Sunday, July 28, 2013

In Which the Woman Behind the Curtain Begins to Emerge

There is a lot here I want to say, but typing with one hand is a bit of a challenge.  Under normal circumstances, my thoughts flow faster than I can type- multiply this by about 10 for me right now, and that's about right. So we're going to see how well I can get this out.

This is going to be the first of many posts along these lines. I'm going to get very real. Some of you may find yourself saddened or angered by my words, and that's okay. Some will be shocked, some of you may resonate with what I have to say, and some may simply disagree. Some may decide I'm too far fallen to be helped. Whatever your response, you're entitled to it. I'm simply tired of living in fear. Fear that if I say what I really think, I'll lose someone I love. I've lived long enough to know that it's not worth living that way. It's simply not. I can't live my life hiding all of my opinions on important matters so no one will leave me. If I do that, I'm being dishonest-  both to myself, and to those in my life. I don't want to be like the wizard from The Wizard of Oz; just a lie behind a curtain, hiding the fact that the grand facade is just that: a facade. I'm no longer willing to do that. So here I am, beginning to step out from behind my carefully woven curtain, for better or for worse.

This morning, I read this post by Rachel Held Evans, regarding the reason Millenials are leaving the church in droves. Like her, I'm a mix of Gen X and Millenial. The oldest Millenials were born in 1982, and I was born in 1983, which places me among the very oldest of that generation, and honestly, I have more in common in terms of life experience with Baby Boomers than I do with kids born in the mid-90s, but I digress. I was also born into a family with two significantly older Gen X siblings, with no siblings close to my age, which means in many ways, I experienced a lot of the Gen X teen culture along with my siblings. Not only that, but in nearly every circumstance, my parents are the oldest represented in a group of my peers. In fact, get a bunch of people together that were born in 1985 or 1986, and my parents are often older than at least one, if not all, of their grandparents. My parents pre-date the Baby Boomers, having been born in 1940 and 1944. As a social historian, I will tell you, all of these things are highly significant, and help inform who I am and how I think, and how I perceive things.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have a highly unusual denominational background. By the time I was 22, I had spent 13 years as a practicing Catholic, 14 years in a mainstream Evangelical church, and 9 as a patriarchal fundamentalist Christian. Yeah, I know that adds up to way more than 22. There was a lot of overlap there. My parents were Catholic. But by the time I was born, they had also established ties with a local Presbyterian church, which was very mainstream. So from the time of my birth until I was 13, my Sundays consisted of me getting up for 8:00 Mass with my parents and siblings, then after Mass, going to Sunday School at College Hill Presbyterian (CHPC), while my parents went to the service. I was baptized as a Catholic, and went to a Presbyterian preschool. I went to Catholic school and received my First Communion and experienced Reconciliation, while I went to VBS and summer camp at CHPC. I felt perfectly at home in both places.

When I was 12, some of our family traumas came to a head. For various reasons I won't go into here (except to say, I do not blame my parents for the next choices they made...they were in an impossible situation), the summer I turned 13, we officially left the Catholic Church and joined the Advanced Training Institute of America (ATI), which is a far right-wing Christian patriarchal, fundamentalist organization.  Their beliefs most closely align with those of many Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) churches. If you're interested, you can read more about ATI here, or to be fair, you can also read about them here.  By this time, CHPC had experienced a split, and we went with the splinter church, Evangelical Community Church (ECC). When I was 14, we left ECC and began attending an IFB church, which was an unofficial ATI church, as most of the members were in ATI. I didn't get out of that situation until I was 22, and perhaps I'll write more about the specifics in a later post, but I spent the ages of 22-27 in mainstream Southern Baptist churches. The last 3 years have been varied and complicated, so I'll leave that for another time.

I wrote the above two paragraphs simply to explain I have had significant exposure to three very different facets of Christianity: the Catholic/high church tradition, mainstream evangelicalism, and patriarchal fundamentalism. I'll also just add here that I have also experienced the Charismatic tradition- CHPC was surprisingly charismatic for a PCUSA church (it was very conservative PCUSA, more along the lines of EPC or PCA). The three different facets were in many ways distinct, but also, in many ways, very similar. All of them taught against abortion. All taught that Scripture is inspired and inerrant. All taught against homosexuality and fornication. All taught against divorce. All encouraged modest dress to varying degrees.  All believed in Christ's divinity, the three-in-one nature of the Trinity, and the existence of Heaven and  Hell. The similarities certainly don't stop there, but I will.

The experiences I have had my entire life have brought me to where I am in my spiritual journey today. I will say that all of what I like to call my "spiritual traumas" have come from my time in ATI and my IFB church. However, those traumas have forced me to take a hard look at and re-evaluate every aspect of my Christian beliefs and upbringing. And boy, do I see major problems.

Now, of course, any honest Christian in the church (and I use this term to encompass all sects within Christian orthodoxy- Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical, fundamentalist, etc.) will admit there are- and always have been- massive problems and abuses within the church. Christian history is rife with horrible teachings and acts, all taught and performed in the name of Christianity. However, my personal experience caused me to step back and take an even bigger look at things, much like Rachel Held Evans has done in her blog. What I have seen has left me saddened, shocked, disgusted, and even angry, regarding a lot of things. But wait- don't write me off as backslidden and apostate just yet.

I do still identify as a born-again Christian. I can still recite the Apostle's Creed without being dishonest or saying anything I don't agree with. But I'm also really struggling with the church. I'm really struggling with my own spiritual experience and past spiritual abuse. It is rare that I can handle church without flipping out over something. I'll be the first to admit, many of my triggers are not rational, and I'm working on that. I'm going to be working with a pastor, starting in August, to work through my issues. I would love to be able to sit through a church service and not worry about being triggered, having a panic attack, or a string of horrible flashbacks I can't stop. I really wanted to go to church this morning, but I just couldn't. I can't begin to express how much I hate where I am. But until I can sort through and differentiate emotionally between my irrational issues and my rational ones, church is probably not going to  be a great place for me to be.

Now don't get me wrong. Logically, I know what my irrational issues are, and where my rational, legitimate disagreements lie with the church. I can argue my points well. I just can't emotionally separate the good from the bad when I'm sitting there listening to others talk. There's a huge difference, and I thank God for that. If I was as logically confused as I am emotionally, I'm not sure I'd still be able to deal even with my own faith.

I read Rachel Held Evans's CNN post this morning, and it resonated with me so very much. Over the next weeks and months, in addition to my movie, history, and other such posts, I'm going to be writing many posts regarding the problems I'm seeing in the church as a whole, and how they're affecting me, and how I see them affecting others, and even threatening the future of the church in America, and the world in general. This is going to be me, honest and open, taking responsibility for my own thoughts, opinions, actions, and future. I do not see myself as a poor, wronged victim. Please understand that.

For now, I encourage you to read Rachel's post, which I linked to at the beginning of my post. I'm going to go through and talk about many of those issues in my next posts. This is simply my introduction to the posts to come. I hope you can read them and understand I write my thoughts without blame or malice towards anyone. This is simply my journey, from the world of today's church, to the essence of the Gospel, and the true teachings and grace of Jesus Christ. I truly hope all who read can take my posts in the spirit in which they will be written; a spirit of grace.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Liberty, Patriotism, and America

I have recently developed a friendship with an amazing person, Chilan Ngo (pronounced shuh-LAWN No). Chilan is a first generation American, and her family is from Vietnam. Had it not been for the war, Chilan's family would still be in Vietnam, but now they all live in Southern California. History geek that I am, I've been having a ton of fun the last couple weeks, asking questions and learning more information about her family, the war, and their "new" lives here. Chilan is extremely American herself, but like many first-generation Americans, also has a soft spot in her heart for her parents' homeland, and is a great connoisseur of both American and Asian food.

Last week, Chilan sent me this photo and her thoughts on it and patriotism. I thought it was a fantastic perspective, and asked her if she'd allow me to post them here today, because it is definitely worth reading for all of us. I hope you enjoy it, and have a fantastic 4th of July!

"Paris - Gay Lussac Street - 3pm on April 27, 1975

From Lut├Ęce Student Housing, South Vietnamese students from the Universities of Paris and Orsay-Antony silently marched to show their support to South Vietnam and express their gratitude to soldiers who had laid down their life for liberty and democracy...

Three days later, Saigon fell..."
A college friend of my dad’s found this picture. It’s of my mom, my dad, and their friends, participating in a student peace rally to support South Vietnam. The rally took place in Paris, 1975 — just three days before the South Vietnamese capitol fell to the Communists. It is profound and heartbreaking.
My mom tells me that the French authorities were nervous about any organized demonstrations, due to all of the fighting and confusion brought on by the war. Riot cops lined the streets, though it wasn’t necessary. The students were simply showing support for their country while in France—a country which would grant them asylum when the Communists overtook their homeland. The signs they are holding are written in French, and read, “Great Day of Mourning,” and “Honor to our Soldiers who Died for Liberty.”

Although my mom is hidden behind other people in the photo, she knows her location based on the friends around them. (She pointed each one out and told me where they are now, mostly working professionals still living in France.) My dad's head is just visible in all its long-haired glory; two years later, he would be forced to cut it should-length for his wedding. Everyone is wearing a white headband as a sign of mourning for the fallen soldiers—nothing to do with hippies. When my Ba Noi (paternal grandmother) died, we wore similar headbands for her funeral services.

So what does an old photo from Paris have to do with American patriotism? Well, along with many others, my parents gave up their Vietnamese citizenship after the country fell and established French citizenship. They were married in '77 and immigrated to the USA in '82—a year and a half before my older brother was born.  A decade later, they were granted American citizenship.

Us kids were beyond lucky. We grew up in Southern California as full-blooded Americans, and were raised in a upper middle class neighborhood with Caucasians. Our parents taught us English as a first language, ensuring that we didn't adopt their French-Vietnamese accents. I'm as Twinkie as you can get. It's easy to forget just how privileged I am to be here, sheltered from all the horrors and hardships that my elder generations went through. Although my parents had it relatively easy as exchange students, the rest of my extended family had to flee the country as refugees. That horrific experience alone would take a book to describe.

This photo reminds me that third world countries may be less rich, educated, and "cultured" than others, but their people can have just has much heart, humanity, and patriotism. Patriotism isn't about firing your constitutionally-mandated guns and having BBQs on the 4th of July. People everywhere have bled and suffered for freedom—not only our Founding Fathers, but also those in countries all over the world.
As a graduate student, I spend most of my time caught up in research and bemoaning my lack of better data. Amidst the madness, it's good to step back and be thankful that I am here, sitting at my own desk in a new, clean building, working at a top-notch university, self-supporting and having my own good credit, getting to do great things (for SCIENCE), and not even having to go into debt for it! Taking a bigger step back, I am here in a truly free country, enjoying my rights as a citizen, woman, and human being. I'm proud to be American, and Vietnamese, and even French! My parents may not throw a party for every US holiday, speak English without an accent, or watch the Superbowl, but they have a deep, unique appreciation of the liberty granted here. As my mom said, "It's a wonderful country!" Being American is an overwhelming privilege. We may hate whichever poor soul is president, rage about the government wasting our money (or the universities spending it on administration), and bicker about politics in general, but we must never forget what it means to be free.