This morning I have 2.5 hours to drink coffee, write, and work on my quilt before I go to my volunteering gig at Nourish Knoxville. I’m at the “bar” in our odd and ancient kitchen, wondering why I want to be here even though it’s probably the ugliest room in the house. Answer? I’m always going to love the kitchen, no matter what, because it’s the heart of the house. And two east-facing windows with bushes underneath them that songbirds like to hang out in doesn’t hurt, either.
I’ve had something on my mind for a while. And it has to do with how polarized humans naturally become, and how to “make bridges instead of walls.” I’m socially and religiously progressive, and most of my larger community is conservative, but most of the that community is also open-hearted. This means that I feel loved by them, regardless of our views on theology or politics. So, that’s a nice rock to sit on for a few minutes. I’m grateful.
But enter facebook. One friend—who I haven’t caught up with in maybe 10 years, and lives way far away—recently linked a blog essay which I mentioned in an earlier post. It was “against” the Women’s Marches and what it called “modern feminists,” implying that feminists like to kill babies and hate men, and that it would be impossible to be both a Christian and a feminist. When I read stuff like this, I tend to dismiss it as trolling. But the Christianity element caught my attention, and has held it firmly, two weeks after. I’ve written a lot about how I see Christianity freeing and empowering women, and it’s kind of a pet issue of mine, so I couldn’t scroll past when that friend linked the blog and also asked (perhaps rhetorically, I can see in retrospect) for feedback from friends. The “I’d love to know what these people are thinking!”-type comment. I bit.
To be honest, it didn’t end well. I’ve studied feminism—working on both my BA and my MA in literature and writing—and I’ve grown up in the church…and am still in it. I’ve found a place where Christ and feminism are living in harmony. I have a lot to say, I realize that, and I tend to be earnest and prolix. But I was also careful to say what I meant, leave no room for misinterpretation, and be kind and gentle. This friend’s responses made it clear that my responses both stung, and were ultimately irrelevant: she didn’t believe I was Christian enough, that we had enough common ground, theologically, to find a meeting place. I’m extrapolating, because her responses were not as clear as I would have wished, but I think it’s a fair conclusion. I haven’t had a response in days, and probably won’t get another one.
When I told my husband I was engaging in this conversation online, he sighed. He doesn’t really believe these kinds of conversations can be productive. But I’m an idea woman. I love to debate and even though I can get emotionally involved, I love to get to the bottom of a disagreement. I’m unsatisfied if I can’t understand the central problem. I thought this conversation—since I know this friend to be a very kind and loving person—could be an opportunity to talk about religion and culture, and how we understand them to mesh and grow and so on. But I suspect she chose not to continue the conversation because she didn’t see the point—for many Christians, debates on theology, exegesis, or hermeneutics with someone they see as a “corrupted” by the world, or false teachings, are pure wastes of time. A door in the mind clicks shut, and I am on the inside, and you are on the outside.
I find this frustrating. To put it mildly. I find it hard to believe that God doesn’t like us to talk about these things—impossible, in fact. I find it impossible to believe that humans have received the strange gift of enormous and impossibly complex brains (terrifyingly complex, I say, after having read Vonnegut’s Galapagos–ha), but with the tacit injunction not to use them too much.
In fact, one of the strands of feminism is a recognition that world cultures most normally form a societal structure in which a few powerful people are allowed to do the thinking for the entire populace. Those few have historically been men, and again let me emphasize that there have always been few. In the instances when those men discourage women and less-powerful men (and children, for that matter) to think for themselves—this is the beginning of a problem. And this structure will be familiar to those who have grown up in the church, on one hand, because men are the overwhelming majority of those with religious power, but the underside of this problem is a more hidden one: who have been the translators of the Bible, the best-selling authors of books about Christian life, the blockbuster radio teachers and pamphlet writers and worship hymnwriters—i.e., who have been the ones who have written the implicit (or explicit) rules of daily thought and prayer and life for the vast majority of the church? Very few, and almost always men.
I don’t inherently mistrust men. Far from it. What I mistrust is “the few” being the teachers of “the many,” while they weave through their teachings this thread: “TRUST ME. I know what I’m talking about. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.”
Anyone who’s spent much time in the church, or studied it, recognizes this implicit statement. It’s not always a dangerous thing to say, I would like to emphasize! But sometimes, it has been, and sometimes it will still be. So many people throughout the centuries have been misled by leaders who said, “Trust me. Don’t go see if I’m right. Trust me.” This is the hallmark of cults, and the thing that scares me most when I hear versions of it in sermons.
And it frustrates me when I hear it in the background of a friend’s response to my questions or comments. I do believe one of Christianity’s great gifts is the holiness of trust—but while I can trust God, I find in my complex brain a message from God, too: “Think about what others tell you. Think about what you believe.”