There’s a moment during the opening scenes of The Lego Batman movie (which is a FAVE) when two coworkers are saying goodnight to each other; as one of them drives away, the other one notes “Man I really like that guy. I sure hope nothing bad happens to him.” Meanwhile, the one who is driving away sings a little song to himself: Nothing bad ever happens to me.
I sing that song to myself often. Because it’s funny. And it’s catchy. And for me, it feels true. Even now, in the middle of this pandemic madness (note: middle. MID.DLE – not end. Put that mask on!) I sing that song, because in the scheme of things, nothing bad ever happens to me. Of all the things that have been lost in the dumpster fire that has been 2020, the only immediate casualty in my life has been my job. Which isn’t a great thing to have happen… but again, in the scheme of things, all things considered, nothing bad ever happens to me.
Which is ironic considering how badly I wish so many things had happened differently.
The world is full of grief and grieving every single day, in a million normal and anticipated ways, but the current scale is something new. And for those of us who have escaped relatively unscathed with our health and our nearest & dearest, the toll hasn’t been as high, but not-as-high is not the same as non-existent. There has been a toll. The world is wide and wild, so there may well be someone out there who was planning to spend the majority of 2020 confining themselves at home, locked away from their world. Someone who just happened to be way ahead of the flatten-the-curve curve and is now living their best life, right on time. But the rest of us? We had plans. Or at least ideas, even if only vague ideas, of places/people/things we would go/see/do… never imagining this kind of sudden and comprehensive inaccessibility. How could we? It happened, is happening and I still can’t imagine it. So I sit at home. I sleep. I don’t sleep. I eat. I don’t eat. I watch TV. And play MarioKart. And I grieve. I never mean to, but some days are just suddenly and inescapably heavy. And I wonder why, because I’m fine (nothing bad ever happens to me), but then I remember that this was not the plan.
So I let myself grieve. And I realize I’m good at it. I’ve been here before. Have already lived here for years. In that space where I’m fine: I’m healthy. I have friends and family that I love, I have things to do and projects to work on, moments of joy doing things I enjoy – nothing bad ever happens to me. But this was not the plan. To be single. No kids. No significant success. To be reconfiguring my faith after a life lived so faithfully for so long. This was not the plan.
Nothing bad ever happens to me, but looking back, before there was 2020, for me, there was 2017. I mean, there was 2017 for all of us, obviously, but for me it was a doozy. I can see now that it was both a dividing line and an imperative knot joining so many of the threads of this current tapestry, but at the time, it just felt like loss. I lost the cat I had belonged to for 16 years, being devalued in a business deal cost me a friendship and some of my art, I moved for what I think was the 12th time in five years and I left the megachurch I had been part of for 11+ years, the megachurch that had been an outsized arbiter of my worth and my faith, while wielding outsized influence on thousands with a deeply superficial theology. And none of those things happened suddenly, each situation had been escalating and/or declining in health for awhile, but still – it was a lot. And it was just the beginning. Ultimately, it was all leading here. And what does here look like?
Here looks like me no longer being part of any church and never wanting to again. Here looks like me having more questions than answers and being just fine with that. Here looks like me believing Evangelical Christianity has done and is doing more harm than good on the issues of justice, equality and sexuality. And here looks like me reckoning with the damage done – to me and by me – all the years I spent propping up the propaganda.
When I left that megachurch, it was after years of conversations with minimal movement on issues of equality. My basic working theory boiled down to the Lord’s Prayer and the line “as it is in heaven” – churches, more than any other place on earth, should look/feel/move/think like Heaven, so in a place as diverse as New York City, what message was I supposed to take away from a leadership structure skewing so heavily white, male and married? Representation matters because misrepresentation mars, it reinforces messages about who is worthy and who is not. Messages that are harmful enough on their own, but when combined with a theology that celebrates prosperity as a result and sign of God’s pleasure, it’s super harmful. And stunting.
So I grieve. The years lost to a religious system that was built by and for people more interested in securing their place in the status quo than in changing it. And no, I’m not blaming everything on that megachurch, my indoctrination was lifelong. In fact, I have a lot of gratitude for Hillsong and the wealth of artistic angst and fodder it has provided. And so I write. (And now I podcast!) To try to find some purpose in all this grief. And to send up flares for others caught out here. Because what a time to be alive, what a time to be aware and what a time to have nothing but time to think. So as 2020 is winding down, I’m looking at 2021 with zero expectations as I’m more certain than ever that nothing is certain and truly anything (good, bad, indifferent) is possible. And so I am highly skeptical, often sad and more scared than I care to admit, but at the same time… I’m hopeful. And why shouldn’t I be? Nothing bad ever happens to me.