Just as I was preparing to settle into 7:30am silent worship, the doorbell rang. Our guest was a black male in his mid-thirties and holding a clipboard. Assuming he was one of the handful of service men who periodically stop by to fix, spray or check things, I stood firm in the doorway and asked him what he needed so I could direct him quickly. It turned out that the clipboard was for his own purposes and he was hoping to join us for worship. When we talked at the end of that half-hour, I discovered that he was in a divinity program at Howard University and was exploring different approaches to worship, but even if I’d known that information (it being a rare event) I still would have sat through the silence struggling with whether I should feel guilty about equating a clipboard and a black man with a professional visit. Without absolving myself of the responsibility to question such things in the future, I came to a rare (for me) acceptance that the perception was reasonable and I should let it go.
I find myself hyper-vigilant, well beyond issues relating to race, about being morally “good”. It is likely a combination of parenting, growing up in the age of restrictive political correctness and repeatedly planting myself in crowds where social justice and community are strongly valued. So on a social level, I am always self-monitoring for my motives, always secretly chiding myself for not feeling enough empathy for certain groups or persons; and on a personal level, I can become downright self loathing for not doing right (or being perceived as such) by the people I care about.
Recently there was a friendship in which I made poor decisions that caused a lot of pain, many enacted out of temptation or anger, and many with the aim of simply doing what is healthy and right for me. While there were plenty of layers to that relationship about which I could reasonably be sad, the one that ended up plaguing me most was the idea that his verbal condemnations, and my self-imposed ones, were evidence that I am a bad person. Though I hadn’t fully connected with that recognition yet, I left the house this past Saturday night with a strong need to keep my mind on the surface and gain positive attention from others. I would process what was really going on later.
At my second party of the night, held at a bawdy college bar, I wanted to work through some of this in my favorite way: dancing. Eager to start a marathon dance night but noting that most of the party goers weren’t yet lubricated enough, I invited myself along with a YAF who was heading to a dance party a few miles away. When I left the college crowd I was in great spirits and told my new friend I’d meet him shortly (he took his bike, I took the metro).
I carry a journal with me even (perhaps especially) on nights when socializing and alcohol are involved, so I was glad to have it with me on that long subway ride when thoughts of others’ opinions and my moral faltering began to slide in. Even while pining for that friend to tell me that what I did was forgivable and that he still thinks I’m good, I knew that the only person who could genuinely make me believe that was me.
So there I was alone with me, journaling and periodically crying, on a cement bench with a fifteen minute transfer wait. A train arrived in the opposite direction that would take me home. I thought, “This is no state to be dancing in. I should just go back,” but passiveness and a stubborn clinging to my “fun night” idea kept me sitting there. When I arrived at the club, I followed the friend upstairs into a room where humidity levels were five times what they’d been outside. I stripped down to what was essential and moved to the dance floor where I rocked back and forth in a kind of depressive stupor, letting my hair hang over my face to help block out the world. Soon his friends showed up and we all migrated to the center of the floor. While I felt comforted to have dance partners, I mostly kept to myself, each moment wondering how much longer I was going to do this before I decided to go home.
Things weren’t getting any better; I was just moving my body in spite of myself and was inches from leaving…until Kirk Franklin’s “I’ve Been Looking For You” came over the speakers – “To all my people in the struggle, you think God's forgotten about you. Here's some pain medicine….” – and I raised my hands up with the rhythm and lightly wept. Real or not, balm for the masses or not, I was reminded that God thinks I’m worthy. The universe believes I am worthy of being alive, no matter how poorly I live up to my own ideals. I danced until 2:45 in the morning, and I got an invitation from one of my dance partners to hang out at another time.
“Jesus you are my sunlight after the rain.” –Kirk Franklin–