I feel amazing today and while I think it's mostly because the whole family accidentally slept until almost seven this morning (they have to be at school at 7:30, yikes), meaning I got almost a extra hour of sleep, it's also because my highly anticipated Amazon purchase arrived yesterday evening. In addition to the new fridge door bins I was eagerly anticipating, I had also ordered the soundtrack to Sister Act, the 1992 blockbuster in which Whoopie Goldberg plays a Las Vegas lounge singer who gets placed into an inner city* convent as part of the witness protection program.
*This was pre-Friends 90s when cities were still crumbling and dangerous and filled with crack instead of young professionals who hang out in cozy coffee shops after their enviable jobs at fashion companies.
After some adjustment, Whoopie Goldberg's character is assigned the job of conducting the choir. My absolute favorite part of the movie is when, in her debut as director during mass, she leads the choir in the song "Hail Holy Queen." She starts them off singing it in the traditional way and then the choir, composed mostly of elderly nuns, breaks into a rousing Gospel-style version. The nuns in charge, led by Professor McGonnegal, do not approve but are ultimately over-ridden by the priest in charge of the parish.
It's not just the music that I love, though I *LOVE* the music. It's the part when some community members (dressed in leather jackets and non-traditional hairstyles, ooohhhh scary) hear the music and come in to the back of the church to see what is going on. The priest smiles at them from his pulpit and motions for them to come in. Later in the movie, the nuns, led by Whoopie Goldberg, go out into the community and start fixing things up. They plant a garden, they play with local kids, they paint over graffiti in their habits. At the end of the movie, the camera pans around from the choir to the congregation and we see that where only a handful of old people in suits and dresses were sitting before, the sanctuary is packed with people of all walks of life.
When I first saw the movie, I enjoyed the music and the funny story of a lounge singer who became a nun. I think I thought the rest of it was an interesting feel-good, but ultimately forgettable, part of the story (The movie came out when I was thirteen. We had just moved to Texas and I was in eighth grade. It's not a particularly reflective phase of life).
I see it differently now and I think that is why I was singing so loud I made myself hoarse as I drove into work this morning.
Now I see a church who dared to do things differently. Who let go of their stogy, comfortable, status quo and went out into the "dangerous" world. They met the people around them. They engaged. They met the needs of their neighbors. They HAD FUN. They presented the church as joyful and inclusive and welcomed everyone into their sanctuary.
I think what has been bringing me down for the last year since the election is that the church (the whole church, not my particular congregation) has been perceived as a bunch of fun-hating, difference-hating, cake-refusing, science-hating, insurance denying, sexually repressed, judging, insular body. I have been party to a couple of conversations in which people wonder why attendance at churches is so low. In one, I couldn't stand it anymore and blurted out "Because we [again, the whole church, not my particular congregation] look like a bunch of assholes to the rest of the country!"
This has been so, so hard. I love the church. It has always been a home for me (and my real home, both my home of origin and my current home, have been wonderful). I have felt nothing but support and warmth from the people I know there, and during the hard time we went through with Charley several years ago, it was a LIFELINE. People brought meals and fixed toilets and held babies and invited all the kids over to their house so Ryan and I could go out ad have some fun together.
I hate to see what is happening now. I have wondered if it's something I can continue to be a part of.
Whoopie Goldberg's joyful music and jump roping and baby holding, THAT is the church that I know. There are lots of good people doing just this. I am so proud to call many of them my friends. I want to keep singing. If we all keep singing and going out and loving our friends (and chilling the eff out, OMG), maybe we will also be known as joyful and inclusive one day. That is my hope.