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.

Resurrection in the Prayer Labyrinth

Image

http://www.emu.edu/year1/faith

There’s a song by Casting Crowns that resonates so deeply with me called “The Altar and the Door.” Growing up in my Pentecostal church, I simply understood God’s grace and love. In those days, on the surface at least, I was so certain that no matter how many times I had to go to the altar, I could leave with confidence out those doors that I was turning a new leaf. This song kind of challenged those preconceived ideas about forgiveness and resurrection, but it still slightly reinforced my idea of God’s love. Now it hits me in the gut more than ever is because I actually understand the narrator’s doubts about his own merit, motives, and strengths. Now, I feel like I’m waiting at the door to go to the altar, but I’m too afraid to go in. Why? Because I know that before I know it, I’ll have to go through this whole process again, more times than I’m willing to admit. You could say I finally understand the song now.

Repetition can be really annoying, especially when it’s concerning my flaws, insecurities, and, dare I say it, sin.

Which brings me to seminary.

On the second day of seminary orientation, we were invited to walk a prayer labyrinth. They made it very clear that it wasn’t a maze, lest we be worried that in the midst of our prayerful walking we had to worry about getting lost. Honestly, though, I think a crazy maze would have been more realistic, as I find myself too frustrated to be prayerful in the every day because I’m staring at a tall hedge, wondering how to find my way out of the dead end and chastising myself over my poor direction skills.

I was the fourth person in my group to start walking the labyrinth, so there were three other people ahead of me on their journey that I had to be conscious of and make room for. There were some paths that were very short and had quick turns, and there were a few longer paths. After a while, I took off my flip flops so I could feel the hard, cool stones and damp grass under my feet. I remembered how as a child at my grandparents’ farm, I used to run around barefoot all the time. Whether it was rain or shine, through freshly mown lawns or cow-pie covered fields, over soothing grass or jagged rocks that ripped my little feet to shreds, the ground of my youth was too holy for sneakers. I hadn’t realized how much I had missed those more innocent days until I removed my shoes on this holy ground.

As I was walking, I reflected on what had brought me to seminary, my life thus far, where I was now in my faith. However, as I drew closer and closer to the center, where I could stand and reflect with God about the journey and enjoy a spectacular view of the Blue Ride mountains, I started to get worried about reaching the final destination. When I finally reached the entrance to the center, I hesitated. I realized that I was scared to enter the center of the labyrinth. Because suddenly it hit me: I’m going to be back here again.

I’ve returned to the altar so many times. I’ll return to that center of the labyrinth just as many times if not more so. And honestly, I’m kind of sick of it. And to be even more honest, I am sick of myself.

I’m sick of always finding myself back in this spot. I’m sick of having to confess that, once again, I’ve failed expectations, that I’ve failed in general, that I’ve let people down and disappointed them. In short, I absolutely hate admitting failure and defeat. I’m sick of admitting that I’ve been acting as human as Peter in his denial and as proud as the sons of Zebedee when they asked if they could be the greatest. I hate having to ask for mercy from Someone who has already seen me this way innumerable times, and the human that I am is only thinking of the times I have left until This One’s patience reaches its limit with me.

Because honestly, I just don’t get it.

How can God keep taking me back? Why does God keep loving me this way? What good does God see in taking me back and giving me the chance to start the day anew? Why does God still have that much hope in me?

On good days, I get it. On good days, when my hope for the world and my spirits for the day are at new heights, God’s grace is immeasurable. It only makes sense to me on those days. On bad days, I just don’t get it. On bad days, I’ve taken God’s place on the throne to issue judgment on the world and myself, because I think God is too damn exhausted with me to deal with my problems at the moment.

Because to be honest, resurrection doesn’t make any sense to me. Resurrection, for the longest time, was a one-time thing. You got saved, and while you stumbled every now and then, things were overall supposed to go pretty well for you. Now, resurrection is a long, exhausting, tedious process, and I honestly don’t see how God can keep throwing the second chances my way for much longer.

I don’t trust God. I don’t trust God to keep loving me, to keep giving me chances, to stick by me through my best or my worst. I don’t trust that my best will be good enough for God, and I definitely don’t trust God to love me at my worst, because my own shortcomings make me cringe. And if I can’t trust God in these ways, how can I trust others? If I can’t trust the Love within me, how can I trust the Love outside of me and throughout the world to not reject me?

Maybe that’s why I like the Psalms and the books of the prophets. They get this fear of a God who gets frustrated with them to the point of packing his bags and leaving us to our own destruction. And they’re a lot more honest and upfront about it than I usually am. But they also, like me, have this flicker of undying hope that maybe, just maybe, this God loves them enough to return and restore them, to give them another chance, to stay by their side in the midst of chaos.

Maybe God really does get that we’re human, that we mess up, that it’s not always OK, but still gives us the grace to die and live again, to be forgiven. Maybe God wants to open the door to forgiveness for us when we insist on locking ourselves inside and have even thrown away the key to our freedom. Maybe God really hates us stewing in the prison of our lack of forgiveness, for ourselves and the world around us, and for some reason wants nothing more than to let us out of it so we can truly live in love.

I still don’t get resurrection. I still am kicking myself for all the returns I’ll have to make to the altar, or the center of the labyrinth, in the future. But I have a few glimmers of hope.

I know that worry will consume me and doubts will plague me. I know that impatience, injustice, anger, and hate will get the better of me. I know I’ll have to come right back to the center, where the God of Love still stands for some crazy reason, and die to it all again.

But then again, joy will overtake me. Love will always be in my midst. Community will support me. Growth will come. Discernment will take place. And maybe, instead of always coming back to lay down all the pain again, maybe I’ll come back and thank God for the fruit of resurrection in my life.

I eventually walked into the center of the labyrinth with some of my peers, my fellow companions on this journey of faith. Some stared into the beauty of the horizon. Some bowed to their knees. Some wiped away tears. I stood there and got a bit snippy with God about all this resurrection stuff, and finally I left in the hope that even though I still don’t understand resurrection or God’s love and grace completely, I can still look forward to coming back to the center of God’s Love, even when I have my doubts that God will still be there.

Every day, I have a choice. With every breath, I have a chance for redemption. For some reason, deep in my bones, I know this.

But I still don’t get it. Not at all.