A Holy Grounder on "Why I Go To Church"

a post by Emma Roy

I have a mild anxiety attack every time someone asks me what kind of music I like.  I'm sure in the history of human conversation there have been people who have asked this question in sincere and generous curiosity, but most of the time I think it's a simple shorthand for, "What social sub-cultures do you most identify with?" or, more to the point, "Do I think you're cool?"

These kinds of pop culture questions have become something of personal challenge for me, a way I rate my level of self-acceptance in any given situation.  Will I admit to these punks that I love the Indigo Girls?  Will I tell a new friend that I un-ironically watch Maroon 5 videos?  Are bougie white girls allowed to like NWA?

But the reality is of course that we judge ourselves and each other on much more serious criteria than pop culture preferences.  The anxiety that comes up when I am asked about my musical taste doesn't exist simply because I have been judged for liking the Indigo Girls (though I definitely have), but because the judgment triggers memories of countless other dismissals and rejections: all the times I felt too lame, too slow, too preppy, too hippie, too slutty, too loud, too chunky, too scared, too spiritual, too boring to be worthy of acceptance, much less love. For every time I have been encouraged to "be who I really am," I have been reminded dozens and dozens of times that "who I really am" is only really wanted within very specific guidelines.

Normally what comes next is the part we are all used to, where we encourage each other by saying even though it's natural for social primates to have in-group/out-group policing, if we are going to be spiritually fulfilled, we have to let go of so much of that, be who we are, risk being vulnerable, live each day to it's fullest, blah, blah, blah—Facebook is sagging under the weight of so many reminders to "Live, Laugh and Love."  Despite this, it remains incredibly difficult and transgressive to actively practice deep acceptance of ourselves and of other people.

It's difficult, because the bare fact is that most of us don't feel right now the love that we want to feel.  A logical next step is to assume there must be something to DO about this predicament, some other way to be to get at the love, to be worthy of it, to win it.  Here, then, is a crucible of spiritual life: we don't feel the acceptance, we don't feel the love we crave right now, so…nothing.  We don't try to feel better so fast.  We stop trying to fix it.  This doesn't mean in any way that we agree with everything that happens or that we don't intervene to make positive changes.  But it does mean we accept all people, all situations, and all emotions even when they don't solve any problems for us.  We wait in the uncomfortable room between wanting and not having and praying for help to wait longer.  Like Jesus, we never stop calling out to God even in the face of great suffering and apparent defeat. And this experience—longing, waiting, praying and not stopping—over time, it breaks our hearts open.  

Even then, getting to some mystical open-hearted place doesn't seem to be the true end-game either, as far as I can tell.  The real promise that I see in Jesus' life is that when you give up trying to make yourself feel better and have unconditional acceptance for all the uncomfortable, disgusting parts of life, you can finally meet other people in those same places.  Through the grace of God, you give away for free the thing you were always trying to get for yourself.  It's a transformational, healing practice of love.  

And it's a love so powerful, you don't even have to be very good at it for it to be transformational.  Even just trying open-hearted acceptance of all people and all situations has a kind of magic to it.  It's the thing that touches me the most every time I spend a few hours with the people from Holy Ground. The people at my church want to know who I am—not so I can become a supporting character in their individual lives—but because they earnestly believe in seeing others and being seen. Sure, they have their own agendas sometimes too, just like I do.  But they are actively working to notice those agendas and prevent them from stifling genuine connection.  Through their effort, I feel the love of God pushing through to meet me right where I am.  I feel deeply human, but also very free.  I remember before Whom I stand.