Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Letter to My Brother, or, Don't Fear the Wesleyans

Hey, kid. Remember all those years that we hated each other's guts? All the fights we had over toys and chores and schoolwork? Remember how we'd stand in the living room and scream back and forth, and then you'd throw something at me, and then I'd slap you, and we'd huff and puff with rage for about five seconds before hearing The Mother's key in the lock and realizing that, if either of us told on the other, there would be a Reckoning? By the time she had her briefcase through the door, we had apologized and were busy doing each other's chores and pretending that we had been getting along nicely all day.

Anyway. I'll forgive you for being lazy and annoying if you'll forgive me for being bossy and intrusive. It wasn't easy being the big sibling in a single-parent working household, and you had to deal with me as both sister and custodian most of the time. I didn't have the patience, good humor, or ability to judge priorities that you needed in a full-time babysitter. And you-- well, you weren't the easiest kid to be home alone with every day. I'm not going to forget the Grape Jelly Incident.

We started out in the same household, with the same experience of the world. I spent our entire childhood trying to make you behave the same way that I did, and you spent our entire childhood trying to behave in entirely different ways while imitating each iteration of my hairstyles. (Don't deny it.)

The last ten years have sent us down completely different paths. (One noticable divergence being that your employer made you cut your hair and mine bullied me into growing it out.) You've got some serious job training under your belt and you're heading into probably the most demanding phase of your life. You proved your intelligence, strength, and determination over the last few months, and I know you'll make your way out there on the border.

I think I have some advice that's actually useful this time. It's not about cleaning up your room or locating your reading assignment or getting me a snack. It's something I've learned over the last decade, as I found a way to survive and thrive outside of the world we started in.

You're going to a new place. The habits that you create in the first few months will shape the rest of your life. The relationships that you form will change the way you think and act. The environment you select for your children will be a blessing and a burden to them. Some of the things they learn will turn out to be harmful, and they'll cast those things off, the same way that you and I have been casting off the harmful parts of our childhood.

Your wife needs a family to depend on during your time away from home. Your kids need to be challenged and equipped to grow up strong, and kind, and wise. You need the accountability of a community outside of the Border Patrol. So find a church as quickly as you can. And let your first criteria be this: look for a congregation that loves. We've both got bruises from a church that makes defensive dogma its first priority, a church that identifies itself by what it condemns. We saw how easy it was for that church to then condemn its own. That kind of church lives in fear. It's obsessed with getting the doctrine right-- with speaking in tongues of angels-- but it's not much concerned with love.

Love requires tremendous strength and fearlessness. A church that practices genuine love is a church made of people who are strong enough to be at the service of others, brave enough to laugh at their own flaws, and forgiving enough to embrace the world instead of hating it. Read through the Gospels and see how often the disciples think that Jesus is welcoming the wrong kind of people into his fellowship. You need to find a church that makes you uncomfortable with its kindness, and that welcomes people you aren't eager to share a table with. Situate yourself in a community that is just a little too free with its grace, just a little more liberal with its love than you think it ought to be. That's how you'll grow in love.

Your girls are going to need a church that will give them the freedom and the training to exercise whatever gifts God has given them. They need a church that won't tell them which roles they must play as daughters and which roles are restricted to sons. Remember the anger and bitterness that led many of our peers to reject the Church because they had been rejected by a church.

Don't be afraid of traditions that aren't your own. We've got fundamentalists, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and Roman Catholics in just two generations of our family. (Methodists! The ultimate in watered-down secularism! We were warned about them!) It's okay if you hop the fence and go hang with the Lutherans or the Church of God instead of finding another non-denominational evangelical congregation. Take that opportunity to find out what God is saying through that tradition. Find a church with a Spanish-language portion of its ministry, a church that doesn't belong to just one kind of person in your border town.

And get ready to feel awkward. We were raised to agree with everything about Grace, and there was quite a lot to agree with. You'll find that no church is exactly like any other, and you may spend the rest of your life feeling a little out of sync with every congregation you attend. That's okay, too. Maybe, like me, you're finding that you can't get whole-hog behind any church's full set of doctrines-- that you are too afraid of being what you used to be. I don't think God is worried about that. I think that, just like in ancient Israel, God is more concerned with the plight of the alien and the immigrant than with the proper execution of religious ritual. I hope you'll find that doing your job with love is the proper execution of religious ritual.

We were raised to be stern, suspicious fundamentalists, conservative with our generosity and impeccable in our dogma. Now is the time to overcorrect. Now is the time to find a church that will lead you outside of your borders, instead of cinching those borders closer in.

Also: remember that time The Mother told me to mow the lawn, and I tried but I couldn't keep the mower straight, and when I finished you both came outside and looked at the crooked lines and the missed patches, and pointed and laughed so hard that you were bent over and crying, and I punched you in the stomach?

Yeah, I'm still not sorry.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I love this. I think we are going to be friends. I fuond your blog because I noticed someone had gotten to mine from yours (thanks!), and now I am hooked here.