I didn’t know if I believed in faith. It seemed rather convenient and opaque. It seemed woefully insufficient and simultaneously vague. I had an intellectual appreciation for its usefulness, but an (unintentional) emotional detachment.
Almost ten years ago I became a member of a multi-ethnic, intentionally diverse, community church. It was situated in a racially segregated neighborhood in a racially segregated city, and its central pillar was reconciliation. We were self-proclaimed followers of Christ who sought to reconcile those relationships that were broken—to combat personal prejudice within ourselves and to act against institutional bias within our church, city, and neighborhood. I was new to faith, new to church, and new to the language of Believers.
It (both the neighborhood and the city) was categorized by violence, but was slowly becoming gentrified in specific and predictable pockets. Conflict was slowly brewing between indigenous communities and recent transplants, those who were presumably ignorant of the distinctive, complex history of their new neighborhood.
I was attracted to reconciliation. I understood it. I knew what, in me, felt broken. I knew who and what was in conflict in the larger world. Aspiring for reconciliation meant intentional community—making a commitment to identify and to resolve conflict among groups: men in conflict with women, “authentic” versus inauthentic Christians.
As a transplant to Chicago and a transplant to the neighborhood I had an intellectual appreciation for the struggle, but an (unintentional) emotional detachment.
The night was Chicago cold. The breeze, the thickness of the chill, and the wind sent a shiver from the tips of my ears to the edges of my toes. We had walked for hours, walked for miles. I had fallen in love within 48 hours, but I hadn’t said it. I wasn’t romantic. I wasn’t even passionate (not about love, at least). I was dogmatic and practical, rationalizing this new, first, unexplained, and unexpected love.
I was tired of walking, but knew we had to keep going. We’d had a misunderstanding a few hours before—arguably, our first misunderstanding—and now as we walked, I counted the steps as my feet grazed the pavement. I listened for changes in his pace, in his posture, and in his tone. I measured the space between our silence.
As we rounded the curve he asked me to stop for a second. He took my face squarely in his hands, both hands holding my face so that my eyes firmly met his. I blushed and turned away, but he said my name with such earnestness and intensity that it made me stop and meet his eyes.
I gulped. I could have counted how many times he’d said my full, first name. “Anjeanette. I love you. I’ve loved you since I first met you, but I wanted to wait to say it. I wanted to wait until I had no doubt and no question that it was real.” (I have a fleeting, but randomly triggered hatred for my name, but in that moment on his lips, it had never sounded so sweet.)
It had been years since I’d left the church. I’d transitioned from an inconspicuous atheist to a mild-mannered agnostic to an outspoken Believer, and back to an apologetic agnostic again. In that ten-year span, I had committed to Church and made a commitment to a church—of my own volition and in my own time. I’d been baptized as an adult, for the first time. Although I’d, thankfully, been overlooked by tragedy, I’d still been plagued with momentary crises of faith. I’d left the church, found a new one, left again, gave up on religion, and sought out God. I’d started, but had never finished asking, the questions I once had.
I didn’t know if I believed in love. Like faith, it seemed rather convenient and opaque. It seemed woefully insufficient and simultaneously vague. If love did exist, it would have to reconcile my faith in God and my disappointment in Christians. It would have to reconcile my insecurity and my arrogance. It would have to cure cancer and bring back the 90s. It would have to fundamentally and completely change the world as I knew it. I had an intellectual appreciation for love, but an (unintentional) emotional detachment.
He asked me about faith, and I felt myself wince—debating what was the most acceptable but non-descriptive digression. He was direct, almost curt. Philly militant, Philly proud.
No, love wouldn’t cure cancer or restore my faith in God. It wouldn’t reconcile my insecurity or end systemic and institutionalized oppression. But it wasn’t convenient, insufficient, or opaque.