On Why I Haven’t Been Going to Church

I haven’t been going to church. I’ve been a devout churchgoer for wide swaths of my life – from around fourth grade, when I became best friends with a preacher’s kid, all the way through high school. That church I left, because my first sin against God was physics, and I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion. After a couple of years off, I spent a significant amount of college, my wonderful time in engineering graduate school, and a few years after, at another church. The excessive focus on sexual impurity, even though at that time, I was a “virgin,” drove me away. I had had enough when a married man earnestly counseled us that we could be committing “adultery in our hearts,” because the emotional connections of our chaste relationships could damage our future marriages. Again, I had no room in my sensibilities for such a religion.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister.

You cannot love both God and this foolishness, dear Sister. Source: Pinterest

Then, after a long pause of probably eight years, I went to Mass, because someone I loved was (is) Catholic. Now I make fun of Mass – the Brothers Fathers free styling over the beat break in the Lord’s Prayer, the recurrent sermons about the Father’s pension account, etc. I am not a Catholic, but I even helped for some time serving refreshments for hospitality at our Cathedral. I found, mostly, that, while I loved the grandeur of the ceremony, I felt a lack of substance at times, although I was thankful to be able to spend time experiencing it.

Finally, last year, I made a couple of attempts to find a church among progressive kinds of church spaces. People from my last church tell us they miss us and that we should come back. We miss them, too. I fear we shall not be back, soon, If I in any event am making the choice.

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women's Archive

We do not unite in this kind of solidarity enough. Source: Jewish Women’s Archive

I am taught by my feminist elders a feminine tradition of understanding the values placed on our bodies and their compliance to society. Certainly, this value is seated in many ways in the sexual roles of women, and compliance is most clearly demanded of our sexuality. We certainly agitate to redefine our roles – we are not bound by our sexuality, we do not exist for the benefit of the male gaze, even when those women among us, who, like me, are attracted to men, choose to allow ourselves to be viewed and appreciated by them. We are not baby making machines nor baby rearing machines, and we are not relegated to domesticity by our sex. But in recognizing the extent to which we do engage in those roles (women do more unpaid domestic work than men even in the most equal countries), there is tremendous power in the notion of the women’s strike as a means of reminding society how much it depends on but how little it values the agency of women.

In the United States, a Woman’s Strike for Equality in 1970 garnered only tens of thousands of women, but it still became a clarion that brought the second wave here to the US. In Iceland, a few months after my own birth, a far more unified strike occurred, with 90% of the small nation’s women refusing to work, cook, or look after children. Although the strike did not end sexism (an enemy that has had too much time to grow too large and too infiltrated by far), it revolutionized a nation and certainly contributed to that nation nurturing sisters who inspire us still today, like fierce Birgitta Jónsdóttir.

This tool is used still, and perhaps we sisters should all be more cognizant of it. Although I recognize that some of our sisters are extremely brave warriors, like many women, I have little experience with violence, and my place in the revolution is through peaceful means. Peaceful, but I shall surely be insistent.

Certainly, I will not make my body available as evidence or implement of violence in the prurient war on impurity waged by many of the “evangelical” branches of faith. And surely I will not support the choice of progressive Christianity to sit by idly, doing nothing to confront their own supposed brothers in Christ, but rather telling gay people that they “love us” when one must surely quip, “What’s not to love?” If I go so far as to call this sin, I call it sin not to decry you as a sinner, but to refuse to participate in it.

Surely, I will not submit to nor enforce the authority of men who have never owned a uterus over the rights of my sisters to make choices over their own pregnancies and to plan their own families. If I must stand for the notion that this is a spiritual question at all, I will stand closer to the American Nuns than anyone else speaking spiritually on this topic, and most firmly with the sisterhood of women of any (or no) belief. And though the Pope does not condescend to ask my opinion, I say very simply, that no forgiveness is required, for no sin has been committed.

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Although I can never make the choice to be or not be pregnant, know that this is personal, and I will fight for other women to have that choice. Source: Daily Kos

Believe me, I will not participate in a system in which the rich cry to the poor to cast off their sins, while they gather their fortunes. If I do not give you my money, know that it is because you will not use it to do God’s work.

Know that I will not participate in a segregated church world in which white Christians cry out that they are oppressed because they are called to account for their corrupted and un-Godly beliefs, while they turn a blind eye to the smoke rising from burning black churches.

I act only for my own body, and my own sensibility, that body which I own and which no one else may ever own, not even those to whom I give of it freely and richly. I act in pride of ownership, for I own myself, both grace and flaw. And I wish to own my choice to refuse church.

My choice is not a choice of convenience, and I do not refuse church to sleep in on Sunday mornings or for brunch. Anyone who knows me knows I am not ruled by convenience, and although I may do both of these things, they are not the reason you do not see me in the pew.

My choice is grounded not in my lack of faith, grounded not in my lack of appreciation for spiritual teaching, grounded not in any lack of sense of community, but grounded simply in my observation that I have the right to disallow the use of my own body as a means of my oppression. I do not dispense with God, for God is not bound up in your temples. I do not dispense with belief, because belief is not conferred by your priests or holy men. I do not dispense, either, with fellowship. When you are in the world, when you are amongst our people doing good, fighting for truth and justice, when you decry inequity, I remain your natural sister, and though I do not enter the corrupted places to take communion with you, at least not often, I remember every day, the sacrifices made for me. If I vex God, and surely I must often, it is in a spirit of knowing deeper faith, not for pursuit of blasphemy.

Finally, although I pray mostly for strength where I am unstrong and courage where I am cowardly, and most of all, for those who hurt, too often under your feet, I will surely say an occasional prayer for you, as well. If you pray for me in return, do not pray that I return to church. Rather, pray that I will remain strong in my sensibilities, that I will have no room in me for false religion. For I, like you, am tempted.

The strike may not last forever – indeed, I hope it shall not. But please know that this is why I do not go to church.

The Leap of Faith and Things We Don’t Understand

I had a really interesting discussion with one of my oldest friends about the novel, The Life of Pi, the role of faith, and the idea of accepting things that lack a means to objectively “prove” them. Without ruining the novel (it’s fantastic, and was, I believe, the first book my book club read, 4.5 years ago; the movie rendition is very good, also), a key point is that faith is not something we (only) accept because our beliefs are “right,” but far moreso, because the immediate impact of some kinds of faith is an enrichment of our lives. Faith makes our lives colorful, magic makes our lives magical, and wonderment makes our lives wonderful. To those in a Western religion, this point may seen obscure, although a close look at Christ clearly suggests that he wanted people to have joy in their lives in earth, not (just) in the joy to come. It seems more obvious in the melody of eastern thinking – “Hark! The lotus flower is blooming!” – eastern thinking is very clearly concerned with enlightenment as something from which we can benefit in each moment, a benefit we’ve been missing out on in so many of our moments. 

I have to say, Pi Patel may have been written by a white guy from Canada, but he feels like the older brother I wished I had, to look up to in the girlhood I wished I’d had

As a young Christian (my parents are Hindus, but Hinduism can be fairly giving to the idea of figuring things out for oneself… they did not really argue with or resist my interest in Christianity, driven at first by kinship with my third grade best friend, Andy, a preacher’s kid), much as I didn’t understand my gender identity, I did have an aching, eastern discomfort with the Gospel as late 20th century men preached it, which I couldn’t really explain. Now I can say simply that I am ready to accept the idea of this life as a training, as a honing. Like most people, and perhaps more than many of them, I rejoice at every victory, large and tiny, and I take pride in who I’m becoming. But what I cannot accept is the, to me, absurdist idea that this life of honing has as its ultimate purpose an afterlife in which there is no struggling, no difficulties or privations, no challenges, and no growth. The evangelist’s notion of heaven seems hell to me. I continue to believe in God, and to particularly believe that there is a deep structure* to life that links us together and provides meaning and context to our lives. But I believe most, like Pi Patel, my fictional countryman, in the enrichment faith and belief make in my every moment and every day. 

 

I’ve been told I have a mischievous smile, that makes me seem like I’m up to something (albeit something good). I am. I suppose that it’s my heritage, as my namesake, Krishna, that avatar of wisdom and the courage to make right-minded decisions, was also known to play pranks on maids. I am not big on pranks, but I do see life as a game to play at, passionately, wholeheartedly, but for the love of it.

My friend’s point in bringing up this thing was in the analogy to accepting the idea of transness in another person**. The thing about being transgender is that it’s not something we have a blood test for, or even a questionnaire or other psychological instrument that can provide a valid and reliable*** “diagnosis” for us. The old standard of care (which really policed trans women far more than trans men, and policed far more than helped) was to ignore us. Hope we’d go away, and, if after a while, we had not, deny us and tell us we’re fakers, and then keep doing this until we can prove we can be ladylike in pumps and seamed stockings. Then maybe hormones and surgeries and a modicum of acceptance****. The new standard of care is to mostly just accept the statement at face value – mostly based on the principal that, if nothing else, who would really want to screw up their life like this if they were just playing around?

The claim is leveled unfairly at broader issues in cognition and psychology. We have reliable and valid means of identifying depression, anxiety disorders, OCD, cognitive problems secondary to a variety of causes, and many other things. My autism diagnoses are valid and reliable without having to do a blood stick or needing a specific genetic marker. So it’s really not true in that broader sense, but it is true when it comes to things like sexual orientation and gender identity. Even if we wanted one, we don’t have a valid and interpretable questionnaire that would correctly identify us, either pre or post hoc.

I think one thing cisgender people don’t really consider, however, is that most of us transgender people are our own biggest skeptics. I spent 38 years trying to be a boy and trying to be a man. I tried being a gay man – it turns out I make an even more terrible gay man than I make a straight man. I thought love would cure me and made multiple lengthy attempts with straight women to try and prove this point. A lot of people, especially now, transition much younger, but had it been 28 or even 18 instead of 38… That’s still a long time thinking about this. When I first came out, I’d say, “I think I might be transgender” or something sheepish like that. Sister, please. I don’t think, I know*****. I think people get this in my story, intuitively. Which probably goes back to how binary and how feminine I am. But out of the probably 200 people, to whom I’ve come out by now, only one tried to argue the point with me. In his defense, we’d just met, and he wanted me to be his boyfriend (dearheart, I’d make a terrible boyfriend to anyone, and I can give you references if you’d like to fact check). 

Anyways, my life has become unimaginably richer in the just seven months or so it’s been since I finally accepted, on faith, this idea, which, on it’s surface, seems quite as crazy as believing in a white haired man looking down in judgment (I believe in God, for the record, but I think that conception of God is cray-cray). I’ve been told, so I don’t guess, now, by several people who knew me as a “man” and now also as a woman, that I make so much more sense to them this way, that I seem airier and now unceasingly bounce and skip through life these past months, and I see in the eyes of my friends that they are benefitting from this new faith, now (when I’m not even full time yet). The (vast) majority of these early people I’ve told have been thrilled to be “in” on the secret and to celebrate with me. 

Let’s be honest, I was made to put on a cute dress and twirl around. But it’s not the dress that gives a bounce to my step. It isn’t the heels, cute as they are. It isn’t the makeup or the earrings. The twinkle in my eye doesn’t come from the contrast increasing benefit of mascara. The lilt in my voice isn’t voice coaching******. It’s the faith that puts the spring in my step and the twinkle in my eye. The faith in me. 

* I’m appropriating this term from Noam Chomsky, because I think it fits remarkably well. Chomsky’s point, in essence, is that language cannot be understood by pure virtue of its surface features – the sounds, character shapes, and so on, because its deep structure lies in its communicating approximations of ideas that humans (and other creatures with language) understand with our brains. This explains why anthropologists and archeologists need Rosetta stones. 

** I hardly ever throw a line to my trans friends who are always looking for excuses to call people traitors, and this is no exception… I am not going into the details, which go beyond my friend’s acceptance of my own journey, but he has nothing to prove as an ally to anyone. 

*** Basically, reliable means that a test could be repeated, at least in principle, by different people at different times, and provide the same results; valid, which requires reliable, means that the test means what it claims to mean, because it can predict outcomes well, because it correlates strongly with other validated tests of the same condition, etc. Although most people don’t know it, most procedures used in most of clinical psychology are held to essentially the same standards of reliability and validity as “objective” biological tests used in medicine. 

**** Jan Morris’s story shows that the standard of care, even back then, was unevenly applied, with far better treatment to educated, affluent women like her or me. 

***** Embarrassing number of parentheticals by your shameless authoress, but I can’t resist the bubble gum comic joke. The teacher says, “Billy, what is the answer to this problem” Billy says, “What do you think it is, ma’am?” She says, “I don’t think, I know.” Billy says, “I don’t think I know, either!”

******* Now I’m just being impertinent. For the record, I am seeing a voice coach on Monday (it’s Saturday the 17th today… I write these blog posts in advance and schedule them out, and I’ll edit and add pictures later, because it seems wasteful to buy airplane WiFi to blog). I’m curious about what she has to say, but I don’t really think this is a big focus area for me, although if there are tweaks I can do, beyond what I do subconsciously and with a little iPhone app training, I’ll possibly do them. Jenny Boylan did this, though, and she felt like she mistressed (I must resort to a parenthetical to opine on my love for neologism, since a footnote within my sixth footnote in this blog would be ridiculous, even for me) it, but it felt insincere, and she stopped doing it. When I did the iPhone app, I felt kind of like this also, but anyways, we’ll see. 

Trans-Inclusive Spirituality

I’ve got a blog related to this topic I’m going to post in a few days, but by way of teaser, I love H. Adam Ackley’s response to the situation with George Fox University (who?) refusing services to Jayce, a trans masculine student. Dr. Ackley gets mad props for the particular Proverbs quote he leads off with.

20140408-190310.jpg

I’m deeply impressed when anyone starts a
blog with a quote like that.

In case the name sounds vaguely familiar, Dr. Ackley is the same gentleman who was kicked off faculty at Azusa Pacific University for his own transness. All us academics and quasi-academics (I have a PhD but work primarily outside the Tower) need to stand up against the monstrosity. Christian or not, it is unacceptable for any university to behave in this fashion. It defiles higher education and makes us all look bad.

20140408-190318.jpg

To be frank, I held Azusa Pacific University in low
esteem prior to this news, but it didn’t help any

Much love to Jayce, hope you get all support you deserve, and not just a degree, but an education (won’t we all live in a better world if less people get degrees and more people get educated?). Please stay tuned, I’ve lots more to say about people who build exclusionary movements under the guise of religion.