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Category: Language

What’s Wrong with Our Story?

Can I be honest?

I am learning to know myself, and I’ve been finding blind spots. Gaps. There is a gap, for instance, between my identity and my awareness. Sexuality resides in that gap.

Stick with me for a moment.

Sexuality includes interest and attraction; feelings of love, trust and care; social context; a sense of connection (spirituality) that goes beyond what can be known or observed. Sexuality is not a set of behaviors. It is more like a force of nature. Ingrained. Invisible.

Like hunger. Or longing.

Sexuality undergirds our economic and political systems. It’s a foundation on which we have built our theologies – our understandings of who God is and how we might be guided into both mystical union and communion.

Theology legitimates sexuality. Sexuality supports theology.

“Let us make humankind in our image.”

God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply.”

I’ve been exploring these gaps. My experience of God, for instance, occurs in the space between my identity and my awareness – felt but not seen. My understanding of God is interwoven with my sexuality. Two parts of who I am in struggle.

They’ve been coming undone.

Things fall apart.

Have you considered the grand narrative? The details of our culture were drawn on a blank slate – a world wiped clean by the genocide of indigenous peoples. It was built with slave labor. The New World was undressed and brutalized by the pure and virile masculinity of educated European minds and bodies. All our stories reflect this reality. Might makes right, and winner takes all.

Like it or leave it, we live in a patriarchy.

We say there are two sides to every story. But that’s not quite right. If there are two sides, it is because there is the inside. And the outside.

As Americans, then, we are male. Or we are not male. We are white. Or we are not white. We are normal. Or we are not normal. We are inside the story. Or we are excluded.

Why don’t we notice? Even our awareness is constricted by binary constructions of language. We have a sexuality of domination. We have a theology of control. Our authoritarian God cannot abide doubt, dissent, or disobedience. He cannot stomach difference.

Our theology is heterosexual, and heterosexuality is not neutral.

The very existence of sexuality that is not heterosexuality calls into question our understandings of the nature and authority of God. Even worse, if we are men, it calls into question our own authority. We perceive, then, that any sexuality that is not heterosexuality is a perversion and must be silenced. It is an offense against God. It is anathema.

This might be why people left out of the story love Jesus.

Jesus took instructions from his mother (John 2). Jesus saved the life of a widow (Luke 7). Jesus called women to follow him (Matthew 10). Jesus blessed children (Mark 10). Jesus “overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves” (Matthew 21).

Jesus did not come to power through domination or by control. Jesus undid the powers. Jesus disrupted the dominant. Jesus introduced chaos into systems of control. And his followers didn’t fit the grand narrative. They were outsiders.

Up on that cross, Jesus breathed his last. All his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee –

– they stood at a distance.

I am learning to know myself, and I’ve been finding blind spots, gaps between my identity and my awareness. And it dawns on me that these blank spaces hold everything I need to know of God.

Something drawing me toward love, trust, and care – a sense of connection that goes beyond what can be known or observed. Like a force of nature. Ingrained. Invisible.

Like hunger. Or longing.

Reunion

02

I went to my 20-year high school reunion this summer. And it was weird. How little had changed from what I remember.

Except my memories.

They’re almost all wrong.

At dinner, for instance, we watched a video Bryce’s dad took at our graduation ceremony.

There was prayer. The reading of scripture. Two sermons. A Christian pop song.

It was religious.

I’ve shared stories about what it was like. The awards. The people. The pranks. But the commencement on that video wasn’t much like the ceremony I remember.

I was sitting next to Rachel at the end of our row. I had a red plastic squirt gun I surreptitiously utilized every time anyone went up to or came down from the stage. Lots of wet spots on black robes.

So it was the real thing.

But it felt fake.

I just hadn’t remembered how Christian my class once was.

Then, as the video played, I did a mental survey of the room. Many of those who’d been active in church no longer are. I wondered why.

One said this: “If church were a place where I was allowed to ask questions, I’d probably still be there.”

Another wrote that he was disillusioned by the mismatch between what faith shouldn’t do but does and what it should do but doesn’t: “Religion, church, spirituality, whatever you want to call it often has a way of turning people into us and them. I would hope that something so great would turn us into we.”

Yet another, watching his younger self on film, just shook his head. I didn’t get to ask what he was thinking.

Since that night, I’ve wondered why I’m still at church (other than for the paycheck). I’ve come up with a few things so far:

I want to normalize doubt for those who might otherwise feel abandoned by God and by their community. I want to encourage serious questions that challenge our thinking and open up opportunities for growth. I want to be part of a community that uses faith as a tool for transformation (never as a weapon).

And I hope.

That 20 years from now.

Some former student.

Watching graduation reruns.

Might ask herself why she’s still at church.

And think of people who weren’t afraid of her questions, people who loved her because of (not in spite of), people who inspired and encouraged and modeled for and listened to and learned from …

That she would think of so many people.

And that one of them might be me.

I want to be part of a community that uses faith as a tool for transformation (never as a weapon).

Nameless

02

I saw my first pornographic image before I was in kindergarten.

We were on the way to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. We’d stopped for gas, and while Dad checked the oil, Mom sent me to use the bathroom.

There was a picture. Torn from a magazine. Taped to the wall. The photo – a woman with hair down to her knees – seemed sad and alone. Silent. Staring out into the space of that darkened stall, the ragged yellow edges of her world.

I washed my hands.

Outside, I told my parents I’d seen something bad. And as we drove away, I wanted to know why. Where were her clothes? Why did someone take that picture? What did it mean? What was her name?

Although most of that conversation has been lost to time, I remember one point that my parents made: the woman in the picture had done what she ought not to have done. She’d taken off her clothes. For attention. For money. To make others think she cared.

That woman was a liar.

I wasn’t old enough to argue. Didn’t know how to put into words what I felt was true. But I did know this: I’d seen the picture. And that woman’s eyes – staring into mine – weren’t full of pride or desire.

They were afraid.

Now, more than 30 years later, I can still see that picture. I carry it around in my head. From time to time, I think about that image – the things we do, the things we do to each other. And the truth is, my parents might have been right. That woman might have been a liar. She may have been greedy, selfish, and shameless. She might not have cared for anybody but herself.

And she might not have really been afraid.

People, after all, are complex.

But if I could go back in time to my five-year-old self, I think I know what I’d ask my parents in the car, on the road to my grandparents’ house: Who took that photo? Who paid the woman? Who printed the picture? Who tore it out and taped it to the wall?

How do you know she’s a liar?

And if my five-year-old self had met the woman instead of her picture.

I think I’d just want to know her name.

But if I could go back in time to my five-year-old self, I think I know what I’d ask my parents in the car, on the road to my grandparents’ house

PO Box 751 . Newberg OR 97132-0751