I keep things around longer than I should. Sometimes, this means friends. Also, Relationships. Jobs. Items in my fridge. And yes, churches.
God and I have gone through long periods without speaking. We’ll always be okay, as churches come and go–God remains. As I said in my first piece for The Guardian, many moons ago–the fact that I’m angry with Her means I still believe in Him. And, in my seven years of attending church regularly, I’ve given some congregations more time than I should’ve. I sat in the back row of an incredibly well attended, jubilant Anglican church, reveling in the joy of the colorful, earnest worship–only to feel my stomach turn as the priest condemned homosexuality and, indeed, homosexuals’ right to live, from the pulpit. I excused myself, vomited on the front lawn, and beelined for my car.
Given the peculiarities of working for a large diocese of The Episcopal Church, it was hard not to cross the lines of faith and professionalism; as the writing started to appear on the wall that the professional environment was changing, so, too, was the faith environment. Everyone in my church and in my diocese between the ages of 25 and 40 seemed to vanish. Personnel, parishioners, and opinions seemed to age out of a place where I felt connected. Roughly a year out of changing jobs and denominations (for now) I look back and see a staff where no one is under 50, where no voices that rouse energy or carry weight are under 45.
It’s a problem that time and math will either solve or inflate; it’s not the place for me. And I spent too long inside that system letting it raise my ire instead of listening to my instincts and changing gears. A colleague used to call me “Cassandra” as I’d raise concerns and predict some of these troublesome outcomes.
He’s not laughing now.
And neither am I, as I explore my faith with the Lutheran Church near my home. It’s a process, like everything in this life. But my gut told me to start it sooner, and I wanted to believe that change would come, regardless of how I was feeling.
The thing is–nothing changes until you do.
Big moments tend to show up in my life in threes, as if a higher power is booming down at me, “TAKE AN EFFING LOOK AT THIS, PAL!” And yes–I do believe God would say “Effing,” because it sounds good when spoken loudy, and who doesn’t love a fricative effect?
The church hunt, and wanting to find peace in faith despite anger at God, is one of them. The second two “long goodbyes” made themselves known in the deaths of two relationships.
A close friendship went through a five-year decline after a moment of infidelity and my reacting poorly to it–I didn’t trust him any longer, and that never came back. And my crazed tenacity led to catching him in hundreds of lies–some as simple as fabricating excuses to cancel everything from hangouts and hospital visits, all the way up to claiming an ex-girlfriend had been raped and needed consoling in order to wiggle out of a family dinner. He lied, and that sucked; but I became someone he felt he had to lie to, which also sucked. Neither one of us ended up a good match for the other as friends. He’s got people who will tumble for him, and I’ve got people who will stand fast for me. And I hope we’re both happier.
Despite almost two years without talking, all of this popped back up like an angry groundhog recently, as I went through notes from my editor on changes to my book. Shaping this part of the story required going through thousands of text messages and FB messenger conversations, making sure I’d kept structures in place while changing names to protect the guilty. We’re in an age where everything is documented, for better or for worse.
And while I’m happy with my work as a whole, it was a rabbit hole that wasn’t a pleasurable trip. And as if the universe said “Ha!,” an email from him popped up in my inbox, ready to be archived, unread.
And I took a breath, and that was that. Five years is one hell of a long goodbye, when the same outcome should have and could have been succinctly produced somewhere in the first year of all that tumult.
The final extended break-up of the moment involved a friendship of 12 years, with romantic undertones. We both had things we loved and hated about each other; he’d probably say I’m angry and judgy, and I found fault with his lack of self-awareness and boundaries in objectifying other men. And instead of changing, we just tried to hide the elements the other found unsavory until it came to a boil. And we had nothing left to say to one another.
And all of this is prelude, as I continue to attend church even as I ask myself if I should be more aggressively church shopping: when a congregation isn’t a good fit, I’d be smart to be honest with myself. Some things are worth overlooking or adapting to, and some things are just irreconcilable differences.
There’s no benefit to toughing it out over a Long Goodbye, trying to prolong the magic of a new connection. It’s better to just rip the band-aid off and move on.
Now, practicing what I preach is a different story. But I guess I’m working on that. We all are.