Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
— Mark 4:30-32
Zach is the one who found the Baptist church for me. I wanted more religion in my religion than the Quakers were able to offer, though I respect them greatly (but quietly). “The pastor is a woman,” he said, and that alone would maybe have been enough for me to give it a go — but she’s a queer(ish) woman who preaches a radical theology of unfettered acceptance. I didn’t want a quiet room echoing only our own good will. I wanted a loud roar of agreement.
God isn’t in the wind, or the earthquake, the fire, or the loud roar of agreement — I know that. But I know where God is, and I know what my heart needs, and these can be in agreement, and anyway it’s mine own, mine own, mine own.
* * * * *
The day before I visited Twinbrook Baptist, I talked to my mom on the phone. She is 73 years old, thick in the muddle of Alzheimer’s. She mostly knows who I am; it’s the when I am that gives her trouble. Sometimes my brother and I are little kids to her, but actual, not in the way all parents always see this own offspring as children. Sometimes I’ve died. She was rarely kind to me, not necessarily out of any sense of malice; instead, out of a sense of just not knowing how. Her life provided few, if any, clear models of lovingkindness.
So the day before I visited Twinbrook Baptist, I talked to my mom, about how much my brother and I sound alike. About how some cat treats a friend sent gave Little Baby Fosco horrible diarrhea. (She laughed hard and long at that.) How beautiful the weather had been — so nice that for two days I was able to keep the windows open in the house. “Which helped,” I explained, “with the cat having diarrhea everywhere.” She laughed even harder. My mom, now in the dimness of her memory, has the sense of humor of a 14-year-old boy.
At the end of the call, when we were saying goodbye, she said, “I wish you’d come out and visit soon.” And then she said, “I hope you have a beautiful life.” And it wrecked me.
* * * * *
Mustard seeds are small, stubborn, and selfish — which are also words one could use to describe me, as long as you also whisper “petty” under your breath, too. In the Parable of the Mustard Seed, we’re told that faith as small as this can, if tended, if noticed and cared for, can provide shelter. My mother, saying, “Have a beautiful life,” when that isn’t the story I have ever told myself, or others, about my mother’s love for me, was a shattering and obliterating piece of love and forgiveness — given and asked for — when I wasn’t sure I deserved it at all.
Depending on how you work your faith — if you have it, if you don’t, if you believe in Divine Guidance, or if you’re happy with the serendipity of chance — I’ve room for all of it. But I do think I was meant to be at that church on that day for that sermon. My own faith is easily as small as a mustard seed.
* * * * *
I began this current iteration of a Spiritual Journey back in late October/early November of 2017, when I reached out to a Catholic church near me, because I thought I was being called to that form of worship. (I was not.) I flirted, briefly (and embarrassingly), with Santeria, because I wanted form and ritual without having to also swallow a lot of what felt like popish nonsense to me. (I am sorry, Catholics who are fellow travelers on this journey, too. I don’t feel it’s as much nonsense now as it is just Not for Me.) I tried Quakers, which felt, if not entirely right, right enough at the time to get me used to the idea of regular church attendance. And then, in a Baptist church not 10 minutes from my house by bike, Pastor Jill shared the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and I felt my own mustard seed crack in my soul.
Pastor Jill connected mustard seeds and faith to the news that Twinbrook Baptist would be closing for good at the end of the year. (Try as hard as she could, the Old Guard parishioners were not interested in growing and developing within Christ; but, instead, wanted what was comfortable and affirming to what they already believed.) And then she shared that the proceeds from the sale of the church/land — some $1.3 million — would all be distributed to other affirming and like-minded churches, as well as social service endeavors. None would be kept by the church. In its dying, the church sends seeds and runners out into the world to grow goodness and wholeness as much as it can.
* * * * *
My faith isn’t large enough yet to harbor birds (but our house does, and it brings me joy and the cats something to look at that isn’t each other or the ghost that I am sure haunts the upstairs); but it’s growing.