God in 12x12 Spaces
“I just don’t want people to think that I came back to Christianity because I think I’m going to die,” I said bluntly. “That’s not why. It has nothing to do with death. If I were coming back to Christianity because I’m scared of death, I would have come back a long time ago.”
I picked up my cappuccino with both hands to keep my hands from shaking and sipped the foam off the top. I was sitting in a Starbucks right off of my University’s campus, discussing my upcoming bone marrow transplant. But now there’s a new component: I’m Christian again.
“I came back because I’m convinced that I’m going to live through this, actually. I mean, who needs religion when you think you’re going to die in your 20s?” I chucked, “Nobody is mad at God like a dying 20-year-old. Nobody else has a better reason to be. Especially one who doesn’t care what happens to them after they die. I need God much more in every day life.”
I would describe my relationship with Christianity as the process of getting reluctantly into a public pool. I hate swimming. I hate being in a bathing suit. I hate the tingly feeling you get in your body right when you get in the water. But it also looks really nice — I like the concept. I also think bathing suits are cute on the rack and all of my friends like to swim. They say, if you just tried it — only once — you can get into it. You just have to swim around a bit and get used to the water.
When I first started imitating conversations about my spirituality with other people, they were because I was genuinely curious about the beliefs of my friends. I wanted to know how God (or whatever they felt like calling it) fit in their own lives and how it affected them — from politics to personal life. But most importantly, I needed to initiate the conversation. I needed to be ready to talk — not asked to. I poked around it, dipping a toe in and then ran away, for almost two years before deciding what was right for me. I needed time to weigh the negatives of the church and deal with them thoroughly before I was willing to even consider the possibility of coming back. I’ll be the first person to admit that going to a Lutheran university helped back into Christianity. The majority of my friends are Christian. I grew up in a Christian church. Culturally, Christianity makes the most sense. I am very open about these factors. I’m not going to pretend that they don’t matter or that my return to this specific faith is simply that “God works in mysterious ways.” I’m a person that recognizes that where I am and who I am in the world likely dictates my religious tradition. I’m comfortable with those realizations, but I also needed to work through them.
What really made the difference for me was a simple realization.
After five years of being a self-proclaimed atheist or agnostic, I realized one Wednesday morning sitting in the waiting room at a rheumatology appointment that I actually don’t care what happens to me after I die. Like I said, this wasn’t a new thing for me to think about — it simply all came together. I’d lived my life on the brink of ‘almost death’ for five years, dealt with my mortality, and decided that I wasn’t at all concerned about being saved and getting into heaven. What I did care about was my life — what I did with it and why.
I care about social justice and other people. I care about building community. I care very deeply about why people do what they do — not what they do. If you’re building a house in Guatemala to get into heaven, you’re not a good person. There’s not a good person alive that plays with orphans to provide for their own salvation. If your teaching a child to read, you should be teaching a child to read to their future — to build the type of community you want to live in on this Earth in this life. Everything else comes second, and that is the only way that God should come first.
The truth is that you can’t teach God to people. Everybody who has ever tried to ‘teach me’ about God has failed miserably. The last thing I ever want to hear during a cocktail party is “have you heard about Christ our Savior.” What I did learn is that you can show people God — easily — in a much more Christ approved way. Jesus Christ was a small, scraggly Arab Jewish man who had a gang of fisherman. He didn’t have fancy Pinterest-able pamphlets on ‘Bible verses for the modern college student’ and ‘being a good wife.’ What he did have were his friendships. His words. The way that he treated people who meant nothing to him. Christ did not have a projector the size of a bus with acoustic music and a 20 something guitarist with a beanie. He had a couple of loaves and some fish. He was a minimalist who believed in non-violence. He was a person who put his hands on the sick and made a scene once in a Jewish temple (which served as the community center of his day).
This is what it means to me to be Christ-like.
The people in my life who genuinely wanted me to succeed were all there because of the morals that Christianity taught them. They weren’t trying to save me or make themselves better by doing so. They just cared because they could, and they wanted to spread light in the world — any light at all. No strings attached. The same idea that brought people to Christ in the first place — nonjudgemental love & acceptance for the absolute worst parts of ourselves.
It is easy to fall into strings-attached Christian thinking, which is what deterred me in the first place. Some modern churches have a nasty habit of weaponizing emotional trauma, whether Christians like to admit it or not. I say this as someone who has felt this repeatedly. Being a sick person in a church means that you get all sorts of uncomfortable things thrown your way — telling a sick, incurably ill queer girl that Christ is going to heal her is an excellent way to mess someone up for years. It’s also an excellent way to ensure that she hates you and never wants to come back.
There’s also the guilt issue. If you’re making someone feel guilty for something that they think, then you’re not helping them. There’s not a world in which making people feel criminalized for their actions is Christ-like. You’re not building real belief if you’re scaring someone into it — you can’t tell someone they’re going to hell for having sex or being gay and then expect them to flip some switch in their brain where they suddenly do things for the right reasons. If a person believes something because they’re scared of you, then they’re just afraid. If you’re giving people food and water and shelter, but making it dependent on a Christian message, then you’re manipulating a vulnerable person. Period. If you feel better about your interaction then the person you’re trying to help, I would put the volunteer badge down and consider what you’re actually doing and why. The second that photo goes up on Instagram — what are you actually doing? When you’re setting up your GoFundMe for that mission trip, where is that money actually going? Who does this benefit? Do those people really need that one house in the middle of the woods? Or do they need to learn to do algebra so that they can build the house themselves (and likely better than you)? These are the things that prevented me from coming back. I am not the only one who sees this.
And yet, here I am. How does that even make sense?
I decided that I felt God most of all in the small spaces in my life. In my conversations in my college dorm room. In waiting rooms. Sitting alone in the back of an Uber or at the park. I felt God in being grateful — in grace. Sometimes when I’m alone, and I feel okay when I shouldn’t. Or maybe just when someone sets a hand on my shoulder and gives me a last stupid hug. I find God in unapologetic love and little moments of understanding between people. Yellow flowers and sunsets and storms that come right when I need them to. Even when I think about the entire world outside the 12x12 space that is a bone marrow transplant room, going on and rustling around without me, it’s still there. All of it — merely being wonderful & terrible, but okay all the same. I think about all of the different ways people think about God or experience spirituality, and I am happy for them and their peace. & I think, most of all, about how my faith is mine — for me, in this life. About how it doesn’t have to bother anybody else; it simply has to guide me on my way in whatever small space I find myself next.
There are big things that happen in this world, but if Christ is to teach us anything in life, it is God is a mixture of small things in small places. A star in the sky. A stone moved away from a cave entrance. Like a baby in a manger.
The rest is up to us; whatever you call yourself.
Want to learn more about my story? You can check it out at @kpoements on Instagram or poements.com! Interested in becoming a bone marrow donor? Use this link to find out how you can save a life: https://join.bethematch.org/kpoements
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