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.

On Asperger’s and Sandy Hook.

For the past couple days, I haven’t really known what to say.

What happened on Friday was awful, and horrible, and a very sad tragedy. It is something that should not happen, not ever, not anywhere.

But, to be completely honest, I’m not sad.

Now, before you judge me, and before you explode in the comments, I need to explain. I so desperately want to be sad. I want to be infuriated. I want to mourn. I want to write a fiery post about gun control. I want to scream and shout and cry and feel a million other things.

But I can’t. Because I have Asperger’s. And thus, I lack the ability to empathize.

Friday afternoon, as I learned about the shootings in Newtown, I felt the need to somehow communicate anger or sadness over it. But I honestly could not feel either emotion. I thought about tweeting something about not being able to feel anything, but everything I came up with sounded self-centered. So here I am instead, three days later, finally figuring out the words to say.

I cannot empathize with the parents, friends, teachers, siblings, classmates, or anyone else otherwise related to the children who were murdered on Friday. I have never experienced such a loss before, and thus I cannot understand it, or connect myself to it.

But yesterday, when I learned that the shooter had Asperger’s, I found I could feel grief for him.

Again, let me clarify. I’m not saying I can sympathize. I’m not saying I can condone what he did. It was a horrible, horrible thing, and his Asperger’s does not excuse that.

But I know what it’s like to have to live with AS. I know how difficult daily life can be. I know how easy it is for anxiety to take over, or rage to burn. I know how hard it is to process, manage, and control emotions, and how hard it is to understand chemical changes and how they impact mood. I know what it’s like to feel like an outcast all of the time, to not know how to be a part of a healthy social group, to be mocked, ridiculed, discriminated against, or even hated for being different or not being able to “act normal.”

I know what Adam Lanza had to deal with, unceasingly, every day of his life.

I’m lucky. I grew up with health insurance that covered mental health expenses. I had the ability to be diagnosed and treated. I went to college with a community of loving people who were willing not just to accept me, but to help me, support me, and teach me how to function in society. I have a husband who feels for me and has helped me to learn about emotion and empathy in ways that no one else ever could.

This is not the case for every person living with AS. Many people go untreated, never knowing they have it, thinking they just need to be more “normal” or that they’re just “weird” and need to fix it. They don’t feel safe discussing their difficulties with emotional processing and interpersonal connections with anyone because those difficulties are what makes them abnormal. They don’t have a safe outlet when uncontrolled emotions flare up. They don’t have someone to teach them about empathy.

Instead, they try to push down their abnormalities, until they can’t anymore and they break down or lash out.

We need to address this. We need to remove the stigma associated with mental illness. We need to provide safe, accessible, affordable mental health resources that aim to help those dealing with mental illnesses to function and succeed in society. We need to recognize that mental illnesses are just as much a health issue as physical illnesses, and to treat them in the same way–proactively, quickly, and with concern for the patient’s healing.

We need to stop saying “us” and “them” when it comes to people with mental illnesses. Because we are them. I am one, and I bet there are many others in your life.

We need to make sure these tragedies don’t happen anymore.

On Death, Red Lipstick, And My Affection For Communion Wine, Part I

Originally, this post and the two that will follow it were supposed to be one post. I forgot that I am, in fact, very long winded and thus the three parts to this post are split over three different posts. For the next two installments, check back tomorrow and Thursday, provided I remember to post them.

Strange times have been afoot in the Anderson household…er, apartment-hold?

To begin, husband’s paycheck was supposed to arrive in the mail last Friday. It did not, and we had 90 cents to our name until Monday. This wasn’t a huge change, mostly just frustrating. But it made for a very stressful setting for a couple weeks. In the midst of all of this, I’ve been reflecting on a few different things that have come up recently as I tried to make sense of our increasingly hectic lives. I’ve divided these into three parts, for your reading convenience.

Part One: Last Sunday afternoon my husband received a call from his mother saying that his paternal grandfather had had a stroke and was not doing well. This was a shock, as he was in excellent shape and, with the exception of poor hearing, didn’t have many health concerns. He passed away Thursday evening. We went up to Alexandria (where he lived) on Sunday afternoon for the visitation; the funeral was on Monday. So, this is all very recent, and unexpected, and thus my thoughts aren’t really gathered yet.

However, I’ve come away from the experience with one observation. I don’t find myself very emotional at funerals, and especially since I had only known Lloyd (my husband’s grandpa) for about two years, his death didn’t hit me as hard as it did his biological family. Instead of mourning, I observed. I watched how people dealt with death. I watched some people laugh at memories of him; I watched others cry over the loss of a beloved family member; I watched others still sit silently, unable to process what had happened (whether intentionally or otherwise). As a person who has a marked difficulty reading people and understanding emotion, it was a good learning experience for me.

However, the person I watched most was Lloyd’s wife, Vi.

She was, in my opinion, the most real person at the funeral. Which is impressive, considering that the first step in the grief process (according to Kubler-Ross, at least) is denial, and I would have expected her to hide behind a facade of “he’s in a better place”s and “I’m fine”s and fake smiles.

She didn’t.

At some times, especially when she was talking with groups of people (she’s the biggest extrovert I know), she was smiling and laughing. She loved hearing all the stories people told about him. Other times, in more secluded moments, she would complain about how tired or stressed out she was; she isn’t SuperWoman, after all. When she looked at pictures of Lloyd, or at the casket (particularly his body), however, she would break down and weep without notice.

All of this taught me an important lesson about death and grief.

First of all, Kubler-Ross wasn’t wrong–the five stages show themselves in most people who are in the grief process. But, at the same time, she was. Because we don’t really go through these five stages in order, and we don’t visit each stage only once. We go through the whole process a number of times.

Second, the people who simply say “he/she’s in a better place” or “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” or any other cliched, pithy sayings like that do no justice to the grief process, nor do they honor God. God does not expect us to be optimistic and stoic at all times, especially while grieving. Jesus himself shows a wide range of emotion in the Gospels; who are we, as humans, to assume we have to be happy all the time?

Third, the (western) Church as a whole does a horrible job with grief. We’re happy to encourage, to bring meals, to send flowers, and even to crack a few silly jokes, but we are much more hesitant to sit with the grieving and mourn with them. We don’t know how to deal with weeping or rage. We don’t know how to sit in silence and simply be with the lonely. We don’t know how to step out of our lives for a few minutes (or hours, or days) and stop to grieve. Sending flowers or making a meal takes some time, yes, but it doesn’t take commitment. It doesn’t require us to be anything more than physical beings. And, as a group that tends to ignore (or even despise) the tangible in favor of the spiritual, we don’t know how to provide for the emotional and spiritual needs of the grieving. We’ll gladly recite a litany of Bible verses about God’s goodness, but not those that deal with anger or grief. At best, we know how to distract, but not how to really dive into the mire of grief. We don’t want to get our hands dirty. So we bake a lasagna instead.

I don’t know how, but this needs to change. We need to embrace grief as a part of life. We need to learn how to deal with all parts of it, to stop pretending like pain doesn’t happen, or that it only happens behind closed doors, and to bind ourselves to those who are grieving as they process. We are one body, and we are called to celebrate and mourn together.

It’s time for us to be real.

Secrets.

I have a secret.

Someday, I want to be a theologian.

Yes, I want to spend my life working for justice and love and other good things. No, I’m not going to grad school (much to the dismay of my professors). Yes, I would be much more content running a bakery in Palestine than being a professor in the States.

But I still want to be a theologian.

And I don’t really know why. It makes no sense to me. But that’s what I’m going to school for, even though I had planned, up until what I sort of call my freshman year of college, to be a pharmacologist. Theology makes me feel alive in ways that other areas of study do not.

I have another secret, though. One that makes this dream, and everything else about life, much more difficult.

I have Asperger’s Syndrome.

Most people who know me have no clue that I do. I didn’t, until I was in high school and wasn’t developing emotionally in the way that I was apparently supposed to (because every teenage girl needs to be on an emotional rollercoaster, right?) and, after a series of diagnostic tests and awkward conversations with psychiatrists, it became clear that I had AS. Because I had already reached my teens by the time I was diagnosed, I had already learned to cope with it. I thought I was just a weird kid who was socially awkward, and I needed to fix that if I ever wanted to be “successful” in life.

The few people I told after I found out asked me if I was okay, did I need a hug (no, please get off me, you’re too close), did I want to talk about it. They talked to me as if I had just been diagnosed with a disease.

But I was feeling like everything finally made sense.

I wasn’t weird, or crazy, or abnormal. I just have a brain that works differently than other people’s brains.

It seemed natural, then, that I would go into a field like pharmacology. It was science (so it depended on reason and fact, things I could easily grasp), and it would allow me to isolate myself in a lab with perhaps two or three other people who I would only have to interact with on a professional level (read: I didn’t have to be friends with them if I didn’t want to.)

But, despite my efforts to the contrary, I feel called to the field of theology.

It’s strange, being a theology major and having AS. People use the phrase “I feel…” or “I believe…” as a precursor to nearly every statement. The word “fact” is our F-word (incidentally, the F-bomb gets dropped by my professors on a regular basis). Often, I don’t understand concepts that come naturally to other people (like how God could be loving and wrathful simultaneously). Much emphasis is placed on the spiritual nature of this realm, which is completely foreign to me (I tried the whole charismatic thing. I was freaked out the whole time and I felt like people were always trying to get inside my head. Take prayer, for example. For me, it is a conversation with a being who I simply am unable to see, not an esoteric, other-worldly experience). I usually feel incapable because my emotional reasoning is almost non-existent.

This is true, too, in marriage. My husband is an INFJ, so he processes emotionally and is very feeling-oriented. I am an ISTJ–I process by reason and logic and I am very fact-oriented. It’s a constant learning experience.

I am faced with two realities: 1. I have AS, and 2. I want to be a theologian. It is always a battle to reconcile the two. Especially when most theological issues demand some ability to understand non-logical reasoning.

Here I am, at the end of my post, and I have no idea why I’m telling you this. Perhaps it’s because I need to share my weaknesses. Perhaps because I want to show you my location so that you can understand my theology better. Perhaps I just want more traffic and more posts will get me that. I don’t know.

I think, though, that I’m sharing this because I know that we bond best when we are honest with one another. I’m tired of keeping these secrets. This is a part of who I am, and denying that doesn’t bring about anything good.

I’m a work in progress.