Tag Archives: Community

what to do when old memories resurface

At night, thoughts just trickle down like raindrops into my brain. I really can’t control the onslaught, and I never know what form they’ll take from night to night. Last night, my thoughts turned to my year at Northwestern. It seems like an eternity ago, and I realized that I couldn’t remember a lot of peoples’ names. It was a relief, though, because most of them were people I didn’t actually know. They just knew the few people I did know, extending far out into the college life I never shared. I forget sometimes what a hard year it was. I’m honestly shocked that I made it through alive. At my worst, I had imagined crawling into the oven in the little kitchenette in the dorm room I shared with two other girls, and at my best, I successfully went to class, to the on-campus therapy, and check-ins with my hall director who needed to make sure I wasn’t going to kill myself. Even at my best, I was just surviving.

The thoughts of that year just kept streaming in last night, filling me up, like I was an inflating balloon. Chris snored peacefully beside me, and Yoshi had gone downstairs, so I couldn’t occupy myself with petting him. Instead, I went into Baxter’s room and lay on the sleeping bag I always kept in there for just such occasions. He wasn’t interested in playing with me, so I put him back in his house and lay on my back, listening to him rustle in his bedding and toilet paper tubes. With each breath, I tried to imagine thoughts leaving my body like air, as if I was decompressing from a deep dive. I wanted to become completely flat, even with the floor, and not swollen up with strange emotions.

Memories kept flying in, like the first week of living on campus where the college hosted an ’80’s costume party, and I sat watching three girls from my hall put their long hair in side ponytails, with off-shoulder sweaters and neon eyeliner, and the only ’80’s look I could possibly pull off was Joan Jett, because I owned a lot of black clothes and my hair was short like hers.

It’s so weird what comes up in the dark, with no distractions except the sound of a hedgehog drinking water. I kept picturing the little lounge area of my floor, Red Hall, even though I rarely spent time there. Then there was the “prank” some of the older girls played on the freshman when we first moved in, that there would be a table set up where any boys who came to visit would have to sign in. When they revealed that they were joking, it wasn’t really that funny, because we did still have to always keep the doors open if we had a gentleman caller, and they could only visit one day during the week. I truly can’t remember if it was part of the prank that we had to also hang little paper dolls on the door if there was a guy there, or if that was real. I knew that none of that would apply to me, prank or no, so it was a weird way to start the year.

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My corner of the NWC dorm. That big squared blanket is now primarily Chris’.

That was also the year that I got really into charismatic Christianity. After one especially intense devotional session with one of the girls sharing her story of being abused, I started getting worked up during the prayer session, and when someone tried to put their hands on me to pray, I flipped out. I ended up being held down on the floor, growling. When I finally calmed down, I was exhausted, but didn’t want to go back to my dorm to my roommate who never came to the hall Bible studies, and who did not understand either my depression or hyper-spirituality. She might have been in a cult. The other roommate, who was more receptive and open, was out with her friends. I don’t remember if I talked with my RA about what had triggered the spiritual attack (panic attack, as I now know it was), but I don’t remember feeling safe or reassured afterwards. When I think about that time and my relationship with the girls in the Hall, I’m left with a big question mark. It feels like I bled all over the floor all year and everyone kind of avoided it. Occasionally, someone would ask how I was, listen intently, and I would feel better.

During the year, I felt like I had some allies in my battle, so when I decided to transfer, I wanted to end the year well. I hung out one-on-one with the girl whose testimony had triggered my attack, and tried to connect with her using the only spiritual language I really knew: charismatic crazy talk. I thought she would understand, but by the end of our conversation, I could tell she thought I was insane. I never saw or talked to her again. The older girl who I had met with during the year was nowhere to be found when I moved out, and when I texted her during the summer about getting coffee, she was always busy. My RA unfriended me on Facebook until I refriended her, and she accepted. We never spoke of why she deleted me. Unless I’ve forgotten about that, too.

I’ve blogged about these experiences before, and I’m not bitter or mad about them. It was so long ago, and so much has changed since then, I kind of feel like telling myself, “What the hell, get over it.” And most of the time, I am over it. Last night was the first time I’ve really thought about any specific memories in a long time, and I’m not sure why they just appeared again. Maybe because I’m starting this small group and on the threshold of new relationships with Christians again, and some old fears are trying to get back in, like bloated ticks eager to feed on my blood again. Vivid image, I know, but that’s what it feels like. So I lay on the floor in the hedgehog’s room, breathing in and out, until I no longer felt like my chest was going to stretch apart and my brain was too tired to absorb the raindrops of thoughts. I checked on Baxter one more time, who jumped angrily when I touched him, and went back to the bedroom. Chris was no longer snoring.

small group

So we started our own small group. I talked about it in a past post, and now we actually did it. It wasn’t that hard to outline what we wanted. I have more “must’s,” than Chris, of course, but we both wanted the group to be a community that wasn’t about a church. It wouldn’t be based around all going to the same church, or going to church at all. We both wanted there to be openness and honesty. We didn’t want to be the “leaders,” and always responsible for content. I made a Meetup. com profile, and created an event. It didn’t take long for lots of people to “join.”

I knew right away that most of the people joining wouldn’t actually be in the group. I sent out an email that explained again that the group wasn’t just for socializing, and that we really wanted people who were committed to each other. I only got a few emails back. We ended up meeting with three people, and they were all a great fit. I also posted on Craigslist, and within 20 minutes, got an email from a couple who wanted to join.

We have our first official meeting on Friday, though we’ll just be having dinner, doing some ice-breakers, and talking about what we’re going to be studying. “The Bible” and how we read it comes first, and then prayer, and then some other essential faith tenet. I think sticking to the basics gives us a lot of breathing room and doesn’t lock us into something too narrow.

Chris and I feel really good about all this. The time was right, and God really showed up.

5 Things Church-Goers Should Know About Former Church-Goers

1. We don’t want to be invited to church

The reason we aren’t going to church is not because someone just hasn’t asked us yet. We’ve already been there, we know what it’s like. I have this thing where I go to small groups (I’ve been to, like, two) and see if the people are actually invested in people, or just getting people to the church. The first group was structured around the sermons, so right off the bat, it’s clearly intended for people who already go. For one of their outreach things, they went to a grocery store and handed out gift cards, but also included a church business card. It was a PR move, not a service project. It wasn’t about building relationships or meeting a real need (I’m sure people appreciated it, who knows what their stories are, but if the church really wanted to make the most impact, they would not have chosen a grocery store in one of the wealthier areas of town), it was about drumming up attendance. So, long story short, don’t invite us to church. Invite us into your lives. There’s a difference.

2. We didn’t necessarily stop becoming believers when we stopped going to church

When someone stops going to church, there’s an assumption that they’ve lost their faith. However, that is not necessarily the case. A person’s faith can actually become stronger when they leave church, because they’ve realized their convictions are not hinged upon going to a building every week, and that staying in a place where they don’t belong is harming their faith. I’ve never stopped loving Jesus.

3. Church PTSD is a real thing

Yes, someone’s experiences at church can be so bad, they start to manifest PTSD symptoms. People have been physically assaulted at church by church leaders, they have listened to damning sermons, they have been betrayed and abandoned by trusted mentors, and so on. That is trauma, and trauma has consequences. Going to church feels dangerous. It’s not like I can should just shop around or that I haven’t found the “right one,” it’s that the whole concept of church, the rituals, the decor, the music, the language, reminds of me all the bad things that have happened. Anxiety kicks in. Panic. My body is literally telling me to run.

4. We still want a community

It’s really hard to find a shared-faith community that is not a church. Right now, I’d say it is impossible. While the concept of “church” literally makes me want to throw up, I still want to find the people who love Jesus, but are having a real hard time justifying it. I still want that spiritual “mentor” of sorts, who I feel knows more than me, but still asks the big questions and doesn’t act like they have all their shit together.

5. We want to talk about why we left church

I guess I should really just say “I” want to talk about it. I’m sure there are lots of people who don’t want to talk about it. I just know that it’s kind of a weird moment when people have asked what church I go to, and I say that I don’t go, but Chris does, and they don’t ask why. Sometimes I offer a slew of reasons unprovoked, but they don’t dig deeper. They probably don’t want to be nosy, but at the same time, if you’re a church-goer, you should really be interested in why people are leaving the church in droves. The worst that could happen is the former church-goer saying, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Image source: http://www.sbts.edu/blogs/2016/05/06/should-i-leave-my-church-8-critical-questions/

Community

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I’ve always had trouble finding a “group.” In middle school and high school, I lamented not having people I could just call up and go hang out with. Even in a tiny school, cliques form, and I somehow ended up on the outside of the “popular” one right at the beginning of my high school career. By the end, things were better and my graduating class was very close, but as time passed, it was clear that closeness was because of survival. If I had had a choice, certain actions would have been a deal breaker for me, but that was not a good idea when you had to see them every single day. I definitely still have friends from high school, but not a “group.”

My last real community was church. I haven’t realized until recently how much that meant to be. Being involved in youth group gave me a place where I felt needed and that I needed. Then it was over, and then it was gone. Lots of people left the church altogether, the youth group got smaller, the leadership got shaken up and went in a direction where I didn’t fit anymore. It had happened kind of gradually, so I didn’t realize I was losing something so important to me. That’s a big reason why I haven’t found another church and why I’m so reluctant to even start trying.

I wanted college to be my community. I did make friends, some really close ones, and I don’t want it to sound like I’m minimizing their importance to me, but my experience has been so difficult that I can’t say that I feel like I belong at Macalester. I went to an English Department event and it just hit me. I didn’t know very many people and they certainly didn’t know me. I was supposed to graduate last year. When I finally do leave, it will have been six years since I started college at Northwestern. I’ve said it before, about how I need to let that go, the past is the past, yadda yadda. I’m not going to get a bunch of awards or have my name up on a plaque like my dad, or be a teacher’s assistant. Knowing something doesn’t make it any easier. It just makes it a lot more frustrating when you can’t get over it.

 

Macalester Easter

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Easter was very different for me this year. My parents were in Illinois getting their new place ready, brother was in Boston, and it was the first Easter for Chris and I as married people. I’ve also been feeling spiritually adrift, so it was hard to feel any real joy when reading the dozens of Easter posts on Facebook. I was conflicted about my lack of feeling all day as we waited to go to Macalester to have an Easter service and dinner with Macalester people.

Mac Christian Fellowship is run by a lot of my closest Macalester friends, who are some of the best people I know. They are passionate, independent, ambitious, and compassionate. The service was designed and carried out entirely by students. Wholly of their own accord, students came to reflect on the death and resurrection of Christ, and share a meal that was open to anyone in the Mac community, Christian or not.

Macalester has been labeled as one of the most liberal and aggressively “unreligious” campuses in the country for decades. It was described as “godless” in an article about the school. When I transferred from a conservative evangelical school to Mac, I had people chuckle about the great difference between the schools as well as express an admiration for my bravery to stand right in the middle of the battlefield. The funny thing is none of the Christians I know at Mac consider the college the enemy. Instead of pushing back against the school’s values, Christian students are constantly finding ways to work with the community and use the tools the school provides to fulfill the Christian mission. Because they often feel like the minority, Christian students never engage in the kind of aggressive ideological or theological division that is so common in churches, and it’s not like every Macalester student is politically liberal either. There are differences within the community, but fighting one another about it simply isn’t important when the world at large so desperately needs love. God has a way of making His presence most obvious in a place that is “godless.” 

There were Scripture readings, singing, and testimonials at the service. People shared about how difficult it can be to transition from Good Friday – the darkest day in Christian history – to an Easter mindset – the most joyous day. Life weighs us down and injustice wrecks havoc seemingly unchecked, a thing Mac students are so painfully and keenly aware of. The theme I took away from the service was hope. The death of Christ represented, as my best friend Erin put it, “not only the lack of hope, but the betrayal of hope,” and Easter represents the rebirth and fulfillment of a new hope, a hope no one saw coming, through the resurrection of Jesus. Towards the end of the service, we were invited to call out something that we saw as hopeless, and to all respond to it by saying, “There is hope indeed.”

Disease.

There is hope indeed.

Depression.

There is hope indeed.

Pollution.

There is hope indeed.

Violence.

There is hope indeed.

Ukraine.

There is hope indeed.

 

 

An Open Letter to NBC

ImageDear NBC,

Are you drunk? This is a serious question. Somewhere between your weeping into your gin over memories of “Friends” and “Seinfeld,” and believing that Anne Heche in “Save Me” was a great idea, did you just completely lose sight of what good TV is about?

Don’t get me wrong, you’ve done some decent things in the past few years. “Grimm” is pretty good. It’s got a great leading man, interesting stories, it’s riding high on the new popularity of fairy tales…way to be hip, peacock. You stayed faithful to “30 Rock,” one of the best sitcoms in TV history, and despite plunging numbers, you’ve stuck by “Community” as well. However, upon hearing that “Parks & Recreation” is going on a hiatus to make way for SNL clip shows, football, and “The Voice,” I literally smashed my face unto my keyboard. I then heard that your main reason for messing up your schedule was to encourage people to watch “Sean Saves the World” after losing the awful-looking “Welcome to the Family” and “Ironside,” which was LITERALLY a remake of YOUR OWN SHOW from 1967-1975. I think you know that people haven’t missed Jack from “Will and Grace” that much since after the premiere of 4.43 million, the second episode dropped to 3.26. Is your strategy along the lines of FORCING people to watch it by removing the best show in your Thursday night lineup?

Face it, NBC, you aren’t going to be pulling numbers like you used to. I know, I know, you’re a TV network, it’s all about the Benjamins, but seriously. You’re just not that guy anymore. You’re not the jock standing on a table in a bar, leading the rest of the group in a chorus of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” You need to embrace your identity as the quirky but charming guy in a corner booth with his laptop, looking up lists of reaction GIFS of cats. Your “The Office” finale (THE FINALE) netted a nice 8.07 million, but any random episode of “The Big Bang Theory” is getting between 10-15 million now. And that is a quirky show. Stop with the single dad/teenager daughter thing or young woman navigates New York City looking for love. Make the dad a mime and his daughter a six-year-old member of Mensa. Throw that young woman into a tiny Alaskan town (ala “Northern Exposure,” anyone?)

Oh, and when you do get a good thing going, don’t mess it up beyond repair. I’m looking at you, “Up All Night.” I am so disappointed in you, NCB. So disappointed.

Sincerely,

A saddened and angry lover of “Parks & Recreation”