Categories
Faith

Maybe There’s Hope

Maybe There's Hope

I just finished reading Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. I immediately Facebook messaged my Pastor, whom I haven’t seen since Easter Sunday, and told her she needs to read the book. Somewhere in the middle of it, I tweeted the author and told her I wanted to hand one out to every pastor in our rural Ohio community. Of note: The author “liked” my tweet.

I dog-eared pages. And it’s a library book. Sorry, other library patrons and librarians. I’ll un-dog-ear them when I return it. And after I purchase it, I’ll re-dog-ear them in my own copy.

It was a book I needed to read.

I’ve been wrestling with and writing about the church. I’ve not shied away from the fact that the big-C Church leaves me somewhat uncomfortable these days, and by these days, I mean for years, and by uncomfortable, I don’t mean that I feel convicted of sins. No. I mean uncomfortable in the way that I sometimes hide or downplay my faith, though it remains strong; I don’t want to be associated with the hatred that seems to come part and parcel with evangelical Christendom. I don’t want hate in my life at all. It’s really a thing I try to avoid.

I can handle anger. And sadness. And deep depression. I can manage anxiety. I respect fellow Christians who dare to question and ask the hard questions. But I can’t handle hate in the Church. I cannot. I will not. I won’t. And I won’t expose my children to it. End of discussion.

Except it’s not the end of the discussion, is it? Or I wouldn’t be reading books about faith, listening to praise and worship on Sunday mornings, discussing God and Jesus-like love with my sons, and continually battling this out in my head, heart, and soul.

Many chapters spoke to me, but the one that left me sitting in my bed on a cold, rainy May afternoon with my heart in my hands was “Evangelical Acedia.” I don’t pick this chapter because she started it with a quote from a Taylor Swift, though that didn’t hurt. “And I know all the steps up to your door. But I don’t wanna go there anymore.” So then I tweeted, in heartfelt response:

It was the chapter about the World Vision debacle in which they accepted LGBT employees, lost 10,000 child sponsors, and then said, “Oops, sorry, no more gays for us. Too bad, so sad.” I remember feeling, like Evans, so elated at first, and then so bone-crushingly hurt. And pissed off. And then really, really jaded. I’m good at jaded. Cynicism is my dark friend; I wield sarcasm like a sharp sword of protection. I remember pushing the Church away at that point. You don’t want me? I don’t want you either.

And then something happened. Someone said something or did something or tweeted something, or I listened to “Oceans” just one more time, and there I was, as Evans puts it:

“And suddenly I’m caring again. I’m invested again. I realize I can no more break up with my religious heritage than I can with my parents. […] As long as I have an investment in the church universal, I have an investment in the community that first introduced me to Jesus. Like it or not, I’ve got skin in the game.

And that’s why I wrestle with this so much. I grew up evangelical, or as evangelical as you can get in Presbyterian church (Frozen Chosen, represent) going to a non-denominational holiness campmeeting in the summer and on youth group short term mission trips with Episcopalian teens and leaders. Writing that, maybe I was forming my own type of faith statement even in my teen years; maybe this path I find myself on right now isn’t so surprising. Maybe I surrounded myself with different thoughts and practices because I knew, in some form or fashion, what was coming. Not in the ESP way but in the “this is inevitable” way. That aside, I’m invested. I care. I’ve tried not to care. I’ve tried, as Evans writes, to use my cynicism to block myself from caring. But I care.

“When I write off all evangelicals as hateful and ignorant, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I jeer at their foibles, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I roll my eyes and fold my arms and say, “Well, I know God can’t be present over there,” I am numbing myself with cynicism.

I am missing out.

It’s easier to push it all away. To even refrain from discussion or constructive debate because what’s the point? To shrug and figure we’ll never come to a consensus on who’s human enough to deserve God’s love. (Answer: Everyone.) To just keep doing my thing, our thing we do as a family, because it feels safe. Safe is easier.

“We have to allow ourselves to feel the pain and joy and heartache of being in relationship with other human beings. In the end, it’s the only way to really live, even if it means staying invested, even if it means taking a risk and losing it all.

Okay, well, now I feel convicted.

I don’t know what the right thing is for my family right now, what the right thing is for Christianity and the Big-C Church. I don’t know the answers, but I know that walking away, wiping my hands of this hurtful, painful, messy mess we’ve created doesn’t do any good for those we have left hurting, alone, and craving for understanding, compassion, and the love our Savior spoke of so often, so perfectly. Leaving them to fight alone, from the outside, serves no one. Someone has to fight from the inside. But sometimes I’m just busy fighting for my own life, really freaking literally. Can’t we find a little balance? Isn’t there someone else in South Eastern Ohio—or anywhere in Ohio—who cares enough to say enough is enough?

Maybe we, my four person family unit, need to ditch evangelicalism as a whole. Maybe, like Evans, our family should try out the only Episcopal church in town; it has a lovely red door and maybe we’d be great at Catholic Light. Maybe we need to stay where we are and fight the racism, sexism, bigotry, hatred, and fear of LGBT within the United Methodist Church as a whole, and in our own community. Maybe we need to sit down with other like-minded Christians and discuss where we see our small, rural Ohio city in ten years when it comes to the love and acceptance of all, of all. Maybe we need to focus more on the love, less on the cynicism, and maybe, God-willing, we’ll all come out of this feeling something closer to God’s love than what’s happening right now—politically, Christian, humanitarian—all ways.

I almost feel something akin to hope after finishing Evans’ book. I just hope I can hold on to it long enough to see some seeds take root. Maybe there’s hope.*

Maybe There's Hope

 

* = Mulder may have had a point.

Categories
Faith

The Church in 2016

The Church in 2016 -stopdropandblog.com

I meant to go to church this morning. I laid out the boys’ clothes before bedtime last night. I figured on a number of outfits I might wear depending on temperature. I went to bed at a tolerable adult hour.

We didn’t make it.

I could blame it on the Level I Snow Emergency the Sheriff’s Department called at the hour we normally travel to the early service. I did take that into consideration, yes. However, we don’t travel the interstate—which was closed in the direction we needed to travel actually—and I figured the normal roads likely fared a bit better than the highway.

Also, our bed feels very comfortable on Sunday mornings. All mornings, really, but especially on Sundays.

We’ve chosen the early service as Our Service. It fits more with what we’re looking for in a church service. The boys find it more interesting. There’s no guilt factor for them that they don’t want to attend Junior Church on second and fourth Sundays; they just want to sit with us. There’s not guilt factor for us that I think Junior Church is Junk Church; I’d much rather my sons hear about the truth of the world as it is right now than focus on Moses or Noah. We’ve covered all that at home. We’re set on Bible stories. I need my sons to know how to keep faith when people are blowing each other up and flying Confederate flags and wishing punishment on women who made difficult choices.

And of course, there’s this year as it stands. I started writing about it on Facebook and decided to form it into this piece. Started on a piece from 2013 by Rachel Held Evans on Holy Week for Doubters, I commented that I’m not a doubter; my faith is quite strong.

But.

This year, this hatred that is swilling about and swallowing everything in its path… this year leaves me with more questions than answers about Christianity, about the big C Church, about humanity. Every time someone thumps a Bible from a rally “pulpit” or claims to be a Christian and then disparages entire races or groups of people, I want to pull my children in closer, pull them under my protective wings and whisper so softly in their ears, “This is not the love of Christ in action.” Then I want to yell from the top of the mountain, “THIS IS NOT THE LOVE OF CHRIST IN ACTION.”

I traveled during Holy Week for work. I returned home, jet-lagged, in time to pull a dress out of my closet, dress my sons in their new outfits, and shuffle, bleary eyed into church on Easter Sunday. Our family got a few “we’ve missed you” and “we thought you left” comments. We were likely judged as lukewarm Christians.

But don’t for a minute think our family hasn’t been discussing what Christianity in 2016 means, what the love of Christ looks like, what personal faith means in a time and place where church community no longer feels safe.

I see your Confederate flag sticker on your vehicle in the parking lot. It means my daughter is not welcome in the walls of the sanctuary. It means my sons aren’t safe either, because they will fight tooth and nail for their sister. I means none of us are safe if even one of us believes that some humans are “less than” dependent on the color of their skin, their location on the gender spectrum, their sexuality, their questioning, their doubts, their financial challenges or triumphs, any of it. If we believe that Jesus has overcome everything, we should all be able to sit in the same sanctuary, worship together, and not care one bit what “sins” so-and-so committed today, in the past, or will as they pull out of the parking lot in an hour.

We’re all human. If we can’t be human at Church, there’s no hope left. Plain and simple. If we cannot come as we are, if we cannot bring the entirety of who we are and say, “This is who I am,” then there’s no room for any of us. The love of Christ in action does not turn away those who are different, those who doubt, those who vote differently than we do, those who view government with skepticism or with wholehearted approval. There should be room for each and every one of us at His table.

And right now there’s not.

This morning, I’m listening to praise music, as I do on the Sundays we’re either traveling or just simply not able to make it to church for reasons ranging from exhaustion to “I just can’t do it this week.” I’ll play the music throughout the day, unless/until we can get the Pirates Home Opener on television. I’ll prompt the boys with questions as I do on Sundays about faith and humanity. We’ll figure out our answers as a family. We’ll try to make sense of the hatred raining down, flooding our communities and schools and churches right now, and come up with our answers for it as best we can. We’ll do it together, because together, we are our own safe community.

I believe that when Christians are in community with other Christians, there is beauty and growth for all involved. However, we’ve reached a disconnect between what community should look like and what it’s acting like right now. The safety is gone. Those of us who don’t agree 100% with what the Church is showing as a collective example of love in action are relegated to our homes on Sunday mornings. We’re silenced. We receive hate mail when we write posts that say, “My family no longer feels safe in church.” We’re told we’re going to hell for questioning. That’s not community. And while you can argue that Christianity in and of itself has never been “safe,” we shouldn’t feel threatened on Sunday mornings. Or Tuesday afternoons. Inside that church, we should feel nothing but the love of other Christians and Christ. The lack of safety is supposed to come from the outside, not inside the doors.

Whatever you believe or doubt or question or feel, know that you are not alone. The love of Christ looks like open arms to all, especially those of us hurting and questioning. I hope that those families like ours who are struggling in 2016 to make sense of all that is happening both inside and outside our collective Church are able to find a safe community, even if its only around the dinner table on a Sunday night.