I will live

4 03 2013

(Listen to the song here.)

Since the crumbling of my relationship with my old church, I’ve found it very difficult to find my way back to any kind of worship.  Even sitting in a church makes me feel uncomfortable – it feels psychically cold and damp, all hard surfaces and windows too clouded to admit light.  I don’t know how to explain it, the kind of damage the old church did to me; probably dwelling on it doesn’t make it any better and maybe even makes it seem worse than it was.

Nonetheless… I miss the feel of church.  The sense of fellowship, of being lifted up by the music to a spiritual awareness of joy in God.  I did find a more modern church to join, one that is much more inclusive of gender and sexual identities.  The minister is a woman.  She is a good, loving, compassionate Christian who speaks eloquently to the Christian life.  I think maybe I’m in a place now where theology isn’t working for me any more.  I want to feel the presence of spirit.  You can’t talk your way to that place.

I’ve known for years that music will reach me when nearly nothing else will.  When I shut down in response to sorrow or stress, I may not be able to hear the voices of those who love me – but I can still hear music.  So on Saturday I went to a gospel concert sponsored by our community college.   I went  with my mother, and we were in a really REALLY tiny minority of whiteness. (Which is sad… and maybe the subject of another post some day.)   The theater was filled with people of color from all over northern Illinois; I think local churches were promoting the concert to their congregations, so it was like each church had its own enthusiastic cheering section.  And when the concert started?  No longer a concert… but a heartfelt response of joy and acclamation that rose from the audience and the performers for nearly four hours.   There was the initial discomfort of being in the middle of people who pretty obviously had some different church habits than I did – Presbyterians aren’t called God’s Frozen Chosen for nothing – but it passed and was replaced by a spiritual uplift that I haven’t felt in years.

Charles Jenkins and Fellowship Chicago opened the second half.  And before they even got into what I would call a song, Jenkins reminded the audience of Jesus’ promise of “abundant life” (John 10:10).  That particular verse has been twisted into the prosperity gospel, where if you are Jesusy enough, you get rich.  (Yeah.  I do have a problem with that.)  Saturday night, though, I heard that abundant life means having the tools to live… to engage with life, be part of it, to take the chances and the risks to taste and smell and feel and experience all of it.  An abundant, fully engaged life is what we are meant to have – not just something that occupies the brain, but that touches our hearts, invites us to feel and love without fear.    Or more precisely, to feel the fear and to love anyway.

The framing on Saturday was Christian.  It doesn’t have to be.  I know what I felt on Saturday, though, claiming my right to live, and live fully.  There have been some rough things in the last few years that have hit hard – I lost my husband, my church, my career.  The temptation after a few blows like that is to keep my head down and stay with the herd – so I am surrounded by a sea of churning legs, but at least I have the illusion of being safe.

I want to live.  Abundantly.  Fully.  Probably not safely, or at least not in the way I’ve been thinking of safety.  And not within the confines of narrow theology, of God contained in dense verbiage.  I’ve listened for years, decades even, as preachers and ministers tell me I can’t trust my own feelings and my own experience of God, that flesh can’t be trusted, that nothing can be trusted except their version of the Word of God.  The safety of theology denies the abundance of the human experience, an experience so real and true and vital that God became incarnate.  How can the church take that incarnation, something so central to their belief system, and turn it into the vilest sin?  And why has it taken me 50 years to get here?

I want to live.  I choose to live.

(For real… listen to this.)

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