Newlywed Reflections on Revelation

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“I saw Holy Jerusalem, new-created, descending resplendent out of Heaven, as ready for God as a bride for her husband.” Revelation 21:2 (The Message)

The earrings dangle from my ears, pierced through once-closed holes by my soon-to-be sister-in-law. The old, golden necklace hangs from my neck, its ornament matching the one on my earlobe. The engagement ring, once a trinket of my soon-to-be husband’s great grandmother, rests quietly on my finger, anxiously awaiting its partner. The bodice and Spanx hug my body, sucking everything in, hopefully in a not-too obvious way. The headpiece pinned onto my head sparkles in the afternoon light with its golden bangles, and the veil is tucked neatly into the mountain of bobby-pinned curls. My eyelashes are darkened by touches of mascara. The eyeliner and pink eye shadow bring out my dark eyes. The pink lip gloss brightens my lips. Everything here highlights what is already there naturally instead of hiding it all away or making it into something it’s not.

The large bouquet is composed of home-grown wheat and flowers plucked from the shelves of Michael’s. The lace dress with matching sleeves to mask the fact that it used to be strapless is simple but elegant, if I may say so myself. A bustle hides behind the gown so I can lift it up to dance the night away, and I will kick the golden wedges on my feet off the moment pictures are done.

It’s not a resplendent get-up. But damn, do I look beautiful. And for once in my life, I feel ready.

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“One of the Seven Angels who had carried the bowls filled with the seven final disasters spoke to me: “Come here. I’ll show you the Bride, the Wife of the Lamb.”” Revelation 21:9

The harbinger of death, destruction, and apocalypse suddenly becomes the doting parent of the bride.

Both of my parents attended and played significant roles in our wedding. Mom walked me down the aisle, and Baba prayed a blessing over me and my husband. While both of them are in my life right now, Baba insisted that my mother be the one to, for lack of a better phrase, “give me away.” She raised me, after all. I know it. She knows it. Baba knows it. The whole family knows.

It was she who walked me down the aisle as she has walked with me my entire life. It was she who took my hand out of hers and placed into the waiting hand of my husband, symbolizing a transfer from one family and one partner to another. She kissed our cheeks and told us she loved us, welcoming her son-in-law as her own and leaving me behind to make a new life with another instead of her. She went to her seat and watched us exchange our vows and promises to one another, and she came back up the aisle alone.

For years, it was me and Mom against the world. It was our home that sheltered, nourished, and emboldened me to make my own. It was us that weathered apocalypses together, who stared into dark secrets uncovered in our lives, saw the people we loved exposed in true form for better or worse, saw dreams die and new ones born, grappled with fears and insecurities and lived into our strengths. We weathered the despairs and joys together.

And that day, she put my hand in Bryce’s as a way to say, “Go, and do likewise.”

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“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making God’s home with people! They’re God’s people, God’s their God. God will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good – tears gone, crying gone, pain gone – all the first order of things gone.” (Revelation 21:3-4)

I can’t imagine something new coming into the world without tears spilling or laughter bursting.

I didn’t cry on our wedding day. I don’t cry when I’m overwhelmed by joy.

I laugh.

I giggle.

I grin my wide, toothy, ridiculous grin that distorts my face and drives my husband wild with happiness.

My husband cries.

When our friend Makayla read a poem, his lips quivered and his eyes watered, but they never broke contact with mine. As he began saying his vows to me, his voice broke as a sob escaped and he struggled to maintain composure as he got the rest of the words out.

It was my giggles and his sobs that ushered in our union and brought us into the world together.

Will it really be like this when God’s Kin-dom comes?

Is that why we stand when the bride walks down the aisle? To see her into this new world, this new life with her greatest love and joy?

Is that why we cry and laugh and spend so much time, money, and effort on marking these occasions?

Maybe so.

All I know is, if that day brings half of the peace, joy, and overwhelming love we felt on October 14th, we might really be in Paradise again.

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Our vows:

“I, (name), do solemnly swear:

To honor and be faithful to you as your husband/wife, partner, and best friend,

To love and embrace you in times of joy and struggle, 

And as we learn and grow together, 

To stand behind you as your support, in front of you as your leader, and by your side as your equal,

As long as we walk this earth.”

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I’m Not “Woke”

Oil Lamp

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.” – Matthew 25:1-10 (NRSV)

In high school, I had thick, springy curls that my straight- and thin-haired friends and family envied. One of those friends, a white girl, told me that I had “black people hair.” I took it as a compliment.

I took it as such a compliment that I told my mother what my friend said while we were riding on the DC metro, and a woman of color was sitting in the seat right behind me.

My mother tried, in vain, to get me to shut up. But I still spewed those words out of my mouth.

There’s no nice way to put it: I made a racist comment.

At the next station, the woman in the seat behind me got up to leave, and as she walked by our seats, her bag bumped me rather roughly in the arm.

It was more than likely an accident. But I felt enough shame to never say the remark ever again.

*****

I wish I could say I stopped making racist comments and remarks, intentional or otherwise, after this encounter. But I didn’t.

Hell, I still say and think problematic words and thoughts. I still have strong biases that need time, effort, and intention to destroy.

Yet I once considered myself a “woke” person. I’m sure other white people did, too.

And that in and of itself is problematic.

First of all, as a white person, I shouldn’t be using a term that began as an urge by and for people of color  to “remain vigilant, but also to keep safe,” before being appropriated into a badge white allies use to say that “if they walk the walk, they get to talk the talk.”

Second of all, the use of the phrase implies that there is a prize white people get when they cross the non-existent finish line of “not being racist anymore.” For white people, our so-called “wokeness,” our collection of quotes, behaviors, and friends, does not prove we’re “no longer racist.”

Our work of dismantling white supremacy is more than that. It is an uncomfortable and unceasing journey, and white people can cover themselves with merit badges without putting a dent in this system.

Claiming a so-called “wokeness” separates us from other white people. It allows us to claim we’re done being racist while other white people are not.

It’s a false claim that says we no longer have biases towards people of color that still need to be broken down.

It’s a claim that falsely announces the demise of this whole system.

The hard truth of it all is I didn’t magically stopped being a racist when I started chanting “Black Lives Matter” or when I marched in Charlottesville.

I’m still part of this broken system, so I’m still a racist. And that hasn’t stopped yet. Not now. Maybe not even in my own lifetime.

The same applies to all of us white folks.

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Along with most white Christians, I like to think I’m one of those wise, eternity-minded bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, ready and waiting for the coming Kingdom with oil overflowing.

But more often than not, I’m one of the foolish ones caught unaware and unprepared, left begging my siblings of color for oil to light my lamp instead of fetching it for myself ahead of time.

So I’m getting rid of this “woke” label, one that was never mine to claim to begin with.

Instead, I’m waking up to my own self, my own biases and complicity, and the system that has made them all possible. I’m waking up to my past sins and attempting to move forward in humble repentance instead of being paralyzed by personal shame. I’m awakening compassion, empathy, and understanding within me, and I’m opening my ears to be more attuned to the stories of pain and joy from people of color. I will wake up to my need to admit wrong-doing and to apologize.

But waking up isn’t an easy process, either, nor is it a quick one.

Sometimes, I hit the snooze button. Sometimes, I take a long time to rub the sleep out of my eyes. Sometimes, that bed of privilege and supremacy is so comfortable that I don’t want to dream of resting on anything else, even when I know that comfort is built on the backs of my marginalized siblings.

Sometimes, like the seven bridesmaids in Matthew’s parable, I awaken with a jolt to discover I have no oil in my lamp and am lost in the dark, and those wiser and more prepared are moving towards a more perfect world.

It is in those times I am called to remember it’s one thing to bring a lamp in a dark space and quite another to bring the oil to light it.

And the sooner we realize we don’t have what we need to illuminate the darkness, the sooner we might start following those who have known the way much longer than we have.

Weeping Before Resurrection

Jesus Wept by Daniel Bonnell

When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days. Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away, and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

My last course at seminary wasn't even a class. It was a small conference about spiritual formation with classes I took for seminary credit. For one of those classes, about spiritual formation in worship, our main assignment was leading the conference participants in opening and closing worship. The theme was Jesus' "I am" statements.

The day before our conference started, the Pulse nightclub shootings occurred. Only days into the conference at this point, we were all still reeling.

Our professor let us choose which statements we wanted to build our worship time around. I chose Jesus' "I am the resurrection and the life" statement. I spent the morning worship guiding the participants through a theater exercise I had based my capstone project around. I invited those gathered to hear me read John 11:17-35 out loud while they "acted out" a role. They could choose any "role" they felt led to embody: a main character, a side character, an invisible character, Jesus himself, and anyone in between.

I began to read, watching everyone get into their characters. Some walked around like Jesus' disciples entering the scene. Some ran like Mary approaching Jesus. Others wandered around, feeling a bit lost and self-conscious. But it took very little time for my own spiritual director, Linda, to get into her role.

She had a small scarf with her that she placed around her head. She sat cross-legged on the ground.

And she wept.

She wept loudly. She wept like a woman in the throes of grief, pain, and loss. She wept like Mary, Martha, and Lazarus' other mourners.

Her niece had unexpectedly lost her life only weeks prior to this conference. I knew she was heartbroken, seeing it in the tears in her eyes when she first told me, but I didn't expect her to react this way, so public and raw. That morning, I saw her grief in the shaking of her shoulders, the pain and loss literally doubling her body over.

This wasn't acting in a way that went through motions, something detached from the actor. This was real, raw, embodied engagement with the text, with her own story and the story of God. This was a real expression of grief and pain.

She wasn't acting like Mary, Martha, or another mourner. She had become one of them. She had become part of the story, because she was already living it.

When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.” And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus began to weep.

Eventually, I brought everyone back together to reflect on their experiences and conclude our morning worship. But the whole time, I worried my professor would tell me I had ended the experience "wrong." I feared she would tell me I shouldn't have left the group with Jesus' weeping when the hope of Jesus being the resurrection and the life was the "point" of the story.

But I couldn't do it. I couldn't get to the resurrection first thing that morning. It didn't feel right.

Jesus weeping was the reason I had chosen the text, after all.

And I needed to weep.

So did Linda. So did most of the people there, more than likely.

So do most of us at any point in time in our lives.

 

We needed to weep over the fact that terrorist attacks against the most vulnerable in our society still happen, beautiful people still lose their lives at tragically young ages, and despite our best efforts, death continues to be a reality.

Y'all, I get it. Resurrection, new life, justice, and peace are things coming, that we await with bated breath and cling to in our darkest hours.

But in the midst of the pain and shit, we need to bawl our eyes out and grieve over the fact that it's not freaking here yet.

I've heard various reasons given as to why Jesus weeps in this scene. The one I've heard the most is that Jesus felt overwhelmed at how much the people didn't seem to get that he was the resurrection, that they didn't understand the true weight of his words.

This seems a little weak, not to mention more than a little petty, to me. I don't see Jesus as the kind of guy to get moved to tears because silly mortals didn't get everything he tried to explain them.

I think Jesus grieved his friend's death, Mary and Martha's pain, the fact that any of us have to die, and the fact that he, too, would suffer death's sting.

Sure, Jesus might have known he would survive in the end. Perhaps he knew death wasn't going to have the final say.

Yet he still broke down in tears at his friend's funeral.

He still needed to grieve resurrection's absence in that moment.

When I get really strong anxiety attacks, all I can do is curl up in a ball and weep, because even though I know my anxious, intrusive thoughts aren't true and don't have the final say, I need the space to weep and mourn the fact that they are there and will always be with me.

We know the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but holy shit is it long, and we lose way too many people as we push it to bend faster and be more inclusive. Sometimes we just need to weep so we can honor the exhaustion we feel, grieve the lives we've lost, and be pissed that things still have such a long way to go.

We know the principalities and powers of the world are nothing compared to the glorious, upcoming reign and kingdom of God, but it's still necessary to cry out and scream against the unjust practices of our politics if we hope to bring that kingdom to earth.

Jesus wept before he went and woke up his friend. We have every right, and perhaps even the duty, to do the same.

 

I’m Reading the Bible Again, and I’m a Little Nervous About It

RadicalChristian.com

I’ve started reading the Bible again.

Only 6 years ago, I wouldn’t have taken out time to craft a blog post about this. I would have just done it, because reading the Bible regularly was what I did.

Sure, I’d go through spells in which I fell behind for a couple of days, or maybe even a week. But otherwise, I was a devout Bible-reader, a lover of devotions and daily quiet times, back when getting up before the sun was (slightly) easier than it is now.

By the light of my desk lamp or under flickering fluorescent in the dorm basement, I would read, journal, and pray for at least 30 minutes a morning, devoting the time with all the gusto I could muster in those pre-dawn hours. I looked forward to these quiet minutes with God’s Word. I used to see so much truth, hope, guidance, and love in those stories and verses, whether I proof-texted them or did amateur exegesis on them.

I felt God’s presence in a way I never have, before those times or since.

Then the faith crisis hit.

Before my eyes, the Bible transformed from a story of hope inspired by God himself into a text of manipulation, fear, and lies. My faulty foundation had been built on those words and how they’d been taught to me, and they had been found harmful and lacking.

The devotions grew more shallow. The regular quiet times ceased. Eventually, I stopped reading the Bible altogether.

After all, how could I trust something that had deceived me so much?

Instead of reading Scripture, I focused on service and worship. I connected with God through hearing peoples’ stories, in regular conversations and through blogs and books. I felt God’s presence when I mentored children, gave and partook of communion, gleaned food for local pantries, and helped people get free groceries for the month.

These became my devotions and daily readings, the living Word with me, and in many ways, these practices saved my faith from certain death.

Eventually, in fits and starts, I started to read the Bible again. I would halfheartedly begin my devotional practices but drop them once life became too busy. This changed a bit during seminary (for obvious reasons), but I read Scripture in an academic context.

However, contrary to popular belief, seminary didn’t further damage my relationship with the Bible. Instead, it helped me learn to love it again by allowing me to study and deconstruct it, to see how verses turned into ideologies and how context could upturn all of them.

In short, seminary taught me to love the Bible for what it is, not how I or any culture want it to be.

Now, after all that time of study and with a Master’s of Divinity, the idea of reading the Bible for my own spiritual health still freaks me out.

What came so naturally all those years ago feels like lifting an Olympic-sized weight after I’ve regressed to 5-pound dumb bells. And instead of allowing myself to simply practice studying again, I’m asking myself a million questions.

How do I read this now?

How do I read these texts after I spent a lifetime learning they only had one interpretation?

How do I read the stories of divine healing after I have seen and experienced unhealed pain?

Will the Bible push me deeper into the beliefs I already have, or will it make me become the person I once was, who I have fought so hard not to be anymore?

Will the Bible teach me to become a quiet and submissive woman after working so hard to be bold and confident?

Will I find myself chanting “All Lives Matter” and “America is a Christian nation” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin” in spite of everything I’ve learned about racial inequality, the brutal politics of our nation, and harmful notions of sexuality?

Will I care about any of the things I care about now, or will I cast those all away like I did my past ones?

Will I find God’s voice, or my own, or my culture’s, or some messed up combination of all of them?

Who will I become as I let this text shape me again?

I’m afraid to find out, because I fear the past me, the one who got so much out of those quiet times and turned a blind eye to the people God loves most: the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.

I fear becoming the person who feared learning new things would make me “too worldly.”

I fear becoming the person so affected by the warped concept of purity thrust upon me that I spent nights crying myself to sleep because I had sex before marriage.

I fear becoming the young woman afraid to take on leadership roles because I was taught my desires to usurp the authority granted for men alone violated God’s will.

I fear becoming the person who would not embrace my LGBTQ friends as they are.

I fear that Bible-loving girl, and while I want to love the Bible, I don’t want to love her. And I sure as hell don’t want to be her.

But that girl and Bible-reading are so tied up in each other, I’m not sure how to do one without becoming the other.

In short, I don’t know how to read and love the Bible as I am.

I’m trying to figure that out, though. I can’t properly explain why. I don’t know if it’s the Spirit’s prompting, or because I re-read The Unlikely Disciple and felt nostalgia for my old evangelical devotion days, or because I feel like I “ought” to.

All I know is I’m doing it. And I’m praying, in fear and trembling, for it to change me, but I’m not sure how I want to be changed.

What If Mary Wore Pink Chucks?

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As a child, I hated the color pink.

It was a “girly” color, and as a child, I didn’t want to touch anything feminine. I wanted to be seen as tomboyish.

And I hated shoes.

I preferred socks or bare feet, even over rocks, cool hallway tile, slick grass, and scorching blacktop.

But when my mom asked me what I wanted for my 25th birthday a year and a half ago, I shocked her by saying all I wanted was a pair of bright pink Chuck Taylors.

I’m not entirely sure when or why this obsession began. I might have seen someone wearing a pair and been drawn to them. Maybe I finally started warming up to pink. Maybe it was all the Doctor Who I was watching. All I know is I fell in love with the idea of having pink Chucks.

So my very generous mother got them for me on my 25th birthday. And I wore/continue to wear them everywhere.

I wore them to seminary classes, when I spoke at chapel, and to my seminary graduation. I wear them on date nights, while running errands, and when hanging out with my high school Sunday School group. Those shoes make me feel more “me” than any other item of clothing I have.

So what if they are considered by some to be the shoe of choice for the counter culture, a style of conformity for the non-conformists? I love them. They are comfy, bright, and stick out in a way that makes me want to be seen. I feel most comfortable, excited, empowered, and ready to take on the world when I lace them up and walk out the door.

So at choir practice last Wednesday, when I realized the upcoming Sunday was the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy and the lighting of the pink candle, and that we would be singing Mary’s Magnificat, I just had to wear those spunky shoes.

But since I’m also a huge people pleaser, I had to ask my choir director if it was OK to do so.

She smiled and nodded as she replied, “Yes. Please wear them.”

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So I wore them to sing the Magnificat, in which Mary proclaims how she, a humble handmaiden, will be regarded as blessed throughout all generations, that God will upset the mighty systems of the rich and lift up the poor and oppressed. And she sings this ballad after she accepts the dangerous call from God, delivered to her by an angel, to bear the Messiah into a dark world, and after an in-utero John the Baptist leaps inside Elizabeth’s womb.

This is no schmaltzy ballad from Mary meek and mild. This is a song of resistance, one which should strike terror in all the elite, belted from the pipes of a fierce female whom, of all the women in the world, God chose to bring the True Light into the world.

This might have even been Jesus’ lullaby.

When this was the song I was called to sing, the pink Chucks were the only shoes I could think of to wear. They made me feel free, subversive, excited, and bold enough to do God’s work of upsetting the powerful, even if that meant upsetting structures from which I have long benefited. I chose these shoes, because they were the color of joy, of the Advent candle and of my own joy in being myself, called to do God’s work, which Mary exemplified in her life and her song.

Maybe Mary would have worn pink Chucks, too, as a display of her femininity and subversiveness for all to see, all that made her the woman God chose to bear Jesus into the world. Maybe she would do this to demonstrate that girls of all ages and from all walks of life have fire in their souls that the world desperately needs. Maybe she would lace up her pink Chucks and tell all the girls and women of the world that when the world tries to denounce their femininity as something less than, something to be violated and exploited, something that makes them “weak” and “meek,” they should show the world that being bold is a strong, feminine trait.

Because we need all the emboldening we can get to proclaim justice and the upside-down kingdom of God into our own dark world. And sometimes our proclaimation outfit is a pair of bright pink Chuck Taylors.

mary

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My Faith is Solid…and This Worries Me

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My senior year of college threw me into a major faith crisis. It was the year I took my most challenging classes, heard the most upsetting insights, and asked my hardest questions.

During that time, I began to question everything from my conservative Pentecostal upbringing. And in this case, “everything” is not much of an exaggeration.

I poked holes and made cracks in all aspects of my theology to see what would stay in tact and what would crumble. Unfortunately for me, most of it crumbled. I found out very fast that what I had thought was my rock solid foundation consisted of sand, and I began to sink into its mire.

I pondered predestination and free will, religion and science, the “debates” about same-sex marriage and LGBTQ equality, and the culture wars. I wondered about the legitimacy of doctrinal “facts” like the Trinity, the inerrant word of God, salvation through Christ alone, and whether or not women should pursue leadership roles (I actually wrote my thesis about this topic).

These questions of crisis kept me fearful and skeptical of the Church for many years. Engaging with my home community was too much for me. There was no room for questions, doubts, or even different opinions. Instead of trying to make some change from within, I ran away from the community which had once been my home, and I still have yet to return.

Fortunately, my journey led me to many brothers and sisters of the Christian faith who gave me space to ponder, wonder about, and tinker with my faith. They heard my questions, and when necessary, they offered new insights to consider. They told me I didn’t have to look at things through the black and white, right and wrong lens of my upbringing. They taught me new, life-giving, colorful ways to interpret the Scriptures, live as the Church, and follow Jesus. They taught me about the harsh realities of racism, sexism, and elitism I had been taught were long dead, and they taught me how prayer and protest go hand in hand. They let me create and lead. They swore, did theater, loved books and comics, and prayed. They seemed like authentic human beings, not the carbon-copy perfect Christians to whom I had been accustomed.

I met these people in school and church, in the theater and in the classroom, on the streets, in student apartments, and in cushy homes. They guided me through seminary and the faith communities I joined. They helped me find God and faith anew.

Now, I’m out of the faith crisis and living into a more solid, steady, and real faith. I still have questions, but now I feel more comfortable with some things being unresolved and have a firmer understanding in what I do and don’t believe. I continue to be irreverent while revering the sacred Presence around and within us. My prayers are more consistent, and they are full of joy, lament, and honesty. I feel closer to God and the Church than I have for the better part of 5 years.

And this worries me.

While in faith crisis mode, things were new and uncertain. Everything from whether or not I would remain in the Church to which authors I would revere was under question every day. Now that the ground beneath my feet is firmer, I’m not sure what to do. What do I do when the next step I take meets firm ground instead of sinking sand? What do I do when I’m swimming steadily instead of struggling to stay afloat?

This isn’t foreign territory. I remember when my beliefs were steady, before I knew the true essence of my former foundation. I remember what I was like when I was “right,” in every definition of the word. I distanced myself from those with whom I disagreed and felt the need to correct them when I was around them. I look back at who I was then with some disgust and horror, hoping I will never again be like this.

I don’t want to shut myself off from others, especially those who still struggle to feel welcomed by the Church. I worry that my more solid faith will be appalling to those still struggling and full of doubt. I worry that instead of listening to and hearing them, I will revert back to my old tendencies to correct and give clear-cut answers for chaotic and hurtful circumstances. I worry I will lose my sense to be understanding and be sympathetic to where my brothers and sisters are in their journeys.

I fear I will forget what it felt like to be on the outside looking in. I fear my present comfort will cause me to forget this difficult, wonderful, and necessary part of my journey, a part of my life which I treasure more than my any of my times of certainty.

So to alleviate these concerns, I will need reminders from my community.

There will be times I need to be reminded to do the hard work of listening to others, with whom I agree and disagree, who comfort me and challenge me. I will have to work hard to resist the temptation to either rest in tepidness or continue pursuing fleeing fancies. I will need regular, gentle reminders to hold my ideas with open palms instead of clenched fists.

I will need those younger and older than me to keep me in check, and the wisdom and stories of people of all ages and walks of life. I will need to be reminded I am not the be all and end all of the Church or good theology, and that steadiness in faith does not equate with unyielding certainty. I will need my blind spots pointed out and my slip-ups called out (but graciously, please!). I will need as much help as I can to keep moving forward in this journey.

So as I live into this time of steady faith, please continue to challenge and share with me. Keep telling your stories. Be honest about your beliefs and the joys and struggles of your lives. Continue to ask questions and remind me to keep asking them, too.

Let us remember that faith is never meant to be stagnant and still but ever-moving and ever-changing. Let us journey on together, wherever and as we are.

Now What?

SPOILERS for anyone who somehow hasn’t finished the entire Harry Potter series yet. If you haven’t, please get on that. You’re missing out.

Harry Potter was my gateway drug to geekdom. Before I knew what fandom was and before I could even admit that I liked fantasy, I fell head over heels for JK Rowling’s Wizarding World.

I can’t remember exactly when I started reading the books or from whom I got the first one. I do know that when the first movie was announced, I was 4 books in and madly in love with Daniel Radcliffe.

And I definitely remember attending the midnight release of the very last movie: Deathly Hallows Part 2.

I went with Bryce and my college friend Betty. We stood in line, me with my Dumbledore’s Army T-shirt, Betty in her plain white T with a Hogwarts crest stitched on, and Bryce with his wizard’s hat. A photographer snapped a photo of us in the long line from the theater balcony, and we made it in the local newspaper.

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I remember the excitement and dread at the thought of this being the end. I remember cheering when Ron and Hermione kissed and when Neville killed Nagini the snake. I remember being disappointed in the portrayal of the final battle between Harry and Voldemort and the lack of Dumbledore’s story. I remember smiling through (possibly) teary eyes when grown up Harry, Ron, and Hermione watched their own children roll away from them on the Hogwarts Express. But most of all, I remember the film ending, holding Bryce’s hand in the stillness that comes with the blank screen just before the credits begin to roll, and thinking to myself, “Now what?”

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After spending so much time with Harry and his friends, in their lives and adventures, I felt a jolt as the screen went blank and the lights came up, blinding in their harsh reminder that story time was over, and the world was waiting for me to go back.

And from the blank screen through the car ride home and even while I drifted off to sleep that same evening, I asked myself a number of questions:

What happens next? Do the characters really live happily ever after? Will more troubles befall them? How do I go back to reality? What did this story teach me about life and the world around me?

Isn’t this what stories are supposed to do? Not simply entertain and remove us from the world, but to put us back into reality with a new perspective and lots of questions? Isn’t that what good stories do to us?

The Old and New Testaments have similar endings which, if read well, simultaneously unsettle and excite us. 2 Chronicles, the last book in the Hebrew Bible, ends with King Cyrus’ cliffhanger order for the Jews to return home to Israel. John’s Revelation at the end of the New Testament offers us a vision of the future, in which the powers of darkness are defeated, and we are invited into the new kingdom to dwell with God.

Both endings inspire hope and wonder in their readers. What will happen when the Jews return from exile? Will they renew the covenant with God only to break it again, or will they remain faithful? Are a new heaven and a new earth really possible, and when will they happen?

Then when we look at the world as it is, and we feel another jolt.

After we close our Bibles, we see that heaven and earth are as separate as ever, and we are still in exile. 

After we close Deathly Hallows when Harry says, “All was well,” we return to the world around us, where things may or may not all be well. 

We finish hearing or watching the story, but the story is not finished with us. And we may ask, “Now what?”

What do we do with a proclamation of returning home when we are still in exile? What do we do with the promise of a new heaven and new earth in a broken, bleeding world? What do we do after the evil lord is defeated in one story but others loom large in the lives of others?

Sometimes, these questions push me to love God and others with a renewed fervor, hoping that through these efforts, the exile will end, and the world will get better. Other days, these questions overwhelm me and make me want to retreat or join the “bad guys,” who seems to have more efficient ways of getting things done. Either way, the stories are not finished with me, nor am I finished with them. 

Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be for now.