Some days my outlook is determined by my outfit. If that sounds shallow to you, you’ve never worn a pair of cut-off leopard print shorts. If you have, you know the possible trajectory of where one’s day can go from here. The world is your oyster once you pair such a bold choice with a floral button-up shirt and checkered lavender Vans.
Donning my devil-may-care ensemble, I head to the church office. My avant-garde clothing choices hardly surprise folks here anymore. They’ve seen me in my kilt and hose. They know I’m apt to wear a shirt that warrants a blush. My electric blue glasses help them see me as much as they help me see them. My wardrobe most days screams “non-ministerial.” Hell, a lot of me does. My parishioners have let me be me, and I’m grateful for their acceptance.
The church administrator is out this morning, and an early meeting was rescheduled, so settling in, I shuffle through a playlist of provoking tunes courtesy of Depeche Mode, Iggy Pop, the Heartbreakers, Talking Heads, Danzig, the Clash, and New Order. The latter’s “Age of Consent” sweeps me along, and I’m blistered by the heat of the lyrics.
Won’t you please let me go
These words lie inside they hurt me so
And I’m not the kind that likes to tell you
Just what I want to do
I’m not the kind that needs to tell you
Just what you want me to.
Quite the mantra for a coercion-free Baptist like myself. Quite the prayer to start the day. I make a note to adapt this as a call to worship and try to forgo the temptation of dancing with myself à la Billy Idol.
The clothes, the music, all of it set the tone for the day. Or maybe these choices were the obvious byproduct of what already was there? A darkening mood lurks under the surface. A manifestation screaming misfit, disruptor, dissenter, agitator. To the casual observer popping their head in my door, they might see only a fun clothing choice. Their ears may only pick up the catchiness of synthesizers, the drive of the bass line, or the furious tempo drumming of whatever track I’m listening to. They’ll likely miss my restive spirit and the irascible state I’m close to slipping into. My disposition wavers here.
Why am I on edge? How much time do you have?
“Things do fall apart, and my attempts to stay glued together don’t always work.”
Nigerian author Chinua Achebe was right: Things do fall apart, and my attempts to stay glued together don’t always work. It’s a case-by-case situation. One day the sun’s out, and the birds are whistling a tune straight from a Disney movie. I navigate the challenges of everything beautifully. On other days, I’m left numb at the sheer hardness felt in a 24-hour period. There is a kaleidoscope of reasons for the shift in perspective but a noticeable difference I’ve found during the highs and lows is how my inability to influence even the slightest outcome absolutely wrecks me. I’m irritably discovering how little control I have over anything, and the realization sucks.
Yeah, yeah, I know control is an illusion, right? But I honestly thought the ability to bring about change was possible. I preach change. I preach the power of faith as being forever moving and never stagnant. I echo Martin Luther King’s belief in the “arc of the universe” bending toward justice and how I’m somehow part of making it happen. I tell others their voice matters, their vote matters, in the hope it will remind me that mine does too. I’d like to believe it does.
Today, like many before it, and I assume many after it, challenges my assumptions.
“What came forth was smoldering disgust bubbling up from the recesses of my soul.”
When the news broke about Uvalde, the tension I was damming up burst. Not in eruptive fashion. No social media tirade or Kyrie Eleison post from me. What came forth was smoldering disgust bubbling up from the recesses of my soul. Disgust for not being able to promote and see change happen.
I was a senior in high school when Columbine rocked the country. Then came Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Parkland, Buffalo. Now comes another elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. What’s been implemented to prevent such travesties? Nothing. Not a damn thing.
Save me your constitutional right. Save me “the bad guys will still get guns.” Save me your excuses as to why shaped metal releasing life-ending capsules of lead and brass is an idol to you. I have zero time to dialogue with these points because, right now, I’m watching Jeremiah Wright’s famous sermon concerning America on repeat.
Good and pissed, I sink into a detached state of being for the rest of the evening. Sure, I’m present, but I’m like a boxer in the late rounds operating more on instinct than awareness. My 4-year-old senses something is off with daddy and asks what’s up with me. I tell her I’m sad because something terrible happened at a school to some kids. I try to explain more but get so choked up at having to try and figure out the best way to tell my daughter how kids just slightly older than her were murdered at their school after eating tacos for lunch that I cut it short and pull her in for a hug instead. After she goes to sleep, there’s no late-night conversation with my spouse where we eat ice cream and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. I can’t “check out” tonight. I stare off unable to focus on anything. My spouse knows and loves me enough to give me the space I need.
“This leads to me not being able to sleep while lying beside my daughter in bed. I count myself fortunate in getting to do this when there are parents who have been robbed of that experience.”
This leads to me not being able to sleep while lying beside my daughter in bed. I count myself fortunate in getting to do this when there are parents who have been robbed of that experience. Staring out at the darkness, I don’t know when my pain and fury will subside. It’s past midnight, and the promise of a rising sun in a few hours doesn’t grant me any reprieve. All I can do is think of what I’ll say tomorrow and what I’ll say on Sunday.
Oddly enough, I think about what I’ll wear too. What music will I play? At least I can control this. Maybe some Joy Division? Definitely more New Order.
Bernard Sumner’s crooning voice in “Age of Consent” comes back to me again and is the last thing I remember before falling asleep. His melancholy statement sounding more like a psalmist’s question and lamenting prayer.
I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you.
Justin Cox serves as senior pastor of the United Church of Lincoln, Vt. He received his theological education from Campbell University and Wake Forest University School of Divinity. He is an ordained minister affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and is currently enrolled in the doctor of ministry program at McAfee School of Theology. Besides reading, baking, and amateur gardening, most of Justin’s time is spent with his spouse, Lauren, and their two daughters. His ramblings may be read at blacksheepbaptist.com.
Sleepless nights, parenting, biscuits and holy Communion | Opinion by Justin Cox