I have neglected this space for a while. I have enjoyed the quiet in my mind and ears. No voices calling me a heretic. No fingers pointing out perceived faults. No pious pronouncements that I am wrong. It’s nice here.
I now see clearly what all those unchurched people find appealing. Freedom. Lack of willing external judgement. Permission to use my brain without fear of asking the wrong question. No one has the right to tell me my voice should remain quiet for fear of causing someone else to stumble. (Am I really that powerful? Are you really that weak?) No man can tell this woman that she should stop speaking forcefully about things deserving passion. (It is strictly by chance that some were born with penises and some without, but all were born with brains.)
Now I seek out those who wish to discuss philosophical positions and religious wanderings with abandon. Not abandonment of opinion, beliefs, and worldview. But abandonment of the drive for control over others. Abandonment of the dream for sameness and uniformity. Instead I have found acceptance for difference. I have found welcome for unique personalities and gifts. Those with little boxes to stuff others in need not apply.
It’s messy here. Rainbow colored and shades of grey. All stirred up in a stew of humanity’s poop. But it’s real. Genuine. Divine.
There are generous atheists. There are loving Christians (the real ones that follow their namesake and not an established political movement). Hard working poor people. Caring teachers that befriend the outcast. Families that adore their transgendered son. Friends who love and accept their opinionated and difficult pal. Mentors who never give up on their addicted charges. There are many, many who have no idea what they believe about life’s greater meaning (or if there is one). And that’s okay.
I lived my life steeped in the traditions and beliefs of the American evangelical church. Their roots run deeper than I had ever imagined or desired. My stance on all controversial subjects was assumed. My treatment of others prescribed. My responses scripted by generations past.
Except not. I never fit in their tidy box. I dared to ask why. I always preferred tangible support of others rather than preaching at them. I’ve always found life more enjoyable with an eclectic mix of personalities, backgrounds, and viewpoints.
This is diametrically opposed to the vast majority of the white American evangelical church. I’ve never sat in a pew within eyesight of more than four people of color. I’ve never witnessed the jeans and t-shirt clad working poor accepted at the same level of importance as the well dressed engineer, the professor, the business owner. Why is that? Aren’t we all equal in God’s eyes?
I’ve never seen an openly gay person or couple hugged and invited to sit. I’ve never seen any openly gay people in my churches, period. They are there. Of this I have no doubt. But they cannot be seen for who they truly are without fear of judgement, banishment, or being viewed as someone’s project to fix. And yet I still haven’t found any examples of Jesus doing any such things to the LGBT of his time. It’s almost like that wasn’t of vital importance to Him. And please don’t insult us all by pretending that that diverse community hasn’t always been around. There were ancient Greek myths written about same sex pairs. Five genders are recognized in Native American culture. Nothing new here. The LGBT community has not been created by Hollywood liberals or cultural indoctrination.
Since I have stepped away from the organized church, I have been largely ignored and, in some cases, vilified. I have lost friends (or should that moniker be in quotes?). One dearly loved person who used to hug me upon our meeting now barely makes eye contact. Sad. However, I am not surprised. There are few who garner more disdain than those who were once in the evangelical fold but choose to walk away. We are the untouchables. We are to be pitied for our wayward state. Lost causes. We are to be avoided for fear of a well behaved Christian catching our ick. We cause heartache to well-meaning loved ones who cannot understand nor accept our journey.
Walking away from organized churches does not automatically equate to thumbing one’s nose at God. Sometimes it does. But, quite frequently, we still study scripture. We still ponder the life and example of Jesus. We still have deep conversations with fellow pilgrims on this journey. We just don’t wish to be a part of the evangelical world anymore. We are willing to compare other belief systems to see what is similar. Why all the fighting over such similar tenets of faiths? Why not just let God sort it all out? Discuss and disagree, but listen and think.
I can’t help but wonder why more Christians (those real ones who follow the life and example of Jesus) don’t do the same. I am not calling for a mass exodus from our churches. But I am requesting more questioning of what those churches are there for and then behaving accordingly.
Why is there so much focus on grand buildings to be used once or twice a week? Are these palaces the best use of resources? Is that the example written down from Jesus’s time? Does this formal environment encourage relationships with other pew fillers? Does it foster deep friendships of support and love? Does it create a nurturing space to share our failings, frustrations, and weaknesses? A place to come for help in times of trouble? Or does it do the exact opposite? Are we encouraged by long-standing, unspoken rules to appear happy, strong, and in control at all times? Do we get the side eye if we admit doubts? Do whispers trail the downtrodden, the broken, the lonely, the overwhelmed? Is that what Jesus taught us to do?
The church loves to claim openness. Acceptance. Welcome to all. We are all sinners! Come one, come all and we will love you like Jesus did! But how is that in practice? Is acceptance what would be felt by the promiscuous teen who came to youth group with a friend? Is the abstinence only, absolutely-nothing-besides-hand-holding-until-marriage philosophy taught going to make them feel welcomed? Or shamed and unworthy? Unable to attain such a high standard? And how realistic is it in a time where marriages are happening later in life? How many of the adults in the room followed this model? Is the teaching based on scripture or the desire to control? Or a redo by proxy of one’s own youth?
Does the church’s stated welcome include those who were once in the fold and have run away? How many members reach out to those who have gone? Just to check in as humans? Not as a project to be brought back into the fold. Just because they are a friend who still deserves love. Do we ask what happened? Do we actually listen and learn? Did the church push them away?
I have read numerous articles written by well-meaning christians bemoaning the exodus of people from churches. It is blamed on our culture. It is Hollywood’s fault. Liberal colleges and their high falutin’ thinking/brainwashing are the issue. Are they? Or should the church look inward for the catalyst for all those feet walking out the door?
Should the church ask how they are perceived for the unflinching support of a corrupt political party and leaders? Not just support, but quite vocal justification for why immoral leaders are chosen by God (but only if from the correct party). Should the church wonder why people have a problem with them claiming the high ground while selling their collective soul for political power and position?
Should the church wonder how the poor see love for them from the church members who drive by in their cars worth more than their paltry year’s pay? Those same members who bemoan “their taxes” being used to support the dishonest and lazy rabble. Should the church wonder how they can square up their hoarding of resources while neighbors go without adequate food and send their children to school in threadbare coats?
There are churches out there doing all they can to feed, clothe, and support their less fortunate neighbors. I applaud them. But, to be brutally honest, they typically aren’t evangelical. My experience has been much derision of the focus on social justice by churches. Those churches have lost their focus on the gospel. Those churches are just like country clubs.
Or, perhaps those churches choose to focus on the example of Jesus for their life’s mission. Jesus continually reached out to the marginalized. He fed a crowd without asking why they hadn’t thought ahead to bring food. He was close to women of questionable moral standing. He allowed doubt and failures without judgement. Recall that He allowed Thomas to see and feel for himself the crucifixion wounds–without rebuke. Recall that He still trusted Peter after being denied three times by him. He loved. And His love was tangibly demonstrated time and time again.
So I choose to continue on my quest to see, accept, and love all I come in contact with. Because I believe that this is the true core of the message of Jesus. Love. He said it Himself when declaring that the greatest commandment was to love. All rules fall away. All man made status dissolves. All judgements cease. Love. Even when we can’t understand the life choices. Love. Even when they live in a way we just don’t get. Love. Even when that means we lose all sense of control over another. (We never had it to begin with anyway).
This type of love is unspeakably difficult. This love is countercultural. This love is crazy and will at times be taken advantage of. But this love doesn’t harden or give up. This love is cultivated and intentional.
I will fail regularly. I will regret chances missed, words un-retractable. But I must try. Because this is the love that multitudes were drawn to. This is the love that can change hateful hearts. This is the love that can give hope to the hopeless. This is the love that climbs down into the pit of despair to sit beside someone until they can both climb out together.
I don’t have concrete answers anymore like I used to believe I did. The world is much more nuanced than that. People are far more complex than the black and white columns churches divide them into. Problems are more multifaceted than simply trying to “have more faith”. Solutions are more diverse than “pray about it” or “God provides”.
And I finally, honestly, deeply, (and without an agenda), accept and love others. Some roots of toxic evangelicalism still hold fast if I act or speak reflexively. But I will keep digging them up. I will keep striving toward love. The real kind. The kind that we from a christian background claim is like Christ. (That guy we say we wish to be like)
Seems like a good goal to have. I think I’ll live here for a while.