Church Runaways, Meet Marvel’s Runaways

Runaways

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This year, I didn’t go to church on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, or even Easter Sunday.

Instead, I binge-read 3 volumes of Marvel’s Runaways, the comic series about “a group of young teens [who] find out their parents are actually supervillains and do the rebellious thing…they become superheroes.” (Read the whole article if you’re a new fan to graphic novels and comics, while you’re at it!)

The group consists of 6 individuals: Chase Stein, the oldest and a stereotypical jock (with a penchant for lasers and vehicles) despite having mad genius parents; Alex Wilder, a lonely MMORPG lover with firm but loving parents who is considered the brains of the group; Nico Minoru, the daughter of two sorcerers who wields the Staff of One, a magical device which can do any spell but only once; Karolina Dean, a Majesdanian alien whose parents hid and suppressed her powers for her whole life; Gertrude “Gert” Yorkes, whose time-traveling parents gifted her a dinosaur with whom she shares a telepathic link; and young Molly Hayes, a precocious pre-teen mutant with the power to lift all the big things.

The series sees the teens coming to terms with their parents true selves, the motives behind their actions, familial and fraternal betrayal, coming of age without the parental guidance they expected to receive, and living with and leading each other through these difficult and new days.

It’s the perfect read for people struggling with the Church, those who have left the Church, those who are thankful they left, and those who still feel remorse over leaving.

There’s Molly Hayes, the youngest Runaway, who is perhaps the most confused over her situation. She is still in that stage of life where adults can still be trusted. She doesn’t have her house, her bed, or her parents, and while she knows they did something wrong, she never witnessed it herself, because the older kids didn’t think she could handle seeing it. She is a runaway, but a reluctant one.

There’s Chase Stein, who rather willingly abandoned his abusive household and came into his own as a member of the Runaways, providing them with a hideout (albeit it literally unstable), fighting baddies with his parents’ technology, and piloting their Leapfrog ship. Being a runaway, in some ways, saves him, and he finds a true family with the rest of the gang.

There’s Nico, Gert, and Karolina, who are aware of their families villainous ways and know they have no choice but to flee them, yet they continue to be haunted by the lives and legacies from which they left behind.

And there’s Alex, the group’s leader, who seems to easily leave his family and lead the Runaways but refuses to cast off his familial identity indefinitely, hoping instead to redeem them.

We’ve seen Big Church, the Christian Machine, act in ways they believe will save us but harm us more. And we’ve become runaways as a result.

But it’s not an easy decision to make, even if it’s a necessary one.

It’s not easy to leave our church homes, our comfy beds of unquestioning faith, the warm hugs from the Christians we love and who love us but suddenly become cold and false, the routine traditions. Sometimes, even after we’ve been gone a while, we still dream of those “good ol’ days” and want them back. Even when we understand that staying would have meant falsehood or even death, returning to business as usual is appealing. At least it meant a home was involved.

Runaway status isn’t always fun. Not having one place to call “home” can wear on you after a while. Rootlessness isn’t the safest way to live. We are creatures of habit and security, and while having nowhere to settle gives greater freedom to make nests in other places, there really is nothing or no place like home.

But Runaways reminds me that realizing the home you once loved is no longer there, and perhaps never was, can be the Good Friday which eventually moves into the Easter of finding family in the ones who have also fled.

Running away is sacred and scary. It can involve putting down roots for a time only to yank them up again. It is being honest with the beauty and the brokenness of our upbringing and figuring out what’s left to salvage. It is dropping our nets and leaving our tax collector booths like Jesus’ disciples and following the One who calls us into a new way of life, one more risky and more fantastic than we care to imagine.

Most of all, running away can remind us we are the Church, and we make home wherever we go, on the run or otherwise.

To the runaways, take comfort and know you are in good company, and even though some may say you’ve fled God, God is with you through the wilderness and in the homestead.

Also, may you find out you have an 87th-century dinosaur with whom you share a telekinetic bond. Because that would be freakin’ awesome.

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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Human beings have occupied 1% of the earth’s existence.

And we continue to demand a reason for being here, a greater purpose, something beyond ourselves.

We find God, and instead of making religion a story about the Divine, we make it about us.

We find art, and we use it to tell stories and explain the inexplicable, to give reasons for our pain, suffering, joys, and triumphs as if they were anything less than ordinary or expected.

All evidence points to humans being a blip on the radar, a fleeting breath, a candle extinguished in a gust, but we refuse to accept this as true.

We push ourselves towards greater milestones and achievements.

We make and consume art and culture as if it can define us.

We donate to charities and get involved with our communities, thinking our small actions will result in some extraordinary greatness in the end.

We fall in love and start families and make friends, claiming these humans, who are as finite and temporary as we are, are worthy of the bonds which we forge with them.

We devote time to satisfying our egos and desires, stuffing ourselves with more and more, realizing we will never be satisfied.

Why aren’t we satisfied with the fact that we are alive?

Why am I not satisfied enough with that?

Life is silly, and it’s sincere.

It’s stupid, and it’s rational.

It’s so human and so holy.

It drives me nuts. It gives me peace.

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

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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 f***ed up in the future.

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

Geeking Out is Hard to Do

Melanie Biehle

As of late, fulfilling the “geeking out” part of my blog title has been difficult.

I haven’t been able to buy comic books since I can barely afford rent and food. Instead of re-reading Harry Potter, I’m reading The Hate U Give and The Autobiography of Malcolm X to wake up to the issues people of color in our country face. I also can’t binge-watch anything because I gave up Netflix for Lent, and in turn, they’re getting rid of Buffy on April 1st (seriously, God, what’s the deal with that?).

On the surface, the geeking out isn’t happening. But at the same time, it’s alive and well.

I am reading, analyzing, and studying the books on my Black Lives Matter reading list in order to better understand the pain, hope, and calls to action in these stories.

I am engaging in politics by studying legislation and political processes, and calling my representatives to attempt to engage in the conversation with them, even though this isn’t going so well with my current house rep…

I watch news stories, read commentaries, and try my best to have conversations about these passions without attempting to correct everyone on why they’re wrong.

This is where things get difficult…

Some might think calling this “geeking out” minimizes the important work being done in these movements and makes it sound more like a hobby of mine than an actual struggle in which to engage.

But it’s the best term I can think of to describe how passionate I am about engaging with this, to be as devoted as I am to my these phenomenal works of human effort in ways similar to and more dynamic than the devotion I show to most favorite and fandoms.

These are human stories and lives, and they deserve my and our fullest attention and devotion.

So geek out over politics if it makes you engage in them with thought and articulation. Geek out over social justice if it moves you into solidarity and alliances with people who want the same rights as the most privileged in our society. Talk with people about how to rewrite the damaging narratives in our society into a grand reality in which we see each other as equals and embrace our differences as things to be celebrated, not shunned.

Geek out by writing your stories of worlds only you could dream so we can see the beauty in our own world. Geek out by writing your own story to show others they do not struggle and yearn alone. Geek out by creating art which inspires us to be and do better, to give us comfort and peace in the midst of anxiety and uncertainty, to make us remember how good laughter and tears are for our souls, to put us inside the skin of another and see the world through their eyes and gain a little empathy.

Geek on, friends. We need this passion not only to survive, but to thrive.

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On Easter Sunday 2008, I joined my youth group drama team to do a dance to This Blood by Carman. With our bodies, we acted out the story of the torture and violence Jesus endured at the hands of his Roman captors, from the the binding of his arms and flogging of his body, to the painful carrying of the cross up the hill and his body’s convulsions when his captors dropped the cross in the grave.

It was a graphic song, filled with gory language that to this day I’m surprised my overly sensitive self could stomach enough to put on this performance.

It held a clear Easter message: This blood, spilled willingly and violently, is for you. All of you.

It was a powerful message, and I invited my mom, who didn’t often come to Sunday services, to see our performance on Easter Sunday. I wanted my mom to hear it, because I wasn’t convinced she was saved.

With the youth group team, I fervently prayed for her soul, that it would find Jesus, not only so she could go to heaven with me at the end of her life, but so she could find some peace and happiness in this life, too.

I knew she was in an unhappy marriage. I knew she was frustrated at work and life hadn’t worked out the way she had planned. She knew turmoil and loss I’d never had to know.

And I knew Jesus’ blood could save her. I knew a relationship with Him could make her better, even if it didn’t make her actual situation better. I knew this, because the people at church told me this was true, and I convinced myself it was true to my life and it could be for hers.

I wanted to save Mom, and that Easter Sunday, as I listened to the brutal lyrics and imitated Jesus’ pain to my congregation, I focused mostly on Mom. I did my best to meet her eyes as we pointed across the audience for the final “This blood is for you,” and I prayed she would feel the stirring in her heart and be moved to accept that blood sacrifice and find a new joy in life.

Nine years later, I don’t know what it means to be saved.

I thought it meant accepting the love and blood of Jesus, but what does it mean to accept a violent sacrifice? What does it mean to be made clean by the blood of the Lamb? Why would blood save us anyways? Why did God need to kill God’s own Son to save our sorry, sinful selves? What did this do?

So much violence and suffering, and for what? What does this sacrifice even mean anymore? What did it ever mean? How could it save me from myself, or my mom from herself, or us from ourselves?

What does it mean to be saved? Does it result in praying a rosary, or praying in tongues? Does it condemn people based on their race, sexuality, gender identity, and income, or does it welcome those at the bottom of the ladder? Does it save us from ourselves, or does it give us abstract words that comfort us enough to get us through each day?

These concepts I once accepted with joy are foreign, confusing, and even hostile to me now. They are disconnected from the world I live in, a reality in which Christians can claim to be washed in the blood of the lamb but do nothing on this earth to relieve their brothers and sisters in physical pain. They tell me to cast off my doubt and rebuke the enemy, but the enemy seems to have infiltrated their ranks and filled them with hatred, hostility, and division.

They tell me “Jesus Saves,” and I ask them, “From what?”