Open Minded

My two sisters and my one brother are much older than me.  I often joke that I was an only child with five parents.  It’s very difficult for me, even though I will be 40 years old on my next birthday, to out-live the title of “baby of the family”.


Conversations with my neo-conservative sister (seven years older) often involve wading into a controversial subject that would end in her evaluating the interaction and giving me some motherly  sisterly advice.  Nearly every conversation would end with, “Don’t be so open minded that you’ll let anything in.”


If I disagreed with her about taxes: Don’t be so open minded that you’ll let anything in.


If I disagreed with her about political systems: Don’t be so open minded that you’ll let anything in.


If I disagreed with her about military intervention: Don’t be so open minded that you’ll let anything in.


If I disagree with her about religion: Don’t be so open minded that you’ll let anything in.


One particularly heated argument (by Scandinavian-American standards – which involves any discussion that could even be called ‘an argument’), a very long time ago, concerned marriage equality.  She insisted that “homosexual” was a willful action and not an identity referring to sexual orientation and various nonsense about “gay marriage” being ridiculous and supporting it being ungodly or whatever and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.  I responded to her “arguments” but she accused me of not listening to her and just waiting for her to get done talking so that I could hear myself speak.


I was a bit indignant – but I knew it was true.  There is nothing she could possibly say that would change my mind.  What?  She was going to convince me that my friends shouldn’t have the right to marry their partners?


It’s not happening.


It simply wasn’t up for debate – well not REAL debate.  A real debate is a negotiation where various stake-holders come to the table, make their cases and come to a conclusion.  I’d be happy to “debate” marriage equality as a means of convincing an audience, as some sort of spectacle, but there was no audience to convince.  The stake-holders were also not invited – so what sort of legitimate “debate” could there be on this issue between us? 


I absolutely was just waiting for her to get done talking so I could put in my two cents; so I could articulate my thoughts; so I could explain how she was wrong.


Then she said, “Don’t be so open minded that you’ll let anything in.”  Instead of, yet again, allowing my stance to be discredited as simply youthful contrarianism or whimsy – I finally told my sister:


“I’m not open minded.  I disagree with you.”

Spiritual Awakenings I Have Had

I’ve been alone a lot in my life. I remember once as a child I told my grandmother that I wished I’d had a little brother. I can’t remember her exact words, but she said something to the effect of

“Would you really want to subject another person to this?” This being our lives.

We’re not social people, my family. We don’t have parties, we don’t celebrate. Because why would you? Why, how, could anyone celebrate this?

I like to think that I didn’t come to the conclusion so easily. That in my valiant child’s heart, I thought if I had a brother, I’d protect him. But I also like to think that I was smart enough, even then, to know how wrong that valiance was.

When I was born, I know my parents wanted different for me. I have no reason to doubt their assertions that this is true. That is maybe why, in the long run, I did have different. But in the beginning, it was very much the same. Neglect, physical abuse, emotional terror, and general sexual impropriety were a part of my reality, as those things were a part of theirs.

You can’t have a baby in a mud pit and not expect to get mud on it.

But intentions must count for something, because here I am. Years ago, I found myself a citizen of two countries: Function and dysfunction. Both were extremely lonely. The former because I was no longer comfortable with the life I’d been given. The latter because I wanted it so bad, but I didn’t even know the language of function.

For this kind of lonely person, with too much perspective to be cowed and too little experience to be bold, God sounds like a wonderful idea. Here would be the all-knowing father I wanted, but never had. Here would be the all-loving mother I craved. Finally, I could be alone and not lonely. An eternal friend. I could take a God with me into the pockets of void-darkness inside of me. I could fill those holes with Holy light. I could have a spiritual awakening, I could have a life that truly was beyond my wildest dreams.

So I prayed and I meditated, and I asked a God I only believed in enough to resent for the knowledge of His will for me. And eventually, I did have my first spiritual awakening.

As with most spiritual experiences, I was some degree of exhausted and desperate. I was really depressed, and worried about whether my suffering had meaning when I started to pray. I repeated the same prayer over and over until it occurred to me that suffering leads to growth, growth to joy, joy to new levels of experience, which in turn leads back to suffering again. Over and over, the cycle of success through failure, of beginnings and endings everywhere all the time. I was merely at one of many points in this cycle, one small gear in a cosmic machine I had absolutely no hope to understand.

Rather than making me feel helpless, it gave me a sense of peace. My suffering was mine, but it wasn’t just mine. That’s when it started to become a thing that happened, rather than the thing that happened to me.

The second time I had a spiritual awakening, I was feeling really horrible about all the selfish bullshit I'd perpetrated on others as a result of my own pain, when suddenly I felt the light in the room grow brighter. At the same time, I realized that all the people I had so many issues with, people I blamed for how my life turned out, they were all just as lost and ignorant as I was.

I felt very strongly that I saw, for the briefest second, humanity the way a benevolent creator would see us. All so caught up in reacting to stimuli, all so afraid and confused. I felt like, if I could keep that feeling in my heart, maybe I could avoid being such a bastard all the time.

I turned out to be mostly right. Now my problem is I keep forgetting to remember what that felt like.

Most recently, I was really stressed out and overwhelmed after starting my own business, so I sat down to meditate. After a couple of minutes, I saw very clearly a creek I visited with my grandma as a kid, and in my mind’s eye, I sat beside it with a stack of origami paper.

I started building boats and floating them into the creek. I took my time, trying to get each fold right, but not always managing it, then I would set the completed boat in the water and let it float away. I tried to set it in the right place, I tried to build a good boat, but whether or not they sank or floated, I never even saw. I was already working on the next boat.

When I got up. I realized that's what I should be doing. I should be giving each task my complete attention, I should do everything I am able to in order to ensure success, and then I should let it go to sink or float on its own in the current of life. There's no judgment if the boat floats or sinks, only that this is the result that boat experienced. I made the best boat I could, and dropped it in the best spot I could, and the rest was the river.

Like my other experiences, a sense of peace settled on me, along with a sense of awe. I get so caught up in the trivialities of life while the infinite wonder of the universe quietly tessellates out all around me in every direction, both measurable and immeasurable. I am such a small part of this magnificent world that we still know so little about.

Even though they’ve all given me a perspective on my own place in the universe, none of these spiritual awakenings has made me feel particularly strongly about the existence or nature of a God. Despite the fact that I went into each of them searching for such a deity, they’ve only taught me that life itself is a vast, complicated, wonderful mystery. To assume more than that would be arrogant, and wholly beside the point.

Christian Reconstructionism and the Non-Christian Family

I am about to become a mother in just eight weeks. My husband and I are very excited, but like all new parents we are worried about finances, healthcare, daycare, etc. We’re very lucky to have sufficient income and enough money saved that, though we will worry like all parents do, we are not likely to need public assistance. Of course, anything can happen. We could lose our jobs and not find others for quite some time. One of us could become severely ill. In that case, we would find ourselves grateful for public assistance. It would allow us to pay the bills and feed our baby. It would help us, as a couple, to be less stressed out about money and, therefore, our relationship would not suffer as much. In short, public assistance and programs that serve families do more than just feed people; they allow families to be emotionally healthy, keeping them intact.


Have you ever wondered why so much of the religious right is opposed to life-saving programs that serve families? Why would someone, who claims to promote family values and family togetherness, want to abolish the very programs that for many keep their families together and thriving? The answer for some is quite simple – because Christian Reconstructionism.


Christian Reconstructionism is a Calvinistic philosophy founded by Rousas John Rushdoony, a man who has had a profound influence on the Christian right. The underlying premise is that god demands separate roles for government, church, and family. Government, though theocratic, is meant to be limited and all moral offenses are dealt with by the church. These distinctions can become confused because Christian Reconstructionists call for Old Testament law, which would naturally involve both the criminal (government) and the moral (church). Furthermore, Christian Reconstructionism demands that only staunch adherents participate in government, further mingling church and state. However, one area that believers are convinced is firmly in the realm of the church is family assistance or charity. In the eyes of the Christian Reconstructionist, government has absolutely no business whatsoever creating programs to help needy families because god has intended this role for the church alone. To summarize, it is not only a bad idea to create government programs, it is absolutely going against god’s laws.


This might sound like a fringe philosophy, and twenty years ago you would have been correct. However, nowadays, you can find it in the mouths of such right-wing luminaries as David Barton, who said, “It’s not the government’s responsibility to take care of the poor and needy. It’s the church’s responsibility.” The Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and other notable right-wing groups have also espoused this philosophy. Even more terrifying is that Michael Petrouka, the Republican nominee for an Anne Arundel County, Maryland council seat, openly embraces Christian Reconstructionism and will quite possibly be making and passing laws that negatively impact families in that state. Still more “mainstream” right-wing politicians have made common cause with many Christian Reconstructionists and have worked tirelessly, both in congress and state legislatures, to slash budgets and find other ways to put their theological views to work.


The problem for us as non-Christians is obvious. If the right continues to be successful in cutting programs to families in need, what will be our lot? The Christian Reconstructionist says that we should then look to the church for help. This is problematic in many ways: under a theocratic government, a church may refuse to grant help to non-members or unequal treatment may be given to families who don’t believe. Perhaps a family may not wish to convert and compromise their integrity. Of course, the reality is that many would compromise if it came down to feeding their children and that is exactly what the Christian Reconstructionist would like to see. In short, the religious right is working to destroy the integrity of your and my non-Christian family in its pursuit of what it sees as god’s mandate, that America embraces biblical law. It is time for non-Christian families to make economic justice a priority in the fight against religious oppression.