Note from the Editor: Liz is an artist. I remember seeing her perform in Rising Youth Theater’s Light Rail Plays. She was alive and bold. In some Renaissance Woman Trick, she’s a real “working” artist. She reads Marilynne Robinson! And my books too! What???????? Below, she shares a miscellany of bits and pieces. Taken together, I think she offers a portrait of today. — Jennifer Bell
Getting To Know Liz Polen!
Where did you grow up and how did you end up here?
I grew up in Phoenix! Well, Ahwatukee, to be more precise. Thought I would leave and never come back! I left and then came back.
What’s your job?
I’ve been working as an actor and a teaching artist. Which basically means I get to use theatre in lots of different ways to illuminate ideas or concepts. While at other times, it is a means that I offer joy and connection. I’m also finishing up a Masters in Counseling, and interning at a community health organization. For the future (not that you asked), I envision Arts Integration (from a theatre perspective) in mental health. And more acting. And speaking. And who knows what else?!
Why are you at Roosevelt?
It was a combination of knowing (and loving) the Giannones and then hearing Dennae Pierre speak at a foster care event. I loved that it was a complex church made up of all types of people. I look for churches that have people who look a little different than I – and some people that I probably wouldn’t be friends with outside the Church. Because that, to me, is the body of Christ: we are one messy bunch.
How long have you been here?
About 6 years
How long have you been a Christian?
My mom became a Christian when she was pregnant with me, and I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Jesus. I was about 6 years old when I decided I wanted to be baptized.
What are your hobbies?
Flamenco! I’m obsessed with flamenco. And I love hiking.
Name two things on your bucket list.
Bus across all of South America (I may avoid Venezuela for now, ha!)
Walk the Portuguese Camino
What is your favorite book?
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. She’s brilliant.
Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle. If you are an artist and consider yourself a Christian , I highly recommend reading this at some point. And, come on, Madeleine L’Engle!
What is your favorite movie?
Amadeus. I’m giving churchy answers, but anything that explores the tension of faith and art, I’m going to be interested in! I can’t help it!
Also. I adore Moonlight, Tangerine, and Bride and Prejudice. (Check summaries before jumping into these.)
Some of you may have heard this at RCC when I was asked to share a testimony. Here it is again with some slight additions and subtractions.
It was the summer of 2004, and there were raining mangos on a corrugated roof at an orphanage in El Salvador. In a room with tiled floor and barred windows, I learned that one of the leaders raped a woman. And because I knew that God was a God of Light, I spoke light into darkness. I told the leaders what had happened. But they turned their eyes and closed their ears. They shut out my words and put out my light.
I wrestled with God to show me His love in the midst of this injustice.
For years, I wrestled.
I forced myself to communicate with God. I begged and hoped that He was a loving God. Over time, verses opened up and the steadfast love of the Lord never ceased. And while I did not trust that ministry and a fear of the Church grew in my heart, I clung to the promise: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Take heart!
Jump to the fall of 2016, election night. I was at ASU in this interactive theatre performance piece. Yes, it was everything you might imagine. There was hope in the air that turned into churned stomachs and shock. Except I was not shocked. I was not shocked, because unlike my theatre friends, I was friends with white evangelicals on Facebook. And so later that night, I sat in my car, with soggy In-n-Out fries, eating and barely eating—not from the shock of my friends, but from deep sadness. I could take the individuals and the individual ministries or individual churches : but the entire nation, the vast majority of a group of people who say they love Jesus?? This, I could not reconcile.
And, please, hear me out. My point is not to pit one against the other. I say this to express how I could handle individual blindness to Jesus, but what I could not handle was what felt like a systemic embrace of disregard for Jesus’s people. That I could not understand. And so sadness turned to anger, which turned to bitterness , which turned to disregard for my brothers and sisters.
I knew my anger was not sustainable. I knew that I was not better than others, and my anger told me so. But I wanted others to speak for justice; I wanted others to say: “We weep too!” And not just for the female fetus, but the female grown-up, for the brown and black, for those with papers and without papers and the powerful and the powerless and this beautiful creation that we treat as something only to be consumed. I wanted to hear all of us weep too.
But, God, rich in mercy, started to do this crazy thing in me. As I started to pray these petitions that He would help me want to want to love certain people. I started to just want to love people. And somehow over the years, I began to pray not against all that was around me, but pray for repentance and pray for my own heart.
Fast forward to fall of 2019. I was reading this book by Leslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks. There is much to unpack, but there is one thing in particular that stands out. He talks about two main goals behind Western thought: one that seeks freedom, and one that seeks equality. And, I think, YES, those are the two fractions of America, those who want freedom and those who want equality. And I want equality: I want justice!!! But then he says that neither get at the essence of what God says is fundamental for His people. They both fall short. From the beginning of creation to the end, what is fundamental is relatedness. Our relatedness to God who is Himself in relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and our relatedness to one another.
In my desire to be right and to have justice, and others’ desire to keep their freedoms, we have painfully missed out on each other. We see each other as UN-related and UN-relatable. And here we are in the pandemic of 2020, and I do not think that God could make it any more clear as we sit in isolation. We are made for each other and we need each other. And yet. And yet we are still at odds.
And my soul aches.
Both freedom and equality are found, and only found, in relationship with God. For it is in relationship with God that we participate in the death of Jesus, a death that is the punishment and payment that allows for true justice. And then a wild resurrection that tells us that life wins and freedom comes in surrender.
I long for that day when we scoop up raining mangos as one redeemed family, sharing sweet flesh in full communion.
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
What am I hiding? I don’t know what to call myself and I can barely speak the words in public. Christian. I don’t even know the name. I tried to speak in Christianize the other day and jargon was two feet away. That is good, I say. This is good they say, they say. But I’ve never wanted Jesus more.
Because your words are a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path, and my soul pants for you like a deer pants for water and whom have I but YOU. Light up my eyes lest I sleep the sleep of death. Out of the depths I called to you. And YOU answered. You answered. You have my whole being numbered, every time I pick up the keys because I have to leave, every time I search for a thing, that coffee in ice, that sweet, that man, that text, that other man, that that that all the possible thats that might make it all okay, every one of those thats falls flat. And you breathe with me and see me and know me. And you say lay down your weary soul and rest. Be still and know that I AM, I AM God. Be still.
A Journal Entry from August 17, 2018, words for hundreds of years in the past, and for 2.23.20
There are fractions upon fractions and such fear. And, all around us, we are suffocating within ourselves and our words and burning and melting and flooding and shooting and killing and killed and on and on and on and little girls and police firing at running backs, still backs, arms raised above backs, black backs. Black backs. And how do I stand up for black backs? White back for black backs? White hands for black hands? White with black. Black with White. Black with Brown. White with Brown. How do we stand for each other? Is that my question to ask? How do I stand for you? Or do I step back for you? Forgive me. Forgive me in my too quiet and my too loud.