I Live in the Tension, Too

This morning, I said the Nicene Creed, sang the Doxology and recited the Lord’s Prayer with my small Anglican parish. Like every Sunday, I envisioned the global church praying and singing along with me, saying the same words in every language on every continent. The liturgy offers me something I long for—connection to humanity and divinity at once. 

From our church's second-story location above downtown, I could see them walking, and my heart swelled every time: another group of women with signs and iconic hats, gathering at the Capitol steps. 

You can't read it because babies don't cooperate, but her shirt says "The future is ours #girls"

You can't read it because babies don't cooperate, but her shirt says "The future is ours #girls"

I didn’t get to join this year’s women’s march because I wanted to go to church. The schedules conflicted, and after two weeks of missing Sunday mornings for travel, I felt hungry for liturgy and communion. So I watched from the windows and felt both comfort and tension, both at home and the foreigner. 

Service this week embodied the liminal space I’ve learned to make my own over the past several years: I’ve become a member of groups I don’t fully fit into, and sometimes the tension stiffens around my chest. I’ve learned to join hands with individuals I don’t fully agree with because I’ve left behind simple answers, black-and-white rules, and clear group lines. It doesn’t feel safe out here at times, navigating faith and doubt and politics and opinion without the over-simplified “absolutely Truths” I used to hold to, but it does feel right.

At church this Sunday, I perched at the edge of my seat, worried I’d hear something to reinforce my insecurity as an outsider. Would the sermon take a hard line as chants rose over the air? Would someone pray judgmentally for “those” protestors? I’m new to Anglicanism, new to this parish—I’m here as a result of my search for a faith that acts, serves, and loves better than the ones I’ve left behind. 

I slowly settled back into my chair as Susan* read the Gospel, Grace shared the announcements, and Elizabeth lead us in prayer. I never feel safer in church than when a woman is leading and serving up front. Then Andrew prayed beautifully: “We lift up those this weekend who are marching for justice, who are speaking out about harassment and crimes committed against the vulnerable—we pray for healing and restoration and the truth to come out.” John ended service by saying, “This weekend especially we reaffirm the dignity, equality, and humanity of all people, man and woman—and we love women!” We met his affirmation with claps, whoops, and amens. 

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If I had switched things around this weekend and skipped service to attend the women’s march, I’d have felt some of the same things. I would have worried I’d run up against rhetoric that made me feel like an outsider. I would have wanted desperately to be there, but felt like an imposter (like I sometimes feel in church), knowing my beliefs don’t align fully with everyone there. I would have spent some of the time worried someone would out me as a fraud. 

I’ve grown more accustomed to this feeling—the in-between, the tension—but it’s still like an itchy, too-tight sweater. I chafe under it, sometimes even wishing for the old safety of being surrounded by people who fully agree with me on every subject. I miss the comfort of easy answers to made-up questions, of knowing all the rules, of the sense of control that comes with being a card-carrying member of an exclusive, hierarchical community. But as my friend Trevor says, if you find yourself in a room where everywhere agrees with you, get out of that room. 

I left that room behind a long time ago, and now I live here, in rhetoric, political, spiritual no man’s land. I share borders with ancient faith and progressive politics, but in the middle of the Venn diagram is me with thoughts and opinions some consider contradictory. I hold membership in groups that sometimes oppose each other, groups that sometimes seem to demand total allegiance in exchange for my participation.

Writing this is an exercise in discomfort: I’m not sure who I’m writing to, and if I think too hard about individuals on either extreme of the issues I’m dancing around, I balk. I can’t please the conservative Christians—they find me too liberal, too permissive, too loose. I certainly can’t please progressives—I don’t like abortion, I put off grad school to have babies, and I’m still happily attending church. 

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I guess I’m writing to people like me, then. I know there are more of us inhabiting these in-between spaces than we know, and it can feel lonely here. We approach each other apprehensively when we meet in one or the other of the groups we’re members of, carefully feeling out how safe we are to express our thoughts. There’s no badge, no shorthand, no norms for us: we don’t immediately recognize each other when we pass in the hall. Maybe this weekend we all felt similar things as we marched or prayed, sang or chanted, made signs or wrote sermon notes. Maybe what I’m trying to say is: I felt it too, and you’re not alone. 

*I changed names throughout to respect others' privacy.