My shoes hit Cambridge bricks with a muteness foreign to me in Oklahoma. Back home, I can hear my shoes land one after another on sidewalks and city streets, each step another puncture into the tranquility of wind and trees.
In Cambridge, however, I can’t hear the steps amidst the horns and sirens and passersby. Doors open with a clang and create short pockets of noise--like windows of sound wafting from each subsequent shop, trying to appetize my entrance. I keep my neck tucked into my scarf and squint my eyes against the cold.
A honk comes from two cars back at the crosswalk, impatiently reminding the car in front to hurry to its destination—the honking driver thinking she is the only person in a sea of metal to manipulate. Screeching, careening, inanimate metal.
Back home I used to wonder why drivers waved at my dad when he stopped at the stop sign. Usually gray haired and slow, they gave a slight nod, a slant smile, and a wave before moving on from the four-way stop.
My dad waved back.
I asked him if he knew them and he said no and that was that. We kept driving with the sports station melodizing the car.
I cross the street with silent shoes and walk onto Harvard’s campus. A couple behind me is speaking a language I don’t know, and the guy passing me on my right can’t see beyond the cone of light streaming from his phone.
I'm a little surprised I'm allowed on campus, what with my belief in a Truth so absolute it can't fit into our little heads. I don't feel radical or relative or even all that smart. Somehow I've slipped in though.
Tall statues of white men look down on color and gender and sexual spectrums streaming in and out of classrooms.
I’m a little surprised the statues haven’t been defaced.
Back home most of my friends’ parents are still together. We didn’t know we were cisgender because we didn’t know someone might not be. Sex loomed over us as the unpardonable sin, and I’m still fighting back the fears of not being perfect.
I go to class and then leave. I walk to a Mexican restaurant with Dan, both of us walking with mute shoes amid the orchestral-tuning of city sounds. We walk and talk about the incredible black women who worked in the Civil Rights movement. Both of us agree that it is often the looked-over and left-out that have a firmer grasp on truth.
I’m lucky to just listen for it.
I bite into a chip as he tells me about Chicago and the feeling he had when he began to split doctrinally with his pastor-dad’s more conservative viewpoints.
He got a burrito that sits idly by as he tells me he’s on track for ordination in the Methodist church. He’s serving under a head pastor who is openly gay.
We talk for a while about the complexities of denominations splitting over homosexuality and the sadness we feel for the LGBTQIA community members they leave in their wake.
I think about the people in my life who proudly talk about their recent church split. As if what defines their church is its stance on sexuality. As if this is the issue they must plant their flag on before worship can happen.
It's not like I don't want them to have a view; it's that I don't want them to make that, of all things, their central creed.
I think about my own views and wonder if it's even possible to be conservative on this issue while also being liberal in how I live it out. I constantly wonder whether I am kidding myself.
I don’t know if I’m angry at a theoretical church in the news or a concrete church that I’ve already encountered. I don’t know if it’s guilt for not declaring a firm stance or guilt for being too firm in my stance to listen to story.
I didn't think about all this stuff as a nine-year-old getting baptized. Mr. Adam held the camcorder and my parents held each other. Normally I held the transparencies of 90s worship songs on the overhead projector, but in that moment it sat idle.
I didn't give much thought to church counsels or transubstantiation or John Piper. I just held my nose and knew I loved God.
A theologian I like said that all the truth I will ever know is held in the sacraments; he said I will spend my entire life discovering this; I believe he’s right, but I wonder if I’m making any progress these days. Back then it seemed simpler.
I tell Dan goodbye and follow mute shoes to the parking garage, speeding my pace to avoid a flashing ambulance coming toward my cross walk. I believe I can see my breath, but I’m not paying that much attention; the white statues of men are shrouded in the cloak of darkness.
Climbing into my car, I drive toward my bed. I turn the music up—worship music—and hope it permeates my thoughts and sponges up the tears I feel an inch away from.
I don’t know why I want to cry, but I want to. Everything just feels too confusing and complex. It doesn’t seem simple anymore.
It was easy to believe women shouldn’t be ordained when I didn’t know any women who wanted to be. It was easy to say homosexuality didn’t belong in the church when no one was gay and loved Jesus. It was easy to say racism was over when I didn't know the church was still mostly segregated.
But now? I don’t know.
The worship continues as the confusion mounts. It kind of floats over me and keeps time to the erratic dance of my thoughts.
Worship felt simple and transparent when my hands were on the transparencies.
Can I still worship a God I’m confused by while living a life I’m confused in?
* * *
When I was nineteen and about to enter into my sophomore year of college I sponsored my church’s junior high camp. I stood in the back during worship and watched a sea of junior highers raise their hands and confidently sing worship lyrics.
I decided they didn’t know what they were doing.
They couldn’t realize the God they worshipped or the complexity of the life.
At nineteen I knew a lot they didn’t.
“let the little children come.”
and if i have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if i have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, i am nothing
As they continued to worship I felt a stern reminder of innocence. God reminded me of the beauty of worship in every stage of life. How could I claim theological superiority to someone who loved God intimately and invited God into a fourteen-year-old frame? Perhaps I had more to learn.
In the meantime, I felt I was to worship still.
I look at that nineteen-year-old and tell him he is too naïve to worship. He does not know the Cambridge streets, the ones that make the soles of your shoes echo with nothingness. He has no clue of the full barrage of conservatism and liberalism, the sheltered reality of the past or the impossible tightrope of the future.
He needs to put his hands down.
I am driving home listening to loud worship music when a thought comes and separates the waters of my mind.
Into the cacophony of silence God sings a melody of light.