I don’t know why I am such an oddball.
It may simply be a factor of my perception, but I look through my friends’ social media accounts, we visit in person, I watch tv and listen to the radio and people chatting in stores and I wonder, truly and often, “What on earth are they thinking?” I am not saying this to come across as superior or condescending, while acknowledging that can certainly be how it is perceived. It is more a matter of truly not understanding how people can hold some of the beliefs that they do. I think that is one of the reasons I so enjoy honest, respectful debates with people who disagree with me. I WANT to learn more about what makes them tick. I WANT to try and understand why they think, feel and see the world the way they do.
One of the things that Bernie Sanders, currently running for president of the US, recently said to a respectful, if not exactly thrilled, arena of conservatives was that “It’s easy to go out and talk to people who agree with you, it is harder, but not less important, for us to try and communicate with those who do not agree with us on every issue.” And I truly believe in this. The ideals of community that my denomination feels that we are called to create are not communities of conformity. They are communities that recognize the worth of all persons. Communities that welcome everyone in. Not just the ones who look, act and think like the majority.
It is helpful I suppose to explain that in my upbringing I think there were several factors that gave me a somewhat unique perspective of the world that do not allow me to easily integrate with my peers. First off, I was raised in a denomination that if people had heard of it at all either thought it was a cult or part of a totally different church altogether. We were emerging from a period in our history where we thought that as a church, we had the “one TRUTH” that all other churches were lacking. It was a tumultuous time in our denomination’s history, full of excitement, hurt and change. It also meant that I didn’t have a lot of friends to talk to about religion, in a place and time where religion WAS family (post-script, it is family again now after years of wandering). Most of my neighbors were Catholic, Baptist and the occasional Lutheran or Methodist. I was one of less than 5 Community of Christ kids in almost every town I grew up in.
I was also raised in a multi-faith extended family. On my mother’s side, my aunt and cousins were Jewish, both by blood and by religion. My Christmas for years consisted of playing Dreidel and lighting the Menorah candles, while one of my cousins told the story and then going in the other room to read the Christmas story from the scriptures and singing Christmas carols. As an adult I find more and more that I miss that piece of my childhood. Sharing in the different faiths that made up my family. I also have cousins and other family who are Pagan and Agnostic. But down deep we know that being family is what still connects us. In many ways this is how I understand being a part of the family of God.
Both of my parents were ministers, as were all four of my grandparents. I was also raised in a household of educators. My father was an elementary teacher and principal for 35 years and my mother was a high-school and college instructor. Knowledge and reason helped to provide the foundation for how we understood the world, how we found strength in our faith and what our part in taking care of the world was.
On the flip side I was also a theatre major and spent years finding a second home in the welcoming embrace of those gypsies, geeks, freaks and oddballs who made up the various theatre groups I was a part of over the years. They are in many ways still some of my closest and best friends and family. It was weird being an active and believing Christian surrounded by people whose view of faith tended to be extremely divergent from my own. But it was also very humbling to be part of such a community of people whose own struggles had made them keen to accept anyone who wanted to truly join the community they had created. While I may have attended church, they lived it, although I know a number of them who would shudder to think of it in those terms. 🙂
Additionally, I started working in social work at a very young age. At 14 I began volunteering my summers at a Christian camp for children who had been victims of abuse. The abuse could range from physical, mental, emotional, sexual to sometimes all of the above. For a time, we would be paired one-on-one with these children as the camp provided a place of sanctuary for them. Many of the children had been taken from their homes and placed with other relatives or in the foster program and over the years that I participated in the camps (about five years all told), I heard and saw many horrific examples of people’s inhumanity to the most vulnerable among us including in the lives of my nephews and sister.
But I also saw the incredible strength and resilience of these children as some came back years later to be counselors themselves and the power of love and acceptance in making a difference in these children’s lives. Sitting on top of a 7-year-old boy and wrestling a stolen kitchen knife away from him, to keep him from stabbing one of the girls at 11pm is one of the most heartbreaking memories I have. But seeing a child, so badly abused that he will never walk or talk normal again, raise his voice to share in front of the group his hopes and fears for the future, of having a family and wishing to somehow be normal…seeing the love of these kids as they gather around him to show him how much he is loved and accepted as he is, is one of the most cherished memories I have.
I worked in Domestic Violence shelters and Runaway programs for teens for years before finally hitting burnout. The stress, frustrations and hurts that Social Service workers, Police and other emergency personnel experience is real and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t gone through it. But it cost me my first two marriages, lots of sleepless nights, struggles with alcohol and depression. There is a reason that people in these professions are so hurt. It’s not because we don’t care, but because we care so much and we see so much misery around us. We share a common desire to help our fellow human beings and often get frustrated when we can’t “fix” the problems we see.
I have been held-up at gun point. I have lost people close to me to violence. I understand, at least on some level, what it is like to have your life threatened. I don’t ever want to face those circumstances again, but I also know that should that happen I will do everything I can to save those I care about EXCEPT take another life. In my understanding and belief I cannot do it, nor can I condone it, not even to “save” those I love the most.
This partly comes from my journey as I ran away from church, tried other religions and none and finally found my way back to my roots. If I truly believe that God shelters and protects me, than it is not my place to save my life through violence. Martin Luther King and Ghandi had a lot of influence on this as well and will probably be covered more in future posts.
I love to read, to learn and to experience new things. I want to be challenged on my beliefs, so that I may reexamine them and ensure that they still fit my understanding of the world. I want to share in the faiths of my friends, but more importantly I want to share in the LIVES of my friends. Building relationships is so much more a part of what I feel called to do than building church buildings.
I have a dirty sense of humor sometimes. I have learned to live with the desires of my previous addictions to alcohol, smoking and porn, without giving in to them. I yell, I scream at people I love sometimes. I’m not great with money. I lie.
But I also work on being a better person each day. One who can look upon each person I meet as an opportunity to build a better world. To leave this place a little bit better than I found it. I don’t do this by telling them that I know what it means to be a “sinner” and then shaming or demeaning them into believing like me. I do it by telling them my own struggles, by empathizing with their questions and accepting their conclusions, giving them space to grown into the person they are meant to be. I ask forgiveness for the mistakes I make, I strive to make peace with people I have hurt or angered. I try to understand.
I don’t know why this is such a hard thing for other people to understand. I only know it sometimes feels like there are only a handful of us out there trying to live this way, but we do it because for us the world could be such a beautiful place if we can get even another one or two to see it through our eyes.
I may be the oddball… but what if I wasn’t?