Saturday, February 11, 2017

Where is the Christian Love?

I grew up Catholic. I believe I was a good Catholic. I found strength from the rituals of the church and wanted to do my best to be a good person. I went to mass EVERY Sunday and more often if I could. I was crazy about confession. If I had any guilt about an action, I went to confession. I even sat out on communion many times feeling guilty for ill thoughts of others, sexual interest, minor lies, etc. I didn't follow every rule perfectly, but for the most part, I think I was a decent Catholic. Today, I am not Catholic. In fact, I am no longer Christian. But, I value the years I was both and hold them close to my heart. They will always be a part of who I am today.

So, what happened to that "good girl"? Three major events happened in my early twenties.

1. I got married. As I attempted to explain Catholicism to my husband, I began questioning many things. My whole life I had followed rituals and beliefs without really knowing why.

2. I went to college. Not just college, but a Catholic college. It was there that I learned college is a place to expand your thinking, to see outside your own walls. Have you ever had a life experience that stuck with you forever and you can see yourself at the moment, even years later? The expectation to expand my thinking by professors/nuns that I respected was one of those moments for me. A Catholic college education is also where I learned that using birth control is not an abortion every day as I was told growing up. Phew! I can still see myself in that biology class feeling the weight of the world lift from my shoulders.

3. As I moved into my career as an elementary teacher, I was placed in a low income elementary school where for the first time in my life I understood that my life experiences were very middle class and very different from those of my students. Later, as an educator to adult immigrants and refugees, I continued learning about people of the world. There is still so much I don't understand but my experience has been that no matter what your religion or lack of, your heart can be full of love.

I've been religion-free now for almost 30 years. I feel that as I left the church I started thinking for myself instead of relying on what the church told me was right and wrong. What were my core values? What responsibilities as a fellow citizen of the world would I be responsible for? It may surprise many, but the further I got from the church, the better person I became. Without the rules of a church to follow, I had to create my own rules and obligations. A lesson repeated often by my dad became one that has best served me, "put yourself in someone else's shoes,"

For almost 30 years now I have been completely fine doing my own thing religiously while respecting and often defending the beliefs and actions of my Christian family and friends. Then the Presidential elections began. As Trump became more popular and the threat of him becoming the nominee seemed more possible, my heart kept telling me that Christians would not support him, especially the Christians I know. Sure, he was spouting out issues that were important to them, but hell, they are Christians. I trusted that they would choose love of all God's children rather than sell themselves to the devil in order to end abortion. In my heart I knew they would choose someone who supported "love they neighbor as thyself." and would reject the hateful tactics of Trump. Then I started seeing posts on social media and heard conversations showing support for Trump. I felt betrayed. Could all the warm fuzzy feelings I had growing up with religion just be a scam? My heart is saying "yes" but my mind is saying "no". I don't know. Please know that I do realize not all Christians support Trump, but I think I relied on the values of Christians as a group more than I thought I did and that is where the conflict in my heart is stemming from. As news of $14 billion being set aside to build a wall and a travel ban on refugees from seven Muslim countries being fought in court, I find myself searching for Christians that are standing out against such shameful behavior. For some reason I need to know they are there. I need to know the idea I have created in my heart and mind about Christians is true. Pope Francis is of course a remarkable person who I find an educator of love for all. I also found a priest on Facebook recently and my heart began fluttering in happiness. He is my first sign that I was not misled years ago. However, the hateful comments he receives on his page from Christians is appalling. Overall, I have found that my friends of little faith seem to be the ones I turn to when I need to hear words of love.

I am not writing this post as a way of bashing Christians, although I do realize it sounds that way, but instead as a way of working out my thoughts on why I hold Christians up to such a strong code of conduct when I am not even one and why I now feel so disappointed. Since the night I sat with my children and watched the election results, my heart and mind just haven't been able to grasp hold of why I am so angry. Is it because I have spent my entire career trying to build bridges between students and was deeply shocked that racism is still so prevalent in a group that claims to love all God's creatures? Is it because I am part of a health advocacy group and know first hand what happens with and without healthcare and can't imagine why loving people would be okay knowing others are suffering? Is it because immigrants and refugees are my livelihood and I have never found people so caring and capable of putting negative events in their life aside to build a new life for their families? Is it because I held Christians up to a higher standard than I have held myself?  I don't know. Maybe it isn't Christians I am disappointed in, but like many who hold refugees and immigrants at fault for our problems, I am doing the same now with Christians. I have a lot of soul searching to do because overall I am disappointed in our country and especially in our Republican representatives for supporting a man who thrives on spreading fear and hate.

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