changes, a story, a thanks, and a plea

It appears I’ve changed my blog. I had to do it on a whim last night – it was like a moment I remember having once or twice as a kid. I knew I’d been growing out of a bedroom my parents had helped me decorate a few years before, but one day I walked in and felt downright uncomfortable there. And now I’ve gone and upended my “theme” like I used to do the furniture until I could beg for new paint.

I’ve been waiting all summer to do this. Not to put an awkward, plain, buggy skin on my blog, but to actually redesign it and rename it and re-envision it. But the blog as it has been – [to be honest] – represents a journey whose end I need to mark, for lots of reasons, and I haven’t known how. There is a story I need to tell, and people I need to acknowledge, some observations to make, a final confession or two to confess. I’m somehow a bit afraid of trying to do these things.

The story, like the title of this blog, is both highly dramatic and quite mundane, as stories that span two years and a lifetime are apt to be. It is a story that begins with me typing out words here that I was literally, physically unable to say out loud two and a half years ago. I was gagged by my own self-defense mechanisms, my own fear, my own pride; refusing to let others see my feelings lest I become vulnerable; refusing to ask for help lest I incur a debt. I sat down and began to type here as I emerged from a deep, deep depression, out of some intuition that it would return and that I would have to learn those skills – or succumb again to the airless despair of waking up and knowing your joy has been stolen again today. Perhaps to a worse despair.

I overcame my fears by thrashing about in spite of them for the next two years. It was brave and it was beautiful. There should be a montage, like a real film montage with inspiring music. Cue Sara Bareilleis, “Brave”. Cut to me moving to Syracuse and tumbling the whole story (of my life and breakups and depression and resolutions to stab at honesty, all of it) at everyone I meet – my new housemates in a solemn circle, my new boss and his squirmy toddler off to the side; weeks later at my soon-to-be-boyfriend on our accidental first date, over eggs in my kitchen. Man, can that boy listen.

Sudden flashback: bizarre moment of triumph as I watch myself yelling at a priest I barely know, because I have been treated so badly, and does she even understand that? She is stern and then she is crying from behind that collar, and yes, she does. Some of my anger that day is slightly misinformed, but I will always be absurdly proud of that girl, everything she has on the table, showing her hand.

Recurring, more recent scenes of raising my hand in class to speak my mind through dry mouth and racing heart. This is the part of the show where I realize I haven’t actually learned anything at all about being honest until I can say what’s important to me, even when I’m absolutely certain other people will think I am stupid or silly or out-of-touch or childish or Evangelical for it. Layers of pride I never knew I had, stripping away like this blurted-truth-telling was some kind of paint thinner peeling back the easier, shinier jargon and theories comforting and smothering academia.

Unfunny outtakes, because what is funny (years later) about growing up is that you can make a lot of progress – for you – but learning something new still means you are a tiny clueless baby at whatever it is you’re learning. There is the time I “express my (very important) opinion” by repeatedly shaming a best friend for following the blue Google-Maps dot through the city instead of Getting Lost In Analog Life With Me – and only later bother to care that maps are approximately his favorite thing in the world. Sorry, brother. I forgot that “finding my voice” didn’t necessitate shouting others down.

Moments of clarity – the music begins to lift and resolve – when people stop me on a couple of occasions, near the end of the school year, to tell me how much they admire my honesty in class, how much they wish they could say what they are thinking and contradict important people like I do. The greatest heroism of the whole epic is that I do not laugh in their faces for calling me “brave” when I’ve only choked back completely outsized fears to say something unprofound that probably made people mad at me. I don’t know how to respond, but I just tell people that I feel like I have to do it sometimes, to be true to my convictions. And in saying this, I suddenly realize: I have become an honest person.

Of course this isn’t the end of the journey, but a chapter with a certain emphasis has definitely come to a close at some point this year. This blog has been a layer in that story at every step, and everyone who’s read it has joined the adventure. You have all made me more a writer, more a truth-teller, more a person with every What-Have-I-DONE “publish”-clicking moment. If you are like most blog readers  me, you read lots of blogs and find it suspicious when writers tell you how important you are to them. But if you are a writer, you also know that we do it all for the attention and then claim to do it for our sanity – but only because it’s sliiiiiightly easier to get attention this way than by going insane. Thank you for paying attention to me. Thank you for commenting or retweeting or emailing if these words have ever mattered to you.

Some continuing observations and confessions are coming soon, but they will be part of some transitional things. I want to have a real big overhaul done here by the time school starts (HAhahahahaha) for real this is very serious.
Some blog spoilers:
* shiny design things I cobble together while constantly wishing I could use crayons!
* more photos with my brand-new smartphone!
* I subject you to my overwrought fears about owning a smartphone!
* recipes!
* decorating!
* seriousness optional!

Some life spoilers:
* I move into a new apartment, completing my sixth address change in two years
* I find with a sinking sensation that the next chapter will be decidedly less exhilarating, consisting of life lessons in humility which is mostly code for episodes of minor confusion and failure
* Hopefully some of these failures involve crafts so I can take pictures and we can laugh
* I discover a quieter triumph, in learning to hope for change without hoping that everyone becomes like me.

—-

[Does anyone have a clever title they’d let me lift, for a retooled little blog by a seminary student who mostly just likes cooking and parties, but also thinks about God all the time, and is very very busy, but deep down wants to live a simple life and pretend to be a monk, and is from the South but accidentally lives in the North, and rides a bike and is an Evangelical Episcopalian? Thanks in advance!]

love,
Lyndsey

words after a silence

Hey y’all, I wrote a post about metaphors. It contains shocking revelations about my church attendance. I think you might like it.

You can read it right here.

the good news for seminarians

In the weeks before finals, when you are wrung out, too often the litany of bad news reigns. But it seems today is my day to have faith for all of us; so let me shout for you the good news.

Isn’t it easy to believe, here in the springtime, that the world is shot through with miracle? Count your miracles, friends, as if your life depended on it, for surely it does – depends on earth, wind, water, depends on food become effort become muscle, depends, God knows, on coffee and midnight slaphappy laughter. Count the cheap microwave life that you’ll miss in fifteen years and find yourself crying, why me? How did I earn such riches?

I hope it is easy, here in the springtime, to know the world itself is good news, this most extravagant festival of beauty. That even if God were always and only a child, fashioning bright baubles in space and dropping them behind – never to return – it would be right to give God thanks and praise.

And yet we have found God with us, with all of us, murdering brothers and exiled slave women, idolaters, grumbling nomad-people and mourners of a defeated nation. Always God remains one more day, weaving the threads of ruined lives into something that looks like hope. Even if these were only marvelous stories from a far-away people in a time of magic, do they not speak beauty and mystery enough to keep us secretly searching for signs of this God? Are they not just strange and startling enough – transcending their own culture in all the oddest places – to convince us non-believers? Somewhere in our ancient child-hearts, we still know wonder.

But you will say I have meandered into glibness. What if, you will say, the great God dies? What if your country, your people, the land from which you were formed, become occupied by God’s own enemies? What if 400 years pass without a prophet?

I don’t know. For the suddenly light-drenched, here in the springtime, it is too easy to tell the still winter-laden to wait. I suppose I would say to get up again tomorrow, make your little breakfast, and say the prayers anyhow. Tell the old stories over and try, only try, to wait, for I AM will be with you. God will be with you. God loves you too much to stay out of it. God is too big not to care for all the little things; and at Christmas, God joined the project for once and for all.

Do you ever wonder why Jesus wept? If he knew he had come to fix this Lazarus-dying business, why stop and cry? Yet he arrived at Bethany, he collided with the grief of Mary and Martha, and suddenly the ice-cold truth washed over him: Lazarus is dead.

What if Jesus found himself doubting, there at Bethany? What if everything he said to Mary and Martha about faith, he was really saying to himself? I wonder if he did not discover finitude in that moment, in the really true death of the one he loved – shut up behind a rock together with his spirit, his laugh, the way he whistled in the mornings and spoke his sentences slow, brow furrowed, when he was thinking. All gone, just stolen by disease, no sense to it; I wonder if Jesus, encountering the magnitude of this thing, was not stricken with a sick fear: I am a lunatic after all.

He was perturbed. “Take me to him,” he said; and he wanted to stride confidently ahead of his disciples, but he found himself stumbling through his tears, desperate to make his way to his best friend. “Take away the stone,” he said, only because he had thought this was why he’d come so late.
“But Jesus…” Martha spoke gently, in her sensible way –
“Take away the stone!” Jesus said, driven on by Spirit’s mission and the mad fire, fighting helplessness, in his eyes. He prayed as they struggled against the rock: “Father, I know that you hear me. I know that you hear me. Hear me.”

They finished with the stone. Did the stench she had spoken of roll out over them all? Did Jesus look into that black cave, trembling, staring down the darkness that had swallowed Lazarus with such indifference? Fists clenched, desperately, Father, hear me, then, “Lazarus! Come out!” – his lurching, strangled cry of grief silenced the murmuring crowd.

And Jesus waited. He had done what Spirit had brought him to do, and now the command was out of him. He stood before the blackness; he began to feel foolish and another rising sickness battled the fast-waning hope inside him.

Until, by the grace of God, Lazarus came out.

Before the crowd could be confused, could be frightened or appalled at this prank, Jesus’ dying hope heard the footsteps first. “Unbind him!” Jesus shouted. “He is free”, Jesus wept.

I think Lazarus was freed by Jesus’ compassion. We are all freed by Jesus’ tears; there is no pain God has not felt. Creation is God’s wound – she weeps for the abused, for the sick, the hopeless, the tired. She weeps for mountains leveled by greed for coal, for people hollowed out by lust for money, for those who have lost their best friends. And dare I say that God has felt the pain of the small – that God can weep, too, for lost teddy bears, college rejection letters, homes we loved – all the things we think we should be bigger than? I think this is grace, that God has been small with us.

Seminarians, you are not so big. And that is OK. The voices that tell you you are not big enough, not good enough, not politically correct enough, not suspicious enough, not worried enough, not smart enough, not busy enough – they are not humble. They are not grace. Grace does not shame. Grace gives gifts.

It is true that God wants holiness. It is also true that God gives holiness. Holiness is grace; it is freedom – freedom from the patterns of this world. Yes, it takes courage, effort, discernment, and time. But God has lots of these, and you have only a little. Will you keep trying to muster them, or will you simply ask for them? Will you let yourself be small? Will you let others carry these burdens with you? If you cannot let yourself be small, you will never excuse others their smallness.

We hear much bad news in seminary. And it is sometimes important to know. But only God can absorb all the world’s bad news. And only God can transform it into good. For creation is God’s million wounds, and yet it is, ten times over, her delight. She holds it; she sings over it; she sings over you with joy in all that you are, for you are hers, and she is with you. Even before we finally see life rising out of the darkness and death, God is with our shrinking doubting band of faith-in-resurrection people.

The good news – the reason you are here, I hope – is that I AM made the universe, and God loves it, and God loves you. I AM is with us, healing us, and God will make all the small things new.

my heart says I love him

Listen, dear heart: it’s pep talk time. Not because I know everything about all this, not because you can’t do without my opinions, but because you inspired it yourself. Because you’re too humble to see you sometimes. And because we both somewhat secretly enjoy dramatic things like pep talks.

And because my phone died and I can’t respond to your last text –

my heart says I love him too. But it also says this is scary and huge and bad things can happen to people in love and scary. It’s a very vulnerable feeling.

But you must know how brave you are just to say such a thing, even to me. Of course it’s scary; you knew it would be scary. And I’m watching you test the ice, but I know you’re not turning around. You’re determined to run headlong across that river; and yes, you should be scared – there’s a swift and brutal current running inches beneath your feet.

The last thing I’m here to do is promise you that happily ever after is an easy guarantee. Yours might be a happily-for-several-months. Some people even live sadly-ever-afters. And I know you know all this, but I have to say it for me, because all I want is to be able to promise you – to promise us – no regrets. I want to be able to list all the reasons we’ve made good bets, like insurance adjusters or roller-coaster-designers who build in double and triple redundancies.

But there are no redundancies in love. Just our hearts propelling us forward before our feet know how to argue, forward across that thin sheet of ice.

If you were here, the first thing I’d do is take your shoulders and tell you this: I am here on the banks, with a blanket and hot coffee and that creamer you like, waiting for you. If the ice will break, I can’t change that. Sometimes the temperature just rises around you and there was never anything to be done about it. But even if you fall through, even if you slip under into the cold and dark, the river keeps running and you’ll climb back out down the line. Even if you come up gasping, undone, with barely a clue of where you are or how you got there – I will be there the second your foot slips. I will be there. I will point you home.

But I’m not going to project any more catastrophes onto your life, either; you’re not a silly girl. You’re one of the wisest women I know, and you’re not throwing yourself at already-splintering ice, hoping for a miracle. You may very well never need my blanket and my pointing; you may very well be headed already toward a new home. Isn’t that what we mean with every step closer in a relationship? Perhaps, someday, we might be home for one another. And that, in itself, is truly scary, moving away from somewhere else – but anyway it’s just a perhaps. A fluttering, hopeful, wide-eyed perhaps; a brief, bright time you won’t forget.

So I am happy, so happy to hear that your heart says you love him, too. We both remember a time we couldn’t hear our hearts over the howling wind of doubts, logical arguments, and self-neglect for others’ sake. That your heart has the space to shout such marvelous, terrifying things – that in itself gives me joy, and challenges me to hear what my own heart has to insist.

And the fact that you’re scared, love? That makes me more thrilled and proud and hopeful than just about anything. That’s the very thing that gives your love a fighting chance. Do you see it, too? Let me tell you what that says to me – it tells me that you are no half-assed lover. That this has nothing to do with boredom or pressure to conform, that your love will not be a tame or shallow thing. You’re not about to throw the word “love” around like you’re passing out extra party favors. Your love is strong and fierce and not easily undone, a force that won’t just quit because someone else happened to. You love almost from somewhere outside yourself – when you don’t know where God is? Everyone else knows. Whether you feel it or not, we can see it.

You don’t say “love” by accident, because you know that real, worth-saying love will pummel you near to pieces just as quick as it can shine you up into the brightest beauty you’ve ever been. But you’re an honest woman, and I know you’re not going to bury this secret – my heart says I love him too – and miss the beauty just to avoid the black eye. And if you come out with a goose egg? I can already see you, all creativity and brute strength, healing up and finding the new beauty shining through the scar.

The minutes are precious. If you know that you can trust him – if you’re sure he knows what a gift you are – share the thing you already feel. We spend enough of our lives dithering on shorelines. Go – meet him in the middle, where he ran out to stand alone, scared, vulnerable, for you.

on fire

They were looking at me, everyone would think I was weird, you don’t just abandon your hands to the sky and expect to be treated like a normal human being, and there I was with tears streaming down my face because grace like rain had, indeed, fallen down on me. But could I raise my hands, say to the room yes this is me!, stand there open and unashamed? My body wasn’t used to expressing my brain.

One day: “I just want to say how much the youth group blesses me on Sundays. They set the example in worship here at the front. I love seeing them praising the Lord with their hands up and their voices strong. They are on fire for God.

It wasn’t weird. It was brave and right. I raised my hands that day. I was a witness.

I was thirteen.

Early Sunday morning, every Wednesday night, I was there at my high school church. Bible study, youth group, cleanup afterward, every youth retreat, mission trip, leadership retreat, small group leader. I preached once and I almost cried in front of everybody. But no one asked me to be on fire. No one told me to do more or be holier. They drenched my try-harder soul in grace and more grace, in a new covenant of God’s unending senseless love; gentle reminders of my weakness and deep, strong prayers for strength. It turns out those Neo-Calvinists know a thing or two about growing perfectionist teenage girls into women turning always back to God, thankful, beloved.

I was seventeen.

It was Christian college or no college and so I went to the biggest one I could find that didn’t have a bizarre dress code. At least, the school didn’t, but here were multiple prayer groups and people speaking in tongues at Thursday morning chapel; here were preachers trying to revival us twice a week and maybe a million subtle rules for holiness. I carefully tucked the tank tops under sweaters and shrugs. Most of the time.

Here was a man I loved, and here was a crushing dark-night depression that took my breath away. Here I was a year hostage under the mantra love is a choice. Here I finally did my penance for the breakup in week after week of suffocating guilt that I couldn’t do it, I’d never love, I hadn’t made the choice.

Here God released me and some better-than-friends dragged me out, and I discovered what others had tried to tell me: Love is a choice but romance is a mystery, and love can let go. The one you loved will heal, for this is the way of things. Everyone is not mine to carry.

I was twenty-one.

I was new to New York and I was making sacrifices for God like I’d vowed after the summer in Thailand. I never would have said it, but I was here to fix the world.

I was more alone than I could have known I’d be. I was unprepared to face down urban poverty. I did everything I knew how and still the world wasn’t fixed. It was cold and I was on food stamps; I flickered and sputtered against an icy wind. I didn’t know what I was doing or why or how, and God was silent except to provide – small miracle after small miracle.

I was twenty-two.

Would you believe, with all my good-and-bad evangelical baggage, I still want to be on fire for God? I was treated gently, I think, and I found the places at Christian college to sort a lot of it out. Certainly there were at times shame and competition to get better somehow. Certainly I helped to fuel them. This is a talent of mine.

But the fire wasn’t a fiction, I know this, and even when it has gone out I never found it a childish or unrealistic thing to want. The world needs people on fire. The world needs those who don’t hold back from life, mentors and go-outers and every-day-doers, lovers of the unbearable beauty and sadness of all this sacred beat-up earth. The world needs sustainable and downwardly mobile and praying and singing and still-here when things get hard, and none of these happen by accident.

Something about being on fire. I submit that the times I burned out were the times I thought I could fuel the fire myself, and those were the times I was consumed quicker than an unimpressive dud-sparkler. I would just keep trying and fixing and asking God to make me better instead of asking God to actually help me. I don’t mean this as another twisted way of saying that my unhappiness was all my fault because I should have done better. I only mean that I am learning now what it means to be small and weak and OK with it. I am learning to say I can’t and I won’t and someone else will. I am just not responsible for everything, or for very much at all. It turns out that was kind of a conceited belief.

Yes, fire looks different now. I am learning that there’s fire everywhere and I can catch it over and over. I am doing what I do because I feel at peace here, because it’s what I love, because it’s worship – not because I’m supposed to. I’m on my knees before a blazing New England autumn, I’m praying on sidewalk benches with my friends, I’m in the glow of Eucharist candles, I’m reading 1 Corinthians and blown away by love. I’m climbing roofs and scaling ladders chasing sunsets across the sky, I’m giving thanks for this outrageous display and I’m settling in with the ember of an American Spirit every once in a while. I write what is and what could be, I cry during praise choruses, I am a witness. I’m praying for the city and the tuna fish and the future and it’s probably all insane.

I am twenty-three, and I am on fire.

sunset

 

I’m linking up today with Addie Zierman for her synchroblog celebrating the release of her new book, When We Were On Fire. Check out the stories below.
Addie Zierman

scrawled in a notebook in purple pen, through Connecticut and Rhode Island, Friday at 9:50 AM

I am on the train to a wedding and I am worried about coming home to schoolwork. I am castigating myself by reciting all the ways I could have planned this trip better. I am brooding again over needing a job.

But I am on the train to a wedding! The trees tug me out of myself – I recall that I am barrelling through a brilliant New England October toward a coffee-and-catch-up reunion with a dear friend; and that only a few hours separate my fingers from my beloved’s. Luminescent yellow and the scarlet of a queen’s robes, farms and cities unfurl under a bright fall morning, all stretching thankfully, wistfully to take in the last few days of a near, warming sun.

How does one forget such things? What of all this gives license to dwell in anxiety? It is a crime, my enormous train station coffee replies. The silliest, and yet the saddest crime, to deny the short gorgeous days their due.

Perhaps it is too much. Perhaps I sense the joy of God at all this and it seems we could share too much, that I could burst with it, or that I could remain too long behind child-eyes and forget to return to schedules and bills. Perhaps I have learned disappointment makes me cry, and I am afraid such beauty will make me hope too much.

But I choose to stay here. Distraction does not have to be the way of things; I will not seek constant escape from pain or cower from joy. I will not leave before I have arrived. I do not belong to the unchangeable past, and it is not given to me to manage the future; it is an illusion of modernity that either can be optimized by categorizing and explaining their vicissitudes away. I do not belong to borrowed sorrows. This Friday I belong to sensibly stacked houses, a heron, a book for a favorite class, longed-for faces, and fellow travellers on these rails-between-places.

Here I discover today. Here life is banging down my door. Here is the moment eternity chooses to share with me and the Connecticut trees.

where the words have gone

I leave the words behind in discussion groups, formal and informal, large and small, flying fast, clarifying, arguing, people searching together for God and human flourishing, truth and the sacred, hard-fought individual identities and warm, enveloping communities all at once. It is exhausting. Here are my dearest hopes, my deepest beliefs, my memories of heaven and hell, we say to one another. It would be easy to armor up with arguments and proof-texts. It is hard to sit with another person.

The words are starting to go into papers short and long, on which my grades, and soon my career as an academic, will depend.

Grad school is a state of perpetual triage. You make mental files of your assigned books and articles.
Old and boring
Old and entertaining
New and vapid
New and world-altering
Important for class
Important for life
Important for future research interests
Skim
Read
Read closely
Read with furrowed brow
Read with furious underlining and scribbling

The words are glimpsed in snatches during class discussions and long, long lectures. Bits of information, assumptions to question, reassurances to myself flit through my mind to share with you. Later, though, they’ve lost their luster and there are other things to be done.

The words are not alone anymore. Girl-at-desk, girl-in-solo-apartment now lives and studies with twenty-one beautiful souls spread across four floors, two study rooms, one kitchen and one piano. The words go to conversations of every kind that friends-roommates-classmates share. If there’s something to say, I can pop out of my room and blurt it at the nearest neighbor.

The words are in envelopes on their way to Syracuse twice, three times a week, because when long-distance hurts and there’s nothing left to be done between phone calls, I can at least send a gift in left-handed cursive. Maybe it doesn’t hurt less, but maybe it’s making the most. Maybe I could give some of the words to you, too, but they are our letters, and we don’t get to share so much these days.

I’m looking for the words. They are somewhere here in Boston. I’m finding the time to pay attention when they break in on me.

But the words don’t exist for some things.

The view from my bedroom roof.

from the roof

The incredible people with whom I share a home.

theo house

And the feeling of knowing you’re

exactly.

where.

you.

belong.

E-mail I just sent to a potential employer


Y’all, I hate applying for jobs. I hate it. There’s something about it, about posturing and spinning and pretending to be important, that I can’t stand. Maybe some deeper underlying psychological issue is at stake here. All I know is, it’s awful.

So, I have real important things happening in my life, and real profound thoughts too, but after about two weeks’ hiatus this is the writing project I’ve worked on for the past hour.

Lyndsey Janelle <lyndseyjanelle[at]gmail.com>
1:44 AM (0 minutes ago)

to commonwealth[at]pavementcoffeehouse.com
Dear Commonwealth:

Today I walked past your store and, having a keen interest in coffeehouses and recently-finished construction projects, looked longingly into the window. Or I tried to, but I was distracted by a fairly small sign that said, “WE’RE HIRING!” It also directed interested parties to “send an email” to this address, which I found to be rather cryptic. What kind of email? Is there a password I am supposed to know and include? I thought about sending a blank email, but I suppose while we’re communicating I’ll tell you why I think you should hire me.
First of all, I can get things done, and I have common sense. So, for instance, (not to criticize necessarily), if you asked me to make sure the world knew you were hiring, I would not print shouty caps on a small piece of paper and tape it in a window. I would at least print shouty caps on a big piece of paper. If nothing else was going on, I might even mount a full-scale advertising campaign by placing an ad on craigslist or using a font that communicated what kinds of people I wanted to hire. But only if I didn’t have better things to do.
That is the second reason you should hire me: I am very efficient. I know when I have better things to do. I know which things are urgent, important, and completely unnecessary. I have found this to be a rare quality in humans – the ability to prioritize, especially under pressure. Perhaps you, too, have trouble finding these kinds of humans.
The third reason you should hire me is that I like being nice to people. I find that I am happier when surrounded by happy people, and so I work proactively to make the people around me happier. Just yesterday I walked down several flights of stairs just to bring my housemate a cup of tea. I would derive unimaginable joy from handing cups of tea to people only feet away for hours at a time. You might think that I am being snarky now. I am not.
Because the fourth reason you should hire me is that I am grossly overqualified, but I still want this job. Having worked in my life at numerous leadership and management positions, creative projects, and important-sounding things, I am now a Master’s student in theology at BU. I want a job that is the opposite of my studies: a job where I do things, concrete things in reality, that are clearly worthwhile. Creating a delicious drink and placing it in the hands of a tired, determined, or celebratory customer fits the bill perfectly. I’d like to be known as the Treat-Bearer.
But the fact that I am overqualified does not disqualify me from possessing a quality level of qualification at barista skills. I make great coffee. I work hard. And, having worked for a year in a food pantry, I am a customer service Hercules. I have wrestled the Cerberus of customers. And I’ve come to appreciate the nice ones more than ever.
Finally, you should hire me because: I am normal-looking at times, but do not worry that I might disturb the urban vibe or get blandness in the coffee; I am also quite capable of cultivating an appropriately quirky appearance. Sadly, I have no tattoos, but I do possess many cardigans, trendy hats, and pairs of glasses. I also have blue eyes and freckles and fancy myself an ideal candidate for some shy plaid-wearing poet boy’s (or girl’s, who’s counting?) unattainable (because they’re so shy) crush. They might buy more coffee as a result.
My resume is attached. Thank you for your time if you’re still reading. I really would, in all sincerity, like to work for Pavement.
All my love,
Lyndsey Graves
PS. I hope I haven’t offended you about the urban vibe. I don’t say any of this as a judgment on your coffeeshop coffeehouse; just making conjectures based on my past encounters with baristas. I’ve honestly never gone inside Pavement. I can’t afford coffee right now. So hire me and share the joy. Thanks.

to my friend, who is coming out

I sent this letter to my friend about a week before the DOMA decision came down. In the week or so since I have had the go-ahead to publish it, I’ve kept it close, hoping I had the right motives, and wondering what friends – in all parts of the country and the political/religious spectrum – would think of it. In the end, I cannot do very much to determine whether you read this post with grace. I only know that I do not want my friend to be alone anymore.

I lit a blue candle for you at an interfaith Pride service last week. I needed to pray with my body.

It wouldn’t have been the place for you in some ways, with vague references to a benign force, possibly named God, who seemed mostly to exist to affirm US and our IDENTITIES and our PRIDE! I thought of you and me, iron sharpening iron, trying to learn from one another the passé art of humility.

But in some ways, it was beautiful, complex, justice-seeking and, so important, safe and affirming. And so I wished you were there.

Because you are coming out, and though this will not subsume all your many other layers, it will be a turning point. It will shape the next episode of your becoming. It has already shaped mine. It will be hard for you, and I hope soon I can literally stand with you – and the multicolored family your lot has been thrown in with – and say you are loved. you are whole.

You are whole, and you are stronger than anyone could have known, and you are deep, wise, and gracious. That is why I can – and that is why I must – have my own baby-coming-out and say also, I support you.

What a silly thing to have to say to a friend. Even friends with troubles and strange opinions, I don’t tell them “I support them”. I love them, and I love you.

But, there it is anyway: I support you and I am glad for who you are. And I support whatever decisions you make. You are a good decision-maker.

I live in two places, and I live in between, and I live outside of both. I know, I really do, how it feels not to belong anywhere. We ended up in an American culture that is strangely intolerant of nuance and grace. If people think you are slightly wrong, they will let you know that you are very, fatally wrong. You and I have always occupied this inhospitable in-between, everyone thinking we are wrong, and this will not change for you. Not ever.

Because if you are celibate, many of the only people who know your struggle will turn on you. They will call you a sellout and a tease. They will tell you to go home to the Bible-thumpers.

And even though I know, between your beliefs and your personality, that your love life would be very, very far from the “promiscuous lifestyle” some would expect from you, it might not matter much; if you have a family, many of the people who claim to love you will still put sorrow in place of the joy they express for everyone else. They will call you a sinner and a destroyer. They will talk about you behind your back saying things like “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and commence hating the thing they just defined you by. They will tell you to go home to the gays.

Being who you are is not a sin.

Nothing that truly defines you is wrong.

I will not tell you what to do. I do not know what you and God have been saying to each other lately, or how you think about the Bible these days, or which parts of it the Spirit has brought out and said, these are for you. I only know that you follow Jesus with your own quiet intensity.

I do not know your dreams for a future love, or who you will fall in love with, or when, or what that will mean for you. I only know that you are special, and you could make someone else terribly happy, and loneliness is not a virtue.

I only know that you will always be family. Whatever you do will be hard in its own way, and I will do all that I can to make it easier. You know how I want to live in a commune? I will be neighbor. I will be aunt to your children.

Do I sound too much like a mother? I know this all comes from a place of great privilege. But all I know to do with privilege is to tell the world I don’t want it. We are all struck with equal, unpredictable, terrible force by genius and love, by disaster and disease. Why make it any harder on any specific group of people? The world is changing at a pace which, when we are truly honest, terrifies us all. Why blame others for our fear?

I write you a letter. I hope you do not feel used. I must admit that I see your face and speak to you, but imagine a great many others who might read this. Some will tell me that I must pick a side; that I must stand for The Family or for Progress, for Civil Rights or for The Bible. Perhaps only a few will understand the region, the culture, and the generation you and I share, which have complicated your past and your future so.

And that is why I will not pick a side. Because this is not an issue. This is not an abstract question of philosophy. This is your life, and I am on your side, and I cannot imagine what you have already experienced so how could I dare to try to convince you? We have talked about “the others like you” – stuck in these in-between spaces. They will not all agree. But I am on their side as well. I stand with you; with laws and attitudes and policies that free you to make your own decisions just as I do. Of course we all have responsibilities to ourselves, our partners, and our communities, to make decisions – sometimes hard decisions – about what it means to be our sexual selves. May we all do so with humility, with discipline, with the guidance of others, with our traditions and scriptures, with self-giving love for our partners, and above all, with hearts and bodies attuned to the winsome whispers of Holy Spirit.

I am very, very proud to know you. Maybe that is what Pride means to me; not that we use our own pride to prop ourselves up, like cardboard cutouts pretending to be autonomous, but that we learn to see all that is extraordinary about each other’s stutter-steps toward life, toward humanity. Remember, when your struggle becomes monotonous and it feels like a children’s book or a farce, that your story will always read to me like an epic.

May you, gay, truly yourself and vulnerable before the world, find yourself surrounded by all the love and grace and acceptance that you, hiding, “straight”, have found in all the pockets of Christ’s kingdom where you’ve nestled. May you always find a way into messy family, mysterious Church, into all-loving triune God.

love,
lyndsey

Why I am not a progressive: Church [part two]

[part one below and here.]

I would say to people, “How should I pray? What should I pray?”, and they would say, “well, you can pray whatever you want to.” And I thought, “well, OK, but… I really suck. Why am I just deciding this?”
– a Southern-Baptist-turned-Eastern-Orthodox friend

A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village: the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.
– C.S. Lewis, “Learning in War-Time”, sermon at Oxford

So despite what they always told me, it turns out no single person can interpret the Bible for him- or herself. We deceive ourselves, for one thing; and surely a book with so many authors describing so many people’s experiences was meant to be read (or heard, or sung) by a multiplicity of humans together. What’s more, the Bible itself speaks much more rarely about any individual’s personal relationship with God than it does about churches, communities, and nations joining God’s life as one. In the same way, neither can any single church, culture, or time period interpret the Bible on its own. We have our own local customs which seem obvious and natural to us but are actually rather bizarre and sometimes even twisted in the scheme of things.

And that is why I cannot describe myself as “progressive”, as if God’s hope for us is that we march in one line ever forward and away from the past, for as often as God says I am doing a new thing God also says Remember and Listen. As often as we correct an old error we succumb to a new one, and as often as the brave dissenting voice emerges a hero, she reaps the fruit of her hubris in destruction. We are not meant to be ever “fixing” the people of the past any more than we are meant to be ever “fixing” one another in the present. We are to live among them, to love them, to learn from them, to let them be their idiosyncratic and very often wrong selves. We are not to ignore them or cherry-pick quotations out of context that support our own viewpoints. I refuse to “progress” as if I think I can get beyond the Church Fathers and Mothers, the popes and the mystics and the saints, and yes, the Holiness Christians of the 20th century and the Scholastics of the 13th who often annoy me very much; I will be milling among all of these people all my life. I will be listening to them, really listening, and sometimes even submitting to them when I do not even understand or agree. They prayed more than I do.

Even those who are not scholars most assuredly need to find their places in the past. And this is not so hard; after all, 99% of Christendom never knew how to read. There are a wealth of traditions, creeds, songs, prayers, rituals and liturgies that were always meant to be performed by communities, not individuals. Their words declare the mysteries of faith. Their actions teach us how to pray with our bodies, in public no less, and remind us that faith does not somehow occur inside our skulls but in the world, through our hands, among our friends. We whose entire lives are mediated by smartphones need this being-in-the-world way of worship more than ever.

I do not know if I will ever belong to the saints who came before as much as I say I want to. Every year or so I think of joining the Orthodox church, and then get spooked by the thought of making a lifelong commitment to a church with no female priests and a hierarchical structure with such potential for abuse. Many of my own ideas would horrify all the people I claim to “listen” to, and I offend every traditionalist in my life regularly. Whenever my ideas or choices are blatantly opposed to most of the historical Church’s, I mumble to myself maybe if they’d known what we know about [psychology, archaeology, biology], with the knowledge that it is usually a scarcely less prideful answer.

But the more I read, the more churches I visit, the more inclined I am to err on the side of Tradition, at least in my own life; and most especially, the less inclined I am to give my unqualified approval to all things “progressive”, all things not of the past (or even of the past fifty years). I am more and more inclined to engage with the past than to abandon it, because that is the hard work of community and it is the sanding-down rub of humility. To stay with rather than splitting off. To be in the uncomfortable space of disagreement without forgetting that the love of God unites us. To wait, and pray, and believe the best of one another. And to listen for the very most foreign-sounding strains of the song, because they may turn out to be the melodies we were longing for when our own made-up versions weren’t fitting.

I am not a progressive. I am a wanderer. A returner to the basics and a believer of nonsense. I am small and I want to know God, and in my journey I find I am borne less on my own two feet than on a great cloud of witnesses.

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