Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Break My Mom's Heart Every Day

I was raised in a Lutheran family. ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) Lutheran, to be exact. Looking back, our church was somewhat progressive, but when comparing it to other churches in my very rural South Dakota upbringing in the early 80's, that's a pretty low threshold. But they didn't kick you out for being gay or force you to apologize to the congregation if you were pregnant at your own wedding like other churches in the area, so I'm going to go ahead and call them progressive. 

I was also raised by a mom who subscribes to an extreme form of honesty. It's not that she doesn't have a filter, because she absolutely does and would throw herself into a fire before she would make anyone feel uncomfortable or offended. But she simply cannot lie. So when we were growing up, we always knew that Santa Claus and the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy were all bullshit, because my mom refused to lie to her children, even then. 

This same super-honest mom is also a very strong Christian. Her love for Christ is bright and unapologetic.  My mom is resilient and strong, and when she attributes her faith to getting her through difficult times like the sudden death of my father, I believe her. 

Like many Christians, it isn't enough that she have her own faith and that it help with her own life. It's also important to her that everyone else finds faith in the ELCA Lutheran Christ to help with their lives, too. 

Now I'm guessing here, but I attribute her passion of recruitment to three elements of motivation:

1. As a Christian, she believes it's her duty. She believes it is her duty to spread the gospel and therefore save people's souls because that's what God commands. 

2. If her friends and family aren't saved, they won't go to heaven and she'll never see them again after death. Pretty big motivator here, I'd say. She believes that heaven is a place reserved for people who have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior and Jesus as the son of God (sorry, Jews, you're out.). 

3. She feels the need to spread the word about her faith because it gives her a feeling of righteousness because she knows a truth that you don't, neener neener neener. There's a sense of (false) pride that comes with believing you're more enlightened than your neighbor. I think most people have experienced this feeling, myself included.

Now, I've struggled with the church and religion all my life, even as a kid. There was a stark contradiction to all of this. At home, my mom told me Santa Claus wasn't real because of course, one man can't possibly fly through the air with magic reindeer and deliver presents to everyone in the world, duh. Oh, but guess what, this guy in biblical times built a giant boat all by himself and managed to put two of each animal in existence onto this boat and after he rounded up all the lions and giraffes and penguins and otters and elephants and snakes and bears and scorpions and deer......they all lived in harmony and didn't kill each other and apparently all had litter boxes and plenty to eat while God flooded the earth. (I live with four cats and a dog and my life is chaos. This story is bullshit.)

But see, my mom is an honesty extremist. So if this was what she was teaching me, it was true....right?

Much to everyone's chagrin, I started asking questions, and didn't stop. How did Noah get all those animals? How did he build a boat so big by himself? How did he have enough food for everyone? How come it takes a hundred people to plan and build a simple boat today, but one guy was able to plan and build a boat the size of Texas?

Answers would vary between "well it was a miracle from God" or "maybe it didn't really happen that way exactly and it's just a fable from God meant to teach us something." In other words, "we don't know, quit asking hard questions."

But my questions became more persistent. If there are so many other religions, how do we know ours is the right one? Will people from other religions go to heaven too, even if they don't believe in our God? How do we know our God is the right one if they believe in different Gods? On and on. Beaten down, my mom sighed, "Oh honey, you're too young to be asking these questions."

I thought she was too old to not have the answers.

Thirty-something years later, I still don't have those answers and neither does she (or anybody else, for that matter). But she's forged ahead in her faith, steadfast and true, without a moment's doubt or hesitation. And it has worked for her. She's incredibly resilient and she handles tragedy and hardship with grace and strength. I was in awe of her composure after my dad's death, even though she was clearly in tremendous pain. 

She doesn't need all her questions answered. Her faith works for her. I see it. 

I, as you've probably guessed, have taken a different path. 

For me, the game was over when I realized that no one could tell me anything: if God exists, if there's a heaven or a hell, what happens after we die, are souls a real thing, etc. Once that lightbulb went off over my head, I was through listening to anyone who claimed to know  (and not simply believe in) these things, because they were, intentionally or unintentionally, lying. 

But I soon discovered it was nearly impossible to have a rational conversation about these things, because people would grasp at cliche straws as soon as they were getting uncomfortable or backed into a corner:

"I know it's true because I've experienced/seen it."

"I know it's true because God has a plan."

"I know it's true because it's the word of God." 

These are dismissive arguments that are infuriating because you can't possibly argue with them. How can you argue the existence of dinosaurs with someone who believes that dinosaurs didn't exist and God only put dinosaur bones here on Earth as a test of our faith? It's the equivalent of arguing with someone who will only reply with "I know you are, but what am I?" You are going to lose the argument not because you're wrong, but because the other person refuses to play the game.


I cried hard, choking sobs on the morning of November 9. I was genuinely scared, overwhelmed, and hopeless. I cried and scrolled online all day long, looking to see how my friends were dealing with their grief, looking for signs of hope and words of comfort with my broken heart. 

Some friends lashed out. Some were overcome with grief. Others condemned people for sinking to the same level as internet trolls and insisted we must find a way to start listening to each other.

But I feel like I have been listening. And I also feel like I've been heard. But I don't understand how we can continue a conversation when we can't even agree on simple, fundamental facts.

I'm trying to figure out how I can have a conversation with someone who insists that 2+2=5 because God says so. They will not acknowledge that 2+2=4, no matter what, and they are willing to die for that belief. No matter how long I listen and try to understand, in the end 2+2=4 because fact trumps faith. But in their mind, no matter now long they listen or try to understand, 2+2=5 because faith trumps fact. 

On November 9, I knew that we were going to live in a country with a government that makes decisions based on their fundamental belief that 2+2=5, no matter who gets hurt or discriminated against, because 2+2=5 is gospel. 

And I cried. I cried because I knew my friends were going to suffer because of their color, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. I cried because I was overwhelmed with hopelessness at the feeling my childhood bullies had all been elected to run my country and bigotry had been vindicated. All my proclamations that "it does get better" felt hollow and far away. 

As I come through the fog and grief, my questions change from "why" and "how" to "what now?" My instinct is to gravitate toward the idea that we need to learn, listen, and understand each other. (What can I say, I'm a bleeding heart liberal who strives for peace. Sue me.) But I am truly confused as to how to do that. 

In the organization I work for, we have recently pulled support from some offices that haven't been performing well and don't seem to have much hope of performing well in the future. People are understandably hurt and angry, as they have put blood, sweat, and tears into trying to get these markets to succeed. 

One market in particular is pushing back quite a bit. They insist that they raise much more money than some of the larger, neighboring markets. When we showed them in black and white that this is not true, that they actually only raise 25% of their neighboring markets, they refused to believe it. There it was, in black and white - irrefutable numbers. But they looked at the numbers and said nope, they don't believe it. Dismissed. 

We said "2+2=4" and proved it. They said "2+2=5 and nothing you say or show will convince us any different." Everyone went home angry and both sides have been hostile to each other ever since. 

How do we work through this? How? When someone justifies a vote for Trump by insisting 2+2=5, what do you say? What do you say that inspires growth? What do you say that inspires love and understanding? These are not rhetorical questions.

I break my mom's heart every day because I am no longer a Christian (see #2 above). I believe in God, but my God believes that 2+2=4, loves Muslims, marches in Pride parades, protests with Black Lives Matter and believes I can rule a country even though I have a vagina. That no longer seems to agree with what many Christians envision their God to be, so I don't feel like I belong in their churches anymore.

I hate that I break my mom's heart. I mean, what's worse than seeing your mom sad, knowing you're the cause of the sadness? Nothing. Nothing is more gut-wrenching and awful. I wish more than anything I could reassure her of my faith in the God she believes in to make her happy. But I can't. 

Because my mom taught me not to lie. And 2+2=4. And that's the truth.