See Infra

Digging at the confluence of culture and everything else

A Wanderer’s Rest and Reflection in the Moment Between Grief and Joy

Holy Saturday is a pause. It is the narrator of a tragic tale silently waiting on stage refusing to leave. And the Christian watchers have already had the ending spoiled for them. At the Episcopalian service that I attended last night, the liturgical service ends in silence. We were to leave the sanctuary dark like a tomb, but stilled and at peace. The effect was diminished somewhat by parishioners chatting gaily upon entering the vestibule. It was the first time in a long time I felt I belonged, if only for now.

Allow me to recap the end of my conversion story. It has been a long time since I’ve been to church. I mean sure, there have been the stop-offs at an Easter Vigil here and there. (Say what you will about the Catholics, and I have, they know their ritual). And there are the funerals and the weddings, including my own religiousish ceremony. But I’ve resisted going back to church for a long time. The last church I got close to “belonging” to disintegrated and in a way I felt relieved. I took a long hard look at myself and I didn’t like what had happened to me there. So I wandered out. My Christianity became, is, always was that of a wanderer through the scrub. I followed the work, or the flock or the mirages. I may enjoy the temporary hospitality of churches and fellow believers, and I must share what I can in return. I named it, I now call it, had always sensed it was, Christian Nomadism.

Last night, I went to church for the first time in a long time with the hope, the intent of resting for a while. Christian Nomadism isn’t meant to be a denomination. It is both a temporal state of being actively unchurched and a disposition in relation to Christ, whether in church or out of it. And it is meant to keep me searching not just staying away. I’ve long reached the point where the trauma from the last church has faded and I’ve been selfishly keeping myself away from the Body of Christ, my brother and sisters in the ecclesia for too long.

Folks, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Body is in some trouble and the ecclesia is not getting along well with itself. For a bunch of people convinced that on a tomorrow long ago a dead man broke death with love and in a very literal sense lives on, not in but as us (but also outside in the nonplace where there is no outside or inside) you would think that… well I’m not sure. But you’d expect it to be better right?

Well. No. Maybe not. Maybe we’re just that much more aware of sin. To riff on Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry’s riff on Francis Spufford’s reimagining of original sin, Christians are supposed to be specially aware of that Human Propensity to Fuck Things up Because We Like It. Because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Because we think we deserve it, whether riches or punishment. We are the reason that we can’t have nice things. You can be “good without God”, says the atheist placard. Well, we think we have God, and we’re still not very good at being good for any length of time. Maybe they should have a sign “It has been 57 days since our last fuck up.” Our signs read 0.

Imagine that group, that team of losers, that International League of the Guilty, that endless meeting of Fuck-ups Unanonymous, if the story ended on Saturday. There was a preacher, he preached, he was crucified as an example to all others who might challenge the Powers, he died, and now we’re really quite sad, but live on following the teaching of our great moral teacher.

Jesus wasn’t a great moral teacher. He was a lunatic. Jessica Kantrowitz at Ten Thousand Places has a useful reminder:

What if their neighbors saw! What if seeing them carrying the Roman’s equipment caused other Jews to think the Roman oppression was okay? What if there was other work that needed to be done — good work, charity work even, but they spent all that time carrying equipment for the evil oppressor? But Jesus is not worried about any of that:

“If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also,” he said. “And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two.

Christians, our Jesus said to not only follow the law, but to rise to a higher standard of love. Christians should be the FIRST people baking cakes — for everyone who asks us. We should be known for our cake baking. People should be saying, “There go those crazy Christians again, baking cakes for everyone. They just won’t quit!” Then, when we share the reason for our wild, all-inclusive love, people will want to hear it. “Let your light shine before others,” said Jesus, “that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

But, but, don’t we hate the sin and love the sinner? No. You can’t hate “the sin” in Christianity and be right with God. You can, at the very most, have a stringent disagreement with sin. You can lament sin. You can identify something as sinful. You can get into vociferous debate about the degree to which sin is corrupting our government and laws. But fingering “the sin” or “a sin” doesn’t work, and hating it definitely doesn’t work, even if you promise to love “the sinner”. Hating the sin and loving the sinners is the sort of thing great moral teachers tell you to do, probably after mellowing out with some great weed, man. It’s the careful virtue of righteous comity. Francis Spufford reminded us about this in Unapologetic. “God doesn’t want your careful virtue, He wants your reckless generosity.”

I’ve been out of church because I wanted to preserve my virtue from the evils of groupthink, of reactionary bigotry, and of the mind-numbing jargon of Christian religion. Well that’s not right. That’s sin too. That’s fucking up by being afraid of fucking up.

Holy Saturday is a pause. A moment I take now for reflection and commitment. Easter is coming.

7 responses to “A Wanderer’s Rest and Reflection in the Moment Between Grief and Joy

  1. K. Chen 03/26/2016 at 12:38

    Reblogged this on See Infra and commented:

    From last year, a favorite.


  2. Meredith W. 04/05/2015 at 22:35

    Intriguing. I like the description of Christian Nomadism, although this is the part that really jumped out at me:

    “I’ve been out of church because I wanted to preserve my virtue from the evils of groupthink, of reactionary bigotry, and of the mind-numbing jargon of Christian religion. Well that’s not right. That’s sin too. That’s fucking up by being afraid of fucking up.”

    Wow. Certainly worth pondering. My husband and I are both in a place of having been treated badly by “the church” on more than one level. We did the nomad thing a number of years ago, returned to our church of origin for quite a number of years, but are not actively involved in any faith community at present.

    It’s not quite preserving “virtue” (that I’m not sure we have), so much as we got tired of beating our heads against a wall in earlier years. That was part of the impetus for our foray into Nomadism. Back at “home,” groupthink was a continuing issue for us, and along with other concerns, we slowed down and then stopped attending at all.


    • K. Chen 04/06/2015 at 16:41

      Meredith, thank you for the comment and sharing a bit of your story.

      Let first say that I am not interested in usurping your conscience. I don’t know your situation, and it could be that your situation means you need to stay out of church buildings. That is fundamentally your call. That having been said, I called it Christian “Nomadism” instead of Christian “Refuge” (as in “refugee”, which many of us feel like) because nomads are not escaping something but seeking something. Actual nomadic societies often involve moving from base camp to base camp, town to town, grazing to grazing, but nomads are always following something. For the Christian, we should be following Christ. For too many of us, we couldn’t find him in our churches. Or maybe we did, but the path to him seemed to get dimmer each Sunday, each sermon, each sidelong glance, each horrible cheer for Christian Tribe over Christ. (I could be projecting, but it’s my blog so nyeah)

      It’s exhausting and heartbreaking too. I don’t want to take away from that at all. I don’t know your details, and I’m sure its even worse than I think, in those awful ways that something that should be wonderful can hurt. But I don’t think you can find Christ without people and I don’t think you can do the work of Christianity alone. We need church, and by church I mean the Body of Christ of which any congregation is simultaneously a pale shadow of and an integral part of.

      If we believe ourselves to be, in whatever small way, right with God in a way our fellow Christians are not, we have an obligation to try to help them to be right with God, if we can. And if we believe ourselves to be wrong with God in a way that a church could help us heal, then we should seek the church. But only when we can. I’m not going to lie. I would like to find a home in the church I visited this weekend. I want it more than I thought I would. But If my Christian Nomadism is going to be true, I have to be ready to be in church when it is right for me and be ready to leave if and when my path to Christ moves on.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Meredith W. 04/07/2015 at 14:24

        Thank you. I need to think about this.

        Our experiences, individually and as a couple, have many parallels as well as a few significant gaps. I’m sure many people’s situations are complicated (we wouldn’t be nomads or refugees if they were simple, would we?), but ours has an extra piece or two that differ from most. Not quite prepared to get into that with someone I don’t know, but maybe one of these days. 🙂

        I shared this blog post with my husband, but he had not yet had a chance to read it as of last night. I’ll be very interested in his take on it and will likely only share your response here with him after he and I have had a chance to talk.

        Already well behind schedule for the day, but I will come back and read this again and think more. Again, thank you for taking the time to reply thoughtfully.


  3. Pingback: Easter is Not the End of the Story | See Infra

  4. tenthousandplaces 04/04/2015 at 11:34

    K, this is beautiful. I love the image of the narrator waiting on stage, refusing to move. And I love that Spufford quote. I’m in a similar place as you re: church, though my own trauma from my past experiences hasn’t worn off yet. I also relate so much to wanting to observe and ponder Holy Week, and this post has helped me. Thank you.
    Thanks, too, for using my full name to credit my post — that’s very thoughtful and I appreciate it. 🙂


    • K. Chen 04/04/2015 at 13:26

      Thank you Jessica, you wrote a wonderful essay that was beyond the surface level “love your neighbors” one liner that gets trotted out. I really appreciate it as a writer and as a believer. And yes, I try to be scrupulous about attribution.

      Have you read Unapologetic yet? If not, I heartily recommend it. I don’t know for sure that it made the difference in letting me sort out my mixed feelings about any instance of church, but it has (obviously) influenced my thinking. It’s sad really. I once had a dream of hammering together a manifesto for Christian Nomadism because so many of us seem to have shades of the same story. Belief and faith in the capital-B-Body of Christ but no actual home in any lower-c-church. That is a story I’ve heard too many times.

      Liked by 1 person

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