Saturday, February 21, 2009

Neediness and its discontents

I'm not a great singer, but I love to sing, and I love music. So I sing in the choir at church. And several days ago I was practicing my alto part by trying to sing along with the CD, with the music blasting out of my car stereo as I drove at 65 mph down the expressway. One of the songs I was attempting to sing along with was the gospel song, "I need you to survive." This song, made famous by Kirk Franklin, is about being the church, and kind of rare in its approach because the words are directed towards other people rather than addressing God, which most gospel songs (and most of our church songs) are.
And as I was driving down the highway singing along, I almost became a danger to myself and others because I just started crying, tears billowing out of my eyes, choking back great gulping sobs as I sang:

"I need you, you need me.
We're all a part of God's body.
Stand with me, agree with me.
We're all a part of God's body.

It is his will, that every need be supplied.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.
You are important to me, I need you to survive.

I pray for you, You pray for me.
I love you, I need you to survive.
I won't harm you with words from my mouth.
I love you, I need you to survive."

Why does this song get to me so much? Is it because it feels so vulnerable to admit that I need someone to survive?

We're going to be talking about what it means to be the church in our next Affirmation group meeting coming up, and I've been thinking about this--about how this song, these words, tap into some reservoir of shame and fear and desire and hope in me. How much I want to be a part of this kind of body and how much I'm afraid of it. How much I hate to admit my need of anyone and yet how needy I am. I think about how we all look on a Sunday morning, for the most part, fairly well put together, cleaned up, all the crap that doubles us over in tears, keeps us awake all night, fairly well camouflaged by decent clothes, good eye makeup, years of practice. You can't tell by just looking quickly how close to the edge we might be, how close to not surviving.

And yet...maybe by just showing up it's an admission of sorts. It's a little flag we're all subtly waving. It's us saying I don't know how to do this whole living thing by myself, and I don't even know how to say this out loud but I need you to survive.

My daughter Hannah just had her 14th birthday and had some friends over to celebrate. The girls did a sleepover then the next morning some boys joined them and they went out to play Laser Tag together. I know how cruel teens can be, how mean and gossipy and territorial, but I didn't really see much of that with these kids. I saw them looking out for each other, offering support to one girl who has been doing a raw food diet, helping Hannah fix her hair--Hannah who doesn't much go for the girlygirl thing, allowed a couple of her friends to do a little more styling of her hair than usual. And when they were looking at their Laser Tag results they were actually apologizing for accidently shooting each other! Then last night I helped backstage at Hannah's junior high production of the Music Man. I was supposed to help with the girls' costumes--there's a lot of costume changes in this show and lots of zippers and bows that need doing. But the truth is, I wasn't really that necessary. The girls were taking care of each other, looking out for each other, adjusting collars and curling hair and straightening ribbons. They weren't afraid to need each other and they were happy to help each other.

And I realized, my Affirmation group probably knows more about being the church than many of us older people do. They haven't developed so many defenses against needing each other. They aren't so afraid of it. They understand that we need each other to survive.

And clearly I need them to survive--they have a lot to teach me.

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