“We have met the enemy…”

It was tempting to head this one, “I find your lack of faith disturbing” – but I hope that I have more in common with Walt Kelly than Darth Vader.  Even today, as on the rampage as I have felt.

Good old Walt Kelly. I am getting a little lesson in Pogo today. Walt Kelly died the year I was born, so he was not on my cultural radar screen. Too bad. I was missing out.

He’s on my radar now, because I was trying to find attribution for that famous line, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” It seems to be the theme for the week. For the past couple weeks. The “We… us” I have been thinking about is Christians, and no one knows how to turn people away from Christ and the church quite like Christians do.

We have been reading Home and Jesus Land in Ethics, and that has a lot to do with the whole “Christians are their own worst enemy” living meme. The fictional Jack (in Home) and the real life Julia (in Jesus Land) are exemplars of people who received the bad news of their unlovableness (and of the unloving impulses of Christians) loud and clear. As Dr. Hall succinctly put it -we don’t have to worry about the atheists, folks – it’s ourselves we have to worry about.

And then there was the matter of my friend, Will, who was writing a sermon and having trouble finding a commentary that allowed for the possibility that Jesus might actually have walked on water. And Jodi, writing on the class discussion board about how we fail in Christian education, because we don’t let our children and teenagers ask questions. And given all of that, it seems to me that I could easily rephrase Pogo to “We have met the atheist, and he is us.”

I have a lot more to write on this than time allows, but it has been troubling me for some time that Christians of all stripes are so – SCARED. The fundamentalists among us too often don’t want to let anyone question anything, because if one verse does not hold up, if one thread of an idea is broken, their entire faith is likely to unravel.  God will cease to exist! The scripture has become an idol because God is not sufficiently real. And the liberals among us are quick to concede that, of course, this or that or any one of 50 things is impossible, because their reason is more real than God.  God has ceased to exist!

A God who is more powerful than reason, more powerful than scripture?  Do we REALLY KNOW God is real?  I do.   Most days I know it in my bones.  True enough, I have my atheist times, when I become convinced that I have been duped by my pattern-loving brain, and I am a fool, and what the heck are we all wasting our time on Sunday mornings for?  In the same way that as a child, I was afraid when the sun hid behind a cloud that it would be dark forever, that the sun would never be so intense again.  But, as the sun always returned when I was a child, the light of God is simply a fact in my life (praise God!), and the full force of God’s reality always returns, and God is so real that even though I have known the pain of doubting God’s existence, I do not fear losing God, or God being somehow diminished by God’s own creation.

I have to admit, I am starting to lose patience with the atheists in Christian clothing misleading others as to the character of Christ, more even than I have lost patience with the new atheists and their evangelical certainty of the non-existence of God, as if it were possible to have evidence of absence – irrationalists in rational clothing. Give me an honest agnostic any day. Give me the questions of a child and the sincere and open Christian friend admitting to their atheist days, weeks, and tendencies.

And as for those who are unaware that their lack of faith in God, and the ways in which they use their “faith” as a weapon against those who are truly seeking God – I want to assure you that GOD LOVES YOU!  God loves each and every one of us so much that you could not be in better hands.  It will be okay – you can shine that Jesus light in even your darkest, cobwebbiest, most dis-believing corner, and you will be okay.  In fact – if you let Jesus into those places you are too ashamed to risk revealing in front of your Sunday school class, you will be BETTER!  Praise Jesus, my impatience with you is not the last word – God’s love, greater than I or anyone else could ever love you – greater than any creature could ever love any other creature – promises to have the last word.

This week’s soundtrack

So I’m in the midst of preparing a lecture for Thursday, for Dr. Amy Laura Hall’s Intro to Christian Ethics class.  I’ll be drawing together themes from the books Home and Jesus Land. (Pray for me, folks.  Seriously.)

This is my internal soundtrack for the lecture so far – songs in no particular order – if anyone has other suggestions about songs that would prove to be helpful companions while thinking through these books, let me know.

 

Tori Amos “These Precious Things” and “Crucify”

Tracy Chapman “Change”

Billie Holliday “Strange Fruit”

The Impressions “People Get Ready”

Dar Williams “Mercy of the Fallen” and “Iowa”

Indigo Girls “Galileo”

M. Ward “To Save Me”

Counting Crows “Round Here”

Cake “Sheep Go to Heaven”

Fleetwood Mac “Landslide”

 

Jesus Land, again

Since having read Jesus Land and posted about it – twice – there have been a couple of interesting developments.  The professor who asked me to read and comment on the book, Dr. Amy Laura Hall, forwarded on my entries to two other professors that I also have great respect for – Dr. Willie Jennings and Dr. J. Kameron Carter.  And I read Dr. Carter’s own blog entry on the subject.  And my family’s adoption profile went live at the agency we have been working with.

The last development might not seem particularly relevant, unless you have read the book – which is, in addition to all of the other things I wrote about, a story about cross-racial adoption.

Oh, did I neglect to mention race in my first two entries?  Yep, I did.

Puzzling out that one – why I had focused on the fundamentalism thread, and not even touched on the race thread – had been troubling me ever since reading Carter’s own insightful essay on the book.  Of course, there is lots that I didn’t comment on in the book, and that I still won’t touch on in this third post – I would have to write eight or ten or more entries! – but race was such a big part of the book that failing to mention it is almost like writing a review of Huck Finn and not mentioning that Jim was a runaway slave.  Scheeres, in writing the book, was carrying on a project of her brother David’s – which was explicitly an account of growing up black in a family of white fundamentalists.

As I drew nearer to the time when birthfamilies might be contacting me and my husband to discern if we were a good match, it became more clear to me what was going on.  I couldn’t talk about it because it was hitting too close to home.  Reading about a family that singled out their adopted children – their adopted children of another race – for stricter punishment – for physical abuse – was horrifying to me.  About a month after having discussed with the social worker how offensive we had found the very question of whether we could love an adopted child as much as our biological child, here I was reading about parents that could feel self-righteous, even downright martyrly – for having adopted an African American child, even as they beat that child, then washed their hands of him when he ended up in reform school.  Some of the saddest parts of the book for me were when the teenaged David looked forward eagerly to reuniting with his parents, as his sister hid from him their parents’ ugly feelings – they didn’t consider him part of the family any more.  How could they?! Adoption is forever!  You don’t tell a child you are their mother and then take it back!  It made me ill.

Julia later remembered that her parents had desired to adopt a particular white child – and when she was not available but a young African American boy was, they took him because of Christian guilt – they would be bad Christians to say no.  What of myself and my husband?  Were we open to children of other races only because we felt there was only one right answer – only one Christian thing to do?  Were we worried about how Christian (or not) we would appear to our friends if we showed up at church with a white baby?  Were we using the life of a flesh and blood child to make a point about ourselves to the world around?

But when I thought back on the many late night conversations with my husband, I was reassured – there was one right answer for us because of our upbringing in desegregated schools, and because of our personal convictions, our own ideas about humanity and God’s grace and the cultural construction of race, about giving space for any child we have – biological or adopted – to be different from ourselves (and are! and they will be!), and about love driving us to learn about whatever we need to learn about to care for the child God gives us.

I am not blind to the realities of the world around us.  Okay, I am.  Yes, I am.  But my husband and I believe that that which we do not ourselves experience still exists – in this case different treatment for people who look differently from ourselves.  And we will do our best to prepare our next child to face the world that will not embrace them as we ourselves embrace them.  We are doing the same already for our white daughter – the world has myriad nefarious ways for undermining a person’s belief in God’s love for them – they may not be old enough or young enough or pretty enough or the right gender or stoic enough or expressive enough or smart enough – or have the right color skin, the right texture of hair, the right shaped eyes.  And all of these things have very real consequences.  We must raise children who can exist in the world – but at the same time own that they are not of it.

So no matter who the baby ends up looking like (looking at the statistics at our agency, even with our openness to adopting a child of any heritage, we have about a 50% chance of ending up with a child whose birthparents both self-identify as white) we will definitely be reading the Bible, going to church, and… watching Dinosaur Train.  “…we’re all creatures!  All dinosaurs have different features!”