I fell into the canyon a couple of days ago. This is the canyon I’ve been trying to talk about, between the conservative and progressive. I hang out in the canyon all the time, mostly on purpose. And isn’t that brave of me? But sometimes I fall in by accident, just by forgetting that it’s there. And that’s how I end up sobbing in a church parking lot.
Wouldn’t it be great if the hard things would be just done already? I mean, wouldn’t it be great if the hard things weren’t so hard?
Our offer on the property in Robie Creek has been accepted. The event that I will settle on an undeveloped piece of land outside of Boise is no longer just a possibility. It’s a likelihood. And the devil I’m harboring is no longer a little bit of nervousness. This is real fear.
I’m afraid of being forever a blue girl disappeared in a big red state, a feminist lost in conservative Christianity. I’m afraid of living the rest of my life across the canyon.
I had asked myself that morning, as I do most Sunday mornings, what on earth I’m doing going to a church that is so much more conservative than I am. I do have reasons. I go out of solidarity and respect for the People of God who invited me. I go out of faith, trusting that Christ transcends our differences. That’s what Christ is for. And I go out of yearning, because I want to see the broken things come back together,
On this particular morning, though, I went for exactly none of those reasons. Sadie is four-and-a-half weeks old, and my three year old is a hot mess – you try telling your three year old that you’re moving into a tent on a mountainside – and I had gotten very little sleep. I was wearing the same clothes I wore the day before. I went to church that day because I needed to go to church. I need church. I need worship. This was the only church in Boise where I could go where I would know anyone.
The sermon was basically about evangelism. I drifted in and out, standing on my feet in the back of the room, holding Sadie. But I did tune in for the part about the bees. I’d like to keep bees. I heard the pastor tell us that different swarms of bees have different smells. And when one swarm smells another swarm, they recognize each other as enemies and they attack. This always happens, unless the foreign bee is covered with pollen, in which case its personal smell is disguised by the smell of the pollen, and they don’t fight.
Even bees become one in the pollen.
This, of course, is an allegory for Christ. Whatever. I like allegories and I like Christ. I bought it. It doesn’t matter that I come from another swarm, as long as I’m covered with pollen. Nobody is going to attack.
So then, fast forward through the service. Now I’m watching a baptism, and getting my Jesus on, and basically in all ways being vulnerable. I’m sitting down now in the back row, nursing Sadie, when the pastor’s wife sits down next to me, and puts her arm around me, and asks me to cover.
I forgot about the canyon.
Of course the first thing I feel is sorry. I’m sorry that I showed too much of my body. I’m sorry that I might have offended somebody. And I’m not thinking of the three square inches of breast so much as I’m thinking of my waistline, and the muffin top that I’m sporting over jeans I probably shouldn’t be wearing because I’m thirty-three and this is my third baby and I shouldn’t be showing so much of myself. I should be hidden.
And I look around the room and I’m looking for anybody who will understand, anybody who knows that woman-shame travels like this, not from the pulpit, but when the pastor’s wife sits down next to you and puts her arm around you and asks you to please live your life just a little bit differently.
And I’m thinking of a decade I spent trying to make myself not a woman, so that I could get into the inner circle, where I thought God would be, how I shaved my head and tried to get rid of all the curves by not eating or by throwing up.
And also the fifteen years I spent trying not to be a Christian, because it was in secular feminism that I found an antidote to the shame I had learned as a child, where I found all the women who know that it isn’t fair to tell the woman to cover when you could just as easily tell the man to look away, or for God’s sake just grow up and learn to deal.
I wanted to shout, and rage, about the shaming of the feminine, and how the church is starved for the feminine face of God, because God is in this, too. God is in the breastfeeding in this season of the life of a woman, where we see the sacred leaking out into a smirking baby’s face…and no wonder men find it hard to look away.
But I didn’t do any raging, because I wasn’t in any shape for it. I just went out into the parking lot and cried. And the next day, filtering through a couple of voices, I heard that someone had seen me crying, and called to offer an apology.
This isn’t a post about how breastfeeding should be allowed in church, although you know I think it should. This is a post about the moment that you look around the room and every single face you see is on the other side of that canyon, and you’ve got to try to reach each other anyway.
This is about how I have decided to live here, in this place, where this is going to happen to me all the time.Isn’t this just the sort of funny story God likes to write? You take a secular feminist, and you make her fall in love with Jesus, and then you drop her in a conservative church in Boise, Idaho…and see what happens.
This is the place where we are sandpaper to one another, teachers. We grind against each other, and hopefully smooth out some edges. A conservative evangelical church gets to think about what it really means to be Grace to a stranger. And I get to think about what it really means to stand for the feminine face of God.
It isn’t as pretty or as pat as anybody told me. It’s a deeper, more gorgeous, more aching truth, this canyon. But I am still here. And even here I see God revealed — refracted, bent, and shattered — shining out the cracks of crooked people.