Why I Write Anyway

My kids went back to school this week, hooray and praise the Lord God Almighty, Maker of Heaven and School. The college student is colleging, the high schoolers are rocking the hell out of their special ed classes, and the tinies, who aren’t tiny at all at 10 years old, but who I insist on thinking of as my sweet babies, are busy making me alternatively grateful we’re taking a year to travel and homeschool, and also making me question my sanity.

Our house is full of joy and laughter and yelling about whose turn it is to do the dishes. (NOT MINE, FYI.) We’ve been running the usual ragged race and then stopping everything — refusing to budge from the couch because we are EXHAUSTED and we CANNOT DO IT ALL and DAMN IT, NO ONE CAN MAKE US ADHERE TO THESE UNREASONABLE CULTURAL NORMS — back and forth in rapid succession. RUN. Collapse. RUN. Collapse. RUN.

Our family is very Both/And this way. Both high achieving and total quitters. Both kind and utter assholes. Both content and uneasy. Both sure we are living life to its fullest and failing at All the Things.

And threaded through this mundane, magical life this week — my dog will not quit barking at the fence — I’ve been reading the responses to my last blog post, How I Became a Heretic.

It’s always a strange thing when a piece of writing gains wide traction and that’s the snippet of life where people enter the story. Always a strange thing to welcome people to my online living room mid-conversation. But that’s how this space works, like an open house where people come and go, leaving grace and grime in their wake, because they’re human like me, and we humans are nothing if not muddled and magnificent.

And there has been grace. SO MUCH GRACE and solidarity and gentleness and “me, too’s.” But there’s also the grime that comes hand-in-hand with saying what we really think out loud…

“You won’t change anyone’s mind.”

“You’re just shouting in the dark.”

“You’re so bitter.”

“I feel sorry for you.”

“Satan has deceived you.”

‘Well, at least when I disagree, I have the courtesy to keep my mouth shut. I don’t go spreading it around on the internet.”

“I just wish there was ONE place on the internet I could count on seeing no political posts and no religious posts. ONE PLACE. I guess your blog isn’t it. Unfollowing.”

And, my personal favorite, because I think it’s supposed to scare me, but I find it the most comforting of all, “God will judge you,” because God’s other name is Love, and I’m 100% good with Love as my judge. 100%.

I’ve heard all those comments and more this week. And lots of you dear friends have rushed to my defense. I love you for that; I do, but I need you to hear this: It’s OK. Those comments are fine when they’re directed at me. They’re inevitable when I post about faith and doubt and learning to breathe free. People who adhere to the rules and behavior guides tend to feel very threatened when others challenge and break them. I think that’s understandable. I think it’s a sympathetic position. I think we can nod and feel sad and move on. And I think we can direct our attention where it needs to go, which is not into arguing a theological position, but into loving our neighbors as ourselves and figuring out who our neighbors really are.

I grew up in a conservative culture in which silence is revered. Even if we disagree, we would never be so impolite or impolitic to say such a thing out loud. That would create conflict. Unnecessary arguments. Division when the church should breed unity. Besides, ours was a patriarchal culture where men were the heads of households and women were submissive. Surely, as a woman, I wouldn’t challenge what a man told me.

And so, in order to be an upstanding member of the community, I was quiet. And even if I didn’t understand why a rule was the way it was, or thought perhaps we were going about reading the rule all wrong, I knew not to question it. Or, rather, I was allowed to question all I wanted, for a very brief time, as long I was also willing to accept, immediately and wholeheartedly, the authoritative answer and explanation. Doubt was absolutely allowed as long as it was shortly followed by Belief and Adherence.

I didn’t want to lose my people. I didn’t want to lose my community. I didn’t want to lose my childhood friends or my college friends or my young adult friends and camp friends. I didn’t want to lose my fellow parent-friends. I didn’t want to lose my family. And, since those groups were all anchored in the church, I was quiet. I didn’t want to be cast out. I didn’t want to be unwelcome. I didn’t want to be shunned or “released” from the only body of people I knew.

Interestingly, I was never worried about losing Jesus. Never. Not once. I was always confident in that guy, although I get why many of my fellow heretics can’t buy the whole Jesus/God thing. #YouDoYou

So I was taught to shush. To accept the parameters as defined for me, not by a higher power, but by those who assumed authority over me, complete with their iron interpretations of the Bible. I was taught to fly under the radar. I was taught to swallow my discomfort. And I lived that way for years and years and years and years.

Until I realized all of that was about me. All of my worries about “I.” All of my fears about my own loneliness. All of my dread focused on what I might lose. And none of it — none — about those Jesus asked us to love.

During my years of silence, I never worried for my ostracized neighbor. I never worried for those the church had already lost. I never worried for the people of color who were largely absent from our midst or considered why the church was so very segregated. I never worried for gender and sexual minorities. All they had to do, after all, to be part of our community was to enter the church and do what I did — be silent and accept the truth as it was defined for me.

It took me years, though, to see. Years to listen well and hear. Years for comprehension to dawn that the church was keeping me from loving my neighbor as myself. Years to recognize my silence was complicit in their suffering. Years to turn away from trying to keep a false peace in favor of championing the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the hurting, and the lonely. Years to reroute my concern for myself to asking my neighbors how I can love them better. Years to believe what my vulnerable neighbors told me.

That’s why I’m no longer quiet. That’s why I write anyway. That’s why the criticism doesn’t matter, and neither do the efforts to shame or shun or muzzle me back to silence. Because it’s not about me at all. It’s not about worrying about making the in-crowd uncomfortable. It’s not about worrying about being labeled a Trouble Maker or a Deceiver or a Loud Mouth or Talking Out of Turn. Not anymore.

Finally, it’s about the people it should have been about all along. It’s about the people who need to know they’re loved. It’s about fighting to make them a safe space. It’s about clothing the naked, and feeding the hungry, and comforting those who grieve. It’s about creating a new community when the old locks its doors.

So, to the critics, it’s fine. Say what you like to me. (Although if you direct it toward others in this space I’ll shut that shit straight down. My house, my rules.) I’m a big girl. I know who I am. I know what I believe. I know why I believe it. And I know who it’s for.

With love,

 

 

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
22 comments
  1. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you.” – Acts 18:9

    Haters gonna hate, but they will not make us shut up. <3

  2. Keep being loud – we need more loud women in society.

  3. Beautiful stuff.

  4. Amen and Amen!! I love your posts so much…

  5. It is interesting to read about your faith history and journey – mostly because it is a faith experience I’ve never had. Everything of yours that I’ve read since I started following you has always resonated with me. Si, I guess where I’m going with this is that I celebrate your courage to break away from all that you were supposed to believe; celebrate your freedom to live, love and support all of us wonderfully flawed and wonderfully human children of God. Rock on – you are in very good company!

  6. I’m in the midst of reading Brené Brown’s newest book, “Braving the Wilderness.” In the chapter entitled, “People are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In,” she quotes actress Viola Davis answering this question: “When you belong to yourself there is always going to be criticism. What’s your experience with that?” Viola replies, “Thick skin doesn’t work anymore. I want to be transparent and translucent. For that to work, I won’t own other people’s shortcomings and criticisms. I won’t put what you say about me on my load.” I think you’re there, too, Beth. Thank you for sharing yourself with us!

  7. I absolutely love seeing your posts in my Inbox, and this piece is no exception.
    Fellow heretic here, waving back in the Dark!

  8. Amen, sister, Amen!!!

  9. This was beautiful. It brought tears to my eyes. Mother Teresa also questioned her faith. Let people criticize you for having an honest and open heart and conversation about a very complex & beautiful subject. As mother Teresa famously stated in her “Do it anyway prayer” , “In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.”

  10. Love. You.

    THIS is the Good Fight Paul speaks of. Not nitpicking or judging or yelling, but standing up for justice and equity and Love.

  11. Beth, your heretic post resonated deeply with me, as I also asked Jesus into my heart at LEAST 70 times before I was 12. I sang in every kid’s choir, went to every youth group event and camp until I graduated high school (early!) to go overseas and work as a missionary for 3 years. I moved home at 21 and got a job (to earn money), worked as an intern at my church that I had attended since jr. high, and took correspondence courses from Bible college (Pentecostal Theology, ouch!)
    Then I got married. (Waited for THE ONE, “technically” saved myself for marriage, because that’s what good Christian girls do, right?) Had a baby immediately. Went to marriage counseling. Got divorced. Met a new guy when my daughter was almost 2. He wasn’t a Christian (gasp!) but was raised in a devoutly Catholic home as a child. He loved me in a way I had never experienced, brokenness and all and before I knew it, I was pregnant (even with an IUD). My church “family” told me in no uncertain terms that unless I ended my new relationship, I was not welcome to attend anymore. That if he “really” loved me (who exactly does he need to prove this to?) he would wait for me to get my divorced finalized (my ex and I were in court a lot). To which I respectfully said, “Fuck that.” Nearly 8 years later, we have our two daughters (he considers my oldest his) and our baby son just turned 1. 🙂 I have not stepped into a church since I was asked to leave. Do I believe that there are good churches with solid teaching and welcoming “sinners”? Maybe. But what do I know for sure? Fucking Jesus. I have steadfastly held onto the truth I know – which is that Jesus loves sinners and because of that I can learn to love myself and others. My kids and I regularly invite random people over for dinner, take lunches to homeless people, and I teach them to hold steadfastly to truth and to never EVER be shitty to people. (All people, any people.)

    Ironically, a couple years ago I got a job in the administrative department of a private Catholic high school, so part of my job is to attend a school wide mass once a month, and I find a surprising freedom and peace in participating in that. Maybe it’s because there are Muslims, Buddhists, homosexual and transgender people in our school population.

    You are an encouragement to me, authentic and so full of life and love. I wish you were my neighbor.

  12. I loved and shared your Heretic post, and will continue to love and share your beautiful truth-telling.

    Speak up Friend. God gave you a voice for a reason. He needs more people calling out in the wilderness, leading more hearts to Him. <3

  13. I love your blog and I love you. I also love Kissing Fish which shared your Heretic post. I found myself responding to someone who said it was too long, I sent him to your blog space. To someone who said you were not a Christian, I sent to your blog. I see only light in your blog. As I said in my response on Kissing Fish, I use many of your blog pieces as devotions for my church group. Many make me laugh, many make me cry while I’m laughing, all make me realize I still have a long way to go and being able to travel some of it with you makes the journey easier. If we were to admit that we are all waving in the dark in one way or another, we have company on the journey.

  14. I wrote several posts for Penelope Trunk, under the “education” portion, and some of the comments are colorful. I had many people tell me I was a bad mom, one woman told me her 21 year old son said ‘I was damaging my teen by not letting him watch porn.’ *eye roll*. I had one lady say she was just so ‘sick with worry for my kids and my parenting she was printing out their pics to post on her fridge to pray for them.’ *sarcasm* wasn’t that nice of her??? Here I am getting free prayer!!!…..I had a friend with our same background come out being gay. For her birthday her mom signed her up to have nuns pray for her soul for a year. Sigh. It’s really sad because I can’t find much of where the bible supports any of this. So hey, have a good laugh at the comments, and maybe feel a bit sorry for those so trapped in the rules. It’s gotta be hard being a modern day pharasee with Game of Thrones available!!!!

  15. Yes! I get what you are saying!

  16. Thank you for writing. Thank you for being open and honest and seeing that Jesus is bigger than any box we try to stick him in.

  17. I was going to make some sort of terrible “right on/write on” pun, but stopped myself (sort of). I’m impressed with your grace in allowing others to be where they are on their path, and I wish you all the thick-skinnedness you need to not take their nonsense personally. It does my lapsed-Episcopalian heart good to hear you talk about Love and Jesus.

  18. I have been so spoiled in the churches we’ve been to recently … the focus has been on our communities and what we can do to serve and strengthen (and these are what I would consider “conservative” churches but Jesus matters more, or so it seems to me, if that makes sense). But we did recently attend a church service (I won’t say where, that feels wrong) … it was all martial language, that the peoples of the earth were afraid of us, here’s how we do battle to win the war (and not the war for souls …). I came out of that crushed and in despair … how many churches are like that? So although I didn’t read your heretic post (I deal with anxiety and it wasn’t a good spot yet for me to read it) I feel like I understand what you’re saying. And I want you to keep on saying it. You are definitely one of my favorite internet peoples, no matter what you say lol. Your love for people shines through everything

  19. Bravery=you❤️

  20. Girl, yes! I finally read your Heretic post and it has encouraged me to write my own. I felt spiritually exhausted a couple of years ago from talking about and listening to sermons about and worrying about stuff that DOESN’T ACTUALLY MATTER like cuss word and drinking beer. I mean. Nearly every Sunday I would sit there with fingers crossed hoping the sermon would be about something REAL, something going on IN THE ACTUAL WORLD. I was so tired. So, I moved and started over – started my life basically from square one and decided to built it up around things that actually matter to me. And you said it – it’s FREEING. Free in Christ, free freaking indeed to worry about how to LOVE and CARE FOR people and not whether or not my tattoos are showing.

    Thanks for existing and listening and not being afraid to cast off the junk that holds us down. Thanks for writing anyways. <3

  21. Amen!

    You are my new hero! ❤️

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