When I brought my mom here to the Mountain, after she was diagnosed with cancer in 2007, I tried taking her to church with me, but I’m afraid that it didn’t work out so well. For one thing, she was driving me absolutely crazy and I wanted any excuse to get away from her. Second, my mom was very opinionated and wasn’t afraid to speak her mind. And third, Christians just say foolish things sometimes without really realizing it.
I think the third thing happens when we isolate ourselves too much within our Church walls and we stop hearing how our hare-brained notions really sound reflected off the hard walls of reality. And to get that you have to take a risk and you have to put yourself out in the world, rub elbows with the great unwashed, as it were. Some are too afraid and feel that the godly thing to do is to surround themselves with the like-minded. But if you want to change the world, then you’ve got to take some risks; you have to be willing to have your beliefs challenged if you want to have any chance of challenging the beliefs of others.
For instance, did you realize that many people consider it rude to have their salvation openly questioned? In particular, people of other faiths–and especially people in other Christian denominations–take the most offense at this. Now, I realize that some among us are really trying to be offensive; that’s their ministry. They fancy themselves as some sort of modern-day Jeremiah when, in fact, I think they are really just an annoying clanging gong.
Did you also know that it can be hurtful to ask a grieving person if their recently deceased loved one was saved or not? If I never again have to explain to someone why I think my mother, the Mormon, is not, at this very moment, burning in an eternal hell, I’ll die a a happy person.
And did you know that Jesus wasn’t a Republican and that he actually said that relying on political solutions to solve our problems was completely to miss the point? Do you know that there are secret Democrats lurking in our Churches this very day hiding their political beliefs because they know they’ll have their salvation questioned (see above) or, worse, be accused of being a baby killer (Even though it can’t be proven that any Republican vote in the history of EVER has saved even one baby’s life)?
I cringed every time I took her to church in fear over what somebody might say and what my flaming-liberal, MORMON mom might say back to someone who said something foolish. It was terribly stressful. Plus, I was really, really struggling myself.
In the midst of my son’s behavior and my mom’s cancer, my husband and I had switched churches, so nobody really knew me that well. My husband and my daughter both sang on worship teams, but I just sat there anonymously getting more seriously depressed every week. Everybody says that the way to get to know people in a church is to join a small group, so we joined one.
Now, you know those people who are always unhappy with life? Their marriage is always bad? Their finances are always in shambles? Their jobs are always in jeopardy? Their kids are always disappointing them? Their moms always have cancer?
That can’t be right.
Moms get cancer and either eventually get well or die. Oh well.
My mom was living with us, had cancer, owed the IRS $100,000, had no health insurance, her business partner wouldn’t return my calls, and she didn’t have even one stinking penny to her name. Every day off was consumed with doctor appointments and various Social Service appointments trying to get her benefits so we could get her treatment. She was batshit crazy and couldn’t really be left alone. And, every once in a while, she called me “Mommy.” I was a little overwhelmed.
We’d been attending this little group for awhile studying Jesus’ wonderful plan for our lives, but I mostly wanted to cry all the time about the unfairness of the situation with my mom and my fears about my son. I was also beginning to suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder for the first time in my life and didn’t know it.
They were nice people. We liked them. Some of them even knew me before my world crashed in. And I’m sure they meant no harm. But apparently I was harshing their mellows by being such a downer with my constant crying about my mom’s cancer. The leader’s wife pulled me aside one night and asked me if I couldn’t just be cheerier. She suggested that maybe it was my piss-poor attitude that was my REAL problem.
On the outside, I did what good girls do and I smiled and agreed with her that maybe if I was just cheerier, you know, took joy in my sufferings, then things would improve. But inside I was saying:
NO! YOU STUPID BITCH, I CAN’T FUCKING BE CHEERIER! MY LIFE IS FUCKING FALLING APART!!
That was the end of that small group for me, and pretty much the end of church. I disengaged altogether. I would go, but feel no feelings. Confide nothing. I slammed my walls up and there they stay.
I get that there are people who are just big energy sucks, but I am not one of them. I am a glass half-full, pick yourself up by the bootstraps, walk out of the desert (again, and again, and again) sort of girl. I have so much lemonade made from all these lemons life has handed me that I could open up a successful chain of lemonade stands across this great nation of ours and single-handedly save our flagging economy.
I was going through a dark, situational crisis and needed love and a listening ear, not condemnation because I couldn’t be fucking cheerful. I am not a sunbeam; I am a human being and sometimes life just sucks. I don’t use the ‘f’ word very often on my blog, but let me say that no other word suffices. When I think about this vapid woman’s condescending advice delivered behind her condescending smile I want to kill something.
Can’t we all face the truth here that sometimes Jesus’ wonderful plan for our lives SUCKS? And only a brainless moron armed with a big bottle of antidepressants could possibly take “joy” in every minute of it. When it sucks then it sucks, and the rest of us shouldn’t run around shaming the poor sucker for the suckitude that life is sometimes.
I think there is a whole book in the Bible about a guy whose life sucked rocks and his worthless group of friends who gathered around him to point out that it was all his own damned fault, and if only he’d just cheer the fuck up then everything would be rosy. If I remember correctly, God wasn’t too pleased with them. In the end, I must also admit that God wasn’t all that comforting to the guy whose life sucked, all because of a lost bet, but I’m trying to hold onto my tender and fragile faith today, so let’s not go there.
After awhile my knee-jerk liberal, Mormon–did I mention the part about her being Mormon?–mother quit accepting my offers of Church, which was fine by me, because I frankly didn’t want to take her anyway. It wasn’t too long before she contacted the local Mormon church. I was torn. I was upset about it because I didn’t want my mother going to some crazy cult (which is offensive to them when you call them that, by the way), but I was happy about it at the same time because it was the first thing she did for herself and I was happy for anything my mom could or would do for herself that didn’t include me having to take a day off from work, without pay, to manage for her.
Now, I’m not big fan of The Borg Mormonism, but I’m a huge fan of Mormons. A nicer people don’t exist anywhere in the world. If a religion could be true just on the basis of how nice their misguided followers are then Mormonism would have to be the truest religion in the world. On niceness, Mormons have evangelicals beat at every turn. Every evangelical would have to quit their job and devote every waking moment to doing nice things for a year before they could even attempt to catch up to a lifetime of niceness from just one Mormon person. These people put the nice in niceness. Even though Mormons are just as nutty in their politics (let’s not forget that Glenn Beck is actually one of theirs) they somehow were able to open their loving arms to my mother. And I’m beyond grateful for it.
The second my mom contacted the Mormons they rallied the troops around her. The Mormons picked her up and took her to church, brought her food, took her shopping, became her friends, and just in general did what Jesus told us to do when he told us to care for the sick. And more. They did so much more. On the day we had to go get my mother from her apartment to come to our house to die, there were lovely Mormon people there caring about her. After she died, they cared for us.
When I see Mormons today, they ask how I’m doing and they tell me how much they liked my mom and miss her now. They tell me what a firecracker she was and how they appreciated her honesty. When the topic of my mom comes up with certain Evangelicals in my life they want me to explain why I don’t think she is burning in eternal hell because she was a Mormon.
Which brings us to today’s Word of Wisdom from my mom:
“Poor Children Need Ice Cream too.”
When my mom was a little girl living in the Projects, a group of Baptist Church Ladies came to do some good works. Out of the money that was given to these poor families, my grandmother gave my mother a few cents to get herself some ice cream. Word of this extravagance traveled back to these nice Church ladies who felt the need to come back and give these mothers lessons on finances. They communicated their dismay that these welfare mothers had squandered some of this money on something as frivolous as ice cream for their children.
My mother remembered this story with fury. She told me how it felt to be shamed over ice cream because she was poor.
Recently, I overheard a disturbing conversation between some Christians about some Missionaries who post on Facebook about their weekly date night. I guess one of these Christians has taken it upon herself to calculate how much this couple spends every week on this date night and express how much she struggles with this. Another woman expressed that she did not hire someone because he’s posted on Facebook that he and his wife have taken some trips this summer to the beach. It is her opinion that since he squanders his money on trips to the beach with his wife he doesn’t deserve to be hired.
So, what’s the lesson here? First, you really don’t need to be told this, but I’ll tell you anyway. Be careful what you say on Facebook. I had never realized that there were people sitting at their computers with calculators adding up how much my status updates cost. That makes me very sad. And wary. But mostly sad. Maybe certain preachers in this world need to spend more time preaching about the sin of covetousness and gossip within the Body of Christ and less time protesting against homosexuals, who are not even in the Body, getting married. Frankly, all the homosexuals in the world together do not do so much damage to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as one misguided and foolish Christian who doesn’t know when to be quiet and love.
And second, my heart is heavy for missionaries and their children because they live under this sort of pressure from their brothers and sisters. Must they account for every ice cream cone or justify every date night? Listening in on the above conversation brought my mother’s wisdom to my mind and I think she’d say something like, “Missionaries need date nights, too.”
I once read a letter written by a woman who had grown up as a missionary kid in a third world country. She wrote about receiving care packages that included such “gifts” as used teabags from people back home. She talked of the real humiliation she felt living under the scrutiny of the other missionaries and their family’s donors.
One time, long ago, a Pastor’s wife confided in me that she had someone come and help her clean her house. I know for a fact that this woman spent 40-60 hours a week performing unpaid, and essential, work for her husband’s church. She asked me not to tell anyone else because she feared that if the church knew that she had a cleaning lady once a week they would feel that her husband was getting paid too much.
Yes, I know, nonChristians are petty and judgmental too, that’s just human, but they aren’t my cross to bear. Christianity is my cross and loving my brothers and sisters in Christ is the hardest thing I do as a Christian. I wish some of you would make it easier for me since I’m really bad at it anyway.
I have a hard time remembering that the Church is filled with broken people just like me who are trying to figure it out. But are our own eyes so free of logs that we can afford sitting around pointing out other people’s motes? Have we forgotten how to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn? Do we understand that poor children need ice cream, too?