Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I Remember...

I remember wishing that I could go to church five days a week and go to school for two.

I remember wishing we lived closer to the church so that I could go there anytime, all the time.

I remember looking forward to turning 13, so I could join The Liberators, our church's youth group. They went on retreats. They watched movies. They went to each other's houses. They went on picnics in Prospect Park. They dated each other. They married each other. I remember that I wanted to be a part of that. I remember counting the days until my 13th birthday in anticipation of being a Liberator.

I remember lining up on the sidewalk outside of the Sixth Avenue Baptist Church, Brooklyn, New York, waiting for Vacation Bible School begin. Dozens of children, lining up in order of our heights, boys on one side of the entrance, girls on the other. I remember that we marched into the church while singing every verse of "Onward Christian Soldiers," carrying our Bibles. I remember that following the processional hymn, we sang, "The B-I-B-L-E," and then Pastor Thomas would count the Bibles that we eagerly raised above our heads. "The B-i-b-l-e, yes, that's the book for me. I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-i-b-l-e!"

I remember watching the movie, "A Thief in The Night," every New Year's Eve at the church. I remember that every year I would invite Jesus into my heart again, just in case... I wanted to make sure that God would remember to take me with him when the rapture happened. I didn't want to be "left behind."

I remember donning my swim cap, wading into the waters of the baptismal font, and "being dunked," baptized in the warm water beneath the organ loft.

I remember taking communion for the first time that same night, at the Sunday Evening service.

I remember that I was wearing a long light blue dress that night, and after I sipped the grape juice out of the tiny plastic cup, I flipped the cup over in my hand, and spilled the remaining juice onto the front of my dress. I remember my mother's glare from across the room.

I remember listening to my parents talking late at night about something the pastor had said, something my parents did not agree with.

I remember being confused about what I was hearing, but knowing that something was wrong.

I remember the arrival of several couples, elders, and deacons at our house for a meeting not many days after that.

I remember that we were told to stay in our rooms in the back of the house. Darryl and I disobeyed. We sat in the dark behind the door at the end of the hallway closest to the living room. I still didn't understand everything I was hearing, but I knew that everyone out there was angry. I knew that mean words and accusations were being hurled from one end of the room to the other. I knew that nothing I heard reflected the words of the song we sang so often at the Sunday evening services I loved so much - "Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."

"We are one in the Spirit; we are one in the Lord.
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord.
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored.
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they'll know we are Christians by our love."

I remember standing up in that darkened hallway and telling my brother that I was going in there. He grabbed at my arm and told me not to go, but it was too late. I pushed my way into the living room and stood there, tears flowing down my cheeks, so broken-hearted that I couldn't speak. I wanted to ask them, Where was the love they sang about? What was happening to my church, to my family, to these people I loved so dearly? Why wouldn't they listen to each other and apologize and forgive each other?

I remember being angrily ushered back to my bedroom.

I remember that, as a result of that meeting, we were kicked out of the church. I was 12 years old.

I remember realizing that I would never get to join The Liberators.

I remember being told not to talk to anyone about what was happening.

I remember the pain of having to leave the community of people I loved most of all - for no comprehensible reason.

I still remember the agony of having to keep it a secret.
What had we done wrong? What had I done wrong?
What was wrong with talking about something that felt so wrong?

I remember that years passed before I realized how deeply I had been wounded by what transpired on that terrible night in our living room during my 12th year of life.

This past August, my daughter and I stayed with friends in Park Slope and decided to go out for an afternoon stroll. We walked past The Sixth Avenue Baptist Church. The doors were open, so we walked inside. Upon entering the sanctuary, I burst into tears.

Thirty-four years later, when I remember that night and the aftermath of being kicked out of the only faith community I'd ever known, I remember the pain of exile, of loneliness, and of rejection. This summer's tearful outburst proved that I have yet to fully recover.

My heart remembers. My soul remembers. 

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