People talk shit about Millennials a lot. Yet, I don't recognize the people that they describe. Entitled, lazy, high maintenance, self-absorbed, wasteful, greedy, cynical, broke, job jumpers, coddled, delusional, politically disengaged, unwilling to help in their communities. I don't recognize myself in those labels, nor the majority of my friends.
My story: I consider myself solidly of Gen Y. Despite being at the upper end of the generational divide, a mixture of factors play into it. My dad was a computer technician so technology was in our home from day one. I can't actually remember not owning a computer. I was also a bit of a late bloomer and with much younger siblings, related more to them and their pop culture than to people my own age. Not having a TV growing up means that many of my favorite mass-consumed shows happened when I was an older teen in the late 90's. And I had a cell phone the minute I could afford one. As for jobs, I started working at the age of twelve as a babysitter. And I treated it like a full-on business too. I was First Aid & CPR certified, had paperwork the parents had to fill out, and strict rules about what I would and wouldn't do, as well as an open pay rate dependent on ages of children and how many. I got my first "real" job at sixteen, working part-time at convention center doing banquet waitstaff. I got to serve Charlton Heston dinner once. I worked part-time during the school year and full-time in the summer. While I was in community college working on a degree in theater, I worked part-time at a bookstore and continued babysitting. I graduated with a 3.8 GPA (grumble grumble...stupid math bringing down my GPA) and many hopes for the future. I immediately began getting work in different theaters, almost all of it paid. I kept working at the bookstore, now as a manager, until that wasn't possible with my theater schedules and transitioned into a full-time stage manager and production manager. I worked six days a week from 10am until 11pm. They were long days and I never saw my friends. Eventually, this schedule over a period of two years took a toll on me, and I knew that I needed to do something else. Something that had less hours so that I had a proper work/life balance. I decided to go back to school for a degree in Publishing. I moved to another state. Worked for another bookstore before getting a job working as a civilian for the Coast Guard. I worked Monday-Friday 8-4, went to the gym, and then had four evening classes Monday-Thursday 6pm-9:45. By the time I got home it was about 10:20 and then I got up and did it all over again the next day. It was a grueling schedule, but I managed to work full-time and go to school full-time and graduate with a 3.7 GPA. I did an internship with a publisher. With a degree in publishing in hand I was ready to take on the world in my chosen career. So applied. And applied. And applied. I kept my applications on a spreadsheet. 127 applications in 4 months. I got two interviews and although I thought the interviews went well, they didn't even call me back to tell me I didn't get the job. This was 2008. The bottom had dropped out of the economy and publishing was taking a direct hit. I decided to go to Grad School, hoping that by the time I graduated things would have recovered. Fast forward to 2013. I was still working at a bookstore (a different one this time) and rather resentful about that fact because I went back to school so that I wouldn't have to keep working retail. I finally got an interview with an acclaimed and prestigious publisher. I got the job. It's been three years and I keep telling people I got my dream job. Because I did. I work hard, I make valuable contributions, there is a place for me to grow and advance, my bosses are the best I have ever had in my life, no one looks down on me (or anyone) for their age.
I never felt entitled to any of that. I worked hard for it and I was reassured over and over by the generations before me that if I worked hard enough, got good enough grades, got a college degree or two, that I would be able to get a job in my field. I nearly gave up that dream too. It was infuriating to keep applying for jobs, to keep working in a dead end job, knowing what I wanted to do and knowing I was good at it, and instead I'm shelving books in an over-corporatized bookstore. I'm not high maintenance, not in life or the workplace. (one of the things my husband loves about me) Although I appreciate that my bosses have a mentor-like relationship with me, it was neither expected nor asked for. Any issues I have asserting myself in the workplace are purely personality quirks, not something endemic to my generation. I work with people (with a lot being of my generation) who are extremely earth conscious. They will shut off lights in your office if you are gone too long, many are vegetarians, we never do paper plates, and we recycle everything. I just turned down a job offer because it didn't pay enough money, which could be construed as greedy, but the truth is I know my value as an employee and if I am going to leave a job I love (making a lot less mind you), then you need to make me an offer I can't refuse. I would rather work somewhere I love for less, which to me, is the opposite of greed. I am a bit cynical, but since I don't see this in most of my friends, I think it too is a personality quirk. I don't job jump, don't consider myself coddled by anyone, am rarely delusional, and volunteer often in my community. The only area where the stereotypes may be remotely correct for me is that I am politically disengaged and I don't really consider it generational either if my Facebook feed is anything to go by. I hate fighting, name-calling, insults, debating, slander, and the self-indulgent all of which I see as rampant issues in politics. There is nothing in politics that I find remotely attractive or interesting. I see it as a necessary evil and have yet to find a candidate, for any kind of office, that I would actually want to vote for. But I vote. Every single fucking election, from general to primaries and everything in-between, I do my research and vote. My Gen X husband does not vote at all.
This is all me though. We are talking about more than one person. Here's the thing though. Most of my friends are also Millennials. Now, I know that we are often friends with people like us so I'm certainly not good friends with high school dropouts, but I think I know enough varied people to say that they are not fitting into the stereotypes either. Most of my friends have degrees. Some of the professions my friends are in: Teacher, School Administrator, Chemist, Aviation mechanic, Nurse, Horticulturalist, Psychologist, Research Assistant, Nutritionist, Administrative Assistant, Filmmaker, Technology R&D, Entrepreneur, AIDS Researcher, Social Worker, Counselor, IT Professional, Gaming Programmer, Artist, Pharmacist, and quite a few stay-at-home Moms. As far as I know, all of them are very hard workers and have been working in their respective fields for years now, often for the same company. I love how varied my friends are and love to hear about what they do for a living. I know most of them to be hard-working, caring, upbeat people with a propensity towards hipster beers and vegetarianism. I have worked with almost all of them in some kind of community outreach at one time or another.
Do I have lazy friends? Sure. My best-friend is a prime example. But he would have been lazy in 1950 and in 1720. It's his personality, not a generational curse. The man does as little as possible to get by and for the most part he is content with that. His wife is the same way. They are both content to work minimum wage jobs, the less hours the better, just as long as they can pay their basic bills. It took him eight years to get a degree in car mechanics, which he doesn't even work in now. He is a job bouncer, when he was younger because they interfered with his social life and now because they don't "respect" him. He has many redeeming qualities, but his laziness is a curse that will probably leave him struggling his entire life. It makes me sad to think that this person I care so deeply for is probably going to live in abstract poverty when he is old. His only saving grace is the child they just had who may, hopefully, rise further than either of his parents. Did the generation that my friend was born into make him that way though? No.
I have known this guy since I was sixteen. I got three degrees in the time that he got one. While I was working at theaters, his was quitting jobs right and left to go to concerts. While I trying to further my career, he just quit his job because his boss wasn't being nice. My husband and I are adopting a teenager having to pass multiple background checks, and he and his wife popped out a kid without having to pay for it thanks to medicare. At this point I know you are wondering what in the world we have in common. So to be clear, despite the laziness and bad career decisions, he is also an incredible friend. He has been extremely supportive of me, particularly with this whole deconversion thing. We have similar upbringings so we can talk about that. We are both geeks, as is my husband, so they get along really really well. We can talk for hours about superheroes, geek culture, video games, movies. It is easy to make him laugh and the only drama in his life centers around his drama-fueled wife.
And I do know other deadbeats of Gen Y too. I have a cousin who used to be a drug addict and now works at a gas station when the mood fits. There are a few people who are working dead-end retail jobs, but have no direction in life and so this will probably be their entire existence, but who knows, they may rise to the occasion. Or maybe they are like me, forced to work retail because no one is calling you for an interview for the jobs you really want.
Goodness, if you have read this far, I am surprised. After all this is a rather personal rant about people you don't know at all. The reason I get upset about this though is that I keep reading these stories that label an entire generation, not taking into account anything beyond the years of their birth. Personality, upbringing, socio-economic brackets, religion, sex, ethnicity, immigrant status, economy, shifting societal expectations, information technologies, fast-paced businesses, and life are shoved to the side. This is not new. Earlier generations have always said bullshit about the generations after, often seeing them as lazy and incompetent. I think it should be clear by now though, as Millennials have begun to firmly establish themselves in careers that these things aren't all true. Everyone has been young and dumb once, and there are some people out there who are dumber than most, but I am very hopeful for my generation. I see them making some really amazing contributions to our society and demanding changes and I can't help but think there is a bright future ahead.
A Christian friend recently posted an article about how Christians need to 'Kill Your (Celebrity Culture) Worship'. It's a fascinating article that looks at the modern church and their obsession over worship rock concerts and pastor celebrities. The author states, "Celebrity culture turns pastors and worship leaders into icons. Celebrity culture turns worship gatherings into rock concerts. Celebrity culture confuses flash and hype for substance." This has certainly been my experience as an adult.
When I was a kid, our church really resisted putting any person on a pedestal. Our Pastor didn't even like Pastor Appreciation Day because he felt like it took away from God. I went to a church in Boston where the worship team sat on the side of the stage with the words in front because they wanted people to look at the words and worship, not at the band. This makes sense to me as the whole point of joining together in worship is to worship a god, not the puny humans playing guitar or lecturing the congregation. There are a lot of churches that don't seem to get it though.
I attended one church for about five months. Four months too many, since I was quickly aware of the problems in this church. Worship service was a flashy affair. There were multiple guitarists along with a brass section, drums, a lead singer or two, and some backup singers (all girls of course). Every week they had a themed clothing color coordination. Multiple cameras cut back and forth between the singers and musicians like some kind of rock concert. It was not unusual for the band to play a secular song if it was in keeping with whatever the "theme" of the sermon was. The music was all written in-house and once I started to pay attention to the actual words, I quit singing. Most of the songs were about me/I/my . I recall one being about how we were going to worship God and I kept thinking, "Why are we singing about how we are going to do it? Why don't we just do it?" Teenagers would gather near the front to jump up and down. I found out later that there were actual "plants" in the audience who were supposed to go to the front and drag their friends up with them. I never joined and started sitting further and further away from that area because I was tired of being asked to. The Pastor, although extremely personable, had obviously never been to seminary and would make statements that were factually incorrect in almost every sermon. And his favorite kinds of sermons were the ones "you never thought we would talk about this in church". I knew, and still know people, who are obsessed with him and his family. One ex-friend quit her well-paying job to work as his secretary. The whole thing felt like a giant show and it got old very fast.
At my last church, we had a worship pastor *Karl who was obsessed with making everything concert-like. We had hired musicians. We had light shows and fog machines. Fancy PowerPoint presentations. We sang the secular songs. And the congregation? They just stood there. Literally just stood there, silently watching, as Karl bounced around the stage. The only way you knew you were doing a good job was if Karl wasn't yelling at you. I know a few people who left the church over it, stating that the lights gave them headaches and the music was too loud. One older woman came to church with huge studio-worthy headphones. I thought about quitting a few times because it bothered me to stand on a stage and have such an unresponsive audience. You know what they did respond to? An acoustic guitar and hymns. It didn't matter to Karl though, because for him it was all about the show. Which is why he ended up getting fired when we hired a new pastor. The new pastor (who is fairly awesome by the way) thought that maybe we should do songs that spoke to the congregation more. He also thought that some of the songs we were singing were inappropriate for church or were untheological. Karl was very unhappy about this. Goodbye Karl. So we got rid of the fog machine and the lights. We got rid of the paid musicians. And the congregation engaged.
This obsession with putting on a good show and celebrity pastors is a problem. It's a problem because, however I feel about gods and religion now, it is supposed to be a place for worship. There is no need to make it "relevant" if that won't work for your demographics. And celebrity pastors fall from grace, just like many celebrities. Mark Driscoll, Perry Noble, Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, David Loveless, Paul Crouch. If you are viewing your pastor almost like a god, or at least an earthly vessel for a god, then it is time to take a step back.
I think I have reached an equilibrium with my atheism. I no longer feel the need to constantly seek out affirmation of my deconversion. I rarely visit ex-christian.net, mostly because I find the posts to be almost juvenile in their approach. That is to say that it is a great place to go when you are just beginning your ex-christian journey, but doesn't really dig in past that point. I needed them at the beginning. Now I don't.
There are enough supportive people in my life who also know about my deconversion, that I no longer feel lonely in that area. The people that I see on a regular basis are aware and understanding so I don't feel like I am hiding who I am. And I have surprisingly found compatriots. My brother, it turns out, is also an atheist. My best friend is beyond supportive. I used to think about joining some kind of atheist group all the time, just to make friends, but I have found that I haven't needed them.
As for my hardcore Christian friends...although I don't like lying to them, even by omission, they seem to be utterly clueless. For a group of people who claim to have a direct line to God, their heavenly father seems to have totally missed the boat when it came to me. To be clear, when I started to have very serious doubts, I prayed over and over that God would reveal my struggles to one of my friends or family. Anyone. I hoped that if there was a God, one of them would call me up and over coffee would tell me that God told them to talk to me and that they knew I had doubts. People often ask what it would take to make someone believe. In the beginning of this deconversion, that was all it would have taken to keep me as a believer. I wasn't asking to walk on water here. I just needed one of those God-talkers to know of my struggles without me telling them. Let's also be clear that I am talkative and opinionated so it's not like I was walking around pretending to be the perfect Christian. No one ever came. In my mind, this is damning. My mother still doesn't have a clue. One of my good friends who I have known longer than my best friend (and who I was the matron of honor in her wedding) has no idea. This is the woman who reads her Bible everyday, has a daily quiet time, and her and her husband also do Bible studies together, AND they lead a Bible study at her church. And at no point did God ever tell her, "Hey, your friend is really struggling with her faith. You should talk to her."
My husband, despite a rough start, also seems to have come to terms with my atheism. It took a couple of months before I could convince him that my atheism had very little to do with my extremely conservative Evangelical upbringing. It took even longer before I could bring up topics regarding religion without him or me getting immediately defensive. I can also safely say that I am an atheist without him getting upset about it. This is the person I married and he didn't do anything to deserve this huge breakdown in my faith. He wanted to marry a good Christian girl, and all he got was a good girl. People change, I have reminded him. This affects both of us.
The biggest thing I struggle with is the idea that I can never truly live outside of the closet. I can't attend atheist events, like atheist Facebook pages, and will be forever skirting the line with believers and my family. I think these Skeptics conventions sound interesting, but I also know that it would upset my husband and although I certainly am an autonomous being, I also desire to have a good relationship with this person I have chosen to love. I also love and adore my family and would never want to damage those relationships either. If the choice is between watching my nieces and nephews grow up and going on an atheist cruise, I'm going to pick the kids every time. Yes, I do expect to have less access to my nieces and nephews should my sister-in-laws ever find out. I do sometimes think about the future, when I am old and my husband is more than likely gone. (his family doesn't live to be very old and he was a cop. I'm thinking late 70s tops) I think about how it won't matter as much when I am 80. I think about how I can date men (old men) who don't believe in a God and how we can go to these conventions together. I think about what it would be like after my parents are gone and my nieces and nephews are adults and I don't have to pretend anymore. It's not that I want my husband gone, because I love him dearly. It's that I imagine my twilight years are going to be very different than the life I live now. And by then, I don't think I am going to give a shit.
This past weekend I watched a documentary called Poverty Inc. It spoke of the problem of charitable organizations, extended crisis relief well after a crisis, how economy suffers from free charity, and the problem with orphanages in impoverished nations. Although it was not condemning any charities, the evidence was damning. Outside of immediate disaster relief, charity and free stuff from rich countries does no one any good. In Haiti, there is an established company on the ground that makes solar powered streetlights, among other things. When the earthquake happened in 2010, well-meaning Americans sent hundreds of solar units, never once considering that there may be someone on the ground who could provide the same thing. These altruistic Westerners nearly put this man out of business. A person who not only was hard-working, but employed at least a dozen people in the impoverished nation. But they were just trying to help, right? Sure, but the problem was that it didn't even occur to them to find people already in that country to help.
The first time my church went to the Dominican Republic, we carried all the medication with us from America. Along with toys, dolls, clothes, glow sticks, etc. What we learned was that the medication was considerably cheaper there except for parasite medication and it was better to buy it there. So we did the following year, and every year since as far as I know. When we talked about buying mattresses for the kids at the orphanage, we bought them there. We also bought all the materials needed to make mattress covers (to keep bed-wetting from ruining the mattresses) and it was the men at the halfway house we worked with who sewed them. Those men stayed up for two days sewing mattresses for kids they had never met and then two of them got to go with us when we gave them to the pastor of the church. That felt good. Through the years, the church has continued to partner with that church and orphanage, providing more than just a bunch of free things.
BUT, and this is a big but, they also still hand out beanie babies and glow sticks. They still offer to pay for things and come down and do the work for free rather than giving the money to that Dominican church who can then pay a local to do it. In the end, despite their well-intentions, they are still part of the problem. If you, as a Christian, want to make a difference in the life of poor people, then you need to stop giving them free stuff. That applies to everyone. Don't give them a shirt, give them a sewing machine, training, and some start up capital that can be repaid through a micro-loan.
One of the things that really struck me is the way orphanages work in many third-world countries. The parents are still alive, but can't afford to take care of their children so they give them to an orphanage. A place where their children are fed, clothed, and educated. And some are adopted and taken far away, even though they are not in fact orphans. Even though their parents, given some kind of support, would take their child back in a heartbeat. Instead of adopting children from those orphanages, perhaps instead we should be asking how we can help support those parents and give them job skills so that they don't need to send their children to an orphanage to be fed. That is beyond sad. In America, we try to help those people by providing those kinds of families with food, healthcare, free public education for the child, daycare assistance, and sometimes shelter. We live in a society where women can go to college and work. That doesn't exist in many third world countries. Why aren't we pushing that? Why would a person rather spend $50,000 on adopting a child who has parents and who could easily support that same family and let that child live with their family, which is where, no matter how altruistic you are, they should be. In Malawi, the average daily pay is .13 in US dollars or $3.90 a month. Let's increase that to say $30 a month. $50,000 would support that family for 138 years. Now, I am not saying throw money at a problem, but surely that money can be put to greater use to keep families together.
Surely, we can do better.
I know what you are thinking, "But I've been a mission trip and it wasn't all horrible at all. Some missionaries do a lot of good." And you are right. Therein lies the ethical conundrum because I too have traveled to a number of countries and have been a part of those "good works".
Where No Man Has Gone Before - Not only do missionaries go to places people have a hard time getting to, they often go places that no one wants to go to. Churches ran leper colonies, they have orphanages full of children with AIDS, visit tribes that are known to kill outsiders, organize aid and rescue during catastrophes, provide food and shelter, run homeless ministries, and much much more. Many religions join in these good works and they do so because they want to and sometimes there is no ulterior motive.
Opening Up the World - A lot of people complain about how Americans are often rather insulated in their experiences. Many have never traveled to a foreign country and most have never seen abstract poverty. I think it is important for young people and even old people to see the world outside of their own limited experiences. To see how other people live. To understand the ways in which they are "blessed" or ways they were lacking. I don't want to make this all about the US either. If you grew up in India, I do think it is important to visit places that are different than your experience. If you grew up rich, I think it is important for you to not only see, but understand extreme poverty. Which is why these teen mission trips can be good. Although one hopes that more good than bad is being done by these short-term mission trips, I do know that they have a significant impact on the young people who go. They have completely changed the way some people look at the world and the trajectory for their lives is changed forever.
Deeds not Words - I have said before that there are many different types of missionaries. By far, in my mind, the best are the ones who help others with no ulterior motives. They give food without a prayer or even a mention of their faith. Money is raised to help people, not create converts. One gets the feeling that they would help people whether there was a god or not. These people are true heroes because they often go into sad and scary situations with the desire to help. I have never heard any of these people, in any interview, say that they were doing for a reward in heaven or on earth. They do it because a voice in their head, one that many may contribute to a god, tells them it is a moral imperative. No matter their reasons for doing it, it is commendable.
If Not Them Then Who - I have spoken about how the adoption community is chock-full of Christians. I have done some research into it and it seems that this is one of the few religious communities that really actively encourages people to adopt. This is not to be misconstrued that other religions don't, but in the past few decades Christians have certainly made a great effort to change the face of adoption. As much as it annoys me that my adoption support base is full of people who think that praying is as if not more important than therapy, I am also completely aware that if they weren't adopting, there aren't exactly other people who would step up to the plate. I think, as we have more and more people leaving religion, this may not always be the case, but for now, there are things that Christians are doing in droves that other people simply aren't doing. According to the NYTimes, almost 85% of the soup kitchens and food pantries in America are run by churches. Those numbers speak volumes into the good that the church is trying to do.
No Longer Religious - This is more of a plus for the non-religious, but sometimes missions work causes people to actually question their religion. I know I seriously struggled with the idea of healing and after my trip to New Zealand. (see Part I) My mind returned to the issue over and over as the years went by. It wasn't the reason I lost my faith, but it most certainly was another straw. Daniel Everett traveled to South America to preach to the natives, believing all sorts of things about the nature of humans and the power of God, and it was the natives who showed him there was no need for such beliefs. His story is not a one off either. So even though I think there are both good and bad aspects to missionaries, I think one of the positives is how it forces people to confront what they actually believe.
Beyond the financial issues discussed in Part II, I want to look at some of the ethical issues involved with missionary work.
Persecution and Death - In America, if you go from being a Southern Baptist to a Catholic, no one cares except perhaps your more devout family members. If you try out Buddhism for a bit before switching to Taoism, people assume you are on a spiritual journey. Although people don't like it, even the rise of atheism and agnosticism is seen as nothing more than a nuisance and a sign of the end times. This is not the case in other countries all over the world. In many Islamic countries, apostasy is punishable by death. Honor killings happen on a daily basis. Even Hindus frown on people leaving their religion. By bringing a new (and often illegal) religion into a group of people and actively trying to convert them, aren't you essentially condemning these people to death? Most Christians I know, even the hardcore Evangelical ones believe that in the end, people who have never heard the gospel properly, will be judged in heaven by God based on what they did know and understand. Surely, the thought goes, God wouldn't send people to hell who have never had a chance to accept him. If you believe this then wouldn't it be kinder to let them continue to believe what they believe instead of introducing them to a concept that will either get them killed here on earth if they accept or suffer eternal punishment in hell if they don't? For a long time now (even before my deconversion) I have been happy when I hear of missionaries being caught and deported for prothelitizing. I'm even okay with them being jailed. You go to a country where you know what you are doing is illegal and you do it anyway, then you deserve to be jailed. And no that is not persecution. No, I don't think people should be persecuted for believing anything, but if you are a foreigner in another country who is breaking the law, you deserve the consequences of breaking those laws no matter how ridiculous you think they are.
Deception - I mentioned in Part II about a friend who is a missionary in another country, but she and everyone in her organization actively deceive the local and country officials in order to do their missionary work. They see this deception as an acceptable "sin" in order to preach the gospel. I see it as an accident waiting to happen. They are playing a dangerous game, their children have been made a part of it, and they are forcing the locals to also cover for them. The Bible is rather clear about what it thinks of liars, yet all that seems to go out the window when it is "for the Lord". To think of this another way, I want you to imagine a couple of Muslims applied to come to America, but they claimed that they are non-religious or grew up Muslim, but aren't affiliated with a Muslim religion. When they arrive here, the wife starts a women's quilting group, while her husband works on home construction projects. The whole thing is just a front though. Secretly, the husband is getting money from an Islamic organization and actively trying to convert Christians to the Islamic faith. His wife is doing the same thing, using the quilting group as a cover, when in fact she is talking to the women there about her faith and has even started inviting some back to her home to learn more. Now, America does not have laws against this, but our government would most certainly take issue with this kind of organized deception and probably deport them if caught. If you can't get into a country without lying, then you probably shouldn't be there.
Cultural Destruction - We all know that when a new religion arrives on the scene, that religion attempts to overthrow the current "heathen" system. At least, most of the major religions have done this. Christianity is often condemned for culturally appropriating pagan holidays as their own. Religions also like to destroy things like "idols" from other gods and has a really bad habit of destroying entire cultures in an effort to force their own onto the people. Some of this happened a long time ago and some is happening now. For example: We can see the effects of conversion in Mynamar (Burma). The Muslims are being treated horribly at the hands of Buddhists, a religion that in most parts of the world is considered peaceful. I think this is a perfect example of two cultures clashing though and how religions desire for dominance, no matter how passive their roots are. And sometimes religion is an important aspect to the culture. Japanese ancestry worship is an integral thing to how their society formed and how they view family. It is so deeply ingrained that to remove it would be like removing their heart.
White Saviors - There are a lot of white missionaries traveling to predominantly non-white areas to bring the good news these poor third-world countries. There was a recent story in the news concerning a woman who traveled (or claims to have traveled) to a country in Africa and basically describes herself as an angelic white woman in a sea of dark savages. Something you expect to see in a Tarzan novel from 1900, but not in 2016. But this mentality still certainly exists. I would like to think full-time long-term missionaries know better, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were missionaries out there who believed that they were saving the savages. Daniel Everett is a prime example of someone who thought he was saving the savages and in the end, they ended up converting him.
Short-term Work for Long-term Problems - There are some serious issues going on in some of these countries. When we traveled to the Dominican, we helped build water filtration units for churches and homes. The real issue though is that these people don't have running water or the infrastructure to support it due to massive amounts of corruption in the government. So we built a water purifier....but where are they getting the water from? This applies to many of the places that missionaries flock to. You come in and bring food, which is a need at the moment, but what are you doing to solve the long-term issues? There are many humanitarian groups whose job is to help during emergency situations. However, if you are a long-term missionary or even a short-term, the goal should be to support the long-term needs of the people on the ground. We built water purifiers, but I found out later there is an organization in the Dominican that works to build wells and infrastructure in small towns and teaches the locals how to maintain them. Long-term solution.
Ulterior Motives - When people are in a life or death situation, they don't care what religion the people are who are helping them. They are however, extremely vulnerable to those religions. Europe is currently experiencing massive amounts of conversions by refugees. No one knows how many of those people are converting because they actually believe and how many are converting in hopes that they can be granted sanctuary. People want to believe that conversions are true, but as long as there is a string attached we will never know. If you go into a situation stating that you just want to help people and then end the visit with a prayer and "In Jesus' name", there is clearly an ulterior motive there.
Coming Up: In Defense of Missionaries Part IV
If you read Part I (and good for you if you suffered through all of that), you probably saw that my reasons for going on mission trips has always been the same, a desire to help my fellow man in a tangible way. I was far more interested in cleaning out a garden then I was about winning someone to Christ. It is important at this point that we look at the types of missions work that exist in order to delve more fully into whether they are needed.
These days missionaries seem to fall into several categories:
Missionette Mary - This is your classic missionary. He, she, or they work for a well-established organization that has things like retirement accounts and health insurance. They go to conferences throughout the year. Churches send them money and they fundraise the rest. Their work is a mixture of goodwill, community service, outreach, and preaching. Although their main work may be to run a school or help abuse victims, it is fully expected that they will witness to those people and everyone knows the reason why they do it.
Undercover Spy - These people may work for the same organization, but in a country where it is illegal to prothelitize. Instead of obeying the law, these missionaries see it as their Godly duty to lie to the governing bodies and disguise their true intentions. Besides God would be okay with this type of lying. These people say they are there to help with a literacy program, but secretly read Bible verses whenever they can. Their lives are in danger and so there is secrecy surrounding their whereabouts.
Deeds not Words - These are missionaries who don't share the gospel. They believe it is more important to show the love of Christ rather than tell people about it. They don't fear being in countries where prothelitizing is illegal because they aren't. These are often health care workers, construction workers, and teachers.
Short-term Vacationer/Prothelitizer - These people shell out $1,600-$6,000 each year to go for a week to a foreign country where they get play with little kids (usually brown ones) who they don't bother learning the names of. They hand out glow sticks and Beanie Babies and maybe help fix up a pastor's house, build a hut, or do health clinics. At the end of the trip they go on a safari, or to the beach, or visit a popular tourist spot for some relaxation.
Ministry Minister - This is the person/church who have convinced themselves that children's church and youth group ministries count as missions work. Their church website is sorely lacking in any Outreach or they collate ministry with outreach, as if they are the same thing. This kind of missionary doesn't have to leave the confines of their church building because God will surely bring people in who need him.
Awareness Guru - This is your classic Facebook spammer who floods your feed with articles about missionaries and missions and not being ashamed of the gospel. They have never been on a trip anywhere, they probably have never shared the gospel with anyone, and so they make themselves feel better by giving money to those who do. Some have been on a trip once, twenty years ago, and now see themselves as a missionary and so they are always posting things about the country they went to. As if one trip to Kenya now makes them an expert on that country now.
When I was a kid, missionaries were like the superheroes of the Christian world. They were willing to die for Christ! They went into countries where they were not welcome and saved them. We read stories about martyrs and told as young children that there was no greater calling then that of a missionary. Of course, we are all called to be missionaries, pastors tell their congregations, but not everyone is meant to work overseas. This seems absolutely ridiculous now that I look back on it, because obviously not everyone can live in another country and be a missionary. The church wouldn't function if this happened. In fact, in a five-hundred person church, you were lucky if you had one or two full-time missionaries and then a handful of short-term ones. Interesting how Jesus tells his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel, but seems to do so infrequently with his modern followers.
Now, I am all about doing good things for other people, which is why I am sometimes torn on this subject because I am also firmly against doing things at the expense of other people. Many missionaries go to other countries and do jobs that are already being done by locals. My first trip to the Dominican cost $1600 per person and there were fifteen of us. That is $24,000 and this trip has been repeated for seven years now with larger and larger groups. At this point, these missionaries have spent well over $160,000 on trips to the Dominican. Wouldn't it be better to have found a group that is already well-established in the Dominican and help support that group financially with that money? We live in the digital age. It's not like we have to travel to these places, or least not all fifteen people, in order to make those connections. Let us also not forget that the group we originally traveled with sends at least a dozen teams of mostly teenagers every year as well. This is big business people and the people profitting are not the ones who need help.
Here's the conundrum, people don't just donate $24,000 a year for nothing though. They want something to show for it. A nice feel good story, some pictures, a personal account, a conversion or two. It's actually rather understandable. Why send a stranger $24,000 when you can send 15 of your fellow church-goers? Besides, Christians are told that doing missions work is the highest calling, which means that by doing this, even if it is for a week, you are fulfilling your godly duty. Parishioners are far more likely to support sweet selfless Jessica Morris and her efforts to stop child marriages than they ever would help unknown Kamelah Malik and that's the honest truth.
I have a friend who works as a tutor for missionary kids in a country where it is illegal to be a missionary. The parents she works for continually lie to the country and local government and secretly hold religious meetings on the regular. They could be killed for this and at the very least, deported. Each year my friend returns from her home in wherever wherever and tries to raise enough money to return. She has to get pledges and support from churches and friends. The girl is just barely getting by in a country where it doesn't cost much to get by, yet people also feel like, because they donate they get some kind of say in how she spends it. When she went on a vacation to Thailand with other missionaries, people called foul. How dare she go on a vacation and to Thailand no less? But they forget that it is cheaper to fly to Thailand from where she is. They forget that because the missionary organization they are with has connections in many countries, they can stay somewhere for almost free. They also forget that yes, even missionaries deserve vacations.
An old friend of my husband's recently, out of the blue, contacted my husband asking for money. The money is to "support" him while he works on becoming a pastor. The internship he has taken at a church is unpaid and so he needs to raise money to be able to work as a pastoral intern. And it's bullshit. If my husband wants to support his friend because he is a friend, that is fine, but seriously? We are now raising money so that people can be pastors? How about this, if your church can't afford to pay for a second pastor or an intern...then you don't get one. You don't force a pastor-in-training to raise their own salary. And if you are forcing him to work for free, then it should be part-time so that he can work another job on the side.
Money does make the world go round, but I can't quite figure out why so many people think that spending thousands of dollars to visit a foreign country and do health clinics is so much better than sending that money to already established groups that do the exact same thing. Or at the very least, already established missionaries who are willing to live in a place full-time and commit to the people on a regular basis.
When I was sixteen I went on my first missions trip to Los Angeles. One week in the City of Angels with a hoard of teens, our time was split between leaning various Christian mimes and helping out the Los Angeles dream center. The first was stupid, with kids dressed up in costumes, lunging about to the newest Carmen song. (Carmen the Christians singer, not Miranda) I was still a bit shy back then, so I didn't really volunteer for any of these. Nevermind that as interesting as some of them were, I thought they were a little stupid. I certainly don't recall any feelings of jealousy for not being involved. I learned a dance to 'Stomp' that we performed near the Chinese Theater, but being a white girl with very little hip hop prowess, I know I looked like a fool. Our work with the Dream Center was the highlight of my trip. We were shown the largest homeless tent city in the country. We were taken to help a man who owned a home in the Hollywood Hills who had been shot the year before and was unable to clean up his home for sale. We put on work gloves and rediscovered the tiers and stairs that surrounded his home. We also found a horrible termite problem that I still wonder about today, because I can't imagine it selling with that much issue. The last day we went to Disneyland, which was fantastic, although certainly not necessary. I stayed an additional two weeks in LA with my Great Aunt who gave me a real tour of the city and its many features.
Belfast, Northern Ireland
The next year, having had such a great experience and feeling like I had really done something important, I signed up for a trip to Northern Ireland. Now, I have thoroughly convinced myself that God had told me to go on this trip. Reality was that I had a brochure that listed all the trips this group went on and there were about twenty. So I already knew I was going on a trip therefore I had the very low odds of 1 in 20 that I would end up in Northern Ireland. A few weeks before the registration deadline came, a man from Northern Ireland came and visited our church specifically recruiting for this particular missions trip. I was sold....errr....I saw it as a sign from the Almighty. The trip was problematic from the beginning. When I arrived at the airport, there was no one to pick me up. I soon ran into a small band of similar "independent" travelers that were with the same group. Eventually, a pastor from another US church felt bad for us and was also there for a mission trip, so they just took us along with them. This was exceptionally kind of them, because it took us three days to track down anyone from our group and almost two weeks before we ran into them. So we were taken to a church in the heart of Protestant Belfast, where tensions between Protestants and Catholics were high. We didn't have pillows or sleeping bags for the cots so we had to go to the mall and buy blankets. Some of the parishioners were able to provide us with pillows and towels. We had been told we would be staying with families so we had not brought these things.
Because we were now joined with three youth groups who didn't know any of us, the eight of us became a little band. I was the spokesperson who advocated for the group, often speaking to the youth leaders about wanting to be more involved and needing for space to be made for us. That did happen. Eventually they did track down the leaders of the group we were supposed to be with who, for some reason, thought that we would magically find our way to them and assumed that we hadn't come when we didn't show up. Obviously, with there being eight people who didn't have that information, I'm pretty sure they were the ones who fucked up. We were more than a little pissed (as were our parents) when we finally got to meet them in person. Yet, if I had stayed with them, apparently I would have spent the whole time doing VBS in Ballymena. I can do VBS in the United States. That would have been shit. Instead I did face painting, and cleaned up the yard's of elderly, visited schools, and worked with at risk youth. I also learned what life is like in a war torn country. We were supposed to be there for 4 weeks. We left after 2 1/2. We knew it was time to go when the kids attacked a tank and then police came with uzis. Actually, we should have known before that when the schools started emptying out because the parents were sending them to country to be safe. We left the day that the police woke us up because they were ransacking the neighborhood next door at five in the morning, dragging people out of their flats by their hair and throwing them into paddy wagons. I saw children who had sat on my lap two days before, now scattering into the neighborhood, men with guns and clubs chasing after. It was horrible and fascinating all in the same breath.
New Zealand is one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been in my entire life. It was also the worst trip I have ever been on in my entire life. I was traveling with a group called Teen Mania, a group I don't mind naming because I think they are absolute fuckheads. I was twenty-one, graduated from college, living on my own, and signed up to be a missions leader. What I wasn't told was that here was actually a sort of trial to see if I had the right stuff to be a leader. The way they determined this was to see how excited you were about God as you learned a synchronized dance under a tent in Texas where it was 95 degrees in the shade. But it's a dry heat, right? I failed. I was not built for hot weather. Not only do I burn within minutes, but I also overheat easily. I need to remain constantly hydrated even though I barely sweat when I am hot. I just turn redder and redder to the point where I can't tell whether I have a sunburn or not. There was little relief and I found myself floundering as I tried to learn a dance that I was also not good at. So I was informed after 24 hours that I, at the age of twenty-one and already a retail manager, didn't have the right stuff to lead a handful of teens. My "leader" was two years younger than me and I was quickly treated like a teenager, which chafed me in all the wrong ways. Later I learned that this was actually typical since Teen Mania likes to promote from within, giving leadership deference to young college-age people who are in their Honor Academy. (ie an internship program in which they suck money out of the "students" in exchange for showing them how to be Godly) It also created a rift between me and the leaders my own age, since they now saw me as less than and other. There were only two people who didn't, both having arrived after the unfortunate tent-dancing-trial-by-sweat incident and didn't understand the whole leader thing (even though they were a part of it). Sadly, once we arrived in New Zealand they were put on other teams, on purpose, and things only got worse from there.
Remember, at this point I am being treated like the fourteen-year-olds on our trip. I have no responsibilities. I am not even allowed to go to the bathroom by myself. They put all sixty of us into four teams. Sixty was too many people. They didn't have enough for all of us to do. Team A did a lot of work at local schools. New Zealand has a really high suicide rate per capita, that team was working with schools to help create and promote programs that will give young people hope, education, and a future. Team B was doing similar work, but was helping to set up a skateboarding competition up on the tip of the North Island near the Bay of Islands. Very cool work that we got to go see once everything was finished. Team C got to perform the dance number we were taught throughout the city and shared their testimonies with people. They were even featured on the news. And Team D? My team? Well, they had run out of things for us to do. So for a month, my team was dropped off at various shopping centers and malls and forced to prosthelytize to strangers.
The first time they said this is what we were going to do, I balked a bit, but kind of tried. The second day it happened, I stepped back a bit. Within a few days I outright refused to be a part. I would force my group to leave me in the food court, promising I would do intercessory prayer for them, but I wasn't going to tell complete strangers in the mall about Jesus. Yes, this does mean that I spent most of my time in New Zealand, one of the most beautiful countries in the world, hanging out in malls. Word soon got back to my leaders about my obstinance and "bad attitude". They threatened to call my parents, which made me wonder if they had somehow forgotten how old I was. They had. When they did call my parents my mom was like, "Why in the world are you calling us? She lives on her own, she's an adult, she can drink and vote, is a manager at her work, and if you have a problem with her, I suggest you talk to her." It was at this point that they threatened to send me home. I told them I had $1500 in my bank account and it was illegal for them to keep my passport, and I would leave when I wanted to. It was at this point that someone started spreading around that I was twenty-one, not a teenager like everyone thought I was. Someone let me drive one of the buses, which helped me feel like I was actually doing something and being treated like an adult. It was a small thing, but it really did go a long way.
Then I got sick. Of course, I tried to power through. But I was miserably ill. I probably needed to see a doctor. Instead I got prayed over. I completely lost my voice due to coughing and was coughing so hard I was vomiting. I bought a water bottle that I could prop up and suck on through the night so that I could sleep. Finally, I informed them that I just couldn't go out. I needed to stay "home" and rest. At first they tried to guilt me into going. "You know if you stay someone else is going to have to stay with you? And they will miss out." When I refused, they then told me that God would heal me if I just had enough faith. Considering I had been really ill for days now, I didn't see that happening. So I stamped my foot so hard that everyone within hearing distance heard me (I lost my voice so I couldn't shout) and I hissed out, "No. I am staying here." I proceeded to spend the next two days in bed with a fever, sleeping the entire time. I didn't get better until I returned home and saw a doctor. Sadly, I also gave this mysterious New Zealand flu to my roommate who, to this day, says it is the sickest she has ever been. Interesting thing of note: My brother actually met the girl who had to stay with me for those two days. When she found out we were related, she immediately expressed her sympathy for me and said, "Your sister was so very sick. They didn't treat her very well either." So I wasn't imagining that, huh?
I should also mention at this point that, despite the trip costing several thousand dollars, most of which I paid for myself through working, our meals were shit. We were actually required to pack peanut butter and jelly in our suitcases from Texas. And then we had a team that would make the sandwiches every morning and hand them out with an apple. You have got to be shitting me? I spent nearly $7000 to eat peanut butter and jelly every day for lunch? I don't recall anyone even asking about allergies although I hope to the gods they did. Our breakfast was okay and our dinners were a mixed bag, but every day for a month I was expected to eat a peanut and jelly sandwich. Lucky me they kept dropping us off at malls. While my team was out witnessing to people, I would get something from the food court and scarf it down. No one ever said anything to me so either they didn't know or didn't care. And yes, I was using my own money, so spending even more on a trip when I shouldn't have had to. Also, I should point out that only a few years before I had gone on a student ambassador trip (not listed here because it wasn't a missions trip) where I traveled to four different countries over a 3 1/2 week period. We stayed at four star hotels, with host families (who were paid), traveled via plane, bus, & boat, visited every museum, and ate amazing food every day. We ate at the Pope's Wine Cellar in Hungary. But I pay three times that to go to NZ and what I get instead is cereal and yogurt for breakfast, brown bag lunches, and cafeteria food dinners. I've tried pricing the trip out now if I were to travel there, including things like renting a car, hotel costs (at a decent place, not an empty summer camp for at risk teens), and food and there is no way it should have cost that much. By my calculations I could, right now, fly to NZ, stay at a highly rated bed & breakfast with a free continental breakfast, do all the touristy things we did (Auckland city center, Rotorua, Bay of Islands), and eat for just over $6000. Obviously, my money was going to pay for other people's trips and lining someone else's pockets.
At the end of the trip, some sixteen-year-old brat named Dallon claimed he was healed from color-blindness. I was the only person who thought he was lying, which made me question the depth of my faith. These days, I am sure he was a liar. I don't think he was ever color blind. Gods, I wanted to strangle his smug little neck as he pretended to see rainbows for the first time. When I tell people about my trip to New Zealand now, I usually lie. I say I was on a humanitarian trip that was working with at-risk youth and we did some sightseeing. I tell people about Auckland, and Rotorua, and the Bay of Islands because they were the only places I went. A month in New Zealand and I walked away with more clothes from the mall then I did good memories.
Dominican Republic #1
My first visit to the Dominican Republic felt promising. We wanted to work with Haitian Refugees as the earthquake had just happened, but we weren't allowed into Haiti. We also wanted to do health clinics and build water purification systems. That is something I could get behind. Real work helping real people in a tangible way. The trip itself was heartbreaking. The conditions that the refugees were living in was shocking. They were so incredibly desperate. I've never seen anything like it.
The main problems lay with our leaders. There were five of us. Two married couples and me. Obviously, I had been on a number of mission trips and so I had experience. Same for the older married couples. The young couple, *Terri and her husband *Jason, were such anal retentive fuckheads who if anything seemed abnormal, they started to freak out, especially Terri. The one thing I have learned from my experiences in life is that nothing that requires this level of organization ever goes according to plan. These people simply were not rolling with the punches. Then we had *Bob and his wife *Kendra. Kendra is the sweetest person you will ever meet, which helps balance out the fat fuck who is her husband. *Bob would sometimes disappear (even though we were told to never go off alone) and reappear with snacks or a soda. We would be outside working on a water filtration unit and Bob would be in the air-conditioned bus doing nothing. If questioned, he said he was talking to the bus driver. You know, the one that speaks four words in English. We were handing out shoes to kids at the health clinic and Bob is sitting in the corner fanning himself. I have photographic evidence of this. Now, let's be clear that when we set up this trip Bob had no interest in going to the Dominican. None. He made it very clear that he wanted to go back to one of the places he had been on a trip to and didn't see much reason to go to the Dominican.
My other issue was that once again, no one would listen to me. See, I speak Spanish. Not fluently, but well enough to have decent conversations about basic subjects. I had been speaking Spanish to the locals the entire time I was there. Everyone heard me. Yet, when I asked for directions or spoke with someone and then relayed that information to the group, they never believed me. This came to a head at the airport on the way home when we weren't sure which checkpoint to go through, so I just asked a man at the gate. No one would listen to me. They spent the next twenty minutes wandering around the airport, while I stood beside the ticket agent, arms crossed, wondering if this would be the thing that would finally drive me insane. The ticket agent was amused by their stupidity and by that point I was so done. I spent the entire flight home not talking to any of them. I even left them behind in the airport.
I also took issue with the fact that we spent only about 3-4 hours of our day doing work and the rest was spent back at the hotel relaxing by the pool. People treated it like it was a vacation where we spent a few hours each morning handing out medicine. Again, even as an adult there was no freedom and I was forced to go to the beach, which I hate, because I couldn't convince anyone to go into the city and wasn't allowed to go by myself.
The plus side of this trip was that we helped install a water filtration unit at a church and an orphanage owned by that church. We were able to build some much-needed connections.
Dominican Republic #2
I don't know why I went again. Somehow, I convinced myself that this trip would be better, especially if I wasn't a leader. So off I went sans any responsibility. On the plus side, since we had made connections the first year, we were able to better organize our trip. We stayed in the same place, worked with the same orphanage (which we had now bought a building for). This year, I had a mission though. When we visited the first year I noticed the serious lack of books at the orphanage and in homes. So I had my classmates in my children's writing master's program along with co-workers at my bookstore, help donate books in Spanish. I managed to collect almost 160 books which I hauled down in my carry-on. Screw a change of clothes, I was bringing knowledge.
My group did not get it. Instead they brought Beanie Babies, Barbies, and glow sticks. I want to point out right now that so many groups come to this area of the Dominican that they are very used to random Americans showing up and giving them free stuff. They get free stuff all the time and they aren't very kind about it either, because they know the stuff runs out. In my experience telling them to line up was useless. If I pulled out balloons (I can do a variety of balloon animals and objects), I was immediately mobbed. I had to make balloon animals over my head, avoiding the grabbing hands and the press of bodies as they tried to take them. Sometimes fights broke out and the balloon would pop. And if you think it was all children, you would be wrong. So year two, I thought I would bring something these people actually needed. Books.
Fat fuck Bob, still a leader, was so ridiculously against it that I considered not going. By that point I had already begun to collect books though, so against my better judgment I went. The day we went to the orphanage, Bob spent most of the morning ignoring and avoiding me. I had the books ready to hand out, but he kept delaying it and acting like there just wasn't time. We spent hours with the kids doing crafts and puppet shows and eating a lunch together, but still no room to hand out books. Finally, right before we left, I was allowed to give them out. One book for each kid and a pile to the teachers. The teachers cried and the children grinned. My group had already gotten on the bus so they didn't get to witness any of this.
I handed out the rest of the books at our final health clinic that week. The crowds had died down, but there were still a handful of kids and so I started handing out books. "For me?" they asked, cradling the books in their arms. Then they took them to other people in my group and asked for them to read it. Most of my group didn't speak Spanish, but the children loved it as they tried to read Cat in the Hat and Leo the Lion. Loved it. And it was then, on the last day of our trip that my group finally got it. Even Bob. Afterward, they told me as much. They thought it was stupid because books are heavy and beanie babies are not, but that the looks on their faces when they got those books. The pure joy at putting their names in them. One kid ran home to tell his mom and she came back to thank us. No one ever thanked us for beanie babies. I'm glad they finally got it, but it upset me that it took such a response for them to understand the important and value of an education and the tools needed for it.
I didn't go the next year. I knew I had had enough of Bob. Enough of these people who went on one trip once a year to make themselves feel better and have as much understanding of third-world poverty as they do the pre-colonial history of Mumbai. They still go too. Every year, although they have now added Kazakhstan (where Bob wanted to go originally) and Kenya. And as far as I know, they are still taking kids those damned beanie babies. Although to be fair, they also financially support the orphanage and have a very close relationship with the church and halfway house down in the Dominican too.
*names changed for the sake of not wanting people to hunt down these fuckheads
In the aftermath of more police shootings and shooting of police, people are sharing their anger and frustration everywhere. Understandable and even commendable in some ways. One of the things that really irks me though are comments like, "If you are silent, then you are part of the problem" or "I don't want to see your meme of a black person and a cop hugging. This is indefensible. Look at your post. Look at yourself. If you are not fighting for the right of a child to play in the park, of a man to reach for his license, then you are on the wrong side". It's all or nothing for a lot of people with absolutely no room for nuance, middle ground, or even understanding.
For the record I have never, not once posted anything political, controversial, or belittling on any of my social media sites. For me, those places are a way to stay connected to family and friends across the country and world, connect to a professional community for writing and publishing, and to stay informed about things that I am interested in. (ie adoption, religion/non-religion, world news, literacy, etc.) I am even super careful about what I like on Facebook since I know people can see things you like. I am a big supporter of Bernie Sanders. I like him a lot. I voted for him in the primaries. And I haven't posted a single thing about him. In fact, this may be the first place online I have mentioned that I even like the guy. I just don't feel the need to express that love online.
Other things I don't do:
Change my profile picture to a flag to support whatever people have been hurt recently
Change my profile picture of an animal because someone is trying to "fill Facebook with animal pictures"
Reply to controversial comments no matter how much they bother me
Post news stories or videos that would upset people or that children' shouldn't see
Write a rant about whatever controversial topic is happening right now
Write a rant telling everyone who isn't on my side that they are on the "wrong side"
Here's something else I don't do that seems to bother a lot of people. I don't protest. I will never protest. I have a number of good reasons for this:
1. Motives vs Tactics. Even though I may agree with your motives and movement, I do not agree with the way many protests are done. Blocking traffic? Marching on the highway? Illegally occupying a building? Yelling at counter-protesters and cops? These are things I am not okay with nor would I ever do it. I don't want to march down the street chanting some phrase that some community activist came up with. What if I don't agree with the chant? What if I don't like yelling? (For the record: I don't yell. About anything)
2. Arrests. I do not want to be arrested. Not only do I not want a police record, but I am in the middle of an adoption process. We had to go through three different security and background checks. If I have a record, my adoption will be at risk. I don't think I can change the world, but I do know that if I adopt, I can change the world for that child.
3. Cynical by Nature. I don't actually think I can do anything. I know that is cynical, but it is true. I don't think that marching to the State House or through the streets of my city is going to do a god-damned thing. I think the issues we are dealing with are multi-faceted and more than any one person or group can deal with. I am not a police officer nor do I work with any, so my chances of being able to internally make necessary changes is zil. I can't fix the gun problem we have in this country. I can't go back in time and force white Americans not to own slaves or to treat black people better once they were freed. I also can't force people now to look at their own internal subconscious biases and work against them. I am not black, so there is no way to make inroads in that community. I am not friends with racists and publicly shame people who show even an inkling of bias. My family has always been extremely accepting of all ethnicities and cultures. I myself am interested in bettering myself and so I have read many books, taken classes, was part of a racial reconciliation committee while in college, and have always sought out communities that are multi-ethnic. Be the change you want to see in the world, is a popular quote. So I did. That's all I can do. I can't make other people change. If social media has taught me anything, it is that you cannot change other people's minds about anything.
4. Conflict of Interest. My husband was a cop for nearly a decade. He is one of the most honest, caring people I know, with a deep sense of right and wrong. He is also a good source of information concerning the hows and whys of policing. Yesterday I learned about how Internal Investigations work. For the record: Internal investigators are NOT friends with cops. When my husband started to get too friendly with one, he was called into the office and told that no one would talk to him anymore if he kept talking to them. I didn't know that. Apparently, there are a lot of people who don't know it either and have never bothered to ask. My husband never fired his gun while on duty, but readily admits that there were times that he beat the shit out of people. He always felt justified in doing so although he is sure that the criminal he was dealing with would probably disagree. I know my husband to be a man of integrity. He has not hurt anyone since the day he gave up his badge. Yet our society wants to paint him and others like him as power-hungry racist abusers with an authority complex. "They forget that we are humans too," my husband said the other day. "Cops aren't free of fear. We got scared. It's just that we were taught to still do our jobs, to still run into danger, even when everything in you tells you to turn and run." So marching in some protest shouting at police officers really really bothers me and would probably create a rift in my marriage.
5. Violence. In the past few years, there have been a lot of protests and there have been quite a few that have gone from peaceful to violent in seconds. All it takes is one person with a gun, a group of teens with glass bottles, an angry protester with a real hatred of cops, and things turn ugly fast. I will not risk being a part of that. The cause may be just, but the minute you start to put other people's lives in danger, your cause has been tarnished by violence.
6. Skin Color. I am white. I have been told by many people in the #BlackLivesMatter movement that not only can I not understand, but I also don't really have a dog in this fight. I am told I should be an advocate, but only if I agree fully and completely, otherwise I am with "them", the enemy. If I am not for you, then I am against you. Do you really think with all that rhetoric, that I would feel comfortable or safe marching on the street? I don't even feel comfortable posting things on Facebook because I am not entirely sure what I am "allowed" to say. If you insist that this is not my battle to fight, but turn around and tell me that if I don't fight with you then I am as bad as the racists, you can bet this non-combative white woman is just going to fade into the sidelines like the spectator you clearly wanted me to be.
7. Not a United Front. Finally, the problem with many of these movements if that there isn't a united front. Are we or aren't we mad at police? What are we demanding here? Are you seriously suggesting that cops should just stop doing their jobs? Or are you just asking for some more transparency and better training? Are we really assuming that every cop is a racist power-hungry thug, who look for opportunities to hurt people? Yesterday, a co-worker posted an "article" encouraging people not to call the police in emergency situations. Are you fucking kidding me?! I cannot get behind that. That is a TERRIBLE idea. Another "friend" believes that we should just disarm cops. I cannot get behind that either, not unless we make guns a rare commodity in this country, which is never going to happen. I think part of the issue is that we pay police officers like shit, but somehow expect the creme of the crop. As if our best men and women are actually going to sign up to get paid $36000 a year. (that was what my husband made...and the main reason why he quit). These officers are having to work two and three jobs to make ends meat. The pressure is immense and frankly, from a civilian standpoint, I don't understand why anyone would sign up for such a thankless job. Nope. I'm not marching beside you when I am not even sure what it is we are marching for or against.
I want police shootings and excessive force incidents to tick down to almost nothing. I want black men and women to be able to drive down the street without fear of being pulled over for no other reason than because their skin is dark. I want police officers to not get itchy trigger fingers around those same black people. I want better understanding of police and the law from the general public. I want police officers to be paid more so that better candidates are attracted to the profession. I want black people to be attracted to that profession. I want to live in a country in which we don't assume that someone is racist anytime something happens to a person of color. I want to live in a country where our police officers don't have to worry about being shot at a routine traffic stop thus decreasing their anxiety when making traffic stops. I want our justice system to change. I want all people to receive the same treatment in our justice system. I want our jails to not be full of black people. I want our jails to not be full of black people who committed the same crimes as white people, but their white counterparts are just on probation. I want black parents to not have to teach their children to be wary of police. I want white parents to teach their children not to be wary of black people.
And none of those things is going to happen in a protest.
When I watch things like this, I readily admit that I can't explain it. Yet, a quick Google search show me that Chloe is currently sitting at #17 on the popularity chart. This guy also looks to be about the same age as me, maybe a bit older which would put him as a kid in the 80s, right when Chloe was seeing a huge rise in popularity. Seriously it went from 0 in 1981 to #17 by 2015. I also know that there are a number of things that I equated to God when I was younger that were really my own very active imagination. Like the dream I had about going to heaven. Of course, I dreamed about heaven...we talked about it all the time. I also watched Strawberry Shortcake all the time, but never thought those berry-fueled dreams were God-inspired. What are the chances of a dude imagining he would have a daughter one day named Chloe and meeting a woman who also wanted a daughter named Chloe? Well, as improbable as it may be, it isn't impossible, which means that it is within the realm of possibility. (ie not supernatural) And what are the chances of them meeting a woman who wanted to name her daughter Chloe? Well, if we look at how popular that name was by the time they started the adoption process, I would say that there was a very good chance of running into someone who thought that was a good name.
For the faithful, that is just way too many coincidences and therefore there must be a deity involved. For me, coincidences are just coincidences. I mean, what were the chances that I would meet a man who shares my love of all things geeky, likes to cook, hates to argue, and wanted to adopt? Pretty high I think, considering I dated three other guys with similar traits. It didn't work out with those other guys for a variety of reasons (not ready to settle down, too constrained, long distance), but I do think that there are actually a lot of people I could make it work with. I'm glad I met my husband and he is awesome, but I don't believe our marriage was God-ordained. I didn't even believe that when I was a Christian as I had already shed the whole soul-mate thing from my beliefs. But there are people who have suggested that because my husband wanted to adopt or because we both love science fiction movies, God must have arranged our marriage.
But let's leave all of that aside for a moment and address the real issue that this line of reasoning has for adoption. If you truly believe that it was God's plan for you to adopt a child, then it was also in God's plan for that child to lose their first family. It doesn't matter if you adopted the child on the day it was born, there is still some kind of loss for both the child and the biological parent. Even if these parents are fantastic, this child will spend a lifetime dealing with the fact that they are adopted. If all goes well, those thoughts and feelings will minimally impact them. But make no mistake, there will come a time in their life where they will struggle with what it means to be adopted. The Christian narrative goes one of two ways: 1) This was God's plan all along or 2) This wasn't God's perfect plan, but through his redemptive powers he made it good again. But this also implies that this god only does so for a select few. Since there are millions of orphans worldwide, one has to assume that this god is rather choosy in who he gives a Plan B to. For many orphans, particularly those in third-world countries, not being chosen by a god for a Plan B will subject them to a lifetime of poverty, misery, abuse, and early death.
Both lines of reasoning are severely flawed as both mean that God orchestrated their orphandom, but a lot of Christians treat adoption like their sacred duty along with providing salvation, that it is a thought that is shoved away. My sister-in-law talks about how wrong the Plan B thing is, but then talks about God's sovereignty in her next post, which is just plain confusing from a theological perspective. I doubt there is much logic to it though as these theological quandries are really set up to make people feel better, not to make sense.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.