Religion, Authenticity & Oceans of Pee: Faith Can Be Messy
~By Beth Woolsey, Five Kids Is a Lot of Kids
Hey! Let’s talk about Jesus!
They say to write what you know.
They say to be genuine.
They say to be authentic.
I don’t know who “they” are exactly, but their advice is risky.
How genuine should we be, after all? In which venues? And with whom? How much of our hearts and minds and wonky belief systems do we toss into the world? “Be authentic” doesn’t seem like situationally appropriate advice, after all.
Talking about Jesus is dicey. Not because of Jesus necessarily. I mean, there was the whole water-to-wine thing, which I think we can all agree was awesome. And most people are OK with the way Jesus loved people and let them in and opened doors and changed the rules and freed the oppressed and befriended the lonely.
The problem with Jesus, of course, is Christians. Now, if more of us prayed Anne Lamott’s prayer, “Help me not be such an asshat,” we might not be in such a hot mess. But Christians are a mixed-up crowd: complicated, opinionated, beautiful, and terrible, sometimes all in the same person. Like humans everywhere, I suppose.
I usually write about my accidental journey to parenting a thousand children. I write humor and relief and grace for moms and dads in the trenches. Five kids is a lot of kids, after all, and it’s our goal to raise them to be self-sufficient enough to pay for their own counseling. Write what you know, they say, and so I write about lowering the bar and relaxing into imperfection and trying to love my people well.
When I started writing about my messy faith, full of soul-searching and questions and not nearly enough answers, I was sure I was in trouble. I was sure I was about to take it from both barrels like Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin – pshew, pshew! I was sure the Jesus people were going to take me down for my irreverence and potty humor. And I was positive my readers, who counted on me for posts about oceans of pee and zipper penis accidents, would not, could not, recover from the whiplash of urinal cakes one minute and faith the next.
Worse, I was terrified both camps would think I was trying to convert them. That I have an agenda. Or a lifestyle to promote. Or a political position to posit.
I was, in other words, afraid.
I was afraid of being judged and found wanting.
I was afraid people would be wrong about me.
I was afraid people would be right.
Once upon a time, I refused to say I was a Christian. I preferred “Jesus follower” if someone pushed me about religion. Or “radical lover,” which my husband liked best but not for godly reasons. But then an atheist friend convinced me I was wrong to shuck the title Christian because I didn’t want to be painted with the hater brush or because I wanted to provide a more long-winded explanation.
“Everyone is more complex than her titles,” she said. “And everyone wants a chance to explain. Don’t give up on saying you’re a Christian. Instead, believe there’s more to every person’s story. Start by treating yours like it matters.”
She knocked me flat with the truth.
Everyone is more complex than her titles. Everyone wants a chance to explain. Don’t give up claiming who you are. Instead, believe there’s more to every person’s story. Start by treating yours like it matters.
I’m writing about this at Families in the Loop because I find myself more and more enamored these days with authenticity. With risk. With telling wild truths that have more questions than answers.
I’m more interested these days in madness and imperfection.
I’m more interested in breaking through barriers than hiding behind my walls.
I wonder: What pieces of ourselves are we afraid to live out loud? What pieces do we hide because we’re sure we’ll be judged and found wanting?
What might the world be like if we choose to be wildly, shamelessly ourselves? What stereotypes can we change? What odd friendships can we forge?
What if, oh, I don’t know, we have a real conversation – right here – about the things that happen in our hearts? What if we’re ourselves with people who think different things? What might we find out about each other? What might we find out about ourselves?
There’s more to every person’s story. And I will claim my own. Why? Because it matters.
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