I didn’t plan on writing anything this evening.
I got in from Birmingham this morning, had a busy afternoon, and then walked up to the doors of the hotel this evening bearing a backpack on my shoulders, a black duffle bag in my left hand, and two light paper bags from Whole Foods on my right arm.
I checked in at the front counter, located my room, changed out into my pj’s and then settled down on the couch with a big bowl of salad and a generous glass of orange juice. It was then, in this glorious state of rest, that I noticed a post in my news feed that immediately garnered my attention.
ARC Stories is something I only stumbled on recently; a community forum that lends a podium to locals who want to walk up to the mic and share their personal, non-fiction stories. Anything ranging from matters of the heart to the inner-workings of a career and, as you can see above, some stories even touch on deeper philosophical matters, such as subtle or very intense shifts in your point of view.
Upon seeing the topic, my heart began racing. I had drafted a story and submitted it for the last ARC Stories event; I didn’t hear back, but the wheels in my mind were already turning, churning up another good, real-life story for this event.
“I’ll AT LEAST buy a ticket and attend as a listener,” I resolved, loading the website in a separate browser and preparing to whip out my credit card. But when the website loaded and my eyes registered the date of the event – May 28th – I experienced a strange.. hesitation.
“Isn’t there something important about this date?” I questioned, quizzing my brain. “It seems.. familiar. It feels like it’s reserved. OH YEAH. It is. The beach. DUH!”
My best friend and I had both requested off of work for a 4-day time span so that we could travel down to Orange Beach together, and I had actually just purchased a pair of boys’ board shorts at Target this past weekend in anticipation OF the trip.
We already have a grocery store raid scheduled for the evening before we depart (so we can load up on things like cookies, chips, and beverages) and we also have a masterfully designed plan in place to visit a bunch of carefully chosen local eateries: Cosmos, Bravos Tacos, and The Southern Grind Coffee House.
“Damn ittttttttttttttttttttuhhhhhhhh,” I breathed out loud. “Why are both of these awesome events scheduled for the 28th?” I frowned, feeling thoroughly bummed.. sitting there indecisively with the screen of my phone still brightly lit up in my left hand. “Do I really need to go to the beach?” I queried softly. No one in the room answered. I rolled my eyes. “OF COURSE I DO,” I grumbled.
“So I won’t be able to attend the event and hear people tell stories. Big deal,” I brushed the disappointment off quickly, relocating my bowl of salad to the big hotel bed and stopping by the refrigerator to top off my orange juice.
Remember; there’s chocolate in the fridge.
I know there’s chocolate in the fridge.
I broke off 1/4th of a dark chocolate and coconut bar, cut it into tiny pieces, and then bundled them all up in a paper towel. I hopped into bed with it, pulled the covers up over my legs, and here I am right now, wearing some really cool boxers, an outer space t-shirt, and sipping on orange juice, writing these thoughts out as clearly and cohesively as possible for you.
I obviously won’t be able to tell this story at the podium (they wouldn’t have chosen me as a speaker anyways), but this is still a story I’d like to write and tell.
My Changing POV
From Persecutor to Prisoner to Pal
I was raised in the church. The Seventh-day Adventist church.
I’m not going to defame it on the internet today. Like all churches, its members are well-meaning; devout in their studies, fervent in their prayers, and sincere in their efforts to better their own lives and the lives of those around them. And they’re also 100,000% convinced – again, like all other churches – that THEY have actually found THE truth. The single truth. Wow. Crazy. How lucky. What are the chances.
Anyways. They’re all well-meaning.
But the religion of my childhood was torture.
From sunset Friday evening until sunset Saturday evening, the whole world went away. There could be no talk of “secular things” — money, school, sports or television shows (I was only allowed to watch an hour of television per week anyways, so that one wasn’t too difficult). I couldn’t go outside and skateboard. I couldn’t work ahead on my homeschooling. I couldn’t clean the house (which was particularly distressing during the peak of my OCD’s reign), play monopoly online at games.com, or read any of my library books. I could, in short, do nothing that would make my mind stray away from God, as the Sabbath was his special time to command every ounce of my attention.
Here’s what I could do:
- Think about Jesus
- Talk about Jesus
- Write and sing songs about Jesus
- Watch Bible movies
- Read Bible stories
- Discuss the Bible
- Watch Animal Planet (dutifully muting the secular commercials that played at least 4 times each hour)
- Walk around the block (for the purpose of observing nature and appreciating God’s handiwork.. not vigorous exercising, because peaceful Sabbath afternoons aren’t intended for heavy physical exertion)
- Eat food
“Mommmmmm,” I called out one Saturday evening, sitting cross-legged in the living room. I had parked my body in front of the dormant television and was dying to turn it on so that I could bid the whimsical world hello again. “It’s sunset nowwwww,” I announced. I knew that it wasn’t.
“No it isn’t, Rose,” Sierra responded reprovingly from her bedroom. I didn’t even have to poke my head in; I could easily picture the scene very clearly in my mind. She would be wearing a head covering, sitting in dad’s recliner, and reading the Bible with her knees tucked underneath her small frame. “Sunset is at 7:48 tonight. It’s only 7:40.”
“UGHHHHHHHHHHHH!” I threw my body backwards so that I was lying on the floor, staring up at the ceiling and cursing my fate.
“Why couldn’t I have been born into a WORLDLY family?” I asked myself miserably. “Then I could go to movie theaters and wear pants and listen to whatever kind of music I wanted.”
Ah, yes; at this time, movie theaters were forbidden, I had to wear long skirts and long-sleeved shirts, and I could only listen to *light* contemporary christian and gospel music. Vomit, vomit, and vomit.
At age 14, I was contingently allowed to return to public school.
“But remember,” my mother warned me soberly, “if I see your attitude changing because of your classmates — and I mean changing at all — I will pull you out of there immediately and we’ll go back to homeschooling.”
“Oh, DON’T worry,” I responded quickly, my eyebrows shooting up on their own, “that will NOT happen.” Like I’d intentionally ruin the rest of my own life, I thought to myself.
I was a good kid. I brought my Bible and “Spirit of Prophecy” writings (aka books written by purported prophets of the 1800 and 1900s) on the school bus with me and traded meaningful social interactions with peers in for studious investigations of old religious works. Highlighter in hand, I marked, circled and underlined my favorite words, phrases, and what I felt were the most profound passages on every page. My mother or grandmother would pick up the book behind me, days, weeks or months later, and smile with approval — proud of this tangible evidence of their fervent daughter and granddaughter’s faith.
I’ll never forget an exchange I had with a boy in middle school during this passionate phase of being “on fire for Jesus.” He was one of the only “out” gay kids in our school at the time.
He turned around in his seat during first period, took in the scene of me pouring my head over the Bible, and offered: “You know, my cousin went to college, and he said that there’s nothing wrong with being gay.”
I jumped on the opportunity. I had secretly been waiting for it. “See?” I reveled in the virtue of patience. “You’ve waited for the right time to say something, and now this is the Lord, giving you a chance to witness.”
“Well actually, Jerry,” I began quietly, “if you really study the Bible, then you’ll see that — right here in Leviticus 3:17 — well, I’ll just let you read it.”
I flipped the book open to the right chapter and verse, rotated the Bible so that it was facing him, and then watched his face change as he read the words I’d indicated. Once he’d finished, I remember him looking up at me, straight into my eyes, and then turning his body so that he resumed facing forward. We never, ever spoke again.
He was only one of many people — specifically, gay people — that I wanted to apologize to, years later. I was able to reach out and make amends with many gay friends.. but this boy I could never find. I can remember his first name only; I’m unable to recall his last. I searched for mutual friends on Facebook – again – just this evening, but his picture isn’t there. It isn’t anywhere. I hate that someone that I wronged so deeply is completely out of my reach.
When I realized slash admitted to myself that I was gay last year, I posted about it on the internet via a public blog post. My gay friends — the same ones that I had persecuted for years — came running out of cyber space to stand beside me. They shook my hand and hugged me. It made me cry. The fact that they could be so forgiving and supportive in spite of my (well-meaning but still reprehensible) intolerance towards them astounded me. I didn’t expect to have their happy smiles and their well wishes.. not in the slightest. But they gave them, freely, anyways. Oddly enough, I didn’t receive this kind of support from my old pack of christian companions. In place of support, I received written messages from this group that I would be the recipient of their prayers, whether I wanted to be or not. I was bluntly told that I was a failed role model.. a poor example.. and I got to watch the sad, never-ending collection of Bible verses and traditional marriage memes posting themselves onto my cyber wall every single fucking day for months. But guess what? Like Jerry, I made it. Past all of their bigotry and bullshit. And now I’m at the other end of the rainbow, struggling to not make the exact same mistake that I made earlier on in my life; of being intolerant towards those who disagree with me.
Like christians. It’s very easy for me to dislike christians. It’s so easy to draw a line in the ground and then say “You’re over there, and I’m right here; the perspective from where I’m at is perfect, so your perspective — from over there, on the other side — couldn’t possibly be.” But that is not necessarily true. Truth is relative, and truth can and will stand on its own.. always; regardless of who purports or denies it. There’s a certain freedom in that, isn’t there? I couldn’t change the truth. Neither could you. We would claim to find or discover it, but our belief in or perception of what truth is also does nothing to alter what “the truth” actually looks like and consists of. I love it. Who fucking knows.
And I can’t reasonably judge a population, a group, or a sect of people based off of the poor behaviors and examples of the christians that I’ve met in my lifetime. Because guess what? Just as there have been poor examples, there have been many wonderful examples also.
Off the top of my head, I can think of (3) truly exemplary christians that I’ve known.
One of them, I work with on an almost daily basis, and she’s gotten me through one of the hardest time periods of my life with no harsh words, and no judgment. Honestly. She’s never made me feel like less than a person — not even once. Her love for and belief in me – in my worth and potential as a person – has kept me sane and kept me here when I was too short-sighted and depressed to want to stay here.
Another admired person is my grandfather. I don’t talk about him often because we don’t talk much, and he’s a really quiet guy. He’s gone to church less often than he’s stayed home, and I have more vivid memories of him watching the Sci-Fi channel on the weekends than I do of him reading his Bible. But he’s always been kind, selfless, quiet, compassionate, and giving. His spirit is gentle and supportive. His faith is like a campfire. It’s present,and it’s warm, but it isn’t stifling, overwhelming, or scalding hot to those around him.
And the third person is my brother, Bobby. He was special — a cancer survivor; a persevering epileptic — one of the most simple, straight-forward, transparent and candid human beings I’ve ever known. I don’t even know what his perception of God was, really, but he would fold his hands and murmur prayers out loud; he’d offer to buy me stupid, over-priced Muscle Milk drinks at the gas station when I’d drive him up the road to the 7-Eleven so that he could fill up his Big Gulp cup to overflowing and I could clean up the mess behind him; and whenever anyone talked down to me or began commenting on how I was going to end up “going down the wrong path someday if I didn’t get right with the Lord now,” he would yell at them and say “Don’t you talk about my sister babe like that.”
Maybe those things don’t make him a religious character, but he was more spiritual than he was religious. I think that’s what made him so magical, so flawless, and so very, very beautiful. I could feel his goodness. And if anyone is deserving of an “afterlife in paradise,” it’s that soul. That gorgeous, afflicted, warrior of a soul. I’d gladly give up my own seat in that fabled glory land so that my brother could finally sit down, rest, and enjoy the view.
So — in an attempt to attach some cohesiveness to all of this: my point of view has changed pretty drastically over the years and is, even right now, changing. I’m done pouring concrete into the recesses of my mind; awkwardly hammering thoughts into place, and putting glass memories on display atop cold, metal shelves. I’m keeping things fluid; soft and slippery and in a constant state of suspension. I’ll entertain this idea for a bit right now, and then we’ll see what comes of it later.
Three things I know for certain:
I love all people. Straight and gay and everything in-between.
I will accept all people. Religious and spiritual and everything in-between.
I will respect all people.. whether they are kind, mature, and democratic or shitty, shameful bigots.
I’m obviously working on the last two.