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.

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.

Fangirl Theology: Doctor Who, the Church, and my Messiah Complex

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eleventhtenth.deviantart.com/

Today, I am beginning a three-part series called Fangirl Theology. I will be presenting theological interpretations on three of my favorite “fangirl-worthy” works: Doctor Who, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Harry Potter.

I would like to dedicate this particular post to the memory of my stepdad, Robert Barnette, who passed away on October 28th. He was a big fan of Doctor Who, but I never got into it while he and my mom were together. As a result, we never got to talk about it in person when I did start enjoying it. This is for you, Rob. Rest in peace and rise in glory.

Also, an obvious spoiler warning for those who have not seen Doctor Who or those not caught up with the current season (Season Nine in the rebooted series).

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I love Doctor Who.

For those who have read some of my past posts, this is not a surprise.

Granted, the show took some getting used to. This was my first serious foray into the sci-fi territory, and when the reboot’s pilot involves killer mannequins, there’s an inevitable adjustment period for the not-yet-initiated.

But when I did get acclimated, I fell in love. I fell for the adventures, the timey-wimey explanations, certain companions, and the Doctor himself.

I will not digress by getting into debates about who my favorite incarnation of the Doctor is. That may be for another post at another time. I do, however, want to talk about a trait of the Doctor in each of his incarnations which I both love and fear: his Messiah-(and sometimes God-) complex.

Anytime the Doctor is on an adventure, on Earth or elsewhere in the universe, he tries to solve their problems. A famous tagline he uses in the most recent season is, “I’m the Doctor, and I save people!” And for the most part, the Doctor really does stay true to this statement. In one adventure, to save the life of a child who is “destined” to be the yearly sacrifice to an angry god, the Doctor offers up his own lifetime of memories to appease the being and save the girl. He makes himself show mercy to Davros, the creator of the murderous race of beings called the Daleks, because in doing so, he ensures that their creator instills the smallest piece of mercy in these killing machines. He saves many planets, including the Earth, from evil beings and averts many catastrophes. He bears a significant amount of the suffering of others and even takes things into his own hands when they are not his to take.

But he is a very dark Messiah. After losing a beloved companion, he almost lets an entire race of creatures go extinct for threatening humanity. He only stops when his new companion begs him to have mercy. He forces another companion to make a decision over whether or not to destroy the moon, which is in fact an egg protecting a creature and about to hatch, instead of helping her with the decision. When she realizes how close she was to making the “wrong” choice, she cuts the Doctor out of her life in rage. He is most dangerous when he is alone, because in these instances, he refuses to be ruled by any higher authority or different voice of reason, because he believes he is the highest authority and the law of the land.

Attributes like this led showrunner Steven Moffat to describe the Doctor as “an angel trying to be human.” And in the most recent season, he was someone who wondered whether or not he is a “good man.”

I relate so well to this character, because I am a human trying to be God, someone wondering not if the world is “good” but if it’s OK.

I wake up some mornings with great hope in humanity and the world around me. On those days, nothing gives me greater joy than to relish in humanity’s achievements and wonder how I can participate in making a beautiful world with them.

Other mornings, I wake up wishing the world would just burn already, and I ask if I can have the match to get the fire going.

I want to take the world in my hands and mold it gently, and I want to take it in my hands and smash it.

In other words, I have a strong Messiah-complex. I think I have the answers to all the world’s problems, and I think if people just did what I thought was right, our problems would disappear. When people don’t do what I want, I become angry and vengeful, wondering why we can’t start over with better people or a better world.

And I’m sure I’m not the only person in the world, especially during election season, who feels this way.

I am also a member of the Church, where I am taught we have a gracious, merciful Messiah who will one day usher in a new age of peace when he returns to us. Because this Messiah is the centerpiece of our theology, you would think the Church would be the place where we’re told our Messiah complexes are hilarious at best and damaging at worst. We are supposed to be taught we are not the be all and end all of this Creation, but Someone greater than us is in charge. We are called to do what we can, but we are not called to be Creation’s saviors. This mission, according to the stories in our Bibles, belongs to someone else.

Suffice it to say, I have often felt my Messiah complex encouraged, nurtured, and at times even exploited in Church. Church is the body of people I aim to please the most with my gifts, but not always in a good way. Church has often been where I strive to prove myself by signing up for as many things as possible, and it is a rare day when someone stops me. I sign up for leadership roles and mission events to prove I am worth belonging to these people. I have continued leading in places I should have left, for the sake of my health and even the congregation’s health, but I feared my loss of status in the community.

After all, if I was not a leader, I had no purpose. If I was not leading a mission project which actively “helped” or “saved” others, I was not doing enough work for God or my community, and they would disapprove of me. I also did not trust that anyone could do my job as well as I could, and I put myself at odds with people in my communities at times over how things should be done. If it wasn’t my way, it couldn’t possibly be right.

I have also felt this Messiah-complex encouraged in the labeling of enemies. Either explicitly or implicitly, groups of people, even (and sometimes especially) communities of faith, establish “insiders” and “outsiders,” those who are “us” and those who are “other.” When we do this, we allow ourselves to think we can determine the boundaries to God’s presence. This can enable us to think we, not God, are the keepers of the gates of heaven. It’s a difficult trait to combat, yet how often do we see our leaders calling this out in us?

When my Messiah-complex is left unchecked, I throw myself into ministry work the way the Doctor throws himself into cataclysmic predicaments, without regard to my own sanity or the capability of others to do this work well. I do things no one else will do the way the Doctor does things for humans they could never, and maybe should never, do for themselves. It’s like we both have a voice inside us screaming at all times, “Everything will be lost forever unless YOU, and YOU ALONE, do something.”

It’s always up to us. Not someone else. Not life, death, or resurrection. Not even God. It always has to be us, and we keep throwing ourselves into these situations until we are burned out and need a regeneration.

So, how do you heal a Messiah-complex?

I find healing the same way the Doctor has: I keep surrounding myself with people who drag me out of my own dreams of “how things should be”and plant me firmly back into the world of “how things are.”

Like the Doctor, I have companions who love me when I am at my most human and when I try to be better than God. I have companions who tell me when I’ve gone too far and when I need to let things go and be as they are. These people are my saving graces and help me realize that even if I am not always a “good person” and the world around me is not always “good,” I have the promise of love to keeping me going and learning through each new adventure. Together, the Doctor and I are learning, in a slow yet undeniable way, that we cannot be God to humanity or even to ourselves, and this is OK.

Like the Doctor, we find healing from our Messiah-complexes by finding and maintaining friends, communities, and even ministries and vocations which empower us to do all we can while reminding us we are not God. We need the Church to point us to Jesus, the Messiah full of grace and mercy, and remind us we are not called to be the world’s Saviors but imitators of the One who saved us and continues to save us.

Like the Doctor, we can help people. We can be kind and present even when all else is lost, and every now and then, we might save the day.

But like the Doctor, we are not God.

With the Doctor, we learn to accept our own limitations, our own humanity, and our divine spark. With the Doctor, we learn how to invite life, death, and resurrection into the world without controlling the final results.

We can do this without being God or Jesus, and like the Doctor, we can become all the better for it.

The Struggle (with Denominations) is Real.

churchhttp://www.aumethodists.org

I work for two different churches. One is part-time work with an Episcopal church, which I also attend, in which I provide Sunday School education and overall formation for high school students. The second is part-time work with a two-point Methodist charge as a secretary. Within this past week, two people, one from each of those groups, asked me a simple enough question:

“Are you seeking ordination, and if so, will you choose our denomination?”

They are people who represent traditions and communities which I admire and respect. But when they asked me to join, I got nervous.

I can provide a rather solid “Yes” to the first part of the  question, but I am still very indecisive as to what my answer is for the second part.

I do want to pastor and lead people in the Body of Christ, to teach them about God’s love for them and the call to love others in the same way. I want to guide people through the deep questions that the biblical text provokes and worship with a community who lives into the dream of God’s Kingdom.

But I am afraid to pick a denomination in which to live this out.

I am afraid of what I will lose if I choose a tribe. I fear I will lose the freedom to ask questions or to admit that I don’t know all the answers. I dread becoming a pastor of whom certain, orthodox answers are demanded when I would rather be with people in every aspect of their spiritual journeys, especially the times of uncertainty. I don’t want to be a part of countless committees that spend a ton of time getting next to nothing done when I could be leading people through prayer that empowers them to do God’s work of justice and mercy.

But mostly, I worry that by signing my allegiance over to a certain denominational doctrine, I will break the covenant to love my neighbors.

I fear whether my loved ones who have been ostracized by the church due to their sexuality, questions, race, or other traits will be fully welcomed by a congregation within certain denominations. While almost every congregation claims to be “welcoming,” it is a rare day when those same communities will go out of their way to find and welcome these people who are too scared and skeptical to enter the doors. I am not content putting “All are welcome” on a church sign. I want the act of being a “welcoming congregation” to be a daily, embodied reality, and I do not see that happening in many denominations due to their strong desire to cling to doctrines which leave out whole groups of people.

I want to be part of a living body, not a dying institution.

I’ve seen life in certain congregations within denominations. I see signs of God’s love and action in the Episcopal church I attend, where I sing in their choir and educate their teens, where people welcome with open arms, worship as a community, and donate to their food pantry. I see God’s feet on the move in the Methodist charge for which I work in their community service and strong local connections.

I love the congregations, but I do not trust the denominations. Congregations can be places of life, but I have also seen denominational standards suck them dry. How can anyone change when the ones in charge insist on doing things a certain way all the time?

I feel the Spirit stirring in me, telling me something new, beautiful, and challenging is on the horizon. I desire to branch out on my own path, to be with people who have long been uninterested in or disillusioned by the church as it is. I want to continue journeying with the nones and dones, doubters, agnostics, atheists, thespians, musicians, fangirls and fanboys, those with less-than-ideal life stories, and folks from all over the political and denominational spectrum. I want us to start something together, because it is in these people that I see the kingdom of God coming to even deeper fruition.

I want to follow this call, but how? By going against the denominational grain and stepping outside of orthodox lines? Or by submitting to the powers that be and negotiating change from within? By risking it all on something new, or settling into something familiar and secure?

I know there is life in both of my congregational contexts, and all of these signs are beautiful and life-giving. They do not always match my dream of what I want the Church to look like, but important work is happening in these places and through these people. I want to continue to honor them and their work.

So do I do this by becoming ordained within a denomination, or stepping out and making my own path with the disenfranchised along the way?

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.

Movie

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?”

HP

moviemansguide.com

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.

If My Anxiety Made a To-Do List

ToDoList

jokideo.com

I like and despise To-Do lists. I like them, because I feel all accomplished and put together like a real adult should when I check lots of things off of them. I despise them, because I often forget most of the things on them or find new things to add, which makes me feel less accomplished, less put together, and less “adult.”

And then I wondered what my “anxious self’s” To-Do list would look like, because I wonder if part of the reason my own To-Do list seems so long and overwhelming is due to her inserting extra things in there for me to do. If the anxiety in me actually wrote out my To-Do list, I think it would look a little bit like this:

  • Wake up.
  • Think about whether or not you’re dreading anything.
    • If you find nothing to dread, start dreading something ASAP.
    • If you remember what you’re supposed to dread, begin dreading immediately. It will be the thought that constantly pops in and out of your head today.
  • Get out of bed.
  • Prepare breakfast.
    • If you’re having cereal, fret about all the sugar and carbs you’re consuming, which will one day inevitably manifest into diabetes.
    • If you’re having something more nutritious and full of protein, like eggs, mope about the fact that you’re being healthier when you could be having sugar.
  • Go on the internet while you eat. Why just fill up on calories when you could also fill up on comparisons with people on Facebook and news clips you missed last night?
    • Facebook comparisons: Immediately freak out over how put together the lives of all your friends from college are. How could it possibly be that you graduated with these people, and they are already so much better than you?
    • News clips: Begin bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders. Reflect on how you haven’t used your power and privilege to make things better for others. Think about how you haven’t written to your government representatives to remind them to look out for their people. This is obviously all on you, so why aren’t you doing anything?
  • Close the computer and put your dishes away.
  • Get dressed.
  • Triple check your backpack and lunch bag to make sure you’re not forgetting anything. Forgetting things makes you look like an idiot in front of everyone, and they don’t like you when that happens.
  • Get in the car and drive to school.
    • Ponder how harshly people would judge your music choices as you switch through the radio channels.
  • Arrive at seminary and pray you’ll either have no questions to ask, or at least pray that someone will listen to them.
  • Attend chapel.
    • Be inspired if no one uses any “churchy” language that triggers you.
    • Be pissed off and distant if someone does, because they meant it as an attack on you and your faith journey.
  • Eat lunch.
    • If there’s easy going conversation about common interests, relax and enjoy! I’ll cut you a break for that!
    • If the conversation veers into politics and theology, begin sweating and looking for possible escape routes. By no means should you share your opinion if it completely clashes with the group or the dominating voice.
  • Begin classes.
    • Wallow in your own sense of stupidity when you translate Hebrew as a class and you realize one or two words you swore you translated right are incorrect. Even though this has no effect on your grade whatsoever, freak out about how badly you’re going to fail this class as a result.
    • Mentally smack your head against the desk repeatedly when you discuss issues facing the church with others, because when they share their opinions, you are obviously being singled out and attacked for having a more postmodern point of view, and your questions, doubts, and struggles obviously mean nothing. Remember that no one is here for you and no one understands you.
  • Drive home pondering these thoughts and more. Your energy is OK, but it’s starting to fade, so be disappointed in yourself for not always being “high.”
  • Have a quick snuggle with the kitties. You’ve neglected them all day, you mean mama.
  • Take a quick nap, no more than 20 minutes.
    • Actually, you know what? Make it 45 minutes or even an hour. Then freak out about how much time you wasted.
  • Have dinner.
    • If you want to freak out extra, have another bowl of cereal and once again freak out over how unhealthy you’re being.
    • If you want to be good, actually cook something but spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what you should make.
  • Start your homework.
    • Get jittery from the pent up energy and take breaks to jam to your Spotify playlist every time you read a sentence in a book or translate a word for Hebrew.
    • Or have a complete energy crash and take the same amount of breaks but watching Daily Show clips instead, because you need more political stimulation (You only thought we were watching it for the giggles).
  • Chat with your beau Bryce.
    • Talk about his day when you really want to go on and on about every little freak out you had instead.
    • When you inevitably take over the conversation, start beating yourself up for not being a better listener. This will help you become a better listener and better girlfriend overall.
  • If you think about them before 9:00, do your kettle bell swings, or make excuses for why you don’t need to do them despite freaking out about health on a regular basis.
  • If you think about them after 9:00, think about how disappointed your PT boyfriend will be in you but continue to do nothing about it.
  • Take a shower and ponder all the things you’ve already pondered today.
  • Get dressed in comfy clothes and read for a bit before finally going to sleep.
  • Finally, if you’re calm, try to make yourself stay that way. If anything, you’ll still find something to dread in the morning.
    • If you’re not calm, just remember that you can try all you want to get the thoughts out of your head, but they will still be there in the morning.

See you tomorrow!

Sincerely,

Your Anxious-Self-Who-Finds-This-Signature-To-Be-So-Cheesy-That-You-Will-Inevitably-Be-Judged-By-All-Who-Read-This

A Psalm by a Postmodern-Millennial-None

Augustine

St. Augustine, because this is a confession. Get it?

I couldn’t decide which label to use for this psalm, so I applied ALL the labels.

Also, this is me speaking for myself, not ALL millennials, postmodernists, or “nones.”

I am frustrated.

I am frustrated with being seen as a brat kid who wants everything, including Church, to be “my way,” when I challenge how things are done. Perhaps even more frustrating than asking the questions is having them met with scripted, empty answers.

Not only am I frustrated with asking too many questions; I’m frustrated that I seem to be the only one asking them. I can’t be the only one who wonders if there’s an alternative to substitutionary atonement in regards to the meaning of the crucifixion. I can’t be the only one thinking about racism and white privilege, but it often feels that way when I’m greeted with defensiveness when I bring it up. 

In the atmosphere that surrounds me, in the articles and books I read for classes, in the words and lack thereof of the people around me, it seems like I’m mostly alone in this. 

I feel lonely, even when surrounded by others, like the last person awake at the slumber party wanting to fall asleep so she feels a little less awkward.

So I’ll actually ask something of the Church, and of God. Again.

To the Church, to the schools which educate us, to the families who raised us and the communities who surround us:

Please. Listen.

Let me and others challenge and doubt without feeling the need to give me an arbirtrary answer to fill in the awkward void.

Let me claim my own voice without assuming I want nothing to do with community. Let the voiceless claim their voices, those who are silenced for their race, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion, or because of the violence done against them. Don’t call us entitled brats when we do so. Instead, listen humbly and welcome us in, and repent of the times you stuck your fingers in your ears and closed your eyes when you could have acknowledged the divine image and voice within us.

Stop slamming individualism for taking people away from community and structure, when it has been responsible for people finally finding real community instead of the shallow unity (or conformity) you think community is.

Be willing to deconstruct and break down what makes your worldview. Be willing to hear the perspective of another who is unlike you in as many ways as possible. Yes, it will be uncomfortable and challenging and scary, but it might deepen your faith and understanding, and it might make you realize how certain ways of living are very damaging to those already marginalized.

Let’s stop focusing on “bad theology” as only bad belief, whatever that even means. Instead, focus on how bad theology is more often than not bad practice.

I’m not only frustrated though. I’m still hopeful.

Oftentimes, I find this hope in the Church. There have been people who have sat with me and my questions. Some have debated with me and challenged me with their own insights without discounting my own. Some have held my fear and pain and helped me work through the tangles. Contrary to popular belief about postmodernists/nones/millennials, I find hope in the Church’s rituals, especially communion, in which we come together as God called us around the Table, where differences aren’t washed away in the name of conformity, but instead are welcomed to the meal.

But I also find a lot of hope outside of the Church, in the places I’m often told aren’t considered “holy enough,” because they aren’t in a church building or aren’t called “Christian” events. I’ve found amazing sacred space in the theater, in the smells of paint and the sounds of reading lines and loud laughter, and especially the time I sat with a group of predominantly LGBTQ people as we shared stories of how we’d been hurt by the people who claimed to love us and love God. I’ve found sacred space in Fort Lauderdale, FL with my Dad, stepmom, and siblings, all of whom are Muslim, as we talked theology, made flavorful Arabic dishes, and (in the case of me and my sisters) fangirled over Sherlock.

I’ve seen the sacred spaces, the holy ground present wherever two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, and in some of those spaces, Christ’s name isn’t even mentioned.

But I believe his name doesn’t need to be invoked for him to be there. I believe the power of our own presence with each other demonstrates God’s constant presence with us. 

So while there are days in which I am frustrated, there is an even more stubborn hope deep within me which says it will be worth it. And if it was worth it to those who have struggled before me, who faced silencing and oppression and violence of which I could never dream yet pushed forward and shouted all the more from the mountaintops, then I will keep moving forward.