The Hurting World, the Angry Christian, the Father God

I loved my experience of Christian liberal arts higher education. I felt welcomed, fed, challenged, and encouraged. I made deep personal connections with professors and peers. I grew into a more articulate, confident, worldly version of myself, and never once did I doubt that God was with me, that I was where he intended me to be.

Shortly after I graduated, while I was still living near the campus, an unofficial, unsanctioned Christian LGBTQ+ discussion and advocacy group formed at my college. I went to the meetings while I lived in the area, and after I moved away, continued to participate in the discussions online, through a private Facebook group. I am both inspired and discouraged by what I read there. Inspired by the currents students and alumni, who as out Christians and allies, patiently and mercifully engage with those who would compare them with pedophiles and drug addicts, refusing to hide in the dark while lovingly extending the same friendly, listening ear they yearn for. Discouraged by the continued flippant, superficial disregard of the turmoil, fear, isolation and misunderstanding shown in so many other students’ and administrators’ responses to the conversation and hospitality this group is trying to foster.

I will admit my own failing in living out the kind of mercy I require of others. When I see the subtle underpinnings of hate and dehumanization, my anger flares up without impunity and I can react ruthlessly. I am largely a privileged human being. I am a citizen of the United States, I am white, I come from a comfortably upper-middle-class family, my college education cost the same as a house and I still graduated without debt. I am a cis woman, and I know the sting of gendered aggression, but I certainly do not know the feeling of being born in the wrong skin.

Yet I am so angry with those who would tear at the very fiber of another person’s being because it does not fit a certain model of perfection, because it is different or misunderstood. I am hurt (though I have far less right be) by Christians who, in the name of God, in the name of LOVE itself, inflict alienation, shame, guilt, and even physical suffering on those who are already relegated to the fringes by society. These same patterns of hate go beyond LGBTQ+ persons to People of Color, Women, the poor, and immigrants. I afraid to align myself with the parents of Leelah Alcorn, who claim the same faith and the same God as I do, yet so brutally disregarded the value of their daughter’s life.

It was at that Christian liberal arts college where I became convinced that my God is not afraid of the grey spaces. My God is not hindered by uncertainty. My God is not troubled or threatened by our chaos. My God is present, compassionate and wonderfully wounded with us. There are no hierarchies of who gets to experience this God.

It is easy for me to believe in a God who died and lives for Leelah Alcorn. It is easy for me to believe in a God who died for victims of campus rape. It is even easy for me to believe in a God who dies for ISIL fighters. These are the scorned, the shamed and the disadvantaged. It is not easy for me to believe in a God who allows so much hate to be spread in his name. It is not easy for me to believe that there is mercy for a white, middle-class, American woman who sings of God’s love on Sunday, only to wish for the death of all Muslims on Tuesday and stand idly by while black children are shot dead by police on Wednesday and crack jokes about little boys in dresses on a Friday. It is not easy for me to believe in a God who would forgive a congregation, when faced with the rape of one of their teenage members, that would first ask what she had done to deserve it.

But the reality is, Christ died and lives for these people just as much as the lost and hurting and disenfranchised. It is hard for me to love those who believe they have earned the love of the Creator of the universe, that they have done everything that is required of them right and properly and are thus justified in condemning the lives of others. When I see Westboro Baptist protesting outside my office building, I want to scream at every picketer,

“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK CHRIST DIED FOR?!”

But I can’t run from the reality that I am not good at loving those who do not love like I do. That my mercy only applies to some people, not all. And even though I find it hard, I believe that God loves the congregants of Westboro Baptist, and well-meaning Pastor Adam Edgerly (who compared my out-Christian-friend to a pedophile to his face). It is not for me to judge their relationship with God. I can question their conclusions and continue loving those they marginalize, but I fall prey to their same brand of prejudice when I respond with the same violence that they inflict with their words and actions (a prejudice which I am often guilty of).

So…

…to those of you who only know a God of wrath and judgement and apathetic distance: he is a merciful Father, who died to make you his child, so he could know you, because you are precious exactly the way you are. He is not afraid of the world’s confusion. The grey areas are not a threat to him. He is as present with you as he is in church on Sunday.

…to those of you who praise the suicide of Leelah Alcorn and ‘conversion’ of LGBTQ+ Christians in the name of God: forgive me. I have hated you like you have hated them. I have left no room for transformation. I have judged you when it is not my place.

…to Christians who have walked away from God because of the suffering of the world: his love is still working, like the labor of childbirth.

If I want to see the people of God live mercifully and self-sacrificially, it has to start with me. I must listen before I speak(yell). My faith and my belovedness are not at risk because of the fears of anther.

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On faith and dying and being alone: One of many reflections on Brittany Maynard’s final choice

Thoughts prompted by hormonal blues, fatigue, an over active mind and this article:

Why do so many people feel compelled—feel that they have the right—to speak up about Brittany Maynard’s decision to take a lethal prescription to end her life before terminal brain cancer ends it? That may read as an angry, political, hedonistic question, but it is a deeply earnest one.

Is it because she is so young? As the NPR article I referenced above points out, most assisted suicides in America are carried out by educated, older, white adults. When someone not yet in her thirties is given months to live it shakes our faith in both science and God. “How can this happen to someone so young?Why can we not fix it?” Or is it because it flies in the face of American sensibilities? Even individual achievement, self-determination, and elbow grease cannot fix and control terminal cancer. Not even a marathon fundraiser. We can politicize and evangelize and criminalize cancer, but we cannot control a few hungry cells. Or, is it because death has become an altogether unspoken fear? The one thing in life that can be counted upon and yet it is kept quiet, ignored or kept neatly in distant mechanical headlines where it’s deep belly-ache hurt cannot be felt.

We are bad at death. And when it hits too close to home we are so paralyzed by the fear of it that we must deny the reality of its reality altogether or run away and package it to look like some other issue because our pain and suffering is too great to bear the pain and suffering of those who do not have the luxury of leaving the hospital at the end of the afternoon.

I am afraid of dying. I am afraid of what comes after. There are nights when I cannot shake that fear and I lie awake for hours hoping that the incandescent light of my desklamp will keep the shadow of the unknown from haunting me until morning. I am afraid of death and I am afraid of knowing when it will arrive. I am afraid, though without reason yet as Brittany had, of chasing after more time at the expense of my sanity and my peace and my body. I cannot know which fear would win out: of death or of dying. I have the luxury of avoiding the question. Brittany and her family did not.

So I keep asking myself, why are we so obsessed with Brittany and her choice? Why are we so compelled to tell her how she should have felt or acted, or that she was brave or cowardly, or that the Law is merciful or manipulative? There wasn’t a single news story until that NPR article that didn’t use Brittany to some other end. I don’t really care what the Law is(n’t) or what the right decision was. Brittany made her choice this weekend. It’s done. It can never be undone.

What I care about is that no one seemed to just listen to her. What is the point in fighting for “life” and “dignity” that isn’t guaranteed when we make the lives of others so miserable in the process? In the last few weeks and days of catching glimpses of headlines, the underlying fear of acknowledging death became so apparent. No one could rest with the hard and painful reality that death was coming to Brittany somehow, and is coming to each of us too. Be refusing to hear the story she wished to tell, by making it into our own soapbox for life and for dignity, we kept ourselves safe from the truth. I wonder how many people who have shared an opinion about what Brittany ought to have done have actually sat with a dying person. Some have surely, but many probably have not.

Death is lonely. There can never be anyone there to hold my hand through it. Why must we take the suffering of others, whether mental, spiritual, physical, and twist it into a narrative that soothes our own fears? Can we ever learn to acknowledge our fear and put caring for the dying before our own discomfort?


Image via Guilherme Yagui