Monday, October 14, 2013

When We Were Extinguished

when we were on fire synchroblog

This week, author and blogger Addie Zierman is hosting a syncroblog for those of us with stories from the days we were were on fire, for Jesus, so to speak. This little story from my on fire days is one I've been carrying around in my heart for a while now, so I'm grateful for the chance to share it. I hope you'll visit the synchroblog and read some of the other stories. Also, I hope you'll get ahold of Addie's new memoir, When We Were on Fire. As I've said before, it's a beautiful, important read. 

***

At 16, when I was on fire, my family moved to a new town in the flat plains of middle Tennessee. It was January, during my first moments at my new school, when I met Mary Beth in the front office. We were both brand new and waiting to get our photos taken for our school IDs. We chatted for a bit, discovered we had a class in common, and vowed to sit together. It wasn't long before she was giving me rides home in her beat up coupe, with punk music blasting and a cigarette hanging out the window. She wasn't the friend I was looking for, but she was truly one of the kindest I've ever had.

Later on the first day, I walked nervously into my advanced theatre class, to find little clusters of students smattered about the room. Before long, I was fielding questions about where I was from and why we had moved and what the theatre program had been like at my old school. A few days later, as we sat together on stage working on a new set, my still-closeted, very talented scene partner invited me to hang out with him and a few other drama geeks after school. After that I spent the rest of the semester eating lunch with one of the most wonderfully flamboyant, dramatic, eccentric groups I've ever been blessed to be a part of: gay and straight, Catholic and atheist, honor students, partiers, and a girl who persisted on scrawling "penis" on the board before nearly class, just for the joy of our teacher's reaction. They weren't the friends I was looking for, but they drew me in like family.

The next year, I found my senior English class somehow filled with all the popular Christian kids, the ones who led student government and never got in trouble or said an unkind word about anyone. Some of them had been smattered throughout my classes the previous semester. I had been able to identify them because they were always hanging around before the bell rang talking about youth group and Sunday mornings. I had kept my eyes alert and my posture open, ready to respond to the first subtle invitation to conversation, or, better yet, a church event. None ever came, and by the time I entered my senior year, we were living in different worlds. They were the friends I had been looking for, but they weren't the ones I got.

***

A year or two later, I was studying English and theatre at a local state university, still on fire in my own way and attending the same church my family had called home for the past few years. One Sunday, the pastor asked us all to agree to vote yes on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would ban gay marriage. I stood up quietly and walked out, not so much out of anger as sadness. Because despite the smiling faces and welcome arms, I knew my church was not a place where my friends from theatre could ever truly be safe.

Until now, I never dared admit to anyone but my husband that I voted no.

***

I've been thinking a lot about the origins of my doubt lately, this cloud that's been hanging over me for nearly five years now. I've been thinking about these events and other like them, that paved the way for my doubt long before it began. And I've come to the conclusion that I'm better off for having experienced them. I'm better off for interactions, however brief, with those who made me question my own worldview, who took my preconceived notions and flipped them upside down, shaking them around until I couldn't tell top from bottom.

If I could go back in time, I would thank them all, every single one. I would say thank you for befriending me, or not, because it took me to the place I needed to be. Thank you for welcoming me, or frustrating me, or saddening me because it led me away from a world of black and white, and easy answers. It gave me the compassion to put out the flames that had gone on singeing those around me for far too long, and it helped me to find warmth even in the midst of my own darkness.

14 comments :

  1. I am struck by how many of these stories are about being in or out. You can't be honest, because you would definitely be OUT.

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  2. I voted no too. Every time something comes around, I want to speak, softly but honestly, about my vote. my vote for love, not the vote they wanted. but I'm too afraid to be OUT.

    this is wonderful, and I'm so glad I found you here.

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  3. Thanks for your honesty here. I have felt this, too, this need to be silent rather than be rejected -- and how that makes me wonder why I value so much being included.

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    1. Ooh yes, that drives me crazy too. If I know I'm going to be an outsider, why can't I just be happy with that???

      This is another good, yet sad story. I love how so many people are finding something redemptive in the telling. That's so hard to do when things are so painful.

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    2. Yes indeed, to both of you. I think too many of us pretend to believe what we don't for fear of being outcast. If more of us were honest, I bet we would find we're not as far outside as we feel. I'm so grateful that we're finding opportunities for that with these stories.

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  4. One Sunday, not long after I joined the Catholic Church, my husband and I were asked to carry up the offering plate at a mass. I was six months pregnant and a fairly vocal (at least among my friends) pro-choice advocate. I stood up and they announced it was Right-to-Life Sunday and started saying prayers for the babies being aborted. I wanted to flee, but I looked to everyone else like the posterchild for the cause. Ugh.

    It's a lonely place to be, not agreeing with all the things taught by a/the church. It's nice to know there are others in the same boat. And a comfort to finally be at a place where I understand that agreeing with a church's teachings may or may not be the same as agreeing with God. I'm so grateful to go to church in a place that allows me a little freedom in those areas — I still may be pushing the envelope a bit, but that's OK. Thanks for sharing this post.

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    1. I'm so sorry you were put in that position, Kelly. Thanks for your honesty in sharing that.

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  5. Thank you. For voting no, and for the courage to tell people why in such a beautiful way.

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  6. I found this to be true in my life too -- not in high school necessarily (my high school youth group welcomed me in ways that I will be forever grateful for). But later, when we were trying to hard to connect to a church. It was the imperfect, the broken, the non-churchgoers who took me in.

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  7. I HEART you! I miss our friendship and conversations.

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  8. I HEART you! I miss our friendship and conversations.

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  9. Thank you for writing this. Your reflections at the end of this story are really beautiful.

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  10. When I saw that you participated in Addie’s synchroblog I thought I should invite you to participate in a monthly synchroblog that I am a part of.

    It’s made up of a home-grown group of bloggers who like to write on topics of post-modern faith & life. This group is open to anyone who is interested in participating. We value respectful conversation and dialogue while honoring our differences. We share links & try to learn from each other.

    Some of the people that originally participated in the synchroblog no longer blog and I am trying to reach out to people like you who are currently passionate about blogging in order to keep our monthly synchroblog relevant and vital.

    If you are interested in joining us you can join the facebook group and receive monthly invitations to the synchroblog. Here is that link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/114506961937378/

    And you can find our website (which you can subscribe to if you want to receive an email when we post the monthly theme announcement/invitation) here: http://synchroblog.wordpress.com/

    (You can see all of the themes that we have covered in the past on our website in order to get an idea of what we do)

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