Joy As A Middle Finger

Content warning: mentions of attack in Charlottesville

“Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.” Micah 4:4

McGuffey

McGuffey Park in Charlottesville, VA

When I think of Charlottesville, the terrorist attack I was mere inches from obviously comes to mind.

But I also think about chanting and standing in solidarity with my black and brown friends as the white supremacists trudged down the street, remnants of pepper spray dripping in purple streaks down their once pristine white polo shirts. I think about the red-clad Antifa marching up behind us in a sea of red shirts and black and pink helmets, and the relief I felt when our group cheered them in, finally understanding what everyone meant when they told me “Antifa will keep us safe.” I recall the clergy arriving and linking arms to form a human blockade to stop the “parade” in their attemp to perform a very physical and literal exorcism of the streets.

And I think about going back to McGuffy Park after seeing the last of the “alt-right” leave. I reminisce on the time spent lounging under shady trees, sharing fruit snacks with my new BLM friends, trading stories about theater rehearsals and loved ones, meeting fellow activists, enjoying the sweet summer breezes and laughing at the Charlottesville citizens walking their dogs and going on jogs as if their city leaders hadn’t declared a State of Emergency.

And it made sense, because at the time, it really didn’t feel like a dire situation.

For a glorious half hour, it felt like a normal summer day.

It was a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

It was pure joy, bliss, and contentment. It was safety.

It was resting on the ground beneath us and actually believing it might be level for everyone. It was vulnerability without fear of destruction. It was trust and love.

It was holy, holy, holy.

After that blissful half hour, we began marching on the Downtown Mall after hearing reports from fellow activists of renewed Nazi activity at another location. Even though we knew we were walking into more threats, the rush from our earlier victory over the neo-Nazis coursed through our veins, giving us hope that we could keep them at bay again.

When we marched those streets, we did so in victory. We did so in joy.

*****

When I think of Charlottesville, I still remember the joy. Oh, how I cling fiercely to that memory of joy.

I do not remember the joy in spite of the moment of terror that snatched it all away. I don’t remember those sweet moments to escape the reality of the pain, terror, and trauma from which my friends, fellow protesters, and I continue to recover.

I remember the joy because of the terror and the turmoil.

I cling to those joy-filled memories in a desperate effort to reclaim them from the terror that plagued that whole day and culminated in a terrorist attack by a white supremacist.

I keep that flicker of joy we had at the park safe and alive with all my might as a middle finger to those terrorists who would seek to destroy black and brown bodies, and those bodies that stand with them.

I remember the joy as a way to say to white terrorism and white supremacy, “Fuck y’all. You won’t win. Not this day, not this movement, not these lives.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that makes us laugh at insults like “race traitor” and whimpers about “Jewish privilege” and “reverse racism.”

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that got us back on our feet to march to our people in need.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that gives me the audacity to plan a wedding in the midst of this chaos and hatred.

It’s this “Fuck y’all” joy that is keeping me going today.

I pray it’ll last.

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I Haven’t Been to Church in Four Months, and I’m OK

Church

Outlook Mag

Next week will officially mark four months since I’ve gotten myself out of bed on a Sunday morning to attend a church service.

I’ve kept myself otherwise occupied.

I played card games with Bryce and our roommate. I visited my mother and helped her with yard work. I watched a lot of TV and read a few books. I spent Mother’s and Father’s Day with my future in-laws. I added to our wedding registry. I fasted from social media.

I slept in.

But I haven’t been with a traditional community of believers.

I have become what I once feared: a non-church attending Christian.

The congregation members I grew up with attached a lot of adjectives to people like me: lukewarm, backsliding, and hedonistic are probably some of the nicer ones.

You can’t be a Christian without a faith community, they insist. If you’re not part of a gathering of believers, you will follow a God in your own image and become idolatrous, they warn. Why must you be one of those pesky Burger King Christians who has to have everything their way, they fuss.

But guess what?

I’m OK.

I’m well-rested, emotionally stable (to an extent), and still in love with the Church, the Bible, and the Holy Trinity.

This being said, I still struggle to read the Bible. I find following Jesus into the difficult places harder than ever. I find God to be more mysterious than I could have imagined. And I am more annoyed by the Spirit’s non-stop calls to lay everything down and open myself up to love.

I still talk about theology and what it means to follow Jesus, although I’m even less reverent than I’ve ever been. I partake in communion, but I break the bread of gigantic slices of Manhattan Pizza with my co-workers and gluten-free, vegan rolls with racial justice co-conspirators. I pray more than I have in some time: for peace, for my loved ones to get through their days, for mercy and justice, and for people to just listen. I look for God’s presence everywhere and in everything, in the breaths I take during a run, in my fiance doing the laundry for me, in protesters as cops beat them, and in writers who share their stories and trust they will mean something to someone.

I know there will be people who will read every single thing I’ve just said and see it all as lies and heresies, more evidence of my backsliding ways.

But in reality, I feel more solid in my faith and more confident claiming a Christian identity than I have in a long time.

It could be because I’m living with my fiance and not afraid of anyone’s nosy judgment, or because I’m politically and socially engaged with no fear that a theological higher-up is breathing down my neck, waiting for me to make a theological mishap and tear me down. Maybe it’s because I have more freedom to actually ask a variety of people a lot of interesting, difficult, uncomfortable questions without having the authenticity of my faith put on trial.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting more sleep.

I’m not saying I will never attend a traditional church again. By no means. In fact, I can no longer pass an Episcopal church without feeling a tremendous pang in my heart and an intense longing for choir anthems and collects.

I also have to admit there are some drawbacks to not having a faith community right now. I miss the communal life of choir practices and youth Sunday School. I miss long, deep conversations with clergy. I miss coffee hours after Sunday service and lunch time gatherings around the seminary table.

But I can’t say my lack of a “real” faith community is completely awful either. And I definitely can’t say I will regret this time in my life, or that I feel like a failure and a backslider in my walk with Christ.

For once in my life, I feel OK with where my faith journey has taken and is taking me, even if it’s the non-traditional route.

And I’m going to soak that up for all it’s worth.

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.

Anxious and In Love: Our Story

bryce

My fiancé Bryce and I have been together just over 6 years now and engaged for 7 months. We met 8 years ago at Bridgewater College after a group of friends and I awkwardly greeted him with an Anna-Farris-from-The-House-Bunny-inspired salutation, and he was gracious and crazy enough to want to be my friend afterwards. We bonded through long-distance runs, 7-11 trips, and long walks on campus discussing faith, relationships, and dreams. My mother loved him when she first met him, his Dad thought I was awesome after I single-handedly moved a recliner into Bryce’s dorm on Junior year move-in day, and we finally admitted we liked each other over an awkward silence in his dorm kitchen in November 2010.

He’s the best, y’all. He’s a goofball with big dreams and deep thoughts. He’s a liberal Baptist who takes the commitment he made at his baptism seriously, even through doubts and questions. He loves video games but doesn’t like watching TV all the time (unless it’s anime). He got me into running and comic books, and my mom accuses him of turning me into a liberal (even though he’s now a bit more conservative than me). He gives me big bear hugs and an obnoxious amount of kisses, and he will sleep without blankets if it means the kitty curled up on them doesn’t have to move.

He’s been my most consistent companion and true partner in crime (I even identified him as such on an Emergency Contact form).

And through it all, we’ve lived with a third wheel: my anxiety.

bryce10

Being in any kind of relationship as a person with anxiety is tough, but romantic relationships seem to have their own special struggles. We began dating almost 2 years after I ended an emotionally abusive relationship, so while I entered our relationship with strong feelings and a foundation of trust, I worried he would turn into someone I no longer recognized. My anxiety can latch onto anything that could possibly be interpreted as attacks on who I am and what I believe: jokes, opinions, faith, life stories.

bryce8

We’ve been through boughts of poor communication and snap judgments. Because my anxiety flares up in times of conflict, there are times if he expresses his opinion or asks me to stop doing something which irritates him, I fear being controlled and push him away. If we roughhouse too hard or in public, I might retreat out of fear that he is abusing me or someone will interpret our actions as such. If we disagree on a matter of theology or a social issue, or if I become convinced we don’t have enough common interests, I fear we aren’t compatible enough. I have exhausted both of us on numerous occasions with my suspicions, “what ifs,” and false assumptions over something he has said or done.

My anxiety even flares up when I realize that, out of my fear and pain, I have caused him pain. When Bryce tells me my anxiety is difficult to deal with, that he is exhausted with all the effort he puts in only to have me distance myself, when I seem to be putting in little effort and he has to pick up the slack, I want to hide away and internally beat myself up.

bryce5

I’ve realized the importance of counseling, support systems, medication, a healthier lifestyle, and good communication. I continue to learn how to tell him what makes me anxious without assigning blame to him, how to tell the thoughts in my head that they aren’t real and don’t get to call all the shots, when to talk with another friend or family member about my anxiety when he needs time to decompress, and how to look into the gentle, kind, and mischievous eyes of the man I love and know in my deepest heart that despite what my fears say, I have found an amazing man with whom I can share my life.

We’ve had to acknowledge the difficulties in dealing with each other. We go through times when he puts more effort into communication than I do. We confront our issues head on instead of pushing them away. Sometimes he struggles with why I can’t let things go or why I get upset over seemingly meaningless and illogical issues. Sometimes I get upset when he’s less than understanding and tries to make things better when there’s no way to do so.

bryce3

Being an anxious person has made us deal with some hard things, and we have loved each other through them all.

We’ve learned to talk with each other in open and honest ways, even when the vulnerability hurts. We’ve learned each other’s quirks and how we accept feedback, insight, and assistance. I’ve learned to put my own anxiety on hold to support him in difficult times. He’s learned to hold me when there’s nothing left to say.

We’ve learned to be a couple, a pair of people doing life together. We’ve learned to do tough things and journey through them with smiles on our faces and tears in our eyes.

Despite what the movies and stories may say, finding the one I love didn’t fix my anxiety. In some ways, it made anxiety more difficult, because it no longer just belonged to me; I had to share it with another person.

But this journey has given me someone I know will not run away on the bad days and will celebrate with me on the good ones. This journey has made each of us into people who can, as my counselor says, “bump up against each other” without the other one falling.

Neither of us are perfect humans (despite whatever else we may tell you), and ours is not a perfect story (despite being told on a regular basis that we are #relationshipgoals). But we do our best to be supportive, understanding, and present partners, and that’s more important and attainable than perfection anyways.

Here’s to us and our ongoing story, my love.

bryce9

Reception Venues and Representatives

My to-do lists as of late are intense.

They include wedding planning, job hunting, and representative calls, and they all take up big chunks of my day.

My weeks include calls to reception venues, my representative and senators, and at one point even the Department of Homeland Security.

reception

Called a representative for this house (possible reception venue) and my representative in The House on the same day. Guess which one was less stressful?

I send messages to my parents, future-in-laws, maid of honor, and bridesmaids about dresses and decorations, and I share regular political happenings with my online community, encouraging them to stay up to date and accurate concerning their media intake and output.

I had no idea my life would turn out this way.

And here I am, writing, posting, calling, and planning, looking for reception venues, dresses, rings, petitions, and protests, living life in a way I never thought possible.

As I approached graduation, I expected to work with a church or faith community in a prominent role, maybe with youth or young adults, or even the whole congregation. I figured the political climate would stabilize within the year, and I wouldn’t be checking my news feed everyday to find some mind-numbingly awful sound clip from a politician. I knew Bryce and I would be getting engaged and planning a wedding, and I wanted work which would allow said planning to move forward.

So when I asked a professor for some help and advice in choosing a post-graduate career, and he asked if I had considered being an activist, I barely stifled a laugh (although I’m unsure as to whether I completely suppressed my look of fear). I thought to myself “Are you kidding? I’m too much of a nervous wreck as it is. I couldn’t be that involved without having several breakdowns.”

Less than a year later, 45 is in office, most of our representatives are throwing out everything instead of actually making anything new, and people (myself included) are taking to the streets and the phone lines to voice their discontent.

And in the midst of it all, I am planning a wedding.

I am planning for one golden day of love, hope, and peace in the midst of division, anger, and fear, a day for me, my husband-to-be, our families and friends to celebrate and remember.

This isn’t the climate in which I expected to plan such an event, but maybe it’s necessary. I hope it reminds me and those helping me that love, not frilly and sugar-sweet but tough and enduring, has the final say in who we are and what we will be.

I hope everyone has something, a wedding or otherwise, to remind them of this important lesson in these trying times.

Fire in Our Bones

fire

Christianity Today

“I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”

Jeremiah 20:9

There is fire within all of us. It can refine, and it can consume until nothing is left. The fire can warm us, and it can burn us.

Fire escapes containment. It spreads, and it tends to do on the outside what it is doing on the inside. If it is refining us, it can refine others. If it is consuming us, it can completely consume others. If it is warming us, it can warm the minds, bodies, and souls of others. If it is burning us, it can hurt others.

I struggle to keep my own flames in check. My passion can burn bright and warm people into action. It can also reach points which harm myself and those closest to me.

This is why prayer, rest, community, reading, and laughter are crucial. These practices keep the flames burning while preventing them from destroying me, which in turn can prevent me from burning friends, family, and allies in harmful ways.

In my very limited time of political involvement, I’ve realized the importance of maintaining these flames. I try to keep the fire at refining levels when I talk to my representative and senators. I let the fire burn with power at marches and meetings without allowing it to burn me to a crisp.

But the fire of passion threatens to turn into destructive hate when I hear naysayers and snowflake-accusers tell us as a movement to “get over ourselves,” “accept results,” and “just wait and see how things happen.”

Don’t they understand?

We have waited. Things are happening, and we oppose them. Things are happening that affect not only my family, but other American families. Things are happening which threaten our humanity, because they threaten the humanity of many. My liberation is bound up in the liberation of those on the margins. As long as they continue to be threatened, I continue to be threatened.

When I hear these attacks, I feel the passionate, beautiful fire in me change into hateful, destructive embers. I begin to feel the flames consuming my soul.

The best I can do to control this dangerous fire is to remind myself over and over that this is not all about me. Yes, I march, call, and write because the holy fire in me compels me to, and it’s part of what makes me a child of God. But I also do this work because of the Divine Image in every person I do and don’t encounter.

I do this work for the Divine Image in my cousin’s little girl Rylan, who celebrates her first birthday today; for the Divine Image of my sisters and brother, that they may live in a world which regards them with love, not suspicion; and for the Divine Image in the refugee detained at the airport, who only wants to begin life anew after witnessing so much destruction.

I do this work because of the Divine Image present in every single human being affected by fear-based policies, for the Black Lives Matter activists who demand just treatment of their divinely made bodies, and for the parents fearful of losing healthcare coverage because their Divine child has certain disabilities. I do this work, as hard as it can be, for the Divine Image present in those who enact these policies and in those who approve them, because they need to see the Divine Image in those affected by the laws they sign.

I do this work to remind my fellow citizens, as well as candidates, delegates, mayors, representatives, senators, cabinet members, and the President to see their own Divine Image, even when it’s disfigured beyond recognition. I want to call that Image out of them so they may see it, because maybe the act of seeing the Divine in themselves will cause them to notice, honor, and endorse the Image in everyone else, especially those they want to keep out.

I worry if we forget Whose we are and why we’re here, we’ll lose our souls. We’ll lose what makes us human, the love, compassion, and mercy God gives each of us, which is more than enough for everyone. I cry out to prevent us putting up walls, promoting fear and hatred, and singling people out as scapegoats, because these actions further damage our humanity.

I worry the act of forgetting our Image will cause us to lose our God-gifted love, compassion, and mercy, and I worry what such a loss will do to my actual Muslim brother, sisters, and parents, my black and brown brothers and sisters, my LGBTQ family, and this human race.

So my challenge to those who believe walls and vetting will save us is this:

Take the fire within you which ignites fear and hatred, and allow it to burn with love and hope. Let it kill the parts which hang on to misguided ideas of “other” and let it push you into life with those you once feared.

My challenge to those resisting and calling out the powers that is this:

Let the fire burn in you. Don’t let it be dimmed by onslaughts of negativity. Let the fire keep you going, and let it warm those who are hurting.

And to those already dealing with the negative repercussions of these policies and all of the ones which came before, I say this to you:

I see your Divine Image. I hear your Divine Cries. Let your fire live and burn bright. We are in this together.

For the sake of our humanity, for the sake of the precious Image of God in us, let the fire burn.

 

Sorry I’m Late: Showing Up for Justice after Ignoring the Invitations

rsvp

Broomwithaview.com

I read recently how protesting and resisting systemic evil in Trump’s America is like finally showing up to a party after numerous invitations and delays.

Organizations like Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, the International Rescue Committee, and other activist groups have known of this corruption for a much longer time than most of us privileged people. Some were born into this system and have been pushing back from an early age. Others “got woke” and caught the memo as early as they could and jumped right into action.

I, on the other hand, showed up to this “party” beyond fashionably late.

I made plenty of excuses in the process, too.

I didn’t know if anyone I knew would be there. I didn’t know what to say when I showed up, because I didn’t know if I would understand what everyone was saying and didn’t want to make any more social faux pas than I already do.

I also didn’t know what to bring. Should I keep it cheap and bring a bag of chips or actually go through the effort of preparing a tasty entree? Should I buy a little gift on the way or make something crafty and impressive so everyone there would know my presence was legitimate?

I didn’t know how to deal with my own power and privilege in these contexts, either. I didn’t know if I could voice my insights or if I should let everyone else do the talking. Would I be too “white,” too “hetero,” or too privileged to even have a reason to be there? Would people think I was there to fulfill my Messiah-complex? Would I know if that was my reason?

More than being uncomfortable with messing up, though, I didn’t want to arrive needing to learn anything. I wanted to arrive fully prepared and ready to do everything just right, as if I were the host and the leader, not the one invited to be led.

So instead of being with and learning from those who are most oppressed, I read articles and posted tweets. I wrote about social justice from my perspective, and while I mentioned the marginalized, I didn’t learn too much about their own perspectives. When I did read their words, I let my own guilt and shame push me away from their pain instead of deeper into it.

Finally, after the election, I began to realize I no longer cared (as much) if I said or did the wrong things as long as I said and did something. I began to honestly acknowledge my role, not to lead and take over, but to follow and learn from those affected most by these evils.

I finally showed up to the party, and I felt a little awkward.

I arrived with my bag of chips in hand and a sheepish grin on my face, all apologetic for my tardiness, and tried to figure out how to take part in the festivities.

I know I don’t get the head seat, which as a natural leader bothers me. I don’t get to call all the shots, which as an outspoken person discomforts me. I have to listen and learn more than I interject and teach, and my desire to control and be “right” are going to make this so difficult and so necessary.

I am so terribly late, and it will take me a while to feel comfortable with the crowd. It’s going to take some time for me to stop berating myself for showing up as late as I did, and to own my lateness without letting it own me.

In that time, though, I will listen to, learn from, and live with those on the front lines as a no-longer absent ally.

So to those with whom I am marching, protesting, and resisting, who have been doing this work a lot longer than I: Thank you for the invitation and for still opening the door and welcoming me in when you had every right to tell me to hit the road. Thank you for giving me the grace to learn and be here with you.

I’m sorry ahead of time for the things I will say that will show how much learning about I still have to do. I’m sorry for the times I will unintentionally step on your toes and try to be the leader when I am called to be the follower. I can only hope you will forgive me and extend grace my way, even when I don’t deserve it, in your own way and time.

Above all, know I am here with you because you are made in the sacred image of God, and I want to honor the divinity within you as well as I can.

Thank you for letting me join with you as an ally.

To those in my shoes, all tied up in power and privilege, wanting to be part of this but unsure exactly how, get involved anyway you can. March, protest, talk to your representatives.

Most of all, talk with and be among those whom these policies most affect, because they will be the ones to lead these movements and make change happen, because their lives and livelihoods are on the line.

Listen to and learn from them. Don’t try to lead. Instead, follow. Let them be the leaders of their own movements. Be allies instead of saviors.

You’re going to make mistakes. Of course you are. We all do. Be quick to apologize, quick to learn, and quick to move forward.

May God be with us, and may we be with each other, in the victories and pitfalls.

*****

To learn more about being involved in social change as a privileged person, check out Christena Cleveland’s upcoming series, How to be last:  A practical theology for privileged people.