On Defending My Space.

If you’ve been reading this blog for, well, any time at all, it should be pretty clear that I am, shall we say, vocal.

I have no hesitation in sharing my opinions, beliefs, and views. I enjoy debating and, to a somewhat sadistic degree, arguing. But I also believe that theology should be cooperative, i.e., my beliefs and your beliefs, not competitive, i.e., my beliefs or your beliefs.

People harp on moral relativism, but I think it makes things easier. At least in theory.

As annoying as I may be, this has gotten me far. I graduated from a prestigious, male-dominated Bible and Theology program with honors in 2012. I’ve maintained this blog for over two years and have picked up some writing gigs on the side. I’m a MA senior who has established herself as a significant player at her school. I am damn good at theology, and I owe that to my relentless desire to make myself heard.

But there are limits to anyone’s tolerance for BS.

My school is 48% women, 51% men, and 1% other, according to our 2012 stats. Women make up, essentially, half of this campus. And yet, if you listened in on a class, you’d never know it. Far more men speak up than women.

My school is 27% ecumenical and 73% ELCA. Again, you’d never know it without asking. I’ve read Luther for all but two classes thus far (excepting my consortium classes taken at another school). I have read Wesley once, Calvin never, Aquinas twice, and once, for a Pentateuch class, I read a Jewish author whose name I cannot remember. Hell if I’ve read anything by an author outside of the Judeo-Christian traditions. My professors teach Lutheran theology, and rarely leave room for ecumenical voices, unless they themselves are ecumenical. Lutherans get more of a voice than ecumenical students.

Furthermore, I am the ecumenical student representative for student council. I do not have the figures, but considering the other constituencies, I can reasonably put forward that I represent the greatest number of students for any representative, and yet I have one vote.

I am not a person of color, and I cannot speak to the experience of a POC at my school. Nor am I LGBTQ, so, likewise, I cannot speak to the experience of a person who identifies as LGBTQ. I am not a person with a physical disability, so I cannot write about what it is like to live that experience. I do not know the experience of most oppressed groups here. If you want to know the experience of a person who fits into these or other categories, you will have to ask them. What I do know is that I only occasionally hear POCs speak in class, I have never heard a student who identifies as LGBTQ associate their beliefs with their orientation, and my school isn’t even ADA accessible, so the few students we have who have physical disabilities are a definite minority and do not speak to their experience often.

The point of this is to say, we hear the voices, mostly, of white, able, straight men who are usually ELCA.

And when someone who does not fit those criteria speaks up, we get emails telling us we need to be less vocal in class.

Or we are asked to qualify our beliefs based on our experience (e.g., “As a woman…,” “As a non-Christian…,” etc.). Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for identifying our contexts. But if I have to, everyone has to.

I am tired of defending the space I take up.

I am confined by labels–some true, some not–and those labels allow others to not have to deal with what I have to say.

At least once every week, I get asked, “So why are you here?” This is not a friendly conversation about my life journey or why I want to study theology. I have never heard this asked of any of my friends who fit the norm here. The answer is obvious for them, and they don’t upset the status quo.

But me, I rock that boat with such fervor and fury that I think some fear they might just fall overboard.

What is it about opposing views that we are so damn scared of? Why am I more of a threat than my brothers who are white, male, able, straight, etc.?

And it’s not just me. I know I’m intense but I’ve seen it with others. People are mocked behind their backs for being vocal about their views, and I can only imagine what’s said about me.

I am the only person who gets to decide how much space I take up. I don’t want to dominate conversations. God knows I do not want to run this school. I just want to be heard, really heard, without being an outsider.

I am tired of defending my space.

Beatnik Theology

Hey everyone! Yet again, I am recycling material I wrote for a class. Such is the life of a seminarian. This was my final project for my J-Term class on John Cobb and Process Theology. Enjoy!

I am relatively certain that the field of theopoetics exists because, at one point, John Cobb, Alan Ginsberg, and Homer walked into a bar. This is obviously facetious, but nonetheless, the form of epic poem as conceived in ancient Greek mythology and the zeitgeist of the Beat Generation have much in common with Cobb’s process theology, especially in terms of narrative. Though the three speak, on the surface, to different locations entirely, their concepts are not altogether dissimilar. All three focus not on the final destination, per se, of any moment, but on the journey that brings one there.

As an exercise in this, I have penned a set of poetry found in the latter part of this essay that seeks to draw these together. This, however, is something to explore later. First, it is necessary to explore exactly what is meant by Cobb’s process theology.

Cobb writes at length in works such as Is it Too Late? and Reclaiming the Church about particular issues in Christian theology and praxis, namely, the climate crisis and the state of the church (respectively). While these are certainly wise and informative, they are not the nexus of his theology, and focus more on the practical implications of process thought than on process thought itself. Therefore, they are not my area of concern here.

The primary, fundamental element of Cobb’s process theology is concrescence, if nothing else.[1] Concrescence refers to the process by which a moment happens or is actualized. It is hard to say where it “begins” and “ends” because this process is a cycle that repeats indefinitely. Some would start with God, others with the past, others with the present, but nonetheless, this does not start and end anywhere in particular. Cobb, however, chooses the human prehension of the present moment, and therefore, I will begin there..

In the present moment, every element of the past is prehended, or considered. Some of these narratives are accepted and some are rejected; some are prehended consciously and others subconsciously. For a dynamic being, in this case, for the sake of simplicity, a human, this prehension has the responsibility of shaping the next moment and creating a new present reality. This is the subjective stage of concrescence. This is the supplemental stage.

In this process of prehension, the initial aim from God, that is, God’s suggestion or will for that moment or God’s superject, is also prehended. This is the means by which novelty enters any given situation. God sends forth the initial aim from God’s primordial nature and it is accepted or rejected to varying degrees.

Once this process of prehension has occurred, the superject goes forth from the moment of prehension to create a new objective datum that is received into the consequent nature of God and becomes a part of the objective past. This is the satisfaction stage. The next moment will then have this moment, as well as all of history, to prehend in its time. This then becomes the conformal or initial stage, and the cycle repeats.[2]

I suggested earlier that this understanding of concrescence is the primary foundation for Cobb’s theology. Primary implies that there are secondary elements, and perhaps tertiary and beyond. These secondary elements are found in the process of concrescence: creation, God, Christ/Logos/creative transformation, the soul, and humanity. In a surely heretical way, they each fit somewhere in the elements of this process.

Creation can be said to be the objective past, as well as (perhaps confusingly) also the future. It is everything that has ever happened and the possibility of what could happen, but is not subjective or capable of prehension as it does not presently exist in such a way. It informs the present moment without acting on its own.

God is fairly easy to point to in this process, as there is an element named God as part of its fundamental description. God is the supplier of the initial aim from God’s primordial nature and the being into which every objective moment is received (in God’s consequent nature). In this way, God is temporal, but not spatial.

Christ, or the Logos, or creative transformation, depending on how one wishes to explore and understand the concept, could be said to be God’s initial aim. This Christ is transcendent and eternal but also does not have actuality until it becomes part of the present moment. This is the novelty I mentioned previously, the way in which God acts in our realm and creates new experiences.

The soul could be considered to be the present moment, or perhaps, the act of prehension. Cobb claims that beings that possess a prefrontal cortex have souls, and are therefore capable of prehension.[3] This is in comparison to, say, a rock, which exists in each moment, but stays relatively static throughout time and tends not to change unless acted upon by an outside force. The degree to which a being is sentient impacts the degree of prehension that occurs in its soul. This soul is, by nature, social and interconnected to all things as prehension is interconnected to all of history.

Finally, humanity is most like the superject. This is the realm in which we act and decide. We respond to our prehensions and to God’s initial aim and act accordingly. We relate to all of creation. We create a new future as we go. This is not unique to humanity, but, as one could argue that humans are the pinnacle of sentience as far as we know, then humans have the greatest capacity for creation of new moments as well as prehension.

Taking full poetic license, I have crafted characters that represent each of these five secondary elements. These are further explored in the poetry that follows, but first it is necessary to introduce each of them. Though in my earlier exploration of the process of concrescence, I began with the concrescing moment or supplemental stage, for this, I will begin with the past or the initial stage. I previously paired this with creation, and, considering Cobb’s emphasis on the climate crisis, I have constructed the character of the Prophet for this role. The Prophet calls out for change and action but is incapable of facilitating the level of change needed on its own. The Prophet is similar to an activist, not a religious “future-teller” as we might conceive.

Next, then, is God, or, as I call the being, the Sage. The Sage is keeper of village stories and/or wisdom, similar to the character found in Greek and Norse mythology. The Sage is a person seldom listened to or heard properly, but is stories, when understood as intended, have the potential to do great good.

It then follows that the Logos, as the emanation from God, should be explored. I have named this character the Muse. Like Cobb’s Logos, the Muse has no actuality until embodied in one way or another. Like Cobb’s creative transformation, the Muse is the means by which inspiration comes. Finally, the Muse is accessible by anyone and everyone, but requires intentionality.

Next is the soul, or the Visions in my terms. This is defined here not as a prophecy or trance-like experience, but is more in line with such things as motivation, goals, existential desires, and so on. The Visions are plural because the soul, in Cobb’s definition, is social in nature and I thus find it necessary to refer to this character as a collective.

Finally, we reach the Poet, or the character representing humanity. The Poet has a unique role in society as one that can determine the ethos and, to an extent, the fate of a generation. Humans as the highest beings we know have the potential to do the greatest amount of good or evil. Likewise, artists (such as the Poet) have so much impact on society that it can almost be said that they move the world along. The Poet characterizes and shapes the future. Though it would seem this is the beginning of change from a human perspective, this is actually the last possible element of subjectivity before a moment becomes an objective datum.

I began this explanation by calling upon the Greek tradition of epic poetry and the Beat Generation’s zeitgeist. It does make sense, then, that I make a case for its incorporation. Greek mythology, like most mythology, seeks to explain the world and why things happen. Epic poetry follows a character through his or her quest and the process of becoming a hero/ine.[4] Process theology follows everything that exists in the process of becoming itself and thus the transformation is not altogether different. Additionally, particularly Greek mythology and epic poetry incorporates the gods into the framework, making it particularly fitting for a theological discussion.[5] The one glaring exception would be, in epic poetry, there is often a final destination, whereas process theology would not argue for this.

Similarly, the Beat Generation bears much in common with process theology. The openness to spontaneity, the focus on human connection with one another and with the rest of the universe, the willingness to experiment, and the rejection of preconceived understandings characterize both.[6] The names for the characters I have chosen draw from relevant characters in this time period.[7]

It is hard to go much further into this without infringing on the necessary liberties and nuances of the following poetry. Thus follows my exercise in theopoetics as an attempt to explain Cobb’s process thought.

O Muse, sing in me, and through me tell the story…[8]

The streetcorner Prophet shouts for justice

To a ticker-tape parade of empty ears.

Immobile on its own

The prophet lives in the age of great dreams.

But following through is not a virtue

And one soldier does not an army make

(Especially when the war is undetectable by sophomoric radar).

Its words, unintelligible groans

And its pamphlets covered in foreign scribbles.

Is it because we don’t understand?

Or because we don’t want to know?

We exist in its realm

Without noticing—

There’s too much to hear so we tune it all out.

Heaven forbid

We actually be motivated to something.

Higher callings are the aspiration of starry-eyed academics.

Not I, ever the pragmatist.

I am an island.

Our apprehensions

Only take account

Of moments we have already seen

And provide different names

For the same thing.[9]

The wizened Sage

Sits on a bench in the middle of the village

And waits.

It is present, but does not intrude.

It is in harmony

With the imminent world,

But somehow beyond it,

Like light from a distant star

That only reaches the Earth after millions of years.

It keeps the stories of this village

Neither locked up nor shouted from the rooftops,

Like open secrets

That we might chance to know

If we take the time to listen.

All the while, new stories are being written,

And it knows them all.

Its identity is wrapped up in narrative

And seems lacking without.

“Listen, child,

Listen to the stories being told all around you.”[10]

Though seemingly ancient,

The Sage always has a new story to tell.

The Muse, like a drug,

Beats, beats, beats

Through veins and arteries.

Same old drug

But always a new experience.

Common sense

And modern piety

Tell us that drugs are bad.

But oh, for the way it transforms,

The novelty it brings.

Should we desire inspiration,

We would be silly to reject it.

This bodily experience

Is somehow transcendent;

This drug has no meaning

Until it’s ingested,

But takes us to somewhere

We have not yet been.

Our best ideas

Never seem to come from sober minds.

Rooted to the earth

And stretching towards the sky

Bodiless Visions grasp hands

And together draw out the prana[11]

That comes as a side effect of sentience.

Arms branching out forward and back

The past and future are of no concern.

In this moment

Their feet, their roots are their focus.

They are now.

A channel for all of history

To become all of the future,

They contemplate without dwelling

And consider without worrying.

The Visions create a melody

Of notes sung and unsung.

The next note not yet chosen

And the previous chord no longer rings in the air.

Young and hopeful and

Worldly and cynical and

Always curious

The Poet is porous

Soaking up the world around it.

Strong and courageous and

Scared and anxious and

Constantly considering

It thinks about the line

That does not yet have words.

Beautiful and honest and

Ugly and deceitful and

Never completely certain

It realizes just how heavy

These lines are.

With that, it writes.

It is all in the same city

Where the Prophet shouts

And the Sage abides

And the Muse inspires

And the Visions sing

And the Poet writes.

Each a different thread

In a tapestry woven

Of chaos and order

Each moment weaves a new story.


[1] John B. Cobb Jr, A Christian Natural Theology, second edition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 50-54.

[2] Terms and explanations of the process of concrescence taken from the author’s compilation of class notes.

[3] Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology, 19.

[4] Stephen Cushman and Roland Greene, Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 4th edition, “Epic” (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012), 439-448.

[5] Cushman and Greene, Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 443-444.

[6] David Sterrit, The Beats: A Very Short Introduction (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013), 22-26.

[7] Taken largely from the language used in Allen Ginsberg’s Howl: Allen Ginsberg, Howl and Other Poems, 57th printing (San Francisco, CA: City Lights Books, 2001), 9-28.

[8] Homer, The Odyssey, translated by George Chapman, edited by Tom Griffith (Hertfordshire, GB: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 2000), book 1, line 1.

[9] Ben Gibbard, “Different Names for the Same Thing,” in Plans (New York, NY: Atlantic Recording Corporation, 2005).

[10] Denika Anderson, “Mama G. and the Immanent Music,” Wandering the Desert, November 8, 2013, http://wanderingthedesert.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/mama-g-and-the-immanent-music/.

[11] Term in yoga for life force or energy.

Where Process and Mental Illness Meet

Hey all! Over this past J-Term, I took a course on Process Theology. As this is the parent field from which my future field–theopoetics–comes, I found it to be one of the most interesting and engaging courses I’ve ever taken, despite the 8:45 a.m. start time and the three and a half hour classes that met four times per week. As an assignment for it, I wrote a (short) sermon from a process perspective on mental illness and the church. This is that sermon.

Let us begin today with a brief exercise. I would like everyone to stand up (as you are able) and greet four people. There is no rule regarding who you need to greet; they need not be strangers or friends, people who look like you or do not, or nearby or across the room. Any four people will do.

You may have noticed some demographics of the four people you greeted. You may have considered their respective ages, genders, ethnic backgrounds, levels of physical ability, height, weight, eye color, hair color, and the list continues. We take in incredible amounts of information about a person just by seeing them, and interacting with them brings even more, such as noticing accents, levels of energy, or even signs of recent illness. We are bombarded with information in these interactions, and, for better or worse, we store that information in our brains as the characteristics of a given person.

One thing you probably did not notice, however, was if any of the people you greeted has a mental illness. There are signs, yes, but they are not often visible in such short interactions. Yet, the National Institute of Mental Health informs us that 26.2 percent of the population—roughly one in every four people—has a diagnosable mental illness.[1] That means, statistically speaking, one of the four people you greeted deals with the harsh realities of mental illness on a daily basis.

This is difficult news for most people, and rightly so. It is heart-wrenching to know that a quarter of the people we know and love struggle with their own minds, bodies, and the chemistry between them.

Why, though, should this be of particular concern to people of faith? Is there a reason that, as religious and/or spiritual people, we should care more about mental illness than a person who does not associate with religion or spirituality?

The simple answer is, yes. We do need to care more. We claim to be people of hope and thus have a responsibility to share that hope. The beautiful thing about hope, too, is that it is an unlimited resource. Like the flame of a candle that can be infinitely shared without any decrease in its original light, hope can spread without being sacrificed.

Some of you might be thinking, “Yes, I agree, but what do you mean by ‘hope?’” To you, I say, good question! Hope is a difficult concept to pin down, as, like other such concepts as love, happiness, success, and peace, it means different things to different people. Regardless, hope is an extremely powerful and meaningful word to those who struggle with mental illness.

Hope, for us, as people of faith, means this: we trust that God is active in our realm and is innately in relationship with all of creation—humanity included—without exception. We trust that the God in whom we believe does not make us suffer and desires that our lives be full of good things. We trust that this God does not stand back and let us suffer, but tries relentlessly to inject hope into our brokenness with each passing moment. We trust that this God is the Hope Divine.

Let us follow the proverbial rabbit trail for a moment and discuss the word “broken.” When we think of this word, many of us picture a shattered dish, or perhaps an electronic device that has lived out its functioning days. I would suggest that, when using this word in relationship to living beings, we think of it more as a broken bone. There is pain, suffering, and difficulty in such a situation, but there is also immense room for healing. The bone might never look quite the same again, as that past fracture has become part of its history and has left scars and memories in its wake, but it will become functional and whole again, with the proper help. In this way, people with mental illnesses can be said to be “broken”—in need of healing—but not terminally so. There is room for hope.

People with mental illnesses can often look at their lives as broken, shattered pieces that no amount of super glue will put back together. How could the hope of which we speak possibly enter in to this situation? It seems to be unfixable, and in many cases, there might be a lot of evidence pointing towards this, but it is not the case.

While a person with a mental illness is staring at the shards of his or her being scattered around him or her, the Hope Divine steps in and sees intrinsic beauty. The person sees something that was once whole, where the Hope Divine sees beautiful, intricate pieces that can make a new thing. The person wonders what happened to the lovely piece of pottery that once was, but the Hope Divine sees a mosaic waiting to happen, and while the person is consumed by the loss, the Hope Divine takes advantage of every moment as an opportunity to inject a new perspective into the story of that person’s life.

It is often difficult to pay attention to God’s aims, however. This is especially true for people whose internal narratives are so loud and overwhelming that hearing a story other than the one they know and believe to be true feels impossible. We have faith in a relentless God of reckless love and unabashed hope, and we trust that this God lives up to these expectations, but we do not claim to believe in God’s omnipotence or think that we have no role in doing God’s work. We are mediators of this hope and have the blessed opportunity and responsibility to speak this into the lives of others around us.

Remember too that people of faith are not exempt from this kind of suffering. According to the Pew Forum, roughly 54 percent of United States inhabitants attend religious gatherings regularly.[2] [3] When combined with the previously mentioned 26.2 percent of the population with diagnosable mental illnesses, basic statistics informs us that around 14 percent of people in this country are regularly attending religious services and have a diagnosable mental illness. This is not an “us and them” situation; this affects all of us without exception.

Therefore, this is not a “mission” or “evangelism.” We are not talking about something those of us in this building have and those outside it do not. This is, however, a way of living—we are called to live as people of hope. It is our responsibility to point to the intrinsic beauty in the broken pieces of our lives, whatever those pieces might be. We are to live as artists, creating mosaics with a zealous fervor that the attention of others might be drawn from the brokenness to the beauty being created from them. We point to the “something new” that hope inspires in a situation and try to show how the difficult and sometimes terrifying parts of our histories can tell a new story.

As we leave this place, let us be people of hope for those who are suffering, and speak new life into even the bleakest of situations. Amen.


[1] “NIMH: Statistics: Any Disorder Among Adults,” National Institute of Mental Health, accessed January 21, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/Statistics/1ANYDIS_ADULT.shtml.

[2] Information adapted from “Portrait and Demographics of United States Religious Affiliation,” Pew Research Religions & Public Life Project, accessed January 22, 2014, http://religions.pewforum.org/portraits.

[3] “Regularly” is here defined as attending religious gatherings at least once per month.

Dispossessed Peoples’ Day

Today, in the U.S., it’s Thanksgiving.

Though I’ve been celebrating it every year, I’m not this year.

I have finally reached a place in my life where I am comfortable saying, “No. I cannot celebrate the conquest of a land by people who had no right to it, and the destruction of the people who already lived and thrived there.”

The traditional story goes something like this: Pilgrims came over to North America, and were welcomed by friendly Indigenous Peoples, who taught them how to live off of the land and survive the winters. They celebrated by sharing a meal together.

Aww, isn’t that sweet? Too bad it’s 100% bullshit.

Though all the stories surrounding Thanksgiving are debated, it’s more likely that this feast celebrated one of two things: 1. the harvest (which, fine, sure, whatever) or 2. the massacre of over 700 Pequot people (I’m sorry, what?).

But the truth of that story does not change the fact that the colonists did dispossess waves upon waves of Indigenous Peoples, and most of us can locate ourselves on one side or the other–conqueror or conquered. I, personally, as a white person (though my particular heritage is asynchronous with the colonization of North America) bear some of the guilt for the ways in which I’ve benefited from this dispossession.

And I am not grateful for that. I do not celebrate my privilege. I do not celebrate others’ lack thereof.

“Okay, yes, the origins of this holiday are shady, but can’t you use it to be grateful for the good things in your life?”

No. For the same reason I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I don’t only love my husband one day out of the year, so I don’t need a pointless holiday to commemorate that. I don’t need a holiday to be grateful–I’m learning to live a life of gratitude. If that’s all this holiday is about now, then I see no reason to celebrate it.

So, today, I’m mourning. I’m angry. I’m disheartened. I am hopeful that one day, things might be different. Maybe I’ll be able to teach my children about the terrible history that is the bedrock of the U.S., yet be able to say, “But it’s different now.” Maybe someday justice will happen and equality will be the norm. But since we’ve been screwing things up for over 500 years, I’m not counting the seconds.

Mama G. and the Immanent Music

I used to walk down to the Gottliebs’ house every day after school. They were retired farmers, sold off most of their land years ago, but kept a few acres. Farmers don’t ever really retire. Their kids had long since moved away, but everyone still called them Mama and Papa G. They were, in a way, the parental figures of our little town. Papa G was always out in the fields, and didn’t have much to say beyond the current state of the wheat, but his presence was warm. Mama G sat on the porch and protected the neighborhood with her watchful, loving eye.

 

Mama G would tell us stories. It didn’t matter about what; she always captivated us. There was so much wisdom in her words.

“Listen, dear. Listen to the world around you. Listen to the stories being told.

“There is music in everything.”

She took me on a journey. The rustling of the shafts of wheat, the squabbling of geese on the lake, the evaporation of the tea she always seemed to have ready. The howls of the wind and the blooming of flowers. The icy warmth of fresh drifts of snow and the piercing way in which the sun got under our skin. The itchy shifting of farmhouse floorboards. The softness in her arms as she picked me up when I fell. The sweet, waxy smell of fresh-picked vegetables.

“Listen, child! There are stories being told all around you! Listen to the rhythm beating out from the core of the Earth, as all of creation joins in the song! Can you hear it?

“There is music in everything.”

A Fire That Won’t Be Put Out

I recently had a classmate email me to say that the anger often present in my posts (for an online class) is inappropriate and destructive.

To which I had a number of reactions, involving some rather salty language and several cups of coffee.

(Coffee fixes everything.)

But, after I stopped imagining how satisfying it would be to scream at this classmate, it got me thinking. What is it about anger that Christians don’t like? Why is it so unwelcome in the church?

“Authentic” is one of those words that gets thrown around in Christian circles like it’s a volleyball. Frequently flying left and right, but no one is really in contact with it for long enough to actually pin down a definition and a practical application. We claim to want to be authentic, but then, when someone in our community doesn’t fit the Shiny Happy People Who Are Satisfied With Whatever Happens And Never Get Mad At God, we (at the very least) shy away from them, and often encourage them to be happier.

Jesus Wept, I don’t know how many times someone has told me to “Delight in the Lord” or “Talk to Jesus about it.” And the next person who does is getting thrown out a window.

I don’t know about you, but all this has ever done is made me angrier.

Our emotions are real. As sentient beings, we have the ability to experience a wide range of feelings. If we really want to be authentic, we would embrace and encourage these emotions, not stifle all the darker, bolder, or greyer ones.

And, frankly, yes. I am angry. About a lot of things. I am angry about terrible theology that persists despite thousands and thousands of years of theological evolution. I am angry at the way the church continues to say it cares about the whole of creation, but is not on the forefront of change. I am angry that I feel so unwelcome in most churches. I am angry that my history and most Christian theology are asynchronous. I am angry that people still use “God’s ways are not our ways” as an excuse for incoherent, illogical, or unrealistic theology. I am angry that the church is den of irresponsibility and privilege. I am angry that there are so many people who put the Bible on a higher plane than living, breathing humans.

I. Am. Angry.

And I love it.

Because, for the first time in my life, I’m free. I’m not shackled by the need to make square pegs fit in round holes. I’m free to point out the flaws in the church and the whole of creation and do something about it. I’m free to scream and shout and curse the heavens and mourn the perpetual “who gives a fuck, it’s all temporary anyway” attitude of most Christians. I am free to be genuinely, truly authentic to myself and my spirituality.

And I know I’m not the only one.

I know there are countless wearied souls cringing on Sunday mornings. They are terrified by the contents of the Bible. They are enraged by the conduct of Christian leaders. They grieve those pushed to the outside. They are furious about the way people cling to centuries- or even millennia-old beliefs that have never really worked within reality.

And they are silenced.

But, the first time we are finally bold enough to feel those emotions, to make them known, that’s when we become free.

And I, for one, would rather be angry and free than happy and in a cage.

The Words I Never Wanted To Hear.

I can’t remember the first time I heard someone tell me I was worthless. Though it was said in many different ways, sometimes without words at all, I heard it a lot growing up.

I can, however, remember the first time I said it to myself–the first time I believed it.

It seems so silly, now, to retell the story. It was a couple weeks into my freshman year of high school. There was a boy (there’s always a boy) who I had a crush on, who, for a while, at least, felt the same way. We never dated, nothing serious ever became of it. It was the awkward transition from middle school to high school, when most relationships lasted a month, at best, and no one could even make eye contact with the person they were supposedly “dating” during school dances.

He told me I wasn’t skinny enough to be with him.

And, while, today, I embrace the healthy curves, strong muscles, and 140 pounds of awesome I possess (well, most of the time, at least), I, at fourteen years old, was not so secure.

I remember, through sobs and tears, staring at myself in the bathroom mirror and saying, “You’re worthless.”

My whole life up to that point, and for far too long after, I had been led to believe that my worth was based on others’ approval  of me. Whether it was my grades, my friends, my chores, my scores in gymnastics, my career goals, anything, really, I had to do well in order to be loved.

The thing is, when you’re taught to believe this, it doesn’t matter how well you do, it will never be enough to really “earn” love.

That moment led to a downward spiral of self-hatred, constant anxiety, an eating disorder that always nagged me, perfectionism, and believing a whole host of lies others told me (and many I told myself).

I made it to a point where I wasn’t willing to accept praise of any kind, to acknowledge anything good about myself, because I didn’t want to (or perhaps couldn’t) believe that there was anything in me worth praising.

I also remember the first time someone told me, “You are good enough.”

It was my freshman/sophomore year of college (things get messed up when you don’t do four full years). I had just gotten in a massive fight with my father, about what, I don’t recall, and (again) there was a boy who, while much kinder than the previous boy, did not reciprocate the feelings I had towards him. I felt so alone and so unloved.

At the time, I was also a part of a prayer ministry on campus. We had an intercessory station outside of a vespers service, where I was pretending to have a handle on things. A dear friend of mine, who I had only known for a few weeks at that point, noticed that something was off and asked if she could pray for me.

Pray for me? No one had ever really prayed for me before. Though all I really wanted to do was keep everything bottled up inside, festering like the gallon of milk you forgot was in the back of the fridge, though I didn’t want to hear what she was about to say, something inside of me wouldn’t let me say no.

She didn’t know what was going on. She just prayed.

And I remember, she looked straight into my eyes, squinted a little bit, and said, “I need you to listen to me. I need you to trust me and believe me, because you’ve been lied to for far too long. You. Are. Good enough.”

I lost it. I just started sobbing. I had never been told that before. And, in that moment, I believed it.

I’ve clung to that since then. In the moments when I feel like all I ever do is screw things up, I repeat that over and over and over, like a worry stone in my mouth.

You. Are. Good enough.

We have this liturgy we say at the beginning of every gathering at my faith community. In it, we say the words, “We tell the story of promises made to those who were too old and too young, too broken and too far outside.” It always resonates with me. We are, without a doubt, the island of misfit toys. Most of us have been through a lot of things that often make us feel worthless.

But we are not.

And you, yes you, you are not worthless.

You, the weary, the depressed, the heavily medicated, the alcoholic, the drug addict, the adulterer, the thief, the single parent, the gay man or lesbian woman, the prostitute, the sex addict, the welfare recipient, the heavily indebted, the lonely, the hungry, the homeless, the heretic, the divorcee, the pregnant teen, the murderer, the whatever-you-are, are good enough.

If you’ve ever believed the lie that you are worthless, listen up.

YOU.

ARE.

GOOD ENOUGH.

Especially you.

Choosing to be Mrs. Anderson

When my husband and I got married (two years ago, now), I took his last name.

I’ve taken a lot of flak for this decision, mostly from fellow feminists. Because taking your husband’s name is a relic of patriarchy (agreed), and because it denotes his ownership of me (disagreed), and because it claims that my life up to that point is worth disregarding (disagreed), I ought not to have done it.

But here’s the thing: I did not take his name because I had to.

I did it because I wanted to.

I chose to be Mrs. Anderson for a lot of reasons. First, my maiden name was an eastern European jumble of consonants that made no sense at all and no one (myself included) could ever seem to pronounce it right. Combined with my seemingly unpronouncable first name…let’s just say introducing myself to anyone was a nightmare. In college (and currently), I would frequently just go by my first initial, which is a lot easier, but it didn’t solve the problem. Anderson is a much easier name (especially in Minnesota), so I decided to change to that.

Second, and more importantly, when we got married I was going through the process of leaving a family in which nothing good could come of my continued presence, on either side. Significant damage had been done and it was time to move on. This change of my name was a marker for me, that I was moving on to something new, that I now had the chance to redefine family and create one that was going to function like a family should. Not normal, not sane, but loving, real, and other-oriented.

I am still a feminist, and I was then too. Having the same last name as my husband does not prevent me from this belief and practice. I am not his property, I am his companion, his co-leader, his faithful supporter, and his best friend.

If you meet a woman who bears the last name of the man she loves, think, just for a second, before you judge her, that she might have a better reason than cultural expectation for doing so. Ask for the story first.

On Misconceptions.

Hello, dear friends.

I’m in the midst of summer intensives. Which means my brain, body, and all my free time are consumed by compacted classes that are, well…intense. So this isn’t a real post. And I’m also sorry I’ve been gone for, oh, a month now? Sheesh.

But anyway. I’ve decided to address some of the common misconceptions or misunderstandings about certain aspects of my theology, or my life in general. I get asked these questions a lot, and it would be a lot easier to just point people to a post than to have to explain them over and over again.

So, when I say that I am a pluralist, what I mean is that I think no one religion has a monopoly on truth. Furthermore, I also mean that I don’t think religion or faith in a supreme being is necessary for “salvation.” (I don’t like this word, but it’s the best one for this explanation). I still do my faith and spirituality in a generally Christ-oriented environment–I go to a Lutheran seminary, I go to church, I have a degree in Bible and Theology, et cetera.

When I say that I don’t identify as Christian, what I mean is that I don’t ascribe to the “branded” or, if you want to use fancy words, systematized Christianity that currently exists. Additionally, Christianity has some core dogmas that I disagree with, and thus I do not align with that title or group in order to promote harmony. I’ve found people are less offended by what I say when they know I am not trying to say it as a member of their religious tribe.

I am not “lucky” because I got married at 18. My husband and I chose to get married young because we love each other and we saw no point in putting it off until we were older. It may not have been the wisest decision, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. But, and please, please hear me, being married does not make your life better or easier, and it is not some box to check off on your list of life accomplishments. Our two years of marriage together have been really, really hard, but it’s been far more than worth it. We’ve both grown so much, both individually and together. So, when you find out that I’m 20 and have been married for two years, don’t say I’m “lucky” or I’m “ahead of the game.” I made a choice, which I am thankful for every day, but it didn’t flip some magical switch that suddenly fixed all my problems.

When I tell you I have Asperger’s (or what is now known as high-functioning Autism), don’t tell me that I seem so “normal.” I’ve had 20 years to learn how to cope, and a lot of what I do is not instinctual, but is learned behavior. For instance, I apologize when I say something that someone might find offensive (theologically speaking), because I’ve learned that grace and humility build harmony. Or, I look people in the eye when I speak with them because I’ve learned that conveys respect and attention. I’ve learned how my husband acts when he’s mad, or moody, or antsy, or amorous, not because I can sense it, but because I’ve studied him intensely. If I commit a social faux pas, please know that I’m not a massive jerk–I simply haven’t yet learned what to do in this particular situation. Calmly explain what offended or upset you, and I will make amends and learn from that event.

When I say that I believe in works righteousness, I am not saying that I think I can buy or work my way into Heaven, or that I am capable of saving myself. What I am saying is that I don’t believe faith has anything to do with salvation. Living a life in pursuit of letting love abound and continually choosing selflessness over selfishness with care and respect for all of creation is what “saves” a person, not whether or not they happen to believe in the “right” God. Do I succeed at this? HELL. NO. But if God is real, and God is love, and God knows our character, then God will know what I tried (and failed) to do with my life, and count that as righteousness.

When I say that I am a socialist, I do not mean that I want the government to control everyone’s paycheck and that we all should get the same amount of money regardless of how much we work. What I do mean is that I think wealth needs to be spread more equally, so that all people have the ability to meet their basic needs and work towards living a full life. This means that higher education and healthcare would be socialized, banks would be more heavily regulated, and individuals would have a right to housing. Also, and I’m sad I even have to say this, being a socialist does not make you a communist. They are two very different things.

When I say I am a feminist, I do not mean that I hate men, or that I want to reverse history and establish matriarchy. What I do mean is that I believe in equality for the sexes, which requires (at this time) measures directed towards women to bring them up to the socioeconomic level of men.

When I say that I am nonviolent, I don’t mean that I hate soldiers. Also, I would like to point out, pacifism is a specific set of beliefs, nonviolence is a practice. I eat meat, I yell at people, I know how to fight. What nonviolence actually means is that I do not believe in the use of violent force against another human being. So, to make this practical, I don’t support the military, but I am comfortable with the National Guard.

I hope this clears some things up. If there are terms you’d like me to clarify, let me know.