Thirty Nine

After a month of in-depth conversations with Gloria and gorging on the writings of Maya Angelou, my strength felt sufficient to confront my new bishop. My hands shook uncontrollably but my voice was steady and my gaze sure as I explained myself. I felt I had done the work, effectively gone through the process and that it was long past time that I was released from probation. I was blunt. I was direct. I was at the end of my metaphorical rope.

“Well, I don’t see why we couldn’t be done now,” he shrugged amicably.

I was stunned. “Now … like today?”

“Sure. I can finish the paperwork today. You’ll be restored to full membership right away.” He smiled at me happily.

I was waiting for the catch … like, You’ll be restored to full membership … in hell. Or, until your next court hearing … you heretical, sacrilegious scum.

“You know,” He muttered, almost to himself, as he shuffled a stack of papers, “Given the infractions, I was surprised that you had been placed on probation in the first place. Especially, that it has lasted this long.”

I furrowed my brow, “Really? Is that not common?”

“In my experience, no, but it’s up to the inspiration of the individual Bishop. So these things do vary.”

Just get out of the office, I thought. Don’t say anything. You got what you want. Don’t say anything. Just get out.

I stood up, thanked the Bishop for his time and walked out the door. And with that, the tiny flame inside me erupted into an explosive wildfire of rage. My angst and ambivalence evaporated like drops of dew in an inferno.

I was furious at Bishop Smith for subjecting me to so much for, apparently, no reason at all. I was angry at the church for placing power in his hands. I wondered how many more Bishop Smiths were out there getting high on their own Godly authority? Maybe mere mortals weren’t meant to speak for God.

I had tried my hardest. I had given it my all. I had done everything he told me to, earnestly jumping through every hoop. As a result, it had left me devoid of hope and passion and life. In this moment, fueled by anger, I was sick and tired and done.

But, as time would soon tell, I wasn’t done. I couldn’t be. I was too entwined.

So the two sides within me, that I had hoped to unite with my admission, peeled apart with startling speed and intensity in the heat of my rage. Rather than unification, I’d only widened the gap. I swung involuntarily on a pendulum between.

I yearned for religious peace and spiritual wholeness. I sought after it like an addict searching for a fix I couldn’t name. Encouraged by the sincere testimonies of my loving parents and friends, I would try the faith again. Then I would burn out. Or I would hear or read something I despised and the rage would erupt forth all over again. Fueled by aggression I longed to burn it all, to rip off my chains and run, abandoning this madness behind me. Then I would grow homesick and thirsty in the heat of my fury and return for more, over and over again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

This went on for a really, really long time. So long, that retelling it in its entirety here would be both impractical and exhausting. Suffice it to say that it continued in various forms, almost indefinitely.

At this point in time, however, I continued to turn to Maya Angelou. Her words were like a cool salve on the hot blisters of my anger and frustration. I was washing my wounds in the healing waters of her words one day when I came across the story of her grandmother, Mrs. Annie Johnson.

Annie Johnson had been dealt a difficult hand in life. “In 1903 the late Mrs. Annie Johnson of Arkansas found herself with two toddling sons, very little money, a slight ability to read and add simple numbers,” Maya wrote. “To this picture add a disastrous marriage and the burdensome fact that Mrs. Johnson was a Negro.”

But Mrs. Annie Johnson was not undone by her circumstances. Instead, she related, “I looked up the road I was going and back the way I come, and since I wasn’t satisfied, I decided to step off the road and cut me a new path.”

Annie Johnson did cut herself a new path and made for herself a new life. Her story struck me to the core.

“I looked up the road I was going and back the way I come, and since I wasn’t satisfied, I decided to step off the road and cut me a new path.”

But how to cut a new path? And which path, exactly, to cut?

I had been rigorously taught which path to follow. So far I’d trailed it, poorly perhaps, but I’d followed it still. How could I step off of it now? As unappealing as that predetermined road may have been, at least I knew it. I knew nothing of the unwieldy wilds that lay beyond my charted course. How could I fathom venturing off into the unknown? If this path was God’s path, and I had been intensively conditioned that it was, then anything that lay beyond the safety of that well-worn trail was condemned territory. It was dangerous. It should be feared.

Fear it, I did.

But how could I keep going, simultaneously living two competing realities? It was destroying me. I couldn’t seem to make myself stop questioning, stop struggling, stop striving. I couldn’t force myself to accept what felt innately unacceptable but I also couldn’t breathe without the warm comfort of familiarity, without the hope of my family, community and faith – each completely inseparable from the other.

It was easy to blame the Bishop for all of this. If he would have done his job better, I would have been happily churching-it-up at that very moment … Or would I? Maybe that wouldn’t have happened at all. Who knew? I only knew that I had turned to him and that this was the result. I was mad and I was pretty sure he was to blame.

But what about that seemed so familiar to me?

I thought back to all my dorm-mates at BYUH, desperately waiting for a man to swoop in and marry them off so they could happily achieve their eternal destiny. I had scorned and pitied them. But I had done almost the exact same thing. I had placed myself and my fate in the hands of the Bishop, expecting healing and wholeness as the result. It was no different, not really. We were all looking for a savior.

I realized with stunning clarity that I had given my power away willingly. I gave it away the moment I walked into that Bishop’s office and accepted his version of reality. I gave it away at the court, each meeting and every time I bowed, voluntarily, to his assumed authority. I gave my power away like Tootsie Rolls at a parade. It was a free for all. But all parades have to end somewhere.

I knew where I’d come from …

I knew where I was …

I knew I had given my power away willingly …

I knew I would not do it again. 

 

This is the latest installment in my story. If you haven’t yet read the previous entries, click here to start at the beginning. Then continue to read each post in numerical order.

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