The Elusive Inclusive Religious Community

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We were more than halfway done with the 7 hour stretch from far eastern Washington back to our hometown. It had been a whirlwind 24 hours moving Boof’s grandma into a more extensive level of assisted living. Two adults, a toddler, and a dog, had made the trip last minute, and now were were sitting in a nostalgic Mexican restaurant in my college town.

It was 3pm and in came several different groups, all dressed up. Skirts, dresses, ties and suits for the men. Even the children were dressed nicely, which made me eyeball Potamus in his dirty Spiderman t-shirt and monster truck rainboots. Sunday. Church. Yeah.

I lived in that small town. My life revolved around Sunday service and Tuesday night college ministry and Wednesday night volunteer for junior high youth group. I led Bible Study on Thursday nights (and sometimes Monday nights), and went to Mass with friends when I could squeeze it in. When I lived in the dorms I did a nightly prayer night with other people in my hall, and I regularly went on weekend retreats and mission trips. It was like brushing my teeth, going to class, or getting something to eat at the dining hall. A rhythm of life.

The experience of sitting next to a table full of small town church goers sparked a long conversation the rest of the two hour drive home. We feel so torn, both of us on how to proceed in the spiritual community. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But we’re stuck in this place of not knowing, not deciding, and not knowing what to do about it. Do we go to the church we feel sort of connected to, but the average age is 75? Do we go to the church down the road where Boof grew up and there’s a thriving Sunday school, but fundamentally in a theology that I don’t agree with? Do we find somewhere else? Do we not do anything?

What I came away from the conversation, was an ability to articulate my desire to not send Potamus to a Sunday school that teaches things I don’t agree with. Boof said that his parents chose that church because it had a children’s ministry, even if they didn’t necessarily feel comfortable with it. And my pushback was…WHY? Why am I, as a mom, who makes many other sacrifices, going to sacrifice the next 10/15/20 years going weekly to a religious service with people that I don’t fundamentally feel accepted by or agree with? Do MY needs as a person not matter as much as the theoretical ‘needs’ of my child? AND, do I send my child to a place where he will make friends and form relationships on a principle or set of beliefs that I fundamentally don’t believe in anymore?

It’s food for thought, for sure. Because Boof has less angst, and certainly less of a ‘bad experience’ from growing up religious, he sees that it will be a fun place for him to get to have some stories and make friends. But my argument is that he can have friends and hear stories at our house, or daycare, or a different church, or different club activity, or different religious institution altogether. I don’t think that my needs as woman/wife/mom should be shoved under the rug to fit a 1950’s ideal of an every week Sunday experience.

And yet, I feel torn, because I want to believe in something. I want Potamus to believe in something. I miss the routine and the community and the fitting in I felt when I was in college, when I was apart of that faith routine. I miss believing in something that felt right and good and connected me to others. I read articles and see that there are other people writing about being young parents with children who want a community where questions are valued and their kids can be themselves and they can be themselves, but then I go to church and don’t find that these places actually exist (except, like I mentioned at the beginning, in congregations with quite older members). Why is this such a frustration?!

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Coming Out in Light of the World Vision Kerfuffle

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With my students I talk a lot about how we, I think as a culture, tend to define our things but what we are not, or what we don’t like. We might say things like, “I’m a Democrat,” but it feels more strongly like “I’m not a Republican, and therefore I have chosen the other box, default Democrat.”

But today, in light of the shitty week I had with the roller coaster of World Vision emotions (that you can read about how it started here and ended up here and some cool thoughts about it here), I thought I’d break a rule and tell you all:

I’m not straight.

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I fully recognize that I live in a world with a hetero normative story line. I am presumed straight by those who meet me, and ‘lie by omission’ when I don’t ‘set the record straight.” Because I am married to a man, I am assumed to be straight. Just like because I don’t have a wheelchair, or guide dog, I am assumed to be able-bodied (rather than looking at the invisible disability of chronic mental illness). This idea of ‘passing,’ is something I am familiar with on a daily basis, and get the privilege of choosing if, and when, and to whom I come out, if I do at all.

So last week I had drinks with a friend, and as we were discussing the World Vision drama, and all my frustration behind the big flip-flop, I said…

“I was telling Boof this, that people don’t realize. I have his protection in church. I am accepted and loved and welcomed with open arms because of him. They see me the way they want to see me, as a straight, married woman with a child. I am the walking white woman stereotype, in their minds. But without my husband, if I was on my own, and openly dating, or was married to a woman they would think very very differently of me. So this decision of theirs, it could affect me. I could not be hired because of who I am. “

And his response:

“Are you a lesbian?”

It wasn’t a question with judgment attached. He had been tracking my conversation and, since he’s in a relationship with a woman who identified as lesbian, seemed to be trying to understand. And that’s when I got quiet. Because no, I know I’m not a lesbian. I know that like I know I’m not black. But the question brought back memories, of being in high school, or after college with no boyfriend or ‘marriage prospects,’ and my sister saying to me ‘mom and dad think you’re a lesbian.” It brought back memories of being called ‘Sir’ when I had short hair and was shopping in the mall, or gasp, even wearing a bikini. I said, “no, I’m not a lesbian, but I’m not straight.”

My parents are deeply religious fundamentalists, and were probably part of the group of evangelicals that would take their money away from starving African children to prove a point. They will probably never know me beyond what they see on the surface. But I balk at the labels, because straight doesn’t fit, and lesbian doesn’t fit, and bisexual doesn’t fit either. A student once asked me if I was pansexual and I said I don’t know, because I’ve never been attracted to someone who’s trans. It’s not that I don’t like labels because they feel too labelly, it’s that I haven’t yet figured out what label actually fits. It’s like shopping for jeans, do any of them REALLY make my butt look good? I mean, for realz yo…

But what I do know, is that I’m not straight.

That’s the closest I can get to a label. NotStraight. Unless I tell you about energy. And how I am attracted to energies that complement my own, and that often means women. And sometimes men. And sometimes I’m not attracted to anyone at all (except of course my husband, right?). I’m married, to a man. If I weren’t married to him, I might be married to a woman. Or I might not be married at all. I might date a man, or a woman, or nobody. I don’t know. I don’t plan who I’m attracted to, or who ends up clicking with, and it goes beyond genitals, though those are fun aren’t they?

People who know me intimately will not be surprised by this news. It might give some an ‘aha’ to explain the previously unexplained. Some already know, like my graduate school peeps and some coworkers who I share openly with because it’s come up in conversation. This isn’t some big coming out manifesto, as I don’t even know what I would be coming out to or for, other than the fact that the World Vision kerfuffle affected me deeply. I’m tired of it. I’m tired of feeling like without Boof I would be less of a person in Christian circles.

Monday Morning

 

Church & The Working Mother

Most Christian women I know are stay-at-home mothers, or, at most, work-from-home mothers with lots of support from nearby family or in-home nanny/babysitters. I have seen them write posts on Facebook and talk about how lovely going to church is on Sunday as a family, and all the support they’ve felt from their congregation in being mothers. And, that’s where I get a little jealous, or at best, have mixed emotions.

Because that hasn’t been my experience, at all. Getting to church on Sunday is hard, and has happened a handful of times since Potamus was born almost 2 years ago. It was easy when he was a super-new infant, and I could nurse in the pew when he got fussy, or sway in the pews to the “contemporary” (aka 90’s maranatha songs) worship music. But since he’s been mobile, we haven’t been back more than 3 times.

I was talking to a friend about it this week, and she said “church is hard for working mothers. My kid is in daycare 5 days a week, I want to be with him, not pass him off to someone else.” And that, in a nutshell, summed up everything I had been saying in private to Boof, and feeling, since the beginning. Because it is hard for my kid to adjust to his daycare, which he now goes 4 days a week. For him to adjust to a new nursery provider, for 1.5 hours on Sunday seems a bit much. How many weeks would he cry in this new place before he got used to it? And would it be worth it?

And while I only work 4 days a week, those precious family moments in the morning, are some of my favorite. We’ve tried church recently and found that either one or both of us would have to leave with Potamus about half way through the service. Not only do I struggle with feeling whether or not church is relevant to my life anyway, I wonder, is it really relevant to my life as a mother? Because the church we attend doesn’t have many children, so to dump Potamus off with the 17 year old nursery assistant seems less-than-ideal. It makes me wonder, are churches using an outdated model of childcare as a relief for mothers who are with their children all week?

It feels like we’re doing it wrong. Like this division of children and adults is outdated and doesn’t serve parents who don’t see their children all week. I don’t have answers, but watching football, in our jammies, in the sunshine-filled comfort of our own home, with our child playing at our feet, feels much more ‘spiritual’ than singing songs and worrying if Potamus is doing okay in the church version of daycare. Ya know?

In Mathew 19:4, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  I just don’t feel like Jesus meant let children come to church and then hide away in a back room chewing on legos and doing flannel board. Maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem to be what this verse is saying…

Thoughts? Do you go to church or another religious service? Are children welcome in the service or in their own separate place?

Biblical Adoptee Part Dos.

Jesus. We’ve all heard of him. And he is definitely used by the church and Christians as a promotion of infant adoption. Though, yet again, I fail to really understand how his story is like modern adoption. Let’s back up and look at his story:

Young, un-married mama Mary learns she’s pregnant from the Holy Spirit. Her fiance marries her anyway. Jesus is born and is raised by Mama Mary and Hubby Joseph. Sure, Jesus isn’t Joseph’s bio-kid, but he does a bang-up job raising him and Jesus went on to do some pretty cool things.

So…I guess I am confused….how is this an adoption story? I mean, Jesus was raised by his mom and not by genetic strangers. Joseph was a father figure, but yet Jesus still grew up knowing his other dad (the Big guy in the Sky), and spent many hours talking to him (praying).

If this was a modern story, it’d be that of a single mom raising her baby and being supported by a pretty cool dude, who loved the kid as his own, but still let the kid have a relationship with his bio-dad (which is kinda mind-bending to think about God having a bio-kid, but thats a dif entry).

So maybe Jesus could be considered a step-parent adoptee, but not necessarily a great example for adoption agencies for why we should adopt babies. In fact, it actually seems like another reason we should help families stay together, because God loved and provided great things for a young, in-wed, single mom.

Christianity and Adoption

The Bible talks about adoption, but does so from a VERY different cultural context than what we live in today.

For example:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look
after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being
polluted by the world. -James 1:21

Wow, this verse is great! Instead of dogma, lets take care of people…women who’ve lost their husbands, children who don’t have parents. This is an idea that I can get behind! It is loving our neighbor in action.

However, how this verse, and verses like it are twisted is mind-boggling. Because taking care of widows (why isn’t there a huge push for THAT here, is it because people are obsessed with procuring babies?), and orphans (parentless children) in a biblical context would be about keeping those children in families and tribes of people where they would be raised to know their identity and have their needs met.

Caring for these orphans, did not mean shipping them off halfway around the world or the country to be raised by strangers.

A few years ago Madonna adopted internationally, from a country whose idea of orphanages were the same as boarding schools (but for the poor). This girl, Mercy, had family who was willing to take care of her but was TOO POOR to do so. They opposed the idea of her being taken from her homeland and raised without knowing who they are (a common adoption process, both domestic AND international). What was the cost of keeping Mercy with her family, going to school, through age 18? 5,000. Imagine, Madonna, with her millions, could have paid that amount A HUNDRED times over, and Mercy would have been able to grow up with her family. To me, keeping families together, was what this whole concept was about. And not domestic infant adoption like it is practiced today (a blog for another day, perhaps, but you would probably be SHOCKED to see the amount of money that changes hands in domestic infant adoption).

The verse, in my opinion, is the spirit of taking care of others, of family preservation. And while there are children who desperately need to be raised in a family, because their family cannot (for whatever the reason), our contemporary practice of adoption does NOT keep with that spirit.

Never take advantage of any widow or orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, you can be sure that I will hear their cry.

Exodus 22:22-23

WHY DO PEOPLE HOMESCHOOL?!

In theory I respect the right for individual families to make educational choices for their children. I have both friends and family members that have chosen to home-school at one point or another, or have been home-schooled, and with the variety have had varying levels of success.

In practicality, though, my educator brain doesn’t really like the idea or the overall practice of homeschooling…especially past elementary school. Perhaps I only focus on the negatives, but from my experience, many of the parents I have seen, sacrifice things that public/private education could have offered in an attempt to gain something (not sure what, exactly, but I am sure they have a reason in their mind), that doesn’t actually seem to work. An example, is my aunt pulling her daughters out to home-school, after her youngest was being forced to complete assignments and stay in from recess to do so. My aunt felt the teacher wasn’t being fair (which could be legit) and that my cousin was being teased (also a legit reason to look at the education). But instead of sending her to a different school or get her evaluated for an IEP (needed for both mental and physical reasons), she chooses to home-school her. What began as a legit reason to re-evaluate, has turned into 4 years of home-schooling by a depressed divorcee mom with only a high school education. My cousin is behind in grade level (assessed by my mom who is a reading specialist), and has social skills of a 4 year old (at 12). When we have family functions even the little kids tease her because she is so…weird…which simply perpetuates a pattern of teasing/low-self-esteem that as a mental health professional, I am concerned about in the future. In contrast, though, is my dad’s cousin, who raised 6 kids on a farm, is a college educated elementary teacher who home-schooled her kids through middle school and then sent them to public high school. While socially awkward in ways, the kids have gone to college and found boyfriends and gotten jobs. All things I am concerned about for my other cousin.
What brings this subject up in my mind, is the frustrating day I had on Thursday with my predominately home-schooled morning class. Many of the students are willing to learn and do the work that I require of them (which isn’t much, as far as college goes), and reasonably beginning to make friends and think critically…there are a handful of students who both are socially awkward with their peers AND with me, which can be worked through, but their intellectually arrogant attitude isn’t based in actual performance and I can’t help to think has been instilled in them by equally arrogant parents who thought that they were so smart that they could teach their children everything, including all the high school subjects. Nobody I know is THAT smart, which is why high school has different subject teachers. I am just baffled that one person could think they could substitute for a hundred professional people with experience and education in the teaching field.

I would feel less upset by this if it didn’t set the students up for such failure in life and higher education. This one student, who rolls his eyes and grumbles with every assignment is probably smart, but when he writes, he writes at about a 4th grade level. His friend was helping him formulate his paper into a paragraph! I could understand if this kid was so brilliant that he was oodles and oodles ahead of his classmates, and therefore was lacking in social skills, but he seems to have a deficit in BOTH social skills AND reading/writing comprehension. I think his bad attitude masks the fact that he really just doesn’t know what he’s doing…which I could see how he might have slid through in a public school, seen as defiant, but he was being home-schooled! His parents should have realized that he cannot perform at grade level! Right?! And the defiant attitude toward me, as a professional educator, just doesn’t seem to jibe with the whole ‘respect’ because they are Christian, thing, ya know?

And then I begin to question these parents’ motivations. I know they are conservative Christians, but did the sacrifice of having him not be around “worldly” things really help him get the best start in life? I am very biased about this, having grown up very conservatively, without being allowed to watch tv/movies, and wear those long dresses, and go to church every week, but my parents always valued public education. And Boof and I have talked about the state of the education system, and how it doesn’t always meet a child’s needs, but I think home-schooling as their whole education is just the wrong way to go about it.

So, what are your thoughts on education…public/private/home-school? Is there a place for home-schooling?  A time where home-schooling is actually selfish? Thoughts on how I can reach these students who are failing?

Still: A Disappointed Review

Lauren Winner is one of my dashboard saints. She is in the list of writers and spiritual seekers who influence my own journey. When I was in college I voraciously read her two books “Girl Meets God,” and “Mudhouse Sabbath.” I loved them. Simply loved them. I tried out her “Real Sex” book, and found it less-than-applicable, so I put it down halfway. It’s been years since I’ve thought of her, but finding myself in this confusing spiritual place I decided to pull out a few of my saints and see what they were up to. Anne Lamott’s book isn’t out until November, and I’ve been making do with simply her facebook updates, so seeing that Lauren had published a new book, entitled “Still: Notes on a Mid Faith Crisis,” I knew that I HAD to read it.

I so identified with Lauren’s “character” in her first memoir, as I, too, was wrestling with my own shocking conversion story and jump into a spiritual practice and life that had energy and passion and wasn’t quite as conservative as the faith I grew up with (though there were PLENTY of fundamentalist tendencies I would later see). A mid Faith Crisis? Perhaps a good description of where I am, as it relates to my actions and feelings about church/God/religion/Christianity, etc.

Sadly, with a bursts of shiny quotes I can hang on to, my love of this book stopped at the preface. And in that, the most powerful part of the preface is a quote she uses by some other author:

When the Lord came into me,”  Buddy tells her, “it was such a good feeling. I thought, well I can do anything because of this feeling, but then there was all this stuff to do and to think about, and I don’t remember the feeling all that well.”

Yeah, that sums me up pretty well.

The rest of the book read like random thoughts, mixed with metaphor and some prose/poetry combination. While I resonated with the overall feeling of questions and stuckness of “staring against a blank wall.”

But the magic I felt during her first memoir was gone. The breathless reading and relating was gone. Perhaps its more of a testament to where we both feel we are, but I did leave, feeling rather disappointed.