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Keep Wearin’ Them Pants

Back in the day, I went to school with a girl from a Pentecostal family.  I’d never seen her wear pants to school – always a long dress or a long skirt.  I asked her one day why she never wore pants to school, and she said, “It’s against my religion for girls to wear pants,” and we went on with our day.

Notice what was missing in that conversation.  She didn’t add “And you’re sinning by wearing pants,” or “And I can’t be your friend if you keep wearing pants,” or “And it should be illegal for girls to wear pants.”  She simply said it was against her religion; she didn’t demand that it be against mine.

My classmate told me straight-up that it was against her religion to do something that I was doing.  More power to her; she had the right to believe what she believed and to act, in her own life, according to that belief.  She stopped short of telling me that it was wrong for me to wear pants, though, because she – a child, mind you – had the definition of freedom of religion correct.  She had learned that it wasn’t her place at school to tell me that I had to live by her religion’s rules for below-the-waist attire; it was legal for girls to wear pants, it was cool by the dress code at our school, and it wasn’t against my beliefs to do so.  Now, she might have thought I was a bad person, a heathen, a sinner or whatnot because I wore pants – but because the space she and I shared was public, she kept such hypothetical opinions about the condition of my soul to herself.

Today, there is a bill up for consideration in my home state (and similar bills in various stages in other states) that would give business owners the right to turn people away by claiming freedom of religious expression.  The Missouri bill doesn’t mention gay people explicitly, as my more conservative friends are extremely fond of pointing out, but it’s generally accepted to be aimed at the LGBT population: Social conservatives, generally Christian ones, are hoping to make it explicitly legal for a business owner to turn gay people away because being gay is against the owner’s religion.  (Never mind that sexual orientation, who you’re attracted to, is not a choice; while true, that’s not the point here.)

To me, this sort of legislation doesn’t ensure religious freedom; it flies in the face of it, every bit as much as it would have been an insult to my religious freedom back in the day for my classmate to demand that she not have to go to school with a girl who wore pants (or, indeed, an insult to hers if I’d demanded that she be made to wear pants or change schools).

Let me be clear: A house of worship, a religious publishing house, a business or organization formed specifically for the practice and promotion of a religion – these are not the sorts of businesses I’m talking about.  I’m talking about businesses that sell goods or provide services, that charge money (or, in the case of social service agencies like the one where I work, are funded by governmental entities) in exchange for what they do, and that don’t require their employees to sign a statement of religious belief or otherwise prove what religion they are in order to get hired.  In short, public businesses.  To me, a public business saying to a customer, “Be straight or get out because I’m a Christian and being gay is bad,” is as ridiculous as it would’ve been for my classmate to say to me, “Wear a skirt or leave school because I’m Pentecostal and wearing pants is bad.”

The other thing about public businesses getting to turn customers away because of the owner’s religion: It’s an affront to something that the supporters of these sorts of bills claim to be championing… choice.  These bills are saying that some customers should have fewer choices than others, and that’s wrong.

Now, to end this on an appropriately silly note, here is the song that gets in my head when I type the word “pants” as often as I have in this blog.

 

 

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Clue Theory

A large portion of the Internet is buzzing about tonight’s big debate between Ken Ham, the Answers in Genesis guy, and Bill Nye, the Science Guy… guy.  And of that large portion, two swathes of Internet are taking their usual sides and hoping to see theirs prevail tonight.  The usual sides, to oversimplify, go like this…

“Six-day creation is literal fact!  Evolution is bunk and a lie!”

“Evolution is sound science!  There is no such thing as God!”

Basically, the two swathes of Internet engaged in this timeless shouting match have one passionate viewpoint in common: one side must win completely, and the other must lose completely.  Either evolution is valid, or God is.

So, these two swathes of Internet might ask me, which one do I hold to be valid?  My answer: Both.

Huh?!

To me, saying “evolution happened” and saying “God did it” don’t have to be as mutually exclusive as these two swathes of Internet would have you think.  I consider it far more awesome and humbling and mind-blowing to think that God used the intricate processes of evolution, in which everything had to go just so over eons, to arrive at what life, the universe and everything looks like today – knowing, at the beginning of that process, exactly what life, the universe and everything would look like today.

But, you might ask if you’re part of one of the dueling factions, doesn’t the idea of evolution negate the idea of God, or the idea of God negate the idea of evolution?  Aren’t they two contradictory answers to the same question?  Not in my mind, no, they’re not.

Think of a game of Clue.  If I say it was Mrs. Peacock in the den with the lead pipe, I’m not contradicting myself.  I’m answering three different questions: who did it, where did it happen, what was the weapon.  And all of the questions are important, because I need to answer all three in order to win the game.

Science, like evolution and cosmology, addresses questions like “how” and “when.”  Theology, like arguments on the existence and power of God, addresses questions like “who” and “why.”  The answer to how does not contradict the answer to who, because they’re different questions altogether.  Saying God engineered and used evolution is no more contradictory than saying Mrs. Peacock used the lead pipe.

Now, you might disagree with one of the answers.  You might be a Biblical literalist and believe the answer to “when” is “a few thousand years ago.”  Or you might be an atheist and believe the answer to “who” is “no one.”  But disagreement is not the same as contradiction… and disagreement is where healthy debate comes from, and where passionate faith comes from, and where dedicated research comes from.

So the best outcome of tonight’s Ham-on-Nye showdown, to me, would not be one winner and one loser; it would be two men disagreeing respectfully and two swathes of Internet following that example.

(P.S. If you really must pin me down to picking a side – fine, Bill Nye, because I’m not a Biblical literalist.  But pinning me down defeats the point of this ramble.  And besides, it totally steals Mrs. Peacock’s thunder, and that’s just not nice.)

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The “Reward” for Honesty

Years ago, I came to the conclusion that my depression was 1) not the result of circumstances alone, 2) approaching the realm of dangerously-out-of-control, and 3) not going to go away without help.  So help was what I sought.  I went to a counselor, and I also went to my doctor, who prescribed an antidepressant.

I was open about my battle with depression.  I hoped I’d win (I still hope I’ll win someday), and I hoped that others around me facing the same battle could draw comfort from knowing someone else was battling the same enemy.  I didn’t consider it something to hide from or cover up in shame; it was just a thing to deal with, no more and no less, just like chronic conditions that don’t involve the brain.

None of that was the mistake.  The mistake, it turned out, was extending that openness to some of the people I went to church with.

I still remember the reaction of a woman with whom I had considered myself close.  Upon hearing me confide my struggle and what I’d done to address it, she told me how wrong I was.  To feel the overwhelming sorrow of depression was a sin, she said; she also told me it was a sign that I was possessed – she quickly (ahem) corrected herself on that score, saying I was “demon-oppressed” rather than demon-possessed – and therefore the answer was not to be found in the professional health care community, it was to be found through prayer, spiritual battle and talking to the pastor.  By taking medicine for depression and going to a secular counselor, she said, I was compounding my sin with more sin.

Before that conversation, my spirit was hurting but resolute.  After that conversation, my spirit was broken.

Today, years removed from that conversation I still vividly remember, I’ve dragged myself to the reluctant realization that this woman may not have intended to break my spirit.  She may have thought she was being kind and loving and encouraging, because if you earnestly believe that mental illness does not exist, then giving a cheery pep talk about sin and spiritual battle and rejecting psychiatry would seem like the kind thing to do.  That realization in itself has been an uneven journey; it was much more twisted fun to think she wanted to harm me.

It would be counter-intuitive today to ask her to apologize to me.  After all, I doubt she remembers that conversation ever taking place, and forced apologies for offenses forgotten by the offender are hardly the path to forgiveness.  And if she (or one of her loved ones) is reading this and recognizes the story, I leave her name out of this because shaming her personally would be just as counter-intuitive as demanding an apology.

So what’s the point of telling an angsty story from so long ago it qualifies as “back in the day”?

The point is to encourage… remind… whatever you to be as gentle with others’ honesty as you hope others will be with yours.  And the other point is to encourage… remind… whatever you that what sounds gentle in your head might not sound gentle in another person’s ears.

Your words can bring healing, or your words can prevent healing.  If you say the sort of words that prevent healing, you teach the lesson that honest vulnerability is unwelcome – that it’s preferable to say you’re fine and summon up a fake smile than to reach out with a need for support.  But if you say the sort of words that bring healing, you tell a hurting person a story of hope – that showing vulnerability and being honest is the path to help and recovery.

That sort of hope is one of the things that draws people to God in the first place.  People come to God longing to be accepted, comforted, given grace and unconditional love.  Why, then, does it feel so rare for acceptance, comfort, grace and unconditional love to flow from those who call themselves God’s people?

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Being Kind is Tiring

I think I’ve finally come up with a way to articulate what drove me out of church (leaving aside that one time when I was actually invited to leave).  It’s an attitude that gets projected a lot, and I’m not sure people even know they’re projecting it, because it’s highly unflattering.  It goes a little something like this…

“I already have to be right, and now you expect me to be kind, too?”

Being right is tiring on its own.  Constantly having to defend yourself against those who would disagree with you; spending your spare time finding more, and more involved, proof that yours is the correct view; ducking and dodging people whose questions you can’t answer, or attacking them.  Whew.

Being kind is also tiring on its own – think of the last time you had a bad day, and recall how hard it was to be even marginally polite to anyone until you felt better – and sometimes, it contradicts some of those aspects of being right.  In order to be kind, for example, you’d have to listen calmly and engage in polite discussion with the person who disagreed with you.  Ugh.

So I get it.  Being right is exhausting, and being kind is also exhausting, and being both is just too much for any human being to bear.

Which, then, should take priority?  Being right, or being kind?

The attitude that drove me out of church says that being right is paramount.  If I’m right, I don’t have to be kind, humble, peaceful, patient or self-controlled.  I’m under no obligation to reach out to those on the other side of [insert issue here] from me; since I’m right, I can just call them names and move on, secure in my justification.

What do I say to this?

Well, since this blog says in the title that it’s about Christianity and stuff, I’m going to dig around in the Bible.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:34-40)

Anything in there about being right?

No, but there’s an awful lot in there about being kind.

I’m sure being right is very important.  Lots of things are very important.  Kindness, though, is name-dropped as a fruit of the Spirit.  Kindness is presented as evidence of an attitude of love, which itself is the summation of the Law and the Prophets.

Might I suggest that if being kind and being right at the same time is just too exhausting, you set aside the pursuit of rightness and just be kind?  You’ll still be tired, but my guess is it’ll be a good tired, like the one an athlete gets after a victory or like the one I get after a performance.

And for you musical learners like me: Last I checked, the words weren’t “And they’ll know we are Christians ’cause we’re right.”

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What does that make me?

Originally posted on Facebook, July 4, 2011.

***

I’ve had a song on continuous loop today by the David Crowder Band, punctuated by a couple phone calls…

The day is brighter here with You

The night is lighter than its hue would lead me to believe

Which leads me to believe…

“Hey Jen, it’s [former client’s coworker] at [workplace redacted].  I know you’re not [former client]’s job coach anymore, but he’s having a day…”

You make everything glorious

And I am Yours

“Jen, it’s [same coworker] again.  Sorry to keep bothering you, but [boss] just threatened to fire [former client].  I tried to stop him, but…”

What does that make me?

He makes everything glorious.  Everything includes everyone.  The frazzled coworker who thinks of nowhere else to turn but to someone who shouldn’t be involved anymore.  The frustrated boss who doesn’t know what else to do other than yell.  The former client whose life’s routine has been systematically smashed over the last two months, leaving him with no coping skills in the front of his mind beyond those that endanger his job.  The current clients who have roadblocks they seem to want in their lives.  The clients’ families who are so consumed with sheltering their children that they won’t let them be the full individuals they are.  The friends with drama, and the perpetrators of drama.  They’re all glorious, because God made them, and everything He makes is touched with His glory.

Me.  Me too.  Little old me, the fat ugly nerd in the back row, the socially inept overly-introverted bungler, the insecure depressive neurotic with enough issues to make a five-year subscription to Newsweek.  God made me.  Whether He made me in young-earth or old-earth or intelligent-design fashion or whatever, He made me, and everything God makes is touched with His glory.

Wow.  When did I get to be glorious?  Right along with everything and everyone I love to hate on?

Mind you, Evangelical social conservatives, this might be a difficult thought for you.  This means the Democrat next door, the atheist down the street, the Jew in the next cubicle, the Muslim at corporate, the gay couple who moved into your old apartment, the girl from high school who had an abortion, and the guy on the bus who talks about the hardcore porn he watched last night are also touched with God’s glory.  To deny that is to deny that God made them, because everything God makes is touched with His glory.

I wonder what would happen if we saw ourselves and each other through that lens.  Would we be so caught up in trying to make sure that everything is comfortable for us?  Would we consider it so important that everyone think and act and look and vote and dress and eat the same way we do?

Or – gasp and choke – would we try to do a better job of balancing all the truths God gives us?

Would we show God’s love by example, instead of just words?  Would we pray for and unconditionally care for and love on others, instead of beating them over the head with just how wrong they are and just how right we are?  Would we think it’s OK to be friends with someone who’s different and to find value in them as they are, where they are, for who they are?  Would we honestly view everyone we see as belonging to God, made by God, reflections of God – instead of condemning so many of them as rejects or abominations?  Would we feel more free to confess our own abominable actions with the understanding that our actions do not make us abominations?  Would we accept that about others, and would we accept it enough to cease judgment and self-righteousness?  Would we carefully examine all the biases, prejudices, stereotypes and -isms we hold dear, if we really believed God makes everything glorious?

Let that be a challenge.  I don’t challenge people I don’t love.  He makes everything glorious, and that includes you.  You’re touched with God’s glory, just like everyone else; act like it.

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I Pray Like a Counselor

For those of you here from Facebook – look, I decided to turn my annoying notes into a blog!

For those of you here from the other blog – look, I have a life off stage too!

And for those of you who stumbled on this and had no idea there was an “other blog” – if you’re a theatre person, or if theatre people amuse you, check out backontheboards.wordpress.com – it’s my other publicly-viewable irregularly-updated site.

***

“I’ll pray for you” isn’t generally in my vocabulary.

Don’t get me wrong.  I pray for people.  And I tell people, if I think they’ll find it encouraging to hear, that I’m praying for them.

But I don’t usually just say I’m praying for someone.  Most of the time, I say something specific – something that tells the person exactly what I am talking to God about on their behalf – something they’ve expressed or implied a need for.  And I say that out loud (or type it, but you catch the meaning) to let them know I’m really listening, really paying attention to the reason they’re asking for prayers.

I suppose you could say I pray like a counselor.  One of the first things I learned how to do in my counseling classes was to listen.  Not just hear – listen, actively listen.  Hear the words, yes, but also hear which words are important, the emotion the words carry, the hesitation before a word that indicates a word might be scary or a replacement for a scarier word… hear the message, which is so much bigger than the words.

Result, as it applies to the “Christianity and stuff” of this blog’s title?  Specificity in prayer.  If someone says they’re nervous about a job interview, I might tell them I’m praying for them to have composure and confidence.  Or if someone is going for a medical test, I might pray for the doctor to be wise and the test results to be clear, or for whatever an encouraging result on the test might be.  Or if someone is overwhelmed by life in general and asks for prayers, I might pray for them to have rest and peace, or I might pray-in-action by asking “How can I help?”

A lot of this, of course, is based on how I’d like to be prayed for.  If I ask for prayers, I don’t just want to know that God hears me; I want to know that people hear me, too.  I like having a visible face or an audible voice there when God seems absent and silent.  And I find that hearing my need spoken back to me is a powerful expression of being heard.  So that’s what I try to do for people who ask me to pray for them – I let them know, through telling them the specific need I’m praying for, that I hear and care about what’s hurting or worrying them.  I try to give some real-time, in-depth, show-I-was-listening, human encouragement… which is often harder to ask for than prayer is, and which is a crucial ingredient in coping and healing.

There’s an interesting side effect of praying like a counselor, by the way.  I find that by being specific, being mindful of the person I’m praying for and what their needs are, I’m also being more intentional and less hurried in my conversation with God.  It’s, well, more of a conversation, rather than just sending Him a text with a couple things to add to His grocery list.