Without giving too many details, I will just say I have learned a lesson in humility and love this weekend at AWP. To make a long story short, my insomnia didn’t, in fact, go away. It only got slightly less ferocious, allowing me five hours of of sleep for one night instead of three. When I don’t sleep, I get mean, curt, short-tongued. I have been all of those things this week, which led to quite a large eruption of misunderstandings last night between a friend and myself. The quarrel led to me moving down to the lobby of the hotel for quite some time, so I could recompose myself and not put my fist through the mirror in our room. See I told you I have some anger management issues, and I felt as if I could beat my way with small, tight fists through the thickest, heaviest punching bag on the market. I didn’t.
Instead, for a change, I left the room to recompose myself elsewhere. By this morning, after a conversation with my beautiful and sensible wife, some coffee, a session on queer YA fiction, and some prayer, walking, and meditation, I was able to calmly and rationally initiate a discussion of the events of last night. And, of course, we came out on the other side with love and grace, because I am learning that’s how things work out when you practice humility and love.
Here is the photographic chronology of my day:
I decided to go to church tonight, but I wasn’t sure where to go, so I literally typed the address of the Palmer House in the first blank of the “Get Directions” feature in Google Maps, followed by the word Methodist in the second blank. I figured I couldn’t lose since I live four hours away, and I’d never see any of the people again. I mean, it’s always a crap shoot when you’re a lady-boy lesbian and looking for a church in a different city. Each time I risk rejection from the body to which I’ve belonged since the age of four when I “gave my life to Jesus,” a form of rejection that breaks my heart again and again.
I walked to Temple Church (a.k.a. First United Methodist of Chicago) with low expectations and hoping that I wasn’t dressed too shabbily. I can never accurately anticipate the dress code at a “First United Methodist,” because they are usually the big, old churches that are trying to stand guard and keep from dying out. But that guard-standing usually comes outfitted in whatever is the latest fashion. I always assume that the dress code is on the upper end of the spectrum, not jeans and the sweater I was wearing. But, as I mentioned, I’d never see any of these people again, so I pressed on.
As I walked past the beautiful arts garden, pictured above, I looked to my right and got a glimpse of the Chicago Picasso. I could feel that this hour of my life was going to be an adventure. Electric Jesus was in the air. I strolled through the revolving door and up to the security guard. Yes, you read correctly, I walked confidently over to the security guard, and said, “Can you please tell me where the church service is meeting tonight?” She pointed me up the stairs and through some double doors.
I was a bit disoriented as I walked through the thick wooden doors, because I was released into a space that looked like a storage closet, only without anything in it, too big to be a closet, too small to be a respectable hallway. The space was a hallway nonetheless, and I began to search for what I was sure would be a large stone chapel or sanctuary. Instead I found the small, intimate chapel pictured here. In fact, I had to ask the lovely man in the picture if I was in the right place.
By the time the service started with a greeting and then a hymn that none of us really knew, I realized I was experiencing the Body of Christ in a very real way. The mix of people was diverse: various ethnicities, social classes, sexual orientations, gender identities, and abilities. There were people there with children of varying ages, and older people who were there alone. The bulletin specifically spelled out that we were all welcome.
The service followed the liturgy while still being personal: we confessed as a group and then offered silent meditations of our own. When it came time for the prayer requests, the congregants shared intimately and without reservation, and then we prayed for those concerns. We passed the peace! Finally, we collected tithes and offerings and shared the Eucharist together. We stood together around the communion table and celebrated the Great Thanksgiving as we looked each other in the eyes. I could feel the Holy Spirit hovering there in our midst, like the soft breeze that blows off Lake Michigan in the summertime, and as refreshing.
Jesus’ body was broken, His blood was shed, and we were redeemed yet again. A glorious miracle.
Several times the intimacy and the beauty of it all overwhelmed me to the point of tears. Here, four hours away, is the type of community I long for each Sunday. Here, in a church I assumed would be too uppity for my jeans and sweater, I met my Jesus in the realest way I have experienced in years. Here.
Today was a beautiful mess. Peace.
Okay, I know I keep saying deep things like “thank you” or “you make me think” or other inane and inadequate but heartfelt and honest responses. This one gave me chills. Especially when you started with the Methodist search, I read with bated breath, resisting the urge to jump ahead and see what happened. Partly because you write beautifully, yes, but in this case it felt personal: Would we prevail? Would “my” church (and yours) offer Jesus to an odd duck in an unfamiliar place? Even better, and a big part of my suspense is that my brother is now a public health physician (OB-GYN) in rural southern Illinois. He began medical school at the age of 32, with 4 children, and his first year was at U of I, Chicago Circle (he later transferred to the Champaign-Urbana campus). That first year, they attended the Chicago Temple, and the programs and services helped them maintain some semblance of sanity. This is getting too long, but I think it is important to note a few things about my brother and his family. While they were in Chicago, they felt conspicuously “other.” They were from downstate, which to Chicagoans means south of Kankakee–and their home was closer to Mississippi than to Chicago. They were white. They had this cockamamie dream to get Don through medical school and go back to the hills whence they came. And somehow, I still haven’t figured out quite how, my brother is conservative both politically and religiously (open-minded, but genuinely conservative). My point, finally, is that at the two ends of the spectrum, as far apart as I think two could be, both you and my brother (and family) found Jesus feeding his people at the Chicago Temple. And that is a beautiful thing.
Thanks for sharing your story, and for being a part of our community at FUMC Chicago Temple.
Yeah. If I lived in Chicago, you’d have a new member!