After dinner we watched a movie about family loyalty, Little Miss Sunshine. Take that, my fundie upbringings! There is more real love and loyalty in the final scene of that movie than I think I ever experienced in the totality of my life growing up in my (self-) righteous "Christian" fundamentalist family. It is quite a contrast.
So after the movie, my dear friend, whom I admire greatly, found the cajones to make a difficult phone call. Her life, her story so I won't elaborate here, except to say that I found it inspiring. I decided to make a difficult phone call myself.
I had been thinking about my twin sister and praying for her more than usual. (Back story here.) I always hesitate to call, because she is gravely, chronically ill and I do not want to be the person to wake her up just as she has finally fallen to sleep. It's safer to e-mail.
An email is just not the same as a human voice, though. Sometimes the payoff is worth the risk, so, following my friend's example, I picked up the phone and made the call. I didn't even get her voice mail. The phone just kept ringing so I assumed she was on another call and hung up. I resolved to try again later, and by later I meant another day. I don't think she can handle two phone calls in one day.
Well, to my surprise, she called me back later. We would up talking for almost three hours. I consider it one of my finest achievements of the year that she was actually laughing when we got off the phone. If I accomplish nothing better this year, my life counted for something good in that moment. She deserves to laugh and experience joy in this life.
Most of the two hours was not overflowing with laughter. She is truly ill, and that is a reality that hangs ominously like a dark cloud over every moment of her life. It IS her life right now, unfortunately. All of her energy is focused on getting well, getting treatment, fighting the ignorance and indifference of overworked medical staff, struggling against the insurance establishment, and then underlying it all, the abandonment, rejection and vilification from her effed up family of origin is still there.
I hate what fundamentalism did to my sister. I realize that is was just one of many tools that my NPD mother used to dominate and control us, but the weapon itself is still nasty, really destructive. My twin is one of those who went through the terror of believing the rapture had taken place and she was left behind. Damn that horrid movie A Thief in the Night. Understandably, having been abandoned at birth to the hospital preemie ward, then abandoned by mom completely when sent to live with my Grandma, and abandoned by our biological father by the age of two years old, abandonment was already her biggest fear and greatest source of pain.
For those of you not in the know, the "rapture" was made up by Americans in the 1700-1800s. It was never a traditional Christian doctrine, i.e. the apostles who walked with Jesus never taught it. It remains a great tool for terrifying people to convert to a semblance of Christianity, a la "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God", and it is an especially great tool for controlling people once they "get saved". Walk that line, people, or get abandoned by Jesus right when the world starts to get the ugliest it has ever been!
(For the record, the gospel message is the opposite of Jonathan Edwards and his manipulating sermon. Jesus came to seek and save those separated from the loving heart of God. He came to reconcile us to God. Jesus tore the veil separating us from the Divine Presence of the Holy Trinity. The Father sent Jesus to us, to show us the Father and because the Father so LOVED us! God is not disgusted by you, and anyone who tells you different is a liar. (All of this is in the Bible, plain as day, but I will not thump you with references here. Email me at to_shadowspringATyahooDOTcom if anyone wants the references. Be warned that if you want to merely argue doctrine, I have no time for you.)
Rejection was my twin sister's earliest emotional experience, so of course when a preacher one day told her that God planned to burn her in hell for all eternity, but if she would walk the aisle and pray this prayer, then God would relent and not punish her forever, she fearfully, tearfully made her way down the aisle. It was no hard sell to convince her that God rejected her as she was. That preacher had it easy on that count. The gospel of grace, though, the truth that Jesus will never fail us or forsake us? The truth that Jesus will never reject anyone who comes to Him? She was never able to rest in that. My twin sister couldn't really trust that His love was steadfast, unfailing, totally secure. She was never fully assured that He wouldn't snatch back his offer of mercy at any moment.
The Baptist proclivity for Finney style hard-sell high-pressure audience response techniques did nothing to assure my sister of God's love. In fact, re-dedications were almost as rewarding to the preachers as first time salvation responses. They worked that angle all the time, your need to "get right with God". For the insecure and the wounded it just muddled up what little true gospel had gotten into their message even further. Just thinking about fundamentalist doctrine upsets me, so let's just leave that bitter taste behind and get on to the sweet, shall we?
I was able to tell my sister that I loved her and that I accepted her as a sister in Christ, even without the fundamentalist trappings. Like many of our most vulnerable and weak in society, she talks to God all the time. She relies on Him to get her through each day, and is continually asking Him for help. She has an awareness of His presence and His love (thank God!) but it does hurt her to know that our fake Christian family rejects her as a heretic because she left fundamentalism behind so long ago.
I am just really really grateful that Jesus is not defined by fundamentalist doctrine. I am really really grateful that the Holy Spirit of the Living God doesn't take orders from the American Christian politico-business machine. I am thankful for that Amazing Grace that John Newton knew, and for all the drunks sitting around campfires today still crooning out that paen to the true grace of our Loving God. Keep singing.
I am thankful that I finally get it, that doctrine over person is WRONG. Jesus said that his new command was that WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
He did not say that his greatest desire is that we all get doctrinally correct, and finally uncover the hidden message of the rapture.
He didn't say that all men would know we were his disciples because of our regular church attendance, or the way we snubbed "unacceptable" people.
It was sweet to be able to honestly, sincerely tell my twin sister that she is acceptable in God's sight, just as she is, holy and precious to him because that's who Jesus is: He is love. It was sweet to be able to say honestly that yes, I believe the Holy Spirit is at work in your life, leading and guiding you on a daily basis. That meant so much to her and to me. I am ashamed that I missed out on that for so many years because I let fundamentalist fear be my truth, instead of trusting in the gracious love of God.
If my sister's life could be likened to the character Olive, putting her whole heart into something my religion told me was the wrong song, then like Olive she still deserved to be loved and supported. God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance. I wish I had loved my twin sister unashamedly like the non-religious family in Little Miss Sunshine loved their Olive.
I am thankful for all the families out there in the world that are like the family in Little Miss Sunshine, standing behind one another in solidarity no matter how tough times get. In that movie, the little girl may have made some embarrassing choices, but her family saw the innocent heart behind her efforts and refused to condemn her. I want to love like that: whole-heartedly, willing to be embarrassed if love calls for it, never rejecting but caring for people in the ways that they need, in that moment, to be cared for. I want to love like Jesus.
As a cyber friend wrote recently on his blog:
Do you think that if all the other voices were silenced (as if it were possible) and all you had were the scriptures and your own children to teach you about God that you would assume God loved you despite your behavior?
Good question, Ryan. Good movie, Michael Arndt. Good conversation, sister.
May the grace of God be a very real experience to all who read here. SS