Scotland, For I [Part II]

I may not know much about alcohol, but I do know that morning drinking on the train from Edinburgh to Aberdeen will get you a few odd looks—although probably not as many as you’d expect most other places. The man with the food cart came down the aisle at ten fifteen and asked if I wanted anything. “What beer d’ya have?” I asked him. He looked at his watch with a little concern before hesitantly naming a few labels. I’d never had any of them before, so I employed a tactic that I’ve mastered recently. “Foster’s, please,” I said, nearly cutting him off. I may not know much about alcohol, but other people don’t need to know that, so I play connoisseur as well as the next American twenty-year-old.

“Shake It Out” by Florence & the Machine came onto my iPod and I enjoyed a few moments of victory before the train filled up with Scots. A surly young woman sat next to me. “Don’t judge me,” I told her. “I’ve never drunk on a train before and I wanted my first time to be in Scotland. I swear this isn’t sad.” “No, seems reasonable,” she muttered. I put my earbuds back in.

I wrote in my journal a lot on these train rides. An excerpt written while flying past little Scottish towns:

The steeples on the churches here are dark and bleak. If the Christopher Wrens in London inspire awe and wonder and glory, those here seem to say that there is hard, unglamorous work to do before we can get to where they’re pointing. Protestant work ethic and whatnot.”

The next nine pages of my journal are spent on the metaphor of Christ and his Bride. After that, two pages of quotes from Christian Wiman’s My Bright Abyss, including the following:

Faith cannot save you from the claims of reason, except insofar as it preserves and protects that wonderful, terrible time when reason, if only for a moment, lost its claim on you.” (7)

On falling in love with his wife:

…it was human love that reawakened divine love. Put another way, it was pure contingency that caught fire in our lives, and it was Christ whom we found—together, and his presence dependent upon our being together—burning there.” (22-23)

I didn’t understand the brogue of the taxi driver who took me from the train station in Elgin to Pluscarden Abbey, the home of the Benedictine community I was to stay with for the week. I did, however, understand the posh and articulate to the point of theatrical Oxbridge accent of the man who greeted me upon arrival—a young visiting dom, ranked somewhere between priest and monk. “Oh, you’re an Oxford man. Oh, so sorry. I’m a Cambridge man of course, which, as I’m sure you know, is better than Oxford for most things. What college? Wycliffe Hall? OH, so so sorry.” I was surprised and smugly pleased to learn a few days later that the dom was, in fact, a mere New Yorker born and bred who did his undergrad at Cambridge, changed his voice, converted from Episcopalianism, and joined an order.

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new life

Six months ago yesterday, thanks largely to the vigorous encouragement of a friend, I posted the end of a silence on this blog. Nota bene: read that before continuing. After clicking “Publish” (and after sharing the link on Facebook and Twitter) I ran out of my dorm room and screamed loudly. The scream didn’t really mean “I feel free” or “I’m scared shitless” so much as it meant “A lot of life is happening in this moment and screaming is the only way I know how to acknowledge that.” A girl walking down the hallway paused for a brief look in my direction and then kept walking, unfazed. Extreme expressions of emotion aren’t exactly out of character for me.

That moment was the culmination of a lot of anxiety, fear, hope, and prayer.

In my Dostoevsky class last year, discussion often turned to the topic of visibility—truly seeing and truly being seen. It is when we are completely visible to someone (Father Zosima’s “guilty before all and for all”) that we are most human. Being loved by others for our talents and strengths is easy, but when we make visible our imperfections, struggles,  shortcomings, and fears, we become open to the possibility of receiving a taste of unconditional love—the kind of love that casts out our fears and humbles us because we know it is not deserved. This love doesn’t say that you’re perfect the way you are; it knows you are imperfect but allows you to experience wholeness. Although God constantly radiates this love, I’m not able to feel, know, and receive it always, which is why allowing myself to be visible to others, the body of Christ, is so important to me. It helps me understand the power of God’s love.

Although I certainly felt visible when I posted my story online—indeed, almost naked—I didn’t need to post it for that reason. My family, friends, and professors spent so many hours listening to me and loving me before I even thought about sharing my story online. The reason I shared my story online was in the first sentence of the post. The profound loneliness and hurt carried by some gay teenagers drives them to suicide. In my post I mentioned Jadin Bell, the 15-year-old who hanged himself in an elementary school’s playground. Every so often another incident is reported by the news. A young person—typically a guy in his mid teens—commits suicide. The news reports reveal that cause was probably the years of bullying the kid endured for his or her homosexuality. Friends say, “When he walked into a room he always lit it up,” “If you were having a bad day, she would take the time to ask you and listen to you and let you know that you are loved.”

This is for you: You are loved. Stick around because it does get better.

This is for you: Go sit with that person at lunch tomorrow.

This is for you: Love your child even when you don’t understand them.

This is for you: Don’t be afraid to talk to someone. Be visible.

This is for you: Stand up for the bullied. It hurts some people more than we know.

This is for you: God loves you.

This is for you: Loving someone else might just mean listening to them. If you think that loving someone like a Christian means first and foremost showing them the error of their ways, realize that it’s possible that the only thing she thinks about is all of the ways she is disgusting. Find out how she’s beautiful. Tell her.

This is for you: You’ve made it through a lot. Maybe it’s time to share your story.

I came to regret the name I chose for that blog post six months ago. It seems a bit dramatic at times. But it isn’t. Silence breeds loneliness can breed death. The end of a silence is the birth of a new life.

love wins

I have never lost a close friend or relative, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on the grief that is instilled into the hearts of those who have. However, there is a grief that is stirred in anyone who hears stories like those that have arisen from Newton, Connecticut, or Clackamas, Oregon, or Aurora, Colorado. This resonating grief is common to every person. With it come confusion, anger, and a longing for peace and healing.

Bear with me as I reflect and stumble through some thoughts.

what is it all about?

Love.

I’ve been playing some weddings recently, Christian ones.  Depending on who you are and what the service is like, Christian weddings can either be intensely beautiful or oppressive.  The wedding I played yesterday was beautiful.  A sister of a friend of mine was the bride, and the service was more of a worship service than anything else.  I played with a cellist, pianist, and percussionist on a cajón, all very talented musicians and very fun to play with.  The music was featured fairly prominently throughout the wedding, but the focus wasn’t on us as it sometimes is.  We played hymns and newer worship songs that were important to the bride and groom.  I felt freer as a musician because technical perfection was not the goal.  At the heart of the service was two people and their families and friends saying “thank you” for the gift of love in their lives.

The part that can be oppressive for some people is the language of submission.  You are probably familiar with the passage from Ephesians 5:  “Wives, submit to your husbands, as to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.”  Paul continues to challenge husbands to love their wives as Christ sacrificially loves the church.  I’m not an expert by any means, but it seems both charges are very difficult.  The overall theme of the passage is the profound love at the center of marriage.  It demands self-sacrifice of husband and wife, which appears to me to be submission in itself.

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