It was all RAH-RAH and pom-poms and school colors and loudness. A high school pep assembly. Looking through the lens of time it’s easy to wonder what the point of it all really was. Something to the effect of stating: We are this school! We are a-w-e-s-o-m-e! Other schools (shouted shrilly) are less awesome and we’ll eat them for breakfast! Accompanied, as it was, by the almost-provocative routines of the cheerleaders and the more conservative twirls of the color guard and the strident blasts of trumpets and trombones, it was like a circus of self-aggrandizement. And I always pitied the goths.
How on earth do you survive such a pep fest? When your muse is wearing black and looking dour and avoiding sunlight and all things cheerful? When all around your peers are standing up, stomping their feet, waving their arms, hollering themselves hoarse, and there you are, sitting, quiet, wishing for all the world to be in a corner of the library, reading Poe.
I’m not a goth, but I do have an attitude problem.
It struck me during a service at a local evangelical church. Our burgeoning family filed into a pew, the worship being already in full swing. The words to the songs were displayed on large flat screens, with nature scenes as backgrounds. I ground my teeth.
Why do the songs need to look like obnoxious motivational posters?
Oh my word, this song is idiotic. Worst of all, it’s theologically untrue.
That woman over there is actually going to punch the air with her fist every time that lyric is repeated. Yep, there she goes again.
Stop it, stop it. Sorry, God. I’m having a hard time worshiping You today, this way.
By this time I usually have sat down with one of the babies, bowed my head, and under my breath, began to pray. Sometimes one of the ancient songs will fill my heart and I’ll sing that “..for His mercy endureth forever, alleluia”. All around me people are swaying and singing, hands lifted up in the air, joy in their smiles and cheer all bunched up in the creases ’round their eyes. And I’m like a goth at a pep assembly; I couldn’t possibly feel more out of place.
It isn’t right to mock or disdain, that I know and I regularly confess with sincere grief. But there’s more to my reaction than just pride. I am mourning and I am angry.
I am mourning because I’ve come to know the beauty, warmth, truth, and joy of Eastern Orthodox Christianity, but I cannot be a part of it. I honor my husband’s leading of our family, and have had to lay my desires down. It is one of the few areas in our married life that push came to shove and he had the final say. Most of the time we reach an accord naturally. Not with this. But though we attend evangelical churches (as we are yet in-process of finding a church home), I have his blessing to continue my studies of Eastern Orthodoxy and occasionally we attend services at St John’s. Dustin regularly comes home to me listening to ancient chants and hymns or absorbed in a theological work with a pencil at hand. I partake of the feast by crawling under the table for crumbs. Some is better than none, I remind myself, when tears flow and the sorrow sticks in my throat. Some is better than none.
I am angry because so many churches are singing nonsense. And heresy. Seriously, who is writing this crap? It feels like a narcissistic romp through my own emotions with Jesus thrown in. Music is a powerful medium for informing our beliefs; are we singing our theology? Are we singing true things?
I have to be fair; not all the songs are bad. Maybe even Byzantine chants would look cheesy overlaying some picture of a waterfall.
When the final prayer has been said, to the background accompaniment of soft guitar strummings, I keep my head low. I gather our things and hope no one talks to me. Because, though I am a believer and a sister in Christ, and though this was all once as familiar to me as sliced bread, I am painfully out of place. I cannot put on a false and brave smile and speak Christianese with the cheerful strangers around me. I’ve never been good at pretending, so I’m afraid this would happen:
“Good morning! I haven’t met you yet! Are you folks from around here?”
“These all your kids? Are you just visiting or….?”
“I don’t want to be here. I don’t like evangelicalism anymore. I think I’m burnt out on everything that’s happened in the Western church since the Byzantine times. I’m tired of the autonomy, the lack of authority, the sola scriptura-touting denominational sectarianism. I’m only here because my husband likes this. I’m a mess. I’m sorry I’m so rude. I’m going to go to the car and cry now”.
I don’t want to do that to someone on a Sunday morning. I am getting to know the patterns in the carpet well.
Trust me, I know, I know my attitude is bent and snarly. But I’m also in pain. Deep pain and grief. Measure me some grace on that account.
And pray, I beg you, that God would give me His peace about where I can be and where I can’t, where I can feast and where I can’t. And may the crumbs from His table satisfy and nourish me as I seek Him.