Treatise of a Hypocrite: Attachment, Millennial Migration, and the Problem of the American Church

Before you begin reading, please know that I am coming from a place of love, not of judgment.  Also, like every other imperfect human being in the world, I struggle on a regular basis with living a balanced life of love and truth consistently.  In essence, I’m a hypocrite– down in the trenches alongside everybody else who’s trying to figure things out.

A few days ago, I posted a controversial little article on Facebook about how the church drove Millennials away because it offered more judgement, hatred, and bigotry than love.  The people who’ve left the church, “liked” it, while those who still attend church, said, “But truth!  Truth!”  So, being the person who loves people on both sides of the proverbial fence, my mind has been churning with a small bit of the complexities as to why, I firmly believe, something seemingly unrelated is of utmost importance to the church.

First, let’s look at the two viewpoints of those who have left the church and those who’ve stayed.

Here are the 4 most common reasons I’ve heard from friends who’ve left the church:

  1. Hypocrisy (anti-abortion but also anti-human rights—like refugees, immigrants and the death penalty)
  2. Judgmentalism/self-righteousness (believing ourselves superior to others)
  3. Inconsistency between beliefs and practice (saying you love everyone, but hating the LGBTQ community, for instance.  Chick-fil-A sandwich, anyone?)
  4. Irrelevance (where’s the church when ___________ was happening?)

(It’s interesting to note that people who’ve left the church and espouse zero love for it, still believe its people should live up to a higher standard than the rest of society. Example: Those pointing out the hypocrisy of Joel Osteen not opening his church in the Texas flood.)

The #1 reason many current church-goers believe so many have left the church?

  1. Because they don’t like the Truth

Since the beginning of time, truth hasn’t really changed, but now, people are leaving the church in droves.  And since I don’t buy that this generation has a greater aversion to truth than former generations, what’s really changed?  I think it’s more complicated than simply Love vs. Truth.  So, let’s look at a bit of historical context to get a better idea.

Beginning in the 1730’s, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield led what would come to be known as “The Great Awakening.”  This, most would argue, was also the birth of the Evangelicalism.  This period emphasized high moral standards, hellfire and damnation, personal redemption, and introspection.  This movement was in contrast to the Enlightenment period whose hallmarks were Rationalism, and adherence to rituals and traditions.

The 1790’s-1850’s brought the “Second Great Awakening,” characterized by emotionalism, and super-naturalism; eventually spawning the Restorationist Movement.  That, in turn, featured the concept of preparing and cleansing ourselves for the end times.

From there came Pentecostalism which began at the 1906 Asuza Street revival.  It emphasized miracles, inter-racial worshipping together, and emotionally charged services.  In reaction to this movement, came the Fundamentalist Movement alongside of it, which emphasized strict literal interpretations of certain Scripture passages, rigid adherence to dogma, and making clear distinctions between themselves and other religious groups.

By the 1960’s, the Jesus Movement was the newest trend and paired well with the hippy mindset of peace and love.  It emphasized miracles and feelings, and much of it was Restorationist in theology.  This movement spawned what we think of today as the “Christian right” and “Christian left.”  The left sticking with the more Charismatic nature, and the right veering into the reactionary Authoritarian/Fundamentalist side of things.  Is it clear how this pendulum swing of love and truth is throughout each generation?

And now we arrive at those “damn Millennials.”

By the time I was born in the 1980’s, the Fundamentalist/Authoritarian mindset was in full swing throughout much of the country.  The church was great at boldly stating what it didn’t stand for and took on a fight-the-culture mindset: home schooling became popular, Christian music became a thing, and Christian movies and actors got their start.  The church created its own sub-culture to shelter its people from the common sinful pitfalls of the heathen culture around it.  We were taught to live by strict rules, to keep ourselves pure from evil influences, and were judged harshly if we didn’t.

And it is this little history lesson of pendulum-like reactions that brings me to why I believe that Millennials have left the church.

For one more moment, I beg of you to take a seemingly large, unrelated leap with me. I’d like you to consider the two following scenarios.

Scenario #1: It is your first visit to a new doctor.  You admit that you smoke frequently and immediately he responds, “You know, you need to stop smoking because it can cause A, B, and C…”

Scenario #2: Your beloved spouse of 10 years tells you, “Today, you really worried me because you were wheezing and breathless as you were going up the stairs.  Please try to quit smoking because I want you to still be beside me 20 years from now.”

Which of these two scenarios seems more likely to move you, the smoker, to action?  If you have a healthy relationship with your spouse, probably scenario #2, because even though your spouse is not the expert, you have a long relationship built on trust.  The truth was told in both scenarios, but one told you the truth out of love and used your trust of their intentions to communicate to you.  In other words, your spouse used your attachment to him/her.

What is attachment and why is it so crucial to the everyone, especially the church?  My own definition would be this: attachment is love and trust over time.  For anyone who’s parented a child with attachment issues, you already know that attachment is EVERYTHING.  Without it, there is no relationship and especially, no disciplining your child.  If you discipline a child who has a tenuous attachment at best, the child is likely to shutdown, meltdown, or run away.  And this doesn’t just apply to children.  Like the doctor scenario, it doesn’t matter if you have all of the right answers, if you haven’t taken the time to build that loving trust.  As my dear therapist once put it, “it’s okay to have high expectations if you have an equal amount of love to go with it.”

All human beings seek attachment: it is a biological necessity.  And this is the order in which it MUST proceed.

  1. Physical needs.  If those basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and safety are met, there is enough trust in place for the next level.
  2. Mental/Emotional needs.  Physically being there for the child, loving them, showing goodness to them, no matter their behaviors. This is the stage where children (aka everyone) learns that they are loved and they belong, no matter their choices. This is where they understand their precious personhood.  And only then, when they have learned that no one is abandoning them, or hating them, or judging them, are they ready for the next step into something deeper.
  3. Spiritual needs.  This is where children can observe and emulate a parents’ moral compass, develop empathy, guilt, learn right from wrong, and hopefully, develop their own beliefs.

Reading this list, can you see the connection between the generation raised in Fundamentalist (and for me, Evangelical) churches that emphasized lots of truth, sometimes outright hatred, very little love, and the strong reaction (historical pendulum swing) of those tenuously attached Millennials to run the other way?

I find it interesting how many New Testament verses there are about adoption.  My favorite, which I believe, sums up the very foundation of our faith is this one:  “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Rom. 8:15)  This verse explains the intimacy that we are supposed to have with God our loving Father.  So how do we, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, help people to build that connection with God?  I truly believe it’s through being a kind of placeholder, building attachment over time.  Here are my ideas.

  1. Physical needs.  The church does this pretty well.  Keep providing for basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, but make sure it’s consistent over time.
  1. Mental/Emotional needs.  This step is probably the most lacking in the current American (especially Evangelical) church.  Our job as Christians is to be Christ-like, not to be Christ.  It’s not our job to change hearts nor to judge.  It’s not our job to hurry things along, which, as an impatient person, I’m very bad at.  It’s our job to give time, love, compassion, and space to everyone. We must wait with them in love.  It’s hard because it may mean sacrificing our time, our comfort, etc…  And we must do all this, without believing we are somehow better than “them.”
  2. Spiritual needs.  This is where most church-goers assume that everyone around them is at.  But honestly, many people are stuck back at the second step.  The time for the big “T” (and by that I mean truth) will come when it comes.  We don’t have to hide it or shy away from it, and more often than not, a ready heart will seek truth out; especially when it’s safe to do so.  Truth from a loving place is sometimes hard to give, but if we must confront someone, we must first ask ourselves, “Do they already know that I love them?  Do they trust that I want the best for them?”  The answer may be no.  You may not be the right person or it may not be the right time.  And so many times, if we’re really living out God’s truth and love in our own lives, not much needs to be said.

To my dear friends who’ve left the church:

Yes, we, the church, have failed you and even though we have, God won’t.  Maybe you no longer believe in God, or maybe just not his people.  Either way, please keep telling us the truth in love—hopefully, sometime soon, we’ll get the hang of listening.

Grasping at Consistency: Honest Thoughts On A Religious Journey Part 2

I’d like to tell you a story, but I would like to start near the end of the story because really, it’s closest to the beginning.

It was an oddly warm morning this past October and like almost all mornings, I took my dog Aera for a walk.  I decided to go to the outdoor track behind the YMCA because I needed a change of scenery from our usual places.  One of the best things about having a dog is the necessity of a silent walk—perfect for praying.  And that particular morning, my heart was heavy with a decision that I’d made.  I was praying that God would give me one last confirmation—a Biblical fleece, I guess you could call it—to show me that I was indeed, following His will.  So as I prayed and walked, we passed a lady who was running and she smiled and waved to us.  And because this track is a large loop, we passed her several more times.  At one point, she stopped running to talk with us.  We made small talk about the weather, dogs, and then she asked me a question I was not expecting.

“I know this is going to sound strange,” she said, sounding a bit hesitant. “But do you believe in God?”

“I do,” I replied.

She looked relieved.  “You may not believe this, but as I kept passing you, I received a word from the Lord.”

Now I know very well that the phrase “word from the Lord” is a Pentecostal phrase that means, God spoke to me about you, so I was very interested to see where this was going.

“Oh?” I asked, trying to show her that this was indeed welcome information.

“The word I got was ‘courage,’” she continued on without much of a pause. “You see, I think it has something to do with a decision you are making and that you should have the courage to go through with it and not be afraid.  This is what you’re supposed to do.”

For a person skeptical of the more mystical side of Christianity, I’ve had quite a few things like this happen throughout my life, so I couldn’t help but smile. “You know, you’ll never believe this,” I responded. “But I was just praying for confirmation for a decision I’m making—that it’s the right one and that God would give me a sign.”

She beamed at that point, “Take this as confirmation.  I also feel this has something to do with those close to you—your family?  Maybe telling them something they don’t want to hear.”

“Yes,” I said, shaking her hand.  “Thank you so much for having the courage to tell me this.  It really is what I needed to hear.  Your words are an answer to prayer.”

She stood for a few moments, seeming hopeful that I would explain what all of this was about, but I didn’t.  I didn’t want to shake her faith.

We kindly parted ways and I shook my head, trying to contain my laughter at God’s sense of humor.  You see, what had just taken place was this: a Pentecostal had just told a Presbyterian to become Catholic and to have courage to tell her Southern Baptist dad about her decision.  See the humor now?

The following is my thought-process throughout this 5-year journey, it is in no way a complete look into my thoughts, but it is enough.  That being said, here is my journey towards Catholicism.  I’ll start with the boring stuff I had to come to grips with first about the Catholic Church.  If you’re not interested, then feel free to skip to the last paragraph.

Problem #1:  Authority

Part 1: I have always had a problem with trusting authority because throughout my life, I’ve had a front-row seat to religious leaders and others in authority abusing their powers (whether through sexual abuse, misleading “truths” to push a personal agenda or to gain notoriety, etc…).  Many people my age have left the church because the great amount of hypocrisy they’ve seen.  I have not left because I know that a church is a place full of sinners who need God (and the only difference between people in a church and outside of a church is that church-goers admit that they need help to be more like God).  For me, God has always been much better and higher than His sin-tainted church.  But we try and that’s the point.

What about all of those children sexually-abused by Catholic priests, you are asking?  How can you ignore that?  I don’t.  Here’s the thing, the Catholic church is huge.  There are an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics in the world currently.  In 2010, there were an estimated 800 million Protestants (many different denominations).  I grew up Evangelical and knew that the same awful stuff was happening in most of the churches I’ve attended, the difference being, the churches are smaller and can cover it up more easily.  The Catholic church is huge, and thus, much easier to expose.  I’m glad that the sins of the Catholic church were exposed because hopefully it can heal and change.

Part 2:  Accepting Apostolic Succession.  This was not a hard one for me.  Catholic theology teaches that when Jesus told Peter “Upon you I will build my church,” it was meant literally.  Apostolic succession is through the laying on of hands from one Apostle to another.  The Apostles were the first bishops of the church.

Part 3: The all-male Magisterium (bishops of the church who have ruled on interpretation of questionable scriptures throughout history).  I do not love that women are excluded as deacons and priests, especially since Junia was named in the Bible as an Apostle (bishop) and is recognized as such in Catholic church history as such, and Priscilla and Phoebe, recognized as a deacons.  Thus, historically and Biblically, women should still be eligible for included in church authority but they currently are not.  That being said, the exclusion of females in governing leadership is nothing new to me.  Presbyterians, for example have a Presbytery and only men are considered for pastor, elder or diaconate roles.  I tend to give a bit more leeway to Protestants because they think they are acting Biblically.  For example, Junia is argued by John Piper in his work in helping to translate for the New English Standard Version to really be Junias (even though there is less-than-nothing to back up that claim besides his own distinctly patriarchal p.o.v.).  Protestants shrug at the inclusion of Priscilla as a deacon because they say that she was paired as a “helper” to her husband Aquilla who was the real deacon and was not really referred to as a deacon.  The many verses in Timothy about women being silent in church, etc…is always taken out of the patriarchal cultural context at the time too, but whatever.  I could go Episcopal or Anglican, but those tend to be pretty liberal leaning or non-existent in our area.

So why am I becoming Catholic despite this?  Because progress is being made and the church is open to it.  For the last 50 years, many strong nuns and leading female (and male) Catholic writers and sympathetic priests have raised this issue.  Every few years, the current Pope brings it up as something that must be changed.  Summits are held, voices are heard.  Change is slow, but I am happy to lend my voice to this cause.

Part 4: The Pope, the Magisterium, and our ultimate need for consistent authority. Whether or not Protestants like to admit it, we all have our own “Popes” or “Magisterium.”  Whether we ourselves are the final authority on what we believe or whether it is a favorite pastor or a more celebrity-type leader (like the Graham’s, Dr. Dobson, Bill Gothard, John Piper), we all listen to someone as the final authority.  Becoming Catholic, I am choosing an authority with a long history, both good and bad, that has been consistent in its teachings throughout the centuries.

Problem #2:  The Perpetual Virginity of Mary

I’ve read the Protoevangelium of James (aka the Gospel of James).  I’m not gonna lie, it’s pretty weird and I have a tougher time with this one.  It’s an account of Mary’s upbringing, Christ’s birth, and testimony to Mary’s perpetual virginity.   But what about the mention of Jesus’ brothers in Scripture?  The church teaches that they were most likely the children of Joseph from a previous marriage or cousins.  But having accepted the church’s authority in general, this is one I can live with. And because the Catholic church dates back to Jesus’ Disciples and what they taught, I’m going to believe the people who knew Mary personally.  So even if you are a Protestant and are thinking, “for shame,” just remember that the original Church Reformer, Martin Luther, believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity too.

 

So I’ve told you what I had to really work through, but what simultaneously drew me?

 

A Consistent Theology of Life, Love and Truth in Action

I was 21 when I picked up a copy of “Death of Innocents” by Sister Helen Prejean from the library.  I knew absolutely nothing about the book, I just liked the title when I came across it on the shelf.  It was a book about those wrongfully convicted on death row and the idea that the death penalty is always morally wrong (innocent or not).  I wrestled with the concept at the time, but now I see that it comes from a theology that is all about respecting the entirety of life. I love that the Catholic Church is pro-life all the way through life and in every aspect.  Pro-life to Catholics means much more than just protecting the unborn.  It also means caring for and loving the refugee, the prisoner, the oppressed, the mentally ill, the homeless, the elderly, the poor, your enemy; and all of these are equally as important.  It means that Catholics were the main overlapping group who attended both the women’s march, the march for life, and refugee rallies across the US.  It means having a theology that says others who’ve never heard of Christ but who believe in God in the way that they are able, will likely be alongside Christians in Heaven.  It’s a theology that embraces the idea that it is our job to be good stewards of the earth that we live on and we are to care for all of its inhabitants (plant, animal, human).  It is a theology that says, yes, God created the earth, but we don’t have to deny science to still believe that.  It is a beautiful thing and one, that without putting words to it, I have always believed and tried to live out.

 

Complexity and Suffering

The churches I grew up in were somewhat fundamentalist, but Advanced Training Institute (ATI) was legalistic to the extreme.  They taught us that there were always clear, black-and-white, Biblical answers to every problem that could arise in life.  Special rules were formed for that reason: you should not dance, because dancing could lead to sin, for example.  Remember King David dancing before the Ark and how that turned out?  That was the ATI example of why one should never dance.  The philosophy was, it’s better to avoid things that could lead to sin, rather than come near temptation—a sort of bubble wrap theology. I believe very firmly, and always have, that God did not call his people to take the simple path.  He did not create for us a simplistic black-and-white, all-or-nothing, comfortable world with easy Biblical answers that we can close our eyes and point to and say, “problem solved!”  It would be convenient if the world worked that way, but it doesn’t and can’t. (I’m also not saying that we should purposefully go out of our way to put ourselves in losing situations either).

Although the Catholic church has the same downfalls as any other religion/denomination to ere on either side, its core theology is embracing of that fine line, that delicate balancing act of being in the world fully, but not of the world.  It is subtle, nuanced, difficult and complex, and never quick nor easy to explain.  Much of what Protestants (including myself a few years ago) say the Catholic church believes is an inaccurate soundbite of the actual belief that misses all of the important complexity.  “Catholics believe that you can work for your salvation” is one, for example.  In reality, Catholics believe that salvation through Christ’s redemption is the only way, but they take the verse in James, “Faith without works is dead,” very seriously.

Within a portion of that embracing of the complexity, it also means embracing ideas that could lead to suffering.  The Catholic church teaches that suffering is a good thing and a normal part of the Christian’s life, and although suffering for suffering’s sake is never right, they encourage believers to not shy away from it, and in some respects, to expect it. In a very real way, if one is truly pro-life and acting on that by visiting the sick, the prisoner, or giving aid to refugees, you might be placed in dangerous situations.  You may become ill, you may die, doing what you are called to do and this is what the church is much quicker to embrace than many Protestants.  There are two movies that I think really embrace the complexity of trying to grapple with difficult issues of faith, suffering, and what part God has called us to play: The Mission, and Silence.  I would encourage you to watch them if you haven’t yet.

The main thing that I would like you as the reader to know is that I’ve put much thought and prayer into all of this as I hope was clear.  If you know me well, you know that I’m not just following my husband (as some well-meaning people have assumed).  For a handful of people that are very dear to me, I have not told you before now because we have not been face-to-face since I’ve made my decision, and how do you awkwardly work in “oh and by the way, I’m being confirmed in the Catholic Church” into the end of an e-mail, text, or a two second conversation?  I know for many people, this might be controversial and that is okay. Note that I did not site scriptures or texts, but they are easily Google-able, so if you want to discuss something, feel free to look it up first and we’ll talk.

One last thing.  Please know that I did not make my decisions based upon a dislike of Protestantism, but a love for Catholicism and foremost, because God has called me here.

If you would like to read about my thoughts when Ethan became Catholic (Part 1), here’s the link.

The Best and Worst Books of 2016

As with every year, I like to reflect upon the best of the best books I read throughout the year.  This year, out of the 30+ books I read, it was very difficult to narrow down because they were all very good.  Not a single one was bad or poorly written, so those books categorized as “Worst” simply did not live up to my expectations. As always, these are my biased opinions.

Most Influential

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

If you have never read this book, you absolutely must.  Frankl masterfully weaves his own story of his time in Nazi concentration camps with his astute observations as a psychoanalyst. He observed that those who believed that they had a purpose to live for, did in fact, remain alive and in relatively better health than those who lacked purpose.  When someone succumbed to hopelessness, it was a quick descent to sickness and death.  This observation inspired what later be came to be known as logo-therapy.  A very important break-through in psychology.  I’m making it sound far more dry than it is, but it is amazing.

 

Joan Chittester: Essential Writings compiled by Mary Lou Kownacki

I’ve never read a book that expressed so fully the deepest echoes and beliefs etched in my heart. I read this book to pass the time while I sat in hospital after hospital, for hours upon hours with my brother this past month.  So perhaps my memories of the truths encompassed in this book are a bit magnified by that stressful time, but truths are still truths, nevertheless. Joan is a Benedictine nun who is not shy about her beliefs, her deep love of Christ and his church, or her criticisms of it. Her writings are many times a challenge to the church to take a leap of faith in following the example of Christ; specifically in the area of allowing women to fully be acknowledged as an equal part in Christ’s kingdom.

Worst

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

My only experience with this classic was the Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World when I was 3 or 4 years old.  I have fond memories of that particular ride because it didn’t scare the bejeezus out of me like the Snow White ride did.  So thinking fondly back to that experience, I had high hopes for a fun and frivolous tale.  Frivolous it was, but not so much fun.  The antics of Mr. Toad sounded too much like someone who struggles with Bipolar and having had way too much experience with being the responsible one trying to keep the Mr. Toad’s alive, I did not find the book enjoyable as I had hoped.

 

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

This book was recommended to me by several friends as being a terrific book, so I must’ve been expecting something different.  The first 13 chapters felt very forced, as if the older male author was having a difficult time knowing what a young woman would think and feel.  (I learned after reading it that this was Berry’s first time writing from a female character’s perspective.  It shows.)  The main character, Hannah Coulter, is extremely passive in her own life and her reactions to things that happen in her life seem rather unbelievable.  She’s alternately timid and bold, and seems to cry at the drop of a hat sometimes, but not at the times when tears seem most natural or appropriate. For instance, the first few chapters are all about her strong love for her grandmother, but when her grandmother passes away half way through the book, there is one quick passing sentence.  No grief, just a quick “oh yeah, and by the way, and she died a while back” sort of feel. The book gets significantly “truer” as she ages, because her thinking becomes less gender-driven and more universal and parental in her reflections.  There are some gold nuggets of wisdom about life and aging tucked away in there too.  So although I wanted to rip up the first half, I was glad that I held on until the end.

Best Fiction

The Power and the Glory by Graham Green

This was by far the most moving of the fictional books I read this year.  This book takes place in Mexico at a time when the Catholic Church was being persecuted.  Without giving anything away (because it is an absolute must-read), the story follows a persecuted “Whiskey Priest” who is running from the law, while still trying to minister throughout Mexico and how, even though he is completely flawed, God is still able to work through him.  It is a beautiful and redemptive picture of unmerited grace for highly imperfect people.

 

 All The Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This was truly a lovely book. The story is a weaving of the lives of two characters: a blind girl and a German boy before and during WWII.  The chapters are short and lyrical and for the movement of the story, Doerr chooses to jump back and forth in time to give us enough thrilling forward glimpses to keep the reader hooked, and enough backward glances to help us love and feel connected to the characters and their disparate worlds.  He does a wonderful job making the reader “see through the eyes” of the blind girl too—how things feel, smell, taste, and sound. I can see how some readers might be annoyed at the shifting back and forth in time and perspectives, but by the end, I understood why he did it, and I found it to be essential to the story-telling.

 

Best Non-Fiction

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

If you have ever desired to be immersed in a different time in history, Larson has done the enormous amounts of research to help you do that.  It is the crazy story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the amazing amount of work and perseverance that made it possible.  Alongside the story of the building of the fair is also the story of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes.  If you are disturbed by that sort of thing (and trust me, it’s disturbing), you can either skip those chapters or forego reading the book altogether.

 

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

After learning about Truman Capote’s friendship to Harper Lee (the author of To Kill a Mockingbird) and the fact that she helped him do the research for this book, I felt like I might be missing out if I didn’t read it.  I was not disappointed.  This book is filled with thoughtful prose of the southern variety (to which I’m always biased), fully developed characters masterfully interwoven throughout the story, and a kind of psychological study on the what drives people to kill.  If you enjoy history or understanding the “why of people” like I do, you will really enjoy this book.

 

The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimer Putin by Steven Lee Myers

I’ve been following Russian politics since I was in high school because I’m a nerd and weird, so for me, this book filled in quite a few gaps that Russian and American news reporting left at the time of many of the events mentioned in the book.  Myers did a wonderful job with his in-depth research for the book, gathering both favorable and unfavorable information. I especially enjoyed reading of Putin’s private interactions and conversations with former President George Bush.  It was interesting to get a glimpse of the private Putin—quiet, abusive, and aloof—not just be fed more state-issued propaganda of the powerful leader (as much of Russian news does). If you have any interest in international politics, it seems like now is the perfect time to get better idea of Russia’s enigmatic leader…since we might be seeing much more of him in the coming years.

Best Memoir

Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie

You may be familiar with this book since the series “The Pacific” was partially based on it.  It is a beautifully written account of WWII in the Pacific Theater, replete with enough 1940’s culture references and colloquialisms, to drop you right into that time period.  Leckie is a Marine Corps grunt with the heart of a writer. The most amazing thing about this memoir in contrast to many others, is the view of nature being more brutal an enemy than the actual Japanese enemy.  And the memoir is bigger and more important than just reporting about his own time in war.  He uses the tortuous monotony of the everyday trials to bring forth the bigger questions about life and humanity in an eloquent, but unsentimental way.

 

All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg

My husband (the dear, sweet man) bought me this book after he heard the author on NPR talking about his memoir.  Even though Bragg was raised in Alabama in the 1960’s and 70’s, I could not help but notice the many similarities to my own southern upbringing (probably the reason my husband thought of me).  From the foods we ate, to the common phrases, to the societal norms and pressures that neither of our family’s lived up to, it seemed all too familiar.  I really appreciated his honesty about himself and the confessional feel that ran throughout the book.

Best Fantasy

The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear (The King Killer Chronicles #1-2) by Patrick Rothfuss

These are tomes (the first being 661 pages and the second being 993 pages) and are totally worth every.single.word.  I cannot say enough good things about these books.  They are imaginative, exciting, eloquent, and just plain amazing!  If you decide to read them, know that there are two downsides to reading this series. 1) You will need a few months to reset your fantasy expectations because once you’ve tasted a fine French wine, everything else will taste like vinegar and grape juice. 2) The last book in the series is not finished yet (it’s been 5 years).

A False Dichotomy and Other Lies We Republicans Tell Ourselves

race_2244_photo_38084461

We’ve only got two choices: Trump or Clinton.  At least, that’s what everyone’s told us. “Choose from the lesser of two evils” they say. They’ve also told us that the only issue that matters is the Supreme Court Justice picks.  If they truly believed that, they’d vote for Evan McMullin or Gary Johnson because, as I’ve noted before, there is little chance that Trump will keep any promises he’s made because he very likely has NPD.

Many Evangelicals believe that we are seeing the beginning of the end times and are folding their arms in resignation.  But is giving up when the going gets rough really the lesson that we want to pass on to future generations?

“It’s always been between Democrat and Republican—it’s always been that way,” I imagine a staunch, grey- haired Baby Boomer explaining to me.  And he would be right—almost—with the stellar exception of Abraham Lincoln.

The problem is, I’m a scrappy Gen-X-er and was taught by the Boomer generation slogans like “think outside of the box,” or “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  So here’s the deal.  If you don’t like the rules of the game, change them.  And yes, I’m talking to you Gen-Xers and Millennials.  It’s up to us.  We’ve believed the lie that we have to play by the old rules of the game.  But we don’t.

The problem is not that we don’t have a good choice, it’s that we’ve believed the lie that we can be lazy in our democracy—thinking that a good democratic republic doesn’t require massive amounts of effort and sacrifice to maintain.  Do you think we just woke up one day after complaining about the unfair British rule, and suddenly had independence?  I think not.

So let’s look realistically at our options.

Gary Johnson—Best option for Moderate Republicans, Independents, and Centrist Democrats.

The Good: He is currently polling as the highest of all three third-party candidates, especially amongst young voters.  At this point, he has the overwhelming support of his home state, New Mexico. He is on the ballot in all 50 states.  He has experience as a highly successful Republican Governor.

The Bad: He doesn’t know where Aleppo is and can’t think very well on his feet (probably thanks to all of his former pot smoking).  Although personally pro-life, he believes the decision of abortion should be decided on by state, rather than at the Federal level (aka not pro-life on the birth end of things, but pro-life for the end of life and pro-life in quality of life for all).

To Learn more: https://www.johnsonweld.com

Evan McMullin—Best option for Conservative Republicans and Pro-Lifer’s

The Good: He worked in the Middle East in the CIA, as an investment banker for Goldman and Sachs, and served on the House of Foreign Affairs committee.  He is unabashedly pro-life and truly conservative.  He is on the ballot in 12 states.

The Bad: He has access as a write-in candidate in 20 states, and is on the ballot in 12.  There is no spelling auto-correct on the ballots.  If you are going to vote for him, make sure you know how to spell his name.

To learn more: https://www.evanmcmullin.com

Possible outcomes:

Evan McMullin could win his home state of Utah and the vote could go to the House of Representatives.

Gary Johnson could win his home state of New Mexico and the vote could go to the House of Representatives.

So what can we do?  We young people are great at protesting what we don’t like, but are usually unwilling to put in the work that change requires.  So here’s what we can do.

  1. Register to vote.  Today is the last day to register in PA.
  2. Educate yourself.  Know what is important and what you’re looking for in a candidate.
  3. Spread the word and educate others (that doesn’t mean have a shouting match).  Volunteer.  Every one of those websites has ways that you can volunteer.
  4. Petition.  If you like Gary Johnson, but want more pro-life leaning Supreme Court Justice picks, petition.
  5. Work at the polls.  Make a homemade sign, talk to people knowledgeably about your candidate.
  6. Send all of your friends in Utah and New Mexico information about the candidates most likely to win their state.

The point is, let’s stop complaining and work together to change the tide.

There is Only One Reason You Should Not Vote for Donald J. Trump

A few days ago, I resigned from my post as Republican Committee Woman in order to tell you why I, as a Moderate Republican, will not be voting for our newly nominated Republican candidate and the one thing you need to know if you are considering it.

For most Republicans, it boils down to the pro-life issue.  Maybe you’ve felt the same way.

One of the most common sentiments I’ve heard from fellow disgruntled Republicans is, “I feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.  I don’t want to vote for either of them.  I won’t vote for Hillary because she’s a crook and will choose a very pro-choice liberal Supreme Court Justice.  At least with Trump, he’s pro-life and will choose a pro-life Supreme Court Justice.”

And this, I’ve found is the main reason that good, intelligent people are holding their noses and voting for Trump.  The problem is, is he really pro-life? I’d say no and I’ll explain more fully in a moment.

My definition of pro-life is problematic because I believe that it means to encompass the entirety of life, not just the short unborn portion.  And Trump has shown himself to have a high disregard for non-white, non-male lives.  If you can’t think of any examples off the top of your head, I’ll be happy to supply a few (and in his own words too!):

  1. He belittles and degrades women.
  2. He promotes violence to silence dissension and makes personal attacks when questioned or criticized.
  3. And most especially, he is blatantly racist.

But here’s the thing.  Even if your definition of pro-life is defined as protecting the life of the unborn, you only have a 50% chance that Trump will live up to his word.

So why would I say he cannot be counted on to be pro-life by either definition?

Because Donald J. Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD).  For at least a year now, psychologists have been warning people that Trump is a textbook case and to beware (NPD is very different from simply having narcissistic tendencies).  However, they have not done a very good job of telling people why it’s the most important factor in deciding whether or not he is a viable candidate for our country’s highest office: decisions made by someone with NPD cannot be trusted.

If you are unfamiliar with what this particular personality disorder, please do your fellow Americans a favor and educate yourself by clicking here to learn about NPD.  That is not a suggestion–click on it.

If you’ve ever lived with someone who has NPD, as I have, I would not need to tell you any of this.  You would already know by the first time you heard Trump speak or by watching his children speak about him, that he has NPD.  However, if you are like most people, you’ve not experienced this before (lucky you).  NPD rules almost every aspect of the person who has it.  Here is what a man with NPD will look like in office.

Emotions control the logic of a person with a personality disorder. People continually question Trump’s logic, but that’s because his decisions are made on his emotions at that moment, not logic.  “In the study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, a team of German researchers used modern brain scanning technology to examine the brain structure of 34 volunteers…the authors of the study linked the presence of narcissism to increased activity in another part of the cerebral cortex that helps control impulsive behavior. This activity increase diminishes impulse control, and thereby increases the likelihood of poor decision-making in affected individuals.”–(see above link)

No, he is not just making bombastic statements to gain attention.  Many of Trump’s loudest followers are people who love his quality of “saying what he thinks” and his screw-the-man persona.  Unfortunately, this is no act.  He really has little regard for others because he has little to no empathy. (see link on previous point)

He will change his mind and reverse his stances–over and over and over.  This is one of the most terrifying aspects of this personality disorder.  What’s worse is, we’ve already seen this happen on the campaign trail, but people forget because he’s so passionate about his current decision in the moment.  And that’s the thing, a person with NPD believes exactly what he says at that very moment, but it may change in a week or a day or a month.  And how does Trump get away with it?  Attacking the person who points out the inconsistencies.

He does not have the ability to take counsel.  How many times when people asked Trump from whom does he seek advice, did he say himself?  And it seems pretty easy to see that Trump felt forced by the Republican Party Salvagers into choosing Mike Pence as his running mate.  Did you see his lackluster RNC speech for Pence?  People have the idea that Pence somehow make all of the rough edges of Trump okay because deep down they believe that a man who was so successful in business will make a great leader.  In the business world, self-promotion for self-serving reasons is a must.  However, the president is supposed to make decisions that may be self-sacrificing for the greater good.  As a person experienced with NPD, I know that will not happen–no matter who your VP is.  That brings me to my next point.

He will do what is in his own self-interest before anyone else’s.  He claims to speak for America and fancies himself our champion, but what has he done for anyone besides himself?  You can’t go by what he says, so let’s look at what he’s done for others where he’s received no personal benefit.   Hmm…that was quick.

Look at who Trump idolizes to know what he wants America to become.  In the past, he’s publicly praised and admired both Vladimir Putin, and Kim Jung Un.  If you want to know more about Putin (whom I’ve followed politically since I was a teenager) I recommend an informative book called, “The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin” by Steven Lee Meyers.  The title is pretty self-explanatory as to why Trump idolizes him.  And the relationship with Putin is already getting scary.  Russia has already taken responsibility for leaking the DNC e-mails.  And then there’s the money.  ” ‘Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets,’ ” Trump’s son, Donald Jr., told a real estate conference in 2008…” (WP)

So what is a person who loves their country and is aware of all of this supposed to do?

Inform people and suggest a more sane option.

Although my solution is not perfect, and if I am going by my “whole life, pro-life” definition, the most pro-life candidate (looking at all policies), is Gary Johnson.  I am in no way a Libertarian, and generally detest many Libertarian stances, especially when someone quotes Ayn Rand’s “objectivism,” as a legitimate social/economic strategy *eye roll.*  However, Johnson and Weld were both Republican Governors and still retain many of their more Republican stances.  (Ideally, I’d rather see Weld as the Presidential candidate).  And the cool thing is, this time around, the third party candidate has a shot at the presidency.  But there you have it.

“Vote your conscience…”–Ted Cruz (Lol)

The Best, Worst, and Most Thought-Provoking Books I Read in 2015

65432_514593848541_3019757_n

Best

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Beauty, depth, and hope from darkness: I believe those words best sum up this book.  I don’t want to say too much if you’ve never read it, but it is probably my favorite book of the year.  The characters are memorable, humorous, and realistically multi-dimensional.  Probably a big part of why I enjoyed this so much is because I live with a devoted Catholic, an Atheist, and an Agnostic.  Come to think of it, I suppose it sounds like the beginning of a joke.  Anyway, it’s a terrific book that you should read.  And as a friend of mine encouraged me, “…it gets bleak, but the payoff is worth it.”  He was right.

 

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I thought this would be a good ole fashioned mystery, but no, it is much more.  This book really takes the lead for memorable narration.  Throughout the book, there are several opinionated narrators, all trying to tell their part of the mystery of the missing Moonstone; essentially, a delightful play in perspectives.  The first narrator is an elderly steward for a wealthy family who is rather old fashioned in his view of women, and seems to find all of the answers to life’s perplexing problems in the pages of “Robinson Crusoe.”  The next narrator is the prudish churchwoman who has a way of always being right (at least in her mind), and  has plenty of hellfire and damnation tracts on hand to give to any sinful passersby.  Having known a handful of people like her throughout my life, it made me cringe and laugh simultaneously to think that the author must be basing her on someone he knew.  It’s really a wonderfully written book with delightful characters, oh, and a lovely little mystery.

 

I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I always had her book on my to-read list, but it was hearing of her passing that made me want to read it this year.  What a poignantly told story in a uniquely moving voice (both in the narrative sense and in the literal sense).  I listened to this as an audiobook so that I could hear Ms. Angelou’s rich voice telling her own story and I’m so glad I did.  There were so many well-written phrases, and unique ways of describing events.  Her story is one of struggles, of beautiful moments, of harsh realities, and childhood innocence.  If you like listening to audiobooks, this one is a must.

 

Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor by Martin Greenfield

As the title explains, the book is about a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America to become one of the most highly-sought after tailors in the US.  Who knew that making suits could be so interesting?  I certainly did not.  Mr. Greenfield is quite the character and has an engaging way of telling his story.  It’s definitely worth a fun, fast read.

 

Worst

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I need to first say, that this is not a bad book; quite the contrary, it is so well-written that I had visceral reaction.  I believe that if I were a different person who did not grow up surrounded by so much Fundamentalist hypocrisy, and did not have a family filled with wayward children, I might have liked this book.  But, I don’t and I didn’t.  In a handful of places the book was simply boring.  The characters, with the exception of two, were flat and two dimensional in some ways, and oddly deep and three dimensional in other ways, making one feel that either the whole book is the author’s sloppy attempt to shove her beliefs on the reader through an Uncle Tom-like narrator, or it is masterfully crafted to show the unreliable narrator’s own pious blindness toward himself and parts of reality.  I tend to think it is the latter.

It is a memoir written by an aged Congregationalist pastor, John Ames, to his young son before he dies.  The tale ultimately centers around a wayward young man that Pastor Ames, who speaks often of forgiveness, refuses to forgive.  In some ways, I appreciated the glaring hypocrisies of the pastor, able to judge and point out the speck in another’s eye, while glossing over the plank in his own, but it was also far too familiar, too realistic.  The only true Christ-like character in the story is the pastor’s wife, who I found to be intriguing, mysterious, and hardly in the story.  The wayward young man I also really liked.  He was, for all his many faults, honest with himself.

**SPOILER**

So when, at the end, the pastor forgives the wayward man without asking forgiveness for his own sin, it was too much for me.  I finished the book with a sour taste in my mouth. But perhaps one that was supposed to be there?

 

The Philosophy of Edith Stein by Dr. Antonio Calcagno

I was going into reading this book with little prior knowledge of the Catholic Phenomenologist (no, that is not a ghost hunter) Edith Stein.  The first few chapters devoted to explaining her life as a Jewish Atheist Phenomenologist who converted to Catholicism, and later died in a concentration camp, were good. When it came to explaining her views of Phenomenology and the importance of the Catholic feminine, I was disappointed.  Many times, the author used various words and phrases in other languages (German, Latin, French) without any explanation or clarification to their meaning or English equivalent.  I did a good bit of translation throughout and was dismayed that a majority of his foreign language word choices held no greater significance than their English counterparts, so his word choices seemed to me, pretentious.  For the most part, it was probably just my personal distaste for academic verbosity, and my inner drive for efficiency, that made me dislike the writing so much.  There were many times where the author went the most roundabout way to make his point, I lost interest, had to start over, and then was able to summarize what he’d said in four paragraphs in three short sentences (then again, a true philosopher probably appreciates the nuance that I have no patience for).  And as a book about the writings/philosophy of Edith Stein, and although referring constantly to her writings, there was a disconcerting dearth of quotes and little of her own writing included (plenty of which she did).  Some of her arguments were interesting and thought-provoking, but I think another book, perhaps a translated version of something she wrote would be more beneficial to the novice reader of Edith Stein’s philosophy.

 

Most Thought-Provoking

 

Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr

This book is an edited version of a recorded conversation with Ms. Virginia Foster Durr and I’m so glad that it is.  Many of the beautiful southern idioms and colloquialisms come through magnificently, and her southern cadence is etched all over the pages of the book.  She winds her way through the fascinating details of growing up in the impoverished and racist south, her school years, and her journey of how she turned from being a racist southerner to one of the foremost civil rights and incidentally, women’s rights activists, in the 1940-60’s.  A terrific read and interesting perspective on all sorts of historical events.

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

This was the quintessential book to sum up my year of reading feminist literature.  This was a refreshing, yet honest look at where the church is now, its interpretation of the Bible (aka its tendency to interpret through the lens of patriarchy), and the subsequent consequences.  Overall, it is an encouraging call to men and women alike to change the church through love and grace, embracing all believers in their God-given callings, regardless of gender.

Christmas…New Year’s Letter

10426327_604357266931_4235762122629512510_n

Each year, I have the best intentions of writing a Christmas update letter and every year, I sit staring at a blank screen, referring to our calendars and thinking to myself,“We did so much…” and “How in the world do I make a letter that doesn’t sound as exciting as a grocery list?”  And, as you can tell from the prolific amount of Christmas letters you’ve received over the years (yes, that would be a whopping zero), I come up with no answer, shrug and console myself that there is always next year…

So Christmas has obviously passed (unless you’re Catholic), but the New Year is just around the corner and I have energy, so here goes nothing.

Where to start?  I suppose it would be easiest to tell you what has not changed. Ethan is still Catholic and I am still a Catholic-loving Protestant.  I still teach piano and voice lessons and accompany for two strings studios.  Ethan is the CEO of Demme Learning and is a Township Supervisor.

In the early months of the year, Nick and Ethan took Tae Kwon Do at the YMCA until Ethan started traveling for work in the spring and Nicolas got a full-time responsibility in the form of a sweet little fur-ball that he named Aera (pronounced: Air-uh) because it sounded cool.  After naming her, we found out the name means “Lion” in Hindu, which is exactly opposite of our dog’s loving personality, so we’ll say that we’re being hipster and named her ironically.  For Nicolas, having a dog has been such a life-changer.  He is so good to his dog and takes such good care of her.  He’s really stepped up his game in taking responsibility in most areas of life.  We’re so proud of him.

1896986_1681044712123178_8189099010296939701_n

In March, my brother Philip came up to live with us while he decided what was next in his life.  He’s currently enrolled in HACC while working full-time in the pharmaceutical industry.

Ethan and Nicolas also began a project to fix up this old car so that Nicolas will have something of his own to drive soon.

10304869_1604357066458610_1004898457145564575_n

In school, Nicolas has found an affinity for all things computer, and loves his video production classes.  He is hoping to attend the Lancaster CTC for his senior year if he can pass two tough classes this semester (Chemistry and Algebra).

In his spare time (hyuck, hyuck), Ethan trained for and completed a Half Ironman, a Marathon, climbed a 14,000 ft. mountain, and participated in the annual 100 mile bike ride for YSC (Young Survivors Coalition).  You understand the laughter in the last sentence if you know anyone training for anything longer than a half marathon.  Training takes up all the would-be fun parts of life.  Example:

Me: What do you want to do this weekend?

Ethan: Well, I have to get in a long (choose two: run, ride, swim) Saturday and Sunday.  After that, I’ll probably be wiped, so let’s just watch some TV or something.

Me: Woohoo (sarcastically).

As for me, for the first time in over four years, I began to feel better in late May.  I still have setbacks on a weekly basis, and my new normal is not my old normal, but I’ll take it!  In everyday life, this means that I’m able to sing again (yay!) and am able to be more regular with commitments and writing.  It also means that I am slowly getting back to running races.  This year, I completed the Mt. Gretna triathlon and accomplished my biggest goal, which was to run a 10k.  My times were pretty slow for both, but I finished strong.

This upcoming year already promises to be a tough but exciting year.  Nicolas will be finishing up his Junior year of high school, Ethan is running a very heated race for State Senate, and I will be starting back to helping refugee families get resettled in Lancaster after a four year hiatus.

So here’s to a New Year!  God bless!

The What, How and Why of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

527652_10151667824856992_485942934_n

“I’ve heard of Chronic Fatigue,” several people have told me.  “That’s where you’re tired all the time, right?”  They then proceed to tell me I should just get more sleep.  I smile and think to myself, “If you only knew.”  So here is my effort to bring people into the “know.”

It’s been 4 1/2 years since I got sick and I have a hard time trying to write about it. That’s right, this is the dreaded post about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, as it’s called in the UK).  There are three reasons I’ve not wanted to write the following blog post:

  1. No one likes reading/hearing about illness, especially when it’s chronic and can’t be “fixed.”
  2. I don’t want my illness to define me.
  3. I don’t like to come across as whining, complaining or wanting sympathy.

So why, you may ask, am I writing this post that no one wants to read and that I don’t want to write?  Because I think it’s important to understand what CFS is, how it affects people that you may know, and what you can do to be a good friend to them.

How does it feel to have CFS?

Imagine you’ve just finished a half marathon that you didn’t train enough for (that’s the only thing I can compare it to from experience): you’re joints are aching and sore, your muscles are fatigued in the extreme and are constantly on the verge of cramping.  Now on top of that, you have a very bad case of the flu, and you’ve not slept for four days straight prior to the race so you can barely keep your eyes open or think straight.  You have a headache, and your heart is skipping beats every now and again.  That is what Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is like a majority of the time. It’s painful, you’re tired, and you are painfully aware of how much dumber you are because you just can’t think clearly.

 

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome really?

Each cell of your body is made up of anywhere from 2 to 2,500 mitochondria.  Mitochondria are the “energy factories” in each cell.  They turn nutrients from food into energy and oxygen that powers each organ and muscle throughout the body.  For a person with CFS, these mitochondria are impaired; thus, rendering their ability to absorb nutrients and thus, turn it into oxygen and energy, ineffective. That is why the entire body (including the mental capacity) of a person with CFS is affected: it’s starving for oxygen and energy! That’s why, on a daily basis, I and others with it, experience anywhere from 1-80 symptoms.  Before I was officially diagnosed, the seemingly random symptoms were worrisome because they mimicked other, more life-threatening conditions.  But after an official diagnosis and a few years experience, I’ve learned better to listen to my body and now only experience around 30-40 symptoms on a monthly basis.

So why can’t you just sleep a lot and overload yourself with vitamins?  You can, and people have–under the supervision of doctors, of course–only to experience little to no benefit or relapses that left them worse off than before.  Long story short, there is no cure, but sometimes those with CFS can improve over time.

If it’s incurable, is there anything to be done to manage it?

The best advice that I’ve read is that you have to stay within your energy limitations, eat healthily, sleep regular hours, and use graded exercise.

Many people who know that I still run and do sprint triathlons think that since I do them, I must not be too bad off.  It depends on the day.  And even when I do run/bike/swim, I go slowly and take lots of precautions.  I don’t run nearly as fast or as long as I used to, but I do still love running.  When I first got sick and tried to run like usual (not knowing what I had), I had heart palpitations, terrible leg cramps, and several times, almost fell asleep while running.  It was crazy.  Thanks to my husband pushing me to get a heart monitor watch, I learned to run by heart rate and by feeling (something I’d not done previously).

I also try to eat highly nutritional foods every day (and take vitamins for the elderly).  Thankfully, I’ve always loved collard greens, kale, spinach, and the like, so not much had to change.  I still have a weak spot for cinnamon Pop Tarts though…

 

Why do people get CFS/ME?

After finally being diagnosed as having CFS after one and a half years of testing in the Thomas Edison fashion, I wanted to know why.  Why me?  Why others?  After lots of research and reading, here’s what I found.  Let’s pretend there is a checklist of how to guarantee that you will develop CFS.  Having one or more of the following increases the chances of developing CFS or some other chronic illness, dramatically:

  1. Have one or more preexisting diseases that affect the immune system
  2. Contract the Epstein-Barr virus (or Mono)
  3. Be an over-achiever, or live under high amounts of stress for a prolonged period of time
  4. Score a 3 or higher on the ACE test (I scored a 7)

It would be a miracle if I didn’t develop CFS since I can check off each one of those things (several more than once).  The one that put me over the edge was contracting Mono while Ethan and I were visiting Russia in 2011.

The most eye-opening part of this journey was learning about the ACE test and understanding how trauma/stress affects the body.  I encourage you to click on the link.

What important things am I learning?

  1. Happiness always comes from within.  Even though circumstances suck, and I awoke most mornings feeling worse than when I went to bed, I learned to look closely for the little beautiful things in life.  As much as I ragged “One Thousand Gifts” by Anne Voskamp for the fluffy and distracting writing style, it was a helpful book in reminding me to always be thankful and noticing all the small gifts God gives.
  2. It’s normal to grieve the loss of the self I thought I was.  I am learning to embrace that my identity is not in what I do, but in who I am.  It is a constant battle for me because I’ve always been a doer and a perfectionistic one at that.  I have to be okay with a messier house, an overgrown yard, and having less energy to be creative.
  3. “No” is a difficult word for everyone.  I don’t know how many things I had to quit because I was just too tired and felt too bad.  These were things that I really loved.  But overall, it was freeing to having fewer expectations.  Speaking of which…
  4. Good friends hang around without expectations, others only call when they want something.  There were so many times that people asked me to do something for them and I told them “no” with the explanation that I didn’t feel well enough.  And after saying similar things to, “I’m sorry you feel bad,” they would many times end with “but could you still do this very quick little favor for me?  It’s easy.  It shouldn’t take long.”
  5. It’s okay to ask for help.  I suppose it goes along with being a doer, but I’m not good at asking for help.  I’m still pretty bad at this one, but through necessity, I think there is slight improvement 🙂
  6. Humility.  This word takes on a whole new meaning when your brain and body are completely unreliable.  I quit softball because I felt so badly during games and could not focus enough to know what was going on.  I had difficulty playing piano because either my hands were arthritic or I would have days I could not focus enough to read the music.  I was not able to sing much for several years because I was constantly sick with other illnesses.  The most humbling part is constantly feeling stupid and knowing that I’m not that dumb.
  7. Looks can be deceiving.  I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “You don’t look sick to me.”  I never know if people mean they don’t believe me, or that it’s all in my head, or they mean it as a compliment.  For a long time, before my diagnosis, the only way that certain doctors believed me was that I ran a non-stop fever for three years.  The picture at the top of this post is a good example. I don’t look sick, but I had a high fever, was dizzy and still had to hike the rest of the six miles down the mountain.

So there you go.  Whew.  I’m glad to have this post finished 🙂

The Ugly Truth about the Church and Mental Illness

216973_502718112611_4296_n

I’ve seen quite a few people writing recently about the subject of how churches are dealing with mental illness. They are good philosophical arguments complete with quotes from scripture and testimonials from people who struggle with depression.  But what about those people that are bat-shit crazy?  Then what?

I have always found it trite and academic when people in church debate Calvin’s theology of predestination.  I was introduced to this theological point in Sunday school, during my senior year of high school.  The idea is that God chooses some people to go to Heaven and others are simply created for destruction and eternal damnation.  I could give you my theological/philosophical argument as to why I think that is incorrect, but I’d rather not.  I’d rather you see it through my lens instead.

It’s easy to say you believe in predestination when your life is comfortable.  It’s easy to ask those questions if your brother you grew up with wasn’t a schizo-affective disordered sociopath and believed by many to be destined for hell.  It’s not difficult to believe in God’s creating and subsequently choosing certain people to hate, when its not your brother yelling commands to his demon army in the backyard at two in the morning.  It’s easy to say yes, God chooses some to send to hell for absolutely no reason–just because.

It’s also enjoyable to debate Nature vs. Nurture, unless you’ve wrestled with understanding that line your whole life.  How much is he really responsible for?  And can I love him even if he’s responsible for all of it?

I’d like to take you through my personal experiences as a siblings of someone diagnosed with schizo-affective disorder (that’s basically bi-polar and schizophrenia rolled into one) and as a sociopath, and what the church’s role was in our lives.

Jeremy was a sweet, pretty much perfect baby.  He had curly golden locks, and big animated blue eyes.  Life was good.  Then, he began to talk.  One of his first phrases was to call us, his siblings, “Dodo birds.”  Not only did we realize that he was calling us names, we had no idea where he’d gotten that name.  We looked it up and thought how strange it was that he was calling us extinct birds.  How did he know about Dodo birds when we had never even heard of them?  From there, the phrases progressed to “I hate you,” “everybody hates me,” “I’m going to kill you,” and “No one loves me, I’m gonna kill myself.”  Writing this, I realize how odd it is for a child to say these things, but Mom said similar things at times, and we were all used to Jeremy’s dramatic nature, so didn’t think much of it.

By five, he’d already attempted to throw himself from a moving vehicle onto the highway (multiple times), tried to kill me with a knife, and when I talked him down, he turned it on himself before I wrangled it from him.  Trying to strangle people was also regular occurrence, although I’m not sure if I can attribute that solely to Jeremy since I remember Mom doing that several times to me and we kids doing it to each other when we were angry.

Jeremy has never admitted to feeling guilty about anything, and I remember well, his satisfied smile at witnessing the pain of others.  We knew early on that he had the uncanny ability to read people, but he only saw the negative.  He was incredibly smart, but never understood most humor but especially, sarcasm. For him, sarcasm seemed a way for people to say the negative things to him and get away with it.  Half the time, he was probably right.

It was around his sixth or seventh birthday that Mom found a crack-pot “Christian” child psychologist to evaluate Jeremy.  Her first diagnoses were “sociopath,” “ADD” and “bipolar.”  (It is not common nor recommended practice for anyone under 18 years of age to be diagnosed with the labels bipolar or sociopath). Her major caveat though, was a big one; it was most likely “demon possession.”  So, I was ushered from the room to take care of my siblings in the waiting room, while the psychologist prayed over (exorcised) Jeremy.

After the session, Mom attested to the fact that Jeremy became angry and agitated while the woman was praying for him.  She failed to mention until much later that the woman was holding him down on the floor while they prayed the demons out of him.  Her final diagnosis?  “There’s not much I can do for him.”  At this point, I’ve not made it hard to tell that I find this ridiculous.  Do I believe that people can be demon-possessed?  In theory, yes.  However, the Fundamentalist culture in which I was raised (ATI, etc…) was always far too quick to dismiss mental illness as a spiritual problem.  That being said, I’ll continue.

At one point, my parents took Jeremy to a pastor in the Gothard inner circle who deemed Jeremy the worst type of fool: the “Steadfast Fool.”  Again, the idea being, nothing could be done for him; he will go straight to hell if he doesn’t change his ways.  No one considered the fact that maybe there was something terribly broken in his brain.

At some point, my parents sent Jeremy to live on a farm in Waycross, GA for troubled teens.  He did pretty well there, because the one thing that showed Jeremy’s humanness was animals.  He truly cared for them and did well taking care of them.  He also learned the finer points of growing pot, what it feels like to be shot at close-range with a BB gun to the stomach, and how to make a tasty squirrel stew.

We went to visit him once as a family.  Things were going well…until we turned off the lights to go to bed.  I was thinking that maybe he really was changing for the better, when out of the darkness, he grabbed my arm and started shouting at me calling me a “fucking bitch,” etc.  Nope, I guess I was wrong.  Still crazy.  Our relationship was another complicated piece of the puzzle that added an extra dynamic to the insanity, but I will leave it out for right now.

After the farm, Jeremy began a go-to-jail, come-home, go-back to jail, cycle.  I think he was about 15 the first time he went to Juvenile Hall, but to be honest, my timeline is a bit hazy since there was so much other ongoing drama.  I also don’t remember what it was that landed him there the first time, but I do remember the relief we felt.  For the first time, I didn’t have to worry about him going crazy and killing us all in our sleep.

Once old enough, he went to jail mostly on assault and possession charges.  Each time he returned home from wherever he was living, he had a different accent and varied vocabulary.  After the farm, he had a thick hick accent and after a long stint in jail, he fused it with Ebonics which was an odd and interesting combination.  He still speaks with a lesser hybrid of both.

Up to this point, can you see the role that the church has taken? That’s right.  It’s non-existent— unless you count the shoddy exorcism attempts (which were not even connected to our churches).  It is easy to avoid people that are messed up, weird, different.  Jeremy is twenty-six, his brilliant mind is gone from years of heavy drug-use, his body is like that of a 70 year-old man, and he spends most of his time smoking and talking about his how he is “the Beast” prophesied about in Revelations. So what has the church done for him?  Well, in a few of his more lucid moments, he says that he believes that God cannot love him or forgive him, and that his soul belongs to Satan (because he sold it to him in exchange for taking his sadness and anger from him).  Jeremy still believes that no one loves him and that he is, in fact, likely to die and go straight to hell.

Most of my family takes no pity on him because they can only see the damage he’s done to himself and our family.  They think that every stupid thing he’s done is his choice.  And that’s the hardest part: loving someone with such severe mental problems and trying to sort out what was a choice and what wasn’t.  Has he made bad choices?  Certainly.  Was he born with a problem?  Definitely.  Was there ever any help for him?  I don’t know.  But I do know this: he’s a human being who stills needs hope and love to thrive.  It’s easy to hate him, to hold back compassion from him.  My bones still remind me of our tumultuous relationship each time I sit in certain chairs or whenever a storm front is coming.  The problem is, I love him and I’ve seen his humanness.  I’ve seen the way he cares for animals.  I know that he loves animals because they don’t judge him and they accept him for who he is: broken and crazy. I’ve seen the light of hope in his eyes when he decides to garden and make things beautiful.  I’ve seen his sadness at thinking that he is unloved.

Jesus loved crazy (demon-possessed) people.  They didn’t bring themselves to be healed—their families brought them or the family had already given up on them—and half the time, the crazy people came just to mock Jesus.  But Jesus always had compassion on them.  Aren’t the crazy ones “the least of these” that we are told to love and care for?  Is it hard and sometimes on the verge of impossible?  Yes.

I hold no animosity toward the church, and I don’t blame the church for wanting to hide its face from the ugliness that is mental illness.  Many people within the church are unequipped to handle mental illness, and that’s okay.  What’s not okay is ignoring the reality of mental illness and saying that it’s definitively a spiritual problem when it’s not.

So this week, as I’m trying to convince my dad that Jeremy needs to live in a personal care facility, it’s not because I hate Jeremy.  It’s because I love him and I have hope that at some point in his life, he may be able to feel love.

Elias Crowe

617131_10151880523471992_1461641417_o

Part I:  How Elias Came to Understand his Blood Heritage

Elias Crowe was one year, eight months, two weeks, five days, sixteen hours and forty-six minutes old (give or take a few minutes), when his mother was taken by the “big C.” That’s right; consumption.  And although he had little knowledge of this, other than wondering where his Mum had got off to, he was quick whisked away by his grandparents to a tiny place in Wales called Llanon.  They lived in a cozy but modest farmhouse, on the edge of a beautiful rolling moor, with a small brook (or “nant” as Grandpapa called it) cutting through the bottom of the property beside the sheep pen.

It was there that they lived very happily and quite unremarkably for five years.  Each day, when he was old enough, Elias went to school, gaining friends and good marks from his teacher.  Each night, Grandpapa would tell Elias stories before tucking him into bed.  These were wonderfully fantastic tales about the olden days of knights and damsels, and of animals and dark men who lived in jungles far, far away.  So it was no wonder that one night, as Elias slept, he began to dream of a beautiful, lush jungle inhabited by beautiful large beasts.  He kept above them by swinging on the vines, but watched the large cats skulk below him and the colorful birds scatter before him.  In his dream, this seemed like hours upon hours of pleasure, but ended abruptly when the jungle ended at a large stone wall.  The top of the wall was as high as the highest tree, and stretched as far as the eye could see to his left and right.  Am I not lucky to be right in the middle where there is an opening in this wall? Elias thought to himself (as people so often do in dreams).

And into the large opening he went.  It took much longer to get through the wall than he’d imagined it would.  It was much more of a tunnel than a wall. As he walked through the dark tunnel, he noticed that his feet were wet and very cold.  He looked down to see that he was walking through an icy stream running through this tunnel.  He looked back at the jungle, but somehow the wall had closed.  He made his way out of the tunnel, and had to squint until his eyes adjusted to the overwhelming whiteness surrounding him.  He was high up on a paved hill, overlooking a vast, open valley below him, that rose up into a string of cloud-covered mountains.  The ground all around was frosted with a light snow, but because this was a dream, he was not cold, but simply in awe.  He began to make his way down the path to see where it led, but stopped when he saw children playing not far away.  He watched the children play, all dressed in grayish white, their skin the color of snow.  They were playing but their faces remained slack with boredom and they were silent.  And while Elias was pondering the oddity of these things, he spotted a small figure walking towards him down the path he’d just come.  To his surprise, it was his school friend Henry.  As he drew close, Elias was startled at Henry’s eyes.  Where there should be only one pupil, Henry had a second small one beside it: like a small bird’s eye interrupting the colored iris.  Henry did not speak but continued to draw closer.  Elias backed away, and from the corner of his eye, he saw the other children walking towards him, their eyes like Henry’s too.  Elias ran, the children ran after him, and from over the children’s heads came a large black, faceless shadow.  “Your soul is mine,” the shadow pronounced in a calm and breathy tone.  It came close to his face, a shadowy hand came toward his eye and as it touched, the shadow recoiled and disappeared.

Elias awoke.  He’d sweat through his sheets.  He stood, and as he did, he saw that his Grandpapa was sitting in the chair near the door.  “You met the stealer of souls, did ye not, boy?”

Elias nodded his startled and confused little head.

“A frightful one isn’t he?” He asked again.

Elias nodded again, shivering to think of that cold, faceless shadow that had touched him.

“I’ve been wondering when you’d meet.  Your time has been long in coming.  So long in fact, I thought you might not be your father’s son.”  Elias thought he might possibly still be dreaming, so he pulled up his wet sleeve and pinched his arm.  No, he was most certainly awake.

Elias sat back on his soaking sheets and his grandpapa walked over to him and put a hand on his damp shoulder before promptly removing it and wiping it off on his pants.

“Elias, my boy, you’ve just met your foe and you’ve just seen the true faces of those he’s robbed. Did you know them?”

“One was my friend Henry but it was not Henry—his eyes were wrong.”

“That is what Henry looks like in truth.  And it is your blood heritage to find his stolen soul and the souls of others and restore them to their rightful owners.”

“How do I do that?” Elias asked, still feeling both confused and terrified.

“Your dreams, of course.” His grandpapa said with a chuckle.  If Elias had been older and sarcastically minded, he would’ve thought, Of course, it only makes sense.  To which he would’ve meant exactly the opposite.  But Elias was not older, and in fact, still only a sweet naive child, so he nodded his head bravely, knowing very little what all of this meant.

“Your dreams will be trials that you must overcome to find the lost souls.  It will be difficult and you must be brave whenever you close your eyes in sleep.”

“Grandpapa, can’t you come with me to help me?”

“No Elias.  I did the same as you when I was no older than you are now.  But when you are ancient as I am, you no longer dream such dreams.  As I guided your father, I will guide you as I can whilst you are awake, but you will be on your own in your sleep.”

For the remainder of the night, Grandpapa explained many ways for Elias to find and rescue the children’s stolen souls. He listened with his brave little heart and his mind was saturated in trepidation.

“You are a soul seeker now, Elias Crowe,” Grandpapa so named him.