When Elesha and I returned to Southern California in 2003, we were ready for something new. We had just gone through a quarter-century stretch in the American Southwest, Southeast, and Midwest, while I practiced my craft as a theologian in centers of power of the Church of the Nazarene. We landed in Azusa, both of us working at APU, with a low pain threshold for a certain kind of evangelical church culture. We were not looking to cut off our ties to the Church of the Nazarene, but we did have trouble walking into a local Nazarene church without feeling an immediate urge to leave. We drove to San Diego about once a month, where we attended The Church of the Nazarene in Mid-City, a struggling urban body made up of various congregations that worshiped with care and without pretension in several different languages. Other weeks we visited congregations closer to our house, frequently attending All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, but also various United Methodist and Nazarene churches. Continue reading
The lights on the 3rd floor of the hospital are bright at 11pm. I’m exhausted, my face tear-stained, as I punch the down button and listen to the groan of the elevator ascending its shaft to meet me. I need my sleeping bag, still in the trunk of our car, which waits in the parking structure to the west. The doors open to an empty compartment, and I enter obediently, praying with my hands for the first floor, the next step on the way to eventual rest. I rest my body uneasily against the wall as the compartment lurches and begins to descend.
Kari is safe in the room, though she has lost so much blood, and I can’t yet tell how much pain she’s in. I left her in the bed, after a nurse helped her move out of her wheelchair and laid her down, slowly, like putting a child to sleep. Children. Immy. I start to cry again. The doors that would release me to the hospital’s west courtyard don’t budge as I lean my weight against their tall, cold glass. Something from the hospital tour about these doors locking after hours, about the need to use the emergency room to check-in if Kari’s labor progressed after dark, floats to the surface of my exhausted mind. I’ve got to go east, down a long corridor, out the open doors and around the circular medical center in order to return to almost this very spot on my way to the parking garage. I’ve been moving since 5am, but it’s not the energy I lack. It’s the fear of being alone with my thoughts for that much longer that keeps me pressed to the automatic glass door, immobile and disabled and inviting me to face this a little longer tonight.
Little did I know that when I walked into Mountainside Communion that Sunday morning of summer 2012 as the second of last churches on our “church discovery tour” (a group of us was displaced from our previous worship community), this place would become one of the few defining places in my spiritual journey.
On its surface, this place is almost everything I’ve never imagined, with no program handed out when we walked in, no amplifiers, no rocking music worship, children running freely, and last but not least, to my horror, interactive sessions during sermon time. And after many weeks, I was only able to figure out who the pastor was and then almost everyone else was doing something without a job title. And yes, I figured out Misty is the “go-to” person!
It was a season of absolute exhaustion. I was exhausted from the demands of caring for our three year-old son Fischer, who becomes anxiously allergic to tree and grass pollens during the winter and spring months in this very dry California climate. My job as a mother was to hold him for hours and hours a day as he screamed and cried from the itchy hives and welts, in order to prevent him from scratching his skin to a bloody mess, which remained on the brink of infection with the open sores. We finally broke the bank with allergists, steroid creams, natural remedies and an air-conditioning bill to keep him inside the house, and to get it all under control. I cooked him every single meal from scratch, in order to detox his body from foods that cause inflammation and intensify the allergic reactions. As I sought out these forms of control on Fischer’s behalf, I myself, 6 months pregnant, couldn’t gain a sense of control over my own body and mind in the most mentally tumultuous pregnancy I had experienced. I was dealing with frequent and panic-inducing insomnia, new forms of anxiety, and severe muscle cramps from the pregnancy. All I wanted was rest—and rest I could not find. I was acutely aware of the rest that my body needed as I was approaching the season of childbirth and life with a newborn baby. But insomnia is a monster. It had completely left me broken, defeated and crazy. How could we be so stupid and irresponsible to bring yet another little baby into this anxious and fragmented society?
I didn’t really know what I was getting into… it all started as an act of participation in the church body. Little did I know, “participating” would lead me to many tears, sleepless nights, frustration that I still carry around, and even considering leaving a church body that I loved so deeply.
I must forewarn whoever is reading this that the story about to unfold on this piece of paper contains a lot of personal and raw emotions, and I’m sure there are many different/opposing perspectives on the whole process of discerning our church denomination. Exactly 6 years later, I am still processing it all, while others may have simply moved on with satisfaction, and even others have joined our body with the gift of ignorance regarding this whole process. Continue reading
Mountainside Communion was the first church I ever visited by myself, and at a time where I felt the ‘self’ I carried wouldn’t be welcomed through any church door. I felt on the verge of being found out, much like the time I was caught helping my grandfather prepare communion before our worship service.
Children weren’t allowed in the sacristy of our cathedral. Their wiggly hands and unpredictable passions were considered too risky for the Eucharist. My grandpa, on the other hand, believed in coaching. He guided me through each step, showing me how to properly pour the wine into a white plastic cylinder that allowed you to fill each individual communion cup without touching the liquid. Continue reading
In my most honest moments I admit, I am a junky for comfort. I always loved wearing leggings and baggy cotton T-shirts to school in first grade (now I have dated myself) and more recently, when it is cold outside, I go out of my way to make sure I can hold a warm drink with the rich aroma of espresso rising from the mug to keep me warm and comfortable. Mountainside became home for me in a period of time when ‘comfortable’ was not easily accessible.
On Easter morning
stabs like a stake
through the temple—
gore, the vision
thorn-pricked and blurred
with blood. It’s too
much. My world splits
in twenty, dis-
I could not rise today
even to save
First published in “Hospital Drive”
I have known the connection of crackers,
crushed between teeth, marriage of wine and whistle,
all the bonds between body-bread and berry-blood,
a white table cloth wet with purple drops
from a gaudy goblet, wrinkled hands on a child’s head,
pink and purple Advent candles lit precariously,
melted wax on the freshly shampooed carpet
inside the white, suburban church.
But I have known intimacy in an old building,
mid-city, where the corner store sells
hot dog buns and cardboard grape juice boxes,
where my neighbor holds el cuerpo y la sangre
and never spills on the orange, duct-taped carpet.
First published in “Relief” (2.1)
Some friends of mine came back from India and found a church. There at the church, someone thought it was something they should share with the congregation, their experiences, their stories. I figured I’d go, a kind of gesture of support. That and besides, I didn’t have a car. We were going to the same place afterward, and I needed a ride.
The church was like everywhere else trying to be something different. There was some modest, uneventful singing. Someone seated on a cajon. The recitation of words on a screen. It was a small church, no more than twenty five people. Silence felt conspicuous. I read the words like everyone else. Continue reading