Things I Wish I’d Said

Tuesday, on my way to pick up the rental car I would be using to drive six hours round trip on Wednesday for a meeting in Dixon, I was stopped on the street by a man selling banana bread for Jesus.

Well, okay, that’s not the whole story. He was part of an organization that aims to get people out of substance addictions and into religion of the evangelical Christian variety. (His t-shirt literally said “Addicted to Jesus” on the back.) The banana bread was to raise money for the organization. 

Despite the fact that he said repeatedly that he wasn’t trying to start an argument or to save me, his actions told quite the opposite story. I tried to gently tell him I was truly happy that his beliefs worked for him (which was true), it wasn’t for me (also true). He insisted on asking what I believed, and when my Minnesota nice kicked in and prevented me from speaking because I didn’t have kind words in the moment, he gave me the advice that, “Now that you’re an adult, maybe you should try Jesus on your own terms instead of how he may have been forced on you as a kid.” As if I hadn’t spent several painful years of my life doing just that. 

So, without further ado, here is a list of:

Things I Wish I’d Said to the Man Selling Banana Bread for Jesus

  • The fact that you are grouping atheists together with the majority of the world’s belief systems into a category of “atheists or nonbelievers” is incredibly disrespectful. I don’t call you a nonbeliever because you don’t share my beliefs. 
  • I know you mean well, but your enthusiastically evangelical verbiage is making me flash back to my own evangelical days, and that’s triggering a panic attack that I’ll be fighting for the rest of the night. Thanks for that. 
  • I believe in banana bread with chocolate chips.
  • Please don’t assume that the fact that I’m not a Christian now means I just didn’t try hard enough at it when I was one. You know nothing about me. I’ve probably forgotten more about the Bible than you’ve learned yet. 
  • I don’t do gluten or repressive social systems. (Thanks for that one, N!)
  • I believe that if there is a God, then they’re capable of connecting with different people in different ways. To say you have the only answer is to put God in a human-imposed box. 
  • Jesus and I are cool. I have no problem with him, and frankly, I’m pretty sure he has no problem with me. We’ve just decided to see other people. It’s a great arrangement for everyone involved. 

Anonymous Mail

To the person who sent me anonymous mail this week:

It arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday: a small, thin envelope addressed to “A. J. Hanson”. Inside the envelope was an index card, filled front and back with bible verses.

You didn’t list your name or address anywhere on the envelope or card, and I don’t recognize your handwriting, but I have a few guesses about who you are. The fact that you addressed the card to “A.J.” offered a pretty big hint, because literally no one else in my life outside of my family has a problem calling me by my name. The card was postmarked from Minneapolis, which further narrows down the possibilities.

On the one hand, I’d like to believe that this was a well-intentioned gesture.

On the other hand, the fact that you neglected to attach your name to this note in any way makes me think that you had at least some inkling that I might not take it well.

For future reference: that’s an inkling you should listen to. Your gut tells you someone might find something you’re thinking about sending offensive? Maybe don’t send it.

Here’s the thing: I get that you take comfort in the scriptures of your religion, and that you want to share that comfort with everyone. I get that you probably feel personally responsible for the eternal destination of the souls of the people you know. I respect that this is a belief system that works for you.

But it doesn’t work for me, and hasn’t for a long time now. So when you send anonymous collections of verses about how Jesus loves me and is trying to win me back, I don’t feel comforted. I feel disrespected. I feel like my space is being invaded. I feel like the reality of how I move through the world is being invalidated. And I feel like I will never fucking escape from the disrespectful, invasive, and invalidating behavior of my family unless I move to a new home and don’t pass along a forwarding address.

Five months ago, I wrote to my family and asked for space. The only person to respond was my father, who said he would respect my request. That hasn’t happened. I find a note in my mailbox from him every couple of weeks, talking about how much he thinks of me and wants to come back to a place of greater communication. I recognize that he (and probably a lot of other people) believe this to be coming from a place of love.

I don’t feel loved. I feel harassed.

Unsurprisingly, I feel similarly harassed by anonymous messages trying to get me to come back to a faith that neither makes sense to me nor makes me feel welcome.

So next time you think you’re going to be a good Christian and anonymously send bible verses to the queer-as-fuck, transgender pagan of the family, please: just don’t. I respect that your faith works for you. Please let my soul be my own responsibility, and save us both a great deal of headache and frustration.

Sincerely,

Alyxander James

On Hurt and Helplessness and Something That Maybe Resembles Faith

I’ve been struggling to come up with something to write about for this week’s blog. The truth is that it hasn’t been the easiest week. Sad things have been happening at our church back in Minnesota, and a lot of people we really care about are hurting. And I wish there was something I could do or say to make it better, but there’s not. I feel helpless. And helplessness is not a feeling I deal with well.

The last time I attended a service at the church I grew up in, it was toward the end of my senior year of high school. I walked out just a handful of minutes into the sermon, after I listened to the pastor take a passage of scripture out of context, remove a piece of the middle of passage that further changed the meaning, and twist what remained to fit his message. Despite the fact that I went off to a small, conservative Bible college that fall, I could probably count the number of times I went to church while I was in college without using all of my fingers.

A few months after my partner and I started dating, something (I’m not really sure what it was, looking back) prompted us to look for a church together. I suggested we try the UCC near my apartment. I’d gone on my own a couple of times in college, and was impressed by how welcoming they were; I hadn’t gone back since because I just wasn’t ready to give church a try again at that point. We ended up finding a wonderful community at that church. Our experiences there slowly rebuilt my faith in the idea that church could be a nurturing place…a place of safety and acceptance. It was everything that church, in an ideal world, was supposed to be.

I guess that was ultimately the problem: this isn’t an ideal world. I’m not going to go into details because I don’t know or understand everything that has happened in recent months, but suffice it to say that things that have happened in the past week have gone a long way in destroying that rebuilt faith in church as a safe space. I’ve been rather abruptly brought back to the reality that there are people who claim the same religion I can’t quite let go of who think that not only is there not currently a place for me in their places of worship, but that there shouldn’t be space for me there. Those people probably exist in every denomination of every major faith…even in the ones that are normally seen as progressive. And that hurts.

Even though I have more-or-less been functionally agnostic for several years now, I have always been at least nominally Christian, and there are large pieces of the Christian faith that I want to be able to hang onto. But even though it goes against everything I personally believe about God or Christ, it’s hard for me to kick the notion that Christianity doesn’t want me around. It makes me wonder whether all the time and effort I’ve put into wrestling with what and why and how I believe has been worth it, really.

Because, see, I want to believe in a God who creates people in the image of the Divine, and that this means that all people have value simply because they are human, and humanity reflects the boundless possibility of the Universe. I want to believe in a God who is love incarnate. I want to believe in a God who is bigger than I can comprehend.

But the God I see in religious settings looks an awful lot like a bigger, meaner, more condemning version of the people who think my existence is a mistake, that my “lifestyle choices” mean that I’m bound for eternal damnation. And I just can’t believe that the power behind the universe is a bully. I won’t believe that.

If someone’s faith is reassuring them that they’re right and everyone else is wrong, that they have a place at the party when it’s all said and done and the people they don’t like will burn forever…I want to say I feel sorry for them. Because that would be the decent thing to feel.

But mostly, they make me angry.