I Have Won at Low Expectations

Nov 1 2017

I have won.

I’m pretty sure I have won for all time.

I have won at helping my children set the very lowest of low expectations for their mother so that all their tiny dreams can come true.

As I mentioned previously, we are, for practical reasons. already celebrating Christmas. Therefore, I asked my child what he wants this year. He replied, and I quote,

Could I please have a bar of soap all to myself?

That’s what he wants. It’s currently the only thing on his Christmas list. He considered asking for a giant cardboard box but thought that might be too pricey. I kid you not.

In conclusion, I expect my Low Expectations Lifetime Achievement Award to show up soon.

The End

P.S. Another Woolsey kid has the following items on his Christmas list: potassium nitrate, aluminum powder, iron oxide powder, and, if there’s room in the budget, fireworks fuses. I’m not to worry if we can’t afford the fuses, though, because he says he can always use finely rolled toilet paper if necessary. Furthermore, he assures me he doesn’t need brake fluid or gasoline at this time because we have plenty. So, while I’ll be putting my gold plated Low Expectations trophy on my mantle any day now, I haven’t yet won the one for Discouraging the Making of Homemade Bombs. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Ah, well. We can’t have everything at once, now, can we? Baby steps, friends. Baby steps.

Happy Halloween! This post is about Christmas.

Oct 30 2017

Happy Halloween Eve, friends. This post is about Christmas. Obviously. Because who doesn’t write about Christmas for Halloween?

If you’re thinking, “OH, MY GOSH; I HATE IT WHEN STORES PUT UP ALL THEIR CHRISTMAS CRAP BEFORE HALLOWEEN. NOW BETH IS DOING IT. WHY? Dear God in Heaven, WHY??,” I will tell you. It’s because I can only do one holiday, man. ONE. One is the number of holidays I can do. Not one per month, either. Those of you who can do that are totally down with 4 back-to-back holidays in 2 months, BUT I CANNOT. I can do one per year. One only. And I am very, very, very, extra reminded of that fact right now.

My main problem is this: Halloween comes, then Thanksgiving 23 days later, then Christmas, then New Year’s .

THAT IS NOT ENOUGH TIME to plan costumes, buy costumes, inventory costume pieces, manage costumes, buy costume makeup, decorate for Halloween, throw a Halloween party, make gooey, gross Halloween treats, clean up from Halloween, put all the Halloween gear away, plan Thanksgiving, decorate for Thanksgiving, bake and cook for Thanksgiving, put all the Thanksgiving gear away, buy the Christmas tree, get out all the Christmas gear, decorate for Christmas, put up the Christmas lights, plan the gifts for we 7 Woolseys plus extended family, get my butt out the door to actually purchase those gifts, hide the gifts, wrap the gifts, plan the stockings, buy stuff for the stockings, realize one kid has fewer stocking pieces than all the rest, realize we’re out of milk, realize no one bought the oranges for the stockings, make 12 emergency trips to the store, plan the food for Christmas Eve, Christmas breakfast, and Christmas dinner, make Christmas cookies, make fudge, decorate the gingerbread house, and properly herald the New Year.

It’s too much, I tell you. TOO MUCH. And you guys, we are the family that ONLY BUYS 2 PRESENTS FOR OUR KIDS. You’ve heard that idea on how to minimize Christmas gifts for kids who already have too much, right? “Something they want, something they need, something to wear, something to read”? I know loads of people who see that and are all, “THANK GOD FOR A SYSTEM WHERE WE CAN FINALLY PARE DOWN.” But I must be the Weirdest Weirdo EVER, because I see it and go, ARE YOU KIDDING? You know how much FOUR THINGS for each kid costs when you have five kids? I have to buy 20 PRESENTS for Christmas, just for my kids, not counting anything for the nieces and nephews? I mean, that four-thing idea is great for those of you who do it — I don’t begrudge you that in any way — but my kids get 1) something they want, usually negotiated to be smaller and/or cheaper than whatever unreasonable thing they really, really want, and 2) something else I think they might like that was cheap enough for my budget.

In other words, I CANNOT DO ALL THE THINGS, and so I’ve decided I won’t.

Instead, we Woolseys start Christmas today, and we will celebrate four phases of Christmas over the next two months. This is much, much (much, much) easier than trying to cram four separate holidays into a 62-day window.

The Four Phases of Christmas are really rather like the four phases of the moon: new moon, then first quarter moon, then full moon, and, finally, third quarter moon. Except in the Christmas scenario, we have Halloween Christmas (New Christmas), then Thanksgiving Christmas (First Quarter Christmas), then Christmas Christmas (Full Christmas), then New Year’s Christmas (Third Quarter Christmas) which is whatever dregs of Christmas we’ve got left over by then. Got it? Just like the four phases of the moon are all made up of moon, so the four phases of Christmas are all made up of Christmas.

Thus, although some will call today and tomorrow Halloween season, we Woolseys are going to celebrate Halloween Christmas. We’re carving pumpkins while listening to Christmas music, and Greg put up our Halloween Christmas lights, which is what you call Christmas lights that are up for Halloween. Halloween Christmas decorations = DONE. That’s right. You know what I’ve planned for my kids’ costumes? Nothing. I’ve planned zero things. I told the kids to find their own costumes this year because Halloween Christmas means I don’t have to do all the usual Halloween things. That’s the WHOLE POINT. So far, two are using rags to transform themselves into zombies and one is wearing his dad’s white bathrobe so he can go as White Jesus.

He figures this way he can make subtle social commentary on racism in the United States, and, most importantly, he can trick-or-treat everyplace twice — once as Jesus, and then again as the Second Coming of Christ. I wondered for a minute whether this is really appropriate, but then I realized a) it’s not, b) I don’t care, c) it’s hilarious, and d) it’s Halloween Christmas, so way to get into the spirit of the holiday, kid.

For Thanksgiving Christmas, we’re going to have a Thanksgiving Christmas tree. It’s like a regular Christmas tree, except it’s already up at Thanksgiving. And probably Thanksgiving Christmas stockings. And definitely turkey Thanksgiving Christmas dinner with cranberry sauce and stuffing. And twinkly lights in fake fir branches because I will have had TIME to pull those out of their boxes.

Honestly, for the first time in forever, I’m not feeling overwhelmed by the holiday season. We’re going to take it slow. We’re going to let go of the tiny things that don’t matter. And we’re going to rock the heck out of the Four Phases of Christmas.

In conclusion, wishing you a very happy Halloween Christmas, friends, from my family to yours,

 

Me, too. But I didn’t realize it for 25 years.

Oct 16 2017

Have you seen #MeToo rolling around social media? It goes like this,

Me too.

If all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted wrote “me, too” as a status, we might give people a sense of the magnitude of the problem. Copy and paste.

#metoo

So first I want to say, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you’re not alone. Me, too.

Second, if you’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, you should ONLY copy and paste this as your status if YOU ARE READY TO DO SO. Because not only need we not feel shame for being harassed and assaulted, we also need not feel shame about when we’re ready to talk about it. Some of us are ready. We have processed enough of our stories and/or trauma that we can say it out loud, even to the world wide webs. Some of us haven’t. Some of us aren’t ready. Some of us, by sharing now, would be retraumatizing ourselves and making it worse, not better. Pretty please, dearest friend, share when YOU are ready, not when the world decides you should be. OK? OK. Glad we had this chat.

And third, this is my story.

[Trigger/Content Warning: Sexual Assault]

I didn’t let my teenage daughter have a job in high school. Instead, I paid for dance tuition — usually hundreds of dollars per month we had to scrimp and save — so she could dance 20 hours each week and participate in conventions and competitions that cost hundreds more.

I was alternately embarrassed and relieved by this decision. Embarrassed because we were choosing to live a rather elitist lifestyle, pouring money into our child and not requiring her to earn it. Relieved because she wouldn’t be dry-humped and felt up by her McDonald’s manager in the drive-thru like I was at age 16. 

Oh, sure; dance taught Abby a hard work ethic, physical fitness, goal setting, and time management. It was a fantastic part of her education, and she was grateful, but still; LOTS OF MONEY and rhinestones and my kid graduated high school without ever working a job beyond the occasional babysitting gig. This was not at all how I was raised, nor is it how my husband was, and I couldn’t help but wonder if we were setting her up for a lifetime of entitlement. After all, we hear all the time about today’s teenagers who are “too good” for honest, hard work at less glamorous places like fast food restaurants. But every time I thought she could at least work a fryer during the summer and pursue dance, every time I tried to convince myself that just because it happened to me didn’t mean it was going to happen to her — every time I thought of her alone, closing the restaurant at midnight with a man bigger and older than her, my hands got sweaty, and my heart pumped faster, and I knew I was never going to ask her to apply to grill burgers. Not ever. I couldn’t do it.

Which is how, at age 40ish, I finally realized I was sexually assaulted. 

It wasn’t that I’d dismissed what happened to me working swing shifts at McDonald’s. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten. It was simply — and this has come to be even more terrifying to me than assault amnesia — that I believed my experience was wholly unremarkable. As normal as tripping over a curb or missing my seat in 6th grade math class and crashing to the ground. Which is to say, an experience that is memorable and uncomfortable but not anything out of the ordinary or worth commenting on.

THAT is how ingrained sexual assault is in our culture. THAT is how embedded. THAT is how common and mundane. That 16-year-old me thought having a man push me into a corner and rub his erection on me while trying to grab my boobs was just another, normal, unfortunate work condition. A bummer of a surprise like seeing how much of my paycheck went to taxes. A meh, whatever, shrug-it-off situation. Something we girls bitched about in the work room while we ate our $3.49 of free food per shift. But also something none of us even considered reporting. Not because it wouldn’t do any good, but because clothed sexual assault didn’t seem to rise to the “Must Report” level. Any ejaculate was contained in his pants, after all, and, if we said no and pushed him off enough, if we smiled at him so he wouldn’t be mad, he left us alone for the rest of the shift.

I read that now, and I go, DEAR GOD. I mean, DEAR LORD JESUS IN HEAVEN, WHAT THE HELL? It seems impossible to me now that I didn’t see it then. But it’s still true.

I didn’t tell my parents. The same parents who were always so good about telling me no one has the right to touch me in the bathing suit area and that I could talk to them anytime about anything which was true. I didn’t tell them because it didn’t cross my mind. I didn’t tell them until they, too, wondered why Abby wasn’t doing time at a local burger joint. My dad pumped gas as a teen. My husband washed cars at his dad’s used car dealership. I flipped burgers and worked a cash register. Shouldn’t Abby learn the same way? I didn’t tell them until we were having the conversation in my kitchen, and I answered casually, “I just don’t think I want my kid to be dry-humped by her manager.” I said it casually because I still felt casual about it. But as soon as it fell from my mouth, I did a mental double take. And ever since, I’ve been realizing how very ingrained assault is in our culture, our communities, and our lives as women navigating an unfriendly world.

My story is unbelievably common. Unbelievably normal. Obvious assault and harassment experiences we didn’t see as obvious or as assault because we are subconsciously, insidiously trained not to recognize it. One of my girlfriends posted this yesterday, “I was just about to post how extraordinarily lucky I feel to have never been a victim of assault as a woman. Then I remembered the time I was drugged in a bar and (thank goodness) passed out while still in the bar, spending the night in the hospital. I guess that’s another “me too.””

We are trained not to see it, and we are trained to belittle it when it happens to us.Well, sure; I’ve felt unsafe hundreds of times around men, but it’s not as bad as what happened to ____.” Or “He only felt on top of my clothes so I wouldn’t say it was assault, exactly.” Or “It wasn’t technically rape, so… Or I knew better than to go to his room alone.” We have unlimited excuses and dismissals, really. I know I did. Until I had to decide what was OK for my daughter. It turns out what happened to me is definitely Not OK if it happens to her. Which means it’s Not OK that it happened to me. This particular assault was Not OK, and neither are the other times I was grabbed and groped; neither are the dozens of times I was sexually harassed with words and actions. Who knew? 

I’m telling you this story, friends, for specific reasons, which are these:

1. I refuse to be ashamed or embarrassed about this, and I will absolutely do my part to name the things that are Not OK — the things that Must Change — so our world has to face it and do better.

2. Not everyone can share her story. Not yet. Maybe not ever. And I want you to know, whether or not you are able to declare your “me, too,” I still see you. And so do countless others. We know you’re there. We know that for every person who can share, there are myriad more who can’t. We see you. We’re waving in the dark. You’re not alone.

3. You’re also not alone if you, like me, have suddenly become aware. You’re not alone if you realized belatedly you were assaulted. You’re not alone as you reluctantly claim membership in this club. You’re not alone as you realize how widespread this problem is and how brainwashed you were not to see it earlier. You’re not alone as you grieve your discovery of both your own experiences and of our culture as it actually is, rather than as you thought it was. And you’re not alone as you wonder what in the world we might actually do to change it.

Me, too, friends. Me, too.

With love, always,

 

 

 

 

I have poop-water on my floor. Wanna hang out?

Oct 10 2017

We spent the weekend with our toilet in the backyard because a visiting child tried to flush it. This, of course, caused water to overflow the bowl, gush from the floor, and flood the bathroom. I don’t know how the water gushed from the floor, exactly. Greg told me, but all I caught was plumbing, something something, seal, poop-water, and locking the bathroom door forever. So a kid broke our toilet, and it’s Situation Normal around here; an ongoing bio-hazard and Greg is gagging in the corner. To be clear, I don’t blame the child. I blame the child’s parents for a) teaching the child to flush, a mistake we certainly haven’t made, and b) failing to teach the child that Nothing Works at the Woolsey House, Ever.

Also, our fence gate latch and garage door are broken, our car has a flat tire, the fridge water dispenser won’t stop dispensing so we fixed it with masking tape, one kid is having a (series of) meltdown(s), two kids are recovering from feeling barfy, and, while we had a lovely time on our trip, we’re also glad to be home again. Truly glad. This is us, and I like us, even with poop-water on our floor and really poor plumbing skills.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

We are who we are, friends.

I started writing this post to let you know about retreats I have coming up next month and throughout 2018, and to invite you to join me, but it’s suddenly occurred to me that I just wrote about living in poop-water, and now I’m going to see if you want to hang out. I’d rewrite this whole thing, except I feel like our relationship is past the point of pretending, so I’ll just say…

I have poop-water on my floor. Wanna hang out?

We won’t be hanging out in poop-water. The retreats are in a pristine and lovely house that’s sort of Anti-Poop-Water. Or not anti-poop-water necessarily — like, I don’t think the house has some sort of doctrinal position that’s specifically opposed to poop-water, because, let’s be honest, poop-water happens — but rather absent poop-water. Like, it’s a whole retreat to get away from poop-water, both literal and figurative. A Poop-Water Respite Retreat, if you will. Which suddenly makes me feel like I wasn’t nearly creative enough — or accurate enough — in naming these retreats, because, while I suspect there are a whole lot of parents like me who would like to attend a Writing Retreat, or a Food and Wine Retreat, or a Book Retreat, or a Mindfulness Retreat, there are probably many, many more who would love to attend a retreat that lets us rest from All the Poop-Water, you know?

You know.

I know you know.

That’s why you’re my people.

Do come hang out with me if you can. Details below.

With love, as always,

 

 

 

2018 RETREAT DATES

I’m getting ready to release our 2018 Retreat dates. Mostly, the retreats are how I get to hang out with you, introduce you to other friends of mine who are experts in their fields and all-around rad people, while doing things I think are, well, fun. This year, in addition to the Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat where we give shape to the messy and beautiful stores in each of us, and the Mindfulness Retreat where we learn to be kind to ourselves and to breathe, we’re adding a Food and Wine Retreat — self-explanatory — and a Book-Lovers’ Retreat, with three books, one memoir, one fantasy, and one TBD to read ahead of time and discuss together. I could not be more happy about these options, and I hope you’re excited, too! Here are the dates:

  • Book-Lovers’ Retreat — January 25-29, 2018
  • Food and Wine Retreat — March 8-12, 2018
  • Magic in the Mess Writing Retreat — May 3-6, 2018
  • Mindfulness Retreat — November 8-12, 2018

These four, small group retreats will be located at our previous retreat venue — a stunning, 8-bedroom home with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean in Seal Rock, Oregon — and will continue our tradition of rest, respite, supportive community, incredible food and wine, and new friends all around.

Registration for the 2018 retreat will begin soon. We’ll be releasing all the details shortly. However, if you want to get a jump on registration and hold your spot first in line, please contact Maggie Peterson, retreat registrar, at petersonm1@spu.edu to let her know which retreat you’d like to attend. This does not obligate you to attend, but does ensure you’ll be contacted via email as soon as registration opens.

We’ve Fled America. You Come, Too.

Sep 20 2017

Greg and I have fled America which seems Very Logical at the moment and perhaps something we all ought to consider what with Rabid Isolationism, Fear of the Other, and OCD-Level Pontius Pilate Handwashing out of control in the U.S. right now. Not only will we Let No One In, we’re also set on Kicking the Vulnerable Out, but only after ensuring we’ve Absolved Ourselves of All Responsibility. ‘MURICA! We’re great again now, right?

Unfortunately, due to an overfondness for Harry Potter, Jamie Fraser, and chocolate digestive biscuits, we’ve fled to the United Kingdom, which is preparing to implement Brexit, so I’m not exactly sure we’ve traded up on the segregationist front. On the bright side, at least we’re in Scotland where there’s a whiskey distillery at literally every highway exit so we feel more prepared in case of Utter Apocalypse. I mean, there are worse things than being stuck in a country that knows how to make food from animal innards, fries everything in beer batter, and has hard liquor releases planned for the next 10-25 years. Yes? Yes. Scots for the win.

We’re here on holiday with our two youngest for their Ten-Year-Old Trip, a coming-of-age tradition started by my grandmother for her grandkids and carried on by us.

When our eldest was 10, we took her to Vietnam, the country of her birth, so she could see with a child’s eyes how beautiful and special the country is, how warm and kind its people.

We did the same for our second daughter when she was 10, to Guatemala.

We didn’t for our eldest son, who abhors travel with every fiber of his being and who begged not to be made to suffer with torture devices like airplanes and hotels. Instead, we waited until he was 15 (and until I was done thinking he’d surely change his mind and his whole personality and suddenly be capable of traveling to Guatemala, as well) and bought that kid an XBox so he could finally, violently slaughter outer-space aliens in Halo — as cross-cultural an experience as he wants, and certainly in keeping with American Values. His eyes still sparkle when he talks about it — how HE got an XBox which lasts YEARS while his poor, stupid siblings had to endure TRAVEL which lasts mere WEEKS. Then he giggles with glee at his superior choices. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Now that our youngest are 10, we’re visiting parts of our ancestral homes, in Scotland and England, a trip for which we’ve been preparing for months, and we’re having every Formative, Educational Experience you might expect.

We’ve learned not to jostle the seat of the Rather Cranky Lady in the seat ahead of us on the plane, which is truly a Life Skill.

We’ve learned to be Very Quiet in the car while Mommy figures out how to drive on the left without crashing.

We’ve only yelled at each other a few dozen times, and Greg and I only made one of the children cry twice, so we’re clearly mastering Patience, Kindness, Gentleness and Self-Control.

We’re learning about other languages and cultures; our children, for example, have renamed all the sheep of Scotland “Pre-Haggis,” except when it’s raining, and then they’re temporarily called Soggy Haggis, because obviously.

We’ve done the Very Best Thing in All of the United Kingdom by riding the Hogwarts Express. And, to date, although we’ve been on Loch Ness, to Culloden Battlefield, to famous castles and forts, hiking in the Highlands, and to the Scottish Museum, we’ve also discovered the Second Best Thing About International Travel which is getting pillows and blankets on the plane. “PILLOWS, Mom! This flight is SO FANCY! They hand out PILLOWS and BLANKETS to every single person, and we don’t even have to pay to rent them!” Not to brag, but this is how to parent, friends. Set the expectations and standards bar so incredibly low that the ability to borrow a rigid, synthetic pillow product is EXCITING.

In short (too late), I’ll be coming to you from Scotland and England over the next couple weeks, and you should consider fleeing here, too. Unless you’re already here, in which case, BRAVO.

Thinking of you (but mostly of Jamie Fraser because I’m in Scotland and so JAMIE FRASER),

 

 

 

P.S. We pose for Happy Family photos like this:

But really, we mostly look strung out and exhausted, listening to audio books in pubs because Mom and Dad refuse to let us sleep, like this:

#Reality

 

Why I Write Anyway

Sep 11 2017

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,

 

 

How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me)

Sep 6 2017

I wasn’t always a heretic. I used to be as Religious Right as they come, raised as I was in the 70’s and 80’s in a conservative, evangelical, James-Dobson-loving, Christian home.

I went to Awana and learned Bible verses for candy and badges when I was little.

I know the Four Spiritual Laws by heart, and I attended Evangelism Explosion training so I could lead people away from the Fiery Pits of Hell where their souls were bound if I failed to witness, and I learned to shove them into the arms of JesusChristTheirPersonalLordAndSavior (one word).

My parents became missionaries, so I lived with pagan tribespeople in the jungle, sacrificing for Jesus, and I went to missionary boarding schools where I took Old and New Testament classes and memorized Scripture because it was a shield against the Devil.

I voted for George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992, my first American presidential election as an eligible voter, because he was the Only Godly Choice. I was appropriately, emotionally destroyed when Bill Clinton, that Lackey of Satan Who Proved He Was Evil Incarnate When He Squidged on Monica Lewinsky’s Dress, was elected in his stead.

I went to conservative Christian colleges — two of them — and I majored in Church History. I know the nuanced differences between the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, and I’m geeky enough to have an animated conversation about them.

I bought books at the Christian bookstore about the dangers of Drug Culture, Hedonism, and Sex, and I hid those books deep in the couches of my nonChristian friends so they’d find them eventually, read them, and be saved. Coercive Couch Conversion, YEEHAW!

I was sure to tell my friends to Never Have Premarital Sex with their boyfriends (I didn’t even consider they might have girlfriends) and to remain pure so they didn’t transform into Chewed-Up Gum; used and wrecked and never able to pristinely fit back in their box. I knew, after all, that being Outside the Box was the Most Dangerous Thing that could happen to us. I didn’t mention to my friends, of course, that I was having premarital sex, because saying so would’ve meant I was deliberately doing it, which I was definitely not doing, since what I was doing was falling on my boyfriend’s penis — accidentally — over and over again.

All of which is an extremely long way to say I have street cred, man. I was a good Christian once. I meant well. I was very sincere. I have all the training. I prayed all the prayers. I asked Jesus into my heart at least 46 times, and I meant it every one of them. I was baptized twice, once as an infant and once as a teenager, so I have all the baptismal bases covered. I’ve studied Scripture, and I’ve committed it to memory so it is writ upon my heart, and I love Scripture still. I believed All the Things about Hell and how to scare people away from it, even though very few of those beliefs were based on the Bible. And I was extremely scared to hit the “like” button on questionable Facebook posts, sure I’d be found out for giggling at swearing, or loving the gays, or Being Political, or Thinking My Own Thoughts, which is, of course, the Worst.

I am, in short, not the person you would’ve picked to become a heretic. Not the person you would’ve picked to abandon Republicanism and the theological giants of the 1980’s. Not the person you would’ve picked to believe marriage ought not be confined to one man and one woman. Not the person you would’ve picked to deeply doubt a Literal Hell. Not the person you’d think would come to believe others’ salvation doesn’t depend on me at all.

But I did become that person. I became that person in spades, and I’ve given a lot of thought to where conservative Christianity fell apart for me. To where I became a heretic, off grid from the theology I was taught was Higher Ground. Away from the theology that was supposed to keep me Safe and Protected, as though those are the goals, and, instead, found me walking a ragged path through the wilderness rather than the well-trod highway I was told was the Narrow Way.

Here’s where it came apart for me:

When I was 7, you told me in no uncertain terms that the Smurfs were Satanic — something about arch demons and Papa Smurf as Karl Marx in disguise. I mean, I could buy the bit about He-Man luring me to Hades — after all, he called upon the Power of Grayskull and was practically, deliciously naked — but the Smurfs were a little harder to believe. You didn’t know it yet, and neither did I, but you started to lose me there. Even my 7 year old self knew the most evil thing about the Smurfs was that wretched theme song.

When I was 14, you told me to trust you, and you were my youth pastor, so I did. You said weird things about sexuality and girls’ bodies which led men to sin, and I felt uncomfortable around you always, but I was taught to trust you more than myself, so I shoved down my own discomfort, and I didn’t question you. Nothing awful happened. Not to me, anyway. But I learned what men said to me was more important than the Holy Spirit or my gut or my conscience. And you lost me.

When I was 15, we were out to save the world. You said we were doing God’s own work, though my soul squirmed at handing out trite tracts on the city streets and saying as many sinners’ prayers as possible instead of feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, and finding medical care for the mentally fraught. And so you lost me.

When I was 29, and my gentle, compassionate, kind friend from our missionary high school wrote our entire class to tell us why he couldn’t come to our reunion and why he’d never see us again — because he was gay, so he’d had to choose between God and not killing himself — and, well, in the nicest possible way, said that we could go fuck ourselves because he wasn’t dying for any of this crazy, conservative Christian bullshit, you lost me. You lost me like my friend never did.

When Christianity became an In-Club with its own subculture and language rooted in white, middle class America — when Christianity was bought and sold to the Republican Party through the efforts of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and fears about the Supreme Court — you lost me. When James Dobson and Franklin Graham took up their hypocritical banner, you lost me again.

When you taught me that blasphemy and taking God’s name in vain meant uttering the phrase “oh my God” — as though avoiding those three words completely fulfills one of only ten commandments — as though “oh my God” said in horror isn’t the deepest prayer for help — you lost me. When you buried the idea that blasphemy is spreading lies in the name of God, in favor of a simplistic phrase — when you didn’t look deeper — your vapid explanation lost me.

When you told me drinking wine was different in Jesus’ time — that the alcohol wasn’t as potent so it was OK that Jesus drank but it’s not OK to do it today — that Jesus didn’t really mean “do this in rememberance of me,” like his goal wasn’t communal worship over wheat and wine — like his first miracle wasn’t turning water to wine for a party that had already drunk its fill — you lost me.

When you told me God created the world 6,000 years ago — when you said, specifically, during college chapel that believing in evolution was the same as disbelieving in God — when you denied science the way the Church in Galileo’s time denied the earth revolved around the sun — you lost me. As though God is too small to set evolution in motion. As though evolution isn’t a miracle all on its own.

When you told me you’re certain your interpretation of the Bible is the only interpretation — when you said the meaning of the Bible in whatever English translation you prefer is clear — when you said homosexuality was a “lifestyle choice” and an “abomination” and changed your mind to “orientation” when the science became clear — when you still insisted that our homosexual and transsexual and bisexual and pansexual and polysexual and queer and questioning and human neighbors may exist but may not practice their sexuality within the parameters of Godliness — when you said the theology on sexuality is different than our former, historical theological justifications for slavery or women remaining silent in church or the sun revolving around the earth — you lost me. When you said you believe in a static understanding of the Bible outside of context and history and oral recitation and science and poetry and translation — when you ditched the beautifully mysterious and mystical meanings of God’s Word who was made flesh in Jesus Christ — when you denied the Holy Spirit has come with fire to be an ongoing revelation to God’s people — you lost me completely.

When I watched people suffer and become more disenfranchised than ever because of your interpretation of Scripture and your imposition of that on their lives, so very unlike Jesus’ response to the marginalized, you lost me.

When you became more concerned about protecting our borders in the isolationism sweeping the globe than protecting the most vulnerable who are trying to flee to us, crying out for help — when you didn’t say like Jesus, “let the little children come to me” — you lost me.

When you told people to come as they are, and I knew it really, secretly meant “come as you are so we can change you, and if you fail to conform in time, you’ll have to leave” — when I berated myself for thinking that was uncharitable, and it ended up being true — you lost me.

When you told me after my miscarriage to examine my life for sin, and you wished I’d bothered to listen to the tapes on how to have a Christian pregnancy, and if only I’d tithed more to the Church so I didn’t lose my first born like the cattle of the Israelites, you lost me.

When you told me my genitalia affects who I’m allowed to teach and which platforms I’m allowed to take — whether I can preach, which men can do, versus “bring a message,” which women are allotted — whether I can be in leadership or must submit to those with different genitalia — you lost me.

When I brought home my precious baby girl from Vietnam and you said, “At least she’s not black,” you lost me.

When I spoke what I believed in earnest — out loud and in public — and you punished and shunned me and told me you’d probably forgive me eventually but you couldn’t say when, you lost me.

When Jesus’ example was to make wine for drunk people at a wedding, to break the Sabbath to pull an ox and its farmer’s livelihood from a ditch, to bodily block the stone throwers, to furiously upend the tables of people cheating the poor from inside the Temple, to eat with hookers, to abandon the rules in favor of loving his neighbor — and you wanted to monitor the length of my skirt, and which words I could utter, you lost me.

When I finally realized you taught me to be polite and quiet because it upheld the power structure and made those oppressing others more comfortable, rather than upheld Jesus’ radical example and God’s great love of every person, you lost me.

When you told me my virginity was my most precious gift, you lost me.

When you told me premarital sex would wreck my life and relationships forever, and you were wrong, you lost me.

When you told me with every word and every glance and every action that my micro-behaviors and submission to our Christian patriarchical subculture were more important than my aching, expansive heart and desire to see God’s Love sweep the planet, you lost me.

When my gender and sexual minority friends found no sanctuary or succor with you — when you insisted you loved them while they committed suicide at alarming rates in even larger numbers inside faith communities and you did nothing other than spout Bible verses, nothing to save their lives, nothing to set aside your cold recitation of culturally-proscribed, modern, fundamentalist theology — you lost me. You lost me, you lost me, you lost me, and, more importantly, you lost them.

When I watched you actually believe you’re as hurt, as victimized, as terribly sad, as those who’ve been perpetually and systematically disenfranchised and abandoned by the Church, you lost me.

You lost me.

Jesus won me. Love owns me. And you lost me. Which is fine.

I live now in a place where I’m called a heretic regularly. Where I’m told I’m leading people astray. Where my convictions are not welcome in the church I chose once upon a time. And it’s a strange gift. Because I’m free. Free to love others fully. No longer restrained by false parameters. And I’ve found, as many who’ve wandered in the wilderness, that nothing — no one — no theology — no church — can separate me from the Love of God. Or stop me from spreading that Unlimited Love-of-God heresy to others.

And so I bid you good night. And send love. And Love. And wave in the dark, always and forever.