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On Church And Trying

It’s been almost a year and a half since I wrote about leaving church and going back and I’m still feeling wary in a lot of ways. But I am trying.

The other day, I thought to myself “I really wish I could talk to Addie (Zierman) or Rachel (Held Evans) or Micah (J Murray) right now. They would get it.” As if I could just call them up to chat.

Their words about faith and church have reminded me that I’m not alone in the way I think or feel or believe. I’m not alone in the way I have changed. I’m not alone in what I am seeking.

I’ve been trying to give myself permission to write about where I’m at, what I’m thinking, what I’m hoping – but fear is definitely working a number on me, pretending to be caution. I know it’s fear and not caution because I know I’m called to write – it’s been affirmed and affirmed and I still squirm with my words right on the tip of my tongue (or fingers, I guess).

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What am I so worried about? I’m worried about irreconcilable differences.

There are many things when it comes to faith and theology in the church that I am comfortable not seeing eye to eye on with the people of my faith community. It doesn’t bother me if you think our spirit goes straight to heaven and I think it waits until the second coming. It’s okay if you are an adamant creationist while I agree with evolutionary creationism. You can sprinkle people for baptism and I’ve been fully immersed – no worries. I’m not hung up on what kind of music you like to use to worship or if you follow the liturgical calender all year or if you recite the apostle’s creed or if you don’t have Santa come visit after your Christmas pageant. You can Sabbath on Saturday, I can Sabbath on Sunday, it’s cool. There are differences that are interesting to learn about and talk about and explore without causing a great divide among us. There is freedom and grace to be part of one big human faith community that calls themselves Christians but does things differently than one another. People are different and our churches can do things differently without doing things that turn into deal breakers for one another.

There really shouldn’t be many  (any?) deal breakers amongst us. We are all broken, saved by grace. We are all made in the image of God. We are all learning and growing and seeking and wanting to spread the Good News and bring hope and salt and light into the world. We are all trying to love others as God has loved us. Aren’t we?

We really should not get hung up many things within our church body (locally or globally). There is too much kingdom work to be done, too many people hurting and in need to get sidetracked on sideline issues. Right?

There are some things though, that hit us where it hurts. Ethical concerns, human rights concerns, foundational beliefs about what Christians are “allowed” to do or be. Things that affect our families, homes, daily lives and communities right now. Things that affect how churches are run and who gets to run them. Things that affect who is teaching and preaching and speaking and serving in our church and in what capacity they get to do that. Things that affect how the people who have yet to join the church see and experience the church.

It’s not just semantics. It’s more than just a difference of opinion or a different interpretation of the text. It’s not simply an interesting perspective to discuss and explore as we learn more about faith practices of other Christians. It speaks to who we believe God to be. It speaks to how we believe God created us to be.

So then, when the debate begins we are not just talking about what people do, we are talking about who people are, we are talking about who God is, we are talking about hearts and souls and the values we base our life and faith on. Disagreeing isn’t simply seeing something differently anymore- it is rejection of someone’s foundational beliefs and it is saying that someone’s idea of God is wrong and bad.

It feels frightening to know that people will vote for politicians and push for laws that threaten values that are based on your core beliefs. It’s frustrating and intellectually baffling to find yourself unable to understand how anyone could not see the danger or need we see to uphold certain rights and freedoms. We find ourselves face to face with one another disheartened and appalled. It makes intimacy with one another in the church feels scarier, trickier.

Outside of the church, we expect rejection, we expect cognitive dissonance, we expect foundational differences. It hurts and it worries us when it’s in the church, and not just the church, but our church.

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Social media (and the internet in general) has made it easier for us to share and view thoughts, beliefs, and opinions. There’s a lot of good that goes with that. There’s also a lot of hard. It’s hard to not lump people underneath one umbrella, one label, one stereotype. It’s hard to not make assumptions. It’s hard to not write your own (likely incorrect and definitely incomplete) narrative for someone’s life based on what information you can easily gather. It’s hard to not just cling to your own “group” and it’s hard to not gang up on the “other” group. It’s hard to not let the opinions or words of others get in your head and taint your own thoughts before you’ve even formed your own thoughts. It’s hard to listen well, when you have the opportunity to immediately react. Your vision can get skewed quickly.

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It’s true that when you are “doing life” with people, in community, that it becomes easier to have the hard conversations. It’s easier because your connection and commitment to one another is deeply rooted and not easily severed. Your lives are intertwined in ways that can’t be easily changed. It’s also harder because then the people that you are so closely connected to and invested in can also choose to reject your deepest beliefs and values and that hurts much more than when your cousin’s co-worker tells you’ve “got it wrong”.

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In most areas of my life, I’m an insider. In the part of the church I’m trying to be part of again, I just look like an insider. I know that I’m not anymore. Or maybe I just think that. Maybe I’ve just seen such awful backlash that others have suffered that I don’t want to open myself up to that. Maybe it’s the fear of the vulnerability of being the odd girl out that holds me back. Maybe it’s the assumptions I’m making that are holding me back.

Why do I want to be part of something where I imagine myself to a certain kind of minority? I don’t have any other way to say it – I feel called to try. Called like Jonah, with a dragging of the feet and a gnashing of teeth. I don’t want to, but I think I’m supposed to try. I think I’m supposed to try to listen. I think I’m supposed to try to speak up – not with knee-jerk responses, but with something else, something better. I think I’m supposed to use who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve done, to contribute to building some kind of bridge, some kind of sacred safe place, some kind of something bigger than myself. I believe I’m supposed to sit in the discomfort, writhe in my inability to do this on my own, so that whatever happens isn’t about me at all. I believe I’m supposed to love with my heart all in anyways – even if it hurts. I believe I’m supposed to let myself be loved anyways – even if it feels awkward at first. I believe I’m supposed to learn something else about God’s character, about redemption, about revival, about reconciliation, about the power of the Holy Spirit.

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If all of that’s true, then maybe the only way forward is to abandon my idea about deal breakers. Maybe I need to believe that God is bigger than our human attempts at interpreting and understanding. Maybe I have to lay down my burdens for the church, for my church, for my family, for my friends, for my self, and fear not.

Sarah Bessey  has said she won’t “confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit” anymore and I want to follow suit. Glennon Melton said that “we can do hard things” and “love wins” and I need that reminder.  Ann Voskamp says this:

“Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control, let go of my own way, let go of my own fears. Let God blow His wind, His trials, oxygen for joy’s fire. Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what God chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper a surprised thanks. This is the fuel for joy’s flame. Fullness of joy is discovered only in the emptying of will. And I can empty. I can empty because counting His graces has awakened me to how He cherishes me, holds me, passionately values me. I can empty because I am full of His love. I can trust.”

Rach Kincaid often posts about “preaching to herself” and that’s what most of this post is.

God meets me in my writing and that is enough reason for me to write. I’m posting what I write because I know how the words of all the people I mentioned here (plus so many others) have moved me and encouraged me and challenged me and I know I’m called to pour out what I’m given. Today, it is these words.

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “On Church And Trying

  1. Thanks for your reflections, and the useful links! I’m impressed with your ability to express your struggles and ambivalence so well. I don’t have answers (you don’t necessarily need any), just reactions, which I hope will help or inspire your process in some positive direction.

    I’m considered a smart person, but it still took me many decades to fully understand that religion and faith aren’t the same things, just related. Your faith is individual, despite all the “shared faith” talk, because you and God have a unique relationship. Churches are expressions of religion, and every time there’s a philosophical difference, you get a new sect.

    I’ve encountered a number of different deal breakers, depending on the church. It doesn’t bother me as much as it used to. I’ve learned how to trust there will be a better, more welcoming home on down the road befitting where I am now. That includes the possibility of not attending a formal church at all, if what I’m called to do is too time-consuming.

    People gather at church because they share goals. You can pray together and do all the same rituals, but each person will still have a different individual experience of the service. We’re all at our own place and pace in our journeys of faith. Periods of doubt, even rebellion are essential, because faith untested is immature, a diluted suspension.

    For the past dozen years I got more heavily involved in being a health care provider, and began working at it six, sometimes seven days a week. I rarely go to church compared to the years before, but I’m fighting diseases and injuries, the patients are in dire need, and I believe God approves of the work. I’ll be retiring in a month, so I’ll be checking out the churches again, happy to reconnect. There’s need anywhere you go, so you might as well go where your skills fit the problem.

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