Why Did I Write a Memoir?

Credit: Neal Sanche (Creative Commons)

Credit: Neal Sanche (Creative Commons)

Before I get into this, I want to congratulate Tanya Marlow. Her new book, Those Who Wait: Finding God in Disappointment, Doubt and Delay, launched today. So I bet you can guess what I’ll be reading tonight.


I’ll have some exciting book announcement stuff of my own coming soon (I want to make a video for that, but I honestly just don’t feel like putting on something other than a wrinkled T-shirt that says “Me? Sarcastic? NEVER!”). For now, I want to talk about why I wrote a memoir.

I guess anyone who reads my stuff would assume they know why I wrote it. When I was eighteen, I had a stalker. So I wrote a misery memoir about being a stalking victim.

Yeahhhhhhh . . . that’s totally not what it is.

What’s the book about?

Sure, the stalking stuff is in there, and sure it’s intense at times, but the point isn’t I was stalked.

The point is the same thing that made my stalker feel entitled to me makes a lot of men feel entitled to women. Stalking isn’t the disease. It’s a symptom.

It’s a book about male entitlement, how that impacts women–not just during the assault, but long after–and the cumulative effect it has.

I pulled stories from my own experiences to try to tell a much bigger story. It’s not my story. It’s our story.

It’s about how women are objectified inside the church and outside the church. It’s about how our allies, the “good guys,” so often turn out to be the guys who hurt us. It’s about how our communities are complicit and turn away from us rather than addressing these issues and solving the problem. Because women are disposable. Because we’re less than. Because supporting us isn’t worth experiencing a little conflict.

Why did I write it?

My short answer is, “God told me to.”

And that’s true. I mean, he didn’t speak to me from the clouds or anything, but I have always known I’d write this book. Over the past few years, I’ve felt a strong pull to write it, even when I really, really didn’t want to. I’ve done a lot of praying. Like, a shitload of praying, y’all.

Personal narrative humanizes. It can help people empathize. We should understand what drives sexualized violence by now, but we obviously don’t.

We still blame women. We still excuse the actions and attitudes of men.

My hope is this book can help educate people who are open to understanding, but need to live through some of this alongside someone to really get it.

I spoke with another author early on in this process. She asked me if I’d considered fictionalizing my story. It’d have made things a hell of a lot easier on me, emotionally. But I decided not to because it’s so important for people to understand that these things really do happen. And they really do happen often.

The thing about my story is that it sounds unique and strange, but it’s not. At all.

It’s a common story that just doesn’t get told very often.

I want to be clear here. No victim is obligated to share their story. Not everyone is in a place where it’d be healthy to do that, and there is a real cost associated with coming forward. Sometimes it’s not worth paying that price, and I fully support anyone in that position. If you’ve been through anything like this, please don’t feel bad if you aren’t comfortable speaking out.

I’m telling these stories, not for myself, but for everyone who has stories like this. We shouldn’t all have to bare our wounds to the world to change things. Maybe if I show my wounds, other women won’t have to show theirs.

Am I afraid?

I’ve had several people express some concern for my safety. I really do appreciate that. It means you think I’m valuable enough to keep walking the earth. So, thank you for that. I plan to keep walking around, tossing puns out there, and sharing dank memes.

I am going to have to burst your bubble, though.

The reality is, I’m never safe. You’re never safe. None of us are ever safe.

Yes, I’m putting my name on the cover of this book. Yes, my stalker is still out there somewhere. No, that won’t put me in any more danger than I’ve ever been in.

If he wanted to find me, he’d already have found me.

Next year, I might get a new neighbor and maybe he’s a stalker. Maybe someone online will latch onto me.

I’ll probably get more of this shit. I fully expect it.

The thing is, women are stalked and harassed and assault no matter what they do. That’s also why I wrote this book. To show that.

I could write a book or not write a book. It wouldn’t make any difference. At some point in my life, something will happen to me again. So I may as well do something productive with it all and try to open some eyes.

I’ve counted the cost. So, no, I’m not afraid. And, yes, I know exactly what I’m doing.


If you’ve stuck around this long, here’s an excerpt [trigger warning: non-graphic mention of rape]:

When I was ten years old, I repeated something I’d heard on some late ’80s sitcom. We were driving home from the skating rink and I piped up from the backseat to ask, “When do you think I’ll go through puberty?”

After a tense pause, Mom cocked her head back and told me not to use “language like that.”

Eight years later, I felt more than a little awkward as I sat in a cramped sheriff’s office and described my sexiest pair of underwear to Dad and the balding police officer sitting behind the desk.

Maybe I’d have been better off tossing the underwear and picture into the trash, but I was worried about Ben. Erasing a person by taking away his face was about the creepiest thing I could imagine, so I showed the picture and my underwear to my parents.

Dad drove me down to the sheriff’s office to file a report about it, even though I didn’t want to. I asked Dad why he couldn’t go down and file it for me, but he said I had to because I was the one who found everything, and I was the “object of obsession,” according to those websites Mom kept looking up to read about stalkers. That phrase was the worst. I wasn’t an object.

But Ray had made me into a thing because things can be controlled.

And hadn’t my own church done that to me when they quoted Romans 14:13 and told us girls to be careful about the way we dressed so we wouldn’t be a “stumbling block” to our Christian brothers? A stumbling block isn’t a person, made in the image of God. It’s just a thing. Something you can blame for tripping you.

I didn’t want to be a thing, so I sat across a desk from one of our local officers and tried to tell him what happened without sounding either too hysterical or too relaxed about it all. If I got too worked up, he’d think I was overreacting and shrug the whole thing off. If I didn’t seem upset at all, well, he’d shrug that off too.

The officer listened to me, and then Dad, and nodded as we spoke. Dad wanted a restraining order, or for the police to at least warn Ray to stay away, but the police officer couldn’t fulfill either of those requests. Because what real proof did we have?

Ray had driven up and down our road several times over the past few days, but that wasn’t illegal. And, sure, Ray knew Dad was going to be away from home the night of the break-in, but everyone from our church knew that. Just like anyone from church would know exactly where I sat every Sunday.

Except not everyone from my church had been hanging around me all summer. And not everyone in our church had a history of delusions and violent outbursts. But that still wasn’t enough proof. Besides, Ray couldn’t be arrested for trying to have a conversation with me. He hadn’t been jumping through any plate-glass windows lately, and unless he publicly did something that outrageous again, people would just go right on thinking his delusions were under control.

The police officer leaned forward and rested his elbows on the desk. “If he touches you, then we can do something.” He lowered his chin and raised his eyebrows on the word “touches.” It was the kind of eyebrow twitch people shoot at one another when the thing they’re thinking of is too vulgar to say out loud.

I shrank down into the metal folding chair, and my jaw clenched down painfully. So, all I had to do was sit tight until Ray raped me, and then the police would be all over it. Did he really think I was in that kind of danger? Ray was being creepy, but could someone who’d known me since I was fourteen really do that to me?

The police officer cleared his throat and addressed Dad. “Y’all got a gun in the house?”

I guess the officer thought Ray really could do that to me. I hadn’t even been touched, but I felt violated. Stripped naked in that bright office. Knowing Ray had held a pair of my underwear was bad enough, but now other possibilities ran through my head. We didn’t freely say the word “sex” in our house, but now I was talking to Dad and some stranger about my impending sexual assault. Because Ray forced me to talk about it.

We didn’t have any guns, of course, since Dad was a Mennonite pastor. A pacifist. The Bible says, “Do not resist an evil person,” and Dad lived it. At least he lived it in theory since he’d never had his theology tested before. There wasn’t much religious persecution of Anabaptists in the late 1990s.

All through junior high, I’d heard about men like Dirk Willems, who’d been arrested for his Anabaptist faith. Dirk managed to escape his prison and flee across an ice-covered lake. When his jailer tried to follow, and fell through the ice, Dirk turned back to save him. He was repaid by being imprisoned again and executed. But that was all OK because Dirk’s real reward was in heaven and in knowing he’d stayed true to Jesus’s instructions to love your enemies. Following Christ meant laying down your life, literally, if it came down to that. You couldn’t be a Christian and commit a violent act. You just couldn’t.

The officer was a little flustered by Dad’s admission, and turned back to me. He gave me a hard, steady look and said, “Sweetheart, you need to go get yourself a bat. And you sleep with it under your bed every night.”

I glanced at Dad, and forced out, “But I’m a pacifist too.”

The officer closed his eyes for a second and leaned back in his chair. I expected him to spout, “God helps those who help themselves,” but he didn’t.

After we left the station, Dad stopped by Radio Shack to pick up a webcam. He was going to point it out the window, into the parking lot. We’d at least catch Ray on video if he skulked around the front of the house.

But last time he came around back, through my window, and we couldn’t point cameras out every entrance. So, I drove myself back into town and bought a crook-handled umbrella with a big, pointy tip because the discount store didn’t carry bats.

The Pacifist’s Guide to Inflicting Pain

 

Credit: Todd Lappin

Credit: Todd Lappin

Oh, Kristy, you crazy Jezebel. Pacifists don’t inflict pain. How can you inflict pain when you’re standing still, allowing people to punch you in the face?

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I believe that Christians are called to pacifism. And I also believe that sometimes some Christians are called to inflict a little pain.

Woah. Hold the phone. That doesn’t sound like loving our enemies.

Say someone punches me in the face (for being the mouthy person that I am) and scrapes his knuckles on my front teeth.

I could punch him back, which isn’t at all a Christ-like response.

I could walk away without harming him, which would be a more Christ-like response.

Or I could pull out my first aid kit and swab his knuckles with rubbing alcohol, which would be the most Christ-like response.

When the alcohol hits his scrapes and starts stinging, he might pull back and yell, “You’re hurting me!” but am I really? Am I hurting him or am I helping him? Is causing pain always a violent act?

It’s important to remember that in this scenario, I’m showing off my rad first aid skills on someone who initiated contact with me (via a punch to the face, but still). I didn’t go for a walk in my local park and insist everyone I came across show me their scrapes and scratches so I could pour alcohol over them. And we should never just waltz up to people we know nothing about and “speak the truth” at them because, come on, the gospel is pretty clear about how Christians aren’t supposed to be jerks.

Damage or Discomfort

Sometimes we need to speak the truth, and sometimes the truth is painful for people to hear.

For example, being called out by your congregation for abusing people within the church is painful, but necessary. It’s necessary for the people who’ve been abused and it’s necessary for the person who’s committed the abusive acts. Because how is it loving to allow someone to continue hurting others?

What we have to ask ourselves is are we causing damage or discomfort?

We should never damage other people with our words or actions, but discomfort is absolutely on the table. Discomfort doesn’t cause any true damage, but it can prompt positive change. Because people are always looking for that sweet spot in life, and they’ll weave and bob around anything that makes them uncomfortable to get there.

Last summer, I caused some discomfort. My sister and I showed up at our old church. It could have been a spiritually and emotionally violent sort of raid (even though my sister didn’t let me wear my horned helmet which was a huge disappointment). But I wasn’t there to inflict damage.

The main reason I was there was to pray for that congregation because, you know, Jesus and all. When I got home and recounted the visit to my father, I claimed to have “pulled a total Ananias” because I’m obsessed with Ananias’ interaction with Paul (and I’m also kind of lame). I was there in the spirit of peace and reconciliation. I shook hands. I hugged people. I worshiped with them. And, keep in mind, these are the people who weren’t terribly concerned when a stalker wanted to murder me.

The effect of that peaceful entrance was like pouring rubbing alcohol into a festering wound. It was super uncomfortable. I mean, how would you feel if you’d ignored a teenage girl’s pleas for help while an older man threatened to kill her? And then she disappeared off the face of the earth for 16 years until one day she popped back in on her way to the airport?

But did I damage those people? No.

My presence probably reminded them of some unpleasant moments, but that was all old damage. It wasn’t anything new I caused on that Sunday morning. All I did was bring the alcohol with me (rubbing alcohol, not drinking alcohol, but only because my sister was all, “No, Kristy, you can’t drink a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade before church starts).

You know who else used to cause a lot of discomfort? His name starts with a J. He was never cruel or vindictive about it, but he caused discomfort when it was necessary to bring people closer to righteousness.

Jesus didn’t trade physical punches with people, but he didn’t let them off the hook either. If we’re supposed to follow Jesus, and we find our calling to pacifism in his example and instructions, then we should also find our calling to promote peace, reconciliation, and change through nonviolent action. And sometimes that means a little non-retributive pain and discomfort when disinfection and healing is the purpose.

 

Faith in the Eye of a Shitstorm

When I was ten, my parents took me to an Anabaptist museum called Menno-Hof. My family had visited a Mennonite church several times and Mom and Dad wanted to learn more about these Anabaptist types (they were a little disappointed to learn they weren’t Anti-Baptists, as they’d originally thought.)

 

As you walk through Menno-Hof, you enter different rooms that immerse you in Anabaptist history. There’s a replica of a ship that Anabaptists sailed on as they escaped persecution in Europe, a plain meeting house with wooden benches you can sit on,a tornado room that simulates the wind and noise of a tornado, and then shows Mennonite Disaster Service crews helping to rebuild.

There’s also a dungeon. You enter a dark room and see torture devices hanging on the stone walls. Someone’s singing a hymn. You peak down into a pit in the floor and see a man crouched down at the bottom. It’s just a mannequin, but you can imagine it’s a real person and it hits 10-year-old you that people really have been tortured and really have died for their beliefs.

In another room, you read the story of Dirk Willems. He was captured and imprisoned, but managed to escape across an ice covered lake. When his jailer ran after him, his pursuer fell through the ice. Dirk could have left him to drown, but he didn’t. He turned back and saved the man that had chased him. His reward was being recaptured and burned alive.

This trip to Menno-Hof was one of my earliest lessons in Christianity. One of my earliest lessons on faith.

 

I always liked to think I’d be brave enough to take a stand for my faith, though I knew it wasn’t  likely I’d ever have to worry about being dragged out of my house and burned at the stake.

For eight years, life was quiet and I was surrounded by people who believed the same way I did. There wasn’t much risk that I’d be thrown into a dungeon or anything.

And then all hell broke loose.

Someone came over to the house to talk to my dad once when I was about 16. He wasn’t very comfortable speaking with a pastor, and my dad told him to just ignore the pastor thing and speak plain. “I feel like I’m God’s shit rod,” he blurted out at our kitchen table, which both shocked me and earned him some massive respect points.

A couple of years later, I knew just how he felt.

I know how the story’s supposed to go.

I’m supposed to say when things were at their worst, I fell to my knees and cried and prayed. I’m supposed to say I felt a wave of peace wash over me and I just knew that God had my back and that everything was going to be okay.

Except I totally didn’t get any heavenly warm fuzzies to help me cope. I actually coped by mooching as much weed off my friends as I could, which doesn’t make such a nice story.

I’m supposed to say those hardships strengthened my faith. That I felt closer to God. That it gave me perspective or I had some sort of epiphany. But none of that happened. I didn’t feel closer to God. I felt ignored by God.

I had another negative experience with Christians right after I moved away from my stalker. God didn’t intervene that time either.

God didn’t seem to be doing much for me at all. After everything that happened, I wasn’t sure what I believed about God.

I emailed a long-time friend and confessed I wasn’t sure if I was a Christian anymore. He emailed back to say he knew for sure God existed. Basically, he’d seen some supernatural shit go down that he couldn’t explain.

That didn’t sound like proof to me.

I quit attending church and I quit bothering with all the rules I’d tried to live by. I felt like I’d wasted a good chunk of my life trying to please a god that might not even exist. And if he did exist, did he even care what I did? He didn’t seem to care about what my stalker did.

I was never really an atheist, but I suppose I flirted with agnosticism. I always believed there was something more than us. I just wasn’t so sure that “something more” deserved my attention.

When it came right down to it, I was no Dirk Willems. My faith wasn’t strong enough to light my path through the dark times. I was walking through the pitch black, during a hurricane, with a freakin’ birthday candle. That’s what my faith was like.

I felt guilty for not having more faith. I felt like I’d failed the first little test of my faith (you can tell how guilty I felt because I thought of that whole stalker-who-wants-me-dead thing as a “little” test.)

The thing is, faith is a spiritual gift.

To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.

1 Corinthians 12:8-10

“To one there is given… to another…”

We don’t all have the same gifts. Dirk Willems was gifted with the kind of faith necessary for a martyr. But, I’m not Dirk Willems. I’m just me and I’ve got a wobbly, fragile faith.

I used to really envy people who had an unshakable faith. It took a long time, but I’ve become gentler with myself and I’ve started to appreciate the gifts I do have. I might be running a faith deficit, but I can Christian mime the pants off any audience. (Miming is totally a spiritual gift.)

I’ve come back to Christianity, but I wouldn’t say that I have a lot of faith these days. I’m not sure about much of anything. I do have hope, though, and maybe that’s what faith really is.

 

I wrote this post because I don’t want to misrepresent myself. I’ve heard a lot of testimonies where the speaker claims God swooped in and fixed everything or, if he didn’t, that the person was totally okay with it and their faith in God was strengthened.

That’s not what happened with me at all. That’s not what happens with a lot of people, but we don’t like to admit it, do we?

Bad shit happened to me and my faith took some major hits. I went into full on meltdown mode, y’all. It wasn’t pretty. It took a long time for me to work through that (and I’m still working through some of it.)

Maybe you’ve gone through some bad shit too. Maybe you thought you had all the answers and now you’ve realized you don’t. Maybe your whole worldview has been turned upside down.

It’s okay if you feel like your faith has been shaken. It’s normal and sometimes it’s even healthy. It was hard, but in the end, that shaking loosened up a lot of junk beliefs I’d been carrying around. When your faith is shaken up, you wind up losing some of the toxic bits.

And maybe you’ll learn you’re super good at miming.

Denominational Analysis Paralysis

rocks

Credit: Tim Donnelly

I wasn’t born into Christianity. At least, I wasn’t born into any particular form of Christianity.

My family didn’t go to church when I was little. When I was 10, sometimes we’d pop into the local Methodist church and sit through their service. That was really it as far as exposure to any church went. My parents didn’t discover Mennonites until I was 11.

For most of my childhood, I wasn’t taught how to “do Christianity” in any particular way. My mother taught me how to pray. We had a Children’s Bible that I wouldn’t read because I’d come across the story of Samuel’s ghost and it freaked me out (1 Samuel 28… if you dare). Bible ghosts are scary, y’all!

Religion didn’t have much of an influence on me until I was almost a teenager. So, I totally don’t count as one of those poor people who are only Christians because they were indoctrinated as children and just don’t know any better. (Which probably makes me even more of a pain in the ass for some of my anti-theist friends because I really should know better.)

I did hang out with Mennonites (and some pseudo-Mennonites) while I was in middle school and high school. But, then I shrugged off Christianity for over a decade. Coming back has created a bit of a problem for me.

Now I have to figure out where to hang my hat (my hat is embroidered with an inappropriate pun, so I can’t just hang it anywhere.)

Honestly, I’m a little jealous of people who were born into a denomination and still feel comfortable there. That’s not an option for me. I wasn’t born into anything. I wound up with the Mennonites, but that’s not where I started. So, I’m not going to just automatically go back to that.

I’ve been out here in the wilderness for the past few years. The good thing about leaving my religion for so long is that I don’t take anything for granted anymore. There’s nothing that’s obvious to me anymore. I know I used to hold certain beliefs because I was influenced by what the people around me told me. (That’s kind of how childhood works.)

I built up a shoddy house with bad theology back then and it didn’t long to shake that foundation apart (and I torched the ruins on my way out.)

So, when I started over I was really starting over. From scratch.

And that’s a problem.

Last time I built my house on sand, but where the hell is that rock I’m supposed to be building on?! Everyone claims they’re built on the rock, but everyone can’t be right.

I know what it’s like to feel everything I believed in, everything I was, everything that made me Kristy just blow away in the wind. I worry about it a lot. What if I get it wrong again? I mean, I sure thought I knew last time and that didn’t work out.

But, you know what? So what if I get it wrong again? Do I follow perfect theological arguments or do I follow Jesus?

Good theology can help us better understand and follow Jesus, but the end goal is believing in and following Jesus. That’s the whole point.

A lot of wise men and women have walked this road in front of me. A lot of them were more knowledgeable than I will ever be. And time after time they come up with some wonderful contribution that dazzles us with truth… and then they totally go off the rails on some other point. (I’m looking at you Menno Simons. Celestial flesh? Seriously?)

Why would I think I could get it all right when people who are way more brilliant than I am only get things partially right?

I get so hung up on being correct that I’m afraid to move until I know I’m moving in the right direction. So, I get stuck in analysis paralysis and just don’t move forward at all.

At first, I thought I’d find a denomination that agreed with my beliefs.

Then, I realized that was stupid. I couldn’t start with what I believed because I didn’t know what I believed about most things… or if I was even right about the things I did believe.

So, I started looking for what was true, whether I liked it or not. (I don’t actually like the pacifism thing.)

But, that hasn’t gotten me anywhere, either. Because everyone says what they believe is true and most of them can back it up with some pretty convincing arguments.

Maybe I need to stop worrying about perfection and just move. If I get something wrong, I get it wrong. Oh, I’m sure I’ll get some things wrong.

Maybe it’s more important that I find a tradition that’s OK with me not knowing or being certain.

Maybe it’s more important right now that I find some kind of community instead of looking for some fantasy of a perfect group, with perfect theology, and perfect people.

Maybe there aren’t a lot of neat answers to these questions, anyway. Maybe theology is always going to be messy and uncertain because we’re limited humans trying to wrestle with the unlimited divine. Maybe I won’t ever be confident that what I believe to be true is actually true.

I’m starting to think that doesn’t matter. I’m starting to think exploring the question might be more important than finding an absolute answer. A little (or a lot of) mystery might be OK.

Bad theology can be dangerous. So, I do think it’s important to try to get to the right answers. Though, no one person is going to get all the right answers. If we work together (and keep our arrogance and biases in check) maybe we can get close enough. Maybe what I’m really looking for is a group who’s not afraid of wrestling with me.

That Time Mennonites Taught Me How to Fight Back

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Credit: Ken Douglas

The other girls and I sat on the floor and watched the attack.

He grabbed her from behind and pinned her arms to her sides. She extended one leg behind him and pushed backwards against him. He fell to the mat.

“Great!” he said as he jumped back up, “Who’s next?”

I thought it was weird for a Mennonite college to offer a free self-defense class, but I came anyway. I’d left Arkansas a few months earlier. Dad was afraid I’d never go to college if I didn’t get right back on the educational horse, so there I was.

I didn’t participate in campus life. I rarely made it to chapel (and usually slept in my seat when I did). I spent most of my time hiding in the library, avoiding all the squeaky clean students. But, the poster announcing a self-defense class caught my eye and I ventured out of the stacks.

It was my turn. The instructor stood behind me.

I hate it when people stand behind me.

He grabbed me.

I hate it when people grab me.

I tripped him, maybe a little more forcefully than I should have since he wasn’t actually attacking me. “Don’t forget to go for the nuts,” he smiled as he stood back up.

After we practiced getting out of various holds, he gave us some other tips.

My fingers curled into fists when he said, “It’s better to yell ‘fire’ than ‘help’ or ‘rape’. People actually respond to someone yelling, ‘fire’.”

I wasn’t sure if I was angrier with people who yell “help” and “rape” when nothing’s wrong or the people who won’t stop because, well, it wasn’t happening to them.

I wasn’t so sure this class jibed with the whole pacifism thing, but I didn’t really care.

I still checked the closets every time I walked into my dorm room. We’d been careful not to tell too many people where we were, but small towns aren’t very good at keeping secrets.

I wanted to know I could defend myself if I had to.

I attended that class for a lesson on self-defense, not pacifism. I wound up learning about both, thought it didn’t sink in for a while.

I’m not in control of what other people do, but I am in control of my response. Every time I face a situation where I could retaliate, I choose pacifism.

But, being unable to fight back takes away that control. It means I’m passive by default and that’s not really pacifism, is it?

So, now I know to scream “fire” and go for the nuts.

If I’m attacked, maybe I’ll say, “Screw pacifism. I’m getting out of here any way I can.”

Maybe I won’t.

Either way, it’s my choice.

Pacifism is empowering in its own way. When you can hurt someone, but choose not to who’s really the one in control?

 

Sometimes Heathens Hide in Bathroom Stalls

bathroom

Photo credit: Andrew Catellier

When I was 12, my family attended a Mennonite church. It was a nice church, full of nice Christian families…and then there was us.

One Sunday, the sermon turned sexy and the pastor excused the children and teenagers. I hadn’t seen my friend with the group of kids exiting, and I didn’t exactly want to go hang out with the snobby kids who I swear had some kind of radar which allowed them to detect dresses that came from Goodwill. So, I stayed seated as all the other kids left.

Of course, my parents told me I had to leave. I grudgingly scooted out of the pew, walked down the aisle, out the double doors, down the stairs, through the foyer, and into the basement Sunday School rooms. But, the lights were off and nobody was down there.

I walked back up to the foyer and hesitated outside the glass doors that lead into the sanctuary. I watched the pastor speak words I couldn’t hear. A woman quickly strode out of the main hallway and made her way up the stairs beside me. “I’m sorry, but do you know where the youth went?” I asked.

“They’re in the parsonage,” she replied.

“Oh, thanks.”

She went back into the sanctuary and left me standing on the steps, ready to head off to the parsonage.

Except I didn’t know what the hell a parsonage was. But, I couldn’t admit something like that. I was already the kid who couldn’t sing all the books of the Bible in order. I was tired of the incredulous looks I received when I didn’t know what a tabernacle was. Or I didn’t know Samson from Judah… or was it Jude? Joshua? No, that’s a regular name, not a Bible name…

I stared at the coats lining the walls. Don’t panic. The parsonage. It has to be some room attached to the building.

I walked back down the stairs and looked down a hallway. OK. The Fellowship Hall is that way… and right now I’m in the sanctuary. (I wasn’t. I was in the foyer. I didn’t know what a sanctuary was either.)

I turned in a circle and saw the doors to the pastor and assistant pastor’s offices. Maybe a parsonage was a pastor’s office? It sounded similar, right? I cracked open both doors and peaked in, but both rooms were dark.

I wandered into the Fellowship Hall, just in case there was a secret passage that led to the mysterious parsonage, but all I found was the nursery.

The longer I looked, the riskier it was getting. Someone was going to spot me lurking around and discover my shameful secret. That I was just an imposter. I wasn’t one of them. You can dress a heathen up in a second-hand dress, but you can’t make a Christian out of her. My parents hadn’t even dedicated me for crying out loud!

My eyes teared up as I trudged out of the Fellowship Hall. That’s when I passed the ladies’ bathroom. Brilliant!

I ducked inside and entered a stall. I could hide out in here until church was over. When I heard everyone leave, I’d just sneak out and find my parents. I’ve always been an excellent problem solver.

I waited.

…and I kept waiting.

…and oh my gosh this sermon was taking forever.

Women kept coming into the bathroom and leaving. Someone was going to realize I had been in the bathroom for way too long and they’d (loudly) tell my parents I was having some kind of bathroom related issues. That would sure be less embarrassing than the real problem.

We only lived a few blocks away from the church. I could just go home. I’d be in trouble, but at least I’d be in trouble in the privacy of our house.

I made up my mind. I snuck back out of the bathroom, grabbed my coat, and walked back to our house.

Because I’m a genius, I immediately vacuumed the living room. I figured I could still spin this whole thing in my favor. “Look, Mom and Dad! I left church early so I could surprise you with a clean living room!”

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I successfully kept my secret that day, though I’m pretty sure I wound up grounded off TV for a while. I even got really serious about learning all that Bible stuff in case I got into a jam like that again. (I found out the word “parsonage” isn’t actually in the Bible.)

These days, I can pelt someone with out-of-context Bible verses just like a proper Christian. I even know what a font is for, what devotions are, and what an Agape Feast is.

But, I’ve never quite been able to shake the feeling that I’m a little too frayed and torn at the edges. That I’m not groomed enough. That I don’t know all the right words. That I don’t go through all the right motions. That I’m still pretending I belong when everyone knows I don’t.

Except that’s not the gospel, is it?

I don’t have to perfect my knowledge of God or the church before coming into the presence of God. Didn’t God himself travel down dusty roads with followers who didn’t fully understand who he was and what he was going to do?

I don’t think I would have hidden from Jesus.

So, I won’t hide out in the bathroom, pretending I’ve unraveled all the mysteries of our faith when I’ve only just begun picking at those threads. When all of us have only just begun picking at those infinite threads. After all, I’m pretty sure the rest of you hide out in the bathroom sometimes too.

I’m going to figure out what I’m doing that’s chasing people into bathrooms. That’s turning Christianity into an opportunity for embarrassment instead of the good news it’s supposed to be. I’m going to knock that crap off, even if it makes me look more out of place than I already do.

Because those bathrooms are small… and they’re crowded… and not very well ventilated. If earnest people would rather hang out in there than worship with me, I’m probably doing something wrong.

 

Pacifism is not passive. The Christian refusal to participate in any warfare knows nothing of inactivity. Ours is a positive pacifism, combating the very roots of war through the display of God’s love and concern for every person in this alienated world.

Michael Snow, Christian Pacifism: Fruit of the Narrow Way

Resisting Hitler: Roses, Not Rifles

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Photo credit: Harminder Dhesi

A picture of Sophie Scholl was in my Facebook newsfeed this morning. Her picture reminded me that I’ve been meaning to write a post about non-violent resistance for a while.

When I talk about pacifism, people usually assume I mean hiding in a bomb shelter somewhere while other people do the fighting. (When the fighting’s over I’d crawl out of my hole and enjoy all the freedom that other people’s blood had bought me.) That’s not my brand of pacifism at all. I don’t believe in passive pacifism.

We aren’t presented with only two options when faced with violence — kill or be killed. There’s a third way. A Kingdom way. Non-violent resistance is powerful.

This post highlights two stories of German women who stood up to the Nazi regime in 1943.

Sophie Scholl

“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause. Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?” – Sophie Scholl

Sophie and her brother were members of the White Rose during the Nazi regime. The White Rose operated as a non-violent student organization. They distributed leaflets which encouraged others to oppose Hitler and the Nazi party. Sophie and her brother, Hans, were arrested and executed in 1943. She was 21 years old.

The Scholls are now honored as heroes who defied censorship and spoke out against the Nazi government, despite knowing just how dangerous that was.

“…every convinced opponent of National Socialism must ask himself how he can fight against the present “state” in the most effective way, how he can strike it the most telling blows. Through passive resistance, without a doubt.” – Leaflet 3

The Rosenstrasse Protest

“People say: ‘What’s the point of talking about it? You couldn’t do anything against Hitler. How could you stop him?’ But these women did stand up to him.” – Ingeborg Hunzinger

Only a few days after the execution of the Scholls, the Nazis abducted the last of Berlin’s Jewish residents. Some of the Jewish men were married to non-Jewish, German women. The Nazis separated these men from the others and temporarily placed in a building on Rosenstrasse (Rose Street). The wives of the imprisoned men began arriving on Rosenstrasse, demanding the release of their husbands.

Public protests like this were illegal in Nazi Germany. Despite this and the machine guns pointed at them, the women yelled, “Murderer! Murderer!” They continued to protest for 7 days. As more German citizens joined the protest, Joseph Goebbels released the men. He feared that if this protest wasn’t stopped, it would spread to the rest of Germany. A group of unarmed women saved 1,700 Jewish men from Auschwitz.

“Goebbels realized he could not murder all the people he wanted to murder–the Jewish relatives, spouses, sympathizers. At some point the Germans would have begun to identify with one another rather than with a government that kept demanding ever more human victims.” – Dr. Nathan Stoltzfus

No Going Back

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep…that have taken hold.
– Frodo, The Return of the King (film)

I tend to express my exit from Christianity as a single moment in time when I threw up my hands, exclaimed, “Enough’s enough” and strode out of the church without looking back.

(Actually, in my fantasy version I turn over a few tables, shout out a prophecy or two regarding hypocrisy, throw open the church doors, and stride confidently into the great, wide world while all the people I left behind weep in shame…)

The truth is I didn’t stride out into the “great, wide world”.

I’ve really been spending my time blundering about in the wilderness. I’ve gone just far enough out that I don’t really have a good sense of where I’m at, but I haven’t been quite brave enough to lose sight of my old “home” either. I’ve always kept the Mennonite church in my peripheral vision as I wander around. Not quite found. Not quite lost.

Most people think I abandoned God and Christianity when I was 18 and went through that whole being stalked and having my life threatened thing. I didn’t abandon God. I never abandoned God. Why would I abandon God when it wasn’t God but the people in my church who left me to fend for myself?

For a while I really did try to stay. At a new church, I even joined a Sunday School group for “damaged” people, but found out pretty quickly I was too damaged for the damaged to handle. I wanted to be a part of the church, but the church didn’t want me. I come as-is and that didn’t fit into one of the church’s neat little boxes of “good Christian girl” or “salvation project”. I was cynical and angry and, worst of all, I was authentic. I never hid the fact that I was hurt and that wasn’t welcome.

Over the next 13 years, I attended churches here and there. All of them were some flavor of Mennonite or Evangelical… churches I understood, but churches that had no room for me.

I read Christian books, trying to find some loophole I could jump through so that I wouldn’t have to deny the things I knew to be true. I read more of the Bible and gave it more study than I had when I was still formally involved with Christianity.

I just didn’t call myself a Christian. I didn’t think I was one.

About a year ago, I visited yet another evangelical non-denominational church. It was familiar… and that made it unsafe. At least, it felt unsafe to me. Because it’s so easy to get sucked into the hype. It’s so easy to go back to old ways. It’s so easy to take that familiar blanket and cover my head with it so I won’t have to see the monsters. But, that’s dangerous to me. That’s dangerous to my family.

The next Sunday, I visited a Lutheran church. There was no hype. There was just worship. After the service there were people who invited me to have coffee with them. We sat down and I heard about all kinds of things that were wrong with their church… with themselves. These were real people who didn’t coat their conversation with Christianese platitudes. “Maybe,” I thought, “maybe there’s room for me at a table like this.” I had only intended to visit that one Sunday, but I kept going back when I was able. I wasn’t just tolerated, I was welcome.

At the same time, I started delving into history a bit more. That’s when I realized I’d actually been a Christian all along. But… what kind of Christian?

My father grew up Lutheran/Methodist. My mother grew up Catholic. I mostly grew up Mennonite/Evangelical with a dash of fundamentalism. My parents had their reasons for converting away from Catholicism and mainline Protestantism. They were valid reasons and I won’t say they were wrong. They couldn’t stay where they were and continue to grow as Christians.

But, neither can I.

I jokingly call myself “Menno-lite”. (Menno-lite: All the pacifism, none of the fundamentalism.) I’ve toyed with the idea of just saying I’m an Anabaptist, except that wouldn’t really be true either.

I no longer line up with some fundamental Anabaptist/Mennonite doctrines. Aside from the theological differences, there is too much anger, fear, frustration, and anxiety that I associate with Mennonites and Evangelicalism. I don’t feel it’s a safe or healthy spiritual environment for me. It can be for others, just not for me.

I can’t go back. I have no idea where I’m going, but I’m moving forward, further into the wilderness. But, that’s OK because that’s where we go to meet God (or get eaten by bears… one or the other).

Hero of the Early Christian Church {hint: it ain’t Paul}

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dont understand

It does seem counterintuitive to love someone that wants to harm me.  My enemy isn’t someone who doesn’t care about me at all.  According to good old Merriam-Webster, an enemy is “someone who hates another” and “someone who attacks or tries to harm another.”  (So, they care a lot.)

Aside from the whole believer’s baptism thing, the main belief that differentiates Mennonites from other Christian denominations is pacifism.  The “love your enemies” verses do a pretty good job of backing up that belief.  (It’s hard to shoot someone and then claim you loved them.)

Well, that’s all fine and dandy for me since I’m not living in a war zone or anything.  It’s easy to be a pacifist when there’s no danger.  It’s nice in theory, but we’re living in a fallen world.  There are evil men out there and by George, it’s up to us to stop them.

I agree.

It’s up to us to stop them.  But, how?  The Bible is full of people going to war in God’s name.  How can I go around pretending my feel-good, hippie love crap could actually change the world and end violence?

Because Acts tells me it can.

Most Christians know the book of Acts relates the story of the early Christian church.  In the beginning, the book focuses heavily on Peter.  However, it soon shifts to Paul.  The first time I read through Acts, I didn’t understand why Peter was pretty much ignored once Paul showed up.  (Seriously, who is this dude usurping Peter’s place?)

I knew that Paul wrote quite a bit of the New Testament (contained in the Epistles), but I didn’t understand what the big deal was.  I wanted to know what happened to Peter, Matthew, and all the other apostles who had actually known Jesus.  This Paul guy never even met Jesus (unless you count that after-death appearance on the road to Damascus).

But, what if the real point of Acts isn’t to simply narrate history?  (Bear with me.  I promise I have a point.)

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If the story of Acts could be subtitled, “The Road to Rome,” then it makes sense for Luke to shift his focus to Paul.  Paul was a Roman citizen (which helped him in his missionary efforts) and Acts ends when Paul reaches Rome and begins to teach Romans about Jesus.  The implication is that once this new religion has reached Rome, it can reach the world…and it did.

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Paul is a pretty big deal.  We sort of owe him for our religion.

We focus on Paul’s conversion, but we only focus on part of it.  Christians love Paul’s conversion story.  What’s not to love?  The Big Bad meets the risen Christ and becomes the fledgling religion’s biggest advocate.

Except, that’s not when he was converted.  Something happened between Paul’s meeting with Jesus and his conversion.  That’s where Ananias comes in.  Without this man, we would not have Paul.

To understand what Ananias did, we have to understand what Paul (then called Saul) was like before his conversion to Christianity.

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Saul didn’t just dislike Christians.  He actively persecuted them.  He was in Damascus specifically to round up Christians.

It would be reasonable for Christians to hide from him.  It would be reasonable for Christians to defend themselves from him.  But, that’s not what happened.

After Saul met Jesus on the road, he was struck blind.  He didn’t hop up off the road and baptize himself.  He didn’t ask Jesus into his heart or anything like that.  The Bible only says that he was lead into Damascus and didn’t eat or drink for three days.  There is only one thing Saul did.  He prayed.

He had been rooting out Jesus’ followers.  He was totally cool with them being killed.  He’d just had a conversation with Jesus himself (who was supposed to be dead, by the way).  He was blind and praying.  I can’t imagine how hopeless he must have felt to realize he’d been working against God the whole time he thought he was doing God’s will.

Enter Ananias.

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Ananias knew Saul was looking for men just like him to imprison and execute.  There was no doubt that Saul was his enemy.  When Ananias was told to “go”, he understandably questioned the command.  He didn’t know the details of Saul’s experience with Jesus.  For all he knew, Saul would arrest him as soon as his sight was returned.  God’s chosen instruments weren’t always terribly noble (ahem…the first Saul we run into in the Bible…)

The fact that Saul was meant to be an instrument of God didn’t mean Ananias wasn’t charging into the lion’s den.  Ananias had no guarantee of safety.

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“Brother Saul” – This is how Ananias greeted Saul.

He didn’t burst into the room screeching, “You vile, filthy sinner!”  He didn’t condemn Saul as a persecutor or murderer.  He didn’t tell him to clean up his act.  He greeted him in love, as a brother.  It wasn’t that fake I love you so much that I’m going to tell you what an awful sinner you are love either.  It was pure, honest, selfless love.

That is what makes Ananias the biggest hero of the early Christian church.

Saul was baptized and received the Holy Spirit only after he met Ananias.

I’ve seen Ananias praised for having enough faith to be obedient to the command he was given.  Sure, he was obedient.  I don’t think that’s really the point, though.  After all, he didn’t have enough faith to immediately run down the road and chat with Paul.  He was all, “So, you do know who this Saul guy is, right?” instead of immediately obeying.

The real story I see is the story of love.  Ananias did obey, but he obeyed an earlier command Jesus gave.

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Acts says that the church then enjoyed a “time of peace and strength“.  Not only had one of their staunchest opponents converted, but he was actively recruiting new members.

Without Paul, Christianity wouldn’t have spread as it did.

Without Ananias’ willingness to love his enemy, we wouldn’t have Paul.

Who else has made such a huge impact on Christianity in so few verses?

For Christians, loving our enemies does make sense and is practical in a less-than-perfect world full of evil people that want to hurt us (just ask Paul).

 Quote Sources:

Fee, Gordon D.; Stuart, Douglas (2009, October 14). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth (Kindle Locations 1961-1962). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Larkin, W. J. (1995, November). Acts 9 – IVP new testament commentaries. Retrieved from http://www.biblegateway.com/resources/commentaries/IVP-NT/Acts/Pauls-Conversion