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Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

I’m not a huge fan of summer weather. While being cold isn’t great, I hate dripping with sweat just from standing outside. Breathing is too hot. Anything above 82° and I don’t get along, even lower temperatures if the humidity is rocking, which usually happens in Michigan. I grew up with no air conditioning and summer nights were brutal. I vividly remember being miserable unless I was in the lake or we begged the next-door-neighbor to let us swim in his pool.

That being said, I love the season of having a break, especially since I now have air conditioning and can escape the stickiness. I can get things done. I deep-cleaned our bedroom today! I never have energy for anything more than superficial dusting and Swiffering during the school year, so you know I’m relaxing.

I’m getting my soul back, too. I’ve been sleeping in way more than I thought I would; my body is apparently taking charge of recovering from the stress. It’s been almost a week and I feel a million times better already. I feel more like me. I haven’t been cussed out in a week.

For thousands of years, summer has been held in regard for more serious reasons than a break from school. While we have several examples of how our ancient ancestors welcomed this, Stonehenge in England really stands out to me.

Seven years ago today, my aunt and I visited said Stonehenge with a tour group. (Rob from Trafalgar, btw, made that an amazing trip. Just saying.) It was the day before the summer solstice and the field around the monument was already packed with people who wanted to celebrate the next morning. Stonehenge itself was crowded, but not enough to detract from its beautiful simplicity. I could feel the ancient vibrations, the thing that lingers after the people are long gone. It was that significant for me. As we watched the news the next morning, we learned that a few arrests had been made as some of the celebrations had gotten out of hand, something I think the ancients would have probably understood. At this moment, 11:30 EST, they’ve been partying all night at Stonehenge and the sun is about to rise, so it’s a very exciting time.

Those stones, arranged so carefully by people from so long ago, echoed deep inside me and still do today. The people who placed those stones welcomed the summer, more than I do. Summer was a reward for surviving the harsh winter, a time for tending crops and enjoying life. They worshiped the sun, the giver of life in their eyes, and felt the need to commemorate that particular spot as sacred. Somehow, they calculated the solstice, got those impossibly heavy stones to the sacred spot, and arranged them in the perfect way. Most of them still exist in perfect form, not bad for being around 5,000 years old.

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I have deep roots in England, going more than 1,000 years, and some from the town of Salisbury not far from Stonehenge. Did my many-great-grandparents dance around the stones? Did they dance the pagan dances, worship the sun, drink the mead? If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. It’s very sobering to think that I could possibly have had people there at that crucial time.

So, in spite of my distaste for excessive heat, welcome, Summer. Welcome, ancient holiday that meant life and respite to our ancestors.

Respect.

Summer-Solstice

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During a conversation with my husband the other night, we happened upon the topic of change. It came up because I’m going to Detroit Pride this weekend to join up with Free Mom Hugs. For those that don’t know, Free Mom Hugs, a group which also includes dads, gives free hugs, high-fives, fist bumps, and encouragement to LGBTQIA individuals who have been rejected by their families. I’m totally stoked about being able to show a bit of love to someone who may just need it, lord knows we all do from time to time.

I reflected on how this was not what I was raised to believe, and how people can grow and change.

I know because I changed.

I was raised in a very conservative home where I was taught, especially in church, that being gay, or at least, being in a gay relationship, was a sin. It was never really an issue, just one of the countless sins we were told about. I didn’t know any better until I actually met people who were “out” in high school and in my first year of college. Listening to their stories really made me question the belief system I had been taught. Why were people being judged and condemned for how they were born, for who they were, for who they loved? The more I reasoned, the more my views changed and I struggled with what my religion said vs. what I knew in my heart to be true.

My brother came out soon after. He had been raised with the same teachings, I know he didn’t choose to be gay. Why would God make him that way if it was sinful? Why would God make anyone gay if it went against what He wanted? It didn’t make sense. I started reading more and researching, not only personal stories, but articles and studies on religion to see what was actually being said in translations and realized that I didn’t agree with the interpretation that had been preached to me for all those years. I was soon completely convinced: people don’t choose their sexuality, it’s hard-wired from the very beginning.

With this realization, I made it a point to be an ally. We’ve raised our kids to be accepting of everyone. We’ve also been very fortunate to belong to a church where everyone is welcome, no matter what, with no agenda to “fix” people. One of our pastors even risked her job to marry two wonderful men a few years ago and we became an official Reconciling Ministries church the year after. The current pastor and his wife are all in, letting the rainbow banners fly. Our denomination is in a struggle right now to officially adopt a policy where gay marriages can be performed without penalty and I’m happy to say that there has some progress made on this. It looks much more hopeful now than it did a few months ago. We have wonderful new members who came to us because they have faith, but have not felt welcome in other places. There is still much to do.

Faith is important to a lot of people and it makes me sad that being gay is a reason for some to shut others out, no matter what the religion is. Do the homework, not just “research” from the conservative side, but objective research from real science. Talk to gay Christians, or gay Muslims, or gay Jews. You’ll find many. There are plenty of gay atheists, too, in case you’re not religious. Get their perspective, and really, truly, listen to them without judgement. Listen to religious scholars on the other side with an open mind and pray for understanding.

There’s another reason I think this is an incredibly important topic. According to The Trevor Project, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24 and LGB youth seriously think about suicide three times more than heterosexual youth. (https://www.thetrevorproject.org/resources/preventing-suicide/facts-about-suicide/#sm.00001dqohxj19xof4dx2kuf9llet1) They would rather die than deal with the pain they feel from being rejected by the world, their places of worship, even their parents. That should say something to even the hardest heart. Think about that. Children would rather take their own lives than subject themselves to the humiliation heaped on them by those who think they are less than. As someone who has been on that precipice, that decision is born out of desperation, not attention-seeking. The methods used to change children are bogus, as proven over and again. Conversion therapy is cruel and it doesn’t work. You can’t “pray the gay away”, you can’t beat it out of someone, and you can’t change their mind. That’s not how it works. Again, do the research. Hear them.

LGBTQIA people are not broken, they don’t need to be fixed. Like everyone, they need to feel loved, they need to know that they are accepted, and treated with dignity and respect. I thank God, those long-ago high school and college friends, my brother,  and my sister-cousin, for being brave, for opening my eyes, for opening my mind. My life is richer and fuller for that, for the friends I have, for the love I am shown daily. I shudder to think of what my life could have been like if I hadn’t followed my heart.

Growth is often uncomfortable, because you often have to fix stuff, but the rewards are wonderful. When I see anti-gay protesters, so angry, waving their vile signs, it’s difficult to not be angry myself. I want to jump in and defend my friends and family so badly, but getting in someone’s face rarely changes their mind. Instead, I try to love. I try to set a good example. I try to stand up for what I know to be the right thing. I teach my students that using the word “gay” or “queer” as insults is not acceptable when the situation pops up, besides teaching acceptance of all as a norm.

I’m also still learning. As I mentioned, I want to be the best ally I can and I want to do it right. I make mistakes sometimes (I still have to make myself think of and say correct pronouns for the gender fluid, just because it’s a habit) but that’s part of growth and understanding and I welcome it, even when I screw up. I can do more.

So, Happy Pride Month. Much love to my family and friends who are celebrating and know that I have your back, always. May God bless you always.

Image result for rainbow flag

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I haven’t written in a while, I’ve had a lot going on. It’s been all I could do to post a meme. May is always crazy busy, especially if I’m in a show. Any parent with school-age children can tell you that there is at least one activity per week in May and having a high-schooler is no exception. Concerts, advanced-placement testing, driver’s training… oy. Add to that my own end of the year teaching craziness (data, testing, data, testing, data…why???), a college graduation, and that leaves little time to write.

But now I see a light at the end of the tunnel (20 teaching days left) and I’m making myself sit down to write. It’s important, like exercise.The more you do it, the better you get.

Here are some of the random things that have either happened or that I have thought about during the past couple of weeks.

  • Anyone who is wondering what to name a baby (or a pet) should go sit in on a college graduation. Seriously. We listened to 1,200 name combinations read in about an hour and a half. The odds are that you’ll find something you like.
  • One of my favorite authors, Rachel Held Evans, tragically died at the young age of 37. She is responsible for shaking up the Christian world in amazing, progressive ways and was a voice of reason in these crazy times. I feel she was a true modern-day prophet.
  • I believe now, more than ever, in supernatural things.
  • There is a new royal baby. I make no apologies for being happy for them because new babies are wonderful and I like them. Fight me.
  • You meet some incredible people in theatre. No joke. The level of bonding can be intense.
  • If you really love someone and they really love you back, you feel safe and valued. I feel safe and valued.
  • One way or another, I need to stop wishing my life away. Changes must be made. Do something that you love, or at least find fulfilling.
  • My faith has taken a beating lately.
  • Having adult children can be wonderful.
  • Eating the first asparagus of the season right from the garden is fabulous.
  • I feel much younger than I am. I’m not comfortable with my number and I don’t know that I ever will be.
  • Do you have a pen-pal who lives in a different country? You should. Mine started out as a pen-pal, but is now a dear friend.
  • I’ve never been more disillusioned about the state of our country than I am right now. O. M. G. It feels like we’re living in a dystopian novel.
  • It’s spring, time to get my hands dirty, literally.
  • Teachers compiling data is a stupid thing. Really, really stupid. Hire someone to do that; there’s more than enough on my plate.
  • I am still planning on moving to London.

And lastly:

  • It’s been a bad year for suicides. Suicidal people are not weak or looking for attention, they’re desperate and genuinely feel that ending their lives is the only way to end their pain. Don’t judge them, listen and love. Get them help. You could save a life.

I promise I’ll be more organized next time.

The End

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On my Facebook Author page (@JulieBallantyneBrown), I posted this question tonight:

SATURDAY NIGHT QUESTION TIME!!! Name a book that changed your life. One of mine (I have several books that have changed my life or have caused me to reflect.) is Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans.

I’m posting this because Rachel Held Evans needs your prayers, good thoughts, and/or vibes tonight. She is currently in the ICU in a medically induced coma, according to her husband, Dan. (https://rachelheldevans.com/blog/health-updates) I don’t know her prognosis, but it does sound extremely serious.

I wrote the truth in my post. Her book, Faith Unraveled, did change my life. While growing up, I had questioned so many things about my faith and most of the time, I felt alone. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to question my faith, that I was supposed to see everything in black and white when it came to religion. As I have written about before, I was raised fairly fundamentally, leaving that behind when I had my own family because i didn’t want to raise my kids with the levels of fear and shame that I had grown up with. To me, God was not supposed to be a terrifying entity who sent people to Hell on a whim, but a loving presence who wanted the best for me, for all of us.

Those thoughts of a dreadful God  stayed with me for years, even though I had physically moved on. Then, one day, a friend of mine recommended a book online. It was A Year of Biblical Womanhood. In that book, I was introduced to someone who spoke what I was feeling: my doubts on my faith, my thoughts. I eagerly devoured her other books, but Faith Unraveled really resonated with me. While our experiences weren’t exactly the same (I was never the astute Bible student that she was), it spoke to me that I was not alone, that it was okay to question religion, to question, gulp, God, and to be okay with it because He welcomed our thoughts, our questions, and even our doubt.

I’m not writing to preach tonight, but to ask for help for a woman who has given me a new perspective on faith. It doesn’t matter what religion you are, or if you have any at all. I’m quite positive that she would agree with that.

Shalom, A Blessed Passover, and a Happy Easter (Buona Pasqua, Sabri) to you all.

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