All posts by AmberDawn McCall

Remember Your Baptism


Remember your baptism

When my family and I started regularly attending Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church last year, I was broken. I had finished my MTS in Biblical Studies as my husband weathered an unexpected job change. I had reached the end of my ability to endure systemic racism and misogyny, and had surrendered my ministerial credentials. I had given up the idea of planting a church, because the advice I received sounded too little about sharing God’s love, and too much like collecting a personal following. I lived in Boise, but I no longer knew why. I couldn’t stomach one more church service at which I was instructed to raise my hands, do a dance, interpret the Bible in this, the one, precisely correct way, etc.

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be a Christian anymore. After all, I’d attended a couple of incredible concerts in May (Violent Femmes and Florence and the Machine), and I knew that the euphoria of a great concert and the euphoria of a great worship service were disconcertingly similar.

Did God really exist? If so, why were 1/4 families in the Church struggling with domestic violence? Why were such an enormous percentage of pastors addicted to pornography and other sexual sins, and why did the “Christian” message around me seem to be all about keeping women (and men) and our sexuality in their proper place, and so little about God’s love? Why, when I told other female scholars what I wanted to research and write my doctoral thesis about, did they involuntarily gasp, school their faces into pity, and whisper, “oh… you’re going to get into trouble.”

Why, why, why?

I was over it. So over it, that I told Aaron that taking me to one. more. church. where they taught the “only” way to be Christian would be the end of my faith.

But, I’d invested the vast majority of my life in being Christian–an Uber Christian, in the face of an ever-evolving metric. I LOVED the history, the Wind of the Spirit, the practices, and the texts that rested under the trappings of American Christianity. I wanted to recite the Creeds, to pray Ancient prayers, to hear scripture read aloud, to pass the peace, to partake in Eucharist. I wanted to experience the presence of God. I needed to know that God was still there, even if I couldn’t see God’s face reflected in the public face of the “Church” anymore. I needed a space in which to be Christian, wherein I wouldn’t be required to exclude ANYONE from my love, or from the Kingdom.

So, we kept going back to the Episcopal Church, hearing the scriptures, praying the prayers, reciting the Creeds, and taking the Eucharist. Again and again, there was a tremendous amount of scripture read, and seemingly endless prayers offered. I heard the Holy Spirit referenced, and honored, in direct contrast to what I’d been taught about “Liberal” churches. My idea of what it meant to be a Christian was confronted, and found wanting. But, I kept going, because the weekly ritual provided something predictable, something older and wiser than myself, as I floundered.

And every Sunday, I’d walk past the Baptismal Font.

The Baptismal Font at St. Stephen’s is a rather plain affair.

Remember your baptism

It’s solid, and ready to withstand jostling. The bowl nested in its top is plain, white, and hand thrown. The central surface is leftover from an older font, which has been incorporated into its current, strong iteration.

I walked past it for months, never dipping my fingers into its water, never knowing quite how that whole “crossing oneself” thing worked. And for months, I thirsted. I thirsted for the presence of God. I thirsted for some small experience of the Spirit. I was raised in the Church of speaking in tongues, dancing, and being slain in the Spirit. Experience is king, and I missed it, even while I doubted my memories of it. What was real? What was manipulated?

Finally, after months of ignoring the font, I obeyed its whispered call.

“Remember your baptism.”

So, I did it. Dipping my first two fingers in the water, I brought my fingers to my forehead.

At that moment, as my wet fingers touched my forehead, in the absence of worship music, with the lighting up too high, with children misbehaving behind me, I felt it.

In that moment, I felt the love of God pierce my despairing heart like a blazing sword. The touch was overwhelming, and undeniable. I was left shaking, to stumble to my seat and stare dumbly back at the baptismal font.

“Remember your baptism.”

When the Church lets you down. When the Bible doesn’t make sense. When you experience abuse and betrayal and abandonment. When the people who do it are elevated and admired in the organizations that claim the name of Christ.

“Remember your baptism.”

Then, “Go from here in peace. Remember the poor, and be kind to one another. And the peace of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the one God, and Mother of Us All, be upon you. Amen.”

Whitewashed

This is what having your suffering whitewashed really looks like.

whitewashed

This morning, I was feeling particularly angst-ridden over the cost of whitewashing. So, I painted “Whitewashed.”
It’s over 4 feet wide, and won’t be hung away in some forgotten corner. It’s too big.
Aaron doesn’t think it’s an appropriate addition to our dining room decor. (He’s probably right.)
I find it entirely appropriate, how this expression of hidden trauma just. won’t. play. nice.
Where do we display the truths that have been whitewashed out of our collective, and our personal, histories? Should I shove this painting in a closet? Isn’t that what we demand of survivors?
So, it’s laying on my bed, this externalization of this morning’s emotions. I’m feeling good, but I still need somewhere to hang this pain.

A Father’s Day Gamble.

Please share the following with EVERYONE. I’m basically buying a lottery ticket, here:

For Father’s Day, this year, I’ve decided to take a risk, because I’d like to someday meet my father, and/or my paternal relatives. I’d also like to find people I remember from my early childhood, and/or people who can tell me more about my mother, or share pictures with me.

mom at 17 mom grandpa and me mom

This woman is Suzanne Cordelia Willard, my mother. (That baby is me.) She spent most of her life in Western WA state, and British Columbia. She died in August 1983, in Snohomish, WA, and due to her death and the circumstances surrounding it, I no longer have access to any of her associates from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s—the people who might have any idea of my father’s identity.

Years ago, a relative gave me the name and number of the man she believed to be my father. I called him, and he asked one simple question, “Are you sure you REALLY want to know?” I choked on the question. Did I? This story has dark chapters. Do I really want to know HOW dark?

That day, I said, “I …. Don’t … know.” The man assured me he wasn’t my father, and said he’d ask around among their common acquaintances. Life moved on, and I don’t have his name or contact information anymore. It may have been a dead end, or a lost opportunity. I may never know.

I’m stronger now. If asked the same question today, I’d say, “Yes.” Now that I’ve been able to fill out my mother’s entire family tree, thereby filling in half of mine, the other side begs to be filled. The grandfather I found through adoption records and DNA testing has passed away, but he left me with a large, glorious collection of relatives, as well as a greater understanding of how I came to look and “be” the way that I am.

This has been one of the most amazing gifts life has ever offered to me.

Now, NO MATTER WHO my father is, I want to know. (Seriously. I will visit you in prison, if necessary.)

So, here’s the tiny bit I know: He had a sexual relationship or encounter with my mother in the winter of 1975/1976. That’s it.

I know she married a man with the last name Carr when she was 17, around 1971. I think his first name was Dean. I remember living with a logging truck driver named Don Fagg when I was about kindergarten age. I remember a man named Joel, who was incredibly kind, who my mother intended to marry in the late 70’s to early 80’s. (I also remember that I flat refused, hysterically, even, to ride on the back of his motorcycle, even though my mother insisted he was the better driver, and I’d be safer with him than with her.)

I remember living in Burlington, WA, Marysville, WA, and Calgary, AB. I remember visiting Vancouver, BC., where I was born. I remember Gaylene and Trevor, the Canadian couple with whom I lived off and on during my early childhood, and Trevor’s mother June, with whom I enjoyed a single reunion while on my honeymoon in 1998. I remember talking to Gaylene once as an adult (In 1998), but I lost her last name and phone number years ago. I remember Reese, from Vancouver, who came to visit me once after my mother died. I remember another, unnamed woman, who showed up at my elementary school in 1st grade, just to check and make sure I was ok, never to be seen again. I remember a lot more, but names and dates are foggy, given my young age and the migratory nature of my mother and I’s life while she was with me.

I’d like to learn more. If you can help me, if you remember me, or my mother, please comment on this post. Your comment will NOT appear publicly. I administrate all comments.

Self Portrait

For the past several months to a year, I have been haunted by an inescapable vision. Today, I painted it. The painting of it helped me to process the emotions and experiences behind it, and being a writer, more so than an artist, I feel the need to write out what I’m learning through this vision, and its painting.

Let’s start with the canvas. When it was time to finally paint this vision, I needed to paint it on something that’s already been colored, long before I got my hands on it. This used canvas represents the story behind my story. For better and worse, the canvas upon which I paint my life was painted before. It is fitting that I started with a messy, multihued canvas. This is my background. My parents’, grandparents’, and others’ choices pre-painted my canvas. Over the course of my life, I choose what to make of that canvas.IMG_0932

The pop bottle lids peeking up from the bottom of the frame matter, as well. When it’s time to paint our lives—our selves into the canvas we’ve been provided—we don’t always have the “right” tools. Sometimes, we have to improvise, to take advantage of the opportunities and objects at hand, in order to become.

Now, to paint.

IMG_0933

The first thing I painted was a crushed, broken dragonfly. For a large part of the past year, this was me. Those who are close to me know that I have considered dragonflies my totem, my sign, my symbol of transformation and transcendence. This is because a dragonfly nymph molts up to 12 times during its development. I love, and have always loved, the miracles and hope communicated to us through nature. Dragonflies teach me that change and growth are good, they never need to stop, and that someday, I’ll fly (or, the “arrived” human equivalent).

But, why is it broken?

Because dragonflies are fragile. And, I’m learning how to not be okay. I’m learning how important it is to admit that I’m not okay, in order to create space for healing. You can’t pursue healing until you admit you’re sick, or wounded. And guess what? I’ve been wounded.

Which brings us to the dragon.

IMG_0934

This is me, hoping that the dragon looks like it’s emerging from the broken space in the dragonfly. I’m not sure if she’s done, yet. She probably isn’t, but meanwhile, she’s here, she’s strong–mythic, even–and she’s ready to fly, and to fight. Notice that the background, the pre-painted canvas, shows through, but doesn’t define her. This is important, because I have spent far too much of my life pretending that my background doesn’t affect me in any way. That simply isn’t true. The colors represent the pre-existent people, circumstances, and events who color the canvas upon which I paint my life. The colors shine through, but don’t determine the dragon’s shape or action.

Finally, my dragon is lit by the Sun. The sun, and the bit of a glint of its light on her, is a reference to my name, and to Hope. The woman I thought I would be (the dragonfly) is broken, but the dragon rises, and light shines down.

So, what am I learning? I’m learning that, in order to become all I was intended to be, I can’t merely molt, and transform slightly. Death and resurrection are necessary. Deception must die for Truth to emerge. I’m not who I was, and I’m never going back.

 

Upsetting Things I Post on Facebook…

Last night, I posted a couple of in-the-moment links to my Facebook wall. They were provocative, and challenging. The first dealt with “progressive” Christianity, and how too much time spent reading the Bible and praying can lead you there. The second dealt with suffering, and the damage we do with our simple answers.

Both posts flew in the face of easy faith, easy answers, and the outright lies we tell ourselves to keep our worldview intact. You see, my tenuous hold on those lies was completely severed over the past year. And yes, it was tenuous to begin with.

After all, I grew up in a church with easy answers regarding sexuality. The first man I had sex with would be my husband, forever, in the eyes of God. Sex was a dirty duty assigned to women to help weak men not to sin–but those men are more spiritual than we “Jezebels” are…. Marriage existed to produce children and to prevent sin. And, maybe to keep women in line. We really do need a lot of management, according to this ethos.

Hmmm… So, what’s “Sex”? Does molestation count? That’s awkward, kids. And on that note, telling 12 year old girls that they’re a stumbling block is simply gross. (Yes, it happened.)

What about rape victims? What if we can’t even remember his face? Awkward, again. Like, 6 months of self-destructive behavior because I was damaged goods, awkward.

I could go on.

Speaking of man and woman…. What about my friends and relatives who were clearly non-binary in their sexuality from moment one? But, that’s another post.

When it comes to sexuality and the Church, I found our treatment of Samson most instructive. Samson was a sexual predator. He was a scary, mass-murdering, take-what-I-want-no-matter-who-I-hurt kind of guy. He’s the ultimate story of how desperate people will come to rely on despicable people, asking them to be heroes. How even God can get desperate enough to empower men, knowing they’ll use their power for evil, in order to create space for a miracle.

Our children’s Bible stories portray Samson as a hero, when the best thing Samson ever did was DIE. I’m serious. Read it again. Consider how our portrayal of Delilah, or of Samson’s wife, serves to promote rape culture in the Church. Let the Word of God SPEAK to you, to the Church, and bring correction! (Okay. Calming down…)

When the Church failed to live up to its promises when it came to sexuality, I found the Bible didn’t fail me. The full spectrum of human sexuality, the beauty and the pain of it, are portrayed in these pages. The Bible doesn’t gloss over any of it, and it doesn’t apologize. Yet, in the midst of the carnage, we find celebration, and beauty. We find the Song of Solomon, an entire book of songs celebrating sexual love.

But what about healing?

I grew up in, and pastored in, a tradition known for its belief in Divine healing. While I was pastoring, my family’s closest “counterpart” best-friend family lost their husband and father to cancer. While I was working on my MTS, one of my dearest friends died of breast cancer.

… Maybe Satan is just another name for cancer.

Thankfully, I got my Masters in Bible, and spent the majority of my efforts on the Old Testament. I love the Old Testament. Its bloody, awkward, angry, conflicted, worshipful, confused, wise pages sing to me of a faith that refuses to be boxed in, a faith that rejects easy, hurtful answers.

I needed that education this year. Because my children have suffered, and we have prayed. But, we didn’t get answers or relief until we got good medical care. Like in the rest of Creation, God partners with humanity here, as well. My son who suffered with behavioral health issues was healed by a simple blood test and a changed diet. No amount of prayer solved the fact that the child just shouldn’t eat certain things.

My daughter struggled with night terrors, and various “odd” symptoms for years. Not my religious background, nor my prayers, nor my internet research yielded any answers. The answer for my daughter was to finally progress to a daytime seizure in the living room. This earned her a trip to the ER, and the imaging that revealed the “innumerable” cysts scattered throughout her brain. In the universe-according-to-my religious upbringing, her symptoms appeared quite spiritual. In black and white video, they’re clearly physical. Today, we are wading through symptoms, tests, drugs, more symptoms, more tests, different drugs, and a whole lot of PRAYER–most of it heartbroken, and angry. But, just like in the Bible, the pain and the struggle are mixed in with beauty and glory. There is no child like this child. She has no inhibitions–for better, and for worse. She’s a firework. (Thank you, Katy Perry.)

And God is here with us in it. God is here with us in the  broken spaces. God is here with us in our fractured political discourse, in our shrinking churches, in our unanswerable questions… In fact, God showed up in the flesh, and allowed us to pour out our frustration, our confusion, and our rage upon Jesus. Then, after darkness had fallen, and despair had reigned, God arose. God promised resurrection. Hope after despair. And, in the Bible, we find a LIBRARY of human experiences of God showing up in our stories. We find humanity experiencing God. We find God being faithful, even when we are faithless.

And today, while the easy answers and Biblical Principles that are peddled in the name of Christ have failed me, the Bible has not, and neither has God. After all, I can spend weeks and months ignoring and cursing God, by turn, and in the middle of the night, I still hear that voice calling, “I am with you.”