Deodorant; or, Having Friends

Moderately embarrassing story time. When I was in middle school, my personal hygiene habits were pretty medium which, as anyone who has ever encountered a middle schooler will tell you, is not uncommon. One major element of this was that I was slow to develop the routine of wearing deodorant. It was a new part of the morning routine that had not been heretofore necessary and yet now, especially with PE every other day, it became essential. Mostly, I forgot. Sometimes, I was just a gross, lazy adolescent.

Anyway, it did not go unnoticed, as you might imagine. At some point during the year, I was called to the counselor’s office (which in itself was kind of frightening) to talk with the moderately-creepy (at least I thought at the time, who knows if he really was or not) counselor in charge of my grade or letter of last name or whatever. And, in short, he was like, you’ve got to wear deodorant people are noticing.

I think that I’m a pretty easily embarrassed person to begin with so this was absolutely mortifying. No matter how non-creepy or generously done, it was going to be heinous for my delicate sixth grade sensibilities. Needless to say, however, its effects were immediate and, I hope, comprehensive. To this day, I live with fairly constant worry about my smell even though I know my habits are much better these days and I haven’t gotten any further complaints.

But anyway. Now that you know more about that than you ever, ever wanted to. The idea that I’m trying to convey is that I am plagued by doubt. About many things, most more consequential than my odor, but that is one of them. But, for smell as well as for many other things, my doubts are unfounded. I know that there’s no real basis for this pervasive fear but it’s taken hold of me somewhere pretty deep. And simply being conscious of that isn’t really enough to overcome it.

Something that I’ve been trying to work on lately, with more or less success (mostly less, let’s be real), is thinking thoughts that are based on direct evidence. I don’t feel that I’m all that good at reading social signals and that leaves me, as above, plagued with doubts and fears about what people think about me and how they feel and whatnot. But because I don’t pick up on a lot of the signals, those doubts and fears aren’t really based on anything in particular, they’re just kind of a default due to the absence of real information.

And it’s a pretty trash default to assume that people don’t like me or that I’ve always done something wrong. So I’m working on it. Working on being direct with people so that I can have some direct information to go off of. Working on believing people when, having been direct to them, they confirm that they do actually enjoy spending time with me and do actually want to be my friend. It feels very childish to me and I’m often rather embarrassed but I think it’s a much better route than my default negative assumptions.

Here’s the real thing, going back to my little anecdote. I do wear deodorant now. Sometimes, after exertion or in inclement circumstances, I know that I do smell bad, but generally I do not. And so, knowing that I am generally kind to people (or at least trying to be, most of the time), I should be able to rest a little easier knowing that the scent of my friendship (okay yeah, this is a trash metaphor but here we are) isn’t all that offensive to my friends.

To cap this all off, I have to recognize that I do actually have friends. And this, relating to our metaphorical deodorant, has two implications. First, that I don’t generally smell bad. People do like me and I’m not constantly the least-wanted person in any group. Second, when the occasions come when I don’t smell great (which are inevitable), my friends will tell me and they’ll be nice about it and it’ll be a whole lot less mortifying than possibly-creepy counselor man.

So yes, this post is maybe a weird way to start off the year but whatever. Here are my takeaways for you: you are good, believe that people like you, accept correction when it comes, and just worry less. We are, I think, better off than we often give ourselves credit for. And, in the immortal words of Clarence the Angel, no man is a failure who has friends. So thanks, friends, for tolerating my deodorant.

The Tyranny of Caution

This is not a theology blog and I am not a theology person. But, being a religious person, sometimes theological things happen in my life. So we’re back to it for this week, sorry if that’s not your cup of tea.

I grew up in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) and, though I’m not particularly attached to any denomination, it’s one that I like. Kind of the main idea is that agreement on the main things trumps disagreements on subsidiary things. They have six ‘affirmations’ about, like, Jesus and the Bible and that stuff. But everything else is less important–baptism and what have you. The denomination is not affirming (they’re not about the gays) and a pastor recently resigned, after an incredibly lengthy and arduous procedural process, after she performed a wedding for two men.

She wrote a letter (which is long but worth a read in general, and specifically if this is your area) and it inspired a lot of thoughts in me. I’ve presented a few of them below. This is, of course, not an exhaustive post and I’m not certain how well I’ve expressed what I mean. But this is one of those times, I guess, where I feel like I ought to say something, even if what I say isn’t exactly right.

I’ve been blessed by a fairly lifelong security in faith that didn’t significantly waver when I came out to myself. I’ve been blessed by the family and friends around me who didn’t waver either. I didn’t feel hurt by the church growing up because my closet at the time was invisible even to myself. So I come at this from a pretty good place.

The church has a lot of issues with gender and sexuality, of which homosexual marriage is only one. But it has become a pretty brutal part of contemporary church identity. Part of the concern is the small matter of burning in hell for all eternity. While relevant, that is an argument for another day.

I spoke with a former pastor of mine on this subject a while after I came out. A good family friend who genuinely wanted to understand and love. But he was confounded when I insisted again and again that you cannot love me if you do not love all of me. It is not love if it’s conditional on a) me being straight or b) me being gay but never having a romantic relationship ever. You can’t say love the sinner and hate the sin (which is iffy in general but I can see it re: a thief, for example) because the ‘sin’ is me.

Here is the essence of the church’s conundrum on this, and many other issues: is it better to err on the side of caution or of grace?

It is not a question of whether this is right or wrong. I reject the notion of fallible human beings being entirely right about every matter of doctrine. It is a question of Jesus having enough love and mercy and grace to accept us even if we are wrong. The answer is clear to me. Besides, I would rather be condemned for loving too much than loving too little. I do not know what else to say.

What does the church stand to lose in this argument? As far as I can tell, pretty much only power from a system built on injustice. A friend of mine added loss of face and loss of comfort, which are valid. Then she said this, as simple as it is true, I think: “Is the church really concerned for the souls of people who are not heteronormative? Or is it a fear of the loss of comfort? ‘What will I tell my children?’ Well damn Karen, you’ll tell your children, ‘You know how mommy and daddy love each other? Those two men love each other too.’ And that will be that!”

This is not my final argument. This is not even the conversation we should be having. But apparently it’s the conversation many in the church still need, and history shows us it’s the needs of the oppressive majority that take precedence over the needs of the oppressed minority. And I feel that I’m coming from a strong enough position to allow that in this place at this time. But come on. I feel disheartened by the extreme apparent ‘caution’ of the ECC on this issue.

When you are part of the empowered majority, caution feels easy–the status quo benefits you so why should it be changed. It is when you are in the minority, just trying to live life as well as you might, that the caution of the majority becomes tyrannical. This is not new, it is intersectional in the extreme. This is just my small corner of it as a middle-class white American cis man.

Authority is not granted to the church to open or close God’s doors. So stop trying. Just love more. Not love if we comply, if we’re righteous, if we fit. There is not simply room for us at God’s table, there are seats reserved with our name: Beloved Child of God.