Sunday Reflections: This is What Happened When I Took My Teen to See Love, Simon
Last night I took The Teen and a friend to see Love, Simon, the movie based on Simon VS. The Homo Sapien Agenda by Becky Albertalli. I have never been in a movie where the audience whooped and hollered and audibly gasped and applauded so loudly. And it was a pretty full theater. It was an epic, joyous experience.
I also had a very profound and personal conversation with The Teen about this movie afterwards. And no, this is not a post where I will share with you that she came out to me, because if the movie taught me anything it’s that that information would not be mine to share. My revelation is about me.
But first, some background.
I became a Christian when I was in high school. I’m a 45-year-old woman who grew up right as the AIDS crisis was being discussed in the news. In all fronts of my life I was constantly being told that about the “gay agenda” and how abhorrent the gay lifestyle is.
I then went on to college and got my degree in youth ministry from a conservative Christian college, a Nazarene university. The Nazarenes consider themselves a “holiness” denomination. At the time I went to a Nazarene university you couldn’t go to the movies, you couldn’t dance, and The Mr had family members who wouldn’t even let cousins go swimming in the same pool because it was considered mixed bathing and inappropriate.
But I also found a safe sense of self and place in the conservative Christian church. I knew I belonged, I knew what I believed, and I knew I had a purpose. For the first time in my life, I felt like I belonged somewhere. I felt safe. I felt at some type of internal peace that I hadn’t known I was lacking.
This was all at the height of the Christian Evangelical movement. I only listened to Christian music, I went to Christian concerts, I frequented Christian bookstores. I often wrestled with what it meant as a teen librarian to give teens access to materials that were against my personal beliefs.
But I also began to notice a growing disconnect with the message of love I heard preached from the pulpit and the absolute anger, violence and hatred I heard spoken by my fellow Christians regarding marginalized groups, particularly the GLBTQ community. And as I my heart filled more and more with hate for the other, I felt less and less Christlike, and further away from my God.
At the same time, I had become friends with several members of the GLBTQ community, and couldn’t help but notice that they did not have this same level of hatred in their hearts. In fact, they were often more loving, more kind, and more accepting of others than my Christian peers. They seemed, in fact, more Christlike in that the way they lived their lives modeled more truly the lack of judgment, the lack of hate, the abundance of love that Jesus preaches over and over again in the Bible that my faith is supposed to be based on.
Slowly, over time, I began to believe that if we were to say that God loves, saves and forgives anyone, then that has to include everyone. And over time as my understanding of who I believe God is changed, I started to go to a more progressive church that better reflected my understanding of my faith.
But it came at a great cost.
I lost friends, family, and that very sense of place and security that had brought me out of some of the darkest places I had ever known. I had to start all over again, and in my 40s, and that was . . . hard, to say the least. Not as hard, of course, as it is to be a member of the GLBTQ community in a world that actively seeks to dehumanize you, but it was still amazingly hard.
So last night after Love, Simon, The Teen looked at me and asked me what I thought of the movie and I surprised even myself because I started crying as I explained my answer. You see, I really care about people, I really care about teens in particular. I have dedicated my life to serving and advocating for them in libraries this past 24+ years. It has been challenging and I have learned and grown a lot. But I am also in a state of constant tension regarding my beliefs.
I want teens to feel radically free to be themselves because I hate that identifying at GLBTQ puts a teen at a higher risk of suicide and homelessness because of how much our world hates them. I don’t want to in any way contribute to that. But I have also been taught for most of my adult life that to accept someone as GLBTQ is to lead them to sin and eternal damnation, and as someone who cares about them, I don’t want to contribute to that either. It often feels like no matter what I do or believe, I am hurting teens. That’s the power of indoctrination, it’s so very hard to shake.
I now identify as Methodist, a Christian denomination that is very much wrestling with the issue of being a member of and accepting members of the GLBTQ community. For the past few years, the church has been in a constant state of possible split over these very issues.
I explained all of this to The Teen in the best way I knew how: I’m a 45-year-old woman who grew up in a time where the GLBTQ lifestyle was completely demonized and I come from a conservative Christian background that is slowly changing as I come to better understand what it means to be a follower of Christ and to live in alignment with the simple commandment: Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.
I’m a work in progress. As a human. As a librarian. As a mother. As a friend. As a Christian.
I’ve lost a lot on this journey. I’ve gained a lot on this journey. The journey is just beginning, every evolving, never ending.
I’m trying to raise my children differently as Christians. I believe that they are more loving, more accepting, more Christlike. My prayer for them is that they will be.
But I’m not going to lie, I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat because there are those that tell me I am leading them to hell by raising them to be so loving, and as a parent that terrifies me.
I am glad that we went and saw Love, Simon, not just because it was a triumphant and joyous movie, but because it helped us to have a conversation I think we really needed to have about who I was, who I am becoming, and why it is sometimes so very hard for me to embrace things that are so much easier for her. I want her to know that the journey of faith isn’t a smooth, straight path, but a rocky one that is challenged again and again and that sometimes, you have to make hard decisions to stand up for what you believe in.
I also want her to know that I love her with a fierce passion and that I believe God does too, no matter what happens in this life.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
SLJ Blog Network