Six Degrees

I had a dream last night about an old friend of mine, Krista. I was helping her with a move, stationed at the new house to help unpack while others went to bring another load from the old place. While I was wandering among the boxes stacked in the garage, a family of about 10 wandered into the stacks, picking up items and asking how much they cost. They thought it was a yard sale. As I was trying to keep them from walking off with Krista’s family heirlooms, Krista appeared, and in her typical fashion, welcomed the family as if they were old friends. She was open to their suggestions of purchasing some of her things, even showing them hidden items they might like. Then she started playing the violin for them. Or viola, I guess, since that’s what she used to play.

I watched her being her kind, generous self with these complete strangers and marveled at how the Dream Krista was exactly like the Real Krista.

I’ve known Krista since I was in junior high, when she was Krista Norris. She was, by her own account, initially friendly to me because I was new to the school, having moved over from the Catholic school to start seventh grade. Krista knew and was known by everyone, but not in a “Queen Bee” way, just in her own way of being kind to people. Everyone knew and loved Krista. So she saw this shy kid feeling out of place and befriended me, and her friendship allowed me to ease into life in public school. We remained friends through high school, where I was often simply known as Krista’s nameless best friend; as a really shy person, that was okay with me.

In junior-high ritualistic fashion, I attended many sleepovers at her house, and she at mine occasionally. Her house was my preference, though, with her parents as welcoming and kind as she was. Mrs. Norris, a true southern belle, gave me the only nickname that has ever stuck (Megery), and listened with an attentive and non-judgmental ear. Mr. Norris had a warmth and humor that set in my head the way I wanted dads to be. I’m sure there were things about their family I didn’t know, as there are with every family, but in my childhood memory, the Norrises were my model.

I can hear Krista’s voice now, warning me not to put people on a pedestal. I know, I know…

What Krista’s family showed me was a different way for families to be. My family, vexed as it was by mental illness and isolation, often functioned poorly, badly regulated emotions swinging us from drama to drama. My brothers were often physically violent with each other, sometimes with me and my sister, and I crept into my shell of books and music and nature. My parents did the best they could with what they had, but life in my house wasn’t peaceful or loving. Certainly not supportive. In Krista’s family, I had the chance of feeling like I was part of a healthy group of people who loved each other.

Being at Krista’s house on the weekend meant witnessing the constant flow of people visiting the house. The family ran a funeral home right in the heart of town, and while that’s not the kind of business that encourages repeat customers, this family seemed to know everyone in town–but not in the snooty “WE know EVERYONE, darling” way. They knew people who had lived in the homeless shelter two doors down, and those who had complex medical issues, and mentally challenged people, and yes, some people in local politics, but that was never how they knew them. They were involved in church and volunteer work, and if a call came in that someone needed help, they jumped into action, connecting people in need with people who could help. Devout Christians, they lived what Christianity preaches: kindness, service, acceptance, love.

Krista was my first non-Catholic friend, and I was so sad that she was going to go to hell for being a Methodist. But it was in getting to know her family better that I started realizing that non-Catholics weren’t doomed, that people of other faiths could be good, and that the whole basis for my religious teaching (Catholic=GOOD&Heaven Bound, all others=EVIL) was flawed.

As an adult, I now realize how lucky I was to have had contact with Krista’s family. They showed me what it means to be loving, open, to share what you have even if it isn’t a lot, to accept people for who they are and not because they match your lifestyle or way of thinking. They weren’t afraid to talk about different philosophies, to argue religion, but stood their ground firmly, as people rooted in their faith tend to do.

I didn’t end up being the same kind of people Krista’s family was. I hewed to the Christian path for many years, but my life took me and my beliefs in another direction. But I tried like hell to do what Krista’s mom did for me: be kind, loving, open, and accepting for my kids and their friends, no matter who they were. I’ve tried to be just as charitable and giving as I saw them being, and to step into service when I have had the chance.

It wasn’t until recently that I realized the effect Krista’s family had on me, and on the adult I have become. I am so grateful to have been allowed to get to know them, these truly good people, and to learn from them how to be an adult and how to be a parent. My children were lucky too, in that they got to know the Norrises in their childhoods, and knew these kind people as de facto grandparents. There is so much love that stems from Mr. and Mrs. Norris, and they shared it with my children. And I am so grateful.

Krista has created a life that looks similar to her parents. Her husband and she are constantly surrounded by their kids and their kids’ friends, and are involved in the community in a small business right in the center of their town. They are purveyors of coffee, kind of the opposite of funeral homes, but they serve with such love and commitment that they touch everyone around with the same kind of light and joy.

We joke that the world is connected not through six degrees of Kevin Bacon, but six degrees of Mrs. Norris, which can also be applied to Krista (Norris) Andersen. Everyone seems to know them, and everyone who knows them loves them. And with good reason. They willingly share their love with the world.

I don’t know why that dream happened to me last night, but I am so glad to be reminded of this family that touched me in ways they probably don’t even know. And I’m glad that now I have the chance to tell them. Thank you, Norris family, for showing me how to live a life of love.

A rose for Mrs. Norris

A rose for Mrs. Norris

How Does God’s Love Abide In Him?

*trigger warning.*

Hey, Christian friends?

Yeah, you. The people I’ve known since I was a teenager. The ones who introduced me to Jesus at those Catholic youth group meetings every Sunday night. The ones who showed me that it’s okay interact with God without the presence of a priest. The ones who entreated me to seek the righteous path, who inspired me to reach out in love to my fellow man, who taught me to embrace the gift of emotional healing available to those who lay themselves at the feet of the Lord.

We need to talk.

Right now, there is a bunch of girls, aged 5-12, who grew up in a home where their bodies were violated repeatedly by someone they were supposed to trust, someone they were supposed to look up to and admire. This guy has now admitted to having touched his sisters — it’s unclear how many, but he has lots to choose from — on their breasts and genitals while they were sleeping, sometimes when they were awake.

Think about that for just a second: he has admitted to molesting his sisters while they slept.

Not just once, guys. Multiple times! Over several years!

I’ve been watching carefully for your response, because I’ve seen you vocally supporting this family, the now infamous Duggar nineteen, which has risen to fame because of their devotion to many of the same fundamentalist principles you promote; the man is the head of the household, follow God’s plan for you in all things, be a symbol of God’s love in this evil world.

They will know you are Christians by your love.

Except what I see now, in the light of the revelations about these young girls whose peace of mind and sense of right and wrong and innocence and healthy self-esteem has been irreparably damaged by their BROTHER…what I see now is either silence or a fervent insistence that we should all forgive Brother Duggar because God has forgiven him.

(How exactly do you know what God has done? Never mind. That’s a question for another time.)

The hand-wringing about how people will perceive Christians in the wake of Duggar’s revelations is making my blood boil. Really? THAT’S WHAT YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT?

Why haven’t ANY of you expressed even a hint of concern about those GIRLS? Where are the heart-wrenching photos and links to websites devoted to caring for young girls who have been molested and raped by their relatives? Why do the victims of this crime get less of your Christian compassion than the PERPETRATOR?

I know for a fact some of you know women who were molested in their childhood homes. I know because we once traveled in the same circles, and knew the same women, and heard the same stories: their nightmares, their attempted suicides, their spirals into depression, their inability to form healthy relationships with ANYONE, their fear of becoming a mother and being unable to protect their children from the same abuse they suffered. I KNOW you know the long-term damage inflicted by child sexual abuse.
WomanCrying

And yet you want us to just “forgive” Duggar for what he’s done. Love the sinner, hate the sin. You call for an end to the “opportunistic vilification” of his “youthful indiscretions.” You claim that because he apologized for what he’s done, that’s the end of the story.

I can’t even describe how sick that makes me.

And what’s worse — or at least equally bad — is that the parents of all of these kids knew about the abuse and did nothing to help those girls. They took measures to get their pedophile son “help” — although I have serious doubts about the nature of the “help”. But for the girls? Nothing. Not even an acknowledgement that they needed help. The girls are treated as mere objects in this twisted drama about one young man’s “youthful indiscretions”, as if he’d been exposed as a shoplifter instead of a child molester.

And guess what? Most molesters were once molested themselves. I have a strong feeling we have only seen the tip of the iceberg.

In that same Duggar family, the ones you held up as examples of good, faithful Christians, the ones you lauded as wholesome, there are girls whose lives are now forever changed because this guy decided he had a right to do whatever he wanted to their bodies. Their suffering has just begun; they’re in the middle of a media frenzy, thanks to their parents’ decision to thrust the whole family into the public eye. They get to publicly process this shit sandwich they’ve been force fed.

The show started in 2008: the father first acknowledged the allegations in 2006. He made the decision to put this family on TV long after he knew about the abuse.

I wouldn’t be saying anything right now if the Christians I know hadn’t placed the Duggars on a pedestal, if you hadn’t pronounced your admiration for this family. After all, evil comes in all shapes and sizes.

But the Duggars have been shoved in our faces largely by fellow Christians who want the world to see how wonderfully God works in the lives of people who follow Him. Many of you held up this family as an example.

And now you want to run from them.

Now you want to deny and deflect, because the reality is too sickening for you to contemplate.

But here’s the deal: that’s the WHOLE STORY of humanity. People do bad things. Other people are victimized by people doing bad things. The Bible is FULL of stories of pain and sickness and healing and redemption. Not just for the people who perpetrated evil, but also for the victims of that evil.

John I 3:16 THROUGH 20 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

Job 2:11-13 ‘Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, they came each one from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite; and they made an appointment together to come to sympathize with him and comfort him. When they lifted up their eyes at a distance and did not recognize him, they raised their voices and wept. And each of them tore his robe and they threw dust over their heads toward the sky. Then they sat down on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights with no one speaking a word to him, for they saw that his pain was very great.’

You want to show the world the mercy and power of God’s love?

Help those girls.

Make a show of it.

Plaster it all over your websites, elevate them in prayer at your church services, put them front and center in your prayer requests on Facebook and Twitter, because I know you have those. I see them every day.

You want us to set aside what Duggar has done? You want to avoid the stain of his sin on the entire Christian community?

Wash it clean by being Jesus on earth for those girls, and for other victims of sexual assault.

Reach out in love and mercy to the hurt and sick.

It’s not *our* focus on Duggar’s sins that’s making Christians look bad.

It’s yours.

Why?

I don’t understand.

I have a lot of friends who are devout Christians. Regular church goers. From them, I learned compassion, the need for reaching out in love, to recognize my own failings and to forgive others theirs. From them, I learned about devotion to family and to community, and I saw modeled what can happen when you open your life and your home with warmth and acceptance.

I saw the effects that love had on the “less fortunate”, the abandoned and forgotten, the ignored and ashamed. That love was like water to a dying flower.

But I have seen these same strong, loving people turn a blind eye to truly evil voices in their own community, staying silent when the prominent voices of faith in our country say vile and untrue things.

The body of faith in this country is not monolithic. And I know that each person has his or her own voice, and relationship with God. But I am shocked and dismayed at the persistent silence from these good, loving people when faith leaders say divisive, hateful things — horrible things about poor people, women, people of color, Muslims.

Where are these loving people when lies are being spewed? I admired John McCain when he stood up to the woman at his town hall who called Obama an Arab, a Muslim. He told her that she was wrong, that Obama is a good man, a decent man. I’d like to see even a modicum of that pushback from any of my Christian friends.

When black kids are shot dead in the park for playing with their toys? Where is the Christian love? When people who need financial assistance are demeaned and degraded by laws restricting them to $25 a day — where is the Christian love?

Why doesn’t somebody say something?

Where is the same Christian energy that sends people on mission trips to Africa? To Appalachia?

Whether they know it or not, the Christians I know in real life are examples to the people around them. They talk about being a witness to God’s love, and yet when those of us weakened and humbled by devastating circumstance need someone to speak up for them, they are silent.

I posted pictures of roses every day for 18 months straight, and had dozens of followers and encouraging comments.

I posted stories about societal woes for a few months and every one of those loving encouragers disappears.

I’ve heard the phrase “hard times reveal true friends.” It’s borne out in my personal life, but I was naively shocked to see people disappear completely right when the least of their brothers need support and love and encouragement.

I don’t think everyone should agree with me. I don’t expect everyone to have the same values. But to have the same cast of characters vanish every single time a racial or social equality issue comes up…that’s pretty telling.

It just makes me sad.

UPDATE

One of my Christian friends posted the following article. Based on the title, I thought “Oh, good, a break through!” but I was wrong.

http://www.russellmoore.com/2012/11/07/christians-lets-honor-the-president/

It’s not an admonition to honor the president because of the morality of doing so, and it’s not a reminder to defend him against scurrilous attacks, it’s “honor the president because the Bible tells us to.”

Sigh.

The Bible also tells me that if my husband dies, I must marry his brother. Sorry, not happening.

Where is the love? Where is the compassion and forgiveness? Understanding? Isn’t that what God is?