One Thing I Like About Christianity by Erin Lane


Erin LaneI never have good dreams. They always fall into the weird, creepy, or just plain terrifying category. Last night was no exception. I’ll save you the diary entry but after sharing the short saga with my husband this morning (who I’m sure dreams of lollipops, if he could only remember), he looked at me and said, “Geez, Erin. You really care that people like you.”

It was a neighborhood prank gone wrong. In the dream, I had been running through people’s lawns and hiding in bushes with my husband and two other guy friends. We were armed with squirt guns, except that they weren’t squirt guns; they were household cleaners. I don’t know what we thought we were doing exactly – take that organic tomatoes! and that you meddling cat! –  but we soon got caught and I proceeded to be excluded, shamed, and taunted. First by a group of wives who snickered at me from a safe distance in their convertible and whispered, “She’s always trying to be one of the guys.” Then by a work colleague standing nearby who asked me, “How would Jesus feel about your actions?” and then let his wife hose me down with a sprinkler, which in retrospect was very un-Jesus like. And lastly by one of my guy friends in crime who called me “snotty” for hamming it up for a photo opp when the press arrived.

One thing I like about Christianity is that it tells me what to care about,  and it’s not how what others think about me. This is good news since I don’t think I, or people like the apostle Paul, say the most likable things or have that sort of nonthreatening adorableness that works well for women and hamsters. In fact, I’m still waiting for someone to make a movie version of Paul’s life in which he’s played by a Paul Giamatti-type who can be equal parts brilliant and oft-putting, but who always has your sympathy.

My spiritual ancestors were hardly the popular kids.  My favorite criticism levied against the early Christians was that they were cannibals, eating the flesh of their risen Savior. But it didn’t stop there. During one of the earliest persecutions of Christians, the newly formed sect was accused of misanthropy or hatred of humanity. I can see it now, me reasoning with Emperor Nero, “If you’ll let me explain about virgins and doves and miracles and resurrection, I can make you like us. Cross my heart.”

Having dinner with a friend two weeks ago at a Mexican joint, I shared how it’s been hard to turn off the internal critic after I say something questionable or send an email off in haste (I may or may not have used the phrase “hotboxing farts” in a professional correspondence this week). It’s hard to let go, to let other people form their own opinions of me, to read me through their own eyes. Even if they’re misinformed or – worse sometimes – spot on.

“I get it,” she sympathized. “But you know, as someone training to become a pastor, I’m beginning to think I’m probably not preaching the Gospel if I don’t get fired at least once.” She continued, “In fact, I have resigned myself to the fact that at any given point one or two people probably can’t stand me. And that’s okay.”

This is another thing I like about Christianity:  its guarantee of suffering, of persecution, of alienation, of just being kinda-sorta-generally unlikable to one or two people – maybe more. Call me fatalistic, but I like my odds on this one.

Erin Lane is a freelance communication strategist for faith-based authors and organizations. She received her Masters in Theological Studies from Duke Divinity School with a focus in gender, ministry, and theology. Confirmed Catholic, raised Charismatic, and married to a Methodist, she blogs about the intersection of her faith and feminism at www.holyhellions.com. She is also co-editing an upcoming anthology on the taboos experienced by young American Christian women. She lives in Durham, NC.



Categories: Christianity

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11 replies

  1. Erin: Thank you for your piece. I have a few questions in response to it:

    1) Do you think that you “need” somebody to tell you what to care about. Does that indicate that you would not care about those things without Christianity?

    2) If I, as an atheist, spoke of the persecution of my heretical “ancestors,” (Giordano Bruno, Michael Servetus, Copernicus, Gilileo, etc.) does that give significance to what I believe today? We all can find our martyrs, but I wonder if that says anything about the meaning of what we say now. I mean, if we focus on our martyrs, doesn’t that make us self-depricating and provide us with the means to act as if we are being “persecuted” (even if only by social disapproval) when we are not?

    3) I would challenge the idea that suffering, persecution, and alienation is usually a good thing. I think you would agree with me that the modern Christian in the West knows nothing of the persecution of early Christians under Nero or Diocletian. The worse they get is social disapproval.

    4) What do you think of the “martyrdom complex”? That is, those who search out persecution and think the world is out to get them. Is it truly a virtue to relish in our so called “persecution”?

    This is not meant to be hostile, I am genuinely wondering what you think of these questions. Best.

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    • Hi Kile,

      I don’t mean to suggest that I am a martyr, nor that suffering, persecuting, and alienation are a good things. Only that the way I understand the story of my faith is through the lens of Jesus who was not liked by all people, who incited trouble for his counter-cultural beliefs (which if lived out today I still believe are counter-cultural), and who risked looking foolish for the sake of the poor, needy, and oppressed. It’s not that I like this alienation, but that I find it a relief that it’s part of my ancestry so that when it comes, I am neither surprised or alone.

      Peace,
      Erin

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      • I think we need to be honest and state that most (if not many) of his views today would fit right in there with a lot of cultural movements of the past (gay rights, women’s right, low-income rights) etc. However, we are caught in a paradox because if Jesus, the one from the Bible, never existed, then would we know these movements in the ways we do now? Would he have been a founder of one of the movements in the way that Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony were for example?

        I think Jesus would fit in perfectly with the Silverlake, CA crowd, if you catch my drift.

        Great post Erin!

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  2. Hi Erin, I certainly believe the internal critic is a phenomonenon that especially afflicts women, though not only women. However, you do not mention the female connection to self-criticism. Part of the reason for this can be traced back to the idea that women are responsible for sin in the world, an interpretation of the Eve story. However you do not mention this either. I also don’t mean to be hostile, but I am wondering how your current blog connects up to the topic of our blog, “Feminism and Religion.” A woman writing about religion is not the same thing as a feminist writing about religion. Do you see the difference? There may be a feminist connection in your blog, but if so, you do not tell us what it is. I’d love for you to connect the dots, if any. If there aren’t any, well, why are you posting this on feminismandreligion.com. Warmly, Carol

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    • Hi Carol,

      It is hard to read your questions without knowing more of your story. I suspect we could find better understanding between us over a cup of tea rather than the internet.

      You are right, being a woman writing about religion is not the same thing as a feminist writing about religion. However, because I identify myself as a feminist, my writing flows out of my identity as one keen on understanding gender dynamics in light of the Gospel. This connection is not always explicit but rather informs everything from how I tell my story to how I understand that story in light of God’s story.

      I have always be fond of Emily Dickinson’s advice, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”

      Peace,
      Erin

      Like

      • I think your blog goes hand in hand with the topic of the site and I don’t really know where Carol is coming from with that difference. I do not see the misconnection but being a woman writnig about religion (say a Mormon women writing about religion) could be constructed in the same way a feminist writes about religion. The only question are the ways in which we define agency and the writers who utilize it within their writings.

        Again, great post. I’m glad you’re on this site.

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  3. In your dream you play with household cleaners… Christianity is a religion permeated with constructs of cleansing, but in the dream this becomes a prank… all the dream characters are aspects of the dreamer who admonishes herself for always trying to be one of the guys…
    the “convertible” is at a safe distance and the dreamer needs not risk the responsibility of her own conversion? from what? The dream returns to the theme of cleansing, being hosed down with the sprinkler, which may or may not be Jesus-like, depending on your beliefs…

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  4. As a feminist, I often tell myself I have “made it” when I have stepped on many peoples’ toes and they have shouted by criticizing me in the press (often expressing disgust). This is a connection you could draw between your work and Christianity (when it faced persecution under the Roman Empire).

    However, I also wonder how well focusing on Christianity as a persecuted religion really works in the United States nowadays. It is not persecuted! In fact, it is harder to live as a Muslim, Jew, Hindu or Pagan! I see continuing to live as a victim to be a difficult theology to maintain and one that is not life-giving. Something to think about…

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    • I don’t know, being a Christian in some parts or communitities (LGBT for example) are pretty persecuted. Being a “religious believer” in general is difficult in America but I guess it just depends on who you ask. For me, any type of worship, comes with a glance of “you’re kidding right!?”

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  5. Hi Erin!

    Your post resonates with one of the things I’ve always struggled with: negative self talk.

    It’s almost like I psych myself out of believing the good and borrow trouble through the what if game.

    “What if they don’t like me? What if I said something different would they like me better? Why did you wear that? Why don’t they just understand? Why do I keep failing? Do you really think they like you? What if I fail? If I fail everyone will hate me…”

    It’s a crazy reparative tape that screamed ail and laughed at and mocked me growing up and for most of my adult life.

    Realizing that the negative self talk was an attempt of the enemy to draw me closer to the line was a huge moment in my life!

    Sure not everyone “likes me” but in a perfect world, we’d all be believers and love each other anyway.

    So every day when I wake up I’ve worked hard to make sure my first thoughts every day are “Good morning Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me today!”

    I started replacing the crazy negative self talk with hope.

    It’s a hard process, and sure there are moments where the negativeness comes out but it happens.

    Why all the crazy talk about negative self talk? I think those dreams may be negative self talk coming out when you’re sleeping because you aren’t able to defend your heart and soul because you’re sleeping.

    I hope this makes sense.

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  6. In Erin’s dream I read not so much negative self talk as I discern DOUBT. Maybe the lady protests too much… and if one looks at it form a Jungian perspective, all characters in the dream represent aspects of the dreamer, also those who ” excluded, shamed, and taunted” the dreamer. Feminism seems absent from Erin’s post, but her doubts about her beliefs are articulated in the dream that she projects on others who do the criticizing.

    Like

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