Just dying for … church?

“I’m just dying to ______.” How would you fill in the blank? (And don’t forget to tell me what your answer is ….)

After you give that some thought, consider this: how did we get to this particular cliché? Where we have brought together the language of desire and the language of death, or at the very least pain unto death, that pain being unfullfillment? Is it just hyperbole? Or something deeper?

I spend several days a week with people in a cancer center, many of whom are staring down death quite literally. I am learning with and from them, and my peers, about how we can and cannot talk about life, death, and desires.

Like the people I am working with, I have to live my life in pieces; there is no one place where all my needs and desires are met, all my skills are used, all my passions are in play. I think that used to be my holy grail: that level of integration in my life. Maybe because I felt so fragmented myself, I wanted there to be an external crucible that would hold all of me together. It has been hard to let go of that dream, although it has become clear that it is a necessary loss. What I have not yet done is to grieve that loss. I’m doing that now … so it’s a little hard to report from the middle of the mess.

But what I am finding is this: the dream I was dying to have come true is what needs to die. When the shackles of my expectations fall away from the future that can be, then that future will be mine to live into.

I was once part of an anti-racist, multicultural new church start in Dallas, Texas: it was also Mennonite, led by women, pacifist, and embraced a plethora of worship styles and expressions. You might also say, doomed to fail. We were up against so many odds, and one interpretation of the story is that the odds won. Another interpretation is that my figuring out that I was gay — and the inability of the church or denomination to deal with that — was the real death knell. There are probably other interpretations; but that’s not what matters here.

What matters here is that that experience was so good, so true, so radical (in the sense of “roots” and “crazy”) an experience of gospel (as in good news) living that it has forever become my test of other church experiences and my own church dreams. That experience became the definition of “good church” for me … indeed, the definition of good. All I needed was to recreate that experience in a setting where gay was okay, and I’d have the perfect church. Which would be the new be-all and end-all for me.

You can probably see where this is going.

Wow, Tammerie, is there any room in there for what anyone else might be thinking? (God, for instance? Or, your friends? Or, your own beloved?)

To answer my own question from earlier in this post, maybe one reason that the language of desire and death have come together is because a desire being fulfilled means something new has begun … and that always means something else has ended. So … when you say, “I’m dying for _______,” are you also thinking of what you are willing to let go of in order to move toward your desire?

Cliché as it may sound — and truly painful as it actually is — the dream I’ve had labeled “church” has to die. And I have to grieve that loss, now, because that church — good as it was — is not coming back. Not here, now now, not ever. The death of a good thing … so, so hard to accept. The death, even, of my definition of “good.”

Sitting with that ….

Now, here’s the thing. There’s this little group of people, in Durham, North Carolina. We’ve been gathering together for a while, to mull over the sacred and the mundane in our lives, and to pray together, with and for each other and folks we know. We are a motley bunch from a variety of traditions and understandings. But every couple of weeks, we open ourselves to let the Spirit of Love blow through us … and that can’t help but enliven us, inspire us, change us.

We have come to care and to trust more deeply. And that group gave me a place to speak what I am dying for … and to begin to unpack the elements of what I think I want and need. Their invitation to me has become our invitation to ourselves, to dream together of what more we might want to become, together, try out, together, live into, together.

It’s not a repeat of the Church of Many Peoples. It’s not even church. But it is what the Spirit of Life is able to help us give each other now, at this time and in this place, and I would be a fool to pass up this cup brimming with life for a memory of what once almost was.

Lots of folks are talking about what’s wrong with the church and the dying of the mainline denominations … that talk does me little good. I don’t want to talk about what’s wrong; I want to be with people who want to make something right. Or, so much better than right: life-giving, humanizing, loving and beloved. Maybe it is a good sign that none of us really fit in what church has become: we are like recovering addicts, survivors of the church’s abuse, and we don’t want to take the church’s shit anymore. We are better than that, stronger than that, and want so much more than that.

Let’s gather and be gathered, then, in the name of Love. Let fall what needs to fall. Let open what needs to open. Let life live itself through us.

How about you? What astonishing new life is trying to surprise you, glowing amid the wizened leaves of past seasons? What ending have you resisted, and what beginning is it costing you?

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2 Responses to Just dying for … church?

  1. jharader says:

    I don’t have ready answers for your questions . . . thankful once again for your eloquence and honesty.

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