That descriptor hasn’t exactly gained in popularity as of late. I worried, last week, what my friends from California and Alaska might think of me post-election 2016. I wondered whether, given my professed faith and my southern roots, I would be lumped in to whatever amalgam of “hatred, bigotry, and racism” I’ve seen spewed on social media and news outlets and think pieces before and since our now president-elect claimed his title as leader of the free world.
I wondered whether my resolve to embrace my southern identity as a (ahem) Texan would waver as I watched last Tuesday’s results into the late night refresh on my computer screen over and over again.
But I don’t think it will waver. At least, it hasn’t yet.
For better or for worse, the South has become my home. It has become the place where I feel most comfortable, the place where I have met the people the walked with me through hard times, the place where ALL of my family builds their lives. Texas has terrible summers but beautiful sunsets. Louisiana is humid and sticky and has mosquitoes that will probably kill you, but it also has the best food I’ve eaten in my entire life and the most hospitable people that will welcome you to family dinner without hesitation. Elaine and I took a trip to Nashville last year that left my heart and my belly full. There is feeling and life and love here that, in my experience, doesn’t exist elsewhere – at least not the same way that it does right here.
Another place that, for better for worse, I am learning to embrace and call home. Pentecostalism, of all things: that sweaty-revival, loud-mouthed, tongues-sputtering, prophecy-yelling, strange redheaded cousin of Evangelicalism.
It’s something I’m trying to work out because, despite my ambivalence about its more outlandish practices, the Pentecostalism I am a part of provides the kind of spiritual family I need that I’ve never experienced elsewhere. Historically speaking, Pentecostalism was a movement birthed and nurtured by the outsiders and marginalized of society. It was a place for black Americans and women and those in poverty to speak out about the way the Spirit was moving in their lives. It provided a space for those groups to speak in the language of the ancient prophets against the tyranny of the empire. It latched on to the unbelievable claim that this church, weird and wild and vulnerable, was the embodiment of God’s Kingdom come.
I’m starting an M.Div. in the spring (something, after five years of spiritual wandering, I thought I’d never do) at the place I received my undergraduate degree in Theology (something else I thought I’d never do).
Five years. Five years of being a dad and losing my faith and gaining it back and leaving church and coming back and making a whole lot of mistakes in my life and my marriage and my family. Some of these things were terrible and harrowing. Some of these things were life-giving and more beautiful than I can express. They exist as memory and emotion now, swirling around my head like an old movie. The only way I figure I can make sense of them is to go back to the source. If I can somehow look back at my southern roots and my Pentecostal yearnings, I see something sweet and true and good. Southern Pentecostalism defines me and gives me a steady footing. It gives me family and love and good meals. In pursuing more education with the goal of pastoring and teaching, I’m hoping to be a part of a movement that re-forms Pentecostalism into what it once was. In staying right here in the South, I’m hoping that I can help make Texas a place where everyone feels just as at-home as I do. We all belong, and I want to spend my life embracing those around me and those from my community in the arms of southern hospitality
For better or for worse, my heart is here.