I have a dentist appointment at 3:30 today, so I only have to hang on a little bit longer. By then, my Tylenol and ibuprofen will have worn off enough that if they give me a vicoprofen or a T3 it won’t bother my stomach and I might kiss them. Might. We’ll just see what happens when I get there. :) Even if all they give me is laughing gas and try to make me forget about the pain, that will be enough. I have such problems with my teeth that I’ve just put off and put off due to cost that I’m in trouble. I’ve already had a tooth extracted on that side, and it’s affecting everything, including the way I drool. It’s attractive, let me tell you. And remember ladies, I’m single.
My tooth is the only thing I can really think about, so distraction is key. I’ve been watching the fourth season of Veep, and when I realized I was devouring it too fast, I switched back to reading Amen. Like I said earlier, I am reading it for Contemporary Theology class, but I fucking hate it. The author has an air of righteousness about her that is just so off-putting. It’s full of shit like, “if you believe x or so doctrine, keep doing what works for you, but…” It’s like reading a watered down version of Richard Dawkins, and I so wish I was kidding about that. Other people’s beliefs are their beliefs, and they are so cute. I am taking in her words without believing them. I want to argue her into the ground, and if I ever get the chance, I will. Because there’s a way to talk about belief without sounding like a sanctimonious prick. I will water my comments down in Sunday School, but you know me. I won’t water them down here. Mostly her thought process is that you can be an atheist and be a part of the life of the church and pray and all of these things, with which I totally agree. No one should ever be turned away from a church, because at its heart, church is about altruism just as much as it is about belief in God. If you are an atheist, you are always welcome at St. James and All Sinners, because even if you don’t believe in God, I will still put you to work feeding the homeless and asking you to bring extra socks and food.
And if you show up, there will be no discussion about whether your belief is right or wrong. It just is. There’s no proof either way… just as I expect that there will be no discussion about others’ beliefs without really trying to reach across the pews. I’m not going to talk you out of your atheism, and you’re not going to talk me out of my belief, so intelligent discussion can take place within those parameters. I am also not going to let anyone say that your beliefs are cute, but you’re really not mature enough in your faith to see that there’s not really a supreme being… or that there is. But, to me, it’s not the classic grandfather in the sky, but a place inside all of us that yearns for the divine and the mystical for answers. What scientists do not seem to understand is that faith does not answer the scientific problems of our time, but the human ones.
Faith and science can reside together because they accomplish different things. It will not help you to memorize the periodic table when your child is in surgery. It is then that we reach to the mystical and the divine for the prayers that we all pray in those times, such as Anne Lamott’s Help, Thanks, Wow.
When atheists describe to me the God in which they don’t believe, I often say, “I don’t believe in that God, either.” Frankly, the God of the Old Testament is a divine douchebag at times. But, in taking the Bible seriously and not literally, it is the words of the Jews writing that believed that’s what was happening, not necessarily what was. By the time the New Testament was put together, the understanding of God and the Trinity had progressed quite a bit. Theology had progressed into a world of promise and not vengeance. I often say that every parable of Jesus can be redacted to the one about the rich man and the servants who received talents, and what they did with them. The answer to that parable is directly tied to how much each servant believed in themselves.The rich man returns, rewards the two who made money, but severely punishes the servant who did nothing. To me, every parable of Jesus is directly tied to stopping putting all your talents in a hole, because are we really talking about money anymore? Yes, a talent was a denomination of money, but it extrapolates so well in today’s world. I’ve hid my talents for a long time, and I have a feeling I am not alone. People with much more bravery than me have reaped the reward of putting their talent out into the world and reaping its benefits four, five, even tenfold.
Maybe some of you even go to eleven.
It is here that I owe you an enormous debt of gratitude. By writing out my emotions and examining myself, I have put out a body of work that resonates with others as well, and it provided me the confidence to put my money where my mouth is. I have applied to school again. I have agreed to put on the stole and call myself Christ in the World (as all Christians are, but few go to school for it). I never would have had the confidence to do so if I hadn’t put myself out there on this web site, first. I rescued my talents from their hole in the ground by listening to you when you say that I’m a good writer. I came into myself, realizing that I had more talents than I thought I did. I got away from believing that I wasn’t good enough to fly solo, when in reality, I’ve been ready for a long time, I just didn’t have the chutzpah to GO FOR IT.
It was really the marriage article that did it. In one day, I went from obscurity to Margaret Cho and Martina Navratilova and thousands of others knowing who I am, both as a writer and as a person. It encouraged me to keep going… and going… and going. The next article that I wrote was a piece on sex and marriage, which prompted one of my readers to say that maybe I’d end up as a marriage and family counselor. Actually, you get all of that when you put on the stole…. and I would like to think that all of my mistakes in my relationships give me a better idea of what not to tell people in their struggles than being perfect ever would. I feel that all of the changes I am making in my life are preparing me for that Biblical marriage I struggled to have with Dana, and though we failed, I learned things that couldn’t have been learned any other way. I think about her every day, about what went wrong and what went gloriously right. She is literally the best thing that ever happened to me (#lafawnduh) in terms of what an ideal marriage is and the things I’ve learned since in terms of how to keep something like that going- how to keep it sacred.
My next relationship (even if a miracle occurs and Dana and I get back together) will be a reflection of those things, because a relationship with Dana cannot be weighted down with the mistakes of the past. My next relationship will be new, whether it is someone from my past, or someone that I meet here in DC. We both should have turned to the Bible more, and the Internet less. We both should have had more communication and less checking out. We both should have done so many things, and those things I ponder in my heart.
Jesus sets forth the rules for a great marriage, and as Christians, we both ignored those rules when we should have learned them cold. For fuck’s sake, if I’d just taken my own advice in my marriage article, we might not be where we are right now, which is mostly estranged with the occasional e-mail or text. The last communication I got from her was on my birthday, for which I was so grateful because I moped that I hadn’t heard from her right up until I did, and then it seemed like my day was complete. My love for her is so absolute that if I hadn’t heard from her, I think I would still be crying over it.
My cardinal Biblical mistake was putting someone else above her, and it never should have happened. Not in a million years. But it did, because my friendship with Argo consumed me in a way I’d never experienced. She became my first thought in the morning and my last thought at night, but not in a way that I felt superceded Dana, but in retrospect, it did. It’s shitty how hindsight is 20/20. You would have to know all the ins and outs of my friendship with Argo to understand why I felt that way, but it’s not my story to tell. It’s hers.
The point here being that I understand my mistakes, because I’ve been spending a lot of time going over them. Extracting lessons and pain so that I can move forward, even though some of those ruminations pull me back into a time when we were happy- all three of us. It was so good right up until the train ran off the tracks and now I am alone, sitting in a lot of things I wish I could just put into the ground and hide.
But those mistakes are also the basis of why I want to pull everything out and look at it, so I can recover in my own time, enough to be able to take my talents out of the ground and multiply them. As I told my former minister friends, I can see the vision, but I cannot see the staircase…. not yet. But it helps that there are former ministers in my congregation that are willing to impart advice, HARD gained wisdom. And Matt is not shy about sharing his wisdom as well, which makes me feel that I have joined a special group. I have graduated from someone who wants to be a minister someday to asking those who’ve already done it how to create what I want.
They looked at me funny when I talked about not creating by committee. I think they think I want to be some kind of dictator. No, it’s just that I want people who are going to take the God energy emanating from me and put it into action without telling me what I should do. It seems mean. It really does. But at the same time, I do not want to be called to a church already in progress. I want to start my own, and have a denomination approach me, in the same vein as the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. I am not talking about telling people what to do once the structure is in place. I am perfectly happy to delegate and create. But the vision is mine, and it cannot live in several people at once. It can only live in me, and having to fight an uphill battle every day does not appeal to me. I would rather start a small plant and watch it grow, like a Russian doll. There is a difference between being a visionary and a dictator. Visionaries put ideas in place and have others carry them out. Dictators are micro-managers who cannot let go of anything. Visionaries are open to ideas, but have the freedom to say whether it fits or not. I want a church that is well-run, self-sustaining, and committed to social justice. I believe the way to do that is by working from the top down, not the bottom up. It creates mixed messages and muddled ideas that may or may not move forward because the message is lost, tied up in committee for ages. As the great philosopher Martin Blank once said, look, I don’t want to get into a semantic argument, I just want the protein. I want people to follow me, knowing that the power does not come from within me, but from the holy authority given to me by the power of the stole.
I want to be able to say that I studied for this for a very long time, that I have been working in the church in various capacities since I was ten years old (mostly helping my mom with the children’s choir). I have been a lay preacher, thanks to Susan Leo at Bridgeport UCC, since 2003. When I graduate from Howard with that MDiv, I will have received even more training in the ways of interpreting the Bible, learning how to preach more effectively, and in going to a black school, having more awareness of race relations and how to bridge that gap in my own church. The first thing I want to do is to reach out to the homeless community, which in Silver Spring is almost exclusively black. I want to get in trouble with Jeffrey. I want the government of Montgomery County to know me as a troublemaker. I want to be worthy of an orange reflective vest that says “Clergy” on the back as I am actually walking the streets bringing the light of Christ to people who sorely need it more than I do. I am white. My family comes from money. I have never gone without a thing I need, and rarely gone without anything I wanted. My job is to learn to help people in concrete ways who have never had these things, possibly in their whole lives. When I see homeless teenagers, my heart melts into a puddle on the floor and I have to go into my nothing box just to be able to cope, to be able to calculate my next move without getting too angry or too incapacitated by my own tears to listen to those that need me.
Here’s the first time I learned that lesson. Years ago, I sang with a group called Bayou City Women’s Chorus, conducted by James Knapp. One of the pieces we were singing was called How Can I Keep from Singing, one of the pieces that I loved when Diane introduced it to our choir at Bridgeport, and she later told me that it was sung at a funeral for the family in our church that lost their infant twins. Between those two things, I could not keep my emotions unchecked. I was crying through the whole thing. James was not speaking directly to me, but it felt like it. He said that when we are singing for an audience, the emotions are for the AUDIENCE to have, not us. I have carried that advice ever since, and that’s mostly how I cope with ministry as well. It is not my job to have emotions in situations like this. It is for me to listen while others have theirs.
I was happy and shaken when several people said they wanted to come to my church, because it sounded like their kind of church (in the bulletin it said that I was starting my own church called St. James and All Sinners). I was only shaken because I realized that I needed to have a church as far away from CCC as I could get, because I didn’t want Matt to think I was trying to poach members from him. It’s my dream to start a church, but not at the expense of taking away from CCC. It’s my home. The home that is going to teach me to fly solo, one step at a time.
And this is everything I am thinking as I wait for 3:30, which cannot come fast enough. I have had enough of my own tears.