Lent: A Letter to a Friend

Lent: A Letter to a Friend
(Otherwise known as “Minding Your Business”
c. Spring 2002
Amy Lynn Reifsnyder
When I was a Sunday School Superintendent, and teacher of an age-integrated class, I had the opportunity to talk with the kids (ages 4-15) about the Season of Lent. As you know, this is the time Christians celebrate as the Prelude to the Crucifixion and Resurrection. Traditionally, Christians chose to ‘give up’ something they value in honor of the sacrifice the Christ made. The kids asked me what importance this tradition had to their lives. I suggested that, by denying something they loved, perhaps they would find it easier to turn down something tempting that would only bring them grief, such things as fighting with their siblings, participating in parties their friends had, shoplifting from the local store…that sort of thing. They listed their vices, and their favorites, and then decided which of the delightful, delicious things in their lives they could bear to part with for forty days. We talked, too, about how we could support one another’s choices. Praying was an option, talking to someone, sending each other notes. It was an interesting season. The class talked about how they felt, the temptation, the desire, the frustration, the guilt if they broke their commitment ‘just this once’. We talked about how we felt about each other. And in the end of the Time of Trial, we also celebrated the victories. The pride and renewed sense of self-confidence of those who had made it through was evident on their faces and in their voices. Those who had ‘failed’ were forgiven and encouraged to try again. Together, we celebrated the Resurrection, the gifts of renewal and new life. It was Easter, after all.

Which brings me to this.

I’ve been thinking about your life these days and thought maybe I’d meddle enough to send you a ‘note’ of support during the Season of Lent that is going on in your family. See, from my perspective, I see you as a responsible, caring, loving, adoring parent, daughter, teacher, friend. I also witness your frustration, fear, uncertainty, sorry as you work through the transitions of life among your family – your folks, your children, your beloved, and the energy you devote to your profession. You not only are supportive of the people to whom you are related, but also to those of us who are honored to be among your colleagues. I see you maintaining your cool, relieving your stress quietly, professionally. I wonder if things are handled this way at home.

I have been speculating how you might be feeling after the most recent event involving The Evil Car and your daughter. I think one of the hardest things about parenting is realizing that no matter what or how a child is taught, inevitably, they turn out to be themselves. It may have been you who carried this child, nursed her, fed, clothed, and sheltered her, disciplined her, played with and loved her. And no matter what you did to try to guide her and encourage her to make the ‘right’ decisions, she is still herself, and will make the choices she will.

Where am I going with this rambling? And what does it have to do with Lent? It’s like this. Yes, your daughter may break your heart by being disobedient to you. She may appall you by breaking the laws of the state. You may think her dim-witted for risking her life and the lives of her friends. You may just be extremely frustrated that she has managed, by her actions, to throw a wrench into an already uncertain car situation. But she has also expressed some pretty powerful personality traits, characteristics that I, personally, admire. This child of yours is not afraid to take risks, not afraid to defy authorities she disagrees with, is considerate of her friends, and trusts your love. In her Season of Lent, she has chosen to give up the comfort of her childhood in your home. In her Season of Lent, she has chosen to experiment with personal choices that may cause her to lose privileges, as well as your trust and respect. This takes courage. She has also risked the value of your love for her. She may be a young woman, but she still needs to know whether or not you love her. Or, now that she is maturing, are you just relieved that she won’t be ‘your responsibility’ any longer? Among her peers are youth whose parents wouldn’t even notice she had taken the car, let alone given her rules to follow. Among her peers are those whose parents wouldn’t have gone to the accident site, let alone shown up with hearts full of fear and concern. Among her friends are those whose boundaries are so far removed from the family unit that they would not have bothered to call home. Your daughter has risked giving up you, not donuts, not chocolate, not their cell phone – you, her mother and her friend, just to see if she could. And she can’t.

With my lecturing finger at the ready, I tell you that you have done a fantastic job as a parent. This daughter of yours is a strong-willed, independent thinker – a rare commodity among today’s youth. This daughter also feels safe within your family; this feeling safe within a family is also rare. I am not suggesting you not discipline her. If you didn’t, it would defeat the purpose of her whole enterprise. But, (I say as I waggle my finger at you), you may not discipline yourself. No late-night murmurings about what you ‘should’ have done, what you ‘could’ have done. You are doing what seems to be one of your best traits: you love your family.

Your children will continue to be who they are, just like you will continue to be who you are. During this Season, I would offer you what support I can. It is my way to meddle, you see, and to mind your business.

Stand strong in the desert places. Reject what is false. Suffer through the long, lonely night. Forgive the denial. Rise.

Kids, after all, are only lent.

With prayers, hugs, and love,

The Ugly Step-Sister Amy Lynn Reifsnyder February 7, 2020

The Ugly Step-Sister
Amy Lynn Reifsnyder
February 7, 2020
My house smells like dead mouse. We are engaged in the Mighty Mouse Massacre around here these days, and I think somebody got thwacked by the snap trap or one of the dogs, and has gone off to decompose somewhere out of sight. I am telling you this to assure you that I am not perfect, nor is my household and life always in order. This becomes an important fact to bear in mind as this essay unfolds. For those of you who have been reading my recent essays, you may have gathered I am having difficulty with my spiritual identity. No, not my sexual identity – which I know some of you have been questioning because of my recent – and lifelong – support of people who are gay. I am not gay, lesbian, homosexual, light in the loafers, a dyke, a … whatever the current labels are. I am a straight heterosexual woman who thinks women are anatomically incorrect when it comes to who I want in my bed and body. But the bottom line (no pun intended) is, as long as you are not molesting someone else, I don’t care what you do with your sex parts. That’s your business. End of that discussion for the moment. Let’s move on.
Today I want to talk about the Family of God. This is the title of a song by the Bill Gaither Trio that I learned when I was a young teen. It’s a beautiful anthem and was pretty much the underlying creed for why I took the bold step to follow Jesus as my Lord and Savior. If you’ve missed the Family Essays, you may not understand how necessary it was for me to belong to a family of love and brotherhood – God is my Heavenly Father/Mother and Jesus is my Divine Brother. Did I want to be adopted into this Family? Yes. Oh, very yes! Where do I sign up?
I became one of those annoying converts who carries stones of judgement in every pocket and a backpack full just to be sure I never ran out. My parents were going to hell because they smoked cigarettes – they’d be familiar with flame and ash. My biological brother was off to the Bottomless Pit because he used drugs. (Well. Wait. There is something about that that turned out to be almost true, at least for a while.) The neighbors… The kids at school… The government… You name it, I had a judgement already signed and sealed just waiting to be delivered by God’s Right-Hand Maiden! ME!!!
Until, of course, that Divine Family I had become part of sent me a few Messengers and a Holy Cow Spirit! Dale and Karen Preiser. Best Youth Ministers EVER. We bunch of awkward and gnarly teens would go to them on a regular basis and want to get the Inside Edition of How to Save our Family and Friends. We’d throw accusations around like confetti at a jubilee. And you know what they said? Over and Over Again? “Go read what Jesus said were the key commandments.” We did. “Well,” Dale continued, “once we have that ‘love your neighbor as yourself’ thing mastered, we’ll move onto the other rules.” He gathered up our stones, used them to mark the kick ball field and we went out to play.
A little later I met a Catholic priest who was always a priest, not just on Sunday. I’d attend mass regularly, simply because I liked the guy. His recurring sermon? Love one another like God has loved us. Even when he aged out into dementia, this was his recurring lesson. Got to love a man who spends his dying words telling the world to love one another, even though he had not always been shown love or appreciation. Made me wonder.
I am one of those people who have often moved – for a job, for a boyfriend, for the hell of it, because the beach was four hours away, because the Rockies were further, because the rent was cheaper. Throughout this mad adventure, I visited churches and other houses of worship. I met with Buddhists to chant and breathe. I enjoyed celebrating Ramadan with a group of women who made me realize how cool a group of women could really be. I didn’t swim in the hotel pool when the Orthodox Jewish family came for a dip – I’m a goy and the kids were not allowed to be around a scantily clad Gentile woman. No big deal. I could swim later. The kids were grateful.
But one of my Christian friends had a canary. A cow. A fit of grand proportions.
Why would I make someone else’s religious beliefs more important than my desire to go for a swim in a public pool?
My answer: Because it was the right thing to do.
She ranted on and on about it being a public pool and I had every right blah blah blah.
I moved on. Concerned about her ire.
For a while, I worshipped with a bunch of people in a small mountain town. I wasn’t particularly welcomed, but I had tried the other church in town, and definitely didn’t belong there, not being from the proper Scandinavian background.
What?
Never mind.
Which brings me to today’s presentation.
I have moved – again – into a small rural town. This one is on the edge of the high desert at the foot of the mountains. I have been attending a lovely church with some very genuinely caring people. Or, at least they seemed to be caring, until I started to voice my opinion and share my experiences. Now, I don’t go there anymore. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to invite those Christians – and not just the local bunch – who have never been anything but, to step way out of their comfort zones and visit a different church. A different house of worship. Meet the People. See if what they have memorized and wear on their clothing actually holds up when confronted with Differences dressed like other human beings. Oh, I know, Paul was all about keeping separate from non-believers. This would be fine except Jesus said, Go and share the Story. Who you gonna follow? Paul or Christ? Just asking.

Or, when someone else comes along and sits in on a Bible Study, why not demonstrate good social behavior and shut the hell up and LISTEN for a switch? What makes you think you have all the answers? I ask this, because, Let Me Be Clear – You are not the Christ.

I know that I am not. I am not even close. I am still working on that Love your neighbor thing. Because, quite honestly, I don’t love you. I do not. And herein lies my current spiritual dilemma. I may not cast stones of judgement. I am supposed to love this woman. This man. These people – these ‘Christians’ – who drive me up the ‘blessed’ wall and over the edge of my patience and sanity. I am supposed to welcome them as a Sister in Christ. A Brother in Christ. Part of the Family of God.
Makes me want to grit my teeth and snarl once or twice. But I have not been called to be the Ugly Step-sister. I have been called to LOVE MY NEIGHBOR AS MYSELF – even if, especially when, the neighbor is a self-righteous sanctimonious prig of a human being who runs around spouting Scripture and saying things like ‘Have a Blessed day.” I, the one who has experience in this behavior, am supposed to pray. And love. And that’s it.
Not my favorite thing to do.
So, if you hear me glaring at the next Christian who says ‘God bless you’, throw a prayer my way. My hands are busy trying to ignore the rocks in my pockets.

Letter to my pastor Amy Lynn Reifsnyder

Hello,  Pastor,
 
I wanted to let you know my frustration is not about one person or one incident. 
I have openly listened to people share their ideas and opinions, but when I shared my own experiences I was literally shouted down or whispered to, informing me what I know as truth was in fact, a lie.
 
The weekly sympathetic/sanctimonious prayers for someone to leave behind the homosexual lifestyle have denied the real life experiences that have impacted the humanity of the gay community.
Hearing parroting voices denounce all political candidates other than Donald Trump as demon possessed reflects a serious lack of free thinking.
Insulted because I spoke about scientific data to denounce vaccines as a cause of autism was rude and downright ignorant.
I have repeatedly been told my views are based on false doctrine and lies.
Yet no one was willing to consider that maybe they are wrong, and maybe I know a thing or two because I have not separated myself from friends, family, colleagues,  neighbors, who are gay, Muslim, Hindi, Democrat, Republican, Liberal, and Conservative.
I don’t rely on political and religious pundits to tell me what to believe. I meet people. I listen to their stories. I learn from their stories.
I don’t pounce on them, tell them they are not in God’s will, judge the choices they made based on experiences I will never understand.
It is not safe for my friends to come into [this church]community. And, I have decided that I will not continue to be allied with such a group of people. I have tried to engage in intelligent discourse, but they don’t want to listen to anything but what they’ve been told to believe.
My God is bigger than the Bible, greater than one religious dogma.
I was so hoping I had found a community with which to worship, but I am tired if being shouted down, told I have no understanding,  and insulted.
This is not love.

Homophobia as an act of distrust in God Amy Lynn Reifsnyder February 2, 2020

Homophobia as an act of distrust in God

Amy Lynn Reifsnyder

February 2, 2020

 

Have you ever considered that homophobia is an expression of a complete lack of faith? According to religious dogma, the Sons of Adam and Eve were instructed to go forth and bear fruit, populating the world. A little later, the Sons of Abraham and his various women were told their number would be greater than the number of grains of sand along the sea or as many as stars in the sky. Later still, there was the Roman Empire, the Ku Klux Klan, and other imperialistic organizations and hegemonies that strode to populate the earth with mini-Romans, mini-White people, etc.

From the statistics on global population, I’d say they did their job.

However. Swept into this task and ideology are also condemnations of sodomites, people who engage in ‘unnatural’ sex acts – you know, sexual expression without reproduction. And this is where the hate begins, smack dab up against a fear that maybe God won’t be able to populate the earth if manmean (as opposed to mankind) doesn’t take matters in hand and forbid, deny, imprison, murder, etc., those who are not reproducing.

As a side note and short digression, it isn’t just the gay community. Those who were/are barren were/are forbidden, denied, imprisoned, murdered, worldwide. We just blend in easier. If we want, we can even wear false baby bellies and then either have a false miscarriage or adopt someone else’s child.

But back to homophobia.

Have you ever considered that, even without a consensual denial of non-productive sexual behavior, God might just be able to do what He said He would – create descendants that number the stars? Do you really think you are doing His work by rejecting the neighbor, the relative, the co-worker, the barrister, simply because that person’s sexual life – which is really not your business in the first place – doesn’t create babies?

For those of you who don’t live where public stoning is a recourse, I suggest you review the number of suicides, especially by young people, who have had it hammered into them since before their birth that being gay/lesbian is evil, sinful, an act of Satan (aka the Devil), and yet they are gay/lesbian. Homosexual. Generally, we do not dig a hole and toss a sack over their heads before pummeling them to death. We are more subtle. We cause so much internal turmoil and public humiliation that thousands go silently into their death simply because their sexuality interfered with your ability to trust God, and your inability to love them, just as they were made.

This breaks my heart.

Never mind that we are human and Animalia, and there are species among us which switch gender when their communities are overpopulated. Never mind that babies are born with genitalia of both genders. Never mind that many people do ‘choose’ to be gay as a response to sexual abuse. Read that again. People choose to self-identify as homosexual – and suffer all the hate associated with that label – because it is easier than the kick back, rejection, and shunning that too often follow sexual abuse.

Makes a statement, don’t you think? It isn’t just the gay or barren communities you/we are not treating to love and kindness, we are still invoking Old Testament laws that blame the victim, create outcasts.

Which brings me to the Jesus thing. Jesus did not talk about homosexuality as a sin. Paul did. You remember Paul, right? Zealot Roman bent on murdering Christians until he had a vision and then went on to be a heavily publicized pro-Christian Zealot who still retained his Roman inclinations against non-productive sexuality. Paul was still hoping for a Roman empire, albeit full of Christians. His previous ideology included creating mini-Romans, so, it makes sense that he would have a fit about homosexuals. It makes sense, too, from a historical perspective, that he would have some knee-jerk responses to Greek society and the Spirit of Christ moving among them. Must have been more than a challenge to come face to face with an entire nation which openly supported homosexual sexual expression, partly because they lived on islands with limited resources, and had to maintain sustainable populations or die as a nation.

Whenever I hear or read Paul’s comments about wishing people could be like he is, I translate it to the modern ‘Whatever’ thrown around by so many Christians who fear taking time to review their faith in God, their Trust that maybe God can do what He said He’d do, with or without their interference and/or help.

My reasoning? Check out what Jesus said when the Roman authorities suggested he get his followers to stop the parade and the shouts of ‘Hosanna’.
If even the rocks and stones would sing His praise, maybe we’d better just stop the hate speech and take notice.

If you are allowing someone else’s sexuality to interfere with your relationship with God, it isn’t the other person who is at fault. It’s you.