The Goth At The Pep Assembly

It was all RAH-RAH and pom-poms and school colors and loudness.  A high school pep assembly.  Looking through the lens of time it’s easy to wonder what the point of it all really was.  Something to the effect of stating:  We are this school!  We are a-w-e-s-o-m-e!  Other schools (shouted shrilly) are less awesome and we’ll eat them for breakfast!  Accompanied, as it was, by the almost-provocative routines of the cheerleaders and the more conservative twirls of the color guard and the strident blasts of trumpets and trombones, it was like a circus of self-aggrandizement.  And I always pitied the goths.

How on earth do you survive such a pep fest?  When your muse is wearing black and looking dour and avoiding sunlight and all things cheerful?  When all around your peers are standing up, stomping their feet, waving their arms, hollering themselves hoarse, and there you are, sitting, quiet, wishing for all the world to be in a corner of the library, reading Poe.

I’m not a goth, but I do have an attitude problem.

It struck me during a service at a local evangelical church.  Our burgeoning family filed into a pew, the worship being already in full swing.  The words to the songs were displayed on large flat screens, with nature scenes as backgrounds.  I ground my teeth.

Why do the songs need to look like obnoxious motivational posters?

Oh my word, this song is idiotic.  Worst of all, it’s theologically untrue.  

That woman over there is actually going to punch the air with her fist every time that lyric is repeated.  Yep, there she goes again.

Stop it, stop it.  Sorry, God.  I’m having a hard time worshiping You today, this way.

By this time I usually have sat down with one of the babies, bowed my head, and under my breath, began to pray.  Sometimes one of the ancient songs will fill my heart and I’ll sing that “..for His mercy endureth forever, alleluia”.  All around me people are swaying and singing, hands lifted up in the air, joy in their smiles and cheer all bunched up in the creases ’round their eyes.  And I’m like a goth at a pep assembly; I couldn’t possibly feel more out of place.

It isn’t right to mock or disdain, that I know and I regularly confess with sincere grief.  But there’s more to my reaction than just pride.  I am mourning and I am angry.

I am mourning because I’ve come to know the beauty, warmth, truth, and joy of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but I cannot be a part of it.  I honor my husband’s leading of our family, and have had to lay my desires down.  It is one of the few areas in our married life that push came to shove and he had the final say.  Most of the time we reach an accord naturally.  Not with this.  But though we attend evangelical churches (as we are yet in-process of finding a church home), I have his blessing to continue my studies of Eastern Orthodoxy and occasionally we attend services at St John’s.  Dustin regularly comes home to me listening to ancient chants and hymns or absorbed in a theological work with a pencil at hand.  I partake of the feast by crawling under the table for crumbs.  Some is better than none, I remind myself, when tears flow and the sorrow sticks in my throat.  Some is better than none.

I am angry because so many churches are singing nonsense.  And heresy.  Seriously, who is writing this crap?  It feels like a narcissistic romp through my own emotions with Jesus thrown in.  Music is a powerful medium for informing our beliefs; are we singing our theology?  Are we singing true things?

I have to be fair; not all the songs are bad.  Maybe even Byzantine chants would look cheesy overlaying some picture of a waterfall.

When the final prayer has been said, to the background accompaniment of soft guitar strummings, I keep my head low.  I gather our things and hope no one talks to me.  Because, though I am a believer and a sister in Christ, and though this was all once as familiar to me as sliced bread, I am painfully out of place.  I cannot put on a false and brave smile and speak Christianese with the cheerful strangers around me.  I’ve never been good at pretending, so I’m afraid this would happen:

Good morning!  I haven’t met you yet!  Are you folks from around here?”

“Morning.  Yep.”

These all your kids?  Are you just visiting or….?”

I don’t want to be here.  I don’t like evangelicalism anymore.  I think I’m burnt out on everything that’s happened in the Western church since the Byzantine times.  I’m tired of the autonomy, the lack of authority, the sola scriptura-touting denominational sectarianism. I’m only here because my husband likes this.  I’m a mess.  I’m sorry I’m so rude.  I’m going to go to the car and cry now”.

I don’t want to do that to someone on a Sunday morning.  I am getting to know the patterns in the carpet well.

Trust me, I know, I know my attitude is bent and snarly.  But I’m also in pain.  Deep pain and grief.  Measure me some grace on that account.

And pray, I beg you, that God would give me His peace about where I can be and where I can’t, where I can feast and where I can’t.  And may the crumbs from His table satisfy and nourish me as I seek Him.

 

 

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Visibly, and Invisibly, Human

It was the first time I didn’t even get the dust off of the furniture.

There are some baseline standards I like to reach before guests arrive at our home:  floors swept and mopped and vacuumed, bathrooms cleaned, dishes washed, toys and paper clutter put away, furniture dusted, a candle lit, and something tasty baking in the oven.  It’s mostly about my pride and somewhat about my guests.  I want to create a welcoming space, yes, and I want approval.  Scads of it.  No, seriously, tell me everything you love about my home.  Sigh.

See, I want you to see me without my failures sprinkled about.  And since I can’t talk about my promotion at work or my new exhibition at a local gallery or show you pictures from my latest overseas jaunt, I dust.  I bake, I clean like mad the half hour before you arrive.  This home is my canvas and I want you to approve of the effect.

It’s childish.  And not in the cute way.

“She’s patiently waiting for you to notice her new dress”, whispered my friend to me, as her young daughter shifted her weight from foot to foot in the hush of the church lobby.  I smiled; how I know that feeling.

“Wow!  Your dress is so beautiful!  Is it new?”

She beamed, she smiled down at her frock with a look of sheer pleasure and nodded.

We all want that, don’t we?  Crave that approval, that admiration.

Well.  It’s probably a good place to be right now; with dusty furniture and other humbling markers of domestic failure all about.  The last few weeks have seen us adapting to our new little Tobi (and worrying through two health scares with him) and each of the children coming down with nasty colds.  It feels like I never stop moving; I’m like a pinball being ricocheted from the laundry room to fold a load, to the diaper changing table to change a poo, to the bathroom to wash it out of the diaper, back to the table to throw the sopping diaper into the diaper bin, which I see is now full, back to the laundry room to start a load of diapers, running back to the dining room to stop Henri from plummeting out of his highchair, back to the kitchen to get a dishrag to wipe up spilled milk, detained there by the overflowing soup pot, and on and on.  Dusting the furniture has been bumped WAY down the list of priorities.

untitled (20 of 28) untitled (21 of 28) untitled (23 of 28) untitled (24 of 28) And I realize anew that I can’t do it all.  I have no new frock to display, just a tired old dress smeared with spit-up.  I am oh so visibly human.

And I’ve got it all backwards.  Because you see, I was getting my house in order and beautiful so that I would be perceived as “in order” and “beautiful”, soul-deep.  Like my home was an inanimate extension of, and physical evidence of, a put-together me.  Why wasn’t I going straight to the source and working directly on beautifying my soul, rather than on the rooms that contain us, eternal us?  This is, after all, just a house, but the souls within it?  Eternal.

I am chronically short-sighted.  I focus on the don’t-matters and leave the truly-matters to flap in the wind as they will.  I see this in my parenting, and I shudder.  I’ve hustled the herd to bed so that I could mindlessly scroll through the news feed; reading about other people’s lives and “liking” cute pictures of their kids while my own went to bed without my attention to their end-of-the-day thoughts.

Oh.  So.  Human.

It’s tempting to end this with a rousing appeal to my dear readers to join me in some challenge to become more holy and less prideful and some such.  But God sometimes drops a heavy stone into our laps because He wants us to sit with it a while; not just figure out how to best roll it off without pinching our fingers.  Let the heavy thing sit; learn the lesson deep and true; let the weight sink right into you.  The weight for me?  Seeing how much of me is still governed by securing the good opinion of others, and relatedly, how little of me is governed by securing God’s approval, God’s smile.

How is the dust laying round about the soul?  Has anyone been mindful of the clutter in there?  Is it in fit condition at all?  Oh that I would care half as much for the daily maintenance of the eternal as I did for the temporal!  Lord, have mercy!

 

Winter’s Deep

_MG_4751 _MG_4753 _MG_4756It can be taken as a bother.  Pinching, wincing, painful faces we pull as we slip and shuffle over slick sidewalks to our cars.  There is a face as well for scraping frost off the windows, especially if some of it ends up on that vulnerable gap between glove and sleeve.  There’s the way the seats inside creak with stiffness and we get tangled in a battle between our scarves and our seat belts and how the heater never catches up until we’ve arrived at our destinations, and there’s the fact that the children will always ask that you turn up the heat, and you’ll bristle because you’ve explained how heaters in cars need time to warm up a million times plus twenty.

Winter, after the twinkly brightness and joy of Christmas have passed, can seem like a gray that pains, a long stretch of ache, and mothers can start climbing the walls.

Here we haven’t had much snow yet, but 27 days without sunshine seemed significant.  There was precipitation and cold but not concurrently, so we had a lot of rain and mud and children who weren’t spending enough of their exuberant energy out of doors.  That’s crazy-making, for all of us._MG_5246 _MG_5247

From last year, when the snow wore the children out on a regular basis.

Now, this year baby Tobias came and it feels like I carry Summer’s warmth, and Spring’s flowers, and Fall’s bright leaves all in my heart at once.  The winter hems us in, tucks us into our house where the tall old windows let the light pool out onto the dark yard.  It lays sleep on the roses and the grapes and, praise God above, the weeds, and my to-do lists are all house-bound.

IMG_2039It’s enough to know that the seasons will keep rolling around again, isn’t it?  When my children are driving me batty with their big bodies crashing through the house in a game of tag and their noise is prodigious, it’s enough.

Because in winter’s deep there’s a baby tucked into my arms, soft little fuzzy newborn head below my chin, and the winter hems us in, and the windows spill light into the dark.