In my community, we know only one truth: we need each other
By Abigail Taylor
A few weeks ago, I was invited to what I guess you’d call a “dress rehearsal” for a new church in Hickory. I had promised my friend two months prior that I would attend, so I had to keep my word, though I considered purposely food poisoning myself to get out of it. I joined about 15 other people who had been privately invited to attend this “Health and Wellness experience” and to fill out a survey at the end. The entire thing made me squirm. It felt so forced, so…churchy. The leader was this guy who I think decided he could just memorize some Bible verses, gather some followers, and teach them about God and personal health, while not actually being an ordained minister OR an expert in health in any way. And I thought to myself, “Oh, I’m going to crack this case wide open.” I was going to write a dramatic exposé and gallantly warn everyone about this quack of a preacher. But I knew it would reek of my own personal bitterness toward church.
I have all the trappings of a “millennial progressive Christian” that grew up in the early 2000s. I’ve got the cross tattoos on my wrists, a library of indie worship song chords for the ukulele, and the Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack on vinyl, non-ironically. If I had had an Instagram account in the thick of my Christendom, you bet I’d have shots of my nightly devotional all over that thing and in tasty Valencia. #blessed. As a church-goer of many years, with a severely conflicted relationship with the Divine, I know a thing or two about church. I’m officially a member at a Methodist church in Hickory where I grew up, though I’m only there on holidays and in the rare case I haven’t partied too hard the night before with my heathen friends.
Hickory is a city with a confusing road-naming system, so churches are used as the major landmarks. There’s one road in particular that has three churches literally within a stone’s throw of each other, all Lutheran, and all similarly named, which means two of them broke off from the first at some point, and wanted to be cute about it. The addition of churches to Hickory never ceases, nor do the possibilities of church buildings ever run out. We got ‘em in high school gyms, we got ‘em in the movie theater; you may get lost in Hickory on a Sunday because of the stupid road names, but you never have to worry about not finding a church, and they will have free coffee, and will gladly help you get where you’re going. (If it’s on the way to heaven, wink wink.)
A church is just a community with common beliefs. When I was regularly attending, I certainly enjoyed aspects of it. It was life-giving to be present with other people who are also searching for a meaning beyond ourselves. It gave me a taste of what true community is, and how much I need it. But so often, a church becomes a social club, whether they wanted to become that way or not. Sunday school classes break up because some over-enthusiastic people with new ideas and new questions come in and mess up the chill that’s been set in place. A church culture is established and a language, and they refuse to be changed. Then no new ideas have any space to thrive. Tradition is chosen over authenticity. But that’s human nature. We find what’s comfortable and we stick to it.
That’s what is so backwards about the narrative of this guy Jesus. He stood for something supernatural, against a need to hold on to comfort. It’s not comfortable to change the way you do things to include someone else who isn’t like you. It’s not comfortable to speak the truth when people don’t want to hear it. It’s not comfortable to sit next to a recovering addict when you may not have anything to talk with them about.
My people tend to be non-religious, creative, weird, deep-thinking, questioning, authenticity-seeking people, who don’t fit into a church culture, who don’t understand that language, who couldn’t care less if it’s God, Godess, or Universe, as long as people are kind to one another. That’s what my generation looks like. What a lot of us have in common, whether we have some sort of belief system or not, is: we want to be loved as we are. As Jesus apparently made promises about in Matthew 11:28-30.
My spiritual experiences as a kid were positive. So naturally, my connection to the narrative of Jesus — God as a human, enduring human pain, hanging out with weirdos and oppressed people and people with messy lives, and saving his anger for the pious — will always be something I hold onto. It’s in my makeup as a person, and it’s how I understand the world around me. But. I’m okay with the possibility of not being right about any of it. It’s like we are Waiting for Godot…discussing whether Godot is really coming or even real at all. I think that’s scary for some people to admit; because if they begin questioning, they might become one of the outcasts.
In my community, we know only one truth: we need each other. So that means we need peace. And to care for our environment. And to listen to each other. All else will make itself known in time. Or…maybe it won’t. We have no way of knowing what God looks like, and if She, He, or It wants us to have a particular type of flowers on the alter at Easter, placed a certain way, in our multimillion dollar sanctuary, or a sanctuary at all. Maybe a basement will do. Or a yard. Or a bar. Does It/She/He care about anything else as long as we are good to each other?
To the freaks and weirdos and questioners and doubters, I want to wish you a Happy Easter, as it is a part of me. It’s a story that symbolizes self-sacrifice, rebellion, unconditional love. Now, please share your story with me.
© The Lenoir Voice, 2016
On Twitter: @lenoirvoice