Posts Tagged God
He fidgets. We wait. He jumps up, runs over to the machine and looks all herky-jerky, happy, just wanting to play with one of those toys they give to kids. You know the toys, right? They’re packed into this glass case, and a kid deposits a fake coins into the dispenser after he gets done with the pediatrician. In the old days, we got lollipops for our troubles, but modern kids, they’re all obese, or heading that way, so they get these cheap toys. Or so they say.
I look in the mirror and I see a fat woman and for the life of me, she won’t seem to go away. Stop, El. This isn’t thinking. It’s abuse, another form of it, and deep down, you don’t want that anymore.
“Mom! I want this one! The jelly-wiggle!” He grins, all dimples and elbows, and dances around, in a circle, each hand raised with index fingers wagging toward the ceiling. When he dances like this, his face breaks into sharp angles that accentuate his Eastern-European chin dimple, which is, I just learned, caused by some strange genetic malformation of the chin bones. My husband has it. So did Kirk Douglas, and so does his son. The funny thing about this chin dimple is it makes a man look incredibly handsome.
It’s funny, isn’t it? The things that are malformed, not right, a little off, unique, can be the things that make a man, a boy, most loved. I always was taken with a chin dimple, and the fact that it’s a mistake, a genetic error, makes me even fonder of it.
“Shh,” we whisper. “Calm down, love.” He runs back and sits next to my husband, who wears a dark gray suit. Before I can count to ten, he jumps back up again, and stares, intense, eyes narrowed, at the jelly wiggler toy.
She leaned over and scribbled something on his chart. I squinted. 160/102. No. The muscles around her eyes flexed and then she let go, and as her eye muscles retracted, she undid the blood pressure cuff, all the while speaking to my son. Rip, it went, and it sounded so loud in that coffin-quiet office with the pictures of our aging doctor and her three sons on the walls, and I leaned over and shut the office door.
“160/100,” I whispered to my husband, who was watching Dr. M while I held onto my tiny creature, not so tiny now, but in my mind’s eye, I see him as a baby.
“Mama, was I this big?” He asks, holding his arms about a foot apart.
He grins, and the grin is as big as his face. “The size of a football?”
“Yeah,” I nod.
“I could fit inside a football?” The light dances inside his eyes.
“Yep.” Now I smile back at him. “That big. No bigger.”
She ripped off the elastic that makes the cuff grip his right arm so tight, and wheeled around, writing something down in his chart. It’s a thick chart for a six-year old. After all, we always joke, he’s our medical scare baby. When I was pregnant with Maddie, I got laser surgery on my eyes, and with those surgically-repaired eyes squinting, I could read her handwriting. 160/100.
It passed quickly. The appointment, I mean. But how fast will this pass? How fast will he pass?
Just a few days ago, he stood in front of the fridge in a Cambray button down shirt and baggy khakis, all serious and tiny, and in my mind’s eye, with both eyes fixed on all fifty-two pounds of him, I saw him as a fifteen or sixteen year old. He was tall and lanky and searching for a glass of water. For some reason, I often see him projected, his tiny form onto his future form, older, taller, a vision, a future ghost of the man he is becoming. It always makes me smile, he always makes me smile, this little boy of mine, this unique, quirky, challenging imperfect child, this sunshine, my sunshine, and I know I can hold on only for so long.
I never wondered if God was giving me this vision to comfort me, to let me know what this youngest son could have been, because he was no longer to be. But it’s weird, because I never see my other two children as older versions of their little selves. Just the baby of the family, my baby, this dimpled man-child of mine. Is God sending him to me, this future man, as a message, as a reminder, a letter of love and comfort and a promise that he will make it through this okay? Or is God reminding me to hold tight, so tight, because his time here is fast fading, fading?
Last week, as part of my ongoing spiritual journey, I embarked on a systematic rereading of the New Testament. I took a break from reading Mark and read Deb Bryan’s post about learning compassion from a woman who massaged the head of an old lady whose skull was covered with lesions. I mentioned to Deb that this reminded me of Jesus touching lepers in books Matthew and Mark and that I’d struggled with the same sort of aversion to illness because it taps into my fears of mortality.
Also this morning, a dear friend posted this on my wall:
When you have done all you can, Jesus will do what you can’t.
And she added that “certain things seem like they are for you.” I took from this that all I need to do is my best—to keep my head down, and God will take care of the rest.
Then I got on the phone with my coach, and I admitted that my fear of failure is paralyzing me. I’ve been comparing myself too much to other writers, just like I used to when I was a lawyer. Some of these comparisons serve me well. I need to establish what my market is, for example, in order to package and sell my book to agents. She asked me if there was something—anything—I could do to help me with the pain this causes and very quietly, I replied, “I’m trying to put it in God’s hands. The answer lies in God. In my faith. I can’t get my worth from how many books I sell or how much money I make.”
What does this mean? I need to realize, as Coach Carrie said, that God loves me no matter what, and I need to accept His love. Also, I need to realize that my writing comes in part from Him, or as I read in another blog post today, God is in some respects my muse.
Here is what the writer, Rev. Danny Crosby says:
[There is] a creative process that begins and ends beyond the individual; it speaks of an alchemy of brain, experience and wisdom that adds up to more than the individual who created the work; it speaks of a greater mystery.
Crosby goes on to explore how artists create. Are we inspired by a muse? Why is it that so often, some of our best ideas come to us while we’re sleeping? How much of what we create is truly ours—how much of it comes from our own minds, and how much of it comes from God?
There is something divine occurring in the process; there is something at work here that calls the creation out of the individual; there is something going on here that is more than self, that cannot be controlled. I know myself that some weeks I am so full of ideas that they are seemingly bursting out of my ears and yet other weeks the well is dry. Some days I am completely blocked then suddenly, as if something had just whispered in my ears, the idea just comes bursting out of me and I start writing again. Could this be God? Is God controlling this?
I ask the same questions all the time. Sometimes I wake up after having written a piece late at night, and I stare at the keyboard and cannot remember typing the words I see in front of me. I reread a passage I’ve written the next day and find gem-like clarity and it looks and feels both familiar and yet completely new to me. It’s like running into someone in a bar, and they look familiar but you’re not sure if you’ve seen them before—that’s how I feel when I come to one of those passages that seems divinely written.
I don’t know what God has to do with it all. Often I dream up things that I later write about. Dialogue and plot twists come to me when I sleep. And as I walk this earth, things I see, hear, smell or touch stimulate ideas, feelings and even memories, and all of this feeds me. It becomes a part of me and a part of what I write. And sometimes I suspect that God places some of these voices, thoughts, visions, and even apparitions into my path in the hopes it will lead me where he wants me to go, both as a woman and as an artist.
All I know is that if God is using me as a channel, then He will be pleased by what I write. Or if my work represents the deepest, best part of my soul, then He will be pleased with what I create. Or if my work serves him and serves others, or helps them, then He will be pleased. And in the final analysis, that’s all that really, really matters.
As I was contemplating all of this, Deb sent me a blog post from My Shoegaze Faith titled, “The Sound of Generosity.” It’s based on Mark 10:35-45. This chapter tells the story of how all the apostles were arguing for the right to die with Jesus. The apostles argued about who could be the best martyr. Who could suffer the most? Who, in other words, could be the most generous?
The blogger, an Episcopal Priest, wrote the following:
If we listen . . . we hear the sound of Jesus pleading with His disciples to be humble, not to be great. The greatness they all . . . doesn’t come to us because we gamed the system or we tried really hard to earn it.
The mistake all of the disciples make is that they are all jockeying for position, trying to order themselves and figure this out. They are still stuck in the last argument over who is the greatest [servant].
When Jesus says, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” I no longer hear Jesus ordering anybody, but compelling everyone. If you are to follow me, then you must be a servant. If we are all striving to be servants, then there are no masters.
So what does this mean for me? I keep worrying that my writing won’t be good enough. And if it isn’t good enough, then I’m a failure. If I’m a failure, then I deserve to be punished, and if I deserve to be punished, then at least I should issue the punishment. I can feel a certain weird pride in the depth of my suffering, and I can control my fate, my destiny, even if by controlling it I simply go about the process of destroying myself. Control and destroy rather than surrender to the natural order, to the world, to how the world will take my stuff . . . to God.
Doesn’t God love me no matter what I write? Doesn’t He play some role in what I’m doing? Doesn’t He want me to do something special? Oh no, I don’t mean I’m more special than anyone else. He loves all his children the same; He loves me no more and no less than He loves everyone else. But in writing, I am using the gifts He’s given me, and if I try hard, I can use these gifts to help the world become better. I can be a servant. I can choose to create according to the best inside of me, which is what He has created.
I don’t need to figure out if I’m the best of his servants, no more than I need to prove that I’m the best of writers. It doesn’t matter and in fact, He doesn’t want me to spend all of my time worrying about it. It’s not for me to say and it doesn’t matter how well received my writing is. All that matters is that I do the best I can with the gifts given to me. I’m not even sure if everything I write is supposed to be about Him. I think not. I think I’m supposed to do my best with my talents, and in doing so, with the caveat of course that my work can’t go against His main teachings, I will fulfill my human potential. And THAT pleases Him.
This is an excerpt from my final chapter from I Run: Running from Hell with El
Many people have asked me, often with great exasperation, what I was running away from. For years, friends told me to stop. Over and over and over again, people told me to rest, to stand still, to stop. But I was too scared. I was scared of myself, of the demons that danced and pranced inside me. I was scared of dying, perhaps by my own hand. I was scared I’d end up in Hell. I was scared of my past. I was scared of facing my pain. I was scared I wouldn’t survive whatever I saw when I finally faced it—all of it.
And I’m still scared. I’m fucking terrified. Really, I am. I’m at this crossroads, and I gotta decide which way to turn—which path to take. If I keep running away from my pain, something really bad is going to happen to me. I don’t know what that is, and in the past, I’d just keep running for miles and miles, one day, one horizon, one sunset fading into the next, until my legs could carry me no farther. I’d follow one path, then turn down another one, hoping that I could drink in the adventure of it all and find my way back home someday.
I don’t like to give up. It feels like surrender. And surrendering means making myself vulnerable. All my life, I’ve gritted my teeth and refused to stop moving. God tried to get my attention more than ten years ago. The seizures almost killed me. And I heard Him loud and clear. I had given up on Him and then, all of a sudden, well, I needed Him. I realized how much I loved being alive, and every night before I fell asleep, I thanked Him for another day, and begged Him to let me see the morning light.
And yet I kept running away. I waged war against myself; I plotted my own downfall; and I teetered on the edge of living and dying. He was patient with me. He gave me three beautiful children and they loved me. Through them, I felt the first glint of self-love. Because of them, I fought . . . I hung on. I tried to find my way through the darkness inside; I tried to live a good life but I kept running away from my past. I remained a stranger and too often, an enemy to myself and thus to Him.
The bus collided with our SUV and my life as I knew it ended. I knew He kept me alive that night for a reason. I felt His grace inside me as I screamed with a mother’s fierce love, “NO!! Don’t hurt my children!!” For once, I stood still for a little while. And I felt a pain unlike anything I had ever felt before. I ran to Him; sobbing, I collapsed in front of a priest and confessed not just my sins, but the sins others had done to me. I tried to find my way to Him through my childhood Catholic faith, but the church would not have me as I was—the Catholic church rejected my Protestant marriage.
I staggered and fled again. I was trying to find my way but I managed to get lost again. I ran and I ran and I couldn’t stop running this time because I was running to stay alive. You see, I was running back through my past. I was running right through the gates of Hell and the only way to get through Hell is to keep moving until you’re safe again.
It took me two years of intense therapy to get out of there alive.
This year, for Lent, my therapist ordered me to stop hurting myself—to stop even wanting to hurt myself. I couldn’t do this alone. I needed God’s help. He filled me with His light and I turned that light on the demons, real or metaphorical I do not know, that were lodged inside me. I don’t care how this sounds. All I know is that after two decades of wanting to hurt myself, of sometimes hurting myself, I stopped. I didn’t overcome this on my own. I worked hard that day to channel light and goodness and most of all, God’s will. You see, He helped me do it.
Since this day, this miraculous day, I haven’t wanted to hurt myself. And yet, I still wasn’t listening very well either. And He kept trying to reach me. He sent friends to talk to me, friends who told me they carried His message. It’s true. I sort of listened, but I also kept running, but slower. Not as far. And every so often, I would pause, look around, and listen. I started to read the Bible again. I started to listen when He talked to me, and I’ve been trying to figure out what He wants me to do.
Then He spoke to my friend. This is part of what He told her:
A: He says you are running from Him, too…and stop it sooner rather than later.
A: Run to Him, not away…Run to Him…
El: I hear Him. Chills are running up and down my spine.
A: Then listen…be kinder to yourself and trust Him to get you through the process. You cannot hear Him when you are constantly going 100 miles an hour. And your body won’t hold out if you do not slow down. He will get your attention, and He will slow you down. It’s entirely your choice which way it goes.
El: Wow–is this Him or you–the tough love thing?
A: Him. I just type it.
A: Once He wants your attention, He will stop at nothing to get it but it is done out of LOVE—not sickness like all of the past people because he is not a people…He is God! And if He has to inflict pain to heal, He will do that—with love.
El: I hear.
A: It is easier if you surrender…but I know that is hard for you.
… … …
I do have a choice, apparently. I can listen to Him, or I can keep running. If I keep running, and don’t listen, I’m going to get injured, again. And it ain’t going to be pretty. The thing is, some people I love very much depend on me. And if I can’t get my shit together for myself, I can do it for them.
I wasn’t 100% sure what I was running to when I started writing this book, but now I know. I knew I was running away from Hell but I didn’t quite grasp where I was supposed to go. But now He has spoken and I’m listening. No more running away. My safety lies in Him and deep inside of me–that place we all have if we can get very, very still, and hear Him. I hear Him. I’m on my way. I’m on my way home.
Most mornings start like this morning: I wake from dreams where I’m stuck in the past. In these dreams, I’m trying to run, talk, plead or beg my way out of a remembered time or place, real or symbolic, from childhood. My childhood, as captured in my dreams, is a prison my mind, my past, and my family once put me in. I try everything to escape, but the only way out of that hell is by turning my eyes to the morning light . . .
To read the rest of today’s blog post, please go visit me at The Monster in Your Closet, where I’m guest posting for my dear friend Deb Bryan.
By the way, I’m really, really excited to be over at Deb’s virtual home. She’s like a sister to me. So really, please click HERE to read today’s blog post.
I looked up when I heard the angry tone. I searched the faces in the crowded classroom.
Who was she talking to? Why are they staring at me?
The more she said, the more they stared at me. Like a confused, sleeping child hunting for a lamp in the dark of night, I looked for someone’s hand to grab but the only thing I could find was my desk, so I held on so tight my fingers hurt. I was twelve years old and this white-haired, plum little old art teacher, with words stark like winter sunshine on a ski slope, screeched, “Why must you act like such a dyke? You should be ashamed of yourself, wearing boy’s clothing.”
On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.
Years later, my brother’s voice startled me. “E! Mom needs to talk to you!!” Setting my copy of The Fountainhead down, I took a deep breath and tried to loosen my right shoulder. It was tight from all the pitches I had thrown that morning. Each summer day between my senior year and first year of college, I threw 150-200 pitches, lifted weights for an hour, and ran at least three miles. I had a crush on Jon and a best friend named Tracy and we were inseparable—closer than I’d ever been to any of my friends.
Too close, apparently.
I opened my parents’ white bedroom door and tripped on a stray piece of loose carpet in their otherwise pristine room. My parents sat on fabric-covered bedside chairs and I wondered what I had done wrong because Mom’s brow was furrowed and Dad’s mouth was tight and he was glaring, not leering, at me. They assured me that “I needed help,” and that they wanted to help me because no one should be condemned to a “homosexual life sentence.”
I still didn’t understand what they meant until she held up my once-gay uncle’s letter as if channeling Senator McCarthy when he brandished his infamous list of Communists. This uncle of mine had undergone a spiritual awakening. He had seen the light and stopped his sinful fornication with other men, and ever since, he spent his days searching for other gays to save.
In his mind, I was yet one more gay in need of salvation. You know, because I dressed in jeans and white athletic t-shirts and didn’t wear makeup and wasn’t screwing some guy . . . and had a best friend that I hugged and even held a lot . . . surely, he reasoned, they reasoned, I needed help. Because I was gay and all. So my parents read his letter and asked all of these questions and told me I was going to hell and their words poured over me like cascading water falling fast, so fast, over rocks in a waterfall and I was falling, falling . . .
On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.
So I grabbed the keys to my Subaru, and my journal that my mom has since hidden from me, and I drove down I-71 toward Pennsylvania, playing chicken with the guard rails for hours and hours. I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure. Was I going to hell? Did they know something I didn’t? I had never had sex with a man; then again, I knew what it felt like to be turned on and boys, not girls, got me going that way. I pulled over and wrote in my journal that I wanted to die, and then I kept moving west on my drive of death until the rain poured down so hard I couldn’t see. And then I chose to keep living and figuring all of this shit out and I gripped the wheel and made it home and once home, I drunk whatever I could find that night until the pain . . .
A few days ago, the phone rang and I answered it on the second ring.
“El?” She whispered, her voice ragged and ravaged by grief.
“Yes? It’s me. Talk to me.”
For a moment she cried too hard to speak. I knew what it was about. Someone we both know said that gays are sinners, destined for hell’s fires.
With my left hand, I swung my strawberry blonde hair out of my eyes and pressed the receiver into my right ear, and I waited.
“God loves me!”
“I know, hun.”
“GOD LOVES ME!! He loves me!”
“I know. I know He does.” I repeated the same words and felt her grief in my cold heart.
“Enough! Enough! How many more children need to die?” She was howling, like an animal wounded and left to die, and I held still, very still, trying to breathe, and listen, and find the right words. We both know the statistics: four out of five teenagers who commit suicide have been bullied on account of their sexual orientation.
I nodded and mumbled something useless.
“How can he say I am a sinner?” I pictured her tear-rimmed, blue eyes with dark rings circling them and her own hand gripping the phone, and my mind danced between knowing and not knowing how to comfort her.
“How can he say God doesn’t love me? HE MADE ME!! He knew me before He made me!” I could barely understand her because she was sobbing so hard.
“I know. I love you. I know. I know.” I said the same words over and over, as if I was hugging her and patting her back. I felt so fucking useless. “I am so sorry,” I added, as I sunk into my rocking chair, my throat gripped by her grief and my own pain.
On the outside, I appeared calm and collected but I was dying inside.
There are many ways to die. A piece of me felt broken and grief-stricken as I sat there in my rocking chair, wishing I could hold my dear, precious friend, as she wept at the persecution she and so many others face. This inward death is my marker for each gay child who dies when the vocal violence of human hatred drives her to choose too soon her own death.
The death I almost chose.
I don’t talk or write much about religion because it confuses me. I am not an atheist or an agnostic. I am not a Catholic or a Methodist. I am not a Baptist or a Buddhist. But I do believe in God. I try to be true to my beliefs, whatever they are on a given day.
In my tentatively titled, upcoming novel, Ripple, one of my main characters is a mother whose daughter was raped. After she takes matters into her own hands, Helen contemplates how to talk to God about what she has done:
Helen didn’t know what to say to God so she said the Lord’s Prayer. She didn’t feel like it made sense to ask for God’s forgiveness. She had done what a mother must do. And if that meant she was going to Hell, she was willing to pay her debt.
Helen is a high-powered big firm lawyer, with a $20 million book of clients. At the pinnacle of the legal profession, she is not in the least bit in touch with her emotions. Even though she does go to church, she has drifted away from God and when she needs Him most, she has no idea what to say.
As I constructed Helen in my head, I tried to imagine how a rational woman almost devoid of emotion would express her feelings, and often, her inner dialogue sounds like that of a confused teenager. Most of the time, however, she sounds heartless. Except when her daughter is hurt.
Even the most rational of mothers feels strong emotions about their children. Helen drops to her knees, both figuratively and literally, when she realizes that her daughter’s world is crumbling. Helen’s well-honed rational mind has no power to fix what is broken. She must be guided by her emotions. She is bereft. She feels empty and frightened and alone.
Helen is not based on me, but she does what I have done in my moments of desperation. She begs, beseeches, and cries out to God. She takes comfort in knowing that He is still there, always listening, never leaving her side.
Of course, Helen does not abandon her rational side. Even as she prays, she muses about the meaning and existence of Hell:
Hell. I don’t really want to live there for eternity. Is there even a Hell? Does it make sense, really? I love how Dante describes it.
And Helen doesn’t spend much time praying or even contemplating religion, even in her time of greatest need.
Helen told herself to stop worrying about hell and get a grip.
After all, she has things to do and a life to live.
What does this mean about my own religion? Like Helen, I have a finely-crafted rational mind. Unlike Helen, I feel and base my actions more on feelings than on thoughts. I am not a stranger to prayer or to God, but organized religion puts me off. I have seen visions of God and of angels; I have battled demons and I do believe in the power of evil. But even as I fear evil, I believe that good will prevail. God is good. In the end, He wins out over evil.
In my next book, I will explore the battle between good and evil, light and darkness, and Heaven and Hell in much more depth. Perhaps by then, I will have more of my own religion figured out. One thing I am certain of is that God doesn’t mind all of the questions I ask. To paraphrase the late and great G. K. Chesterton, the woman that questions and still believes in Him has a faith that is all the stronger.
Do you come by faith easily? I’ve been having on ongoing dialogue with the lovely Deb Bryan, and would love to continue this discussion with more of you. That is, of course, if you feel comfortable talking about it. I can promise you one thing: any discussion or debate here will be undertaken with love and respect. With that in mind, what are your thoughts and feelings?
I glance at my ankle and rub my fingers over the protruding bones. Two cuts divide the front of my lower tibia from the crowded bone depot where the ligaments and the tendons wrap and curl from the lower tibia to the 26 bones that make up my right foot. Last Thursday a closet door tipped over and slammed into my ankle. The swelling from the collision of wood and foot has gone down and the bruising has changed from blue to green and now to yellow. I smile and rub the scar that runs between the two scrape-cuts.
The scar takes me back to a time many years ago when I fell in the rain and fractured that bone in two places. When I fell, I dropped like a pile of bricks and I knew without a moment’s doubt that I wasn’t getting up anytime soon. Adrenaline coursed through me and my blood pressure dropped like a falling barometer preceding a hurricane. Fifteen minutes later, shaking from the rain and the shock, I rode in an ambulance to the county hospital and a fresh, rosy-cheeked doctor fixed me up and sent me home.
The closet door didn’t break the same bone a second time. They say that a fractured bone once healed, is stronger in the broken places, but I don’t know about that because my “ankle didn’t heal right,” as a podiatrist said a couple of years ago. A sliver of bone is missing. But it healed well enough I reckon. I run marathons on that ankle.
The two lines that form this scar remind me of the scars that constitute my inner world. When my parents brought me into this world, I was whole and perfect: tabula rasa, unless you buy into that original sin thing (and I do not). Childhood’s imperfect song dealt me blows and left parts of me scattered, sometimes shattered. Doctors and psychologists and therapists diagnosed and treated me and out of their care I wove a mosaic of healing.
To bind together my broken pieces, I had to shine a spotlight on my memories. For years, I hunted through the debris. It wasn’t easy. It took courage because I was so afraid. I don’t know what scared me more: getting hurt from what I found while searching through the wreckage or not finding the missing pieces that constituted my past.
You see, I thought that if I couldn’t locate all of my missing parts, I never could put myself back together again. And so I searched for years through the rubble. In my hand I held fragments of memories. I mourned what I found; but even more, I mourned what I did not find.
I was afraid that if I did not dig from the internal devastation all of my broken parts, I would never be whole again. But I was wrong. There is magic inside me. To my surprise, I also came upon parts of me that sparkled and shimmered. I don’t know exactly where I found it. I know not for certain from whence it comes. I don’t know who put it there, but I have a theory. Is there anything beside God’s grace that can explain how broken fragments can make me more than the sum of my parts?
What if Santa is a woman? What if the idiotic Elf on the Shelf is a girl named Julie instead of a boy named Jack? What if Mary Magdalene was the 13th Apostle? Sigh, I apologize for this last question, I really do, but I can’t help it: what if God is a Goddess? Did I start asking these questions this morning? No, of course not. I raised my hand in Honors Comparative Religion and asked a few questions along these lines as a freshman English major and the professor told me I was in the wrong class, asking the wrong questions. The philosophy and history professors all told me to take my sarcasm elsewhere, and so I did: I left school and tried to write the great American novel and fumbled around for a couple of years before I stumbled back to college and argued my way to a degree, Magna Cum Laude. I didn’t stop asking questions but I long ago stopped expecting that someone would provide answers.
Do I believe in God? Yes, I try to, but I doubt his existence and I question almost everything I have read about him in the Bible. I don’t know if God is male; I don’t know if he brought the locusts and the plagues upon the evil nations; I don’t know if he built Eve out of Adam’s rib (damn, that movie, Adam’s Rib makes me angry even though I love Hepburn and Tracy). I don’t understand why the Old Testament is so hateful; the New Testament; so full of love. I don’t think that everything inscribed in its pages really occurred because even if God exists and is infallible, he did not write the books and chapters in the Bible. Men wrote it and I keep coming back to two things: humans are highly imperfect and often are incapable of perceiving and speaking what is real and true; and, only men, and never women, wrote the words in its pages.
As the mother of three children, I try not to question my belief in God in front of them. When I married my Methodist husband, I agreed (since I was terminally confused about my faith) to follow his lead in all things religious, and this has worked out well enough since he suffers from indolence on Sunday mornings. Sometimes we make it; sometimes we don’t. I teach the children the fundamentals of both my shaky Christian faith and my reason-based philosophy and hope that they will have the critical thinking ability, as they age, to figure things out for themselves. In some ways, I want them to find an unshakeable faith. To be honest, as I have waded through major depressive episodes again and again, I often have fallen to my knees and begged God to pass me a lifeline. Faith in God gives me hope. And yet I hope that God understands why I have so many doubts.
How does this relate to Santa Claus and the elf on the shelf? I hate the Santa Claus myth. It truly offends me that we are expected to lie to our children. My daughter wanted nothing to do with Santa or his minions, and so I was able to tell her that Santa was a happy myth, a game, like a Disney movie, that parents told their children. My boys, on the other hand, didn’t listen to me when I tried to dispute Santa’s existence, so I have played along reluctantly and yet detested the mendacity I have acquiesced in espousing.
It does not, unfortunately, stop here. It isn’t enough that we lie about Santa. Now we are expected to lie about the Elf on the Shelf, and this has created an unexpected problem. My daughter, who is 8-going-on-28, felt the sting of discrimination when my husband put “Jack” on the shelf this morning, and I in turn realized that I have become an instrument in injuring her sense of self as a girl.
As the children ate breakfast, the boys chattered about Jack.. “C,mon, Mom,” my daughter said grumpily, “We need to rename the Elf on the shelf.”
“That’s not possible. His name is Jack,” I replied as the kids fought among themselves.
“Yeah, but we can rename him every year,” she persisted.
“But he’s already named. That’s preposterous.”
Maddie shouted over her brothers. “No, what’s preposterous is that the elves always have boys’ names!”
I sighed. She had a good point, and of course the in-laws gave us that stupid thing already named. “Maybe,” I mused, “I should rename the elf Julie.” Madeline snickered. Jim burst into tears and I glared at him and exclaimed, “Aw, stop crying about the elf!”
If I do not discard Jack, I will buy a dress for him and give him a girl’s name. It seems unseemly to rename God a Goddess. Who am I to know or to question God’s sex or gender? I stop at declaring Mary Magdalene the 13th disciple (a notion based on serious and scholarly arguments). And the freakin’ Santa myth is difficult to combat when the entire culture pressures both parents and children into believing it. I will not, however, inculcate the myth of the Elf on the Shelf; which is to say, if he remains in our household, she will, from now on, wear a dress.