Life was a knife’s edge. Work ended. Community changed. The family I worked so hard to maintain was now the poster child for WHAT CAN GO WRONG. I felt alone and adrift on a rickety raft, free and terrified in a way I hadn’t been in years.
I came of age at the tail end of the Jesus people movement, traded beers for a Bible and made an even exchange of identity for belonging. I married young and had children fast. Moved five times in nine years, twice with a newborn in tow. And then one day a therapist in a small town in Michigan talked me into squinting just enough to see the world outside my homeschooling, hard-judging, evangelical Republican door. I started telling the truth and learned how to ask for help.
We moved to New Jersey, God help us, where the two dog years were a straight up bargain for my dearest friend, a Jew who didn’t freak out when I talked about Jesus. I stopped going to church and we moved to a corner of New York City that is, to this day, the gold standard of community in all its intended annoyance and glory. Hard times and great parties; uncertain theology and the surprise delivery of a dozen bags of groceries on a day I couldn’t afford to buy one.
And when I believed I could not love it any more, the grace ran out and in 2001 all roads led to Kansas, a place I most assuredly did not want to go. It was all well and good to be a Midwesterner in Manhattan where I didn’t have to look like everyone else, but I certainly couldn’t be one in Kansas. No one would understand why we didn’t go to church or lived in an empty house because we couldn’t afford to move our furniture from storage. We’d learned to drink and swear and stand up for ourselves; to find Jesus in drag queens and the pages of Tom Robbins novels, of all unlikely places. How in the world could we find our way in Oz?
I underestimated the Kansans.
They showed up with spare mattresses and loose change; opened their homes for dinner and life, and occasionally allowed their curiosity to overcome their politeness. “So are you heathen now?” asked one kindly when I said yet again, “We don’t go to church anywhere,” in answer to the question everyone asked.
God love her. I was actually grateful for the chance to explain my life to someone so different from me. My gratitude grew as I encountered further surprises. There were people with open minds on the homeschooling swim team; a Southern Baptist Texan with big hair and a wicked sense of humor whose teaching I devoured; the minister who'd married me and didn't bat an eyelash when I told him I was getting a divorce.
Like a slow-growing plant, I fed on truth I couldn't see. I had no idea that leaving church was now a “thing” or that a new breed of heretical believers were roiling the waters of faith and philosophy. The lines were blurring for a lot of folks, but life was so fractured I had little knowledge of anything beyond the edges of our small and broken world.
Inch by inch we recovered and healed, some days with Psalms and some with Springsteen. I found a spiritual director in an old friend and career inspiration in the Port Fonda food truck. I read Patti Smith’s memoir of life with Robert Mapplethorpe and wept at the beloved provision in its pages. I learned that love doesn’t have to make sense to serve its purpose and felt the unique joy of giving after losing so much. I joined brilliant colleagues who could explain modern art, and then others who would wade into a bar brawl with anyone who disrespected me. Weeping through a white hot production of Titus Andronicus, I saw everything fall away except the holiness of creation—In the beginning was the word… And God created…And it was good.
And so today, as I survey the landscape and see harvest and hope, there is no life except the naked public square. From now on, Here’s to the Village will have to live in the same occasionally uncomfortable place I do. There will be days when I write about Jesus, that those of you who break out in hives will just have to close the page. Or grit your teeth and hang on. Because the next post will undoubtedly contain some pissed off rant or gleefully swearing review which polite company would never tolerate. The only constant will be the original one –the village and its people. Singing hymns or YMCA.