Just another day, another year, another afternoon hanging out with people from situations so different to me. Listening to teens and pre-teens talking about kittens and pumpkins and whatever current teenage band obsession; listening to them talk about fights in the refugee camps, deaths and ethnic feuds and hurricanes. Trying to keep up, this bouncing between worlds I sort-of know and worlds I know nothing about. Eventually, they turn to me and ask: so, what about your history? As nonchalantly as you please. I can’t think of any story that would make sense in light of what they just spilled out, hands full of candy, mouths full of braces. My history? I say, stalling for time. It’s pretty different from yours. But like yours, there was some very sad stuff. And just like yours, there was the wonderful.
When I was 13 I started an evangelical punk band. I taught myself the bass guitar, rounded up a few older kids from the youth group (plus my older sister, who looked and sang like a young and sanctified Gwen Stefani). We practiced in the church auditorium, in the strip mall, where my dad was the pastor. We wrote songs about God, and relationships, and sin. We covered a lot of MxPx. We toured all the Christian coffee shops in Northern California. We opened for a few big Christian bands, we played with other young kids such as ourselves. We played terrible music, the same three chords over and over again. One time the local paper interviewed us. Christians! Punks! Extremely Young! It’s hilarious in retrospect, but it’s true. The article ended with a quote from me, thinking I was being extremely sage: “Christians can be punk rockers too”. I cut my hair like a boy and died it various shades of orange, wore yellow-tinted glasses and dog chains around my neck. I was serene, calm, and in control with my bass guitar in front of me. I sang my back-up vocals with a surety in m voice, keeping my band on task at all times. I was a missionary, was the thing. I had dreams of Russia or China or Africa; of being a martyr, of going out in a flame of glory. But when I was young, it was the punk rockers that was my field, and I threw myself into that world with abandon, all for the sake of saving others.
In many ways, I have nothing but kindness in my heart for my 13-year-old self. I had a lot of chutzpah. I didn’t know how to not be myself: nerdy, intense, evangelical in every way. I didn’t know that doubts would come, and that they would only strengthen me; I didn’t know what a relatively charmed and secure upbringing I had experienced, a true minority in a world of exiles.
But mostly, I feel kindly towards myself because I didn’t know what the love of God truly looked like. I thought it had to do with being pure, and righteous, and feeling assured of where I would go in the afterlife. Of having the right answers, of being comfortable on the winning side, of logic and reasoning and plain common sense. It was a safe, cozy, love–one that I had experienced from my first day on this earth. I sang songs about a consuming fire, but in my mind it was more of a warming glow.
What is my history? I was born in the church, I grew up in the church, I remain in the church. I used to dance and scream and shout for the Lord, surrounded by sweaty teenagers just like myself, people who were complicated and grew up in an alternative universe, one that was touted as being positive, sometimes to the point of being saccharine. We all had different experiences, but it was all strangely interchangeable: the concerts, retreats, books, music, youth pastors–we were all told of the love of God, in a way that the young and the privileged can understand.
The necessary shatterings throughout the years have been a form of kindness in of themselves. But I am grateful still for my history, my young hungry heart. When I was 13, resolute and happy, the underpinnings of a belief in a very good God was cemented in me, deep into the very core of who I was.
In many ways, I miss those years. Of being so happy, of feeling so right. The older I get, and the more I experience the love of God, the wilder and woolier it all seems. Because the flip side of love is grief; for every revelation I have of how I am perfectly loved just as I am, I get a flash of the grief God experiences over the injustices of our world–his children being raped, being killed, being herded like cattle in refugee camps. His love for me has led me to say yes, when I really would have wanted to say no. His love has led me to couches and apartments and classrooms of the hurting, stories washing over me, I don’t know how much more I can bear. That love, that sorrow and joy so inextricably linked, it burns. Not the fiery glow of the martyr, but a thousand little deaths, a thousand tiny resurrections.
By His wounds we are healed, the scriptures say. He was wounded for us, and it was love that led him there. And the deeper I walk towards obeying and loving Christ, the more wounded I feel. Because He never once promised us safe. He never once promised us security. Instead, He promised us his kingdom, where there are more miracles and traumas than I ever thought possible.
It is a tender place to be.
This is for all of our dear, earnest 13-year-old selves.
My dear friend Addie wrote a book, about her own years in the wilds of evangelical subculture, of growing up in our ghetto. This girl is a legitimate writer, her words layered upon themselves, full of reflection and honesty and kindness. Her book comes out today, and I am telling you to go out and read it. You can read a few sample chapters here and here. Or, order it online (or ask your local bookstore!)
Linking up with the synchroblog here.