Four of my kids recently performed in a musical production of The Wizard of Oz. We had a tot, a city father, a winkie guard, and a crow–and for the second performance, the winkie guard also doubled as part of the tornado.
Of course they were all very small roles, but still a good experience for the kids all the way around–having to audition individually for the teacher, committing to several months’ worth of after-school rehearsals, and the joys of being part of a cast. Most of my kids weren’t initially interested in participating, but I encouraged them to do it anyway because I felt it was valuable. How will you know whether you like or excel at something if you never give it a shot?
Plus, I confess I always did love the movie. I grew up watching mean old Mrs. Gulch get her witch’s comeuppance, and the songs were so much fun, and Glinda’s sparkling dress captivated my little girl imagination and heart over and over again. For whatever reason, though, as an adult watching an amateur children’s performance of the film, I was most struck by the image of the wizard. Hiding behind his (or her, in the case of our little play) curtain and sounding mean and tough, but then being found out as just a mere (wo)man, and only upon accepting the realities of his own station and insecurities, conveying such lovely gifts as courage, a brain, and a heart.
There is some sort of deeper meaning to be found there, I think. As a Catholic wife, mother, friend, and writer, that kind of self-awareness and authenticity is something worthy of my reflection and, I fear, my pursuit. I say “fear”, because it sounds like an awful lot of difficult and time-consuming work to not only know who you are and where you stand, but also to be perfectly comfortable with not only your own limitations, but also the resulting perceptions.
So even though the rehearsals and performances are all over, and the constant singing and humming of Judy Garland tunes around my house seems to have (mercifully!) subsided, I’m still thinking about the wizard, and about the curtain.
I wrote something a couple of weeks ago that sparked some conversation on my normally quiet blog and social media accounts. (Leave it to me to publish something about USING THE RESTROOM, and have it go viral-ish. My inner-ten-year-old finds this hilarious, by the way, and my very-mature-mother-to-eight self is, well, kind of embarrassed.) For the most part it was good dialogue, but I did find myself feeling a little exposed in my feeble attempt at outlining one aspect of a compassionate approach to men and women made in the image of God.
Especially considering the fact that I’m not some credentialed college professor or uber fancy blogger. I’m just me, sitting in my pajamas at my keyboard, while my three-year-old dresses her dolls and goes in and out of the house a million times to play with the cats that I’m allergic to. Sometimes she lets them in, like she did ten minutes ago, and I have to chase them out. I watch the clock to know when I need to leave to pick up my kindergartner, I throw in a load of laundry, I take a break to empty the dishwasher. The only reason I started writing in the first place was to chronicle an adoption process for myself, and though I do now provide content for public consumption, I don’t see myself as an ambassador for a whole lot of anything besides “people recently and passionately addicted to Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter.”
Being a writer is, inevitably, vulnerable.
My piece about some of the Christian response to Target’s restroom policy was not intended to provide a Catholic perspective on gender identity vs. sex, homosexuality, marriage, or the sorry state of our culture. It was not intended to be a wholesale critique of people opposed to the policy, nor was it intended to marginalize those supporting it. It was really just an honest, personal, and admittedly human reflection upon the matter. From an at-home mom trying to raise confident, faith-filled, and loving children in a world marked by suffering, confusion, and self-centeredness. Pope Francis speaks often of mercy, of the Church being a field hospital, and of the need to seek after those in the margins. There are countless ways to do that, certainly, and my concern (which continues to grow) was simply that this beautiful vision of living out our faith may be at odds with the way some Christians approach online engagement.
I confess that after having been accused of contributing to the moral decline of society, I found myself wondering if I should have just avoided the silly topic of retail spaces and bathrooms altogether. Did I write something that was, in fact, at odds with what I know to be God’s plan for men and women? I certainly believe both sexes are created in God’s image, that marriage is a Sacrament to be entered into between one man and one woman and, furthermore, that marriage is ordered towards the procreation of children. (Those crazy Catholics! This is why I have so many kids!) I agree with Pope Francis when he writes in Amoris Laetitia that “the young need to be helped to accept their own body as it was created” (no. 285). So should I have simply remained quiet if I didn’t want to approach the subject of transgenderism from a dogmatic, adversarial or philosophical perspective?
And, was it WRONG to leave out the troubling statistics regarding transition and sex reassignment surgery, or the guidelines set forth by mental health professionals? They don’t paint a very happy or optimistic picture. And I wholeheartedly believe those things are absolutely crucial to the much larger conversation, partly because as parents, we MUST be informed, aware, and prepared (as best we can be) to answer hard questions from our children regarding sexuality, life, and love. Who is to say that none of my kids will ever have questions about their own self-identity, or that they won’t ever have a transgendered friend? We must seek after the truth, every last one of us, and do our best to live and express that truth.
My husband is fond of saying that kindness goes a long way. He is right. And though I do have somewhat of an online platform here (gosh I hate that word), I find social media falls horribly short when it comes to relationships and conversations. And, I also think that you can approach objective truths and realities from different, nuanced directions. You can hold the Catholic Church’s views on creation and sexuality while simultaneously being concerned about how those ascribing to alternative ideas are being treated or characterized online.
But in any case, the more I think about that trembling old wizard and about what it means to make yourself known, I’m really not sorry I wrote from the angle I did. Nor do I believe it belies some sort of aversion to sharing life-giving truth on my part. Speaking openly about perceived injustices or the mistreatment of individuals is something I simply do not regret. If my words did not represent the sort of thing you’d prefer to see written about the subject of transgenderism, that’s okay! No doubt other (far more talented than I!) writers out there are publishing those kinds of things–they are probably also people who don’t write in their pajamas or chase cats and toddlers around the house. I get that a lot of conservative-leaning folks (regardless their religious affiliation) feel like their ideals and values are under attack from the media, and like this necessitates a certain defensiveness–but then I also think that the media is just that: the media. A two-dimensional screen. If politics steal your joy, take up all your time, or land you in near-constant online arguments, feel free to turn off your TV, get off of Facebook, and get to know people in your churches and neighborhoods and schools instead. Build real relationships, host coffee dates, extend a smile to fellow tired moms.
Because really, friends?
At the end of the day, life is just plain hard enough. Even without all the noise. Or the division. Or the polemics and shouting. I love truth, clarity, and straight-talk, but I also love kindness, context, and approachability. Maybe that’s a darn near impossible balance to strike as a writer but meh, I don’t really care. I’ll probably try to do it anyway. Same way I explain truths of the faith to my children, while also encouraging them to love others, period.
Truth be told I want to become less like L. Frank Baum’s wizard–both in real life, and online. Less cloaked, less hidden, more comfortable with being known. Sounds simple but for an introvert like me, that is a lifelong journey! I care WAY TOO MUCH what people think of me. I am insecure. But I’m also just plain tired of FEAR. Fear of the future, fear of the election, fear of speaking up for others, fear of being exposed for caring about the wrong kinds of people, fear of criticism. Fear serves a right and healthy purpose, but it can also be deceiving, crippling, and thieving.
And, I figure you could spend your whole life hiding behind that curtain, saying all the right things and honing your image, speaking in a loud and confident voice and convincing people that you are the biggest, the strongest, the most right–or maybe just simply that you’re “one of them”. A member of the inner circle, that elite group that says all the stuff they’re supposed to say, in the way they’re supposed to say it. It is certainly safer to remain in those shadows, to avoid the risk of being misunderstood or written off. It is easier to draw lines from afar and decide who’s in and who’s out. And I’ve seen these tendencies afoot in the pro-life movement, apologetics circles, the blogosphere, various social media sites, and of course also in real life.
But, I don’t want to live that way. I want to be human, and I want to see others as human. When Toto exposes the wizard for who he really is, it is only then that the frightened old man can give a heart, courage, and brains to Dorothy’s friends. It seems too that as Christians, it is when we are authentic, kind, honest, and engaged, that we can bring Jesus’ love to a world desperately hungry for it. This is not the same thing as embracing moral relativism, or an “I’m okay/you’re okay” paradigm–the truth is that not one of us is okay. We are clumsy, broken, wounded, struggling. But we also have the potential to live and to thrive in the hope we have in Christ! We can make the most of our time here on earth, we can choose to live in the light of joy and to pursue love above all things. We can seek, embrace, and honor hard-and-fast truth while also maintaining a general predisposition to kindness towards others.
Most of my life as a wife, mother, writer, and friend is lived right there in that tension, anyhow. We belong to two public school communities, my children play on assorted sports teams, and we have a number of non-Catholic family members and friends. Yet I don’t often find myself in real-life situations necessitating fierce doctrinal or political debates, the type I see playing out every.single.day. on Facebook and Twitter feeds. And I suspect it’s the same for most people. So why the disconnect? Is it perhaps a problem that we are so willing to engage in what I can only call aggressive behavior online, where we wizards can hide behind our digital curtains and reduce human beings to who they vote for or what they think about xyz, when most of real life is not lived in that space and, what’s more, should not be lived in that space?
Of course nobody will ever all agree upon the “right” way to discuss a particular topic, or the “best” way to influence the culture for good. I sure as heck don’t have the answers, though you can read a few of my humble thoughts on that here. But I will do my best to be myself, and to stand for truth, and to pursue love. If I write something, you can be sure I mean it. And I hope that my integrity as a woman and a blogger always stems not only from maintaining a consistent moral and religious ethic (which I certainly hope to do!), but also from the fact that I don’t want to live behind a curtain, too afraid to speak honestly about assorted things for fear of losing followers, looking a certain way, or losing people’s respect. It’s why you’ll find me saying that hormonal birth control is pretty much one of the worst things ever to happen to women, and why I said Christians should stop using social media accounts to make fun of those in the transgender community, and why most recently, I wrote something critical of the federal government’s joint resolution on students and gender identity. People are of course always and forever free to disagree, criticize, and form opinions about me or my ideas–that’s what writers do, is throw something out there for thought and discussion. I refuse to be one of those bloggers that says stuff and then wonders why it nets some amount of negative feedback. If I can say it, I am determined to accept the fall-out. I’ll stand by my words, right out in front. Even if I’m shaking like a leaf.
And, I hereby cordially invite you to join me, and consider coming out from behind your own curtain. We all have one, no matter what it is–perhaps you struggle to make authentic social connections in real life, or find yourself wracked with shame over things in the past. Maybe you’re angry about the direction your life has taken, are hurting over a broken relationship, or feel like you have nothing to offer other people. Maybe it’s nothing so dramatic, you just want to be more intentional about what you do or honest about who you are. Whatever it is, your community needs your voice and your input, and ultimately, it needs you.
Because where would the tin man, scarecrow, and lion be, were the wizard still hiding?