Monday, October 6, 2008

Post Honeymoon Faith

Church-hopping, moving to a new city, examining my faith, trying out new relationships, beginning a new job, disciplining children, lesson planning for hours each day, managing my finances, and dealing with post-graduate life are all enough to leave me utterly exhausted recently. And as I feel I am missing something - the true community, reverence, worship, that comes from joining a church - I also feel like I've had my optimism and joy beaten out of me every time I visit someplace new.

I am absolutely tired of hearing your salvation story, your altar call, your version of what Jesus Christ did for me.

I don't give a damn why or how you became a Christian. Chances are very good that I already know.

I want to know how you keep being one.

After the salvation high, after the lust-with-Christ phase, after disappointment, and heartbreak, and failure, and lonesomeness, after all the excitement is lost and what you're left with is a day-t0-day commitment, a daily struggle, waking up to the same God and church that falls utterly short of God's glory. When you're left facing a struggling, hurting, cynical, impoverished, diseased, illiterate, intolerant, unhappy world. Facing a hipocritical, money-driven, judgemental, dry, lukewarm Church . . .

I want to know what you do then. Then, when you wake up alone, in a new city, with a new job and a new life and a soul full of doubts.

In that place, I want to know how to be a Christian. I want someone to show me how to walk that faith.

I know what it's like to fall in love with Jesus. I want to know what to do about the rest of the journey.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I <3 NC

Truth be told, I don't so much believe in heaven. Salvation, sure. Reincarnation, perhaps. But it's hard for me to get my head around us all holding hands and singing hymns on a cloud oneday. It's a pretty picture, but honestly, it sounds a bit boring. Not much like me. And it requires a little too much blind faith for my taste. So here's the confession: I don't believe in heaven. But if I did, I think it'd be a little bit like this weekend . . .

I went to the Outer Banks this weekend for the first time I can remember. And it was fabulous. I went with Heidi and Nathan. We spent the weekend in a cottage with Heidi's family. And it was soo good. Such good company - in the car, on the beach, in the pool. It's the first time since the end of July that I remember not feeling stressed. The first time I remember simply being happy. And it was such a gift.

The ride to the beach was glorious. Heidi and Nathan picked me up in Burlington around 6. We grabbed some dinner and drove to the East Coast on 64. The sun was setting just as we set out, and it was absolutely beautiful. It was this huge golden disk, just sinking in the sky. We listened to 100.7 The (New) River almost all the way to the beach. And it was just a moment of infinity. Great music, good conversation - jokes and memories and laughter. A great trip with great friends. I learned a myth about Virginia Dare, and threw a penny over the bridge for good luck, and saw the (ugly) Wright Memorial, and sang songs that remind me of college and songs that remind me high school and songs that remind me of love.

Heidi's family rented a cottage that was huge. It had its own pool and hot tub. We got the whole basement, and it was awesome. We stayed up after 1 just talking and hanging out and watching Heart of a Lioness on Animal Planet. (1 is super late for me - I usually go to bed around 8:30.) The television turned itself on sometime after I feel asleep and before Heidi and Nathan did. At first we thought it was an alarm, but the alarm wasn't set to go off. And Heidi said, "oh, it's my mom," in that way she does that is a little bit joking but not really. And I think it probably was. I talk to Heidi's mom sometimes. Not like entire conversations. Not like prayers. But I tell her hello when I think she might be around. So I told her hello. And I went to sleep and dreamed that I adopted a baby. A dream I hope comes true oneday.

Saturday morning we woke up and ate breakfast. Then we went to the beach. We drove out to Corolla until the road ended. And we all piled into the Jeep and kept driving, past the horse fence, right onto the beach. And it was the best thing ever. It's like the parkway but the beach, and gorgeous, and we opened the trunk so we could feel the wind. And we were all piled on top of each other and Heidi and Nathan and I were in the trunk. And it smelled like the sea. And we passed other 4 wheel drives and waved. And we watched a CRV being towed out of the sand, and I learned not to drive my car on the beach.

When we got to a spot that wasn't crowded we stopped. And we got out. And it turned out that I had been sitting on Heidi's mom (her ashes that is). So I apologized, and we laughed, and we poured her into the ocean. And we hugged and teared a minute, and then we swam. It was a great swim. The weather was gorgeos. The waves were gentle. It was a little cold, but we got used to it after a while. WE played and splashed and floated around. We saw some pelicans, and Nell said that her mom always loved pelicans, she would have loved for them to be there. And then we swam against the current and out to a sandbar. We were in ankle deep water 50 feet out. And when we swam back in we were with the current, and it carried us, and every step was little bounce, like walking on the moon, or flying. And then we dried in the sun and drove back to the house.

We swam for a while and played in the pool. In the afternoon, Heidi and the family went to her cousin's wedding. Nathan and I went to visit the lighthouse. It was so cool. It is so neat to stand in something so beautiful, and so old, that saved so many lives. Something that stands for protection and innovation and duty and constancy. We walked up the steps and read the information and took in the gorgeous view all around. We were surrounded by water - the sea on one side and the sound on the other. Below, in the courtyard, a wedding was taking place. I decided I might want to get married at a lighthouse oneday. Butterflies were playing in the garden, and the shadow of the lighthouse streched out over pine trees. We talked about which beach house we'd live in, if we could. I found that peace I always find when I watch the ocean. And when it was time to go, we left.

We went to Food Lion to get dinner and booze, but the line was ridiculous. We counted NC license plates in the parking lot and found 2. Eventually, we found a Harris Teeter and got frozen pizza and a gift bag for the baby shower. We went to "The Currituck County ABC Store," which is attached to "The Currituck County Visitor's Center," which we found hilarious. Then we went home and played in the pool, ate pizza, and watched ghost stories on BIO. Eddy and Claire came home and we hung out with them a bit. Then Heidi came home and we drank and swam and talked and played until 1 in the morning again. We broke 6 of the rules posted by the pool at the same time. It was fabulous, and fun. I didn't feel responsible. I felt free, and happy, and so lucky. I realized it's been a while since I felt really, truly happy, and I vowed to feel that way more often.

We finally went inside and watched CNN specials about the VP candidates and went to sleep. But I had been drinking coke and I couldn't sleep until around 3.

In the morning we swam some more and had a baby shower for Nell. We met Heidi's extended family who were all not sure quite who we are and made remarks like "It's nice to see you again" or stared blankly at the wall behind us. We took family photos and ate brownies and roast beef. And then we drove home.

The drive home is always longer than the drive to get there. And it's always a little more melancholoy and less exciting. But the music was just as good, and the conversation meant just as much. I fell asleep for a bit. I woke up to a road lined with cotton and tobacco. We drove through Williamston to see where Heidi came from. We stopped at the river, and saw her house, and the dry cleaners, and Main Street. And the houses reminded me of my grandmother's house at Park Avenue. And the farms reminded me of my great aunts and uncles. And I thought about how much I miss the mountains and how much I love the sea. And we all agreed that we love North Carolina. Tobacco, cotton, Southern Baptists, the biggest sand dune in the world, Appalachian football, Carborro, sweet Duplin wine, sunsets in the piedmont, snowstorms, eastern BBQ, the Avett Brothers, my family, my friends, and so much, so much more. I love this state.

We kept driving home. Stopped at Olive Garden for dinner. Nun bowled when we got back to my place. Talked of sex shops and Halloween and upcoming visits. And I treasured every moment. It was a great refresher, a great escape, a great reality. It was good to love and be loved. It was good to remember. It was good to make memories.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Worth It

I love Easter. I've been thinking a lot recently about "salvation" and Christ and why I say I'm a Christian. A lot of it has to do with Jesus. The way he lived his life, and the way I believe we should live our lives. A lot of it has to do with the concept of self-sacrifice and humility that is so important to Christians. A lot of it has to do with our cutlure, the way I was raised, and the way I understand God and worship. A lot of it has to do with Easter.

I really, truly beleieve that humans need that concept of Easter. We need the concept of Christ, of Rebirth, of Renewal, of beginning again. People have told me before that every new day is a new chance to get it right. Every new day is a miniature miracle. And I believe that. But I think, all together, humans need something to believe that for. We need that belief so we can keep going - keep living.

Yesterday I was reading the liturgy for Easter, and it began to make sense for me. Things I had forgotten came back; I began to understand the point again. The psalm for yesterday talks about those time when life sucks. It talks about losing friends and lovers. It talks about people you love letting you down, and not having a place to turn. It talks about people you love dying. It talks about feeling alone and hopeless, and not being able to find God.

And then Easter comes. And there God is.

The sermon I heard today talked about the same thing. She talked about how alone Mary must have felt, waiting all night in the grave yard, and then discovering that her best friend's body had been stolen. She paralleled Mary's darkness to the darkness in our own lives when we go through times of despair and death. Death of friendship. Death of love. Death of hope. Death of life.

I could relate to this sermon because the last year of my life has carried a lot of death. I have a CD I made last year over Easter. I made it because of losses I was experiencing in my life as some of my closest friends were moving away. I listened to the CD this morning, and I thought of all that has happened between last Easter and this Easter. I have lost some of my closest friends, mainly because they have moved away. I have lost an important relationship. I have watched two of my best friends lose a parent. I have watched my own family struggle with some serious issues.

I have lost a lot of my idealism. I used to look at the world and sincerely believe that everyone was good, everyone was doing his or her best, and things would be okay. But this year I have learned that sometimes life is not okay. And sometimes people really don't do their best, no matter how much you want them to. And sometimes loving someone isn't enough. And sometimes my reactions and expectations and ways of dealing with things are not consistent with the Woman I would like to be. And sometimes people just randomly die - for no apparent reason. I have learned that as beautiful as life is, sometimes it is really ugly, really painful.

But the point of the sermon today was that when death speaks (death of anything ,or anyone), it only has one line to speak. "It is finished." That is all death says. The minister today, she said, "And then there is silence. Sometimes a very, very long silence." But after silence, God is still speaking.

The beauty of God is that God can not be contained by a tomb, or a box, or a death, or a relationship, or a failure. God is so much bigger than any of that. God rises, and recreates, and transforms, and begins again. God always chooses life.

The minister went on to point out that sometimes people are tempted to lock themselves in their own "Upper Room" after a death. We lock ourselves away, because we are afraid. We lock ourselves away, because we can't see God, and we don't know where to look anymore. And if we lock ourselves away, we often become the walking dead. There is no Life left to us. There is no faith, no joy, no Passion.

The beauty of Easter is the hope that the Passion and Life and Joy that come from living a life consistent with God - that come from a God who calls us by name - is not something that can be lost. It is ever-changing. It is ever-evolving. It is beautiful and challenging and defies description. But it is always here. It rises again. And, created in Its image, we also rise.

Easter is a beautiful story because it is magical, and hopeful, and full of springtime and new life. It is like Santa Claus but way better. And I am a Christian because I believe that humans need that kind of hope, that kind of magic. I believe that kind of faith and renewal is what makes life worth living and sharing and dancing through.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Shame on You

Just got back from an Indigo Girls concert. It was incredible. Absolutely amazing. Women everywhere: dancing and happy. I love Asheville. I love live music. I love their lyrics and their guitars and the passion and love that were everywhere. The whole auditorium sang along to every song. Such a feeling of joy and community - and I love when someone takes the thoughts in my head and turns them into a song. Sheryl Crowe. Ani. Alanis. Christine Kane. The Indigo Girls. They make art out of life.

Anyway, in their song, "Shame On You," one verse goes like this:

My friend Tanner she says you know
Me and Jesus were of the same heart
The only thing that keeps us distant
Is that I keep fuckin up

Everyone screams the last line. And I love it. Because it is true. Because it is real. Because it embraces humanity, and women, and life.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fucking Up

So I was looking at a friend's Facebook profile today, and her "About Me" says: i fuck up. And I thought, dude, that should be my about me. That's perfect. Because let's face it, I do.

It's interesting though, sometimes I let the mistakes really get me down. There are still mistakes resonating from last semester or the summer or a few years ago that from time to time take over my mind, and I sit around thinking about them. Trying to figure out what I should have done differently. Trying to figure out what I did that went against Who I Was Created to Be, and how I can keep from doing that in the future.

The thing is, though, I can't. And maybe that is the lesson in forgiveness that I keep being supposed to learn and don't. I fuck up. You fuck up. We all do. Most of the suffering (if not all) in the world would be prevented if people would just stop fucking up. We don't live up to who we'd like to be, or who we're called to be, or who our parents or friends or teachers or lovers think we are.

Ash Wednesday was yesterday. It is my favorite holiday (I know, weird.) But I like it because it reminds us how human we are. "Remember that you are from dust, and to dust you will return." Dust. That is all we are. Without grace, without love, without redemption - we are dust. It's humbling. It's important to remember, and admit, and move on.

I am only dust without Your Grace. But with Your Grace, I am beautiful. I am a Creation. I am Amanda. And yeah, I fall short. And yeah, I fuck up. A lot. And a lot of those fuck ups are the same thing over and over and over again. But that is the essence of humanity. That is the purpose of Redemption and the Hope that comes from Communion with God. Lent is all about admiting our humanity and pursuing the Divine.

I am looking forward to this chance to Recreate. To dance, and love, and start over, and try again. To listen to Jesus, to listen to Amanda. And to be.