It’s Sunday again, and even though the days are a little bit of a blur, there are little bits of routine that remind us now and then how to mark time. Monday through Friday are, in fact, Thisday, Thatday, Someday, Whatday, and Whensday. But Saturday is Farm Workday because there are still small projects that help improve our space so we can maybe, someday, eventually, hopefully, cross-fingers open to the public.
And Sunday is church via Zoom which, for reasons I haven’t yet considered, feels more accessible to me than church via Getting My Physical Ass Over to a Building.
It’s no secret I’ve taken — am taking? — a prolonged break from church. I suffer no guilt for this. I show up in certain seasons. I actively check in with God and with my heart to try to suss what my role in the church ought or ought not to be, and, even though my best friends and my husband and my parents and many of the people I respect and rely on most in this weird, weird world still attend the tiny church of which I’m a member — the tiny church that was booted from the broader group of churches — I haven’t felt any regular compunction to return.
I maintain an evolving faith centered less and less on the evangelical church of the modern era and the tenets of its faith which appear to be Nationalism, Republicanism, and Capitalism — and a relentless defense of that trilogy — and more and more on the rag-tag, radical, inclusive, mouthy, justice-mongering, power-shunning, establishment-upending person of Jesus whom the Religious Right of its time and the Government loathed.
Jesus is still my jam. Church is still a jumble; a mixed bag of good and bad, which is fine because so is everything run by humans, but also not fine if I’m adhering to a system based on personal comfort or long-held tradition and that system does more harm than good. Do some churches do more good than harm? No question; of course they do. Many feed the hungry and visit the imprisoned and bend the arc toward social justice and equity and meeting desperate needs in their communities and the world. But when the bigger, broader church system has morphed into a political engine in America that justifies jailing asylum seekers during the worst displaced persons crisis the world has ever known, seeks to make the poor poorer, fails to care for widows and orphans and, well, fails to care for all of the vulnerable and marginalized; when the bigger, broader church system votes as a coordinated block for policies and politicians who ensure the excessive prosperity of the rich at the expense of everyone else; it makes me wonder. Do I make things better by participating? Like cleaning dust and grime off a window so we can all see better? Or am I perpetuating an entire system that’s polluted beyond what’s reasonable to sort and separate into healthy vs. harmful? Like trying to separate fly shit from the pepper? When is it better to just toss it and start over from scratch?
I know the answer, actually. Or I think I do. I just don’t like it very much because it’s not clear cut. It’s complicated and messy, and I want it all to be better Right Now. I hate waiting. I hate that most of life is murky. I hate that the church is in a messy, revolutionary transition and is busy birthing a new thing, with all the blood and shit and goo and gore and beauty birth entails. But the truth is — and the answer as far as I understand it — we’re all assigned to different bits.
Some have to stay and work from within. They’re rebuilding the plane while it’s flying — mechanics shoring up weaknesses from inside, flight attendants calming passengers and meeting basic needs, pilots gauging the weather, navigating around storms and through them when they can’t be avoided, and trying to find safe places to land.
And some have to move apart and away. Freefalling, it feels like, from great heights. Hoping our parachutes deploy. Learning we love drifting the currents. Wondering when we’ll land and whether we’ll survive it and what we might build on the forest floor if we make it that far.
I’m the latter.
I jumped, and I’ve been floating here a while. More at peace outside the confines of the plane than I ever imagined, especially as someone who never wanted to take the leap in the first place.
Which is why it’s so strange, Diary, and something unexpected to be upended by a pandemic and to find myself lingering near the plane. If someone had told me a few months ago that we’d be quarantined to our homes, with churches closed, and that that’s how I’d find myself closer to church than I’ve been for a while, I would’ve been baffled.
Is it that I crave familiar faces and rhythms when so much else is wonky and unsettled? Is that what’s appealing to me about church right now? That would make sense, but I don’t think that’s it.
Is it that Greg Zooms from the kitchen table so church pretty literally comes to me and it requires little effort on my part to participate? That’s reasonable, but I don’t think that’s it, either. I mean, I managed to be 15 minutes late to Zoom church on Easter even though it was in the kitchen, so clearly proximity is not the great motivator.
No, I think it’s a host of things, petty and profound.
Petty as in the fact that I’m an introvert and the Quarantine Life, while still draining of my energy at times and fraught with its own strains and difficulties, isn’t nearly as exhausting as Regular Life with its endless appointments and carpools and meetings and errands, etc., etc., to infinity and beyond. So in quarantine I have enough energy come Sunday morning to engage rather than trying to participate from an empty well.
And profound as in the fact that these people I know and have known — who have challenged and succored me — who have allowed me to come and go from church, believing that God speaks in and through me whether my butt’s in a pew or not — are everything I understand to be the face of God. Folks linking in from Kenya. Sisters joining from the retirement community across town. Families sitting on couches with toddlers crawling on their faces and heads because everyone knows a parent who sits down is a toddler’s jungle gym. The preschool boy whose “prayer request” was in fact a remonstration of our worship leader for failing to make his mic live so he could provide percussion back-up to the morning’s music. The fact that nearly everyone stayed on the Zoom call after it was supposed to have ended so that same boy could demonstrate his music skillz and give us a tour of his mashed playdough creations — flowers, a starfish that bore a stronger resemblance to a slug, and, best of all, in true preschool child fashion, a pile of poop. The show and tell in the after session from the elementary child whose mama is teaching her how to knit a pale purple scarf and whose face lit up with pride in the 8 perfect inches she created.
Faces of God. Every single one. Love made flesh and dwelling among us. And the reminder that, whatever my issues with church — and they are sometimes legion — God is still on the move. Still Love incarnate, which is God’s real name. Still active and moving. Even sometimes in churches. Even in America which feels like a dumpster fire right now. Even in the middle of a pandemic.
Maybe especially now. Because Love isn’t showy. It’s not bossy or rude. It’s the undercurrent that pulls and pushes and sculpts the very ground beneath our feet. And it’s alight most especially in each other. A divine spark whose image we bear.
And today, I got to see it. Which was pretty damn cool.