Loving C.S. Lewis as an Exvangelical

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The road to leaving Evangelicalism has been long and fraught with tension.  I wrestled with Christianity from 2008-2010, recommitted myself as a Christian on the rainy streets of Oxford in 2011, and then…promptly went back to wrestling with Christianity again.  Or at least, the Evangelical Christianity I was raised in, which I thought was the only Christianity worth believing in.  But I lost faith more and more as I sought for a space that would grant my LGBTQ friends communion and fellowship.  Less hot pastors in skinny jeans talking about complementarian theology, more working to create healthy community and undoing the damages of the past.

This road has had its share of bitterness.  I once described myself as a Christian to a friend, but “the crabby drunk aunt in the family that yells and insults the others after she’s had a few.”  I still feel that way a lot of the times, particularly in our post-2016 world, where everything I believe in and love seems under a particularly vitriolic attack.

I haven’t looked back, for the most part.  I felt the loss of community and that sweet, sweet wine of certainty I used to have, that wonderfully addictive self-righteousness that would fill me up after every service.  had it all together.  had all the answers.  It’s a potent drug, to be sure, and if truth be told, I’ve been searching for that high in every church community I’ve been a part of.  But I’m never going to get it again, because it’s unhealthy and it was killing my soul.

It’s easy to laugh at creationism, to get angry about how my LGBTQ friends have been treated, to deconstruct the toxic messages of purity culture piece by piece.  That part was easy to walk away from and I haven’t missed that part of Evangelicalism one bit.  But there was one thing I was terrified of losing.

My teacher, C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis has a big presence in American Evangelical culture.  The blogger Matt Walsh, whose ignorance infuriates me on a near weekly basis, cites him as one of his favorite authors, Sarah Palin said the Chronicles of Narnia were her favorite books (perfectly understandable), and Eric Metaxas, who makes me want to to tear my hair out with his complete misunderstanding of Bonhoeffer, likes him too.  C.S. Lewis is deeply well-liked by conservatives and complementarians and Evangelicals–basically all the people I do not want to have a drink with.

So when my faith shifted, my politics shifted…I was scared my love for C.S. Lewis would shift too.  I was scared I would have to leave him behind.

And oh, how I did not want to do this.  C.S. Lewis gave me so much.  He gave me my best understanding of God, he got me interested in theology, inspired my pursuit of higher education.  He gave me Oxford.  I don’t want to write angry dark short stories about his female characters.  I don’t want to hate C.S. Lewis.  I want to love him and devote my life to researching everything about him.

Things got particularly troublesome when I embarked on my independent study in 2016.  I was granted the opportunity to go through his manuscripts and notes at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.  I spent seven hours every day shut up in that beautiful ancient library with nothing but C.S. Lewis’ messy handwriting and it was heaven.  I never wanted to leave.  I knew this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.

Write.  Research.  Sing.  Mother.  That’s what I want out of life.

I was hoping, in my research, to somehow prove Lewis wasn’t as conservative or Evangelical as others thought.  I wanted to prove that Joy Davidman, his fantastic firecracker wife, “cured” him of his earlier biases.

This had…mixed results.  I learned two very important lessons:

  1. Nothing in academia is linear.  People do not fit into neat little boxes all wrapped up in string.  Lewis is no exception.
  2. C.S. Lewis is not as conservative as conservatives make him out to be, neither is he as Evangelical as Evangelicals make him out to be…but he is also not as progressive as would like him to be.

After my senior thesis, I gave Lewis a wide berth.  I couldn’t tame him with research after all, but neither could I let him go.

But then…oh, then.  Then I gave a long infamous Twitter thread about the popular misconceptions of Susan Pevensie.  (You can read my full post on that here!)  And then I realized how much I missed talking about C.S. Lewis and sharing in his scholarship.

So I started tentatively rereading him.  Bit by bit.  And to my absolute delight, I saw things from an Exvangelical perspective that I’d never seen before.  His ideas on gender and sex had certain problems, yes, but there was also strange strands of progressive ideas that later feminism and queer theory explored too.  His flummoxed and shocked an American church program by talking about sex frankly and openly, which led me to wonder what he would think of the Evangelical purity culture movement.  The Calormenes presented some racist caricatures…but were almost immediately subverted by Aravis and Emeth.  Jane Studdock was ordered to “dream no more, have children instead”, but Queen Orual ruled a nation and fought for her queenship through honorable duel.

There was so much there.  And not only that…I had things to add to the conversation.

We are used to looking at Lewis through a western lens, through a lens that, forgive me, has been inundated with white male readings.  That’s all very well and good.  But what can women bring to reading Lewis?  What can black women bring to reading Lewis?  Or Muslim women?  Or trans men and women?  What could gender fluid people bring to Lewis’ separation of sex and gender?

There is so much THERE.

And I intend to discover it.

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The Politics of Grief

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I’ve been struggling this week.

I think we all have.  Friends of Rachel Held Evans, family of Rachel Held Evans, readers, her online following…the news cycles have moved on, but we haven’t.  We’re still stumbling along.

I feel as though I’m on autopilot.  I’ve no idea what to think, what to believe.  The sky has never felt more empty as I mouth the words of the Lord’s prayer.  I have never felt more abandoned by God.

When I was an Evangelical, I believed in signs.  I believed God had big plans for me.  I have an early memory of standing on a tree stump in the middle of my yard with my arms outstretched, as though I were about to lift off into the air.  I remember this feeling of overwhelming possibility, that God had a purpose for me, and I had my entire life to find out what that was.  It was going to be good, though.  My seven-year-old heart was certain of it.

It was easier when I was an Evangelical.  It was easy to believe that for every bad thing that happened in my life, there was some divine plan.  Even after I left Evangelicalism, there was a part of me that still believed this.  That I could still retain the shattered shards of my faith because writers like Rachel Held Evans existed.  She loved Jesus.  She came from my culture.  She left, she deconstructed, she reconstructed, and continued to show us how.

And now she’s gone.

What are we to make of that?

There is no reason for it.  I feel angry when people try to explain it to me.  “She’s at peace now.”  I struggle to believe that.  I struggle to believe that Rachel wouldn’t be heartbroken at leaving her two babies behind on this earth.

“God’s ways are higher than ours”.  Yeah, no shit, but what good comes from breaking the hearts of thousands of people and letting two children grow up without their mother?

“Do you dare question God?”  You’re damn right I do.  Rachel taught me that, at least.  And I say His plan stinks.

There is guilt there, that THIS should be my breaking point, a catalyst to another full-fledged faith crisis.  Goodness knows the state of the world has caused me to doubt.  Trump’s election.  This country’s cruelty towards immigrants and refugees.  How narrowmindedness and bigotry have become acceptable and normalized.  The church’s treatment towards LGBTQ.

I keep wondering if I’ll ever wake up from this nightmare of a year.  Will I get my faith in God back?  Will I believe She truly cares for us?  Will I be able to stem the tide of intrusive nasty thoughts from my Evangelical upbringing, that hiss evil things, that her death was some sort of punishment for questioning.  I will not worship such a God, I’d rather be in Hell.

Rachel believed in a God who was big enough for our questions.  I want to, so very badly.  But her death has blown my candle out and now I’m standing in the dark, wondering where to go next.

 

Why Did Rachel Have to Leave?

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You know, I started this post about a month ago, in reference to a television show.  The title referred to Rachel Green, from the TV show “Friends”.  I came back to it today and the title struck a chord in my heart.  Because that is what I’ve been asking all weekend.  Not about Rachel Green.  About a different Rachel, a real Rachel, a Rachel who changed my life and so many others.  And this is the question I’ve been asking God all weekend.

Rachel Held Evans.  She died on Saturday.

And now everyone on my Facebook and Twitter timelines are using past tense to refer to her.  And now everyone is sharing stories about how she touched their lives.  And I’m rereading her books, desperately trying to find answers, desperately trying to find out WHY?!

It isn’t fair.  My heart keeps screaming “It isn’t FAIR!” like a little child.  It isn’t fair that she left us so young.  It isn’t fair that her family is without her.  It isn’t fair that her children are so young.

Why did Rachel have to leave?

I can’t remember how I first came upon Rachel Held Evans.  It must have been in 2011 or 2012.  I had just started blogging and was searching for other bloggers to connect with.  I started reading the Bloggess around that time.  I must have found her around then.  All I remember is, I started reading her blog regularly.  She asked the same questions about Evangelicalism I did.  She was thorough and balanced, researching every question with an academic’s eye.  I read her books and was shocked to find out how like me she was.  I grew up in a fundamentalist culture too, I also peppered my pastors with intense theological questions at a young age, I was overly worried about the state of my neighbors’ souls at nine years old.

I read both of her books and loved them.  At last, I’d found someone who both deeply loved and struggled with Christianity.  I followed her blog closely, and was impressed by the diversity of opinions she brought on her blog.  Conservatives, progressives, atheists, Buddhists, agnostics–there was no one too “much” for her blog.

In October of 2015, she came to St. Louis.  She was pregnant with her first child and I got to meet her at Llywellyn’s.

I remember how nervous I was.  I arrived at the pub 45 minutes early and ordered a Guinness hoping to calm my nerves so I could tell her how much she meant to me.

I noticed a crowd gathering near the front of the bar, all with the same nametags and tickets, so I grabbed my drink and made my way over.  Almost immediately, I spotted her.

“Hi, I don’t think we’ve met,” She extended her hand and shook mine. “I’m Rachel.”

“Hi, I’m Kat,” I stammered.  And then I completely blanked.

And then my thought process went a little like this:

Brain:  Say something.  Anything.  For the love of God speak!

Me:  Uh….

Brain:  SHE’S ONE OF YOUR FAVORITE WRITERS AND SHE’S LOOKING AT YOU EXPECTANTLY, SAY SOMETHING.  ANYTHING!

Me:  …Hi.

Luckily, Rachel was real patient with me and about twenty-five minutes and half a Guinness later, I was able to talk to her.  We sat together for a little bit and I told her about how much her books impacted me, how we had similar childhoods (in the intensive “must witness to everyone and be crazy about apologetics” kind of way), how I fell away from Christianity in college and came back in England.  I told her about my studies in C.S. Lewis, how I used her blog as a resource, (“I’ll tell Dan that someone still uses the search function!” she said) how I much I connected and related to her writing.  Rachel was a great listener and it was amazing to hear her laugh and say, “Oh my gosh, we share a brain!” when I told her about how I used to stress about “the unsaved” when I was a little kid.

She asked me how my family had taken my faith shift.  I told her they were mostly supportive, the real struggle had been the political shift.  None of them understood why I became a Democrat, why my positions had become so liberal.  It was the politics that got me ostracized.

I think the most meaningful moment came when I asked her if she ever missed it.

Sometimes, especially in my moments of uncertainty and doubt, in my moments where I have a question that can’t be answered by my personal research or my pastor or C.S. Lewis–I miss it.  I miss being in the American Evangelical culture.  There was a certainty going along with it.  The certainty that you have all the answers, that if everyone would just listen to what your interpretation of the Bible said, everything would go just fine.  There was no gray area, all the problems had solutions, and nothing couldn’t be cured by a well-timed Newsboys song.  I miss being positive that I was on the right side, that anyone who strayed outside the lines was just wrong and against God.  It’s easy to believe that, almost seductive in a way.  After all, what better backing do you have if God’s on the side of your exclusivism?

It was a relief to hear Rachel exclaim, “Oh, yeah! Every day!”  Here was a woman who was raised in full fundamentalism, did everything right, went to the Christian college, got every possible apologetics course offered, married the Christian husband–and then, like me, started to get frustrated and cynical towards the culture she’d grown up in.  It was a relief to hear that even in the midst of our cynicism, that we missed the certainty that came along with it.

It was fun to talk to her writer to writer (she asked me to send the link of my Tumblr so she could follow me…I told her I swore a lot and ranted about TV shows. She told me she was friends with Nadia Bolz-Weber and I never had to worry about swearing in front of her.) and really just amazing to listen and absorb.  She said she liked my sweater.

I’m wearing that sweater today.

I could’ve talked to her all night long.  But something that really struck me was how she made sure to take time to talk to everyone one-on-one.  She gave everyone her time and her ears and made all of us feel respected and loved.

And then, three years later, my best friend and I made the long journey to North Carolina to the Evolving Faith conference.  I waited in line for about an hour and once I reached her, I asked her to pray for a refugee friend of mine.  She held up the line so she could take my hands in prayer and ask God for protection for her.

I’ll never forget that.  It meant everything to me and to my friend.

And now so many of us are staring blankly into the distance.  It feels as though we were walking down a dark path in the woods and suddenly, the light at the front of the crowd abruptly went out.

I only met her twice.  Do I have a right to mourn her like she was someone in my family?

But she was my family.  She helped create a family for all of us.  She guided us, she supported us, she encouraged us.

What is family if not that?

My heart aches for her family though.  Her husband, her little children, her mother and father, her sister.  I don’t know them, I would never disturb them in their time of unimaginable grief, but I have a desperate desire to hold them all.  I want to bake pies for them, I want to make cups of tea for them, I want to swear to them that I will do everything I can to keep her memory alive.  I feel the same way about her offline friends.  I want to cry with Sarah Bessey, I want to garden with Jeff Chu, I want to scream at the heavens with Mike McHargue.

I titled my book “Hell’s Heresies” to poke fun at the many times Rachel, Sarah, and other progressive Exvangelicals have been called heretics.  I wanted to write a book that would make people laugh.  To not fear Hell, but laugh at the absurdity of it.  And now I’ll never have a chance to give it to her.

We miss you, Rachel.  We miss you so desperately.

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Purgatory

One of my bosses congratulated me recently on signing with my agent.  I was riding high, feeling pretty good about myself, and then he asked, “so your book’s going to be published, right?”

Screeeeeech.  (Brake sounds, not internal screaming, but we’ll get to that.)  “um…not yet…but maybe! Hopefully!”

His aghast response was, “Why is the publishing business so complicated?”  (said the surgeon with multiple medical degrees…)

I am in what is politely referred to in the biz as “Submission Hell”.  Or, Purgatory, as I like to call it.

For those of you who don’t know, the road to publishing your book is long and annoying.  Most of us assume you send your manuscript to the publishing house and the publishers there decide yay or nay on your book.  According to my mother, who submitted things in the 80’s, this was how it used to be.  Nowadays, you need an agent.

Why do you need an agent?  What do they do?  Well, if you want to be traditionally published, an agent is absolutely necessary.  About 98% of publishing houses won’t even look at unsolicited manuscripts.  An agent is your in–they have contacts for the editors that might like your book.  An agent will essentially draw up a submission list of carefully chosen editors/publishers who might like your book.  And then, like a badass, they pitch your book to them.

Of course, getting an agent can be tricky.  It took me about two years to find my agent.  Two years of querying agents (basically sending an email that says “hey look at my book isn’t it neat you should represent it please love me”), undergoing revisions, and querying some more.  I’ll go into querying in another post.  This post is about what happens after.

What happens after?  Waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

(FYI, I’m being a big baby, I’ve only been on submission for about two weeks–there are people who are on submission WAY LONGER–but where else can I complain about it but my blog? And in whiny texts to my friends?)

The annoying thing about being on submission is there is absolutely no way to know how long you will be on submission for.  I went down a terrible rabbit-hole of a forum thread of different writers talking about how long they were on submission before they got their publishing deal.  Some said two weeks.  Some said six months.  Some said three years.  There really was no average.  (There was one person who said twelve hours and I’m pretty sure they need to be eliminated from society, along with people who leave their grocery carts in the middle of parking spaces instead of corralling them.)

With querying, you have a certain amount of control over the process.  You feel like you’re DOING something.  When your book is on submission, however, you have to give up complete control and trust your agent.  This is why it’s so vital to do your research on the agents you’re querying.  And to be very careful about who you select.  You need an agent who really believes in your book–who thoroughly LOVES your book.  You want your agent to be as passionate about your book as you are.

Anyway, here is a select list of things to do and things NOT to do while you’re on submission.  I have drawn these ideas from the approximate 100 blogs I’ve combed written by other authors who are in Purgatory along with me.

  1. Work on another project.  Whether it’s a sequel or something else, you should always always be working on something new.  I’ve read some authors can’t do this; they can’t focus on something new while they’re waiting on their book.  I do not entirely understand this, but this may be because I’m always working on two separate projects at any given time.  So during my waiting period, I’m working on the sequel to “Hell’s Heresies” and another project.
  2. Don’t Twitter stalk the editors your agent sends your manuscript to.  I say this, knowing full well, that every writer is going to do this anyway.  But I have to at least try and warn you off of it.  It just makes you crazy.
  3. Focus on a hobby that is not writing.  Luckily for me, I have a lot on my plate this year (*nervous laughter*).  I’m studying for the GRE and applying to grad schools this summer, so that hopefully will take up a lot of the time I spend waiting.  I also recommend running or kickboxing or some kind of exercise.  Running is meditative and while I haven’t tried kickboxing (I really want to though!), it seems pretty therapeutic to punch and kick stuff.
  4. Don’t look up how to file taxes for freelance work or how much you owe the government after you get your first advance.  It’ll just make you sad.  Or worse, become a Republican.  *shudder*
  5. Trust your agent.  This is hard for my anxiety!brain, particularly the giving up control aspect.  It’s hard.  Believe me, I get it–and I suspect the mistrust is why some choose to go it alone and self-publish rather than do it the traditional way.  But your agent has got this.  I got lucky with mine because she updates me frequently and is stunningly positive and enthusiastic, which is a wonderful balm for the anxiety!brain.

That’s all for now.  I think I’ll start updating this space about the adventures in publishing a book.  I need some place to tear my hair out as I wait!

A Wrinkle in Time Film Review

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I…shouldn’t be so disappointed.  I raised my expectations WAY too high.  I mean, after an awesome trailer like this, can you really blame me?  We’ve been waiting for A Wrinkle in Time film adaptation for years, and after that kind of buildup, it’s hard not to have raised expectations.  But in my excitement, I forgot two really crucial things:

  1. A Wrinkle in Time is an incredibly hard film to adapt to film.  I thought in the advent of CGI we might be able to pull it off, but still, structurally and visually, it’s still damned hard to translate onto screen.
  2. The spiritual themes in A Wrinkle in Time were inevitably going to be diluted in a mainstream film adaptation and I shouldn’t be so crushed about it.

Let me start off by saying that the film wasn’t bad.  It was a nice little film.  It had all the charm of a Disney afternoon cartoon show.  I give it a solid B-.  But my disappointment is still very prevalent.  I’ve been mulling on the film all weekend, trying to figure out why this bums me out so much, and I think I’ve narrowed it down.

Let’s start off by talking about what I loved about the film:

  • The acting.  The casting for every single character were phenomenal choices.  I was especially impressed by Mindy Kaling, who I’d never seen in a serious role before, and Deric McCabe, the little guy who played Charles Wallace.  McCabe scared the shit out of me when Charles Wallace became under the influence of IT.  Storm Reid was a PERFECT Meg.
  • Tessering.  The way they filmed how we “tesser” was really interesting and it was a very cool special effect.
  • There was a very cool scene that tied into “A Wind in the Door”, the sequel to “A Wrinkle in Time”, where Mrs. Which explains about the darkness that has its grip on the world.  We see scenes of Meg’s bully in her room, see that she’s probably anorexic and has severe body image issues (a nice mirroring to Meg, who also has issues with how she looks), we see scenes of Mr. Jenkins, Meg’s principal, and the racism he endures at the school–which is really cool when you consider Mr. Jenkins’ arc in “A Wind in the Door”!
  • The design and costumes.  I love Mrs. Whatsit’s dress made out of sheets!
  • There’s an added bit, probably to explain why Charles Wallace is Filipino and the rest of the family isn’t about how he’s adopted.  This adds an interesting layer to Charles Wallace’s arc and his relationship with Mr. Murray.

Okay.  Now for the not so good parts.

  • The spiritual battle of good and evil in “A Wrinkle in Time” is the heart and soul of the book.  It is an overtly spiritual book with heavy Christian influences.  I understand (though I am disappointed) cutting the psalm that is sung on Uriel, I understand cutting the Scripture verses.  I do not understand completely cutting every hint of spirituality from the film.  Jesus is overtly mentioned in “A Wrinkle in Time”–as are Buddha and Mohommad.  “A Wrinkle in Time” was never safe for kids, it was never sanitized from L’Engle’s intense spirituality.  The film took nearly every challenging notion of spirituality and neutered it, in the hopes that their version won’t offend anyone.  It made me intensely tired.
  • There is a scene in the trailer where Meg and her mother explain to Calvin what a tesseract is.  Comes straight from the book.  They use a little ant toy and a string.  This scene was cut.  Why was this scene cut?  It makes me wonder what else was cut…
  • No Aunt Beast.  This was incredibly upsetting to me.  Aunt Beast had the briefest of cameos for about two seconds, which is terribly frustrating to me, because it seems like they had a REALLY COOL DESIGN for her!
  • Camazotz.  That amazingly cool scene in the trailer where you see the children bouncing the ball in eerie, syncopated rhythm?  And the mothers with perfectly coiffed hair in 50’s dresses stepping in perfect unison onto the porch?  Which also comes straight from the book?  The scene lasts about twenty seconds and then melts away into a completely different scene that…does not come from the book…and is…stupid.  I hate to be the person who harps on “IT’S NOT LIKE THE BOOK!”, but if you’re replacing the really good parts of a book with scenery chewing, then yeah, I’m going to criticize it.
  • There were way too many freaking pop songs in this film.  The only one I really liked was “Flower of the Universe” by Sade.  It was also the only one that came remotely close to matching the tone of the scene.
  • Mrs. Whatsit’s form on Uriel was…odd.  She looked like a very pretty romaine lettuce leaf.  It was a very strange choice of design that I don’t understand the reasoning for.  They have an amazing design for Aunt Beast that we only get a glimpse of, but they think the romaine lettuce leaf design was a hit?
  • There was an ultimately pointless scene where Calvin and Meg are running from the Black Thing (I think it’s the Black Thing…) and it turns into a tornado and Meg uses SCIENCE to get the tornado to toss them over the fence.  It lasted forever and I don’t understand why that stayed in the film but Aunt Beast was utterly skipped over.
  • One of the most iconic lines in the book is not in the film.  The moment where Meg is staring down IT, who tells her, “…that’s exactly what we have on Camazotz. Complete equality. Everybody exactly alike.”  Meg has an epiphany, and shouts out, “No! Like and equal are not the same thing at all!”  It is…staggering that this line isn’t in the film.  Especially considering the brave and wonderful choice of casting Meg Murry as a biracial girl.  It astounded me at what a lost opportunity this was.

I think my main frustration with the film is the lost potential of it.  The film had all the ingredients it needed to be truly spectacular.  The acting was stellar, the designs (save Mrs. Whatsit’s true form) were interesting and unique, the emotionally charged moments were glorious.  I can tell Ava Duvernay put a lot of effort and heart into this.  But the film feels unfinished, as though there was executive meddling or maybe the screenplay was more of a rough draft.  The film as a whole, was unremarkable.  It was so underwhelming.

I guess I’ll have to keep waiting for my definitive Wrinkle in Time adaptation.  Too bad Miyazaki is retired.  I know he could capture its magic.

 

A Magic Book – Review of Rachel Held Evans’ “Inspired”

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From 2015, when I met my favorite theology writer–she said she liked my sweater and I’m still not over it.

What can I say about this book?

I received an ARC, due to the special promotion for early preorder customers. I was one of the first 500 to provide proof of purchase. I received my copy on Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day–and how appropriate!

The timing of this remarkable book is impeccable. Not long before, I stared rereading Scripture again, to try and infuse daily Scripture into my morning routine. Like I did in high school, I read one chapter of the Old Testament and one chapter of the New.

The first chapter of the Old Testament I read was from Numbers–the Israelites utterly annihilating the Midianites and being scolded for keeping the virgin women alive.  “Moses was angry with the officers of the army—the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds—who returned from the battle. ‘Have you allowed all the women to live?’ he asked them. They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and enticed the Israelites to be unfaithful to the Lord in the Peor incident, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” Numbers 31:14-18

So that’s nice.

One of the reasons I always read a chapter of the OT and the NT, is because the NT is less of a giant bummer.  (And less Eleazer begat Simon who begat Melchior, etc.)  The second bit I read was from Romans–a chapter I recognized as the verses that spurred Megan Phelps-Roper to leave Christianity.  “One of you will say to me: ‘Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?’ But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—even us, whom he also called,not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?” Romans 9:19-24

I’ll be honest.  I kind of hate this verse.  I hate any verse that tries to make me feel bad about arguing with God.  “Who are you to argue with God? Who is the clay to argue with the potter?”  Well, maybe God shouldn’t have made the clay with a conscience, with passion, with intellect, with critical thinking, with a temper if He didn’t want arguments to happen!

And then there’s that lovely “some people were created to be vessels of destruction”.  Yuck yuck yuck.  And here I was feeling so good about Lent.

Not great places to start out with Scripture.

I love Rachel Held Evans.  I discovered her in…I think 2012 or so, but I couldn’t tell you the first blogpost I ever read from her or when it was that I started following her blog religiously.  (Lol).

RHE and I have a lot in common.  We were both weird Evangelical kids that loved the Bible and were overly concerned about the state of our neighbors’ souls.  This is what happens when you put the fear of Hell in a hyper-empathetic nine-year-old’s heart, she will promptly go around to everyone she has had even the slightest interactions with and ask if they know the good news of Jesus Christ.  I was really annoying at Girl Scouts.

I got to meet RHE in 2015, when she came to speak in St. Louis.  It took about half a Guinness before I could talk to her (I clam up when meeting my heroes) but after I had a nice buzz going, she was incredibly wonderful to talk to.  She asked me how my family took my faith shift and I admitted that the faith shift was fine…it was the politics that got me ostracized.

Which should tell us a lot about the state of the church right now.

One of the most memorable parts of that conversation, for me, was when I asked her something that I’d been feeling guilty about.  I asked her if she ever missed it.  If she ever missed the Evangelical culture, with all its rules and regulations, its legalism, its doctrine, its absolute certainty that they were right and everyone else was wrong.

Her response was, “Oh my Gosh, yes! Every single day!”  Which was an intense relief.

I miss it.  I miss the feeling that I had all the answers.  I actually went to an Evangelical church this past Ash Wednesday, one I attended for a brief period of time (before the turbulent church politics made me uncomfortable and I realized that coming home angry from a sermon was not normal), because my new church didn’t have an early service.  I sat there and felt guilty for how much I missed it, how much I missed the community, and that wonderfully addicting certainty.  

It was easier.  It’s easier than arguing with people about why they should accept and affirm my LGBTQA friends.  It’s easier to stick with an Evangelical community and shun everyone else.  It’s easier to think I had all the answers, rather than believe that maybe God wants me to grapple with things a little bit.

I was taught one way to relate to God and one way to interpret God’s word.  So it’s very hard to learn to love the Bible a new way–a way that my upbringing taught me was straying from Christianity.

So thank God for this book. Thank God for a book that assured me that truth didn’t have to be literal. Thank God for a book that captured the magic of Scripture and encouraged me to wrestle with the things that trouble me. Thank God for a book that doesn’t explain away the genocide, that doesn’t hand wave some of the more dick-ish things Paul had to say. Thank God for a book that actually helped me reconcile with Paul and appreciate him.

Thank God for this book. RHE’s research is meticulous, she takes care to include theology from people who are not white straight men, and she even gets a little creative–with everything from short stories to screenplays to poetry. In that sense, she encourages me to be a little creative with my faith too.

I know mine is only the ARC and this book may go through some changes by June. But the post-Evangelical–the Exvangelicals, we might say–are in for a treat, especially if they’re like me. Someone who misses the environment but not the suffocation of Evangelicalism. Someone who badly wants to love the Bible and God again, but doesn’t know how to anymore.

The Graduate

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So, I graduated.

My undergrad, specifically.  I now have a Bachelor’s Degree of Science in English Literature from Washington University in St. Louis.  I started college (not WUSTL) in the fall of 2008 and I finished in the fall of 2017.

It should’ve taken 4.  It took 9.

It took me a really long time to be excited about my graduation.  I think it was only when I was literally in line for the registration the day of, bedecked in my cap and gown, when I finally started to look forward to it.  For months, I’ve asked myself why I wasn’t excited about this.  My friends were excited for it.  My friends were proud of me.  Everyone said I should be proud.  Everyone STILL says I should be proud.

A friend of mine congratulated me over the weekend and my immediate response was to tell her that I was graduating from night school, as if that was less of an accomplishment.  I received dirty looks from my roommate for this.

Why am I not proud of this?  I know logically I should be.  I didn’t give up.  My roommate gave me a little pin to commemorate this:  Nevertheless, she persisted.  That resonated and actually brought me to tears.  I persisted.  If God gave me one thing, it was stubbornness, and I stubbornly refused to stop until someone gave me the degree I rightfully worked for.

Why can’t I summon pride for this?  Is it because of insecurity, this absurd feeling that I should be at the level of my peers?  I should be in a Master’s degree program by now.  I should have FINISHED a Master’s degree program by now, and be looking at the PhD program.  What timeline am I working under?  There is not a deadline for collegiate accomplishments.  My high school guidance counselor got his PhD in his 50’s.  My mother got her undergraduate in her late 40’s.  Why have I set myself this standard?  Why can’t I accept that my route was a little tricky, through no fault of my own?

I had to drop out.  I had to leave my university, get a job, pay off a debt (that was not my fault), and basically start all over.

I did everything I possibly could to remain academically active.  I couldn’t enroll officially at WUSTL until my outstanding balance of $6,000 was paid to BSU–but I could still take classes.  And I did.  I submitted papers to two conferences, I got to present.  I did that while working full-time.  And when I finally paid off the hold, when BSU finally released my transcripts, I enrolled officially at WUSTL.

There’s something about working full-time that puts academics into perspective.  There were times when I was working two jobs while still maintaining a high grade point average.  I spent my entire time at WUSTL being terrified of slipping into another depressive bout, like I had at WWU and BSU.  And in all honestly, there were many times where I DID–but somehow, this time, thank God, it didn’t affect my schoolwork.  (It affected other areas of my life, but at least my GPA didn’t suffer this time.)

When I worked at a hotel on the weekends and weekday evenings, I would do homework in the back–write a page, do a load of laundry, fold a load of laundry, repeat.  On my 2016 trip to England, I finished my final paper for my “Critical Research Writing” class at Heathrow airport, while waiting for my flight.  At that same trip, I arranged an independent study with WUSTL’s bemused approval, where I got to peruse and research C.S. Lewis’ manuscripts and journals at the Oxford Bodleian Library–and write a 25 page paper that fall semester.  I worked my butt off to get good grades, to create special and challenging projects for myself, to make up for the time I lost.

But there are certain things I can never get back.  I was supposed to graduate from BSU in 2012.  My grandfather was supposed to see me graduate–graduate from the same school his wife did.  He passed away in 2014.  He never got to see me walk.  That hurts more than anything else.  My mother gave me his watch, so I could have that small part of him (and believe me, you can bet that I started bawling) with me as I finally crossed the threshold.

I didn’t get to walk with my best friend and roommate.  I was supposed to graduate with her.  It was something we were supposed to do together.

I hear some people say, “I don’t believe in regrets.”  I admire the sentiment, but it’s not something I can entirely get behind.  I regret everything.  I regret so many of my choices in life–choices that hurt people, opportunities I’ve missed, experiences I’ll never get back.  I know, deep down, someday I will be comfortable with who I am and the path it’s taken me to get there.  But I’m not there yet and I don’t see that horizon anytime soon.

I think it’s okay to admit that to myself.  I think it’s okay to grieve and mourn for what I’ve missed out on.  I’m beginning to balance that with being proud that I didn’t quit–that when the going got tough, I literally got going and figured out a way to complete my education, even though it took way longer than I wanted.  Maybe I won’t be able to escape the feeling that I’ve wasted my 20’s chasing after this stupid undergrad–but maybe I can balance that with the knowledge that I still got a lot done in my 20’s.

Now, you may be asking me…what next?

I have no freaking idea.  I have vague thoughts about applying for the PhD program at WUSTL (you don’t have to have your Master’s).  I have vague plans of taking the GRE at some point.  I have vague intentions of submitting more papers to conferences.

But the only firm and resolute goal is…to finish my book revisions.

So here we go.

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