You can’t run on gratitude alone.

You can’t run on gratitude alone. I knew this already, but I’m learning it again. All the heartfelt thanks in the world are not going to make up for the lost sleep, poor food choices, and exhaustion.

It feels good to receive heartfelt thanks. Then it gets awkward, watching a tear of gratitude trickle down someone’s cheek. They’d rather not be crying, you’d really rather they didn’t. Neither of you wanted to be in this position in the first place, they didn’t really want you to bring them dinner, they’d rather have their home, their own kitchen, their own dishes.

Sometimes they want to share their experience with you. You’re told stories that sound like apocalyptic Hollywood plots: fireballs racing down the street as you want the children. People make confessions of guilt over the beta fish who was left behind, I grabbed the baby, but the smoke was too thick to grab the fish. What do you say to that? I’m glad you grabbed the baby, sorry about the fish. 

You don’t really know what to say. Taking a meal to a family that has lost everything is very different than taking a meal to a family with a new baby. With the new baby, it is usually a joyous (if somewhat exhausting) occasion. With the loss of all worldly possessions, there is the uncomfortable moment when you have to go home, because you still have a place to go home to.

So home you go, feeling somewhat guilty that your house wasn’t destroyed. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. It sits with you uncomfortably. Why was your town spared the devastation? You have an overwhelming desire to punch anyone who suggests it was karma, or worse, the Christian Science equivalent, of not doing their prayerful work, as if enough aligning one’s thought with God, would make a difference. Hundreds of acres were destroyed, why didn’t the wind blow your way? You’re not a better person than they are, nor are you any worse, seriously, who makes these judgment calls anyway? Sure, everything was covered in an inconvenient layer of thick ash, but it is just that, inconvenient (and toxic), but you still have a place to live.

The entire exchange is awkward, but at the end of the day, you’re in a position to help, so you do. It is okay to receive help. It is okay to provide help. It is okay to take care of yourself, because if you don’t help yourself, you won’t be in a position to help anyone else. I need this taped on my fridge in foot high letters, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, otherwise you are USELESS to others. 

Lesson clearly still not learned.

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I’ve “done enough” and I’m going to do more

Another week, another meal train. More meals made for a family that is not my own. Another night of pasta and whatever vegetables we happen to have in the fridge for dinner so someone else can have a freshly made pot roast and veggies or baked ziti and a salad. Brownies for dessert, something chocolate is a must at times like these. Another bag of quick snacks and not-super-perishable goods put together in a reusable grocery bag that I don’t intend to get back, and a new box of super-soft kleenex, don’t forget the kleenex.

Kleenex are important, almost as important as the brownies. There will be tears. Plenty of tears. Theirs of gratitude, yours ugly-crying in the car later, after you’ve dropped off the meal. Tears of exhaustion, mental, physical, emotional. Acknowledging that there is so much more to do, and you can’t do it all, and you feel helpless, and slightly ill.

People asking how you’re doing, you’re doing ok, you still have a house. You’re not really okay though. When your phone pings from the police/sheriff updates your heart skips a beat. Your heart as skipped quite a few beats in the last few weeks. First the evacuation orders pinged out, then more, finally some re-entry updates, and then at long last, “this street will be blocked off for Halloween” notification. Doesn’t matter, the conditioned response is the same: panic, disaster, are we next?

There is more to do. There is always more to do. “Can you set up another meal train?” It isn’t really a question. It is coming from someone else who is also over-taxed and carefully balancing the emotional needs of many, including themselves. “You’ve done such a good job with the others, thank you, I really appreciate it.” So you set one up, and then start to feel guilt when no one signs up for food in the first week, or the second… The family needs support. So you make another meal (or two, or three) and email around the link again, reminding people: this family needs dinner!

People need dinner. They need nourishment. They need support. People don’t need anymore stuff. The stuff sits in boxes and bags around their tiny temporary living quarters. This isn’t where they’re going to stay for more than a few weeks, at most, if they’re lucky. They don’t want to get too comfortable, just comfortable enough. Besides, they may have to leave in a hurry, again.

You see the stuff outside, piled under a tarp, scattered and somewhat exposed to the elements. Piles of good intentions. You feel overwhelmed on their behalf. If there was something more you could do to help, but what? You can’t fight everyone’s battles for them.

You want to help, but not overwhelm. You want to help, but you also realize the only reason you know them so well now is because you’ve been asked to assist them, and under every day circumstances you’d likely never exchange more than a polite “hello” or a brief conversation about the weather.

Is this karma or serendipity? Were our lives fated to be intertwined for a few brief weeks so I could help them through a tragedy, or is this merely happy happenstance that we both participate in a community that cares deeply for one another? I prefer serendipity. To suggest that this tragedy was somehow fate is too horrible for words.

Then there are all the other things, life does not stand still for tragedy, it goes on. There are birthday parties to attend, field trips to chaperone, work obligations to fulfuill, home repairs to make, events to coordinate, meetings to attend, another email to reply to, a text from the outside world intruding, someone who is wondering why I haven’t done some unimportant thing in a timely manner and I just want to scream at them, and in the midst of all that, there are still children who need love and support.

Things are far from returning to normal. My husband is out for work and will not be home until well past the children’s bedtime. The little one is anxious: “is Daddy somewhere safe?” He persists until he and Daddy can exchange selfies. Daddy is safe, or as safe as he can be in a car driving on a highway, but I don’t tell the little one that. Later, after the little one is in bed, I check my phone, he is still safe.

The little one has lingering anxiety issues from our evacuation talks. Several friends from the play yard at school lost everything. I’ve done a lot of reassuring and a lot of snuggling. I would not leave you at school if I didn’t feel it was safe. If it was unsafe, school would be closed. If something happened to make it unsafe, your teachers would do their best to make sure you’re OK. For Real. Thankfully the little one is sleeping through the night. I’m still waking up some nights, drenched in sweat, wide awake. There is the hum of the ceiling fan and sometimes some light snoring from my husband.

We are safe. I have done enough. I am doing to do more, but first I have to go grocery shopping, again.

Return of the Mormons Part 2: Religion, Guilt & Motherhood

For part one: Saint Kat of the Sparkling Water


Mormon Missionaries often inspire unintended lines of thinking (I’m pretty sure they never intended to push me to secular humanism) and this time was no exception. Something about the afternoon’s encounter bugged me, and it took some time to sort out why. Then I found it:

They noticed that the kids had come to the front door, and started their spiel on how Mormons honor their mothers, and how motherhood is the most important job, and they really respect that. I got the impression they were saying what they thought I wanted to hear, their religion reveres mothers, and their version of God and Jesus makes family important (or something.)

They were, intentionally or not, trying to guilt me into joining their religion because it was the best thing for my family and my children. Because, as previous missionaries have implied, if I don’t raise them properly with a relationship with Jesus, we’re going to spend an eternity separated from God. This is one of many points on which the Missionaries and I disagree.

I’m sorry Missionaries, you picked the wrong angle. My children have played a huge part in why I left Christian Science — and why I have not sought out another religious movement. From Kid1’s difficult transition into the world, to the ER trip for a sprained elbow, and any number of other incidents, I could not put myself, or my children, through the pressure to demonstrate healings that often never materialized (or that just got better with time because the human body is amazing.)

I am going to do my best to instill freethinking humanist values in them. We are striving to raise children who think for themselves on religious and ethical matters, and who are generally kind, empathetic people. I think this is a much more reasonable goal than telling them they can control the weather with their mind, or Invisible Sky Daddy Loves them (and is a completely sadistic bastard — see Job). I want my children to understand the world, and to be empowered to make truly informed decisions. I don’t see any religions offering that. Do like the Noble Eightfold path, but I see that as more of a philosophy than a religion.

Yes, motherhood is important, family is important, I can agree with those things. Yes, I take steps to make sure my family is safe, and I put our familial interests first. Yes, I’d like the best for my children (actually I’m ok with “good enough” because really, “the best” is often an unattainable goal that will only bring stress and misery and that’s not helpful for anyone).

This is one of the very few places Ms. Eddy and I can agree:  I don’t feel motherhood should be the pinnacle defining feature of women if they don’t want it to be. You know, consenting to being a mother, and the choice to become one (or not). I have a complicated relationship with motherhood, my first pregnancy nearly ended with my untimely demise, and I lost a close friend shortly after the birth of my second child because she didn’t feel I was appropriately appreciative  of my children. They’re wonderful, and I love them, but I’m not going to post that everything is sunshine and rainbows. Apparently I didn’t sugar-coat my Facebook posts with enough appreciation for the fact my then-two year old TPed the living room for her liking. I digress. I don’t know enough about Mormon theology and church structure to comment on their views, but the way these young men latched on to the motherhood trope was slightly off-putting.

I don’t want my children to be raised in a (patriarchy-heavy) belief system that thinks it is okay to push their views on everyone. Missionaries, I try to respect your views, but I disagree with them, and I don’t think you should be lobbying to have them legislated across the country (this applies to all church lobbying groups, not just Mormon ones). Please keep your opinions on what should be happening to my body, and in my bedroom, to yourself. Whatever you do, don’t even consider asking if I’m considering having more children (to their credit, these missionaries didn’t, although past ones have).

I’m not interested in joining a religion that has numerous active ex-support sites. I’m finally at a place where I can “out” myself as having grown up in CS to a select group of never-in-CS friends, where I can talk about some of these issues without bursting into tears. I’m working on building a network of ex-CS to help support those who are questioning, leaving and who have left.

Dear Missionaries, I know you think you’ve found the right path, and it may be “right” for you, but it isn’t the right one for me. Thank you for handling my criticism and rejection gracefully. Next time, I suggest you bring water, wear sunscreen and get a good hat. It is hot out there.

Some thoughts on “Why I Am Not A Christian Scientist” by Rev. Evans

Some highlights from and thoughts on “Why I Am Not A Christian Scientist” By Rev. William Evans, D. D. Director Bible Course, The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Full text available from Archive.org, full link below.


I appreciate that Rev. Evans opens with the well-acknowledged (at least in former-CS circles) fact that

  • The Christian Scientist is forbidden to read books that speak against that cult; he is told he must not argue with any one, even those who are of the closest kinship, if they manifest opposition to the teachings of Christian Science; the doubts that arise in his mind must not be expressed to any one save his teacher; individual thinking and opinion is discouraged; in point of fact, the only books he is encouraged to read are those which are sent out by the Christian Science publishing house in Boston. (p. 4-5, emphasis mine)

Rev. Evans lists several reasons for why he is not a Christian Scientist, several of these are well-worn arguments:

  1. I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST BECAUSE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE IS NOT SCIENTIFIC. — yes, yes, we know.
  2. I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST BECAUSE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE IS NOT CHRISTIAN. — the arguments he uses are interesting, and if you’re concerned about the Christian (or lack of Christian) points in Christian Science, this section is well worth reading.
  3. I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST BECAUSE OF ITS WRONG ATTITUDE TOWARDS THE BIBLE. — clearly the Rev. Evan’s audience is God-fearing Protestants, I’m sure he’d find my attitude towards the bible “wrong” as well.
  4. I AM NOT A CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST BECAUSE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE IS A FOE TO THE HOME. — this is an argument I have not heard before, and the one I will focus on.

In this fourth example, “Christian Science is a foe to the home” Rev. Evans cites two examples: the first being a family with an invalid sister — in the Loving Christian Family, the brothers help her, but in a Christian Science setting the poor woman is suffering under a false belief and it is her own doing.

  • Let Christian Science enter that home, and it asserts at once that the sister is not sick — she is suffering from a delusion. She is, therefore, to blame, and all these tender ministries of love are changed into the acidities of criticism and rebuke, silent, if not expressed.

Rev. Evans should probably stop here. The blame-the-sick-person trope is played out time and time again in Christian Science communities: nominal worshipers are not welcome, gas-lighting under the guise of “helping them know the truth” is common. There may be lip-service as to the “right use of temporary means” but Ms. Eddy is also clear that these “temporary means” usually bring about more suffering before the patient comes around to realizing that Christian Science is the One True Solution.

The second part of “foe to the home” argument is Rev. Evan’s decidedly 1900s privileged male views on marriage and motherhood. I have rather mixed feelings about this. I am both married and a mother, and I find myself disagreeing with both Rev. Evans and Ms. Eddy’s perspectives on both (although I agree slightly more with Ms. Eddy). Rev. Evans begins on p. 31, and starts by liberally quoting Science and Health, before moving on to Ms. Eddy’s less often read work, Miscellaneous Writings.

Christian Science Virtually Denies the Need and 
Dignity of Marriage and Motherhood. 

"Did God at first create man unaided — that is, Adam, — 
but afterwards require the union of the two sexes in order 
to create the rest of the human family? No!" (S. & //., 
pp. 531, 532, 1909). "Generation does not rest on sexual 
basis at all" according to Christian Science. 

"To abolish marriage at this period and maintain mor- 
ality and generation would put Ingenuity to ludicrous 
shifts; yet this is possible In Science, (meaning, of course, 
Christian Science), although it is today problematic." 

Being totally wrong about where babies come from aside, I’m going to stop Rev. Evans here, and remind him of what Ms. Eddy says in Science and Health, about the formation of mortals, which, to be fair to the good Rev. gets quite convoluted quite quickly. Ms. Eddy is not trying to abolish marriage — at least not yet.

"In Miscellaneous Writings, p. 288, the question is asked, 
'Is marriage nearer right than celibacy?' The answer is 
given, 'Human knowledge inculcates that it is, but Chris- 
tian Science indicates that it is not.' " 

For the curious, the full passage from p. 288-9:

Is marriage nearer right than celibacy?

Human knowledge inculcates that it is, while Science indicates that it is not. But to force the consciousness of scientific being before it is understood is impossible, and believing otherwise would prevent scientific demonstration. To reckon the universal cost and gain, as well as thine own, is right in every state and stage of being. The selfish rôle of a martyr is the shift of a dishonest mind, nothing short of self-seeking; and real suffering would stop the farce.

All partnerships are formed on agreements to certain compacts: each party voluntarily surrenders independent action to act as a whole and per agreement. This fact should be duly considered when by the marriage contract two are made one, and, according to the divine precept, “they twain shall be one flesh.” Oneness in spirit is Science, compatible with home and heaven. Neither divine justice nor human equity has divorced two minds in one.

I can see where Rev. Evans is drawing his conclusions, but I read this as more of a cautious warning from a thrice-married, twice-widowed woman: be careful what you’re getting yourself into. Evans’ continues:

These statements show where Christian Science stands 
with regard to the question of marriage. It shows that in 
the mind of the Christian Scientist celibacy, or the unmarried 
state, is nearer right than the married state. It is true that 
Christian Science does not openly forbid marriage, but who- 
ever heard of a marriage taking place in a Christian Science 
church, and performed by Christian Science readers or 
ministers? Such facts as these ought to make those of us 
who have the moral welfare of our nation at heart pause 
and think, if not shudder!

I’m sure Rev. Evans has read 1 Corinthians, that’s a requirement to be a Reverend right? Ms. Eddy’s view of marriage and children is not unlike that of Paul, in 1 Corinthians 7: verses 8-9, and again in verses 25-40.

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

There seems to be a bit of suffer it to be so now in both Ms. Eddy and Paul’s perspective. Both see marriage as distraction from the spiritual path, but if you must be with a woman (or man), and you must have children (although Ms. Eddy seems unclear on where babies come from… Generation does not rest on sexual basis at all), being married is the appropriate way to go about it.

I’m not sure what choosing not to be married has to do with “the moral welfare of our nation” — the unmarried Christian Scientists are choosing a life of celibacy, I see this as no different than monks or nuns opting to devote their lives to God, but instead of being cloistered away in a monastery, these Christian Scientists are going about their day-to-day lives.

The good Rev. Evans then moves on to Ms. Eddy’s perspective on Motherhood. I’m going to start with saying I’m not sure I’d take Ms. Eddy’s advice on marriage (even if she was married three times), where babies come from, or how they come into the world, but I also take issue with the Rev. Evan’s perspective:

Motherhood is not, according to Christian Science, the 
highest badge of womanhood. In Miscellaneous Writings, 
p. 289, we have these words: "Human nature has be- 
stowed on a wife the right to become a mother, but if the 
wife esteems not this a privilege . . . she may win a 
higher." What is that higher? ... to become a wife 
and not a mother? Thus motherhood is to be avoided; it 
is to be put in the category of that which is below a 
woman's highest and noblest function. This is the Chris- 
tian Science idea of the marriage relation. May we be pre- 
served from such a doctrine as this! It reminds us of the 
heresy foretold by the apostle concerning those who are led 
captive by silly women, and who forbid to marry.

-- emphasis mine -

To follow Rev. Evan’s logical interpretation of Ms. Eddy’s work: remaining celibate is the highest honor, but if you must settle, than be married but don’t have children. I think what Rev. Evan’s finds most problematic is Ms. Eddy’s thought that people, including women, have a choice: a woman can choose to become a mother or not.

The larger context of Ms. Eddy’s quote makes this slightly more clear:

Rights that are bargained away must not be retaken by the contractors, except by mutual consent. Human nature has bestowed on a wife the right to become a mother; but if the wife esteems not this privilege, by mutual consent, exalted and increased affections, she may win a higher. Science touches the conjugal question on the basis of a bill of rights. Can the bill of conjugal rights be fairly stated by a magistrate, or by a minister? Mutual interests and affections are the spirit of these rights, and they should be consulted, augmented, and allowed to rise to the spiritual altitude whence they can choose only good.

Mutual consent must be a foreign concept to Rev. Evans. I’m fairly sure Ms. Eddy is not referring to fun-sexy-time when she talks about “exalted and increased affections,” and while “allowed to rise to the spiritual altitude whence they can choose only good” does not mean Neotantra, the emphasis here is mutual, both parties must want it — regardless of what “it” is, and regardless of how much it may differ from what Rev. Evans’ thinks.

Reverend William Evans, your male privilege is showing, and while this may not have been a problem in 191.”?, I take issue with it now. What people mutually consent to do within (or without) the bonds of marriage is really none of your business.

However, as this is 191.”?, the Rev. feels entitled to weigh in on another hot-button topic that continues to have charged internet debates today: is motherhood a woman’s highest calling? (click on that embedded link, I dare you).

Ms. Eddy and the dear Rev. clearly diverge on the question is motherhood a woman’s highest calling? Rev. Evans seems to think that motherhood is a woman’s highest calling, while Ms. Eddy seems to feel woman should at least be able to consider an alternativehigher calling — an uninterrupted Relationship with God. Ms. Eddy already feels that sex, alcohol, matter, etc. all distract from this relationship, so clearly children belong on this list as well. I’m fairly certain the Reverend is Protestant, as the Catholic church has no problem with men (and women) devoting their lives to God.

I disagree with Ms. Eddy about what a woman’s highest calling being to have a Relationship with God, and I disagree with Rev. Evan as well. Both are problematic at best.

Rev. Evans does not seem to know when to quit: his arguments against Christian Science stem from a fundamentally flawed notion that his version of Christianity is correct (it isn’t), and he needs to re-read Paul and re-examine his interpretations of Ms. Eddy’s views on marriage. The most solid argument he makes is that of the siblings, as so many of us have seen the blame-the-sufferer trope is played out again and again.


More by Rev. William Evans, D.D., Director, Bible Course, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago

Links of interest & Further Reading

Hey, Christians. Feeling Persecuted? Don’t Be Evil!

Some light reading for your weekend.

AwayPoint

Christians and LionIn the debris of the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Atlanta Banana published a satirical news report: Little Caesar’s Pizza had been granted the religious freedom to feed Christian employees to lions.

Never mind that the trope of Christians getting fed to lions may have been made up by early Christians themselves; the Little Caesar story was almost inevitable. Faced with a barrage of conscience claims, frustrated secularists are wondering whether there’s any limit to the privileges some people will claim in the name of “religious freedom” or any limit to the exemptions and entitlements they will be granted by co-religionists in positions of power.

Turning frustration into humor is a time honored tradition, but serious Bible believers are unlikely to find the Little Caesar’s story funny. The notion of martyrdom as the apogee of faith is as old as the Catholic Church. To quote Christian History for Everyman

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