It’s been some time since my last post. Partly because I had been swallowed up by my final semester of grad school. But now, I’m finished. It feels strange to write that. In the midst of semesters, I had always been grateful for the end to come. Now that the actual end has indeed arrived, while I’m grateful, I’m also something else—something I have not yet understood how to define. I still remember contemplating whether or not to first apply to grad school in CA and then accept. Money had been one of my biggest fears. And still that M-word creeps up on me from time to time gently reminding me that I’ll be paying off my school loans for a very long time. Looking back on my graduate school experience, I’m so thankful I said “yes” to the opportunity and “no” to my fears. For most of my family, my decision for the program I chose did not make sense, but soon I was able to be OK with that. I wasn’t going to school for anyone else, only me. While I did not include a specific dedication in my MA thesis, I would have dedicated it to my best friend and biggest supporter, Michael. He believed in me and my work and ideas, sometimes more than I believed in my own ability. While there were many nights where I felt I may crumble, he always kept me together, even if it was only by a thread. Michael, if you read this, know that I felt and continue to feel the luckiest girl alive knowing that it is you that never fails to stand by me in all that I do.
Since finishing my thesis, I had taken a little break away from writing, even in my journal. Something about writing a blog post on a blog I haven’t paid much attention to appeared rather daunting to me. I think because I felt I needed something spectacular to say since it had been awhile. Like a post about my “dream job” I had obtained or navigating the new city I moved to for that “dream job.” But, truthfully, I’m still living in my parent’s home, sleeping in my childhood bedroom, working part-time, and applying to at least one job daily. I’m learning a lot these days like how to be more patient, how to become more frugal, how to use my free time wisely, and how to not be so hard on myself. I don’t want to settle for just anything. And while I wait and keep reaching out to opportunities that some would consider far-fetched, I will continue to do it anyway as I’m thankful for all that I’m learning in my current situatedness.
People who study Human Science tend to want to be the one that changes the world in both small and big ways—both noticeable and unnoticeable. While I relate with that mindset, this characteristic is also the very thing that has gotten out of control in some ways as I have let it bring me down to feeling without a purpose. But author Courtney Martin’s words (paraphrased) have saved me from that destructive thought as I have come to embrace that after all, our charge is not to save the world, but to live in it flawed, loving fiercely, and remaining humble.
As part of returning to this blogger realm, I thought I’d include an excerpt from my thesis which sought to explore how my own story impacts my understanding of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) by tracing my personal narrative to the broader context of research and writing. Introducing my “non-story story,” a term borrowed from author Paul Eakin (2008), I paralleled personal dialogue with FGM/C as it relates to specific cultural contexts, multiple firsthand accounts, and successes of pro-abolitionist movements.
(Re)painting the picture of the tradition of baptism in my “non-story story.” In thinking about the concept of tradition and how it relates to me, let me share with you a story of when I became baptized for not the first, but second time.
Smack! The back of my head hits the cold lake faster than I can pinch my nose to avoid breathing in the water. My hair covers the front of my face as the two men lift me out from under the water. I open my eyes. I feel renewed.
I was born into a family system that placed its moral authority in the Bible and Christianity. My mother grew up attending the same Lutheran church that both she and my father forced me to attend as well. That is, at least until I completed confirmation. Each Sunday morning, I pretended to sleep through my alarm. That usually did not work as my parents, primarily my father, would walk into my bedroom and lift the covers, exposing my legs to the cooler morning air. Some Sundays, I would even be so bold as to fake not feeling well. “My stomach feels unsettled; I don’t even think I can eat anything for breakfast,” I’d say to my mother in a depressing tone. I must have not been too convincing as my mother always saw through my act or lack thereof.
After confirmation, at about the age of thirteen, I stopped attending church on a regular basis. Confirmation, as practiced within the Lutheran tradition, is to celebrate a young person’s choice to affirm their baptism and faith. No longer being forced to attend church, I realized that I found more enjoyment journaling and praying to God throughout the day while completing small tasks or on a casual walk. Often questioning what I had been taught in my younger years, I struggled answering the question, “What does faith look like in my life?” For me, the beliefs I were taught to hold as true, with no further explanation given as to why, was not enough. I had questions, and quite frankly, I was not sold on everything I was taught (i.e., the earth is only around 6,000 years old). From my developing perspective I found science and spirituality to be intertwined. It was my desire to understand the world in a more holistic and integrated way, exploring both the seen and the unseen.
I cannot quite remember exactly when or why, but at an older age I had decided to attend weekly services at the church of my aunt and uncle. I enjoyed this church’s less traditional approach as well as its openness and sense of community. While attending this church, I made the decision that I wanted to be re-baptized. In the Lutheran tradition, infant baptism is practiced as a belief that baptism initiates new members into the family of God and is the child’s parents promise to raise him or her in the faith. In this particular church, baptism was practiced as a sign of the Holy Spirit giving that person new life and becoming “born again.” However, I chose to be baptized for a second time (the first when I was an infant) for slightly different reasons. The current “paintings” of Christianity were not enough for me. Baptism, for me, symbolized a (re)painting of Jesus. A painting that would continue to be incorporated into new paintings. And in this process of (re)painting something beautiful would be made. Being generous, forgiving others, having compassion, pursuing peace, listening to the wisdom of others, and being honest would be my way forward. I was solidifying my commitment to my life’s painting, my work in progress. On May 23, 2010, I was baptized for the second time.
I push my hair out of my eyes as I walk back to shore. And as others approach, clapping in support and ready to greet my body with a warm towel, I inhale deeply, hold my breath for a brief moment, and release slowly. My canvas is white. A quiet voice inside whispers, “Let the (re)painting begin.”
Both orthodoxy and progressivism have shaped and molded my moral thinking, my judgment about right and wrong, and the reasoning behind my decisions. Instead of placing my expressions of faith into an absolutist category through a literal interpretation of religious texts, such as the Bible, I use my set of spiritual beliefs to further the way I think morally, developing compassion and tolerance of others. Progressivism helps to reinterpret my fundamental learned beliefs in ways which promote diversity.
Christian identity is molded by what we identify as biblical truth. However, problematically, there are multiple biblical truths that are in conflict with one another. In response to this discrepancy, I have learned to read the Bible as if I am looking through what Downing (2006) referred to as “multi-paned windows,” acknowledging that numerous windows on absolute truth exist, while also recognizing that my window has numerous panes of glass. Thus, my view of Christ’s teachings is different from another’s because of where each view is situated. In Laurel Richardson’s (1994) book chapter, “Writing: A Method of Inquiry,” she used the metaphor of the crystal to depict how validity is viewed within a postmodernist context. Crystals reflect and refract externalities within themselves that cast different colors and patterns depending on what angle you view the crystal. Through the description of a crystal, Richardson (1994) is able to make the comparison that what we see is dependent upon where we “stand.”
I believe I will always be hungry to make sense of things, always looking for meaning, connection, and depth in my experiences. As Eakin (2008) suggested, “When it comes to our identities, narrative is not merely about self, but is rather in some profound way a constituent part of self” (p. 2). So, “What does faith look like in my life?” It looks like a “relating” faith. A belief system that remains flexible, allowing for the measurement of new things in order to continue (re)painting. As I share the story above with others, I acknowledge that my perception is situated and my language is limited; however, I trust that the transcendent Other whose very nature endorses love of the other will intercede beyond language when I do not have the words.
In (re)painting the tradition of baptism, the actual process of being dunked in water remained the same, but what it symbolized for me represented something much different. Since baptism is a ritual which causes no physical harm and is typically performed at the discretion of the receiver (unless baptized as an infant), I questioned its relationship regarding the (re)painting of FGM/C. Instead of changing the significance of the practice, how could the actual procedure become less violent to the girls and women, yet, retain its cultural significance? It was in this (re)painting of my “non-story story” that one of my questions was reframed: How can FGM/C be abolished without the loss of its inherent cultural significance?
To anyone reading this, thank you. Here’s to remaining hopeful, finding joy in our struggles, sharing with people what we are seeing happening around us, and even more so, asking others what they are seeing. My hope is that we all begin to learn from one another and not be afraid to be wrong.