A Post-Evangelical Dealing with the Fallout of Being Raised With Really Screwed-Up Coding in My Programming
Today I was reading an article written by a mother of three, with two of her children requiring life-saving medical treatment from the moment they were born. I can relate to that part. If I hadn’t had medical help from the beginning, I wouldn’t have ANY of my four children. But this sweet mother’s story goes on to more difficulty, going forward with burdens I haven’t had to endure since my kids outgrew their issues by two. Her children’s health issues have continued throughout their lives. Her article, a letter to the president’s daughter, was fascinating to me. And two of the sentences stood out to me, impacted me, and I bookmarked them in my mind, with the intent of going back and rereading them, and pondering them, because they rang so true to me.
But then I couldn’t find them. I scanned the article, looking for keywords to locate the sentences. Then I reread the sections where I thought they were. Nothing. I found the original paragraph where I’d seen them, but they weren’t there either. So I just read the entire article again. And again. And even one more time. I did a word search, looking for those keywords ringing around in my thoughts, and they were not to be found. Racking my brain to reconstruct the sentences, I started jotting down bits and pieces, trying to rewrite what I’d read — a nearly impossible feat for my foggy, medication-altered brain. Struggling to remember just exactly what those two sentences said, I thought surely I could find them somewhere in my morning’s reading material, so I searched back through my reading history, in case I was nuts, to see if there was a different article in which I might have read what was pinging around inside of my mind. There was nothing in my browser history either.
Then I thought back to past moments when I’d heard the Holy Spirit speak to me in near-audible ways. Times like when I listened to sermons and I knew that I’d heard or understood words or ideas that had not been directly spoken, that other witnesses could not recall, though something impactful had been communicated to my spirit. So I had to wonder today, did I read something that wasn’t actually there? Was I supposed to realize something profound, was I meant to understand something that wasn’t written in the article but was an important truth? Or did the page refresh after the writer uploaded a different version and I just didn’t notice? That could be what happened. But I don’t believe that’s what did happen.
Of course, the next thing to do is to actually consider what I thought I’d read. Is there anything to it? Could there be a reason why the Spirit would want me to think these words were in the article?
These are the two sentences — reconstructed as best as I can from memory — that were nowhere to be found when I scrolled back up: Prosperous Christians believe people who are low income are so because of their own poor choices and moral failures. If people would simply exercise good moral choices they would enjoy prosperity.
There was a little more in the second sentence — in my mind’s eye, I can see the words typed out on the page, but it’s blurry there where I’m trying to remember what I’d specifically read in its entirety. Because I can see the rest of the words so clearly in my memory, I cannot believe that I didn’t read it, that I just made it up.
But why would I see it there? Why so vividly, so much so that it flickered in my thoughts all the way to the end of the article, calling me back to the paragraph so I could reread it again and ponder it? I remember distinctly, zeroing in on the words as I took them in the first time, thinking Wow that’s amazing that this is exposing this! Now I must explore what I saw, it is so unique, so mind blowing, that I envisioned a statement so clearly that wasn’t there.
Pondering the words, I realize I grew up with this exact [warped] tenet. I’ve had to fight it over and over, recognizing the ugly truth that this idea had been programmed into my fiber and that for a long time I functioned with this terrible lie lurking inside the back of my oh-so-ignorant mind. It never was more clear than one Sunday more than twenty years ago when my family and I were driving (probably to church) past a laundromat. A woman was crossing the street in front of us carrying her basket of clothes. Offhandedly I commented (or scoffed, more accurately) at her for doing her laundry on a Sunday. (As I write that, I’m completely, utterly appalled that those words could even have issued from my lips.) My husband, Jason, immediately called me out on it. He said, “How do you know this isn’t the only chance she has to get her clothes washed?” His words cut through me like a flaming sword. What was I? It was exposed to me, for the first time ever — with utter humiliation and remorse — that deeply embedded in me were these horrible precepts. I’d lived over thirty years yet had never had introspection about it before. I’d never considered where my ideas came from or what they were based in. I just had this knee-jerk thought process — which, to begin with, was incompatible with my own reality. We’d ourselves had been broke, we’d been on Medicaid, we’d lived in a pastor’s extra bedroom for six months because we didn’t have our own home, we’d lived by the charity of others who brought us food when we didn’t have grocery money or who anonymously gave us money to cover unexpected expenses. We’d lived in a low rent apartment and ate WIC food. These were not because of anything we’d done wrong. We didn’t “deserve” to be broke. Things happen that impact our lives that are out of our hands. Job loss. Illness. Quadruplets. Who in the world was I to think I was superior to anybody, especially a hard working woman who took her day off to get her laundry clean? This ugly proclamation had spewed out of my mouth without thought. It was like a hostile alien lived deeply inside of me which had come loose and erupted from my hidden self.
Once I contemplated all this, after I took a Good Hard Look at myself, I began to change that day. The importance of taking a Good Hard Look is something one cannot downplay. Man, do we all need to do this! And not just once, but ongoing. For the rest of our lives we need to take a Good Hard Look at ourselves.
A Good Hard Look means being honest, like Wow, this is tough to admit. Some people cannot do this. It’s simply too terrifying. I’ve watched people become vicious, irate, teetering on violence when pushed to take a Good Hard Look at something repulsive in their own hearts. There is no safety net. If they were to look honestly, they wouldn’t be able to cope with what they find. They wouldn’t know it doesn’t have to define them. They don’t realize they’d still be a valued, loved person, no matter what they see in there.
A Good Hard Look is difficult — anywhere on a scale from wow that’s tough [gulp] to absolutely impossible as things currently stand — as in not compatible with life — as in this will cause a mental implosion if you make me go there! It also means an intense, cutting to the core, going deep, right into the center of the heart. Like in C.S. Lewis’ book Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Eustace had to let Aslan the Lion remove the dragon skin with his razor claw. It hurt him. The previous attempts were shallow surface changes. But the real change came with the pain of shedding bad stuff. And eventually it turned to relief, to new life.
When I saw those horrible traits in myself, it was as though a spotlight was shining onto my inner being. Fortunately, the Spirit of God had been working with me for a while and I was in a place that I could safely confront those nasty characteristics without the truth causing my utter undoing. I’d been learning that God loved me, and his love was not based on what I did, but because that’s just what God does. He loves. So my very state of being was not at risk if I saw and acknowledged bad stuff inside of me. Long before I had escaped that world of work-oriented acceptance into God’s love circle. I’d rejected the lies that I had to be wonderful or well-behaved or never say the prohibited words on “The Forbidden Word List” to receive God’s stamp of approval. Because I knew I would still be valued by God regardless of what dirt smudged my reputation, I actually could look at my wrongness and not totally freak out. So I looked where the light projected and saw the abominable wrong thinking. I found in the deepest layers, among many old stacked, cobwebbed doctrines, that there was coding in my programming that said people were poor because of their own moral choices, and so therefore their lot was of their own making and they’d gotten what they’d deserved, and so I need not give them compassion, time, or grace. People were in their circumstances because they’d put themselves there.
But I’ve known so many people who did nothing to bring about their low income. One extreme example, a woman whose daughter I tutored in Chicago was simply born into the Cabrini Green projects. She worked two jobs to do the most she could for her child. She toiled without vacations anywhere, let alone Disney like so many people I know. She hadn’t brought that on herself.
And more importantly, I know so many more people who have money who did not do more than their poorer counterparts to get where they are. They lucked out. Life has been kind to them. Sure they worked hard. But so so so many of us do.
Those horrid, untrue codes held absolutely no nuance either. It was all or nothing. I understand that in reality, yes, some people choose things that bring worse circumstances that could have been avoided with different actions. But this set belief in me was condemning across the board — that’s just the way it is. Don’t think about it, see a woman with her laundry basket on a Sunday, label her, put her in a category, condemn that category, and walk on. Walk on thinking you’re better.
Absurd. The strangest thing was, I didn’t even believe that garbage, not even back then. That crap was just in there on the old tapes I’d never looked at, never took time to reflect on, or identify, or jettison. I don’t accept that people from low rent apartments are inherently bad people. And I wasn’t even a person who thought consciously that Sundays were mandated as “a day of rest.” I’d worked Sundays most of my professional life. Old tapes, bad coding, can destroy us if we don’t clean them out. They sneak out unexpectedly in destructive, terrible ways. And even worse that day, my children heard me talk like that! I was passing on the coding to them. I was perpetuating the horrid doctrine that sickened me even then, once I recognized it.
Of course we can always find justifications for keeping old, bad ideas. We can point our fingers at people as examples of those who perpetuate the stereotypes we believe. Sure, stereotypes don’t come about in a vacuum. But what about looking beyond them? What about the people who in truth, in their own personal struggles, don’t really fit the patterns, or maybe have stories we don’t truly know?
Why not grow? Why not let the light shine on the cobwebs and see if we might hold on to ideas that keep us stuck with unchallenged tenets? Sure, nobody likes shakeups. But we all need them. None of us have it all figured out. And if we think we do, then we need to let some bright light shine in and show us that we really don’t.