Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mortal Sin

I stood on the sidewalk outside of the youth group meeting spot, talking to Carrie. Inside, rowdy teens piled on sofas or chased each other around for the last few minutes before their parents arrived to pick them up. Out here it was a warm, quiet evening on Market Street in downtown Dayton, a place where all the shops closed at 5.

The door opened, releasing the sounds of laughter and one small child. She stalked up to us and stood toe-to-toe with me, staring up at my face.

"Are you a skater?" she asked suspiciously. 

"No," I said, "I fall off of things with wheels."

She leaned closer, wrinkling her nose.

"Are you goth?!" she asked. I looked down at my black clothing.

"I don't know. I guess so," I said. She turned and looked at Carrie.

"Is she going to go to Heaven?" she asked. Carrie and I burst into laughter. She turned beet red and stalked off.

If there was anything to be learned from that experience, none of us figured it out.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Past Life, Part III: Down the Spiral

Humans tend to think in binary: yes or no, on or off, is or isn’t. The fundamentalist traditions are saturated with binary thinking: you are saved, or you aren’t. You are us, or you are them. You take every word in the Bible literally, or you reject the Word of God. Pray the Sinner’s Prayer, and in a moment you switch from the damned to the redeemed. There is not much room for spiritual progress in the pop fundamentalist understanding of salvation.

This is where the Christian compulsion to forgive becomes a bludgeon. If someone has been injured and is still carrying the effects of the injury, we think they haven't forgiven. We don't recognize that forgiveness is a process. We jump on them and tell them to forgive and forget. Just do it. The Holy Spirit will give you the strength. One-step forgiveness, and if you can't handle it then you aren't praying the right way.

Past Life, Part II: The Spiral of Forgiveness

The nightmare comes within the first week of moving to a new place. Here I am, in a house or a dorm or an apartment, and my father shows up. He is creeping around the outside of the building, climbing up the wall to my window. He is waiting in the hallway for me to walk past. He is smashing the locks, opening the door and walking in, laughing at me as my knees give out in fear and I try to crawl away. He is grabbing me and pawing at me, running his hands over my flesh, pressing himself against me as I scream for help. I wake up covered in sweat and shaking. My new home isn't safe.

When I began talking about the abuse that had gone on for the first twelve years of my life, there were two reactions. Counselors and social workers and people used to dealing with trauma listened, and asked questions, and eventually said: "You need to reject the injury that he's done you. You need to sever the relationship, and the way you do that is by forgiving the debt that he owes you. As long as you cherish that debt, he will still have power over you."

But when I spoke candidly with the members of Grace, the people who had sat with him at church and worked with him at the college, they would frown, cut me off and say, "You need to forgive him! God wants you to have a healthy relationship with your father. If you pray, God will help you set aside your anger and be forgiving." Because I was a victim, it meant I was also a sinner. To talk about the injury meant that I was holding a grudge, and that I was judging the abuser instead of leaving the judgment up to God.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Baptist Bingo: Baptism & Infant Dedication, Part I

Baptists are one of several traditions that don't baptize our babies. We are credobaptists, practicing what's often called Believer's Baptism, baptism of adults by full immersion (known as the dunk, as opposed to the sprinkle).

When I was a small child, attending a non-denominational credobaptist church, I thought that I ought to be baptized because I believed in Jesus. That's what people who believe in Jesus do.

Of course, you have to have water to have a baptism, and we didn't have water.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

I Do Not Think It Means What You Think it Means

It's a small-talk question. "You used to live in a small town? How many kids were in your graduating class?" people will ask. Or, "I went to Thomas Jefferson. Did you go to high school around here?" That one is easy to dodge if I don't feel like getting into the issue: "No, I grew up in Tennessee."

See, there's no telling which reaction I'll get once I disclose that I was homeschooled. Will it be "Oh, that's interesting," or "Really? My brother-in-law homeschools his kids," or the dreaded, "That's so strange. I never would have thought you were homeschooled. You don't seem like it."

It's not a fun conversation to have. For many people, public school is such a basic framework of reality that they can't believe I could grow up homeschooled and not have any resulting mutations, like an extra limb or gills. Having been homeschooled doesn't make me cool, the way that growing up in a foreign country makes people cool. It doesn't make me clever, the way that attending a competitive prep school makes people clever. It makes me. . . wrong. Neglected, probably; repressed, certainly; and absolutely uneducated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Other Kind of Baptist, or, All I Really Wanted was to Play with Power Tools

My church sent some folks down to Richmond to work on houses with other members of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board. I was assigned to a crew that was building a wheelchair ramp. The crew leader was a big, stocky man with a mustache. His wife had a puffy dome of permed hair. She was the only other female on that crew, and she was trouble. She was the other kind of Baptist.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"I AM ABOUT TO DIE": Clumsiness, Mortality Awareness, and the Chronic Non-Joiner, Part I

When I was about six, my mother enrolled me in a swimming class. She has a photograph of my bony, blue-white frame being lifted down into the water by a bronzed, Apollo-esque college student with sun-bleached hair. I am crouching in midair, my limbs folding up against my body with fear as the massive, muscled hands draw me down. I am afraid that I am going to die.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Baptist Bingo: What the Sam Hill do you guys believe, anyway?

There's about a 100% chance that at some point this month, I'll go to church and hear a sermon about how we are completely depraved and how God wants to save us, and sent His son Jesus to die on the cross and bear God's wrath for our sins, offering himself as a substitutionary atonement to erase our bad standing with God. Then there will be an appeal for us to ask Jesus to come into our hearts, because only when we freely choose to accept the crucifixion for our sins will we experience God's saving grace. From that point we can rest assured that we are guaranteed to enter into Heaven when we die.

That is the personal doctrine of my church's interim pastor. He is a huge fan of penal substitutionary atonement theory. He's also an Arminian.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Summer Camp

The calendar says it's three weeks until summer starts, but that's a terrible falsehood. The DC metro summer has rolled its smoggy smothering self across the region, bringing heat advisories and color-coded air quality warnings.

As an adult, summer means that my antiperspirant wears out before I reach the Metro station and I spend my lunch breaks in the office instead of outside inhaling VOCs. As a child, summer in Rhea County meant a week at Cumberland Springs Bible Camp, each day packed with swimming, sports, and the fellowship of rambunctious kids.

I hate swimming and sports and fellowshipping with rambunctious people.