I’ve been thinking about this piece for a while now. I’ve mulled it over and over in my mind. Would I write it or not? How long would it be? How much background would I share? Am I willing to share so much of my personal faith? So here goes …
I’ve composed this piece in three parts:
- The Background – a little about how I grew up and how my faith has evolved
- The Incident – the seemingly harmless interaction that shook me to my core
- The Result – how my faith stands today
Part 1: The Background
I grew up Southern Baptist, so Southern Baptist that our pastor was the president of the Southern Baptist Convention. We didn’t dance, movies were frowned upon, and any music that wasn’t Christian, and preferably Southern gospel, was seen as less than ideal. In the ultimate irony, as a young teenager I had one poster of a boy on the back of my bedroom door, and took it down due to guilt over the potential to lust. Oh, what was the irony you ask? The boy was Kirk Cameron.
As one friend recently put it, “You mean you grew up like Footloose? That is a real thing?”
Yep, that was a real thing, and in many places it still is a very real thing.
There was a lot of pressure to stay in the lines. You showed up at church every time the doors were open – Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night. You wore dresses, and not just any dresses but nice dresses with giant floral patterns, bows in your hair, and the perfect giant curls. Yes, some of that was just simply the 1980s, but the point is that the lines extended to how you looked and dressed.
One of my very best friends was often ostracized because she loved to wear black, was little alternative, and marched to the beat of her own drummer. We were an odd pair – I followed every rule, terrified to step out of line, and she fought to be herself, even in the face of harsh judgment. She’s still one of my best friends, and part of our life-long bond is that we survived that crazy time in our lives.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some good memories, too. I loved to sing and play music, and we got to do that in spades. We had summertime rollerskating parties after church. There were secret moments where a boy you had a crush on would boldly sneak and hold your hand in a church service and your body would tingle with the electricity of something new, the danger of getting caught, and the simple power of a human connection.
And then time moved on … and literally my family and I moved on and away to Texas. Probably one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. We left that church.
We still went to church, but it was different. There was more freedom, less rule following, and just a general casualness. But I had spent my formative years learning how to live in the box really well, so while I occasionally dipped my toes in the waters of life, I pretty much kept decorating my perfectly safe and limited box.
Fast forward over 20 years, and my world has greatly expanded. There are things, that if my childhood friends who still practice that same form of devotion knew about me, would have caused them to write me off long ago.
Here’s my top 10 list of actions, thoughts, and beliefs that are wildly out of step with how I grew up:
- I married a Catholic. Not only did I marry Cowboy, I went through the entire conversion process, and we got married in the Catholic Church. Why is this a big deal? Because people I grew up with thought Catholicism was a cult. I was seriously stepping out on a ledge with this one.
- Cowboy and I have gone to all kinds of Christian churches – Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, non-denominational, heck we even tried the Cowboy Church trend for a while. Today we would tell you that we are Christians, and not so great at being joiners.
- I’ve got friends, like true-blue-do-anything for you friends, that are from all walks of life and all manner of beliefs. Now yes, lots of folks talk a good game here, but I mean I love these people for who they are. It’s not about tolerating them or spouting some “love the sinner” language at them. Some of my friends are gay. Some are transgender. Some are atheists. Some are Jewish. Some are Mormon. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses. Some are Catholic. Some have blond hair, and brown hair, and red hair. You get my point. It’s ridiculous all the classifying of people we do.
- I listen to all kinds of music. I even sometimes dance – although admittedly I’m no Ginger Rogers so it’s generally more of a wiggle and a waggle kind of affair.
- I sometimes curse. Well, because sometimes you just have a moment.
- Cowboy and I don’t currently have a church. Sometimes we have church on the porch. We are Christians, we hold our beliefs dear, but we also hold our love for others dear. We aren’t keen on signing up to belong to any group that is unkind toward any other group. We hope we will find a new church home someday, but for right now we are okay.
- I believe tithing doesn’t mean the money has to go to church. I believe it’s about doing good, and your gifts of time, money, and your talents can be shared with any group, cause, or organization that makes this world a better place. I don’t think God is keeping track if it went to a certified church.
- I believe women can be in charge, and can be leaders and pastors. That we don’t have to be relegated to childcare and women’s ministries. I also believe we don’t all have to aspire to motherhood. Ladies, if you want to be a mom. God bless you! It’s one amazing calling, gift, and job. But if that’s not your thing, that is okay, too. And out in the world, while women can work for men (no shocker there), men can also work for women. In my day job, I am the only girl on the leadership team. That means I work with a lot of men. I travel with them. Eat with them. Work with them. Some have even become like brothers to me. But don’t get me wrong, I’m still wildly devoted to Cowboy, and he is my one and only guy. You can do both.
- God’s greatest gifts to us are love and grace. That means, our greatest gift to others needs to be love and grace. “Now wait a minute. No one would argue that point,” you might say. You are correct. No one will argue that point, but my point is that we need not to just talk about this but LIVE IT.
- God can use anything to speak to you. It’s okay to read and learn and question. God can stand up to your questioning. We don’t need to run away and hide from other religions and see them as scary. If you take a minute to look and listen, you will see that we are really not all that different from each other.
If many of the folks I grew up with knew the real me as I am right now, I’d be added to prayer lists, seen as on the fringe, and dare I say, unfriended.
Which leads me to why I wrote this piece in the first place. I wanted to share an experience that happened several months ago that shook me, wracked me with tears, and caused me to do some deep soul searching.
Part 2: The Incident
A childhood friend, who knew me then and still subscribes to her deep version of faith, who even makes her living in the ministry, wrote me off. Now in her defense, she only knew the me of 25 years ago. Through the magic of Facebook we reconnected, talked over Messenger, shared Christmas cards, and voila our friendship was back in tact.
But here’s the thing. She didn’t change; I did. Her beliefs, her behavior were exactly how we were both raised. When we rekindled our friendship, her assumption was that I was how I had always been. Through the limited window of Facebook, she saw pics of the farm, of Cowboy and me, and read my stories about farm life. She was missing the context of who I really am.
Through Facebook I also learned that politics were somewhat of a passion of hers; they are not so much for me. And that over time her politics and her faith had become intertwined in ways I didn’t, and still don’t, fully understand. As a rule, I try to avoid politics, especially on social media. I’ve got friends on all sides, and I try to be respectful.
One night I saw a political post she made, and I responded. Another testament to why one shouldn’t Facebook at night. I don’t recall saying anyone was wrong, but more just sharing a different point of view.
And it wasn’t about anything earth-shattering; it was simply about all of the hubabloo about whether Pence would eat dinner with a woman who wasn’t his wife. (In case you missed this media circus, as I had before I saw her post, simply Google “Pence dinner.” You’ll have reading for the next week from all sides.)
If you’ve stuck with me this far, you know, from my comments up above, that in my line of work you sort of have to forget gender all together and just get the job done. I mean really, in most lines of work that is jut how you have to roll.
And what started as a harmless comment where I thought we were sharing ideas turned into an explosion. I desperately tried to go back and re-read my comments to make sure I hadn’t been offensive, but it was of no use. My comments were erased. Others who vehemently agreed with her, including her husband, where chiming in. And that was it. I was fully exposed for who I am today.
I sent a private message trying to make sure that she knew no harm was meant. I didn’t think she was wrong, I was just trying to share my point of view. Radio silence.
And then it finally came the next morning, the response. A scathing private message. At the end of the day, the tone of the message was what hurt so much. There was a moral superiority. That somehow she and her family were more faithful, closer to God, more devout because of their point of view. I was free to have my point of view, but I was clearly less than.
I read and reread the note. I had no words, except simply reply to her that I appreciated her sharing her thoughts. And then in a flash, it was over.
I was unfriended.
This girl, who I had known since we were 13 and 14 years old, who had slept over at my house and me at hers, was done with me. I was written off in the name of God. And all of those feelings of having to stay in the box came flooding back.
I had very clearly stepped out of the box. I sent one more private message wishing her well, and expressing sadness that she had unfriended me. And there were crickets. Not a sound. Not a peep. It was over.
Part 3: The Result
I wrestled with how this woman of immense faith could cut me out. And then I remembered what I have always known. We, as humans, have an uncanny ability to misuse the words of God. That when churches and people of faith cut you out, tear you down, and look to break you, that is simply not God. It’s the farthest thing from God.
What breaks my heart is that my story is not unique. Heck, this is not even my first go-round with being shoved to the outside in the name of faith. So very many have been hurt by the church. And for many, the church and God get intertwined in a way that makes the two inextricable from each other, and understandably so.
But what this hard lesson reminded me is that God is love. God is God. And while there are those that would seek to use God’s message to separate, to hurt, and to feel superior, there are even more of us seek to show God’s love. We’re often quieter and harder to spot, but we are here.
God is here. God loves us, even when people disappoint us. God is ready to pick us back up again and walk beside us.
I realize this is quite a long post, and for those of you who stuck with me, thank you for letting me share my story. To those who have been hurt in the name of God, my heart breaks with you. But know, that those people do not speak for God. God is love.
P.S. As for my friend, I truly do wish her well. I don’t hold ill will or bad feelings toward her. I realize that she never really knew me as I am today, and when she caught a glimpse of the real me, it was frightening. If she ever reached out, I’d gladly answer her call.
P.P. S. We’ve all (at least I think) unfriended folks in our lives for different reasons, especially in the world of Facebook, if for no other reason than to limit who we share our lives with. Sometimes it needs to happen. This piece is far less about being unfriended and more about when you are cut off in the name of God and when you are seen as less than. To anyone in my past who may have experienced the feeling that I thought you were somehow less than, please accept my sincerest apology. I continue to grow and to learn, and I cherish the people in my life who allow me to call them friend.