Growing up, my family was the kind that was at church every Sunday. Rain, snow or shine, you could find us in our usual seats. For the past year, however, church and I have had a much more complicated relationship.
The Sunday following the election, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go. I wanted to be surrounded by community. I wanted to mourn and lament. I wanted to cry out to God. But I wasn’t sure that my church would be the safest space for that. I knew my pastor would have to say something, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what it was.
I went. And I heard pretty much what I expected to hear. The message contained references to the fear some people in our community felt about the impact of this presidency on their lives. That fear was then equated with the fear felt by people in our community who were worried about what Hillary becoming president could mean for their lives.
Those kinds of false equivalencies continued through the statement, and the strain of making an apolitical statement about something as explicitly political as a presidential election was evident. So many words were said, but so little was communicated. I didn’t feel seen, heard, validated, understood, safe or connected to God.
I felt angry and numb.
At the end of the statement, everyone in the room was asked to stand in a show of unity. My legs felt leaden, and I remained in my seat.
Verses about unity have too often been used to silence marginalized and dissenting voices in the church. When I speak up about injustice or exclusion within the church, I am often told that I am “sowing discord” and that “in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free,” so when I speak about my experience as a woman and a person of color, I am creating disunity.
Rarely do we, in the church, talk about the hard work unity requires. Rarely do we talk about how this burden falls on the privileged to create unity by seeking to understand the stories of the marginalized in our community and helping to make our churches inclusive spaces. Marginalized folks should not have to contort ourselves into positions that make the privileged feel comfortable.
That is not true unity. True unity exists only when everyone can show up with their full selves and expect to be loved and included.
I have taken a step back from church since the election, but I’ve continued to crave spaces to grieve and lament and mourn and be with community and cry out to God. Recently, those spaces have been protests, museums and national parks. After the original Muslim ban was announced, I went to a pro-immigrant and refugee rally near San Francisco City Hall.
I wept as people shared their stories of fleeing home, being separated from family, not having access to basic social services. I wept as people shared their stories of triumph despite impossible odds, stories of anger against unjust systems and their hunger for home. I had the distinct feeling that, were Jesus on earth, he would be at that rally, comforting people, wiping their tears. Maybe he would even grab the mic and lead a chant.
That was the most profoundly I had felt the presence of God since the election.
I had a similar experience at the new Museum of Capitalism in Oakland.
“Alternative Economics, Alternative Societies” – PHOTO BY BREA MCANALLY/BREA PHOTOGRAPHY
Many of the exhibits speak of a post-capitalist society that sounds suspiciously like the Kingdom of God. A society in which conspicuous consumption is a thing of the past and where everyone has what they need. A society in which people enjoy the fruit of their labor, where there is no need for police officers or jails or credit cards. A society in which we take care of the earth and each other.
I stood over a display of police billy clubs that had been turned into flutes, and I thought of Isaiah 2:4, which says:
“He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4
That verse is about a future in which there is no need for weapons and they’ve been re-purposed into tools that bring sustenance and life.
I wish that my church were a space where we could dream together about what “on earth as in heaven” can look like. Eventually I hope to have the energy to return and work to make it that kind of space.
But for now, I’m enjoying encountering God in spaces where God’s presence, while unexpected to me, has been all along