Why I Didn’t Participate in Good Friday This Year

Larry Pattern

I find myself irritated at people who skip through Holy Week in their rush to Easter, and those who participate in Holy Week while talking about how Sunday is coming. I don’t like seeing “He Is Risen!” proclaimed on church signs or Easter hymns on Palm Sunday or pictures of the stone rolled away from the tomb on Holy Saturday. Even though I know how the story will end, these little gestures still irk me the same way someone revealing spoilers to an episode I have yet to see does.

But it’s Holy Saturday, and I have a picture of the open tomb a day early.

And when I woke up on Good Friday morning, I emotionally skipped ahead to Sunday.

I felt well-rested after a week working a Girl Scout day camp, and the day was sunny and gorgeous. I spent the day with Bryce, grabbing lunch together at Sheetz (because we like “good” fast food”), dropping the car off to get a tire alignment, and going for a long walk in the Northern Virginia area before heading home to relax and play video games/read comics for the rest of the evening.

I did this instead of attending a Good Friday service, a first in 4 years, because I my soul wasn’t in a mourning, uncertain period. Instead, it was full of joy and more relaxed and content than it has felt in a long time, and I needed to honor that.

When you struggle with anxiety on a daily basis, you’re no stranger to fear, despair, uncertainty, and even devastation. For many of us, Good Fridays happen weekly or, for stretches of time, even daily.

So when Good Friday came, but my mind was content and resting in Easter, I knew better than to disrupt it. Instead, I let it be.

I didn’t mourn. I didn’t think about the fear and death I, or even we as a nation and as humanity, experience on a daily basis.

Instead, I let Easter arrive a little early for me. I let my soul rejoice in this resurrection taking place within me, from a new job and a steady income, as well as renewed vigor in productivity and relationships. I let myself lay my burdens down, walk lighter and taller, and simply rest in the peace surrounding me.

Some may ask how I can celebrate Easter if I haven’t stopped by the death and uncertainty of Good Friday.

But I can say that after enduring days, weeks, and even months of Good Fridays, the joy of resurrection is still very much real to me, even if it arrived a few days earlier this Holy Week.

I remember where I was last Good Friday. I was kneeling at the foot of a black-shrouded cross at Community Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, tears streaming down my face, internally pleading to God to stop the onslaught of intrusive thoughts in my mind. I was on a medication that wasn’t working, but I was too afraid to stop it lest the thoughts grow worse. I was barely in control of my mind most days, since paranoia and restless thoughts streamed through it day and night with few interludes.

I remember spring bursting with new life all around me that year, but I hardly noticed. I could only focus on the pain and turmoil wrestling within me. Good Friday and Holy Saturday were so real in their pain, despair, and uncertainty that year, and I needed them more than I ever have in my life. They met me where I was.

This year, though, I have seen the newness of spring from the beginning. I notice trees blooming, flowers bursting forth from the ground, the grass growing greener, and the chirping of birds. I notice them this year, because my mind is in a good place to allow new life in instead of being bombarded by anxious thoughts.

This year, I’ve learned to cling to the days of Easter when the Good Fridays ebb out. I’ve learned to hold onto the rejuvenation of the Easter days in order to have the strength to carry on for the next wave of Good Fridays.

So this year, I did not participate in Good Friday. My mind and soul woke up to Easter, and I let them stay there.

And that was OK. In fact, it was necessary.

It didn’t mean I copped out of the story, nor did it mean I said death and despair are too big, scary, and difficult for me to handle.

It meant I know the journey as a person with anxiety is already full of overwhelming Good Fridays, and when the breaks come, it is in the best interest of myself, my loved ones, my work, and my faith to take advantage of them.

So if you struggle with mental illness, enjoy your Easters when the Good Fridays are finally over. If you remain in Good Friday and Holy Saturday when Easter arrives, don’t rush into a resurrection you’re not ready to experience. Wherever you are, this Holy Week and those to come, let yourself be there. This story proves God has been through death, despair, and resurrection, and just as God did not rush through those, God will not rush you through to the end.

Be where you are, and know God is there with you.

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Goodbye/Hello

Choir

On Sunday, I processed with the choir. Somehow, I found myself at the head of the procession, and I freaked out a bit. I never lead this part. I always follow. After seven months in the choir, I still didn’t feel confident leading us down the aisle, up to the front of the purple tule covered cross, and to our seats.

But on my final Sunday, I led the way.

On Sunday, I heard the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones, how the Word of God brought the bones, sinews, and flesh together, and finally breathed life into them.

With the choir, I chanted Psalm 30, a plea to God to hear Israel’s cry for mercy, a thanksgiving of God’s grace, a prayer for God to continue to draw near.

I heard the story of Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, a death he could have prevented but instead chose to undo, and how Lazarus walked out of the tomb when Jesus called his name, still bound in his grave clothes.

And as I sat in the choir loft, one final time, I thought about the dry bones and the garments of death.

I wondered if I reeked to the high heavens of death like Lazarus, if my bones and body were without the breath of life. I wondered if, in saying good-bye to my two jobs in the span of four days, I was surrounded by the stench of death, and I wondered if anyone else could smell it on me.

Despite the financial hardships which accompany working two part-time jobs with no benefits, ties are made. Routines are established. A sense of normalcy, including the panic which comes at the end of each month when bills need paying and the numbers aren’t adding up, brings with it an odd sense of comfort.

Now that I am entering a full-time position, with a salary and benefits (health insurance! retirement! paid time off!), I am able to move into a new life, something I always imagined but never thought would come to fruition: stability.

But at what cost?

On Thursday, I had to leave a friend who gave me a job fresh out of seminary, someone I bonded with after I gave his wife a meal before she entered an operation to remove her breast cancer, someone with whom I had weathered the early struggles of his first pastoral job out of seminary. On Sunday, it was difficult to listen to the prayers of a friend who shares my Doctor Who obsession, and to bid farewell to the teens I had mentored, .

I never realized how hard it would be to print and fold my final bulletins and turn off my office computer for the last time. I didn’t think I’d struggle not to tear up when one of my students handed me an orchid in front of my congregation as I said farewell to my congregation.

When I accepted these jobs, I knew they weren’t permanent positions. I knew they were stepping stones to other opportunities.

But I didn’t know they would become so close to my heart.

In youth group, I remember my youth pastors teaching us to set physical and emotional boundaries with romantic partners, because they told us too much physical intimacy could make unmarried people “too close” and result in more heartache when the relationship ended.

I wish they’d told me this kind of extra heartbreak isn’t limited to the physical and the romantic.

I wish they’d told me about the pain you experience when you receive the broken body of Christ from your pastor’s hand and wonder if it’s the last time it will ever happen. I wish they’d told me how much a simple touch of my hair when receiving the blood of Christ from a dear choir member would undo me. I wish they’d told me how heart-wrenching it is to have to pull up your roots from the place you’ve called home for so long and plant them elsewhere.

I wish they’d told me less about setting up boundaries and more about how to love as fiercely as God loves us, even and especially when those upheavals happen.

If we are to live as God’s children, as people who want to connect more with God, we will touch the souls of the people around us in deep and profound ways, and they will touch the depths of our hearts, too. They will leave their marks and imprints, and the scars will remind us of their presence forever.

You can’t avoid it. To avoid it is to be the dry bones in the dessert, to be bound by the grave clothes and reeking of death.

I don’t reek of death. I reek of love. Beautiful, deep, painful love. That love is why I chose to sit with the pain of these losses, to insist that they mean something to me, and their losses demand to be felt and honored.

So I sang our final hymn, “The Bread of Life,” for the last time. For the last time, I hung up my choir robe. I gave out final hugs as I ate snacks from my final coffee hour. For the first and last time, I went to the house of my choir director and her daughter, a member of my Sunday School class, and made my farewells over plates of ravioli.

I said good-bye to the congregation which housed me.

Now, I can say hello to the next home which has found me.

Reading and Waking Up: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Hate

Goodreads

Let me begin this entry of my Lenten reading series by claiming my own privileges and biases: I am a white female coming to terms with my own complicity in an unjust system which values people like me above black Americans. As such, I am writing these reflections for people who want to become more aware of the injustices in our nation, who want to be good allies, and are doing what they can to nudge those in power and privilege into solidarity and action with the oppressed and marginalized. 

It started out as a therapeutic exercise for author Angie Thomas to process her grief over Oscar Grant’s murder, and the title comes from Tupac Shakur’s interpretation of “THUG LIFE,” or “The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone.”

To many publishers, and even author Thomas herself, it was “too black” to be profitable. But thanks to efforts promoting more diverse publishing, and a strong national need to confront racial tensions, “The Hate U Give” is here, and it’s been on the New York Times bestseller list for four weeks.

It’s the story of a young woman, Starr, who by age 16 has already witnessed the death of two of her friends, one at age 10 from a drive-by, and again at the novel’s beginning by a police officer. It’s about how the media depicts black victims and police officers in different ways, how witnesses are questioned, and how juries and communities alike respond.

It’s a story of Starr struggling to find her true voice after years of code switching between her “ghetto” neighborhood and upper-class, predominantly white private school. It’s her struggle to be her true self, not her “too black” or “too white” self, around everyone.

It’s brutal in its honesty about the grief, anger, and hope the black community experiences when young lives are snatched away in their prime, as well as the grey areas of how to best support a struggling neighborhood while caring for the safety of a family.

It shows the amazing, strong marriage of a black man and black woman, and the navigation of an adorable teenage interracial relationship. Anyone looking for OTPs will find them aplenty in this novel.

It shows the strengthening of old friendships and familial relationships, the strains of being friends with people who refuse to acknowledge their own racism and biases, and the power of repentance and forgiveness.

It’s simply an amazing book, and I recommend it to anyone who has questions about the Black Lives Matter movement and its legitimacy, the issues black Americans continue to face, the difficult topic of police brutality, and lovers of 90s rap and hip-hop and retro sneakers!

What started out as a step in one woman’s grieving process developed into a story I hope may pour love into the black community while alerting the white community of the consequences of our unacknowledged and damaging behavior. I pray it will be a wake up call to repentance and solidarity, that we may undo the hate we’ve given so less people will be fucked up in the future.

Please click here to read the Teen Vogue interview with author Angie Thomas!

Reading and Waking Up: Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson

Piecing Me Together

Goodreads

Let me begin the second entry of my Lenten reading series by claiming my own privileges and biases: I am a white female coming to terms with my own complicity in an unjust system which values people like me above black Americans. As such, I am writing these reflections for people who want to become more aware of the injustices in our nation, who want to be good allies, and are doing what they can to nudge those in power and privilege into solidarity and action with the oppressed and marginalized. 

It’s often said fiction is the best way to understand difficult issues. I especially agree with this sentiment in regards to Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, a young adult novel about Jade, a young woman who “believes she must get out of her poor neighborhood if she’s ever going to succeed.” As such, her mother pushes her to take up every single “opportunity” possible: attending a mostly white private school far from her friends, tutoring students in Spanish after school, and the Woman to Woman mentor program.

This last one is quite unwelcome, and a major theme of the book is the relationship she develops with her mentor Maxine, who is black and went to the same private school Jade attends, but seems to have trouble understanding Jade’s own reality. Jade also navigates a friendship with her white classmate Sam, while also managing her relationships with her hard-working mother, her loving father, her best friend Lee Lee, and others. She is also a budding collage artist, and she is most expressive in the act of taking ordinary items and piecing them into something beautiful and whole.

The book touches on a lot of important themes: police brutality, sexism, body image, subtle racism and classism, and family and friend relationships, but it struck me most in the honesty with which it addressed mentor programs catered to “at-risk youth.”

I coordinated a mentoring program, Sister2Sister, for 2 years after I graduated from college, which worked with girls from predominantly Latino and African American communities. I have also been a mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters since 2008, and my Little is Latina. My experience has given me the privilege to be in relationship with girls from different ethnic, racial, and social backgrounds from my own, and in the midst of joy and connection, many accidental faux-pas occurred due to my own white privilege and bias. I received a lot of grace from other mentors, leaders, professors, and the girls themselves in acknowledging and properly dealing with my privilege and biases, but I still have a lot to learn, as I did then.

Jade’s interactions with her mentor Maxine, and her white friend Sam, taught me a lot about the flaws in my own good intentions and how those aren’t always enough. I also learned forgiveness and repentance are possible when allies and mentors alike are willing to acknowledge their own complicity, accidental or otherwise, in a white supremacist system.

Most of all, I heard a young woman’s passion, one which broke through despite the world attempting to break and silence her, through overt and hidden racism, through savior complexes, through flat-out ignorance, and through her own conditions.

Through Jade’s story, Renee Watson reminded me of the power of truly hearing someone’s story as told by them.

So if you’re looking to understand a piece of the contemporary black narrative, please read this story of a strong, intelligent, articulate, creative black young woman coming to terms with the world around her and how she will live into it.

It changed me. I’m sure it will change you, too.

We Good? Reflections from an Anxious Person on Lent

Hard_Work_by_soneryaman

Nate Pyle

Having anxiety can make participating in Lent difficult.

My character perfection tendencies go into hyper-drive, and I am in a constant state of wondering just how well I’m doing with this whole “faith” thing.

Have I repented? If I have, how will I know?

Is giving up Netflix to read books from a few #BlackLivesMatter movement guides going to wake me up for real?

Am I good? Am I forgiven? Am I made new?

Will Easter be enough for me, my sins, and I?

Will this journey be enough for me?

I met with my spiritual director Linda this last week. She asked me how my “faith life” is going, which is such a difficult question for me. I’m never quite sure how to answer it, because I’m so anxious and such a perfectionist, I always think it’s not going as well as it could be.

So I told her I started meditating in the mornings. I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, so it’s not really a Lenten practice, but I’ll go out on a limb and assume it’s a part of my “faith life” as much as giving up Netflix and reading books by black writers.

But meditation is so hard for me, because my mind is so busy, and honestly, going deeper into myself, the sacred spaces God calls me to examine and dwell in, scares me.

What will I find within me?

Will there be love and acceptance? Anger and hatred? Firm kindness, or judgment?

After I shared these concerns, Linda talked to me about the concepts of “original sin” versus “original blessing.”

Original sin begins with the assumption that all humans are made sinful (which is confusing because if God is good and we are made in God’s image, so what does being inherently sinful say about God’s nature?). According to this doctrine, we tell ourselves over and over “I’m not good. I cannot to be who I am. I must strive every day to reach an unattainable perfection that is unlike me.”

I was not made in blessing. There is nothing good to which I can return. There is nothing towards which I can keep striving, because I will always have that sinful nature in me, even as I aspire to be holy. The journey becomes tedious, exhausting, and even pointless.

If we messed up in Eden, how could we possibly make anything better outside of it?

This theology asks: What good are we? What good is God if God made us this way?

When we remember we are made in God’s image, when we remind ourselves our original creation was one of blessing and joy, when we remember the unbound, unconditional love God has for us, we remember who we are meant to be.

We remember we are made to love God and our brothers, sisters, and non-binary siblings. We are made for more than our worst sins, our cruelest words and deeds, and our most embarrassing moments. We are made in a holy image, and even when this image is smudged, attacked, or hidden beneath our deepest wounds, it remains within us.

This original blessing, this uttermost essence of ours, is who we are, and we live life and seek God’s help to not only remember this, but to be this holy image in a painful, beautiful world.

This theology asks: How can we return to the good God made inherent in us? How do we continue to live out the Love within us with God’s help?

I took this theology to my meditation time the day after our meeting.

I sat on a yoga mat in the basement, facing my fiance’s guitars. His area is the tidier spot in the basement.

I breathed in and thought of my congressional representative, over whose comments about issues I became so furious. I breathed out and honored the blessing of his creation and the image of God inherent in him.

I repeated this process for the President, his cabinet members, and people who drive me crazy on a regular basis.

I repeated this process for my fiance, my parents, and my youth group.

For good measure, I repeated this process for myself.

Meditating on our God-given image changed the way I look at and even engage with people. It also reminds me while I am called to show the perfect love which casts out fear to the people who deny justice and mercy, this same, perfect love doesn’t cast out frustration, sadness, and the need for accountability.

Because I honor the image of God in myself, I honor it in others.

And because I honor this image of beauty, love, and holiness, which is inherent to every single one of us, I will continue to keep calling out the times I and others act in ways contrary to our holy nature.

So I keep praying. I keep remembering the image of God, first in myself, and in others, the ones I adore and the ones I abhor.

And my prayer for myself and for us is this:

You are made to love. How are you showing it?

Reading and Waking Up: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

jim

Let me begin the first entry of my Lenten reading series by claiming my own privileges and biases: I am a white female coming to terms with my own complicity in an unjust system which values people like me above black Americans. As such, I am writing these reflections for people who want to become more aware of the injustices in our nation, who want to be good allies, and are doing what they can to nudge those in power and privilege into solidarity and action with the oppressed and marginalized. 

As part of my #BlackLivesMatter reading list, I read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander.

To describe it as eye-opening is an understatement.

I knew there was underlying racism in our prison and criminal justice systems, but I didn’t know how it could happen. Like many other white Americans, my education conditioned me to believe racism in America is dead and gone. I’m still dealing with those biases, and Alexander’s thorough work brought the stories and statistics long hidden in the dark into the bright light of day.

Overview

Alexander’s thesis is this: the current mass incarceration of black Americans in the United States acts as a new system of control reminiscent of Jim Crow society. She begins by explaining the relationships between black slaves and white indentured servants early in American history. Since the indentured servants and slaves otherwise occupied the same class and social ranks, they collaborated together against the white land owners for whom they worked and fought side by side in rebellions. To prevent further collaborations, the white land owners pushed an agenda of white supremacy, which caused a cease in interracial collaborations. Alexander then goes into detail about emancipation, the failure of Reconstruction, and the rise and “downfall” of the Jim Crow laws, setting up the stage for the start of the War on Drugs and the mass incarceration of black Americans which followed.

As of now, there are over 2 million people imprisoned in the United States, compared to 300,000 people thirty years ago. Four million more are on parole or probation. However, despite the fact that the use and selling of drugs across races is similar, three out of four young black men are likely to serve time in prison, and black men are often admitted on drug charges “at rates twenty to fifty times greater than those of white men.”

Alexander compares this mass incarceration of black men for drug use the “New Jim Crow” because of the permanent and legal revoking of the rights of incarcerated citizens upon receiving a felony conviction. Revoked rights include the right to vote, access to government assistance, and securing a job, similar losses black Americans legally sustained during the Jim Crow era. Unfortunately, few are able to push back against these losses, because so many legal cases have supported a “colorblind” criminal justice system, and racism is only seen as a matter of intention instead of a subtle, systematic issue. This is because the only ones deemed racists today are the KKK and people who act in outright ways to show hatred and hostility to black Americans. Subtle, even unintentional and everyday, acts of racism are not regarded as racist, because they are “unintended” and, to some, invisible.

Now What?

This is an excellent and important read, because to those unaware, Alexander provides insight into the racist (intentional or otherwise) structure of our legal and prison system. When a disproportionate amount of black people are imprisoned for drug crimes committed at an equal/greater rate by white people, something in need of confrontation and change is lurking below the surface.

The problem is not guilty people being imprisoned for drug use. The problem is the obvious racial biases inherent in the War on Drugs, which result in the targeting of black Americans and black communities at a rate disproportionate to Americans involved in drug crimes. The problem is mandatory minimum sentencing laws which require any person charged with any type of possession to be sentenced from five years to a decade or more in prison. The problem is the inability to be able to plea anything other than guilty, even when innocent, because of biases surrounding race and lack of financial and legal assistance.

This is a human rights issue, and unfortunately, because these human beings are labeled criminals and felons, few seem willing to rush to their defense.

However, if we claim to be a just and equal society, we must stand up for all Americans, and the incarcerated are our citizens. If we claim to be Christians who follow Jesus, who is found with the imprisoned, we must advocate for their full inclusion in the world as children of God.

The stories, facts, and questions Alexander raises can increase awareness around the nation and push activists, new and seasoned alike, to confront the injustices occurring in a system called to uphold the law. Alexander, who wrote this book seven years ago and before the Black Lives Matter movement officially began, calls the activist community to cease ignoring this issue. Her advice and wisdom seem all the more appropriate and timely now.

The insights from Alexander’s work can also begin the long overdue conversations about race which honor the voices of black Americans, those incarcerated and free, and white voices affected by crippling poverty. They can push white people to confront their own biases, intentional or otherwise. As people shaped in a society in which most of the power is held my white people, racial biases are inevitable, and we must confront, acknowledge, and deal with them, or else we refuse to heal and be good allies to our black brothers and sisters.

In short, Alexander reminds us we need to find solutions to make America a true democracy for ALL. In the fight for justice, we must seek it for “all of us, or none.”

To become involved in the fight for prison and criminal justice reform, check out The Sentencing ProjectNAACP – Criminal Justice, and/or FAMM – Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Ashes and Adulthood

ash

International Velvet

I’m struggling to pay for rent, utilities, and basic necessities without assistance from family and friends.

I’m in a desperate, almost futile search for a job which meets my physical needs and gives me a sense of joy and accomplishment.

I don’t feel like a “real adult.”

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

This weekend, I went with my fiance to check out a reception venue, and we’re both in love with it.

We walked around our old campus and reminisced.

We spent the weekend playing an RPG with old friends, laughing and acting like rowdy orcs, elegant elves, feisty halflings, and bumbling elf-saurian hybrids.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

45 wants to slash funding for domestic programs, from healthcare to the arts, to increase our military power.

His cabinet equates Jim Crow laws on education with the “good news” of “school choice” and “cracking down on crime” with further funding of the police instead of investigating the instances of brutality.

In Edinburg, our local officials are more interested in making power plays at school board budget meetings.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Moonlight won Best Picture.

My friend took his GREs.

My cat is showing signs of recovery after a terrifying bladder blockage.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Life begins, and ends, in beauty and chaos.

Life unfolds the same way.

In the meantime, I will remind myself:

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.