Questions My Anxious Self Asks Non-Anxious People

anxious

Agoramedia

What is it like to just relax and not worry that you’re forgetting some huge responsibility and therefore can’t allow yourself to fully enjoy your self-care time?

What is it like be like to hear someone’s story and not immediately use it as a yardstick against which to measure your own quality of life and well-being?

What is it like to understand right away that when someone asks you a question, they do so out of curiosity, not because they’re trying to trip you up or make you feel insecure in your lack of knowledge?

What is it like to hear someone critique you without feeling your complete sense of worth drain away from you?

What is it like to wake up from a weird dream and simply accept it as a dream and not as if it is said deep, terrible things about who you are and how your life is?

What is it like to make a mistake at work and not immediately assume you’re going to get fired because you’re useless and replaceable?

What is it like to look at your partner and just understand that they love you unconditionally instead of assuming they are so annoyed by you that they only reluctantly deal with your garbage?

What is it like to accept that you love this person more than life itself without second-guessing yourself anytime you notice someone attractive or see other people more “lovey-dovey” than the two of you are?

What is it like for your friends to do things without you and not assume they are leaving you out on purpose because they can’t stand you?

What is it like to have questions about life without becoming so fixated on them that you can’t see the world around you?

What is it like to have political conversations without either blowing up on those who disagree with you or shrinking into yourself because you don’t trust that your answers are good enough?

What is it like to be secure in who you are and confident that you are enough?

What is it like to not panic about the state of your bank account every time you hand over your debit card or hit “Complete Purchase” on a screen or pay a bill?

What is it like to not have to worry about when the anxiety is going to come back in ways that will crush you after months of peace?

What is it like to not have almost every single memory touched by anxiety’s constant presence?

What is life without anxiety like?

I still don’t know. I don’t know if I ever will.

So tell me: what’s it like?

Tremble

Deviantart

Immediately after reading that the AHCA passed the House, my shoulders shook as I held in my rage and sobs, because letting it out at my new workplace didn’t seem like the most appropriate place to vent my fear and frustration.

Days later, I read the Wisdom of Solomon for the first time in my life, and my heart shook within me at the power of those ancient words admonishing the righteous and praising the just. I read Jesus’ words uplifting the poor, weeping, and persecuted, and berating the rich, happy, and secure, and my voice shook while I spoke them out loud, the living room softly aglow with morning light my pulpit.

Sometimes, it causes me to tremble.

Ten years ago, my mom came into the stable at the end of a riding lesson, her normally calm eyes watering with tears and her usually steady body and voice shaking  with emotion. She managed to tell me my grandfather had been in an awful accident, and we needed to get to him and our family in Pennsylvania immediately.

There are mornings when my body shudders in fear, when the the power of my silent sobs forces my body into mild convulsions in the midst of panic attacks, as I physically and mentally fight my inner thoughts.

The ground in occupied Palestine, my family’s homeland, and in Syria, the first home of countless refugees, continues to tremble with bombs aimed at civilians, including mothers and children.

Tremble.

When my dad called me for the first time in 15 years, my fingers trembled so hard I worried I would accidentally hit “End Call” instead of “Answer Call.”

Almost 7 years ago, in a dorm kitchen, I prepared to tell a boy that I had a crush on him. When I looked up at him, I noticed his lips trembling slightly. Somehow, he knew what I was about to tell him, and it was moving him as much as me, if not more.

Five and a half years later, our hands trembled as he slid the engagement ring onto first my right ring finger, then after a laughter-filled correction, onto the left one.

Tremble.

Trembling comes in the midst of seismic shifts.

Earthquakes occur when plates shift and bump up against each other and try to move away. They change land masses and push once unmovable landmarks into new locations.

Our bodies shake with pain, anger, fear, joy, and excitement.

The earth quaked when Jesus breathed his last, and it shook to expose the empty tomb.

Were you there…

Earthquakes and resurrection. Tremors and new relationships. Quaking in fear and body-racking sobs. Movers and shakers.

Change comes, and it jostles and unsettles.

Brace yourselves.

 

Sometimes, People are Amazing

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Sometimes, people are amazing.

Sometimes, while driving through a rain storm, we roll the car windows down and put our hands out to catch the drops.

Sometimes, we stop what we’re doing to watch butterflies.

Sometimes, the kids clean up the room with little prompting after completing an activity, and they do it with gusto.

Sometimes, people write beautiful, thought-provoking, intelligent, biting, and necessary stories.

Sometimes, we call out hate crimes, at home and abroad. Sometimes, we hold a work meeting just to publicly apologize for the way they treated a co-worker.

Sometimes, we do fantastic things.

And other times, we don’t do the fantastic, awe-inspiring things.

Other times, we ignore the rain, and make big messes without cleaning them up, and destroy and censor beautiful works of art, and are behind the hate crimes, and degrade our co-workers without repentance.

We are human, after all. Sometimes, we remember that being human is sacred. Other times, we feel the weight of the burden it can be.

But we are still amazing in our capacity to do both, to do the wonderful and the awful, to be so complex that we are neither good nor bad, but simply human. There is nothing simple about being human, but there is always something sacred about it.

Maybe we are always amazing, even when we don’t act it.

Maybe.

Theater is Church

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Eastern Mennonite University Black Box Theater

I met my Dad halfway through my sophomore year of college. I remember hearing his voice on the phone for the first time in 15 years and thinking to myself, “He sounds just like he did on those old home videos.”

During those early phone calls, he told me about my siblings, my stepmom, her pregnancy with my then unborn brother, his upbringing as a Palestinian born and raised in Jordan, and about his life as an Arab American.

That same semester, my Theater professor assigned My Name is Rachel Corrie for my class and I to read, a one-woman play about the late activist who lost her life defending a Palestinian home in the Gaza strip from being bulldozed by the Israeli army.

This play brought me closer to my father and our shared roots, and it pushed me into an inner confrontation with American and international policy. It is a story I return to when my Dad tells me about the pain of displacement and when I continue to see the plight of Palestinians, who are my family by blood, ignored by American and international media.

*****

During the first semester of my senior year at college, I took a Basics of Acting class. For our final project, my fellow actors and I acted out scenes from a themed series called “University.”

At this point in my life, I was in the deep throes of my faith crisis. Day by day, my firm foundation revealed its unsteady nature. I kept hoping to find solid ground but continued to be met with sinking sand.

It was in this state of mind that I found out my professor had assigned me the role of a young college student who had just had an abortion and found herself in a confrontation with her one night stand about it.

I hated him for that.

And yet, it was this acting exercise that met me where I was in my crisis, in all of my uncertainty over my previous ideologies and biases, and pushed me into the mind and body of someone I had once deemed “other.” It was in the black box theater, as I worked on memorizing my character’s lines and getting into her skin, that I realized how to play with a story, discover the crazy nuances of human lives, and remember that when we talk about “issues,” we are always talking about divinely made human beings.

*****

My second year of seminary, I joined the cast and crew of Corpus Christi, a play depicting Jesus as a young gay man living and proclaiming the Gospel in Texas. I served as the dramaturg (a nice, fancy, theater word for the one who does lots of research) to prepare the cast and help them understand their roles as disciples, and I joined rather last minute as an actor to play the part of John the Baptist, in which I baptized (read: washed the hands of) all of our cast members.

Unfortunately, due to the “controversial” nature of the show, we had to shut it down.

That didn’t stop us from holding a final and open dress rehearsal to a packed house, though.

The powers that were also couldn’t stop us from sitting around during rehearsal time and trading laughter, tears, university cafe treats, and stories about how the Church had wounded the LGBTQ community.

The powers that were could never take from us the power this production had, in many ways, to save and heal the lives of the cast and crew, most of whom identify as LGBTQ+.

In this communal theater experiment, I found myself pushed into a story that was and wasn’t mine. I found myself in the supporting role, and as such, I learned to listen and be present instead of my more natural role of taking charge and stealing the spotlight. I confronted my own pain and the pain of others suffering in ways I cannot completely understand but with whom I can sit, stand, and live in love and camaraderie.

*****

Theater is not frivolous. It is not for the faint of heart or the narrow of mind, but it is for the experienced and inexperienced, the diva and the shy, the believer and the skeptic. Theater molds, shapes, and even break us in ways we spend a lifetime unpacking.

There are times when theater is the voice, body, and spirit of God when churches remain silent, paralyzed, and breathless. There are times when theater becomes the Church to the doubters, skeptics, LGBTQ+, people of color, and the oppressed when the churches all but slam the door in their faces.

 

Theater does this, because theater is story. It’s the stories with the immense power to make us confront our “others” and our own roots. It’s the stories which wake us up and wind us up. It’s the stories which comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the comfortable.

It was stories Jesus used to illustrate the finer points of his gospel message, through parables of seeds and soil, great banquets, feuding families, and pestering widows. It was theater Jesus employed when he caused a public and zealous disturbance in the temple. It was these stories that baffled the disciples and the religious elite but made sense to the ones who had lived them in some capacity.

And throughout all of those stories and theatrical displays was the call to remember we are God’s, and we belong to each other.

While many fear the “death of the Church,” I have no fear of this, because as long as theater and stories exist, and as long as we continue to tell the stories to each other without fear or shame, the Church will survive and thrive.

I’ve seen the theater be Church for me and for others, and it gives me hope that Church will outlive every congregation we ever make or attempt.

For the Literal Love of Christ, Stop Making Jesus White

 

Superstar

Ted Neeley in Jesus Christ Superstar

I was browsing Buzzfeed the other day when I found an article about the Mary Magdalene film starring Rooney Mara (as Mary) and Joaquin Phoenix (as Jesus).

To be honest, at first I thought it was great that a film about Mary Magdalene would be coming to theaters soon, especially because of the issues many in the Church might have with her story being portrayed well on screen (she wasn’t a prostitute?!).

Then I saw the casting, and I got frustrated at the fact that once again, two white actors are portraying religious and historical figures of color.

MaryMovie

Daily Mail

I quickly went to IMBD to check out the rest of the cast, and I discovered that black, Israeli, and Algerian actors will be playing Jesus’ disciples.

Which is…better than having them all be white, too, I suppose. At least this casting is a bit more accurate.

Starting from top left: Australian actor Ryan Corr as Joseph, Israeli actor Tawfeek Barhom as James, Matthew Moshonov as Matthew, British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter, and French actor Tahar Rahim

This being said, Hollywood is not off the hook. The fact that in most biblical films, Jesus is cast as a white man while the people of color are relegated to the supporting cast is a greater symptom of the American white savior complex.

 

The simplest way to define the white savior as an entertainment trope is a white character rescuing people of color from their plight. While many well-meaning people defend these characters as benign and even admirable (perhaps citing that they learn a lesson about themselves and “those people” and become “better” in the end), they are actually rather harmful.

The danger of the white savior mentality is that it enables the savior to look down on the ones they try to “save.” It allows the savior to say, “You are only worthy of my time, attention, and compassion as long as you are beneath me. Never equal to me, and definitely not above me.”

The white savior complex “racializes morality by making us consistently identify with the good white person saving the non-white people who are given much less of an identity in these plot lines. It also frames people of color as being unable to solve their own problems.”

This racialization of morality frames white people as the good guys, and the people of color as either the bad guys or the ones needing saved.

White savior mentality does not embolden people on the “receiving” end to take agency over their own lives.

One of the primary results of the white savior/one needing saved relationship is enmeshment, which can occur “in any relationship where there is a power imbalance due to structural inequality, and ensures that the power imbalance stays firmly in place, resulting in frustration and resentment for the oppressed group.” This ensures that the person or people being saved become fully dependent on their saviors to survive and thrive, while the saviors get a nice dose of purpose and goodwill from having saved someone. They are dependent on each other for the wrong reasons.

The white savior mentality does not allow people of color, or those being “rescued” or “saved,” to voice their own concerns or opinions about their own lives. Instead, the saved remain subservient to their saviors, who tell them to trust in the savior’s goodness and logic above their own needs.

This is prevalent in reality, as seen in the accusations of TV personalities and news anchors concerning black culture and black individuals. There seem to be zero forms of protest that a person of color can participate in which white leaders will not criticize. This is why Black Lives Matter can be deemed “the new KKK” with little to no mainstream backlash. It’s why any criticism about white supremacy and privilege is clapped back against with cries of “reverse racism” and accusations of “not letting the past be past.”

Feminists are not exempt from this.

Rafia Zakaria writes in Al Jazeera, “Nonwhites are expected to approbate and modify their own lives or positions to participate in this [white feminist] narrative. The parameters of this paradigm ignore differences in privilege that separate the white and nonwhite feminisms. White women dominate the mainstream American feminism because they can still draw on white privilege and occupy the entire category.”

If left ignored, women of color will continue to be ostracized by a movement which claims to seek liberation for all.

This is why, for the literal love of Jesus, we need to drop the white savior complex, from our media and from our lives.

Jesus regarded everyone with whom he interacted as inherently worthy of his love and attention. But white savior mentality does not acknowledge the inherent dignity within every human being as a child of God.

If we continue to call ourselves the Body of Christ on earth, yet continue to ignore our siblings’ cries for justice, then we are attempting to cast off our hands and feet, destroying the Body from the inside out.

We will also damage our testimony as Christ’s body on earth to those who are not in the Church.

A personal case in point: I have a Middle Eastern, Muslim father, but I did not grow up with him. I grew up with my white mother and white family, so I learned about Arabic culture from them and the media.

And they didn’t exactly paint the best picture. Especially post 9-11.

Post 9/11, I thought all Arabs were terrorists, because that’s all I saw in the news, in TV shows, and in movies. I thought they were oppressive to women and democracy and all the other things Americans claim to hold dear (but they really don’t).

I know how this affected me, and I know how it could affect my younger siblings, and the people with whom they interact, especially in an era of proposed “Muslim bans” and chants to “Build the Wall.”

I worry about representation because of what it will tell the world about my family.

So what do we, the white Americans wrestling with our white savior complexes, need to do?

A small way to break this oppressive cycle is to consume more media with better representations of people of color, in which they, not us, are the predominant actors, writers, producers, and directors.

Love comics? Check out Black Panther, Ms. Marvel, and America Chavez.

Looking for a new show to binge-watch on Netflix? Check out Luke Cage, The Get Down, or 3%.

Want a Redbox night? Rent Moonlight or Get Out.

If you don’t consume media with predominantly POC casts and production because you think it’s “too harsh” on white people, or you wonder why you’re not in the lead role like you’re used to, you might be feeling a trace of what black, Latinx, Arab, and other “minority” communities have felt for years.

We often have the audacity to ask, in a culture we dominate, “What about me?”

I asked that question as a four year old when I was dyeing Easter eggs with my cousins because I didn’t want to share the Easter egg dye with them. As a child, I acted like a child, as do we all. Now, it’s time to leave our childish ways behind.

Will watching and reading more stories in which people of color are the heroes and heroines change the world overnight?

Of course not.

It can, however, begin to change our mentality, break stereotypes, and empower people of color.

And for the literal love of Christ, we can do that much.

Church Runaways, Meet Marvel’s Runaways

Runaways

WordPress

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.