If 2017 taught me anything, it taught me to be thankful that life’s journey brought me to Oregon. My relationship with Oregon has been awkward at times, leaving me feeling mostly like an outsider, the immigrant in a land of immigrants.
Oregon has changed me. over the years. I’m sure some of my childhood friends would consider the change for the worse. “You’ve gone out to Oregon and gotten liberal,” they insist.
And it is true. I have.
And I am so very thankful for it.
I am thankful each day I rise that I am a better person than I used to be. I no longer see the world as a place to fear. I no longer see other people as enemies. I don’t approach life as a drudgery to bear until I am heaven-bound. I no longer think about the world or others in an “us” and “them” fashion. I see us all in this world together.
I was pondering this week why the change. How did I go from a Sarah Palin Republican Bible-thumper to the woman of faith I am today? My own daughters often remark about the changes they’ve seen in me over the years. Having been raised up by a fundamentalist, they are understandably sometimes perplexed at the mother they find me to be today.
Thankfully, they are wonderful people themselves, not at all prone to Certainosity, so they are keen to listen to me explain how it is that I have grown as a woman, as a mother, as a grandmother, as a seeker of the personhood of God.
I had an editor in the 1990s who predicted the change that I would incur if I stayed in the writing business. He was Mormon himself, but the progressive sort, even way back then. He found my absolutism about all things religion mind-boggling. I likely drove him crazy. He warned me one day that there was no way I could continue to report the stories I was reporting and remain a fundamentalist in my faith walk.
He was absolutely right.
More than anything else in my life, writing gave me insights into the lives of people I would never have come across within the church community. I spent time in prisons. I spent time with the drug-addicted. I spent time with the disenfranchised. I spent time with gay people. I spent time with transgender people. I spent time with DACA kids. I spent time with women who had been battered, raped, discarded. I spent time with AIDS victims. I spent time with those suffering from PTSD. I spent time with foster kids and adopted kids and kids who turned to sex as a means to support themselves. I saw up close and personal all the many different ways that life can take a bad turn for someone, through no fault of their own.
It was probably this latter thing that went most against the teachings of the faith I had grown up in. A faith that taught if you make good choices all things will turn out well for you. You will live long and prosper.
Just a couple of stories with parents grieving dead children showed me the error of that sort of thinking.
Through it all I never lost sight of the goodness of God, but I began to question the goodness of people who used religion as a battering ram to control and manipulate others, especially women and children.
Being a writer taught me to question most everything. Seeking truth became more to me than just a search for God, although usually God was in the midst of every truth I ever uncovered.
I found God in unexpected places. I found God sitting across from a prosecuting attorney devastated by the sex abuse of a young boy and girl. I found God in the DACA girl who cared for her disabled family members while desperately trying to obtain her high school diploma. I found God in the transgender fellow living homeless because his religious family had kicked him out. I found God in grandmother held at gunpoint by her own son. I found God in the friend dying of AIDS. I found God in the detective who made sure I saw the records of the dead child abused and ultimately slain by his step-father. I found God in the cries of a young girl who walked onto a track moments before the train struck her down.
Creator God kept showing up and showing me what caring about others really looks like.
The ultimate sacrifice is something I was taught about from an early age – the death of Jesus on the Cross. But it was the daily sacrifices that I heard so very little about. The daily sacrifice of loving others, of being present, of sitting in the darkness with another. It took a homeless person to teach me that sort of Godliness.
I was thinking about all that because of the lawsuit settled in Portland Appeals Court this week. Aaron and Melissa Klein maintained that their Freedom of Speech (Expression) rights were violated when a lesbian couple sued them after they declined to make a cake for the lesbian couple’s wedding, asserting that doing so would violate their religion.
My heart hurts for everyone involved – for the Kleins, who see religion as a reason to toss people overboard, and for the lesbian couple, Rachel and Laurel Bowman-Cryer, who although victorious in the lawsuit, nonetheless are made to feel as though in the eyes of too many fundamentalists they are “less than”. Undoubtedly, there are those who will consider me a bleeding-heart liberal because I am thankful for the Oregon appeals court that upheld the ruling that fines the Kleins $135,000 for inflicting emotional distress upon the lesbian couple.
As the Evangelicals of my beloved South repeatedly and embarrassingly embrace the world-view of the evil-hearted Trump, I find myself more at home among Oregon liberals than at any other moment in my lifetime.
I think I may have finally found my groove here.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND: A novel (Mercer University Press).