My evenings in Honduras are usually spent journaling. I try to capture the tender moments and sweet memories but more often than not, I journal through hard conversations. By writing their words, I can flesh out what I feel about them. I analyze and pray and process and then have the gumption to do it all again the next day. But a few days ago? What he told me was too much. I didn’t know how to start unpacking these stories of abuse, how to make room in my soul for these realities to rest. Instead, I shoved it all into the recesses of my mind and chose to spend the evening reading Lucky by Alice Sebold. It’s a memoir about the author’s rape her freshman year of college. (I know, I know. I tried to distract myself from one trauma by reading about another. What can I say, I’m one of a kind.) There was a day that her professor encouraged her to share a poem she had written about the rape with the class. The professor then made all of the students comment on it because:
“What Alice has given you is a gift. I think it’s important that everyone recognize this and respond to her. You are joining her at the table by speaking.”
Without warning, my eyes filled with tears. I looked up from my book in confusion. This sure is an extreme reaction to a small part of her story. Then the reality hit that even though I had put this child’s words to rest for the evening, they were still there hanging out under the surface, anxiously awaiting my attention. The truth in this book brought my mind right back to him, but this time there was gratitude mixed with the distress. Because although his words are hard to digest, what he has given me is a gift. He has invited me to his table. But even more than that, he has opened the doors to the closets in those rooms of his house that he closes tightly when company is coming over. What an incredible honor this invitation is.
It’s not the first time I’ve had this honor and I’m confident it won’t be my last. But there’s a price to pay when you’re invited into these dark and hidden closets. A new reality emerges. And the hard work of merging new truths with what used to be certain commences.
Another book I’m reading called Out of Sorts by Sarah Bessey (because sometimes I read about things other than trauma) is reminding me of this price. The subtitle is ‘Making Peace with an Evolving Faith’ and she starts the book with this:
“Once upon a time, you had it all beautifully sorted out. Then you didn’t.”
“There are a lot of Jesuses running around these days. There is the Jesus who wants you to find a good parking spot at the mall…”
Ah yes, I know this Jesus well. And being from a small town with a low person to good parking spot ratio, Jesus and I were tight. Now I live in a world were 9 out of 10 of the little people I love believe in a demon that kills newborn children unless you wrap them in a special blanket. (Does this spirit usually visit those who are desperately poor? “Yes.” Do you think maybe their deaths could be the result of poor nutrition, contaminated water and lack of access to medical care? “Nope, it’s the demon.”) My Jesus loved me so much he cut down on the number of steps I had to take to reach my destination. This Jesus watches babies die.
As an adolescent, I was implicitly taught to accept what I was told from the pulpit. Something doesn’t seem to make sense? Well, I’m clearly the one lacking in conviction, wisdom or Greek. I remember the day when I was in a coffeeshop, sitting near enough to one of our pastors and my friend Dave that I could overhear their conversation. Pastor X was explaining something to Dave and Dave responded with something along the lines of “That’s interesting, but I respectfully disagree.” WHAT??? We’re allowed do that???? That’s when I started thinking for myself every once in a while.
This (and a few dozen other things) led me from a small town with good parking spots to Honduras where I regularly argue with God about why in the hell he allows so much crap to happen. Reading Sarah Bessey (and Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber and Father Greg Boyle) is making my parking spot Jesus little more than an anecdote from my past.
“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Zora Neale Hurston
As my bff status with parking lot Jesus died, it was replaced by questions. And I’ve lived for years with questions about the definition of goodness, justice, omnipotence. I am confident that I will always have more questions than answers, but I do think I’m moving into a season that has less questions and more confidence. A season in which, when I child invites me to his table to share the weight of his past, I won’t shoot a sidelong glance at Jesus and hiss ‘what’s wrong with you that you let this happen?’ A season where God is just as good when I find out another child has died as when a different child overcomes the odds, leaves the street and graduates from high school. Bessey says:
“If our theology doesn’t shift and change over our lifetimes, then I have to wonder if we’re paying attention.”
The tables at which I have sat for the last six years have provided me with food that has been hard to digest. At these tables, I have learned how easy faith is when surrounded by the abundance and protection found in large sectors of North American culture. More has been put on my plate than the old faith I brought with me can contain. ‘Out of Sorts’ is all about how Bessey’s faith began, grew, got tripped up, was nearly extinguished, then exploded once again. (Well, the first 56 pages are about this. I can’t speak to the next 200. Give me a few more weeks.) Being invited to these tables made me identify with this. I’ve realized I’m not afraid of doubt, struggle or anger. My stomach is strong. And even though there are times that what I’m given at these tables is too, too much, I count myself lucky that I’ve been trusted time and again to receive the invitation.