Church in the Canyon

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By Esther Emery | Twitter @estheremery

M_EstherIt was months ago now, that I first drove up the steep and winding driveway to the church on the edge of the mesa. I fought with myself the whole way up. I said, “Girl, what are you thinking? You’ve got a bumper sticker that says, “Homophobia kills.Meanwhile they’ve got a little trailer in the Idaho mountains and the turn is marked by a painting of the rapture. This is nuts.”

I went anyway. I walked right in, with only Abraham for my letter of introduction. I just walked in with my baby on my hip, and my baseball cap that says “New York,” and dirty feet.

Blue girl in a red church.

Ask and ye shall receive. I wanted to be the prodigal. I wanted to be welcomed home, even to the red churches I left years ago with my screaming music and my shaved head and all my anger.

Not a week later I’m eating peach cobbler in somebody’s kitchen, my kids have new friends, and first things first, somebody offered us use of their shower and they wanted to know what we have to cook on and if we need a trailer to stay in when the snow comes.

I dug right in. I had a little personal revival. I was singing hymns right there in my yurt while I rolled out the egg noodles. 

All my hope is in You …
All my strength is in You …

One minute I was singing those songs I love to sing and cleaning up the crayons my daughter spilled (again) and the next minute I was hearing words I prayed I’d never hear, not from anywhere, but especially not from behind the pulpit. The sermon that hurt, took me by surprise.

I can’t tell you exactly what was said. I don’t want to and I don’t remember. The actual words spoken intersected with every other instance I’ve ever experienced in my life of homophobia.

Every time I’ve ever heard conservatives in Idaho talking smack about liberals. (I’ve lived here more than half my life, that’s a lot of times.)

Every time I’ve ever had somebody I love hated on or shamed for coming out. Every gay suicide. Every hate crime. Every burnt up and broken heart.

I saw somebody walk out, from the corner of my eye. But I stuck it out. It wasn’t really courage, I just couldn’t move. I had invested too much in that seat–that seat in a red church. I knew if I left at that moment I would never come back. I rode the message of condemnation like a fishing boat rides out a storm.

I tried to explain it, later, to an elder of the church. I tried to explain how it isn’t theoretical to me. This is not some position that I hold, like a check mark at the ballot box. This is my humanity. I am straight, but I haven’t always been, and I haven’t always been sure. My sense of tribe and self and interior landscape simply does not cut off between these camps. There is no line of difference between me and another human being who receives this kind of condemnation.

I know–God help me, I know–this is not harmless chatter. These words bring death.

I didn’t intend to rise to my feet. I think I must have been holding on to the chair in front of me. I didn’t intend to say anything at all. I didn’t intend to be the voice of anything.

This is what happens when the streams mix. I had taken my seat in that room, and on that day I opened my mouth and spoke. I had no choice. I was there that day, I was who I am. 

Blue streak in a red church. 

I used to think that if I came home to rural Idaho and sang these old songs that I love, I would be invalidating my whole life’s work against injustice. I thought I would be betraying that old friend of mine whose young life was lost to hate.

I was wrong. I could never have crafted the message that I have become. 

I catch a glimpse sometimes, a little nod and a reassurance that this is, in fact, exactly how it works. We are supposed to do this: to rub up against one another, even in our differences. Sometimes this work is long and slow like sand on the beach. Sometimes it’s all crushed up and wild like a storm. We bump against each other and we strike each other, and it wears away the stone to show the flesh beneath. 

What greater Love than this? 

So, let’s tell the truth. Honestly, sometimes I skip church. You know how it is. Usually I don’t. Usually on Sundays I drive up that winding driveway, even though it’s a little icy on the edges now. I show up, I stand, and I sing for hope. 

______________________

About Esther:

estheremerywriterEsther Emery used to direct stage plays in Southern California. But that was a long time ago. Now she is pretty much a runaway, living off the grid in a yurt and tending to three acres in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. She writes about faith and rebellion and trying to live a totally free life at www.estheremery.com

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  • Bev Murrill

    Emmanuel!

  • Saskia Wishart

    Wisdom.

  • Sarah Joslyn

    You speak my language. Thank you, Esther.

  • Brenda-Lee

    Your last sentence Esther, is a prophetic call, beckoning us all to follow your example – show up, stand up, sing for hope. I have a lump in my throat.

  • I love how you speak of hope here Esther. xo

  • Anne-Marie

    I love that you are still there, Esther. Courage. Not silent and not absent.

    • Not silent and not absent. Make THAT into a bumper sticker, would you? I’d like to live that all the way down.

      • smoothstones

        for reals

      • Anne-Marie

        Me too Esther! I can get so frustrated with hard edges that i disappear, or speak out so quickly that I hurt. Trying to stay, yet speak. That’s a big one.

  • helen burns

    So much hope and wisdom right here. Love never fails. xo

    • Indeed. Love never fails. Thanks for reading, Helen.

  • pastordt

    Beautifully said,Esther. Thank you for sticking, though I know it’s gotta be tough at points. And thank you for reminding me that I can still be in fellowship with folks with whom I seriously disagree about lots of things. I admire your courage.

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  • Lori

    Writing touches me deeply. Thank you for the hard work of it. Inspirational.

    • Oh, thank you, Lori. I so appreciate your encouragement.

  • Jody Ohlsen Collins

    Esther, these lines resonate like a bell, “Sometimes this work is long and slow like sand on the beach. Sometimes it’s all crushed up and wild like a storm.” Wow. ANY work of change is a long, slow work, regardless of what it is in the Kingdom. Good job hanging in there and ‘showing up.’

    • Yes! Any work of change is a work of being changed, and that’s slow. Thank you so much for reading, Jody.

  • all the things you didn’t say are screaming at me. this is powerful stuff, Esther. this is brave bold wild stuff.

    I love you, and I love your voice. I love your standing up.

    • Yes, “places for tigers to hide” in this post, huh? Thanks for reading. Thanks for being in this with me.

  • I’m with Rachel: “this is brave bold wild stuff.” You write right at the intersection of the places where we bump up against each other … and you hold it with strength, grit, tenderness and deep hope. I LOVE the combination. You.

  • Erin Wilson

    I didn’t have it in me to stay. It makes me really happy to hear about the way you’ve stayed. It’s good to share a tribe with you.

    • I don’t know that I will always stay, either, Erin. Believe me, I don’t judge. I stayed because I needed to. And…that’s the work of it. We do need each other. And both expressing that need and being accountable to it can transform us. But don’t think I judge anybody who doesn’t do what I did! Quite the opposite.

  • wnhen@aol.com

    “We are supposed to do this: to rub up against one another, even in our differences. Sometimes this work is long and slow like sand on the beach. Sometimes it’s all crushed up and wild like a storm. We bump against each other and we strike each other, and it wears away the stone to show the flesh beneath. ”
    This was my church today.

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