Friday, August 28, 2020

August 28 Friday Update: Just All the Church Thoughts

This month has been... oof. So much depression. Has made it hard to get any words out. But I'm working on it.

I observed a conversation this week with a group of evangelicals who are, maybe some of them for the first time in earnest, processing and working through how the Christian church can/should be working on anti-racism. I disagree with a lot of members' beliefs on it right now (definitely a few "if we stop talking about it it'll go away" folks which, well, turns out it doesn't work like that) but I think everybody's learning and the conversations are good and hopefully challenging to all of us, including me as I continue to work out how my faith should inform my passion for social justice.

This week, though, a hot-button topic was how churches can be more inclusive. And every suggestion that was made, someone else had a reason that wouldn't be a good idea. And as I'm processing what to say to that, these are the two points I keep coming back to:
  • Inclusivity does not happen without intent. You can't just carry on the same as always and expect that magically, somehow, you'll draw in a more diverse crowd. It hasn't worked before, why would it abruptly work now? That's that "definition of insanity" business, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Choosing to do nothing has the same functional outcome as choosing exclusivity.
  • There will always be non-race-related reasons to avoid making changes. We live in a country (and frankly a world) built on segregation and have really only recently begun to change that. So when we take steps to make a change, we are working against hundreds of years of established systems and, yes, it will be difficult. If we wait until it is easy or until there is nothing we need to sacrifice to make way for diversity and equity, we will never do anything. If we prioritize diversity, yes, it is very likely we will need to listen to other people's experiences or change our hiring practices or repaint sanctuaries or sing songs we don't know or like. Some of those are more difficult than others, but all of them are things I've heard named as "too difficult" or "not important" and thus a reason to not try and diversify. And those aren't good enough reasons, at least not for me.
I had not expected, incidentally, that sitting through a discussion of why churches should not change anything about themselves to appeal to minorities would be as triggering as it was. And then I cried for like an hour that afternoon. But that issue taps into a similar thing as my own struggles with church. Both carry the message, You do not matter, your struggles do not matter, you will fit in to us, we will never adapt to you, and if you think we should, you are the problem. And it just hurts, and I hurt for anyone else who is getting this same message from their white evangelical churches, and I'm sorry I was ever a part of that for anyone else.

I ended up having a good conversation with my dad this week about some of my struggles with those "beauty of church" sermons I stopped listening to. And then we chatted a bit about what we might say if tasked with sharing a sermon on the beauty of church. Like, why do we think it's important that someone finds the beauty of church? And what is it?

I think it is important to find beauty in church, but then again I'm an artist, I think it's important to find beauty everywhere. For me it's about vision casting, inspiration, and fighting disillusionment. It also means that it can be possible to find value in it even in its imperfection (which I think is what my old church is trying to do, we just see very different imperfections and get frustrated by each other's definitions). Like, you'd think a sermons series on the beauty of church would be exactly what I needed. It's probably easier to convince me church is beautiful than it is to convince me it's necessary -- and it's probably a better way of framing it for me, since it shifts my point of view from church as a vegetable I begrudgingly eat to church as a work of art that I just need to find the right way to frame.

The problem is that to believe the church is beautiful, you have to on some level believe its members that make up its pieces are beautiful, and I'm not sure the leadership in that particular church believes that. If they do, I'm not sure they would say it.

A friend the other day shared a post about how we cannot rely on our own feelings, sense, reason, or self, we can only rely on the Bible. And while I know what they're saying, it leaves out two truly important things. First off, we rely on our (and others') feelings, sense, reason and self to interpret the Bible in the first place, so even if you believe in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture, you have to be willing to question your understanding of it, which for many people equates to questioning it itself.

But secondly... these "we can only trust the Bible" posts always seem to have a conspicuous absence of the Holy Spirit in them. What role does the Spirit play for the people writing and reposting this? And how do they think he/she/it speaks to us if not through a combination of our selves and the Scripture?

The evangelical tradition I grew up with definitely doesn't know what to do with the Holy Spirit. They don't really teach on it, they get real nervous about denominations that do emphasize it. The Spirit is usually only active as either as a conscience to convict you of sin or a guide to bring you to the Scripture you need to hear. So, weirdly, the emphasis becomes not "look to the Bible to find God" but is instead "look to God to find the Bible."

Friday, August 21, 2020

"I Thought About You - Live at Vine St." by Shirley Horn (150 Albums by Woman #131)

NPR compiled a list of the 150 greatest albums created by women. I've decided to listen to these albums, from #150 all the way up to #1. But to give myself a bit of forward momentum and have a sense of when I was "done" with each album, my method is to listen to the album one time all the way through, then with each subsequent listen, I'd remove my least favorite. This lets me listen to the best ones most frequently without having to sit through too many that didn't work for me at all.

My next journey into the Top 150 Albums by Women from NPR's list is a live jazz album by pianist/vocalist Shirley Horn. More than many of the other albums I've listened to, this one really does all blend together. It makes sense, given that it was a recording of a single concert, but it does make it difficult to tease out a top five. Overall the album is pleasant background jazz to listen to but it doesn't stand out for me as much as I want it to if I'm listening to the whole thing. Nothing I didn't enjoy here but nothing I really loved either. But let's look at the ones I enjoyed most.

5. The Great City
The biggest challenge about choosing a top 5 is that a lot of these songs have a very similar vibe. Turns out jaunty laidback piano-based jazz is a definite mood and then everything just sounds like... that. This one is fun to listen to but has the least distinct personality of all the remaining songs, so it falls to the bottom my top five and I struggle to find much to say about it.

4. Our Love Is Here to Stay
This one is the most ballad-y of the songs remaining in this playlist, but there's enough jauntiness that it still feels upbeat. I particularly like how she plays with silence and pauses in the accompaniment in the first minute or so of the song.

3. The Eagle and Me
This kept sticking around largely on the strength of the final 30 seconds or so, when suddenly this easygoing tune tosses in some unexpected syncopation and goes out on a *very* strong note. But the rest of the song is pretty standard and doesn't hold up against the other two.

2. Nice 'N' Easy
I think this might be the only standard on this album I was really familiar with before I started listening, and it's still a great song. The lyrics really lend themselves to the super chill vibe too.

1. Something Happens to Me
The opening song on the album is definitely the strongest tune for me in this bunch. It's such a cheery little tune about love. The lightness of the piano and the dynamics of Horn's voice combine in a really enjoyable way to convey this sense of... surprise and wonder and delight at falling in love. Just charming and fun.

The albums I've listened to thus far in this project, in order (and yes, I've done a tiny bit of reorganizing):

  1. The Roches - The Roches
  2. Robyn - Body Talk
  3. Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
  4. Patty Griffin - Flaming Red
  5. The Breeders - Last Splash
  6. Iris Dement - My Life
  7. Solange - A Seat at the Table
  8. Shelby Lynne - I Am Shelby Lynne
  9. Fanny - Fanny Hill
  10. Alicia Keys - Songs in A Minor
  11. Shirley Horn - I Thought About You (Live at Vine St.)
  12. Cocteau Twins - Heaven or Las Vegas
  13. The B-52's - The B-52's
  14. The Bangles - All Over the Place
  15. Yoko Ono - Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band
  16. Oumou Sangaré - Moussolou
  17. Terri Lyne Carrington - The Mosaic Project

Friday, August 14, 2020

August 14 Friday Update: What Does Encouragement Mean?

Today's old church sermon intro informed me that if I have trouble seeing the church as beautiful, it's probably my fault because I'm "too focused on the negative." I swear, the subtitle of this series should just be "Every Sermon Talking Point That Gave Hannah Church Anxiety." For being a series of sermons about how beautiful the church is, it's really doing everything it can to convince me otherwise. LOL.

Fortunately I'm in a pretty good mental health space today (wouldn't have attempted to watch it if I wasn't, I learned that lesson last week, haha), and can catalog that shame trigger, sign off, and let the rest slide off of me. I think that's partly because I did make sure to check out my Lutheran service's sermon today. It looked at the disciples in the storm and Elijah hearing God in the silence, and the takeaway was "God is with us, let us look for him and be comforted by him." There is a 95% chance that the takeaway from any of my previous churches would be "Stop sinning by doubting God, get yourself together." Which, I mean, isn't actually comforting.

A Facebook acquaintance this week claimed that capitalism is the economic system that most recognizes an individual's inherent worth, and I just... don't think that's true. Perhaps in some idealized form, but definitely not as it has played out in the US. While, yes, capitalism allows for a lot of freedom and choice, I refer back to my previous blog to say that freedom means freedom for some and not for others. In this case, those who are able to work get more freedom than those who don't. Those who are rich end up with more freedom than those who don't.

And more importantly, I believe that the US' form of capitalism actually encourages us to link the worth of a human with their productivity instead of their actual inherent humanity. We see this in the outcry against providing housing and food for those who cannot afford it, in how those who are too ill to work have much greater difficulty getting healthcare, in the insistence that "we don't want our tax dollars paying for freeloaders" -- essentially, that if someone is not being productive up to our standards, we do not believe they deserve food, shelter, and medical care, at least not enough to do anything about it.

We make basic human needs contingent on whether not people have earned them, and if that's the system that most values humans' inherent worth, then we need a brand new system, stat, because this isn't cutting it at all.

I do keep coming back to the idea that many of my evangelical friends seem to perhaps equate "encouragement" with "correction." Like as possibly the primary meaning? I'm trying to figure out how to ask this of them and do an informal poll without sounding like I'm being a judgy jerk. I've just been realizing more and more that that's usually how my former church pastors used the word, to the point where I tense up a little any time a Christian says to me, "Let me encourage you" because there's a good chance they're about to tell me I'm doing something wrong and I'm actually going to walk away discouraged.

My card memorization skills are not speeding up at all these days, but they are getting more accurate. 14 minutes is still about the minimum I can do, but I usually get no more than one wrong. So... getting there, but it's not very impressive or cool yet.

So this is set to post in about six hours. It's about 4am for me here, and I am just... not sleeping tonight. Stuffed up, congested, feel like I can't breathe, and it's most likely just allergies or anxiety attack, but either way I can't lie down comfortably so I left the bedroom and am just chilling on the living room couch.

I did learn, however, that business-y detail-oriented emails, which take way more effort and time for me than I think they do for most people, are easier to write when you're sleep-deprived at 4 in the morning because you're too tired to second (and third and fourth and fifth) guess everything. So I've just drafted all my emails for the day, read through them a couple times to make sure they don't say anything overtly wrong, and will mail them all out at a more normal work hour. This is not a strategy I typically suggest for anyone after, like, college, but I guess it's a reasonable pandemic work strategy too, should you already happen to be awake way too early/late.

Friday, August 7, 2020

August 7 Friday Update: Don't Forget How Much You Suck

Sermon shame trigger update!

Got about 5 minutes into a 30-minute sermon this time. We're still talking about the importance of/beauty of the church -- apparently last week's sermon (which I lasted like all of 30 seconds in) ended by saying the relationships built within church are better and deeper than regular friendships. This has decidedly not been my experience, heh, but I think it probably has been for some folks, and I can see it as an aspirational goal, and I couldn't even listen to that whole sermon, so I'm not going to really critique that.

This week's sermon began by being about unity, and using our disunity as a reason we present badly to the world, which is... confusing to me because the issue of disunity among believers is an accusation I'm not sure I've even once heard levied against the church. If anything it's usually the opposite -- the issue of Christians who are fiercely loyal to each other and to a system to the point where they will not even consider whether it needs to be broken down and rebuilt. This feels like the strawest of strawman arguments, but it wasn't a shame trigger, just an "I'm not sure that's true" nudge, so we move on.

And then we come to the idea that unity is only possible when we leave behind our arrogance. Because when it comes down to it, we are all sinners, we all suck, we all deserve hell, we are all the most hideous beings on the planet. Nobody has anything good to offer as an individual, it would be better if we were all just erased and it was just God hanging out with God in a church building, why are we even here, we're just in the way, ugh, we're the worst.

OK, maybe everything after "we are all sinners" wasn't said out loud, but it was the thought pattern my brain went on. That one little concept, the idea that unity can only be possible when we remember how unworthy we are, launched all that.

Sometimes I get told that I'm overreacting, that I'm reading stuff into this. But let me point out that I've been listening to sermons for like seven weeks now and haven't been able to get more than five minutes into a single sermon without being overtly told that I need to remember how much I suck. None of those sermons in the first five minutes have overtly told me that I am loved, or that I can do great things, or that I matter to anyone else, or that I even should matter to anyone else. But they've all taken great care to tell me how unworthy I am.

This stuff piles up, you guys.

I went to church my entirely life and didn't realize until college that God liked me. That he enjoyed any piece of who I was. And that felt like a daring and possibly heretical thought, the idea that maybe God didn't look at me and either go, "uggggh gross" or at very best, say, "oh good, you're doing all the right things and are on the right path, I haven't had to fix you yet so I guessssss you're okay at the moment but ANY SECOND you could veer off and then you'll suck again."

This. Stuff. Piles. Up.

No wonder the evangelical church has such a crappy record with mental illness. They tell me the exact same things as my depression does.

There's no such thing as freedom for everyone. There really isn't. Every freedom one person has means somebody else loses theirs. We're just always having to decide which and sometimes whose freedom is more important -- the freedom to kill or the freedom to live? The freedom to keep our belonging or the freedom to take others'?  The freedom to wear no mask or the freedom to safely leave your house?

Stop framing it as freedom vs. lack of freedom. It's a false dichotomy.

I just keep coming back to that sermon I listened to this week, and how it made all good things dependent on constantly remembering how awful we are. Like... how can you believe that so strongly and also have anything resembling a positive relationship? My best relationships are with folks who do not, in fact, spend most of their time reminding me how unworthy of love I am the way the church does. They are the ones who assure me I am worth something, who encourage me (literally "give me courage"), who see me at my best when I see myself at my worst. Is that just "catering to my flesh," as it might be phrased in evangelical lingo?

I cannot be bold or good or faithful to my beliefs while buckled under the weight of my own self-loathing. The relationships that bring out the best in me take that burden off of me and encourage me to not take it back on.

Nobody is ever going to convince me that church relationships based so heavily on how terrible we are is one that is beautiful or worth pursuing.

(And if that's not the church relationship you're advocating for, pastors, then.......... maybe don't make that your main speaking point in the first five minutes of your sermon.)

On a related note, it's probably smartest for me to take a short break on my "can I listen to my old church sermons safely" experiment, ha. While it made for some good blogs and some good analysis, and I think I'm untangling some stuff nicely, this one has now broken me for three days. All I did was hear five minutes of it and none of it was even new to me. I got told all the time in church how little I mattered, it shouldn't hurt as much as it does. But it is stuff I'm fighting to unravel in myself, and stuff I'm fighting my mentally ill brain to stop saying. Fortunately I have some amazing friends able to step in and say, "Yeah, so that's a lie." But maybe I need to take a break from having to face those lies. Heal this particular one a bit longer until it stops being quite so... trigger-y.