A post by Caitlin
It was dread at the thought that made her ask him right then if once you were baptized you could ever just wash it off you, and he smiled and said no.
“Even if you wanted to?”
“Well, that’s probably about as close as you could ever come. But no. You don’t have to worry about that.” She was relieved, in a way.
“Baptism is a what I’d call a fact.”
—from Lila, by Marilynne Robinson
Baptism is what I’d like to call a fact. I’ve been clinging to my baptism these days and it tends to calm me down. “You’re baptized, Caitlin.” I tell myself. “That’s a fact.” I’m what you might call a “nervous Nancy.” I tend to function as if there is a pit in front of every step I want to take. From my earliest memories, behind every decision I ever had to make was the fear of ending up in some sort of pit. However horrible my current state, I wasn’t naive: things could always be worse. The pit = worse. Whatever that may be. In addition to protecting me from potential pits, this mindset also keeps me standing still and scared to move.
It’s a Wednesday evening, and I’m finally hearing people’s stories face-to-face instead of on a screen or on the page. Stories of homelessness, depression, loneliness. Stories of looking for Jesus and being turned away. Stories of finding Jesus and being told, “No. That’s not what you found.” Being called liars. That old pit fear creeps back in. I would have called “them” liars once upon a time. But I don’t think there should be an US or THEM anymore. So, what do I do with this old habit of fear?
Let’s rewind a bit.
Once upon a time, I knew how to fit into my community. I’m pretty good at checking boxes, avoiding the pits, following every law. If it says “no swimming” or “do not enter” then I’m not allowed! I follow the rules. Growing up, my youth leader told me that Harry Potter was demonic. I knew what that meant—Not Allowed. So I locked all my books and paraphernalia. Throughout my life, at one time or another, I have done all of the following because I felt it was a rule: worn a head covering, not questioned my husband, fed the hungry, tithed 10%, paid my taxes, kept silent in church, talked to a stranger about Jesus, used only blockade contraception…you get the idea.
Conforming to my community’s expectations was rarely a problem for me. So when we tried to get pregnant and didn’t get pregnant and then prayed about it and then couldn’t get pregnant and then went to the doctor and still weren’t pregnant, it didn’t take me long to realize that I was having the same reaction to our infertility as I did when I broke the rules.
I hadn’t forgotten the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” This was a rule. How was it that God would keep me from following a rule!? I was mad, I was sad, I was confused. I felt that I must be doing something wrong. I felt that I was wrong and had been made wrong. And in the middle of all that, somewhere, in there, I was suddenly on the outside of something. I was suddenly being pushed to move towards a pit that I didn’t even know existed.
No one did it intentionally, but our community reinforced our feelings of being outsiders. The thoughts that came with being infertile were thoughts that I had never thought to think before. And how could I? How could anyone? Otherwise, a Mother’s day sermon is a sweet way to honor the mothers in our lives, not a reminder to the motherless that they are less-than women who have yet to live up to their feminine glory. Parenting study groups are a chance to bond with other moms and dads, not an exclusive social club. That wink and nod to the newly expectant father along with the words “Well done” is a simple congratulations, not a jab at those who have not done well. At bible study, church, an outing with our friends at the park, walking down the street: infertility glared back at me through the swollen bellies under winter coats, through the toddlers holding onto mother’s hands, through announcement after announcement of another friend expecting. It gave me silence in the tight-knit women’s circle retelling their birth stories. It left me talking about how my cat wakes me up at night, “I know it’s not the same thing as a baby…” and they gently laugh and nod their heads, agreeing that I have no idea.
No one said we were wrong or weird or other or broken, but we felt that way. Our community systems were made for people to get married, have babies: mom raises the kids and dad has a career. None of this ever bothered us—it’s what we wanted: to be normal. But when you’re suddenly not normal, well, you don’t succeed in your community, at least not in any way that you knew how. A new path needs to be formed, and that’s scary. There are lots of pits out there, after all!
Infertility was lonely. I started doing what a lot of lonely people do: getting online. I just wanted to find some camaraderie. After I exhausted the YouTube videos of infertile couples sharing their stories to the backdrop of hope-filled Christian songs, I hit a new level of searches that kept leading me back to a theme I had not expected: debates about same-sex marriage in the church. It caught me off guard. Some Christians make the argument against same-sex marriage by explaining (as just part of their argument) that the purpose of a married couple is to procreate.
Divisive issues aside for a moment, imagine you want nothing more than to conceive and have a child. You’ve been praying about it and crying about it and exhausting every kind of trick you can to encourage conception and then you hear someone arguing against gay marriage. And imagine you think gay marriage is wrong. In fact, it’s so wrong, you don’t even know how to talk about it without a significant amount of discomfort. Part of this argument is said in exasperation, as if this point makes it so obvious that gay marriage is wrong, “The Bible condemns gay sex because its out of step with this original male/female design, which is about the bearing of children.”
Ouch. Not only did I feel my marriage was being called sub-par, I also was uncomfortable with the association with “them.” (Spoiler alert: this discomfort is what I now refer to as homophobia.) I continued to listen to arguments for and against same-sex marriage in the church. What I found in listening to these was a sense of understanding for my infertility that I had found nowhere else. In those arguing for same-sex marriage, I finally felt like my infertility was understood. That scared me. Why didn’t the people on my “team” get it? Arguments against same sex marriage, again and again, damned my uterus and positioned me as a curse against God’s natural order. I didn’t know what to feel. But I knew that one BIG pit was in front of me.
I slowly started to change. I didn’t even realize it at first. For once, I began to take people seriously who said things like: “I did not choose to be gay”; or “I know you’re saying ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ but I feel like you really do hate me”; or “I wrestled with God. I prayed. I read scripture. And I came to the conclusion that I can be in a monogamous, same-sex marriage and that that is honoring to God.”
I’m not really here to make an argument for gay marriage to be accepted in the church. I know it kinda seems like that because– well– that is my (hopefully fearless) opinion. However, people who know a lot more than I do about this topic and who have real experience being in LGBTQIA+ communities have written and articulated arguments both for same-sex marriage (click here) and against (click here). So, I’m not doing that. It’s already been done, and quite dialogically, on The Gay Christian Network.
My point today is related to the purpose of this blog. Are you feeling afraid? Are you worried about me? Do you get uncomfortable, much like I did, when someone different from you or who thinks differently than you do occupies your same mental space? My point is this: I can’t afford to be afraid of discussing or considering any controversial topic anymore because, now that I have breathed the same air of those whom I feared, I can see how careless or unexamined thoughts lead to real hurt and harm. I can’t afford to be afraid of taking everyone seriously. I can’t afford to be afraid of asking any question. And I certainly can’t afford to be afraid of how you’ll respond. I can’t afford to ignore people who are different from me or think differently from me. I can’t afford to determine who is or is not a Christian: who is “in” and who is “out,” who is safe and who is in a pit. Even if it’s me.
What I CAN afford to consider –really consider– is that others may be right and I could be completely in the wrong. I can afford to change my mind about things. I can afford to apologize for the harm that I caused. I can afford to trust the holy spirit working in me and in someone with whom I disagree, even if we come to different conclusions.
I used to be different. My infertility changed what I could and could not afford to do.
I don’t know how all this makes you feel. But for myself, I feel much like Kevin in Home Alone, I can finally declare “Hey! I’m not afraid anymore! Do you hear me? I’m not afraid anymore!”
The concept of Dialogic Christianities does not scare me. Different thoughts around women’s issues, race, the LGBT communities, immigrants and politics, how to read the bible and how all of those things relate to our Christian faiths do not scare me. You don’t scare me. (Okay, sometimes you do, but I can’t afford that anymore, okay? So, feel free to be honest in your responses.)
And here is why I do not have to be afraid: I’m remembering my baptism. “Baptism is what I’d call a fact.” That messy moment when I was a child and I stepped into that cold water. My dad held me, and I leaned into his arms. He let me dip into and get covered in that water. It was in my eyes, in my mouth. All in me. And I came out of that immersion a part of a family. A family of Christians that are so different from one another. Some know they are right, others know they are gay. Some fit and some don’t. All of them love Jesus, except on the days that they don’t. They do terrible things. They do wonderful things. And this family orientation doesn’t wash off. It doesn’t even fade. And sometimes that makes me uncomfortable, but mostly it makes me feel safe. I can talk about anything, maybe even believe anything and you still can’t get me out of God’s hands. “Just try and take me out of God’s family!” I’d like to shout. “I can’t even get myself out of it!”
For a great dialogue about LGBTQIA+ subjects in Christianity, watch this video hosted by Biola University. Not only is it the epitome of dialogic Christianities in action, it is also, in a very real sense, a video that changed my life.