My sister wanted to conform to the popular crowd. She was already a member of the popular crowd, because of her beauty, but she wanted to purge the part of her life that didn’t fit the image, mostly her family and me. Growing up with a disfigurement I understood it made me different to others. Being permanently crossed-eyed made people question my intelligence. At 12 years old, I was reading Hemingway and Kant, while some people thought I probably was having trouble reading. I would have trouble surviving in Nazi Germany. They hated the poor, disable and the ugly. Couple my disfigurement with our step-father being an alcoholic, a mean one at that, my sister had a lot to overcome in conforming her life to the popular kids. Beauty can only take you so far.
She was 14 and navigating the power of her growing beauty and appeal. I was 12, and living in a world that looks down on people like me. She wanted to escape. I wanted to have friends. She wanted to leave. I wanted to be found.
Her strategy mostly meant staying away from the family in the form of sleepovers and doing things with her friends and their families. One particular friend’s family was active in the church, Southern Baptists. She started to go with them to church. They, being evangelical, encouraged her to ask her family to join her. Neither of my parents took up my sister’s half-hearted offer. I, being lonely, did. My first church experience came from my reluctant sister allowing me to tag along with her friend’s family.
We grew up neither religious, nor very spiritual. Too much alcohol induced drama to worry about God one way or another. Later, I found that my step-father’s alcoholism came out of a deep disappointment with God, but that is another story. In these first steps through the church, God found me. Through I was not sure I wanted to be found by God. I was young, socially clumsy and very intellectual. I wonder what it must be like to see a beautiful 14-year-old girl and her cross-eyed little brother with his black hair jetting north, south, east and west.
I loved the hymns we sang. I loved the sermon. And I did not belong. I say this because few came up to me after the service and asked to play or join in the activities. I was left to wander in the church, while my sister and her friend went to Sunday school. After a couple a Sundays, an adult took pity and put me in a Sunday school class. Some of my public schoolmates were in there, but they mostly ignored me in their pursuit of belonging.
When I read many of the Gospel stories, I placed myself within the stories not as Jesus in what would Jesus do, but in the place of those Jesus encounters. I don’t think of how to treat the outcast, but how grateful that Jesus concerned himself with me, an outcast. Reading the Bible, I see myself more like the woman at the well, trying to do the best she can, when all of sudden in middle of her broken life, this crazy talking Jew appears to her and asks her question. I am still answering his questions.
After a few months of church going, it ended as fast as it started. One morning, I woke and got ready for church. No one came for me. When my sister returned home, I asked what happened. She and her friend had gotten into a fight and they were no longer friends. She stayed at new friend’s home. My brief childhood church days ended just like that. Some of the children that went to church saw me at school. A couple asked why I did not go to church anymore. I told them the story. Were they glad they I no longer went? I am not sure. None asked if I would return or if they could pick me up. I stopped going, even when I wanted to go.
I am sure Jesus found me, then. When I hear from many Christians today who reduce the Gospel to a moral code of conduct, I am sad, as if Jesus is contained in a what-we-believe statement. Jesus does not plan to minister a multiple choice test, but he ministers to our brokenness. Jesus asked us to take up our cross. We, the church, pass out glossy brochures and build fancy websites. I wonder how many children are waiting
Both my sister and I were trying to escape our brokenness. She and I were living into our being broken. She was trying hard to find something. We all need to be found. The church I attended so many years ago was also broken. Being broken. If we Christians can’t be real in our need to be found, how can we lead? The church will have to lead out its own brokenness for only in our brokenness can Jesus find us. The church needs to pick up the cross once again.
Art, says Ernesto Tinajero, comes from the border of what has come before and what is coming next. Tinajero uses his experience studying poetry and theology to write about the intersecting borders of art, poetry and religion.