This morning I walked down the infamous Mission Street to go to my church for the first time in a few weeks. I was late, because the walk took longer than expected, but I had enjoyed the still-warm air, the clicking silverware in open-window cafes, and the feeling of familiarity with the place I live now. When I walked up the stairs to the church, a docent lead me to probably the only seat left open in the downstairs pews, where I like to sit, squeezed between two women.
The band was already into their second song. The women on either side of me were praising; I could hear their inhalations, the beating of their hearts. As a kid, I had always been embarrassed to sing in church, and I still hesitate to this day. Knowing it is one of the most uncharacteristic and irrational hang-ups I have, I chastised myself, thinking, ‘you don’t know anyone here. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You’re in a sea of singing faces doing exactly the same thing as you are going to do.’ I exhaled through my mouth and braced myself, letting the first few words flow out of me: “I want more of you and less of me…” Before I knew it, tears were streaming down my cheeks.
They wouldn’t stop, either. Now this is where singing gets shitty. At this point I was really focused on not crying in public, but as I was choking out the lyrics, the words coming out of my mouth made me cry more. Of course, this wasn’t a sorrowful cry. It was more of a repentant/relieved/rejuvenated nature; a coming-home cry after weeks in a world where God is a sin.
I felt a hand on my back and I turned, mid-sob, to the woman on my right. She must’ve been in her mid-forties, a little chubby, with a warm, welcoming face. She looked me in the eyes, and we hugged. Not the quick, PC-American-uncomfortable type of hug. She really hugged me, and it felt amazing. The band finished up the song, and I could hear her wiping the corners of her eyes now. As the congregation sat down and shifted in their seats for the sermon, the small, wrinkled woman on my left reached out and patted my knee, in the lovely fashion that older ladies do, making one feel as if she’s your dearest grandmother and she understands what you’re going through.
The woman on my right was black and the woman on my left was asian, and the church was non-denominational Christian.
But let’s rewind to last night really fast. Like almost every weekend, this Saturday’s party and after party revolved around my place. I have four roommates that are all each the life of the party in their own ways. They’re great, and they attract people and fun, so it’s not surprising that we tend to be the end-all for socializing, parties, dancing, booze, drugs, art, music- you name it, we’re multi-faceted.
Surprisingly, each of us roomies is extremely different, and the only thing we probably all have in common aside from being artists is that we are all very rebellious. We mock the PC culture of the Bay Area over cigarettes on the back stoop, the black clothes boys spouting more intelligent truths than most professors in our classes with PHDs that have to maintain a PC front to avoid being marginalized, stigmatized, or fired. Or maybe my guitar-playing, punk-band-rocking roommates are just smarter and bolder than those professors, who actually believe that political correctness is solving world issues. Because it’s not- it’s perpetuating them.
I started reading a great book recently called Growing Up Tough by Taylor Caldwell, and in it she states, “This is what the Liberal means by “tolerance”. He will endure no opinion other than his own… He shouts that you are “intolerant”. At the worst, he will insinuate that because you do not have his own mind you are an anti-Semite or you are an anti-Negro.”
So what does all of this mean? I’m an 18 year old artist in my second year at California College of the Arts who is technically American but I grew up in Mexico (I’m Mexican at heart) and also a Christian. I find time every Sunday, between 9-2 am school days, pouring out my soul into my artwork, trying to make it and be the best, art shows, social life, not having a car, dealing with SF prices, cleaning/laundry, juggling three jobs, a boyfriend, the gym, the list goes on- to go to church. It takes a lot to get there, but it’s necessary. Church is the one place in the week I get to go, cry for no reason or maybe every reason, and have two women who on the streets of San Francisco would be enemies, both reassure me- a complete stranger- in a vulnerable moment as I praised God. What the bleep?!
What kills me personally is that this is such a phenomenon. I was at the gym Saturday morning speaking with a staff member in Spanish, when a gym-goer leaned over, astonished that I spoke another language, telling me, “You look like a white girl.”
I wish I would’ve told him that he looks like an asshole, thinking back on it. Why is race such a dividing factor? Is it because in SF, neighborhoods strongly divide races, cultural groups, and classes? Now that I think about it, isn’t every place like that? Why is the race/class divide so prominent here? I believe it lies in the Politically Correct culture that has been hammered into this generation and the past one. White sympathy for black people? White people are now extra nice to any person who happens to be black in order to avoid offending them. Shouldn’t the person who happens to be black be just as offended that they are still, after hundreds of years, being treated differently? What about the flip side of this issue: that many people who happen to be of African descent now openly hate “white people” and it’s justified, yet if a white person ever said they hated “black people”, they would be crucified, outcast, and labeled a White Supremacist for the rest of their days? Romans 1:16 says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” God did have a chosen people, the Jews, but no one is excluded from His power or His love, no matter their race, religion, class, or culture.
But my intention here isn’t to talk about race, although it’s all intertwined, as much as it is to talk about confessing my faith in the political culture and climate of San Francisco. At the get-together I had last night, I decided to turn in a little early, around 2 am. I felt a little bad, as about twenty friends were still chilling in my house, but I had resigned to get up early the next day as well as to workout, in addition to the ever present, never-ending, laborious stream of homework due Monday. “Bueno… buenas noches!” I hollered out before doing my rounds of cheek-kisses and goodnight hugs.
“Maia, why are you going to bed so early?” a girlfriend gasped. “I have church in the morning,” I said.
“Church? Are you serious?” she gasped some more, turning to my closest girlfriend for confirmation. She was nodding her head with an I-can’t-believe-it-can-you? look on her face. “I go almost every week, you can come anytime,” I said.
I realized that I’m the only truly religious one out of my friends, which doesn’t surprise me. Rebellion and religion typically don’t mix in the eyes of the world. What people don’t realize nowadays is that being a true follower of Jesus IS rebellious. In the art world, rebellion and “being different” are the most ironic stigmas. One morning recently, I was having a hard time figuring out what to wear, so I looked up outfits on Pinterest, like any typical millennial would. One of the specific options in the outfit category was “art hoe”. I clicked. Apparently, an “art hoe” is an extremely defined style of dress, including band teeshirts from the 70s like the Mamas and Papas or even the fucking Rolling Stones that I know the clueless girl wearing has never listened to, nor can name one album of. Creepers are a must, some kid of ironic 90s fetish. Lots of makeup, basically make your face look like not your face. An oversized jean jacket with “hand-painted” paint marks. Holy shit! What has the world come to that we are so un-genuine that we have to have paint marks made on our pants to appear as if we were artists? Oh, also, you are a feminazi and you can no longer shave your pits.
Well, Internet, I’m an actual artist. I live in my studio, I work my ass off for shows, my work takes priority over everything except God and my family, and I am prepared to live a life in poverty if I don’t “make it”. (The long story is that I believe God told me I am going to make it, but that’s for another rant.) The point is, I sure as hell don’t wear that garbage; it’s not practical, sophisticated, or unique, as the idea the trend created has people suckered into. But, I realized, most girls at my school who make shitty art and don’t spend all their time at the studio like my friends and I do, do actually dress like “art hoes”. Am I cynical? If one of these girls who dressed like an “art hoe” made good art, then good for her. All I’m saying is that if she was trying to be different, she’s no different from the rest.
This is how it is with religion. For some reason, godlessness in the art world has been a thing for a long time, and I’m okay with that. It just means more people I can show the light to through my actions, which will seem drastically different from the godless norm of this culture. My prayer is that through my actions, I can show these searching souls the grace of God, and the peace and grounding that He brings. Not only that, but I have the beautiful opportunity, as everyone does, to give love. Love, as hippie-cheesy as it sounds, is the answer to everything. Being Christian in addition to being straight in addition to having a certain tone of skin gives me no leg up in this world. I am glad of that. My art can be judged separately from my own person and I can succeed without the danger of succeeding due to the political interests of galleries and collectors around me. My work can speak without being bombarded by a politically correct culture, although in many ways, my work is teasing it. I believe art tells each artists’ truth, and if it doesn’t, then it’s not art. This idea came from my belief in God, and it is the driving force in my efforts to tell the truth, be raw, and authentic no matter what.
Someone great once said that you can’t make art about things you don’t know about, and that haunts me. I’ve lived my life in a way that hasn’t been afraid to experience anything, that’s grabbed onto every second with two hands and shook out all the life I could possibly shake out of it. Due to this, I’ve done and experienced a lot of things I probably shouldn’t have, and much too young. For this, I praise God. Not only for protecting me, even through the most dubious times, but for giving me these experiences to have. Not only have they made me a better person, they have greatly influenced my artwork and the way I relate to people. Authenticity and humility go hand in hand.
In my opinion, church and religion screws up God for most people. Religion is about having a community to praise God with, and a set of morals to guide your life with. Church is about having a specific support group of friends in your community to share God’s love with, as well as having a place to praise and to learn. But in the end, all of that fluff is simply the icing on the cake. Being a Christian to me, means having a relationship with God and living out my life accordingly, in love. God is Love! Haven’t you ever been to Salvation Mountain? Leonard Knight may be a little out-there, but “art hoes”, that is true uniqueness!
At another house party recently, I was chatting with a group over a joint, as we stared into the twinkling Bernal Heights park hill across from our place, a lantern in the darkness. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but a friend’s words really stuck with me. He said that Eminem’s new campaign against Trump, like all campaigns, is one of hate. Saying that you “hate Trump” and “Fuck him” is throwing the same “hatred” he has, right back at him. It’s fighting fire with fire! People are mobilizing against him in hate campaigns and protests to fight his “hatred” towards immigrants, liberals, Mexico, etc. I can’t think of anything more… stupid.
Confessing my Christianity in this world is something I relish. Maybe I’m an asshole for loving controversy, but, to talk a little more about Eminem,
“Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody, just follow me!
‘Cause we need a little controversy
‘Cause it feels so empty without me”
So when I’m asked how I navigate faith in a PC culture and in the art world of that culture, the best answer I can give is how I strive to act. Matthew 10:16 says, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. So be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”