King Avenue United Methodist Church
On Friday night, I had had a long day and a long week and I was worn out from being a person. My sweet, wonderful friend Allison invited me over to have some drinks and dinner and just unwind from the week. Allison’s apartment is a very convenient 10 minutes from mine, but due to some late Friday road rage (or divine intervention, you decide) there was an accident on the main road I use to get there and my commute turned into a fun, 50-minute journey. I had to take a detour during the height of rush hour, so there was quite a bit of stop and go. Isn’t this a great traffic story? There’s a point, I promise.
During a moment I was stopped along King Avenue, I looked out my window and saw the King Avenue Methodist church. I hadn’t noticed that one on my Google searches before, and I realized I hadn’t been to a Methodist church in a while. It seemed like fate. It seemed even more like fate when I googled their worship times and realized they have an 11 AM service which guaranteed I could sleep in.
So I rolled out of bed this morning and made my way to the King Avenue Methodist church. There were some obstacles along the way. I might have gotten a parking violation. I walked into the church and was redirected from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall (never a good sign) and when I got to the fellowship hall, it was buzzing with conversation. It seemed like everyone knew everyone, everyone was saying hello to one another, and it was very easy to feel out of place. I started to panic, I had that familiar feeling of wanting to run away. It would have been very easy to leave and drive home and do a blog post about a podcast or an article or something. Something (maybe my sense of responsibility to this project) made me stay put in the fellowship hall.
I ended up feeling comfortable after some time. It took a few minutes, but eventually I realized that although everyone knew everyone, there was a lot of chaos. I could slip in unnoticed, move around, find a good seat, grab a pamphlet, and sit quietly with my notebook and take it all in. It’s almost scary how easy it is to go into a church unnoticed and leave unnoticed. It’s nice for people like me that get intimidated by the newness and aren’t ready to talk to a stranger. But also, how weird is it that I can just show up to a thing with no warning and come in without anyone ever really giving me a second look?
Anyway, the fellowship hall felt very much like a middle school gym. There was tile flooring, fold up chairs, and posters. I don’t know if it was only in honor of pride month, or if they do this all the time, but there were rainbow bandanas hanging from the ceiling. The church is clearly LGBTQIA+ friendly, which I will touch more on later, but I could tell that inclusivity immediately instead of having to wait and see or google their beliefs to find out.
The thing that made me the most comfortable was the baby sitting in front of me. He kept looking at me over his dad’s shoulder and I spent a solid… three minutes of the service just making faces at this baby. He was awesome.
Today the church had a guest speaker to give the message. Dr. Ling Lam is a Ph.D. and lecturer in the Counseling Psychology Department at Santa Clara university where he teaches Couples Therapy and LGBTQI+ Counseling classes. He was covering Luke 7:36-38.
“When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.”
These passages are deeply important to Dr. Lam; he shared that they brought him to God. He was raised in Hong Kong, in what he describes as a very traditional culture, where he didn’t even have words in his language to describe homosexuality. He described how he always felt very lonely and alienated, and tried to fill the void of acceptance in his life with studying, work, and merit. He thought those things would give him worthiness.
He then relates it back to this passage. The “woman in the town who lived a sinful life” is very alienated, and probably marginalized, among the Pharisees with whom Jesus is dining. The alabaster jar of perfume she brings with her is probably the one thing she has that is of any value, and likely something uses it to feel worthy. Dr. Lam related that to us by saying we all have a “perfume” or something we use to present ourselves in a different way and to gain acceptance and worthiness. For some, like Dr. Lam, it is work and merit. Some people are perfectionists, people pleasers, and spend all their time helping others to reflect their own worth. Some people invest their time into creating the perfect image, the perfect body or style, and that is their worth. Other look for power or wealth. Other turn to more destructive perfumes, like drugs, alcohol, food, sex, or any other addiction.
But these perfumes we use to cover our true selves are as fragile as a jar made of alabaster. Losing them makes us feel vulnerable and worthless, and when we expose our authenticity without our perfume, we worry we won’t get the same kind of love and acceptance. However, the point of his sermon was that Christ loved the sinful woman when she had her perfume, and after she poured it out. With or without the thing that gave her “worthiness,” she was loved by God. She was accepted by God.
The most powerful statement from Dr. Lam for me was when he said “the love of God isn’t something you can earn, and it isn’t something you can lose.”
I spend a lot of my own time trying to prove my worth. I want to prove to my employer that I’m a good employee, or to my friends that I’m a good friend, and I do have some level of constant anxiety that the people I depend on will suddenly decide I am not worthy. I know that is mostly unfounded, but I spend a decent amount of time worrying about losing all the lovely things I have in life instead of enjoying them. The security of faith, and of God, is really protected from our worst actions. Even the worst sins can’t make God not love us.
I go back and forth on faith, and if God is or isn’t what Christian doctrine says She is, but this is one of the strongest arguments I have heard for why God is good. And why, maybe, following Her and accepting her love without trying to change who I am could be the most freeing and healthy thing I could do for myself.