Inspiration for today’s story came in response to a question posed on the “Saved by Ira Glass” lenten blog series (see http://www.stthomasrichmond.org/blog/sdaughtry/feb-14-2013). The question posed was: When did you decide to go with your heart, your conscience, your sense of love….instead of the rules you ‘knew’ were right?
It was a warm night in late spring on a dark road several miles out from next to nowhere. She wore sweat pants and a long-sleeve t-shirt, tucked in only because she had a cassette walkman strapped onto her waist. Her copper red hair, recently dyed, was long and wild and her thoughts were racing. She was walking as fast as she could, but she was no runner. She wished she could fly. But instead, she kept on. The year was 1990 and she was a few weeks shy of turning 20. The soundtrack was classic U2:
I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields….Only to be with you…Only to be with you.
I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls….These city walls….Only to be with you.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…
The past several weeks were life altering. Just before Easter, the person of her deepest affections had held her hands, looked her in the eye and said “I have AIDS, and I am dying” and within two weeks, her world came crashing apart. There were rumors (aka: a prayer chain) that led to his dismissal from his living space, his job, and the church they attended, there were those who in the name of loving and protecting her had forbidden even social contact, there were her parents who threw out the coffee cup he drank from in their house and made cracks about sending all the filthy people “God was punishing” with HIV to die on an island. There was the disparaging of race and the use of the term “those people” which fell like coffin nails. There was her own relentless questioning of why and how. There were secret letters and clandestine meetings not with some great escape route in mind, but to sob at the stigma and oppression and lack of options.
I believe in the Kingdom Come, then all the colors will bleed into one…bleed into one. But, yes, I’m still running.
You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame….oh, my shame…you know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
The truth was, she felt beaten. She wished she could be angry, youthful, even resentful. She had been all those things in recent weeks. Shame…well, she was feeling that simply because it was being heaped upon her in droves. Shame for what: loving? trusting? wanting respect for human life and failing? She hadn’t even broken the rules. There hadn’t been sex, and who had the right to presume otherwise, anyhow? They wrote plays together that were performed by the youth group. They shared stories and poetry and read the bible together. He had past drug use, and paid the price for that, and God is supposed to forgive when we repent, isn’t that right? So she had been told. But not now. God, she was told, had obviously dolled out punishment and that meant there was no real forgiveness. Her job was to distance herself from the one judged “sinner” or to risk being pulled down into punishment as well. It was her duty to walk away. It was her duty to keep on running.
But that wasn’t what she was running from. She still hadn’t found what she was looking for.
She stopped. She turned around and surveyed the landscape below. A pristine college town. A perfect setting of churches, pretty and well dressed people. The place she was supposed to be, governed by a doctrine and deity that didn’t care about the state of people’s hearts and their contribution to the world. It was apparently OK in this place ruled by this diety to judge whole groups of people by their race, or their behaviors, or what people assumed their behaviors to be.
As suddenly as day descends to a final moment where it becomes night, she no longer believed.
Even if she still believed the stories she had been raised on, she knew that going to hell for eternity would be better than to align oneself with a loveless, judging diety for eternity. It might actually even be the same thing.
so be it.
She said it out loud. And stopped. And took her place in a different moment, the present state of being. And she never went back.
The air was cleansing, alone miles away from anywhere. She breathed in a new breath. Her cassette tape continued to play. And in the still, small moments of the dark night, although she did not recognize it at the time, the Universe still loved her and accepted her. God would not leave her, and did not leave her. God was present in the quest for social justice that would become her motivation day after day. God was even present in the soundtrack that continued to play on…
Sleep, Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
If the thundercloud
So let it rain
Rain down on him
So let it be
It just might be a decade or two before she realized the source of the music, the myth, the connection that remained. But in God’s time, all things are the same. Because God is Love.