Jane Arie Baldwin

Personal Tools for Living at the Highest Levels of You

Month: March, 2013

I’m a Christian. Why does that make me uncomfortable?

The Wrong Store, Marfa.

The Wrong Store, Marfa.I

It’s Holy Week in Christendom.  What better week for my coming out party as a Christian.  There.  I said it –  I am a Christian!  So why does that make me so uncomfortable?

Could it be because I was raised in the eighties when evangelicalism ran rampant?

Or because I’m from Texas?

Or because I was raised in an extremely conservative community?

The answer is most likely  the perfect storm of these overlapping ideas.  As much as I want to write about faith and God’s love and call myself a Christian I still feel locked in the stranglehold of the evangelism of my youth.  I cannot think of the word Christian without massive judgement coming up about the conflicting ideas about what Christianity is supposed to be.  What I’m wondering is — If Christianity is truly about loving your neighbor and acknowledging that all people are equal in the eyes of the Lord — what the hell have I been fighting against?  And more importantly, who am I without my Christian rebellion?

I have just as much a right to my Christian heritage as the next American.  I was baptized as a Protestant, probably Methodist because my family attended the Methodist church.  I could have also been baptized in the Christian church, the church of my grandparents — though probably not.  I only ever saw my grandparents in a church at funerals and weddings  but Granny would go out of her way to say things like, “Oh, I am a very proud member of the First Christian Church!”

My dad’s side of the family was Baptist.  Dad’s mom, my Granny Pearl, liked to drink Schlitz long necks and go dancing at the honkey tonk bars.  She also rocked her grandchildren to sleep singing old Baptist hymnals –“On a hill far away, stood an old rugged cross…” yet the Bible thumping section of my dad’s side of the family considered her the darkest of the black sheep.

I’ve seen the inside of many  denominations of Protestant churches, know more than a few hymnals and  hundreds of uplifting Born-Again songs from the 1970’s.  I attended Catholic elementary school in a tiny town of a thousand people.  We went to mass every morning and said the rosary every day after lunch.  I could never make an ‘A’ in religion class because I was not a Catholic, even though I felt I knew more about religion than most other kids considering that I went to the Methodist church with my family on Sundays, went to the Baptist Sunday school across the street from our house and then went to Catholic mass every weekday.

Just yesterday I linked to a blog about instilling value into our daughters.  I was so excited to find the voices around how to raise healthy daughters.  And then there it was – right out of the gate the blogger asked, “Are you raising a rebellious harlot of Babylon or a Bride of Christ?”  Really?  Those are my only two options? The nuns I knew in elementary school considered themselves to be Brides of Christ, married to God’s son, celibate in physical reality.  I knew that was not my path.  Bride of Christ gets me in knots for many reasons – it feels submissive, judgmental and pious.  Then there’s the obvious snark – If I’m the Bride of Christ does that mean I am cheating on Christ when I get married or does that make me polyandrous?

Herein lies my uncomfortableness.  Where I grew up these were my only two options — rebellious harlot or Bride of Christ – I chose the former and because the options were so narrow I questioned God’s presence and also God’s nature.  I eventually abandoned Protestantism for Catholicism in my late teens and almost abandoned Jesus altogether a few years after that because they had taken Him as their own. They had appropriated Jesus, made him the husband of their daughters.  I couldn’t compete with that!  My rebellion and I couldn’t compete with girls who wore virginity rings and took virginity pledges and went to church on Sundays AND Wednesday nights.  My doubt and skepticism did not come from my lack of faith, it came from an idea that somebody was doing Christianity better than me.

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly 20% of Americans claim no religious affiliation.  In research and media circles these people have become known as the “nones” (somewhat ironic but bearing no affiliation with actual Catholic nuns).  These people include many of my friends.

While working on this blogpost I mentioned the title of this post  — I’m a Christian. Why does that make me uncomfortable? — to a few close friends to see their reaction.

One of them looked at me befuddled and said, “Wow! I haven’t called myself a Christian in a long time.”

Each one of the women I talked to said something along the lines of  — I’m not atheist and I’m not agnostic, I just hate what those pedophile priests have done to Catholicism and I don’t agree with evangelical Christians.  See!  These women are spiritual and maybe even Christian, they just don’t want to admit it because there is no clear paradigm of their beliefs.

So goodbye to my rebellious nature and goodbye to the uncomfortableness that keeps me separate from who I am, from God.  I’m off on a journey to clarify this paradigm for myself and many other women who no longer feel at home in the Christian faith that has been designed for us and who very much want a place to call home.

Links that inspired this post:

http://sarahbessey.com/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/2013/03/washed-in-his-blood-my-ass/

http://onelittlelibrary.com/2013/03/20/full-frontal-feminism/

http://www.advocate.com/politics/religion/2012/12/13/watch-dan-savage-wants-liberals-recover-hijacked-christianity

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/0/20393178

How Empathy Creates Intimacy

Ruby & MeLearning from each other. Learning as we go.

Ruby & Me
Learning from each other. Learning as we go.

Growing up, anger controlled my family’s mood and behavior.  Anger kept our true feelings hostage. As kids, my brothers and I were not encouraged to express how we really felt unless we were in a good mood.  If our emotions and reactions were negative we would get a negative response, if they were positive we would get a positive response.  As a result our emotions became like prisoners, held hostage in the name of love.  We learned to shove our negative feelings down deep and only express the positive ones which often resulted in faking the positive ones because with positiveness we were rewarded with hugs and kisses and messages of, “I love you.” We had no dialog about emotions.  We could not navigate through complex feelings.  My family did not have the tools to view conflict in a positive light.  Intimacy and connectedness suffered because of it and now that we children are adults with our own kids and our parents are older we all strive to approach each other with wisdom and respect, learning from our mistakes of the past, and sometimes we still miss our mark.

I have no horror stories about a drunk or drugged up parent. My parents did not even drink alcohol.  From the outside we looked like a normal family but at home behind closed doors its as if my parents beat themselves and sometimes each other with a bag of oranges.  The wounds and scars could not be seen because many were psychological and handed down from past generations that did not know how to express a level of intimacy and connectedness with each other. We are all doing our best to heal the past and learn to trust the members of our tribe.

What I saw in my childhood told me this:  If I am angry it is my right to be mean, it’s the permission of anger – to explode it outward and let those around me know that what they had done had affected me and they would be paying for it.  If those around me don’t want to experience my outbursts then they need to learn how to act around me.

So now my biggest fear has come to pass – I have a daughter.  For years, I avoided the prospect of having children because I did not want to face this uncomfortable aspect from my past – dealing with my anger, regurgitating mother’s mistakes, her mother’s mistakes.  I am learning, exploring, reading and practicing – finding my own way to soften the edges of my experience and send it with love into the next generation.

A friend recently said to me, “What I’m going to tell you took me many years of therapy.”

I perked my ears, listening close for some bits of wisdom about creating a healthy relationship with my daughter.

She said, “I would tell my daughter in moments of blaming me and hating me for the divorce with her father, “You have a right to be angry.  And, you can be mad at me.  But you can’t be mean to me.”

To be honest, I had never before made the distinction before between ANGER and MEANNESS.  To see anger as separate.  My friend offered me a  new language that would once and for all replace these outmoded ideas of how relationships work.

“How liberating”  I thought.

It was the beginning of a new understanding – that conflict can be robust AND loyal.  

Conflict doesn’t have to be a betrayal.  

As long as she is not being mean to me it’s all fair game. She can hoot and holler as long as she is expressing her feelings – using words, staying present, vocalizing what her body is feeling and her mind is telling her.  All of that is fair game.  What is not fair game is blame, that somehow what she is going through is my fault, that I am the cause of all that she feels.

My greatest test at this point is empathy, letting her feel her feelings and explore her emotions. To let her get to know them in a way that my generation could not without being labeled too emotional and too weak.  It’s hard sometimes to not get caught up in the old tape running through my head — My mother didn’t let me act that way and so I’m not going to let you! —  Yet I know in my heart, the more I can let her know that I understand what she is going through, the more space I create between us where trust and mother-daughter intimacy can develop.

So I hold my tongue, at least more times now than at any other point in our nine years together. I let her have her fit, her say, her moment.  Then I can be ready to meet her eyes with eyes that say — I may not agree with you but I can hear you and I’m here for you, always.

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