My Holy Week journey to reconciliation
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haven’t always been a religious person. But I’ve remained deeply spiritual even during times when my faith was weak. Nonetheless, I was unprepared when an epiphany arrived on the afternoon of the Saturday of the Great Vigil before Easter. The Creator began laying the groundwork six days prior on Palm Sunday, when my world appeared to be quite literally crashing down around me.
The coronavirus had been screwing up my Metro station singing gig for weeks and I was forced to cut further and further back on self-medicating for my bipolar depression. My friendship with my roommate had been tenuous at best lately and self-medicating with him was providing some sense of stability in our relationship. I have also been grieving the untimely death of my dearest friend of nearly 13 years, Alice, one week before this past Christmas.
Then the literal crashing happened.
My bedroom ceiling collapsed right on top of my television. No more picture. Oh, the sound worked fine, but listening to TV just wasn’t quite the same. Of course, I had no renters insurance, so boredom quickly drove me to find other ways to entertain myself. That was Palm Sunday.
The next day of significance in Holy Week is Maundy Thursday, when most Christians commemorate The Last Supper. It was almost 11 that morning when I received a message alert from Facebook.
I had little use for Facebook until it became a means of maintaining a sense of closeness to Alice through her family. Alice’s mother Debbie is very active on Facebook and I had been keeping in close contact with her ever since Alice’s memorial in February. Alice and I weren’t married, we weren’t even lovers. Nonetheless her kinfolk and I consider each other family given how inseparably close Alice and I were.
“Are you my Jeff Taylor?” the message said. “Because if you are, your birthday is wrong.” It was my friend of more than 30 years, Pat Patton, and yes, my birthday was incorrect. I had been frustrated with Facebook for automatically setting a wrong date that I had yet to successfully edit.
I knew Pat from my days as a choir director back in the Midwest. We talked over the phone for nearly an hour and a half that afternoon. We had at least 20 years to catch up on, after all. Among the things we discussed were times in both our lives that we had been angry with our Creator. She said to me, “It’s OK to yell at God.”
Of course, the following day was Good Friday. The spirituality group from Anchor Mental Health, where I’ve received services for the last seven years, was going to attempt a virtual meeting that afternoon. I had never really participated in the group before, but I was intrigued by the technological aspect of this meeting and I was intellectually starving to death (remember the crashing?). So I figured it might be cathartic. The discussion was around the question of whether or not the coronavirus has affected our individual spirituality.
Once all participants got familiar with the Zoom platform, we were able to enjoy a much-needed sense of genuine connectedness. At the time, I found the discussion question difficult to answer. Little did I know, this was yet another stepping stone on my journey to epiphany.
Saturday morning I had to go out and sing if I wanted to make sure I could get more cigarettes and water. I said my usual prayer, “Lord please help me today, please help people to help me, please let me be a blessing to others.”
I didn’t have money for the train but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I jumped the fare gate at Pentagon City station but unfortunately got caught. What I thought was going to ruin my day only ended up changing it for the better in a way I never saw coming.
As I was singing songs of my childhood faith, unable to enter the Metro station, a woman named Sarah approached me and said, “I want to tell you a story.” Sarah immediately impressed me as one of those who I was being called to be a blessing for. Though I’m ashamed to admit I based this solely on her physical appearance. And I must confess I was hoping she might have a monetary blessing for me in return. So I sat and listened.
She told me God delivered her from the debilitating miseries of PTSD. Sarah was white, late 30s I guess. She told me her boyfriend is Black and they are very happy. “Well, I sure would like to meet my Black boyfriend someday!” I said with a grin and a chuckle.
“Oh, you’re homosexual,” she replied.
I wasn’t sure where the conversation was about to go but I was already putting up defenses in my head. Turns out Sarah didn’t find homosexuality wrong, she just found it “weird.” I thought to myself, yeah, I can accept that. Even I look at some parts of the LGBTQ+ spectrum as being a little weird at times. We discussed homosexuality as it relates to theology, then moved to theology in general and the nature of God.
I was trying to get across to Sarah the idea that when none of us has control over the circumstances of our birth and early childhood environment, that puts the onus on the Creator to show a great deal more mercy than many seem to be receiving. Eventually, she said, “God does the best He can with what He’s got to work with, just like the rest of us.”
And that was it! My Easter epiphany! I needed to stop being pissed off at the Creator for a moment and reciprocate the same understanding I have come to expect in my life. Because maybe, as all-knowing and all-powerful as Creator supposedly is, Creator, regardless of dogma, might actually be imperfect. And that’s a notion that makes perfect sense to me.
My reconciliation with the Creator brought me to the final point where I was ready to alter my self-medicating in a major way. No more chemicals other than what a doctor prescribes. And I find it liberating. Haven’t kicked cigarettes yet and I really don’t want to if I can avoid it. I enjoy it and there are beneficial social aspects I value, for now anyway.
Getting past my anger with Creator was also getting me past some deep, longstanding anger at my family’s beliefs. I had allowed my disgust with the extreme religious views I was raised with to drive an unnecessary wedge between myself and certain members of my family, primarily my sister Laura, who has since divorced an ultra-conservative preacher.
I had only interacted with Laura briefly through occasional texts. Our conversations always seemed to lead to her wanting me to listen to her sing on her karaoke machine. As a professionally trained musician, I’m not in the habit of giving false praise. And I didn’t want to find myself in the awkward position of having to compromise my integrity to spare my sister’s feelings in the unfortunate event she turned out to kinda suck. So, I always came up with any excuse I could think of to politely escape. I know, shame on me.
Well, that clever sister of mine happened to notice my presence on Facebook that Saturday. She went “live” and sent me a message that alerted me to this. I followed the links and there she was singing. And she sounded pretty darn good! I wrote her a comment to that effect and she commented back. She made a joke and I made a joke back. But she wasn’t getting it, so I thought it best to immediately pick up the phone and head off any further misunderstanding before it became a family episode.
We talked and talked from 8 p.m. that night until 2 a.m. Easter morning. As we talked, I made notes of things I wanted to be sure to cover with her. It was quality time she could spare since she had the next day off.
In talking of Creator’s amazing grace, Laura called from memory a Glen Campbell song (also covered by the Statler Brothers), “Less of Me.” I was literally up all night memorizing the lyrics to this tune that had been forever ingrained 50 years ago.
Let me be a little kinder
Let me be a little blinder
to the faults of those around me,
let me praise a little more.
Let me be when I am weary
just a little bit more cheery.
Think a little more of others
and a little less of me.
Let me be a little braver
when temptation bids me waiver.
Let me strive a little harder
to be all that I should be.
Let me be a little meeker
with another who is weaker.
Think a little more of others
and a little less of me…
Then came Easter Sunday! He is risen! He is risen indeed!
I watched a live 7:15 a.m. sunrise service at Bald Knob Cross in southern Illinois. (Through Facebook — what else, at this point?) It was the only live-streaming sunrise service I could find other than the pope’s. It would be interesting to know how many multiple friends and family from that area and across the country were, just for those brief moments, simultaneously gathered ‘round and connected through their devices. The service was phenomenal, nice local talent for the special music and the minister delivered a coronavirus-appropriate message of hope.
I had my sister promise me the night before that she would make sure I talked with my father on Easter Sunday. I talked to Dad for a little over an hour and jotted down notes to make sure the most important s*** got said. I still and will always love him, but he still believes some messed up s*** that I find disappointing. The words “welfare queens” actually came out of his mouth. I know he’s not a bigot and he should be smarter than that. I kindly told him that was a racist trope used by Ronald Reagan to gin up racial resentments. But his prefrontal cortex was severely damaged by his parents and the church’s teachings. At least he treats my mom very well these days, much better than he used to. He is, at heart, an exceptional human being with a sterling business reputation across the Midwest.
I talked to Laura again, talked to mamma more than once. The first time was at the crack of dawn to invite her to virtual church with me. She’s a bit tech-averse though, so I woke her for nothing. I talked to Alice’s mom. Talked to Pat again, too. All in all, this was one of the most personally meaningful weeks of my life. I have a new outlook, largely through a social media platform I previously hated. Who’d have thought it?