This morning

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I went into Wednesday night thinking, I’ll give this a try. It was the men’s bible study at this episcopal church and for whatever reason, episcopal church is synonymous with progressive in my mind, so there was excitement. An entrance into a world that was not set with evangelical short answers, but holy curiosity, and liturgy, and stained glass windows.

 

I walked passed the room, peering my eyes in to get a feel for those lounging on the couches and chairs, and I probably would have kept walking straight for the door had the men not noticed me, asked if they were the ones I was looking for.

 

I hopped in saying hey! This is the men’s group? And they all gave me introductions as I settled in the corner chair, furthest point away from the door and stayed quiet and smiled, but was completely on edge.

 

Really, it’s hilarious that I was even offended by the conversation that took place, because I chose a men’s group. A gender segregated study grounded in the assumption that men and women walk different avenues of faith. Separate, but equal.

 

Oh, if only that was all they had said. If only they had just talked about how men find God in sports or the grill or chopping wood or some other crap.

 

But no. This felt both completely irrelevant to me and seriously mistaken for a Bible Study. The question that we all huddled around was What does it mean to be a man? And it was made clear that the answer could only be found in scripture, so we looked at the passages about how men are fighters, the nice piece in Timothy about how stay-at-home dads are worse than nonbelievers, and then some about breaking your children (although, not everyone agreed with he who brought that up), and then the nods of agreement, exhales of pent up frustration, when we talked about how to  keep The Wife from assuming our role as spiritual leader. As the medium through which she meets God.

 

The problem with my seat was that to leave, I would have to cut through the center of the circle to get to the door and I didn’t want to say anything. I wanted to run, but not have any of these guys chase me, ask me, what is it something we said? Because it was clear that we were living in two different universes. Reading two different books. Living in two different families. Adhering to two very different definitions of love.

 

So I sat there the whole hour and fifteen. Afterwards, by my car in the street, I called my mom, because that’s what I do when I’m shaking. I told her every last sexist detail of it and she was like, where are you!? as if I should be expecting her any moment to cross two hundred miles to pick me up. I said the Episcopal Church! I thought it was progressive like me! And then she laughed, and I admit, I laughed too. I told her I was smoking a cigarette outside, I needed to calm the hell down, but also, as a way to show my resistance. Mainly to show them that I was not like them.

 

Mainly because of the heterosexism and the ego-inflated completely by the Y chromosome in their genetic code stunk worse than the smoke. Mainly, because I was sick of going to this church and that church and finally taking time to give them a Wednesday night chance, and then finding well-meaning men with horrifying beliefs. And that was what saved me, I think. They are ignorant, I told myself, not evil.

 

And it is that difference that has been sawing my prejudices in half through the week up to this Sunday. The moments when I need to hear that not all Christians are like that, but not all Christians that are like that are evil.

 

That the ones who’s well-meaning spirits match their good loving teaching are out there, somewhere, and they are not too sophisticated, too far removed for a relationship with Jesus, and they aren’t shallow abusers of the Bible, using their relationship with Jesus as proof of their authority. These perfectly reasons Christians are out there, somewhere. And I am coming to them, sometime soon.

 

Venturing back into the proximity of the church, the place that can and has hurt me the most, left me feeling exhausted and strong. For now, this day, I will sit by myself drinking coffee by the big wide window. I will listen to my brother preach a sermon on podcast, or maybe download that Jonathan Martin everyone is talking about (thank you Micah.) I will not feel a bit guilty, that has no place here, and in today’s kitchen chapel, I’m not trying to hear my own frustration, I am trying to hear his loving whisper breaking through my prejudice, anger, ego and apathy. Over the fresh coffee and my laptop and the sun pressing through the window.

 

And this is Sunday. It is enough.

  • Whenever I go to a women’s group, introductions always include the names of husband and kids, and not much more. Even though I have those things, I always think to myself, aren’t I MORE than that? My husband and children are not what define me, yet that’s how we always seem to choose to identify ourselves. Luckily introduction day is only once per year. But…that feeling of not fitting in…I get that.

    • registeredrunaway

      That was exactly the introduction!!! I sat there and was like, “I graduated recently..” and then rambled on about how I come from a big family and two loving parents, because that’s important. But also, it seemed list like the only thing they cared about. A strange connection between family dynamics and faith of a person.

      I heard jeff Chu talk yesterday about his time with the Westboro Baptists (and these guys are NOT the Westboro Baptists) but while he was interviewing Fred Phelps, he mentioned that his grandfather was a Baptist Preacher. Phelps leaned in suspiciously and asked, “how old was he when he died?” Apparently, within Westboro, living to a ripe old age is a Biblical sign of blessing. Dying young is punishment. And when I heard this, I thought about the family parading that took place in that meeting. It was a lot of posturing. A lot of exclusion.

  • Hey RR, thanks for sharing your experience. In college I went to an SGM church for a few years, and they were really big on talking about the differences between the sexes, really big into differentiated gender roles. It got to be a bit much after a while–I’m not really trying to live my life by adhering to early 20th century attitudes about gender roles, no matter how much someone tries to bend the Bible to make it agree with them. Towards the time when I was getting ready to leave the church, I started feeling really weird, like “Am I the only one who has a problem with this?” It’s uncomfortable being the only one in the room who thinks that something is very wrong. I can only imagine what it’s like to be in a situation where it’s like if they really knew you, they wouldn’t approve of your being you. I am really impressed by your ability to love these people, though. Reading through it, as your friend, I was starting to get angry with them, especially when I got to the part where you were so upset you started shaking. (Really glad you have someone like your mom that you can call at times like these.) I was getting my mental boxing gloves on, and then you were all, But they’re not really bad people. Way to heed the Sermon on the Mount, friend. 🙂 I should work on thinking things out more before I react mentally/emotionally.

    I’m glad you were able to just relax at home today. Sending you love from Pennsylvania!

    -Olivia

  • Aibird

    The last time I had a Bible Study was just me and my best friend from high school. She had gone to get a degree in teaching, while I did three years in physics and took a break due to health reasons. Here we were, avidly studying the Bible together, and then she asked some highly personal questions about relationships. It was relevant to what we were studying in the verses that day — something in Psalms — and so I admitted out loud to her that I was dating a girl.

    That ended the Bible study, instantly. She was furious. She’s also the second person I came out to back in 2005. She told me that I had promised her I’d wait till marriage, and I responded with I’m not allowed to marry! Why do you think I’m trying to find anything in the Bible that makes sense for me? The argument continued for days, weeks, and then she came to the conclusion that she knows me better than I know myself. That she knows I’m not really gay. This is the same friend who had tried to convince me in 2005 to join an ex-gay ministry — the Exodus ones. I actually e-mailed them, and the series of emails I had was a horrific stream of shaming.

    I haven’t been to any Bible study since that day in 2008. I hadn’t seen the point. Before then, while I was still at the university in 2006, I was attending a multi-denominational Bible study, and I found it hard to focus on the topics. There was two girls who often said homophobic things, and I often wondered if they did it out of ignorance or not? Were they like my friend who turned on me and tried so hard to change me? I was too scared to confront them. The girl I related to the most and had the best discussions with during that often uncomfortable Bible study turned out to like girls as well. Though I found that out quite a few years later. She stopped going to church as well.

    I’ve found some community and open hearts in the Unitarian Churches, but they are also a blend of different faiths and not purely Christian either. So I can’t say if that’s the best choice for you or not. I know there are LGBT Churches out there. There was one in my hometown that was led by a lesbian pastor and her wife, and they were wonderfully accepting, but the way they did their worship was not for me. It’s probably partly from my Catholic upbringing, where Mass was a meditative affair and the joyous singing was interspersed depending on the season.

    Point is, I can relate a lot to what you wrote here today, RR. My run-ins with Bible studies have often left me uneasy and wondering if I should speak up or not, or just leave and not come back. I often chose the latter. You are right. They’re not evil people. Many are just ignorant, and may not have ever considered that what they’ve been told all their lives may not be entirely true. Either way, sometimes its just too exhausting to reach them through that armor they’ve encased around their hearts — whether knowingly or not. My life is already a battlefield. Sometimes all I can do is just try to live my life with love and hope my actions are enough to reach them, especially when I don’t have the energy to convince them otherwise. Isn’t that all we can ever do?

    Meditative moments in the kitchen (or for me outside by a tree) is absolutely wonderful. 🙂

  • This sounds awful, but I love that you stood outside and smoked afterwards. Good job. I always show up late to my first event at a new church so I can sit in the back/next to the door in case I need to leave AND so that I can scope things out before I actually have to talk to anyone.

    On a more serious note, I spent about 3 years away from church between leaving my home denomination and joining the wonderful, progressive community I’m a part of now. It seems like an odd thing, but I really feel like God used that time to prepare me for the church I’m currently in. For the last few months before I found my church, I kept praying that God would be preparing a place for me somewhere. I’m going to start praying the same thing for you.

  • Oh friend. I’m sorry. I really truly hope you can find a church community that will surprise you with their love and grace. And soon.