Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How To Make a Martyr

I have been thinking a lot about the ways in which my Fundamentalist upbringing groomed me for martyrdom, both literally and figuratively, and also for warfare in general.

From an early age, I was exposed to graphic images of Christian martyrs from around the globe. There is one set of pictures in particular that has stayed with me, seared into my memory. It came from China, which interestingly enough opened the door to conversation about Communism and all of its inherent evils, most especially its rejection of Christianity. My church was extremely politically motivated and involved. We were often told from the pulpit which way to cast our vote. It was also made clear that part of our Christian duty was to ensure that the laws of our land reflected the Laws of God. We were told that God’s Law trumped man’s, so it became tacitly okay to disobey any law of the land that did not align with scripture, which may explain part of our present issue with Constitutional interpretation. Equally important, we were urged to always support the nation of Israel, as not doing so biblically ensured our nation’s destruction for rejecting God’s Chosen People. This is why we have so many Religious Freedom bills in circulation, as well as anti-LGBTQI and anti-abortion legislation making the rounds, and it is also the reasoning behind an unquestioning support, by some, of the policies of the nation of Israel. All of these measures are simply a means of publicly demonstrating a belief in and service to God, with a real fear that failing to do so might cost a person their soul for eternity.

The first picture of this particular series was of a Chinese Christian man who was to be killed for his abberant belief by being cooked alive in a stove, in a public square in front of a group of people gathered solely to watch it happen. Whether this congregation was voluntary is unknown. The man was standing, bound and subdued beside the oven as they were heating it up. His face was very stoic, revealing no emotion about his situation, and this was attributed by my mentors to his strong and unfailing faith, even as he faced a cruel death. This is how a young child begins to revere martyrdom, and internalizes an ‘us versus them’ mentality. This is also how the seeds of terror get planted in the belly of a child’s imagination and grow into unquestioning fealty to something they perceive as able to keep them safe.

I believe there was also a picture of him being loaded into the oven, horizontally, but the one that truly stuck in my head was of his lifeless body after they brought him back out. He was not exposed to flame, so there were no burns on him. He was literally baked like a pastry and died due to the cooking of his insides. His bloated yet fully intact body had a line of punctures from the top of his chest all the way down his abdomen, like you might do to the top crust of a pie, to allow for the release of heat without causing the insides to burst forth during the baking. His face was grotesquely swollen and became a nightmare that lived on the backs of my eyelids for years afterwards.

I was told that the world was violently opposed to our beliefs, and that I had to prepare myself for the possibility that I too may one day have to die for my faith; I was told to think about that situation, and to imagine how I would react. Would I stand firm and submit to death, thereby warranting eternity with our glorious God, or would I fall prey to my weak human nature and deny my faith and my God to save my pitiful life? I wonder how many hours I spent fantasizing about the possibility? I say ‘fantasizing’ purposely, as it took on an almost pleasurable aspect, after enough time spent there. I was somewhere between the ages of five and seven when I began this practice. This, I believe, is the mechanism that allows someone to put on a suicide vest and set out on a holy mission. Christians aren’t so much on board with that, however, Christians are in full support of our military forces dispensing an infinite amount of death and destruction against the horror of Daesh or anything else that appears to be at odds with the Judeo-Christian worldview. We did not sing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’ facetiously.   

Sunday School classes in childhood were full of Old Testament stories about acts of contrition and blood sacrifice performed for the purpose of forgiveness of sins, which people inevitably committed, and also acts of genocide carried out against non-believers by God’s Chosen People with not only His full blessing, but His specific instruction as to how to go about it victoriously. Going to war was sometimes necessary, and could become a holy act. At the time, I found great comfort in these stories, as I believed myself to be in an extremely hostile and threatening world, and these events showed me how to stay on the good side of my All Powerful God, who would wipe out entire nations on my behalf, if need be.

The New Testament was where I met Jesus, the Son of God, who was Himself a martyred God granted a place at the right hand of the Father in Heaven as a reward for willfully laying down His life for the greater good. Jesus was a revolutionary with a message of Love as salvation and an end to blood sacrifice, but that story got heavily obscured under the weight of His crucified form. Fundamentalist tellings of Jesus’ death often play out like some kind of sadomasochistic word porn for ascetics. All of his wounds, and there were many, are described in exacting detail, which serves to solidify the sainthood of the martyr, while simultaneously making it clear how utterly wretched the rest of us fall short. Shame is too often the takeaway of fundamentalist Jesus, and it serves as the tinder for many a righteous conflagration.

Terrorism and fundamentalism go hand in hand because to be Fundamentalist is to live in a constant, sublimated state of absolute terror. Humans are not meant to live in terror, and the natural response to this brutal exposure is a deep and powerful rage paired with a side of nihilism. It is an extremely short trip from rage and nihilism to ‘give me a vest and seventy virgins’ or ‘send me to war, Sarge, and make me a hero.’

Saturday, April 16, 2016

About These Bathroom Bills

Our country is currently in a heated debate over a slew of legislation that aims to dictate, once again, just who is and isn’t allowed to use the restroom in public. The brawl is brewing around our societal understanding of gender. These laws are primarily being written and supported by a segment of the population for whom gender is firmly binary, and who tend to view any other expressions of gender with extreme distrust and disgust. Some go so far as to call it ‘morally perverted’ to veer from what to them is an obvious and static descriptor about the human race.

These bills are purported to be about insuring the safety of the general population, who are supposedly at risk of sexual attack if forced to share a public bathroom with someone who presents as something ‘other than their birth gender,’ which is based solely on genitalia and not the person as a whole. There is no evidence presently available to support this supposition of bathroom sexual violence, however, and we have been peeing with Transgendered people for a while now, whether we knew it or not. I would go so far as to hypothesize that the actual number of sexually violent offenders amongst a random sample of Trans people would be much lower than the percentage of sexual offenders found in a similar sized sampling of Cisgendered people. My reasoning centers around the fact that Transgendered people are not in the habit of volunteering information about the composition of their genitals, and most actually find it incredibly rude when asked about them. The thought of publicly exposing said genitals in a public space would not be high on any Trans person’s list, much less forcing a sex act on someone with them.

Trans folk are terribly at risk of both sexual and bodily harm in public bathrooms, though, make no mistake about it, and this law, if enforced, would exponentially increase their risk of death or bodily injury by forcing them to out themselves in order to comply.

We are allowed to be deeply frightened or angered or both, but that does not mean that every action we implement in response to our emotion is warranted or inherently justifiable. In the end, what terrifies us may not bother another in the least, and then it becomes a numbers game, as to what is deemed socially appropriate and acceptable. It is all a matter of perspective, and everyone gets to have theirs. I hope we can agree though, that if our response endangers or adversely affects even a single fellow human, or, god-forbid, an entire segment of the population, that we owe it to ourselves and to society to freeze our actions and analyze our situation. Can we put into words why we feel the way we do, why we are afraid? Can we have a conversation about our fear without it devolving into shouting or violence? Have we ever met or spoken with someone whose identity or belief system triggers our fear? If we have, did we let them speak and could we hear them over our own fervently held belief?

Interestingly, this conversation is a non-issue with the majority of the younger generations, due largely I believe, to the fact that they have grown up with the internet and have been exposed to a multitude of diverse and very real stories shared by their peers and complete strangers alike. Story is absolutely magical in its power to unite us through shared experience. It is a very difficult thing to truly listen to the lived experience of a fellow human being and fail to find some place of connection and relatability.

How would you feel, in your fervently held belief, if someone came up to you and said that what you believe is evidence to them of a stunted intellect at best, and a mental illness at worst? You would understandably be angry and defensive, so why is okay to say to a Transgendered person that they are perverting a natural law by ‘messing’ with their gender and are suffering from some dysfunction? In truth, it is a supremely arrogant act to declare to another sentient, free-willed being that the way they are doing their life is wrong. We have the right to share our ideas and to ask questions of people whose ideas differ from our own, but it is never our right to tell another person what is proper for them.Transgendered people are simply PEOPLE with feelings, hopes and dreams, families, jobs, stresses and worries, just like each of us.  

A good rule for genitals might be: if they don’t belong to us, our opinion about them doesn’t matter. 


Sometimes I think about you on your deathbed and I wonder if I’ll want to be there. The part of me that wants to hear you say it is the most susceptible to wanting to be there, just in case, you know? The part of me that gets to decide whether to grant you forgiveness while still on this mortal coil, so you can take it with you to the gates of Heaven where it may or may not make a difference when deciding your fate, that part isn’t really sure if it wants to show up to be asked the question. That part, and the small, squirming part that still wants to be in love with you (I will NEVER again be in love with you) really want you to be a stand up person before then, before the Hail Mary brought on by your secret fear of death, and for you to simply say you are sorry. That you’d take it back if you could. That you understand there is no such thing as it not happening, but you know now how wrong you were and how much you hurt me.

But your shame won’t let you say it, your shame won’t even let you think it. You try your hardest NOT to think about it, but it is ALL that you think about.

I know, because I have struggled under the weight of my own shame, and I have been feral and drawn blood in my efforts to remain blind and innocent. But there is no escape from this truth, it will haunt you beyond your grave.

There is so much freedom in saying it out loud. Owning it and laying it down, taking the punishment and serving it out like a reformation. This is not all there is to you, your shame. But your refusal to graduate the lesson keeps you bound up in it, you’re choking on it, it’s the thing that makes you a lie, the thing that haunts your soul and keeps you from ever feeling rested.

All of me believes in the Hail Mary though, even if I don’t want necessarily to admit it to you. All of me believes in the power of a present moment to immediately change a lifetime of *truth*. 

All of me believes in mercy, because there is no such thing as perfection, there’s just learning or not learning.