have this thing called the poverty line, but it's not terribly accurate. My husband and I were definitely under that line until recently, but we managed because of the goodness of other people, namely his school. Our lives did not look at poverty, and I didn't consider us "poor" - just broke. Many people are broke right now; it's a big club. Moreover, it's not all about money. You can't measure suffering.

But you can chose whether to look away or not.

As a Christian, I have the daunting and impossible responsibility to love my neighbor as myself, but what does that look like? Maybe it starts by acknowledging the suffering of others and choosing to be by their side. God doesn't require special skills, thankfully. He calls introverts who would rather read than serve at a soup kitchen. None of us are off the hook; we just all have different parts to play.

Right now, there are millions of people suffering. But that doesn't mean much does it? A number is one thing; a face is another. My friend Kathy (name changed) might be suffering on the street today, braving the cold, unless she was able to gain $35 from panhandling yesterday for a hostel. My friend Jennifer (name changed) might be going hungry because all her teeth were pulled out, so it's hard to eat the food provided at food pantries. Many may turn back to cocaine because damn it, wouldn't you turn to something, anything, to forget the pain of exposure during a snow storm? Many are packed like sardines into city shelters where their belongings are stolen and they risk assault; or they may decide that the cold at least won't steal their blankets. The choices for the homeless are few, and all come with price tags.

One way to help, especially if you live in or near a city, is to volunteer with church hypothermia shelters. In DC, Georgetown Ministry Center works with local churches who are willing to act in hospitality: to open their doors for a week and provide dinner and a warm place to sleep. Their number is (202) 347-8870 if you feel called to help. They need volunteers to prepare meals, eat and socialize with the clients, and (males only) sleep overnight. I highly encourage volunteering in a capacity that allows you to just sit and chat, for your own benefit.

Perhaps your city or town does something similar? If so, please consider volunteering in whatever capacity you are able. If not, talk to some people about what it would take to get one started, or what other creative means can be used. And remember: these are not nameless homeless. They have names, histories, families - many themselves are children and teenagers. They are human beings loved by God, and they deserve our love and respect as equal citizens of His kingdom.

Monday, January 20, 2014

2014 Booklist Link-up

First of all, thank you Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas for hosting. I found a number of beautiful blogs through this particular link up, and it was very interesting to read the variety - and I got some good titles!

Before I go into the list, let me second what Haley said about grace, except I'm going to underline it, circle it, and put smiley-face stickers around it. Here's reality for me: in May (date unknown) we will be moving several states away - state known, specific location unknown. Lord willing, my husband will be ordained as a priest, and will be able to find work. And if the Lord is even more gracious, perhaps I can find work as well. So in a matter of months we will have: my husband graduating from seminary, his (probable) ordination to the deaconate followed by his (probable) ordination to the priesthood, with a big 12-hour move, and job changes for both of us, and no real way to prepare as of yet. I have to laugh because otherwise I'd go insane. Besides, we're both used to high-stress; it's just how we roll.

All that to say, my idea of a book list for 2014 is less about how can I edify my mind and more about how can I escape the insanity and keep from stabbing strangers.

I plan to reread:

This is a beautiful, haunting children's book about dreams that defies description. I read it in grad school as part of a class on children's literature collections for public libraries. Highly recommended for any age.

And to also reread:

I read this in high school, and it's really the kind of book you need to pick up about once every decade. And it's been a decade, so here we go.

Also, to read these books by favorite bloggers:


And if I'm emotionally stable enough:

This last might be too triggering for me, or it could be a wonderful emotional release. Which is why I won't try until we're successfully moved.

Also, to continue grazing on the gems in these two marvelous but very different books:

Though perhaps I should look into a book on web design and how to line up images in a blog post....

Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Baptist school vs. the movie Saved

When I heard that a movie was being made with Mandy Moore about a Christian evangelical school, I was fascinated. As someone who went to a Southern Baptist school from K-5 through 12th grade, I could do my own movie if I wanted to. So naturally when the movie came out on DVD, my fellow survivors and I settled in with pizza and beer to see how "realistic" it was.

The movie Saved is a satire, sometimes good, sometimes
awkward, about evangelical Christian
Nowhere are those wings considered cool
subculture. And that subculture is ripe for satire. We're talking about bookstores that sell "Testamints" for crying out loud. Unfortunately, Saved is more of an outsider's perspective looking in, and as such lacks bite. The movie forgot that Christian students are still teenagers - if they want to gossip about someone's sexual orientation, that gossip will look very similar to viscous gossip at a public school. My very Christian peers didn't need a prayer group to rip someone's reputation apart. Mandy Moore's character rang particularly false to me, and some of her lines grated on the ears due to their sheer unreality. The well-meaning but clueless Pastor Skip, on the other hand, was brilliantly drawn and acted. The "cool and a little rebellious pastor's kid" is a stereotype but a realistic one, and his embarrassment at his father's attempts to be "hip" was hilarious. And who can forget the antics of Pastor Skip during his "G-o-d is in the house" intro to the school's chapel service? The movie was at its best when skewering the fact that Baby Boomer style "Christian rock" and the like are about as hip as Precious Moments.

As we watched the movie I kept noting things that seemed completely inauthentic to my experience of evangelical subculture. "They would have a picture of Reagan, not Bush," I told my husband (then fiance). And we all laughed at the idea of "Christian yoga." With few exceptions, the people we grew up with thought yoga was a New Age cult, not an exercise form that could be Christianized.

"But you didn't grow up in an evangelical subculture," my fiance reminded me. "You grew up in a  fundamentalist subculture."

I was a little taken aback by that (a big part of my identity was that I emphatically was not fundamentalist). One can argue all day long about what Christian fundamentalism is, but he had a point. The school I attended, while affiliated strongly with the Southern Baptist convention, had shades of Independent Fundamentalist Baptist running through it, not to mention fundamentalism in a broader sense. The evangelicalism in Saved is a different animal.

Where I went to school we used KJV (King James Version) only until I was in middle school - then we progressed to the New King James. I count it a point of pride that I managed (with everyone else in my 3rd grade Bible class) to memorize Hebrews 11 in the King James Version with all the thees and thous. (Look it up - the chapter is massive and has a lot of names. To this day I have no idea why we had to memorize the whole thing).

Our curriculum was either Bob Jones University Press or Pensacola Christian (A Beka). Both are flagship fundamentalist Baptist institutions, and both have a history of spiritual abuse of their students. I'll do a post later on how Pensacola "science" textbooks handicapped us in that area, because it's worth its own post. It wasn't just Creation science though: the vitriol infested everything. Our grammar sentences to diagram were things like "Liberal Christians are like modern-day Saducees because they deny the resurrection." Among other things, we learned that:

A+ in brainwashing
- Jesus drank grape juice, not real wine- Catholics were not really Christian
- For that matter, only a tiny percentage of Christians were really Christian
- Baptism only counts if it's immersion of someone who can make a "believer's baptism."
- True Christians believe that God created the world in literal 24 hour days. We never thought to wonder why Genesis has two creation stories, or what it might mean poetically.
- When Jesus came back, those who "believed" would be raptured, while those who did not would suffer for 7 years in the tribulation. During that time, the Holy Spirit would be removed from the Earth, yet somehow new Christians would be born again. That mechanism was never explained.
- There is nothing we can learn from "false religions" because Jesus is the only way to the Father. There was no understanding that other people groups could discover truth unless white people (um, I mean missionaries) taught them.

Different book, but we had this one too

The curriculum understood that stories are one of the best means of brainwashing. I still remember a "chapter book" created by A Beka or BJU in which a little pioneer girl has to cope with her father (a widower) remarrying and their move to a new home. The book had promise, actually - the daughter clearly had a mind of her own and an independent spirit. But of course, this independence was rebellion against God. The most hysterical part of the book was where she joined a square dancing team in town. Now, fundamentalist Baptists are still anti cards, dancing, etc. But in this text they were more subtle. The girls' father and other men determined that dancing was against their Baptist faith and had it disbanded, a sort of "Footloose on the Prairie." The girl was bitter for a time, until she realized that she hadn't been doing her nightly prayers because she was so absorbed in preparing for the next dancing get-together. Quite a move, A Beka - you taught that men are natural leaders, that religion should rule the state, that dancing is wrong, and that hobbies are suspect, all in one go.

Some day I'll have to do a deconstruction of this curriculum, but I think it'd give me nightmares right now.

Our school followed suit by having "no dance" proms and homecoming "banquets," which is just as lame as it sounds. For some reason the cheerleaders were allowed to shake it; on the other hand, we couldn't play "We Will Rock You" at basketball games because it "promoted homosexuality." When my eleventh grade teacher wanted us to read The Great Gatsby, all the "bad words" had to be covered in white out. This had the opposite intended effect, since everyone would hold it to the light to read it.

So no, I didn't go to a school like Saved. That school would have been a bastion of liberalism compared to the world I lived in.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Front Row for an Exorcism

My house growing up was wedged between a Pentecostal church and a crack house. Most of the time the crack house was scarier, but there were exceptions.

One night as I was getting a glass of water, I noticed that the parking lot behind our back yard was filling up with a crowd of people. Curious, I opened the window to watch, since it was already after 10 p.m.  As the crowd moved under a spotlight I noted the elderly pastor with his rebellious teenage grandson wearing white robes. The man reached up to put his hands on the tall child's shoulders while church members stood back to give ground to the couple. All was silent and still. 

A year before I had been to the zoo in Atlanta and seen the apes. The high-pitched screams mixed with guttural sounds impressed themselves on me. At the time I disbelieved in evolution due to brainwashing, and I thought that humans could never sound like that. 

Then came a low rumbling sound from the congregation, slowly growing. The babble got louder until my mom wandered in to see what the ruckus was. "What's going on?" "They're speaking in tongues." 

And then it stopped. The pastor yelled something unintelligible and pushed the boy on the ground. It was silent. No one moved for a moment, and then the screams began. It looked like they were kicking, physically engaging the evil they saw in a boy. The pastor dragged the boy up again and everyone went inside the church. And I guess it worked because years later he became a child-preacher of that same church when his grandfather grew ill. No one called child protection services because they were, after all, doing the protecting from an invisible foe. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

My First Communion

About a month ago (or more?) I said I would be telling my story - my "testimony" one might say. But  it is fragmented, thus far I have only been able to delve into the theology. It's easier for me to outline what a Calvinist (or a Southern Baptist, or a dispensationalist, or pick your poison) believes. It's less painful to write a textbook than to expose the hurting places. And trying to expose those places in chronological order? No. All I can do is hold my nose, close my eyes, count to three and jump.

We had a interim pastor, and I liked him. He was granfatherly, grey-haired with a full beard and gentle voice, just enough meat on his bones to seem softened. At the same time, his measured, careful sermons had authority, as if from someone who doesn't need to shout to be heard. I wasn't used to this technique. I was used to our old pastor's unique mix of old-time religion pulpit pounding with expository preaching techniques discovered from Calvin and Edwards.  We heard sermons in which every other word was anunciated to the nth degree and every jot and tittle of a verse squeezed and wrung out for every drop of meaning.  However, the style was not to everyone's liking. Some were hurt by being called "gutless wonders" because their kids had TVs in their bedrooms; others simply didn't have the stamina for 45 minutes of emotional torment; others weren't sufficiently in love with Scripture to listen to a 3-month-long extended exposition on a few verses. Some were willing to compromise their doctrine, to take their families to churches with Armenian teachings but shorter sermon times. The congregation had been culled, winnowed, and only the toughest, the most committed to Reformed doctrine and Presbyterian governance were remaining. We were close-knit though, like a resistance group that's been through a war and come out on the other side. But like that resistance group, we were fragile too. All the hurt from friends and members leaving, from harmful sermons, from despair and depression about the situation at church - all of it made us feel like our skin was peeled away, leaving organs exposed to further damage.

The year between pastors we were lead by this kindly older gentleman, a retired pastor who had agreed to fill the pulpit on Sunday mornings. My wont was to ignore sermons as much as possible, to flee in my mind to a secret retreat. Years later I learned the term disassociation, but at 11 years old I lived it. However, this man's sermons reached my hiding place because they were gentle, softly spoken, moderately paced, well-timed. Little by little, I left the tiny closet in my mind and started peering in to the main room.

During the summer of that year we had the first communion we'd had in well over a year. Presbyterians typically take communion "quarterly" meaning once every three months, though these days they're taking more frequently - monthly or even weekly. (The theology of communion is radically different from Catholic, which is why it's less frequent). However, because of all the church problems we'd been in a dry spell. Presbyterian children are baptized as infants and confirmed sometime around 10-13 usually, and they don't take communion until after confirmation. At that point they have officially joined the church and are able to attend congregational meetings with the adults. Well, I had attended these, and felt very grown-up doing so, but I hadn't had a chance to take communion yet.

He preached on Paul's letter to the Corinthians in which Paul warns them against taking communion in an "unworthy manner, eating and drinking judgement on themselves." The pastor gently but gravely impressed the need for repentance, for self-examination, and for true faith in Christ crucified in order to take communion. The words beat into my heart and shattered my hope.  It sounds strange to say that. After all, one should repent as a Christian. One should examine one's heart and confess one's sins, and one should believe in Christ's death and new life. But I was hearing this message through the lens of spiritual abuse, and it was devastating.

My soul was so bruised and wounded that the lightest touch cut like a knife. I had been systematically taught that my heart was black with sin, dead, totally depraved unless God had chosen me as His elect. When I asked how we would ever know that we were chosen, I was told that "if you believe in Jesus that's a sign of your election." But belief is a slippery thing. What does it mean to believe? Does it mean intellectual knowledge and assent? Because I was all over that shit. I was the obnoxious kid in Sunday school who could recite Abraham's lineage, who could find Nahum in the Bible if asked, who knew how to make a salvation bracelet and what the colors stood for. After all, I'd been going every week to multiple services at the little church, plus attending a Southern Baptist school since kindergarten, and those Southern Baptists believe in knowing Bible stories and sword drills, let me tell you. Yet I knew that "head knowledge" wasn't enough. Hadn't I sat through chapel services at school in which they told us we needed to have "heart knowledge" too? You needed to believe with all your heart that Jesus saved you from Hell, and woe to those with lingering doubts.

Of course, the Baptist kids had it easy in my opinion, because they could always just "walk down the aisle" again, "rededicate" their lives to Christ, maybe even get baptized again if they decided they hadn't meant it enough the first time. But I was stuck. After all, what did it matter if I went down the aisle, prayed the Sinners' Prayer, stirred up my emotions in fervent sorrow for my sins? If God had chosen my eternal destination to be hell, then to hell I would go. Who can fight the Almighty God?

So I listened to the pastor exhort us to caution. To make matters worse I sat alone on the pew. My mom was sitting at the piano; my dad was an Elder, and in that denomination they are the ones to distribute the bread and grape juice (we didn't use wine even though we weren't against it). The Elders sat together in a front pew on the other side, ready to serve. Presbyterians receive communion in their seats rather than going forward. The elders pass a metal tray with the wafers, and then they return with a tray filled with shot glasses of juice (dead serious). In our church they passed out the bread throughout the congregation, then everyone waited to take it together. Same with the juice. (Presbyterian pews have little holders where you put the shot glass when you're done, next to the hymn books). As he talked, I quietly had a panic attack, wondering how to avoid receiving without drawing attention to myself. My own father would probably be handing me the elements, and he knew it was my first communion. We didn't make a big deal about it with white dresses or anything, but it was still special. And how could I refuse?

The dreaded moment came. As I feared, my father was the one to offer the bread. I took it and pretended to eat it, but instead I wrapped it in Kleenex and put it in my purse. The juice was harder. I couldn't wrap it up, and I didn't want to set it full in the pew. So I took it, feeling as if I was drinking poison. I could hear the preacher's voice: drinks judgment on himself.... For that reason some of you are ill, and some have fallen asleep." I was afraid God would kill me for this and send me to hell.

At this point I had become a pro at looking like everything was fine while inside I suffered. I blinked back tears and even managed to sing the last hymn. Then I slipped out before anyone could talk to me and ran out of the church.

Our church had lovely woods and gardens around it. The building is nothing to look at, but the woods, especially back then, were fairly wild. In the spring it was an explosion of daffodils, tulip trees, dogwoods, and azaleas. In summer I fled to the untamed green in the back, to hide and cry as hard as I could. I tried to throw up but all I could do was gag. I begged God to forgive me but all I felt was silence. God was unchanging, unrelenting, and no tears or cries for help would change His holy will. But He was God, and must be worshiped and loved in spite of all. Already I felt myself chafing against this injustice, but the Stockholm Syndrome was too great to leave yet. It was all I knew, all the hope I had, and to go outside the light was to confirm that no, I was not elect, my fears were correct. Better to stay, to pray, to prove that I was loved, even while knowing for a fact that I would never deserve to be loved.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Five Favorite Things About My Husband

My husband and I just had our two year anniversary on New Year's Eve (that's right, we'll never forget it). And so I'm thinking of all the delightful things about the man I married, like -

His Servant Heart

That's a cliche isn't it? But in his case it's true. This is a man who stops by the side of the road when others drive by; who carries a large case of water bottles on trips in case a homeless person on the road needs water; whose eyes and ears are always open to others' needs. I was truly a more selfish person before his influence - not that I'm done yet by any means! What I mean by selfish is that not all of us remember to look behind us when we open a door, or make sure no one else needs the elevator. Alex is slowly teaching me the art of living among other human beings with my eyes turned outwards.

He is a Good Friend

He and I were good friends in high school before we started dating, and we by the time we started dating my senior year he already knew me better than anyone. So I have it on good authority that he exemplifies the Platonic form of "friend." Perhaps for that reason it takes him a long time to form friendships, because he considers friendship to be so sacred and important, that one would "lay down his life for his friends." Once counted his friend, he would drop everything if you were in need, and I'm not just saying that as his wife. To give one example of many, last year he happily helped drive a friend out to Arizona (from DC down to South Carolina and then over).

Speaking of Plato...

He's smart, and not just in one way. Most of us have SAT scores that look like a see-saw (guilty), or we are intellectual but all thumbs. He's one of those infuriating people with a mind and passion for science, especially biology, combined with high rhetoric skills both written and spoken, combined with creativity and artistic abilities. He spent the better part of last year building a set of medieval armor, complete with a wooden shield and helmet, work which involved making chain mail, woodwork, painting, working with metal, clay work, and various other arts I know nothing about. He is equally comfortable organizing a little kids' kickball game and arguing the finer points of Aristotelian ethics in a philosophy class. (Strangely, his downfall is spelling and handwriting, which he has finally given up as a lost cause. He concludes that without computers and Word he would be at a loss). I love being married to someone with this mind because we can sharpen each other, challenge each others opinions (which don't always match!), and explore different avenues of theology and philosophy together. 

He is a Romantic

Most women say that their husbands don't understand romance. My husband could write a book, while I am completely inept. He's forced to be creative because I'm notoriously hard to buy for - I never wear jewelry except my wedding/ engagement rings, and I'm just not a very typical feminine woman. However, he delights in elaborate surprises, and he has managed to come up with delightful stay-at-home dates on our tiny budget. It goes beyond dates however - his soul understands romance. He did things like build a wooden box, carve my initials in it, and used it to keep all of my handwritten high school love letters (passed strategically between classes). Just thinking about all this is giving me chill bumps because I won't see him until late tonight.

His Smile

I saved the corniest for last. I remember when I first fell in love: we were at a small town carnival in Georgia. By small town, I don't mean adorable little village - I mean a one-horse town sustained by cotton and peanut agriculture with a lot of poverty and a few stop lights. So the word "carnival" is stretching it. Anyway.... we were riding on a slow spinning ride that probably couldn't pass a state inspection, and I caught a glimpse of his warm smile. I just melted into goo; much to my dismay, because I was only 16 and had no intention of seriously dating for quite some time. Long story short, we ended up getting engaged half-way through college, being engaged 4 (very, very long) years, long distance because of our education, and finally getting married. But his smile was what started it all.

Thanks for hosting Hallie! Have a good week y'all!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Not About Last Year

*Trigger warning: rape victim blaming in #4

I'm pretending that last year didn't happen. 

One thing I'm not doing this year is watching the new Hobbit installment. The last one made me want to write a formal apology to his heirs on behalf of humanity. And I've heard this one has an obligatory and therefore dreadful love triangle. 

One thing I am doing is re-reading The Lord of the Rings. I hadn't read it all the way through since I saw the movies, and boy is it different. I keep seeing the scenes as I read, only the scenes are all mixed up in the interest of narrative constraints. As a bibliophile I hate to say this, but the movie made some improvements. Namely by removing Tom Bombadil and his boots of yellow. (I actually hate the character Tom Bombadil and how he could actually fix the problems if he JUST GAVE A FUCK). On the other hand, the language is so delightful, and I find myself reading out loud to myself just to savor the words.

And then there are books that you get so psyched up to read, and then the let-down is all the crueler for it. I had picked up the Kristen Lavransdatter trilogy in a second-hand bookstore years ago because they had cloth covers and smelled nice (what, you don't select your books based on smell?) The beginning is delightful: I love the scene where Lavrans molds the bread into the shape of a reindeer before feeding it to Kristin. The journey in her childhood tells us so much about Kristin's relationship with her father (and with other men), but without much exposition. However, as Kristin grew up I found myself less than thrilled. I had read all these bloggers talk about how wonderful the books were and how inspired they were by the story, how Catholic it was. So it was a nasty shock when the book dove head-first into rape culture and victim blaming. Kristin is almost raped in the dead of night and narrowly escapes by sheer force of will and guts. The problem wasn't in that scene but later, when Kristin and a girl friend are assailed by bandits chapters later. Kristin prays to the Virgin and is delivered, and then she remembers that she did not think to pray in her earlier peril. She wonders "if that was where she was at fault." And I just had to close the book there. I am quite capable of reading things I disagree with, but it was so unexpected in a book that I thought was so "Christian" that it turned my stomach. Dear readers, what am I missing? Do the books get better? 

My husband is taking GOE's, which is kind of like OWLs for seminarians. Seriously, they have about two exams a day, each a long essay that takes a few hours to write, and the essays are graded by outside graders. There are several topics (ethics, church history, systematic theology, etc), and the essays are meant to be reflective of what they've learned in seminary. And just like OWLs, everyone hyperventilates about it, and the professors make it sound like the End of All Things. I almost expected one of them to be Defense Against the Dark Arts.

No way I could be a student right now. I can't even write 7 quick takes. 

The ground is covered with sparkling white snow, and as a Southerner I am enchanted. I hate being cold, but the beauty of the snow makes me want to squeal like a 5 year old.