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.

 

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Creeds

I politely stood when the congregation stood and hoped no one noticed my mouth wasn’t moving. I read along in my bulletin as they spoke the words, a little off on the beat here and there.

But I wouldn’t say things I didn’t believe, and I wasn’t exactly sure what kind of chanty, culty,  brainwashy stuff this was.

“I believe in one God…”

I didn’t realize this Lutheran church recited one of the creeds every Sunday, just like I hadn’t realized they took communion every Sunday. It took a few repeat visits before I caught on (I’m liturgically slow).

Every Sunday, I read the words and thought about what they meant. I’d heard about credal churches. Suffocating places that made you say certain magic words before you could join the club. Extra-biblical, they’d told me.

But how were these words anything but a summary of the Bible?

These creeds didn’t contain any deal breakers for me.

They didn’t say, “We believe God created the world in six days” or “We believe you have to take the most literal interpretation of scripture that you can possibly find”.

They didn’t say anything at all about a woman’s role or pacifism or faith healing.

There were no doctrinal stumbling blocks for me in these creeds.

I started to understand that the creeds didn’t say, “We believe only this…” but rather “We believe at least this…” Where some people see restrictions, I see freedom.

Christians all over the world, in different traditions that wouldn’t normally agree on much, stand up together on Sunday mornings and as one body recite the same words Christians have recited for centuries. And that’s a powerful thing to be a part of.

I believe.

And even though I’m a denominational orphan, and I’m not sure which tradition could possibly stomach me, I can stand up on Sunday morning with the church and I belong.

Listen Up

I used to be a good listener. I’ve sat on a hard bench, listening to a girl recount not just one of her lives, but two. And even though I knew she couldn’t really have been Bloody Mary in a previous life (especially since she’d gotten the details of Queen Mary’s life confused with Elizabeth Báthory), I kept my damn mouth shut and just let her talk.

James 11920

At some point, I turned into a terrible listener. I might take in the words and all, but sometimes I’ll dismiss them without a fair shot because I already know the right answer.

Maybe we get like that when we don’t feel heard. You’d think that when we don’t feel heard we’d have some empathy and listen harder since we know what it feels like to be dismissed. But, nah. We just tend to scream even louder, don’t we?

James 122

Sometimes I talk about being a crappy pacifist. Straight up, y’all. My name is Kristy and I’m a super crappy pacifist.

Oh, I’m not running around getting into drunken bar fights (anymore). But just avoiding violence—which is honestly pretty easy to do—isn’t enough.

Matthew 59

Jesus didn’t say, “Blessed are the people who run away from fights” or “Blessed are you when you lay the verbal smackdown on someone instead of socking them in the jaw.”

We’re blessed when we make peace. Not enjoy any peace that may already exist. Make peace.

How do we begin to make peace?

We fucking listen.

Everyone believes they have a damn good reason for doing what they do. I’ve done some crazy shit, but I always had a reason for it.

When we see someone doing or saying the “wrong” thing, instead of saying, “Hey, listen up. Let me tell you all the reasons why you’re dumb and wrong,” we should say, “Hey, I want to understand how you got there. Can you tell me why you think that?”

Maybe that person does have a damn good reason and we’ve just never considered it before. Maybe we’ve been so sheltered from certain experiences that we can’t come to the correct answer because we need firsthand experience to fully understand the implications of those decisions.

James 1:26-27

Being correct doesn’t always give us the right to jump in. Christians should be slow to speak and quick to listen. Slow to give answers and quick to listen to the questions. Slow to impose our ways and quick to listen to others explain why they do what they do.

When we talk to others, are we being patient? Kind?

Are we being proud?

Are we making peace or feeding our ego?

Are we more concerned with being right than with being loving? Are we more worried about proving a point than we are about being the doer James mentioned? Are we so wrapped up in wasting energy on arguments and debates that we’ve defiled our religion and ignored the needs of vulnerable people?

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

Sometimes it’s OK to let people say wrong things. It’s OK if someone’s not quite there yet. It’s OK to realize we don’t know all there is to know. It’s OK to listen to ideas we disagree with or don’t like (even ideas that bring on Hulk-like rage).

But it’s never OK to be unloving.

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.

The Bravest Statement

Credit: Mike Bitzenhofer

Credit: Mike Bitzenhofer

I’ve known some pretty brave people. In my early 20s, I used to have conversations with a Holocaust survivor if that tells you something about my braveometer.

Yet, the bravest thing I’ve ever seen happened in a tiny church in the middle of nowhere when I was about seventeen.

I was over at the church, cleaning used tissues out of the hymnal slots (why, people?!) and feeling pretty pissy about it. I’d recently had a meeting with the church elders about an unflattering website some friends and I had created about our youth group’s courtship class. It was all supposed to stay private, but when the website leaked I was seriously up Crap Creek (I didn’t have such a potty mouth back then). I was asked to apologize for creating the website, but I refused to offer an empty apology just so everyone else would feel like the situation had been resolved.

If that wasn’t enough, I’d gotten a phone call from a friend that week. She and some of our friends had seen our old youth leader’s car in town. So, of course, they shaving creamed it “for me” even though that just made things worse because who was going to believe I hadn’t had anything to do with that?

On Friday, I’d been walking down the hall toward the parking lot when a girl who barely knew me (but attended my old youth leaders’ new church) stopped me just to tell me what an awful person I was for making that website.

So, I was in a foul mood that Saturday afternoon as I swept through the pews, cleaning up other people’s filth.

I was surprised when the front doors opened. I was even more surprised to see another teenage girl walking down the aisle toward me. “Can I talk to you?” she asked.

“I guess.”

I already knew what it was about, and I could guess what she had to say. She was the leak. She’d shown the website to our former youth leaders. I braced myself to hear more about what a terrible person I was, but that’s not what happened. She’d come to apologize.

I don’t remember exactly what we said to one another while sitting in our separate pews that afternoon. What I do remember is how ornery I could be back then. I’ve never been one to back down easily (which is great when I’m right, but not so great when I’m wrong.)

I’m not sure what she thought I’d say. This was someone who, while not especially close to me, knew me well enough to guess she was walking into a firing squad. She walked into the church anyway.

No, I didn’t eviscerate her (good grief, what do you people think I’m capable of?) We were two teenagers. She cried. I cried. We got over it.

So, what’s so brave about that? Was I really such a scary person when I was a teenager?

Well, I’ll straight up tell you that any person you’re apologizing to is the scariest person alive at that moment.

It’s so much easier to justify the things we do. To pat ourselves on the back and say, “they had it coming”. There’s no strength or bravery there. Those are just the actions of someone who’s too afraid to look in the mirror.

The bravest statement in the world is, “I’m sorry.”

That other person you’re talking to might just throw your apology back in your face. They might throw everything you’ve ever done wrong at you.

Or, they might forgive you.

But, you really never know.

I used to get pretty bent out of shape because people don’t apologize to me very often, even when there’s been an obvious error on their part. But, you know, specks and planks.

Apologies from my mouth are so rare I could probably count them on one hand. And the worse my transgression against someone is, the more ashamed I am of what I’ve done, the less likely I am to apologize. (Apologies are some scary shit.)

Isn’t that what we’re really fighting against, though? Shame? Sometimes we know we don’t deserve forgiveness.

I’ve done things I’m ashamed of. (You went straight to sex, didn’t you? Get your mind out of the gutter.)

Most of the time I’ve hurt people by accident. But, sometimes… Sometimes it was on purpose.

If I don’t sit here and come up with excuses and justifications, what kind of a person would that make me? (Hint: Not a good one.) So, I can understand why people don’t apologize very often.

I don’t apologize because I’m afraid to admit that sometimes I can be vindictive and mean-spirited sometimes. I don’t apologize because I’m afraid you’ll just confirm all my worst fears about myself. Maybe that’s why you don’t apologize, too.

So, we leave those unspoken words hanging in the air like a virus.

Oh, we know what happens when we don’t try to make things right. Sin festers. Sin rots.

But, isn’t it enough to just ask God to forgive us?

Um, no. That’s just a cop out and we all know it.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. – Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)

That doesn’t sound like a get-out-of-apology-free card to me. Most of us are well aware of this scripture. We just handily ignore it.

We’re supposed to reconcile with the person who has something against us. How can we reconcile without taking responsibility for our part in the dispute?

Besides, apologies are kind of obnoxious, right? Once someone’s expressed genuine remorse, I have to stop focusing on getting them to see what they’ve done wrong and I have to start looking at what I’ve done wrong. An apology won’t fix what’s broken, but it can open a door and maybe there’s a path toward reconciliation on the other said.

I’m not saying anyone should follow my example here. This is the #1 thing I’m the most terrible at. I guarantee there are people reading this blog post right now thinking, “Kristy seriously owes me an apology” and I probably do.

I’m going to work on opening those doors.

So, if I come up to you and apologize for some bitchy thing I’ve done, please don’t disembowel me.

And I promise I won’t disembowel you either.

Hi there, I’m the enemy Jesus told you about.

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you… – Matthew 5:44 (ESV)

The most humbling thing about Matthew 5:44 is knowing that some people see me as their enemy. (Really. There are people who have serious beef with me.)

It might be because we don’t share the exact same beliefs.

It might be because we’ve had a misunderstanding.

It might be because we stood on opposite sides of an issue.

It might be because I’ve done something or said something that caused you pain. (Knowing how impulsive and tactless I can be, this is probably the one.)

Now, I’m not sitting here, rubbing my hands together and cackling or anything. For the most part, I curb my hot-headedness (though, I’m not always successful there) and do what I think is the right thing to do in a situation. Almost everyone does that. The problem is, we don’t all agree what the right thing to do is.

Instead of taking a step back and thinking, “Hey, maybe this other person is sincerely doing what they believe is right,” we jump to all sorts of conclusions about their “true” motives, toss a target on their back, and start firing. That’s what I tend to do, at least.

But, most people aren’t trying to do evil things. Most of us try to be good and principled people. I certainly don’t want to hurt anyone. But, somewhere along the line we all get caught up in something that will get us labelled as the “enemy” of someone else, whether we’ve actually done something wrong or not. (That’s not a cop out, by the way. I’ve definitely done some wrong things.)

But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. – Galatians 5:15 (ESV)

I’m not your enemy. You aren’t my enemy. We do have a mutual enemy, though, and I wish we could see that instead of cannibalizing one other.

We sheep are so busy defending ourselves from one another that we totally ignore the wolf when he shows up.

So, pray for me—your enemy—and I’ll pray for you, and together we’ll strike a blow against our real enemy.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Eight months ago I made a commitment to pray every day for peace. And I’ve technically upheld that commitment. Though I have included unspoken modifiers in that prayer.

God, please bring peace and reconciliation (just don’t bring it here.)

I talk about pacifism a lot. I firmly believe it’s the most consistent way of living out Christ’s example.

But, I’m a really crappy pacifist.

I don’t go around punching people. But, so what? How many Christians go around punching people? That’s not a pacifist thing. That’s just a decent human being thing.

Jesus didn’t say, “Y’all are cool just so long as you don’t actually smack anyone.”

Jesus didn’t even stop at turning the other cheek. Jesus told us to go the second mile. Jesus told us to love and pray for our enemies. That’s Christian pacifism. And that’s exactly what I resist.

Because I know what happens when you start praying for someone. Prayer humanizes. It strips away all the caked on layers of stage make-up and suddenly you’re staring at a person who isn’t much different than you. That’s when empathy kicks in. And empathy is a real bitch. Because empathy doesn’t let you stew in self-righteous anger.

I thought being angry gave me strength. But, I didn’t Hulk out on evil and injustice. I mostly just stood still because anger is paralyzing.

But, I was afraid to give that up. I fooled myself into believe anger was a shield instead of a cage. Because, really, at the root of it all wasn’t anger. It was fear.

And hadn’t that been the problem to start with?

That’s what I remember most from that time. We were all so very afraid.

I’m not just talking about the few months I was getting death threats. Fear was there from the very beginning. The church was impregnated with fear.

The world is becoming more and more secularized.

If this person isn’t healed by our prayers, does that mean we don’t have enough faith?

The evolutionists are influencing our children.

Our children might not stay pure.

What if I lose some of my political pull in this church?

What if these are the end times?

If she wears that skirt, it might cause a boy to stumble.

What if they all find out what I really do when I’m not sitting in a pew?

Is there anything in the gospel message that could possibly justify fear? Because I sure haven’t come across anything like that.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. – 1 John 4:18-21

The only antidote for fear is love. That’s why we’re supposed to love and pray for our enemies.

Does doing that somehow take away the possibility that we’ll be hurt? Of course not. Look at all the martyred apostles.

But, if we want even the slimmest chance that reconciliation might be possible we have to be willing to put down the shield, step out of the cage and speak the truth.

My truth is that I don’t hate any of them. I never stopped caring for them and that’s why it hurt so much. I thought being angry could somehow inoculate me against that pain. It worked more like an addictive drug—it was never enough and I’d wind up with awful rebound heartaches if I didn’t keep taking it. But, I was afraid to let it go because I was even more afraid of the sorrow it covered.

So, instead of grieving I got angry. And then I got bitter. And cynical. And spiteful.

I didn’t want to pray for those people. Praying for them felt like saying what they did was OK. Like approval. Besides, part of me wanted them to feel just as much pain as I’ve felt.

Eventually, I just tried not to think about any of them at all. I gave them up. I gave the church up. I gave Christianity up because I couldn’t be involved with it without resurfacing those old hurts.

A couple of years ago, I started taking some tentative steps back into religion. A little while after that I had to stop working and move back across the country with no idea what I was going to do for myself. The life path I’d worked so hard on had been a dead end. Just like when I was 18.

That combination brought all those old memories back full force. (It’s not like I sit around 24/7 playing mental reels of these events.) A lot of anger and resentment came bubbling up at that time. That’s when I started writing about some of it on the blog. And I wasn’t exactly charitable about it.

A couple of months ago, I was bitching about how hard it was for me to rebuild my life and how it was all their fault that I hadn’t graduated college when I should have with the degree I was supposed to get among all the friends I should be seeing all the time in the church I was supposed to be a part of. I wished they could understand how difficult it’d been for me. How much they’d permanently damaged me. But, they’re all just down there living their lives and probably never gave me a second thought after I left. And their lives are probably just perfect.

It struck me how ridiculous that was.

Because I know that all of our decisions have consequences. We can’t escape that. It occurred to me that—consciously or not—they’ve suffered as well. I didn’t escape that situation without suffering some spiritual blows and I can’t imagine the same isn’t true for all of them.

That thought stopped my tirade. I don’t really want any of them to suffer and suffering spiritually is the worst kind of suffering I can imagine.

Being the impulsive person that I am, I said a prayer for them before I could talk myself out of it. It wasn’t long. Just a sentence asking God to bring healing to all of us. What that healing looks like is up to God I suppose. I don’t think I’m unbiased enough to ask for anything specific there.

I’ve prayed for all of us every night for the past two months.

The more I pray, the more that old anger is replaced with empathy. Now, I’m not saying I don’t still feel hurt over the whole thing. That hasn’t changed one bit. Praying doesn’t rewrite history to take away the pain of what happened. If anything, setting down this anger makes me even more vulnerable. There’s no barrier between me and them now. Between me and what happened.

Still, praying seems to have given me some perspective that I lacked before. I can see that most of them believed they were doing the right thing. I can see that a lot of what happened was fear-based. And, oh can I ever understand fear.

Who knows. I’ve changed a lot in the past 15+ years. It’s possible some of them have too. Maybe some of them feel bad about how it all ended up. Maybe that doesn’t even matter.

Maybe we can find some kind of peace anyway.

That Time Mennonites Taught Me How to Fight Back

dove

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?