A Heartbroken God
I went into the Chiropractor today to address some chronic back pain. I am just getting to know this doctor. I am still adjusting to life in a somewhat rural community. My Chiropractor is a devout Christian. He loves baseball and there is a large American flag decorating the wall in the waiting room. In the treatment room, a plaque reads “Our God is a great God”. He is a good-hearted man.
For spring break, my doctor visited California with his family. I overheard him talking to another patient in the hallway about his trip to San Francisco and about her trip to Disneyland. When the nurse came in to check my blood pressure, she asked if I had taken a vacation with my family for spring break (it is very common for people to try to get to sunnier weather this time of year). I joked that my wife’s new “adulting job” doesn’t seem to include much time off and how ironic it is that we did more traveling when we were living on a shoestring budget. The nurse responded that she enjoyed meeting my wife last week and we both agreed that she is pretty great: smart, articulate and always even-tempered.
I tried to not think about all of the qualities that I lack. I tried to keep my mind from wandering back to California and my friends back home who “know me”. I tried to rub the feeling of being an outsider out of my eyes and to be grateful to have a good blood pressure reading.
The nurse noticed my wet rain jacket and I explained that I had walked to my appointment. We laughed about how quickly a sprinkle can turn into a downpour. When the Chiropractor came in, he mentioned my jacket as well. I had carefully hung it onto a chair, damp side up, away from the wall to avoid getting anything wet. It has been raining a lot this week and some of the streets are flooded in nearby areas. I used to love springtime in California but here, it feels more like winter with flowers.
My new Chiropractor is friendly and somehow we started talking about his training. He shared that he had never met an openly gay person until he attended Chiropractic school. He told me that his mentor had been a lesbian and that she had been very understanding. When he expressed his curiosity about her sexual orientation, she welcomed him to ask respectful questions. He explained how much she helped him to see that despite their differences, people can share much in common. They are still close friends to this day.
He asked me if I had experienced much in the way of homophobia since I had moved to this area. I told him that the homophobia was not much different than elsewhere but that I wasn’t used to the racism that I had been encountering. I mentioned the two conversations with neighbors that made me feel uneasy. Both conversations seemed to arise randomly.
One neighbor was discussing a college club in which his granddaughter was involved. He announced that he disapproved of the club and added abruptly that no one can make him stop hating “some people.” He punctuated the statement with a long steely look into my eyes. This neighbor is elderly and his wife is friendly and so, I still see him and we haven’t had any more unpleasant interactions.
The other neighbor (different occasion) was wearing an Army Vietnam Veteran cap and I mentioned that both of my Uncles were Army Veterans and fought in Vietnam and that it had been a difficult time for them. He responded tersely that he enjoyed the killing in Vietnam and that he would do it again if he could. The conversation descended swiftly from there, as if there was much further to fall, into something about the Mexicans who took away his son’s chance at a decent education. We still wave at each other when he is out riding his motorcycle but we haven’t actually spoken since.
These conversations came up when I was delivering fresh blueberries from my garden. I wish I was better at small talk, or at minimum, that I wasn’t the type of person people feel so at ease with being candid. It can be awkward when you look “white” but are the child of an immigrant from Central America. People speak their minds in this town and I usually appreciate that quality in a person. However, when people say disparaging things to me about Latinos or other minorities, at first, without knowing about my heritage and later, without caring, it can be difficult to manage.
I told my Chiropractor that I missed my friends in Calfornia and that despite the rat race, congestion and smog, I missed the cultural diversity, museums, and great food. When he adjusted my back, it made an unusually loud crunch. He replied that the rain gets him down too and I got the feeling with everything that he didn’t say, that he might be considering relocating to California.
I sat up and felt a little dizzy and my doctor, who is a very inquisitive man, asked me if I attended church. I explained that I was once a very devout Christian but that my church rejected me when I came to terms with my sexual orientation. I clarified that I am basically agnostic now — that, I don’t know — and that it seems to take as much faith to firmly not believe in God as it does to be a true believer; both are strong convictions and I am not sold on either argument, at this point in my life. I added, awkwardly, that I enjoy the teachings of Buddhism. I paused, still feeling a little dizzy and continued like a distracted driver barrelling through a red light: It seems to be the nature of man to create a God that reflects his own image and that although all religions teach love, it troubles me that people kill each other in the name of their Gods.
A long silence hovered above us and I wished that I could delete my spoken words. In retrospect, I think he was probably thinking that church might be a place where I could make friends or something. I missed the cue.
My doctor completed one last adjustment to my neck and I heard a loud snap; It didn’t hurt but I felt a little dizzier and this time, he looked a little dizzy too. I worried that my last comment made me sound like I was opposed to religion. So, I added one last log to the fire and chirped, despite my reservations about God’s existence, I try to live a spiritual life.
At that point, I could tell that we were both unsure of what that actually meant. We smiled at each other, said a quick see ya’ next time! He opened the door and left the room. I exhaled and wished that I could be more like my wife. She never seems to get into these types of conversations. She just delivers the blueberries and everyone comments on the weather.
I put my damp jacket and shoes back on and proceeded to walk down the hallway as I continued turning my thoughts over like smooth stones in a river. I half-consciously offered a friendly nod and thank you to the nurse and receptionist and headed back out back into the rain.
I walked in a daze, pushing down the memory of my old youth pastor. I was trying to hold back the conversation that I had with him over thirty years ago, the last time I attended church, when I confided that I thought I might be gay. They say that timing is everything, but really, no time would have been the right time for that little chat. He responded with a fast and stern warning to not come back until I was sure I was straight. I saw a flash of fire and brimstone in his eyes and I left, at a fast clip, once and for all.
I reminded myself of how long ago that was but pondered how it could feel like only yesterday.
I inhaled and exhaled deeply as I redirected my mind back to my new Chiropractor, reassuring myself that he was different; Things have changed and I am far from being a teenage church girl. I don’t need to listen to that pointless and dusty old echo in my head.
When I was a Christian, I believed that this literally meant to be Christ-like. I took that seriously. For me, it meant that I would give my life to save my fellow man. It meant that I loved my neighbor — no matter who they happened to be. I also believed that we, as humans, were directed by God to take care of each other and to protect the precious earth that God had created.
If that is what it truly is to be a Christian, then, I suppose that I would still be/still am. Unfortunately, not all Christians interpret their Bibles in the same way. Many do not welcome me, or people like me, into their businesses, places of worship or communities. Some would reject Jesus himself if he came to their front door looking like a dark-skinned and bearded immigrant. There is no point in mentioning that the Last Supper seemed a lot like Passover, when you are uninvited.
I no longer hold enough faith to fully believe or disbelieve in any one story of God. Still, despite my agnosticism, I see traces of the face of God within others, nature, all living things and within myself. I realize now that if I am a reflection of God, I must mirror a heartbroken and somewhat confused God.
I still love with a heart that loves unconditionally, despite the great sadness that I feel. I have met Godly people in every walk of life, both religious and outside of religion. If I ever find the faith to believe again, it will be to believe in a nameless God that does not prefer one child over another.
Thank you for reading — Noe
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