Sunday, August 31, 2014

Confidence Faithfulness Carleton Cantrell

***trigger warning: sexual abuse***

Katie sings loudly in church. She's a squirmy worm until she hears the organ start and sees the congregation rise. Time to sing! At eight years old, it's her favorite part of church.

I don't like to sing at church nearly as much as Katie does. I prefer to sit back and listen to the poetry. Like this prayer by Pastor Jonas Hayes:

Mysterious and Merciful God, we push ourselves into exhaustion with petty tasks; we offer one another faint-hearted relationships; we run after so many good things that we run out of energy; we depend on our own capacities, rather than depending on you. Interrupt our lives with your revelation. Intervene in our days. Inspire us to love. Help us in our seeking, to find you and to live in your presence. Amen.

Isn't that beautiful? Too bad I suck at following advice. I suck at depending on God. I suck at depending on anyone. I'm awesome at depending on my own capacities. That's how a sexual abuse survivor heals. When someone takes control of your body before you are old enough to give consent, you spend your life trying to take it back. Feeling capable and independent and in control feels glorious to a person whose body was once captive to someone in authority.

It sucks though, control. Because I run out of energy trying to keep it together, keep in control. I let the worlds' crumblings and injustices get me down because I want to be strong enough to save the world from all its misery, even when sometimes I lack the strength to get out of bed. It's a weird balancing act, a power trip. First you feel strong and capable and confident. Then, when your savior-energy starts to drain, you feel like a big piece of shit.

I think Jesus was brilliant to teach people to simply love. Because if that's all you do, at the end of the day you've done well. You don't have to be brilliant or smart or well educated or talented or gifted or a winner. You don't have to know all the answers to all the questions. You can suck, gloriously, because all Jesus wants you to do is love.

And funny enough, practicing love is a confidence booster. It's hard to feel like a piece of shit if you're just hanging out, loving. Jesus meant for us to love ourselves too, you know.

I'm beginning to love to sing, even though I suck at it.

For a long time, I didn't like to sing because I lack confidence in the sound of my voice. I lack practice. I don't know how to read music, so I'm often lost, wondering which part of the song we're on. I try to listen to my fellow Presbyterians and follow their lead, but it's hard for me to hear the soft voices around me over Katie's confident boom.

It was easier when, for a short time, we were attending a Black Evangelical church. If I screwed up, no one could possibly notice with all the hootin and hollerin going on, all the dancing in the aisles and interjections of Praise Jesus!

The Mostly-White Presbyterians are quieter, more reflective and subdued. Except for Katie. She sings out, loud and proud, like a mini Mahalia Jackson.

But today was different. The congregation sang two songs, and I only screwed up on one if them. Yay me! Oh wait, I mean Praise Jesus. I'm still getting the hang of this whole Christian thing.

The first song we sang was this one:

"I Will Change Your Name"

I will change your name
You shall no longer be called wounded,
Or afraid
I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Over-coming one
Faithfulness, friend of God,
One who seeks My face

--D. J. Butler

It's the one I screwed up. The second one, the one I finally didn't screw up, is this one:

"Come! Live in the Light"

Come! live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom,
to live in the freedom of the city of God!

We are called to act with justice.
We are called to love tenderly.
We are called to serve one another, to walk humbly with God.

Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless,
so all hatred and blindness will be no more!

Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign and we'll walk with each other as sisters and brothers united in love!

--David Haas

The reason I didn't screw up on the second song is because I've sung it before at church. I guess if you stick with a church long enough, you get to sing the hymns more than once. So that's how people like me who lack natural confidence become good singers. Practice. Sing a song so much that it just comes out and you don't even have to think about it. Because letting go of thought is where Jesus kicks in. I don't mean to say that Christians are stupid any more than Buddhists are when they meditate. Thinking is great, but over-thinking hinders action. If you want to sing, instead of thinking too hard about it, just sing. Trust in Jesus when he commands us to love. Love your voice, even when it cracks. Jesus does. 

After church, on the drive home, Katie announced that when she grows up she's going to name her child Confidence.

"Confidence Faithfulness Carleton Cantrell," Katie said. Cantrell is the last name of her eight-year-old boyfriend.

It pleased me to hear Katie make such a ridiculous statement. I know, rationally, that Katie most likely will not grow up to marry the boy she loved at age eight, let alone have his baby and name him or her such a sanctimonious sounding name. What pleased me is to hear that the kid is actually listening to what she's singing. Sometimes I worry she's just going through the motions. Perhaps even showing off. But hearing Katie talk about the song and how she wants to name her future child after it made me feel deep parental warm fuzzies. She's paying attention. She's living in God's presence. That's where she gets her confidence. She knows God's voice guides hers.