WARNING: This post contains personal opinions about faith and individualism. No lifeguards on duty. Proceed at your own risk.
I’ve been lucky to have a variety of friends over the years. They come from a pretty broad spectrum of backgrounds, from European to Asian to African American to Middle Eastern to Hispanic, from college educated to self taught, from musicians to tone deaf, from math minded to language geeks.
I am proud to be open-minded enough at last to have friends from a lot of different faith backgrounds. I grew up going to a Catholic school, and believed that everyone in my town was Catholic too. At the age of 11, I became friends with my first non-Catholic, a Methodist, and I was so sad because I believed she was going to hell. Coming from such a narrow view of the world, and moving into more broad acceptance, I am grateful I’ve been able to grow and learn and develop an understanding of the differences of humanity. And I have come to think that difference is beautiful.
But I’m troubled by a persistent, unspoken attitude from a segment of my friends that my negative opinions are not welcome, that my posts and statuses expressing disappointment or frustration or–God forbid–anger need to be stopped. Often couched in “on the other hand” language, I am regularly entreated to consider a more accepting, forgiving view of the world. The not-so-subtle message is that if only I were more loving and understanding, I wouldn’t be bothered so much by these things that rub me the wrong way.
This is a very difficult subject for me, and I think it’s because I spent so much of my life meek and terrified. I didn’t believe I had the right to speak up about anything, and that thwarted anger and frustration turned into emotional impotence, and the tendency to be easily led.
Since I was a small child, I have mulled the contradiction of the “created in God’s image” theme in Christianity, the idea that each of us was known and loved by God–followed immediately by the snidely implied message that SOME of us (*coughLutheranscough*) were not loved quite as much as others. I was acutely aware of social strata, especially as it is expressed through religion. Even within my religion, and perhaps especially within my religion, “best” and “worst” are clearly delineated. Priests, of course, were at the top of the heap. Nuns, then altar boys, lay people, choir director/organist, non-nun Catholic school teachers, Church members who attended daily Mass, those who attended weekly confession AND Mass, those who attended weekly Mass, those who attended Mass twice a month, those who attended on Christmas and Easter (C&E), Catholics in name only, and those who had Fallen Away from the Church.
And that’s just Catholicism.
Perhaps it’s my upbringing in such a caste-heavy religion that imparted this powerful sense of segmentation. It is clearly a judgmental way of seeing the world. It took me years of being out of the Church to see how wrong and blind and cruel this viewpoint is, how deeply flawed it is as a reflection of the love Jesus taught.
I’ve come to believe very strongly that there is room for all kinds of people in this world. That the humble and profane, the loud and the quiet, believers and non-believers, Catholics and Methodists, the opinionated and the meek (both of which I have belonged to) all have a place in this world, and–if you believe the world was created by God, then, logically, all have a place in God’s love. I cannot understand the philosophy that says “God only loves you if you behave JUST like me (which is exactly how God told everyone to act)”. Not only is it presumptuous, it’s a flagrant defiance of the very heart of Christianity, that we are each — not all, as a monolithic whole — created in His image.
And so it is as an opinionated person that I come today.
I love my Christian friends very deeply. There are a couple to whom I look as examples of what I’d like to think is God’s love, and at the very least, they’re examples of kindness and goodness to which all of us should aspire. I would love to be more like them, but the simple fact is that I am not–and not for lack of trying. I gave several years to the effort of quelling my burgeoning independence of thought, to struggling to contain my frustrations at the inequality in the world, to soothing the rage I felt at the actions of the ignorant and unkind. I tried, as my good friend begged me to do, to “stop” being so angry. To just “let it go.” I really, really did.
But now I am starting to think that I have a place too, even the loud-mouthed, opinionated me into which I have developed. Tim, my best editor, told me I need an example of people trying to shut me up. I can’t bring myself to use an example. It would be too pointed, too accusatory, too unkind. It should suffice to say that I have received a very clear message that if I do not respond to every unpleasant situation with the patience and grace of a saint, then I am somehow “wrong,” and my expression of frustration or anger or righteous indignation is unwelcome.
There’s that word again. Welcome.
For me to come to the point of giving voice to frustration, to standing in defiance of something I know isn’t right is an enormous shift. It only happened after I had Sophia, when I had to speak on behalf of another person, when I was forced to be her protector and champion. It was then that I found my own voice. And it was not welcome at all–not at home, not at school, not in the world. But I had to continue to do it, to stand up and speak when something was wrong, to examine my thoughts, understand what it meant, and present my objections to the powers that be. I *had* to find this strength, and the idea that it’s not welcome because it’s not constantly patient and understanding stings like a slap. This is who I am now. It is who I am.
This “who I am” is every bit as allowed (if not yet welcome) in this world as others. If you’re paying attention, this “who I am” also expresses a fair amount of joy and wonder; at the humor of my children, at the love of and for my husband, at the world around me. I don’t believe my expressions of frustration outweigh my expressions of happiness. It’s not surprising that no one scolds me for putting up statuses about my garden. As that kid in Sixth Sense said, “They don’t have meetings about rainbows.”
But what I won’t stop doing is speaking up about ignorance and bigotry, the contradictions I see in the world around me. I won’t just silence my observations because they aren’t positive; sometimes, negative things happen, and to express frustration is to share the human experience. The human experience can be messy and sticky and unpleasant. I’ve heard all kinds of variations of “Just let the bad thing happen. Move on. There’s nothing you can do. Keep quiet. It’s going to happen anyway. Just leave it be.”
I believe people like me are necessary, people who won’t sit down and be quiet like we’re told. It is the people who complain that something’s not right that start the ball rolling on fixing it. I know my opinion isn’t always right, that I must be open to viewpoints other than my own. And I work hard to keep myself open, to listen as much as I speak. But I won’t simply stop speaking because my opinion is harsh or negative. I won’t stop calling a spade a spade, a jackass a jackass, an inequity an inequity. I won’t be silent because what I have to say is uncomfortable, or doesn’t conform to the standard of “suffering in silence.”
There has to be room for the loudmouths, the ones who question the norm. There has to be room for dissent, and the dissenters can’t simply be shushed. No. When the bad thing happens, I’m going to say something about it. I’ll do so in a polite, dignified manner, but I’m going to say something. Maybe someone will recognize that something they’re thoughtlessly doing or saying is hurtful, and they’ll stop.
I am grateful for the people who have shown me true kindness and love. I have been blessed — and even though that’s a religiously weighted word, I do feel as if I’ve been given a gift I didn’t earn and don’t deserve — with a slew of people who have taught me patience and understanding, selflessness and strength, generosity and persistence. I’ve taken lessons from them and applied them to my family, to raising my children, to working on my marriage. But I’ve had other lessons, too. Lessons that formed this steely center that occasionally shoots flames at people who approach me in the parking lot with the purpose of busting me for using the handicapped spots illegally when I’m not.
I am exactly who I am. Sometimes that rubs people the wrong way, and for that I’m sorry. But I, too, was fearfully and wonderfully made.