My stomach started hurting an hour before.
I didn't eat anything before I left, because of my treacherous insides. My treacherous head started throbbing, just a little bit, behind the eyes.
I left twice as early as I needed to, to be sure I had time to find it, to be sure I wasn't late.
It was something I'd done hundreds of times before in my life. But today, today was the first time I was doing this on my own, of my own volition, by myself. It was my decision. No matter how disastrous it turned out, I was going through with it.
I was going to Bible study.
Maybe it's funny, in an ironical sort of way, the dread I felt, the nervousness evident in my hands and in my feet. But it is valid. It is realer than real, for me.
I circled the block. I went in, to meet a room of strangers and somehow engage with them in discussion on a book that has been used to wound me my entire life. I accepted a glass of water; I ate a slice of pumpkin pie. We talked.
I don't know what I was expecting. Maybe nothing, maybe everything, maybe to be bored. But it wasn't terrible. It was good, actually. It was interesting, diverse, and far-reaching. There were just four of us there for the majority of the time. I liked that. Starting out small. Baby steps, they say.
We spoke about what it means to really live in community with Christians, how we ought to set our other allegiances aside and be able to come together, to meet on the common ground that is the grace God has given us.
As we talked, I struggled to shut down the memories of the moments like this, where I had been in a living room with a few people and had my faults and flaws called out, where I had been in the all-important community and that community told me I wasn't good enough. I had to remind myself that here, now, was different, was good, was fine, and to use my voice to make that point about family and community echoing it.
Becca, you talk too much. You're not a leader in this group. You need to remember your place. Just listen and submit, you're leading others astray.
Really? You wore a bikini to the beach? What do you think you're doing? It doesn't matter if it was under a tank top and shorts.
Birth control is not of God, and anyone who takes it is in direct defiance of him.
Who told you you could go to college? That's not what God says you're to do. And remember, I'm a prophet - so I know.
They were my community. They just wanted to "correct" me.
They had all the rules and they made all the moves. They knew what was right and what was wrong, and were constantly telling me that I was all the wrong things.
That is what community has been for me. It has been this, and this. It was backseat affairs and machinations and gossip that ruined lives. It was controlling and dogmatic and toxic. It crushed me, who I was, and stood me up to do it again. This is the god they taught me to believe in.
Christian community is the entity that, upon hearing me speak up about the abuse in my family home, turned their backs to me and pretended I never existed. They are the ones who chose an easy story in order to keep a pastor, rather than believing the heartbreak that went on right under their noses, right in their very own living rooms.
There are times when I don't believe they were oblivious to it, either. There are times when I think their teachings indirectly enabled it, and there are times when I can think of specific individuals who knew.
Christian community knew I was being abused, and did nothing. And when I did something about it, they rejected me, spitting me out of the church community I had grown up in.
I knew them for ten years. I guess it doesn't take that much time to forget.
I sometimes wonder what I would say to them if I saw them again, what I would ask. I've been told through third parties and whispered channels that a few of them, a very, very small few, wish me well, want to pass on that they still love me.
I think I'd ask them, "Do you really love me? Even now, that I've told the truth? If you love me, where were you when I needed you? If you love me, why didn't you do anything to help me?"
That's why I don't bother contacting any of them. They wouldn't have an answer for why they, like the thousands of other Christians in the long and storied line before them, sided with the abuser over the abused.
And this, this is why I walked into Bible study again, of my own free will.
Because when I say I have seen the church at its worst and at its best, I really, really mean that.
And while I am nervous and afraid that something like what happened this summer might happen again, I still choose to try. I still worry that there will not be a place for me, and I am still too triggered by normal church activities to attend a Sunday morning service regularly.
But I want to believe that there is a chance for good hearts to prevail in this mess. I want to see the evidence that I have held in my hands continue to prosper. I crave community, and I cannot stop seeking it.
So I went to Bible study.
We conclude that the passage in James referred more to the idea of saving each other constantly, of being in a boat and reaching out a hand to those struggling and saying "come in" rather than pointing out "we are in the boat and you are not, good luck with that" and sailing on. I like these conclusions, even if I think I am too hopelessly bitter to believe they are ever true.
"But what would you say to the people who have only seen this community tear them down?" I ask. "The people who Christian community has destroyed."
What would you say to me, is what I'm really asking.
"That's a tough one. Sometimes I think about Jesus, who was raised in the Jewish community, and brought all these radical ideas to the table. Eventually they decided they'd had enough, and they excommunicated him and took him outside the city gates and killed him. And then this movement of Christians rose up in the Jews, and the Jewish Christians were trying to exile the Gentile Christians, and I wonder who Jesus identified with in that moment. Fast-forward hundreds of years, to the Reformation, and you have the Anabaptists bringing this radical idea of a second baptism to the Catholic church. And Christians were drowning them in the river, tying stones around their necks and saying 'you've been baptized twice, now here's a third baptism,' and I wonder who Jesus identified with in that moment, the ones in the boats or the ones who were drowning. And then we have four hundred years of slavery in America, a hundred years of Jim Crow, fifty years of discrimination, and I wonder who Jesus identified with more, Martin Luther King Jr. in his jail cell in Birmingham or the white pastors who wanted him there."
We end the discussion, bowing our heads to pray, and the offer is laid out that we can pray aloud or silently, on our own. I do not pray in group settings, not anymore, not after leaving my old church and my family behind. But I do pray silently, and tonight I am crying out inside of me.
I have been drowning.
Where were they when I was being drowned?
I am still drowning, God. I am always drowning. I might never stop.
Is there a place that will take a drowning person in, even knowing that it might never stop?
I am always drowning.
I do not have any answers, any divine revelation that makes it all better. But when I walked out my door tonight, on my way to this, I prayed before stepping into my car. "Show me something," I said.
Maybe that was it.
I might go back next week.