I watched church the week before, too, but I couldn’t write about it. Between crying at how much I missed being in a space with other people and trying to stop Junia from launching herself off the sofa, I can’t say I took many notes or thought too deeply about it. This past week, though, I was prepared. I had a pile of paper from my old life, handouts from classrooms I used to visit and agendas from meetings I used to attend, ready for her to scribble upon. I moved the church viewing area to my home office, where she could sprawl out on the floor or run around the upstairs reasonably safely when not sitting on my lap and waving at the Zoom boxes on the laptop screen. Still, even watching church from home is an effort. But I need to make it. There is a sea wall that being in community seems to build for me, one that is constantly under attack from the wind and waves of the tragedy, cruelty, and bullshit the world at large has to offer. I share some thoughts and hopes with others, take some of theirs home with me, and, maybe while I’m sleeping or drawing a crayon picture of a cat or cooking another meal destined to go only half-eaten, those thoughts and hopes fill the cracks in the wall.
Valerie was preaching, and I love the ways in which she makes herself so vulnerable with us. She shares her own struggles frankly, with humor and humility and the palpable joy she takes from being in the presence of God and others. She preached on Paul Tillich’s Shaking of the Foundations, a major influence on the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in which Tillich wrote:
Grace is the reunion of life with life, the reconciliation of the self with itself. Grace is the acceptance of that which is rejected. Grace transforms fate into a meaningful destiny; it changes guilt into confidence and courage. (…) Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley. (…) Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: “You are accepted. You are accepted, accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know. Do not ask for the name now; perhaps you will find it later. Do not try to do anything now; perhaps later you will do much. Do not seek for anything; do not perform anything; do not intend anything. Simply accept the fact that you are accepted!”
I wrote that much down, because I needed to hear it: as a mother, and as a white person hoping to act in accordance with antiracist values and priorities. I needed to know that God accepts me showing up exactly as I show up; I needed to know that guilt, both white guilt and all other kinds, are not the end of my story as a person or a Christian or anything else in the world. Malcolm X said, “We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” And before we were acceptable to ourselves, I would add, even if we are not yet acceptable to ourselves, we were and are acceptable to God.
God accepts my efforts, all of them, even when they frustrate me: half-watching church while watching my daughter sweep a series of lines across a paper (“Teddy,” she explains, pointing to the tangled swirl, and of course I agree); listening to yet another podcast or reading yet another book in hopes of understanding history from a perspective different from my own; pausing to accept and appreciate feedback on an act that might have had an unintentional but real impact on someone. My world feels small, and even smaller as we weather the storm of Omicron currently battering all of our sea walls. But I am acceptable to God, because of my efforts or in spite of them. Am I extending this acceptance to all? Am I part of enacting a world in which everyone feels and lives that acceptance every day?
I hope so. And I think that showing up, even on Zoom, even with my attention divided a few different ways, will help to foster and realize that hope.