Saturday, January 10, 2009

2.2 Ringed in Rules

I entered the public school system in middle school and started to perceive and identify, through dramatic contrasts, the rules that moderated my behavior and through which I made sense of the new people and experiences in my life. In high school I joined an after-school club called Students and Teachers Opposing Prejudice (STOP). Our earliest efforts together involved writing letters for Amnesty International. One afternoon it became a little more personal.

Two of the group’s members were planning to attend prom together except they would both be in tuxes. The boy was gay and the girl was a lesbian. Rumors circulated the student population about the two students and the school administration started to get involved. One afternoon, STOP got together to listen to the two teens share what was happening and offer support. But listening to their story, I broke into sobs. Startled and sad, nothing about that afternoon made any sense to me.

According to my religious education, my group members were going to Hell. I felt sick. I couldn’t look at someone and see Hell. Who can do that? I was supposed to do that, wasn’t I? But if you did that to some people wouldn’t you have to do it to everyone? I kind of just wanted to hear more about their plans for prom. But there was all this other stuff to think and to feel.

If God’s message was about bridging the chasm between human and divine, and if the example of Jesus was aligning himself with the outsiders and the shamed, what did that mean for my peers and me? The rules that were supposed to keep me holy and God’s own, were getting in the way between me and other people. If God was right and if Jesus was the example, then the Church, maybe, was wrong. (Could that even happen? It had happened before. But God wouldn’t let that happen. Think about all the stuff God “lets” happen everyday. What else might be wrong? Could there be more for girls? How would I know? What should I do? And believe?) It seemed to me that the rules were also getting in the way between God and His believers.

I started picturing God Himself, His Son and His Good News, trapped within a series of concentric rings. Like a piece of fruit, thick layers of pith and rind protected a vital seed within. I honored the inner core of the religion yet all these outer layers of rules were under scrutiny. To my parents’ delight, I enrolled in an evangelical Christian college near our home. But my investigation persisted. Once on campus, I joined a Bible Study and began training to be a study leader. From that vantage point, I kept watch for people who seemed to hold the heart of the Gospel even at the cost of the rules. My search surprised me in where and to whom it led me.

On that same campus I studied feminism for the first time and learned a language for articulating and understanding my own experience as a woman, especially within evangelicalism. I found another female cohort, but this time we studied our own lives and making meaning out of our common experiences by sharing personal stories. This union of theory and relationships conceived the story of God as the Madwoman in the Attic. A metaphorical object, such as a seed deep within a piece of fruit, failed to express the dynamism and complexity of my experience as an evangelical Christian woman.

The story of the Madwoman in the Attic grew up around me. This new story retained the sense of an essential Holy Truth, at a distance, obstructed and obscured by human communication of it. But the story expanded to incorporate contextual elements like doctrine, gender, and communities of women.

At this point it was a highly individual story of a solitary journey up to a great source. Originally the story served as an expression of my desire and struggle but it slowly solidified into the lens through which I anticipated and made sense of ongoing experiences with evangelical Christianity. It wasn’t until I began to study story and groups that I perceived the significance of groups reviewing and revising the evangelical Christian story to include the magic of the attic and who or what resides there.

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