Church shopping

(I am posting from the app for the first time. If it turns out well, perhaps I will finally start blogging more…because NYC = so. much. blog fodder.)

So I am a few months into this adventure of finally being HOME. Every inch of my being is overjoyed to be home. Okay, slight lie-my knees and feet hate my guts, but they can deal.

One of the major things that made Grand Rapids never quite feel like “home” was the fact that I was so far left of the mainstream. And yet, I was-and am-still part of the Body of Christ.

(If you are reading this and are not a Christian, trust me when I say that the hardest thing about being a Christian is…other Christians. Particularly the variety that you have to apologize for and distance yourself from on a regular basis.)

I know that I need to find a new church. I need to put roots down, and it’s a natural way to rebuild some of the community that I’ve lost. And this is New York-I have choices.

While I despise the idea of going about the church hunt with such a consumer mentality, the fact is that I have certain criteria.

A focus on social justice is essential. A church full of pacifists would definitely be a plus.

Because I don’t want to be surrounded by people who are still arguing about this, and because I don’t want to have to be afraid of the reaction I will get when I utter the words, “My friend and his husband…”, I also hope to find a church that is “open and affirming” (translation: they don’t hate The Gays).

And then there’s the race thing. I want a church that honors diversity, but that also wrestles with the baggage of racism in a significant way. This may prove to be the most difficult challenge I will face in my search.

I don’t have a problem with an “all-black” church, but I also don’t know if I have the right to choose that solely for my own benefit.

The church I visited today was small-about sixty people in attendance. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. The congregation, however, was almost exclusively black, while the lead pastor (Priest? It was Episcopalian, another factor that did not win me over) was white. And blonde. And young. The choir director was white, and one of the other two pastor-type people (again, not my denomination,  v. confused) was white.

I am fully prepared for people to tell me that I am making too much of it, but the leadership, the “face” of a church, matters. I couldn’t very well walk up to the pastor on the way out, shake her hand, and ask,  “So how do you build accountability towards people of color into your ministry?”

I mean, I guess I *could*, but…

I have so many thoughts about church in black and white, about being diverse as opposed to being intentionally anti-racist. I know that I had something unique at Madison. But for a church here to become my church home, this needs to be a part of the equation.

Stay tuned…

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Overheard on Facebook – For Vivian

So the wondrously multi-talented pharmacist/hairdresser/opera singer/fighter for justice Becky Boyd has a section on her blog called “Best of Facebook“.

I like the concept, enough to steal the idea from her (which is probably prohibited in the “legal disclaimer” section…hmmm. Do I need one of those? Or does my header suffice?). There are times when a Facebook status update turns into a rant, but one that might be worth sharing, worth capturing.

This one seemed to resonate with people, and Vivian’s dad has actually encouraged me to share it far and wide, so in her honor, here it is.

A 17-year-old girl from my church took her own life this week. There are waves of heartbreak and grief in the wake of it; the pain is unfathomable.

Although I didn’t know her particularly well, this haunts me nonetheless.

From the age of 14 until almost 40, I was almost constantly suicidal, whether actively or passively.

If I had access to this thing we call the Internet at 17, I’m not sure that I would still be here. And I honestly don’t know how I made it through my late twenties.

But I am here. God spared my life.

I wish He had spared hers.

I wish I could tell her that it does get better, that at some point you will look at your life and be shocked to find that you are glad to be alive. That you will someday gain a new appreciation for the line in the story of Pierre that reads, “He rubbed his eyes and scratched his head/and laughed because he wasn’t dead”. This odd, giddy feeling that life is here and it’s horrible and wonderful all at once, but it’s here to be lived, and that you are still here to live it.

I wish that I could tell her that she was loved so much more than she could possibly comprehend, and that, no matter how she might have felt in any given moment, that there were people who could not – who cannot – imagine life without her.

On Tuesday, I flew to New York overnight for the sole purpose of seeing the Macy*s Christmas windows. I got to spend time with an old friend, walk until my feet ached, and take in the sights and sounds and smells of the city. It was a ridiculous, impulsive trip, and it made me ridiculously happy, albeit a few hundred dollars deeper in debt.

If I had died at 17, or even at 27, or 39, I wouldn’t have had this moment. I wouldn’t be able to feel the subversive pleasure of doing something you can’t really afford, just because life is here…just because you can.

If I had died at 29, there are a dozen or more children I never would have gotten to know. A million little moments – things Elijah or Donovan say that have me doubled over in laughter, the precious smiles and hugs from Jacylyn’s beautiful twins, sweet little Elias talking about “Aunt Rain”.

These are the little joys in life. They are sometimes few and far between, but if we look, we can find them. And somehow, in the spaces between those moments, we live, and we survive, and we remember that the bad times don’t last forever.

Life is not just hard; It’s brutal. It’s agonizingly long at times. It sucks to be the one who doesn’t get to die. Life is both a gift and a burden, and sometimes both at the same time.

I wish I could tell her all of these things, but I can’t anymore. So I’m sharing it here, because someone you know may need to hear these things. Maybe you yourself need to hear it.

The pain does subside. You are loved infinitely more than you can possibly fathom. You are here for a reason. Don’t ever doubt that.

Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes with the morning. And the morning does come.

Please, please, please, make sure you don’t miss it.

 

From the Xanga archives

I have 23 drafts in my queue. I hate that. So here come some random posts…
Friday, September 01, 2006

I’m lovin’ me some Steve Camp right now

even though I think this was written by someone else . . . larry norman?!

it was written in the 70’s, I think . . . it was relevant then . . . it was relevant in the 90’s, when Steve Camp recorded it . . . and sadly,  it’s still relevant today . . . the title of the song is “Great American Novel” . . .

We are far across the ocean in a war that’s not our own
And while we win theirs, we’re gonna lose the one at home
Do you really think the only way to bring about the peace
Is to sacrifice your children, and kill all your enemies?!

Far from poor, but never enough

I approached the gate agent and asked, “is there any chance…?” I had volunteered to be bumped from my flight, and all I could think about was a voucher…a voucher that would give me more opportunities to visit people I love. When she said, “I think we’re okay”, I am sure she was bewildered by the crestfallen look on my face.

(I’m embarrassed to say that I am sitting at the gate holding back tears as I write this. Trying to pull myself together. I am guessing that the tears are more about the good-byes in my life than about a travel voucher, but still…)

I first have to say that I know that I am nowhere near anything that could even resemble “poor”. I stopped using that word to describe myself a few years ago, instead replacing it with “broke”.

I am blessed. I have a job that, although it pays less than I would like, is enjoyable. I don’t dread going to work, which is perhaps as great a blessing as having a job to begin with. I have a nice car that runs well, even if I can ill afford it. I have a roof over my head and a washer and dryer in my apartment (those who have had to share laundry facilities or schlep to the  laundromat understand this!)

I have just enough. I can pay my bills, and I somehow manage to stay afloat even when I make bad spending choices.

I have more than most of the world. I need to remember this.

But I also have less than many people I know. I struggle more with the basics than some of my friends do.

A travel voucher could mean the difference between getting to see friends I love and having to rely on conversations via email and Facebook sound bytes to stay connected.

(On the plane now, crying again. Must not scare seatmate. Who is smaller than me, by the way, and not a talker. Another reason to be thankful.)

Some people’s lives are just easier. I am a traitor to my purported allegiance to Jesus when I say this, but it’s my reality. I hate what capitalism has done to me. I hate that I am so bound to “stuff”. I know that the love of money is the root of all evil…only I don’t love money-I hate it. Hate that it consumes so much of my time and energy. Hate the envy it invokes in me.

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?” ’Or I may become poor and steal,and so dishonor the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:8-9, NIV

But some people do not struggle this way. Some people are somehow not chronically under-employed. Some people’s parents help them pay for college, or are there to help them out in a pinch.

Some people start off with more and earn more and have more. Some people don’t need to put an $80 piece of luggage on a credit card, and don’t have to nervously count the days until their next paycheck.

And because I live in America, and have been shaped by the ridiculous values this country embraces, I am filled with envy, and I get tired of having to limit what I spend, of working two or more jobs, of struggling, always struggling, as I watch rent and car insurance and bills increase. Of drowning in student loan debt because for too many years I could not afford to pay enough to even touch the principal, and the interest just continues to snowball. Of watching a $2000 IRS balance refuse to budge because I am paying $200 a month in fees and interest, and I just do not have a way to access that amount of money all at once.

I am tired of having to limit my travel plans and to struggle to work out even the smallest excursion with other friends who are similarly struggling…or worse, to try to keep up with my friends who don’t have to worry about every penny they spend. The shame I feel-the comparisons-how is it that they have found financial success while I have not?

It doesn’t help that I was a lower-middle-class kid in an upper-middle-class high school, or that I was in honours classes with a number of extremely talented people. People I graduated with are AP photographers who attend the White House Christmas party, financial experts who are regularly interviewed on TV, and even people who are creating TV, attending awards ceremonies that I will only ever see from my couch. I have friends who never attended college, yet make three times what I make. It’s hard not to compare and to find myself lacking.

But I don’t necessarily aspire to any of that. When I play the lottery (or, as a friend puts it, “pay Stupid tax”), I don’t want the big winnings…I just want enough to get out of the hole I’m in, to be able to say that I can get back to zero. I just want to be able to not have to struggle so much. Mostly, I want to be able to travel to see friends who live too far away, and to have some confidence or certainty that I will  be able to move back to New York someday…

They say that if you can’t change your situation, you should work to change the way you view it. Problem is, I still have not figured out how to do that…

What if everything you’ve ever been told is wrong?

The churning I am experiencing means that everything I have to say will not fit neatly into a single blog entry. But let me start by saying this:

It’s not about what you think it’s about. Or rather, it’s not that simple. If nothing else, remember that. There is so much going on beneath the surface.

I have so much to say and it pains me so much to say it and it is going to take me a while. But let’s start with this phrase: “Implicit Bias”.

Got a minute? Take one of these tests. Or a few of them. Then ask yourself how you came to believe the things that you believe. The things that you don’t even *know* you believe.

This mess we’re in came from somewhere. We want to believe that we woke up one day with our enlightened, post-racial selves and that we are not carrying the baggage of our nation’s history. And why can’t people just get over it?
A poem by June Jordan, called “Jim Crow: The Sequel” is haunting me these days. It was written roughly in the Clinton era, and I think I came across it in an issue of Essence magazine. Here’s an excerpt:

But for two hundred years this crazy
land the law and the bullets behind the law
continued to affirm the gospel of
God-given White supremacy.
For two hundred years the law and the
bullets behind the law, and the money and
the politics behind the bullets behind the
law affirmed the gospel of
God-given White supremacy/
God-given male-White supremacy.

And neither the Emancipation Proclamation
nor the Civil War nor one constitutional
amendment after another nor one Civil Rights
legislation after another could bring about a
yielding of the followers of that gospel
to the beauty of our human face.

I know that the phrase “white supremacy” will upset some people, but please know that I am not talking about someone with a Klan hood in their closet. In fact, I am not talking about individuals at all. And I think that before I can go further, I will need to define a few things, will need to explain why I label myself a “recovering racist”. As disorganized as my rants may be, I would be so grateful if some of you would be willing to see through that and to join me as I continue to wrestle with these issues.