Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A sanctuary for the funky

My Tuesday refrain was a short one.

"I'm in a funk," I declared to several friends at the bar last night.

Because Honesty is the Girl Scout badge I wear, and I struggle to leave any emotional stone unturned, I just put it out there. When people asked how I was doing, I answered. I didn't give them the drawn out version of things, how work is busy, life is busy, I'm finding myself continually agitated, blah blah blah. Instead I grabbed onto a PG-rated four-letter word and owned it.

Funk. I'm in a funk.

Rather than causing people to squirm, this seemed to be an agreeable descriptor, one those around me could sit with.

All right, they nodded their heads, you're in a funk. Tell me more.

In fact, my pals at the local watering hole seemed to really want to know more. They leaned in to listen, and one person, after our conversation got cut short, caught up with me later and requested more info about this funk.

Another, when I told him of my state, said matter of factly and not at all in jest, that most of the people he meets at this bar are in some sort of a funk.

I found strange comfort in his straight, insightful observation. I don't hope for others to be in a funk, but I thought it was markedly interesting what he had to say about the crowd around us.

***

On Monday I found myself in tears.

In what started as another conversation, I discovered over dinner with Alex that I feel very disconnected from my friends in LA.

In the last year, I've spent the bulk of my time with Alex and Abby. While this has been fantastic and I wouldn't take it back, I realized in an alarmingly discouraging moment that I have woefully neglected my other local friendships and the consequences are real.

I don't mean for it to sound like I'm being punished for largely fostering only two major relationships, but I suddenly realize something that I've already known, but recently forgot: all relationships take tending too. Like plants, they will wilt if not watered and sunned. Soil must be tilled, lunch dates must be had.

***

Now let me just declare here -- Yes. Declare. -- that I am the Queen of long distance friendships.

Several people who I love dearly live more than 1,500 miles away. I have not lived in the same town as any of them in at least four years.

And yet -- with very few lunch dates, our soil has been tilled. We have survived. And we still love each other. We still embrace heartily when we reunite.

So maybe I just need to master the lunch date? I'm a pro at flying Southwest, but not the best social organizer?

My friend Courtney (who's a member of the 1,500-mile club) suggested that maybe all my writing and analyzing of late is contributing to my funk. Perhaps I'm zeroing in on why I'm upset and focusing on whether or not I'm a good lunch dater when maybe all I need to do is ride this out.

Worthwhile thought, indeed, and I am reminding myself of it each day.

But if y'all will indulge me, I will analyze my night at the bar/the state of my life in general.

(Because I can't seem to stop writing these days and as a writer when that happens you kind of want to latch onto it and never let gooooooooooooooooooo.)

***

I find it ironic, and awesome, that while I'm in the midst of taking inventory of my local friendships (I literally made a list), I seem to have found my Cheers.

In Los Angeles, of all places. Don't get me wrong, this city is so right for me in many ways, but it's not exactly lauded for its friendliness.

In the church I attended here for several years, our pastor seemed to always be preaching about loneliness and community. It could have just been me and the struggling state I was often in while attending there, but it seemed that the loneliness in that place was palpable. I know it's been life-giving to a lot of the church's members, but the congregation has seen more than one suicide over the years, and the pastor doesn't preach on loneliness because he's out of sermon topics.

Again, please don't get me wrong. Before I go any further let me say that I am in no way blaming the church for suicides of its members. And while they are not perfect institutions, churches around the world get so much right. They are not immune to scandal, and abuse, and broken heartedness. But I know firsthand that they are full of people who love and want others to feel God's love, period.

But church can be a hard place to be real. We go there for an encouraging message, and I think somewhere in there we get mixed up inside ourselves, thinking that because we know the Truth about our salvation and the peace that is offered to us, that we must act like we are at peace in this very moment. Sadly, there is very much a mentality that to be a "good Christian" we must always exude happiness, because to be unhappy with our circumstances feels like rebellion against God, to express to Him that we are not pleased with the life we have.

Also we're Americans and we're trained to act like we've got it all together.

Also we're human. Broken humans always want to appear whole. Christians nod their heads when they hear that God is our potter and we His clay, but privately we fear that if people see our cracks, they will not want to spend time with us.

***

I want the church to look a little like my favorite bar.

I want people to walk in alone, tired, overwhelmed, and make a friend. I want them to leave feeling renewed. (This legitimately happens at my bar. Many people who patronize the place arrive solo, and people are always meeting new friends, sharing the pool table, cheering on karaoke performances, offering a cigarette light.)

I want people to look back on their time spent at church, and smile, and look forward to going back the next week.

I want people to feel free to cry, and to find a hand on their shoulder and hear a voice saying, "Me too." God, those two words are so powerful to a person who is suffering. If that's all you can mutter, by all means do it. "Me too." "I get it." "I've been there."

***

Some of the charms of my local bar are obvious.

I'm drawn to the 50 cent games of pool, the cold beer, the worn in, mixed-up d├ęcor. A surf board here, some books there, an inverted Tiffany lamp hidden in a corner so dark it took us months to notice.

But there's more to it. This bar that I frequent is a sanctuary for those in a funk. Yes, I wish with all my heart that one of these days these bar friends of mine will find themselves a mile down the road inside the doors of my church. I want them to find peace there, and with God. But for now I'm happy to share in fellowship and friendship within the walls of a saloon. And I'm so grateful that my bar pals -- and I -- have found a place where we can safely be in a funk.

These people may not know my whole history. I may not know them well enough to know that were they to move 2,000 miles away I would hold onto their friendship, nurture it, till the soil.

But they're in my backyard, and I'm looking for friends in my city, so why not start there? And when a certain four-letter word escapes my lips, these new friends don't run for the hills.

You're in a funk? they say. Fine by me. Let's rack up the pool balls and talk about it.

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