I've become a controversial figure in my community. I'm good at knowing what people want to hear, and tailoring my message and interaction with them based on that insight. Combine that with the fact that I genuinely like everyone I meet, and you end up with a person who is generally well liked. Such a life is pretty free of conflict. I don't like conflict, and I liked that life. I still like that life.
I lost my belief in God, and after some time as an unbeliever I returned to Faith–and even to Jesus. The problem is my faith is not the same as it was. I have no systematic approach to God. I internalized that for a long time, but I've started to be open about it. I share my experience because others seem to share it. I have learned I am not the only one who has sat in a pew every Sunday, in complete assurance that there is no God.
My sharing makes some people uncomfortable. That pains me. Often (but certainly not always) I have an inkling of the reaction something I post is going to garner. In those times, I stop and pray. I think about specific people who will be upset about what I've written, and if there would be more wisdom in posting nothing.
My decision to share more openly is driven by a pretty simple motive. Most people who are upset by what I write are affirmed and supported by large faith communities. If you believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis, dozens of churches in your community can support you. On the other hand, your options are much more limited if you believe in a cosmic Big Bang and Evolution. Your options are fewer still if you are struggling with doubt to the point of unbelief.
I read every comment on Facebook, or my blog. I read and respond to every email or private message even when there are hundreds. I consider all criticism, and I try to learn from every bit. A few people have said some things that are hurtful and personal, but I do my best to consider the place from which they are sent. In short, I listen.
Very recently these communications have taken an alarming turn: anonymous letters. The first message was innocent enough. Someone sent me an article on coping with your parent's divorce and how divorce could be an idol. The lack of a signature or note didn't sit well with me, but I read the article anyway. After all, someone took the time to clip it, put it in an envelope, drive to the post office and mail it. That's a lot of effort.
That was the nice message. The others have been more sinister. So far I've received:
- a full page written in marker that says "THE WAGES OF SIN IS.....";
- a letter accusing me of being gay; a letter cautioning against false teaching and a reminder of the scriptural consequences;
- a photocopy of clipped Bible versus on homosexuality;
- a photocopy of several Bible passages with the portions of false prophets highlighted;
- and, most disturbingly, a pair of women's panties.
At first these items were disturbing. I felt a sense of violation. There is power in physically sending your ideas to people. I felt afraid too. Some of these messages are pretty easy to read in ominous ways. Ultimately my perspective shifted from me to the senders.
Empathy took over.
I can't imagine the latent anger or feeling of helplessness that would drive someone to send anonymous mail. I hate conflict, but I still talk to people directly if an issue bothers me enough. For some reason, the people sending these things don't feel the freedom to do that.
The people who have sent these things obviously read what I write at least occasionally. I've written and posted this today because I want you to see it. You've used anonymity to guard yourself, so this is the best method I have to respond to you.
Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me, and even more so for taking the time to read something I've written. My words have upset you, and I apologize for that. I want you to know that is not my intent€“to hurt you. The things I write are my honest and deeply flawed attempts to be the person God made me to be, and to follow the guidance of Jesus as I understand it.
You have hurt me, and I forgive you. Your message may not have been delivered with that intent, but I want you to know either way it did hurt me and that I forgive you for it. I want you to know that it hurt me because you may send letters like this to other people, and I want you to know that the result of letters like this is pain for the receiver.
If your intention is to hurt others, I pray that the hurt in you that fuels it is salved. I pray you find healing and love and support.
I also want you to know that from now on you can have the boldness to contact me directly. I will not betray your trust or mock you. I will talk to you, and I will listen to what you have to say. After all, I assume we know each other already.
Finally, I won't read anything sent to me without a name anymore. I'm self-aware enough to know that I don't have the emotional capacity to cope with messages like this on an enduring basis. Any further anonymous messages are going directly into the trash.
Peace be with you.