Please Be Gentle, I’m Still Delirious

I’m not writing as well or as thoughtfully as Dawn, but I’m writing a bit.

I was raised in a fundamentalist evangelical church. I have never not believed in the Christian God, never failed to celebrate Christmas or Easter, and am presently scheming to raise up little Christian children. I went to vacation bible school in the summers, and still remember when I realized that I was there for the last time: The first night was a pizza party and very little doctrine, and all us kids were handed little boy scoutsy handbooks that would be filled out with biblical answers instead of, e.g., different kinds of knots. I sat down in a corner and filled the thing out from memory—still my head is full of these things, many of them lists—the fruits of the spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. God is a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchanging in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. Stuff like that. Now many members of my extended family no longer consider me Christian, since I converted to Catholicism at the age of seventeen; I like to think that the experience of conversion gives me a bit of perspective on my privilege, but who knows.

There were a few years when I didn’t consider myself a Christian. I never stopped believing in the central doctrines, but a combination of things drove me away from the church, the chief two being a really ham-handed explanation of predestination by a well-meaning youth pastor and the incredibly misogyny of my parents’ church: the practical end to my attendance came when I walked out during a prayer after the Elder asked God to give the men of the congregation the wisdom to know how to vote (Republican, of course) and the strength to lead their wives to vote correctly. (My parents grounded me for two weeks as a result of the walkout, but I remain convinced that I did the right [somewhat melodramatic] thing.) I was never willing to evangelize, and I declined to become a member of that church even after all my younger siblings had. From the time I was in grade school, my friends were rarely Christians—most were atheists, one was Ba’hai—and I was self-conscious about the difference between us. My atheist friends were mostly of the variety who use terms like “sky wizard”—hey, we were in high school—and I was acutely aware that they thought of my beliefs as faerie tales for idiots. At the same time, my church was full of tales of “This one kid was praying in the lunchroom and he got suspended!” and “A boy who took a biology test answered the question of how life came to be by quoting Genesis and the teacher failed him!” Even as a very young teen I thought it pretty unlikely that you’d fail a test for getting one question wrong (or should that be “wrong”?). At one point in high school, my English teacher made us all give presentations on a topic of our choice, and one girl talked about her faith: my friend Thomas wrote her feedback (required by the instructor), saying “Very nice, but what will you do when science disproves God?” I was fourteen years old, and I still remember it word for word. I think that these experiences gave me a bit of perspective too, I hope—I learned to be careful, to say “I’m thinking of you” instead of “I’m praying for you” unless I can be pretty sure that the latter won’t bother the person I’m talking to. I tend to wish people happy holidays unless they’ve led off with “Merry Christmas!”

I enjoy certain privileges as a Christian: the federal government recognizes some of the holidays I celebrate; when I bought children’s books for my son, I was able to add a few lovely religious ones without looking hard; there are dozens of little ways that belonging to the majority faith smoothes my way. The ugliest part of my Christian privilege is my desire to avoid Cricket’s birthday parties because they are also Hanukkah parties; the unpleasantly outsidery feeling I get from imagining myself there is a rare one, because I am generally surrounded by Christian assumptions rather than Jewish (or Ba’hai, or Muslim) ones. At the same time, as a Catholic, I’m a little off to the side—besides having to explain to my mother every couple of years that no, Catholics do not worship saints, I am able to baffle door-to-door evangelizers by answering “Have you heard the good news/Are you saved?” type questions with “Yes, I’m a Catholic” and then escaping under cover of their uncertainty. Most Protestants seem willing to extend me partial credit.

I’ve been talking to a social worker at Catholic Charities whom I really like, and the CC in my town is committed to open adoption in a way I haven’t seen from any other agency—their placement rates are quite low, and that thrills them—I’ve heard workers there proudly telling stories of PAPs telling expectant mums that the PAPS think the mums can and should parent. This social worker longs to mediate our adoption, and has asked several times whether Ruth and Nora might be willing to meet with her, and I have pointed out that they would be unlikely to want to come to a Catholic organization. She’s Catholic, I’m Catholic, but I have some sense of how being a Jewish lesbian might make me awfully wary at a Catholic Charities office; heck, I have some level of discomfort with the Vineyard et al. myself, and while I can see important differences between the two, I imagine they rather blend together when viewed from farther away.

The fact of the matter is that if Joey decides to pray in the lunchroom at school, he won’t be suspended; he won’t likely face the scrutiny that a classmate of a different faith would if visibly practicing at school. If he wears his Noah’s ark onesie, it won’t be a statement in the same way that Cricket’s onesies with Hebrew letters on them were. To be Christian, unless you exist on Christianity’s fringes, is to have a sort of warm invisibility most of the time—there is no “Ooo, you’re Jewish?” equivalent for us, I don’t think—it would be like “Ooo, you’re right-handed?” Of course you’re right-handed.

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4 thoughts on “Please Be Gentle, I’m Still Delirious

  1. I think you’re wonderful. And I also think you have somehow found the most amazing CC ever because I usually hear much more dire things from people who have contact with them; that gives me hope.

    • I know there are a few, strategically placed, that are really lovely and progressive places—but there’s no way to tell before stepping in, I guess. But isn’t the Spirit of Open Adoption guy Catholic? I think family preservation is the goal for not a few CCs. I hope.

  2. Thank you for explaining your religious background. I had thought you were raised Catholic.

    I have always felt I am Catholic, but was raised by atheists. Outspoken ones. In the Midwest. I wanted to die because we weren’t invisible and because I thought Jesus was a pretty cool person to pray to.

    Now in middle age, I think about converting from time to time but feel I need to find a parish that is liberal enough to accept me. My kids really want to belong to a church and love the idea of communion and confirmation names. My husband would never convert and makes gentle fun of me for my Catholic soul, even though he willingly accompanied me on pilgrimages to Compostela and to Rome.

    If I converted, I would be completely ostracized by much of my Lutheran/born-again adoptive extended family; then again, I am already the liberal black sheep living in the outskirts of the hell town of San Francisco, so it doesn’t matter all that much.

    Your story has actually stirred me to work a little harder on finding a spiritual home. This has to be possible, somewhere here in the Bay Area. Berkeley has a Jesuit School of Theology, so maybe there. I love the Jesuits.

    Being Christian, like being white and affluent, does offer a sense of easy belonging in mainstream American culture, although I think that Catholicism is still widely viewed as a “lesser-than” form of Christianity, still embarrassingly suspicious as the religion of the teeming masses of Irish, Italians, and Latin Americans.

    Before I found my natural family, I thought they might be Jewish. Since the time I was in high school, Jewish friends and acquaintances have always assumed I was Jewish. I thought it would be wonderful to belong to such a rich culture and religion, probably because it is passed along by birth, and I was severed from my family. If I have Jewish genes, though, they must come from my mystery father, which means I am technically not Jewish at all. So much for the fantasy religious life of my childhood.

    My natural family are all right-wing Episcopalians. Usually Episcopalians are pretty laid back, but my family subscribes to the hard-core track. I think my natural mother was really freaked out that I was raised by atheists!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this post, as well as Dawn’s prompt. I have a lot of reflecting to do about my experience of Christian and white privilege, in both the public and private spheres. I think it’s really cool how you converted to Catholicism at 17, recognizing what was right for you.

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