I’m Taoist by practice, Christian by nurture, and Agnostic by nature.
Thanks to Pride last weekend, I’ve been born again. The good news bubbles forth, and I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
In Tallahassee, we garnered ourselves in rainbow sunglasses and tie dyed shirts and headed downtown with our niece to the event. There were people of all sorts smiling and laughing, and strangers greeting each other like old friends when they accidentally bumped into one another on their way to the virgin pina colada stand that served up each drink in an entire pineapple. We saw community members let loose, and allies offer help with anything from health care to banking, a church or two alongside American Atheists for whatever spiritual or social gaps that need be filled.
And there were free Mom Hugs and Dad Hugs and Parent Hugs, wandering around in descriptive t-shirts, just in case you needed to hear it from someone who knows best– that you are loved just as you are, just as you came into this world.
This was the moment for me. I stepped off the path and took several deep breaths and cried as my Someone put his arm around me and my niece placed her hand on my arm, “It’s okay, Aunt Mallory.”
Here, the scales fell from my eyes. I was placed squarely inside of the church. Or, at least, what the church was supposed to be.
How very Tao, the reckoning, the balance.
It should be known, and is well documented, that upon a conversion experience, one is often met with resistance. A person cannot grow heavier or lighter with good news and not change the balance of the boat they are in. And so, at first, was the antagonizing words of strangers. Some call them trolls, and while I like the image of wide glassy eyed sexless creatures with wild florescent triangular hair on the other side of the computer screen, thinking their most unwelcome thoughts and putting them into the public sphere, I’ve also come to understand that this category isn’t always fairly attributed. Sometimes, people just can’t read the room on the internet, and it takes a little finagling to help them see where they are. As a newborn myself in the previous hours, I understood the excitement of sharing. This stranger from Nebraska finally refrained, and onward I walked in my new faith.
“I have to tell you something,” I told my Someone the next day. “I am actually the best at Christianing that I have ever been. Remember that guy on the internet? Young Christian Mallory would’ve flown off the handle. But look at me! I didn’t yell or say names or anything. I Taoed the shit out of that and my Christianing is off the charts.”
“You’re really killing it,” he said. “You’ve been born again.”
I don’t need to reclaim or reframe Christianity or Jesus, anymore. I’ve realize now, it’s always been there for me.
It all made sense now. You’re just supposed to love people.
Who knew it was that simple?
And then it isn’t simple.
My excitement grew. I told my friends. I spent long video messages bursting with the understanding, the good news. Then, I told them about the not-troll from Nebraska.
How strange, I told them, for one’s impulse to call sin what is love.
The conversation turned. My friend of many years was uncomfortable, felt pressed.
“It is sin,” she said. The conversation turned again.
“If I had to choose between my friends and Christ,” she said, “I would choose Christ. Always.”
“Yes,” I said to her, “if you had to choose, choose Christ. Because this isn’t Abraham beneath an erratic jealous God, holding a dagger above his son’s neck to prove his loyalty. This is Jesus we’re talking about. So, yes, choose Christ. Because Christ would choose me. He always chooses me.”
My friend is not talking to me, anymore. She needs space.
We ask a lot of Jesus, I think. Make us comfortable. Die for sins. Act as scapegoat to our need to take responsibility for our actions. Take the wheel. But from what I gather, mostly all he wanted was to party sometimes, spend some time in nature alone, and maybe occasionally have some conversations. To be a friend. And that message of Jesus isn’t always easy to swallow amid the laundry list of things we need from him. It doesn’t have that Fox’s Book of Martyrs material we’d always imagined as young zealots. It’s too damn ordinary.
The Word, Letter of Mallory to her Friend, Chapter 16, Verse 21-37.
Greetings to you with the warmth of Christ, the laugh of Buddha, and the brief smell of jasmine from an early morning walk!
I have seen and heard the good work of you and your sisters and brothers, and I am delighted by the news. You have cared for the sick, prayed for the hurting, and welcomed in those who need a shower. Keep it up! You’re doing great.
But there is an element that needs reckoning, and I’m afraid it will be difficult to hear, as when I heard it a long time ago– with my Christian Nationalist conditioning– I really didn’t like it. But be assured, on the other side, there is freedom in Christ, and you’ll get to party with him and everyone else at Pride. There are pineapple drinks, you def don’t want to miss it.
If someone chooses someone else to love, regardless of what gender the person is, it is not a sin. To believe it IS a sin is to harbor bigotry, and as seen by your good work already, we know that you are far too compassionate to harbor hate. It would be easy here to cry out, to say that this is an attack on your faith, but it is not. Christ did not come to comfort the oppressor, but to challenge the chains. Your belief, while isolated in a small church with like-minded people, does not remain isolated. This belief is one that seeps like a toxic gas from beneath your church doors, into the streets and the voting booths, and declares other people second class citizens. Because of this belief, they must fight for their dignity, their basic rights, and in too many cases, their lives.
I say this, not as a friend against a friend defending a faceless othered entity– the faceless entity you harbor your bigotry for are the very tangible faces of my friends and myself. I say this as a friend who is for their friend, and I would be a poor friend who allows the indignity, because it is also an indignity to you.
Consider this– your children. As you teach them this belief– that some love is a sin– you perpetuate a lie. When, inevitably, your children grow up and are out from under your carefully and best intentioned canopy, they will be confronted with this lie. It is problematic in many ways to equate the bigotry against the LGBTQIA+ community with the racial justice movement, but acknowledging the differences and that we are in fact only in the beginning of eradicating the deathly plague of racism, consider the likeness.
As we grew up, remember the textbooks we read, where we saw the movement of people fighting for their right to sit at lunch counters, vote, be alive. And remember, then, seeing the timeline and realizing that our grandparents, our parents coincided with this time. And remember having to ask the difficult question–
“Mom, Dad– what side were you on?”
I grew up in the depths of racism. I did not know a person of color, and it was kept that way with intention on my behalf. I heard words I knew instinctively were bad, before I ever heard the word racism. I have blamed my parents and their parents for the bigotry they held, and the bigotry they passed on to me. Especially in light of the clear hindsight of history. They misused the same book to justify this hatred as is now misused to call love a sin. They were wrong. I have since forgiven them, letting them suffer on their own island, breathing in their own toxicity, where still they gather like-minded people to pray for their right to hold their strangling beliefs as love and Christ and common sense pounds on the door asking them again and again to reconsider. But the more difficult task has been to forgive myself, for the perpetuation of these beliefs, for the slow unlearning, for the ways which I have acted out– knowingly and unknowingly– the prejudice I was taught.
This forgiveness for you will need to be begged from your children when the history books are inevitably written, and the vapid answer to the hard question, “What side were you on?” is “Not of love.” And then will start the long process of your children forgiving themselves, too.
This is prophecy, one we may or may not choose. But prophecy remains hypothetical, and not always as convincing as the present. So, let us lay out the present. What is there to be afraid of? Remove the statistically unfortunates of car accidents and disease. We live in a world of rising waters and ever-more limited air. We live in a world where we and our children must consider that the act of going to school or a movie or a birthday party or a church may be the last decision we make. In a world where a big yellow school bus may very well cart the ones we love more than we love ourselves to a classroom that is turned into a death trap with the rattle of gunfire echoing off of hallway walls and on to the soft, sweet bodies of our perfect creatures. We live in a world where men are making monsters of themselves. Why then– how does it benefit any of us?– to make unnecessary monsters of people just like us: people who want to marry and send their kids to school and enjoy this perfect, precious life before it is taken from them by force or by time? We live in a world full of things to be afraid of. We need not create them.
Or, we could choose love now.
I am coming to visit soon. I hope after this letter I will be accepted. I hope you know that this letter is as much to myself as it is to you. May the face of Christ shine upon you, and the dirt we all inevitably turn to when we lose our conscious selves into the Nothing and become dirt again yield you a good harvest.
The glow will fade, I’m sure of it. That’s the last step in a conversion. You go hogwild with the good news, you tell the world, you tell your friends, and then, in the ordinary, you forget. I’ve rededicated my life to Jesus and causes and to the earth enough times to know. But maybe it’s not forgetting. Rather, these are the waves of the Tao, the water that moves and is unnameable. In the ordinariness– in the quiet nothingness– that is where the imprint is found. The mark of a change that comes from seeing the Burning Bush is not the bright light specks that flicker in the eyes for the moments after. Eventually, I need to see again, so that I can take one normal step in front of the other. The next right thing. The pulling of all those logs from my eyes while I sought the specks of dust in others. Sorting righteous anger from just being a dick– something I wish the Apostle Paul’s editors would’ve considered. The cleaning and the cooking and the voting and the listening and the learning until, again, I meet in the middle of a town, dressed in rainbows, finding that mountaintop experience. That I will continue to grow in the meantime, that is faith.