Where I am now is that I’ve boiled down my issue with my faith not to Jesus Himself, but to the greater issues within The Church. And the biggest problem I have is this: who are we to say who is “in” and who is “out”? When anyone starts a sentence with, “Well you know you can’t be a Christian and also be (fill in the blank),” I honestly just stop listening, because I don’t believe that Jesus left us any room to say who can be a Christian and who can’t. Period. This kind of thinking reminds of the time in middle school when we kicked a girl out of our little clique “just because”; are we all just a bunch of middle schoolers inside, lacking the capacity for empathy or grace or compassion? This exclusive type of behavior to me is abhorrent, and not at all Christlike.
For now, we’ve found a church that seems open and inclusive of all people, but it’s still a little too early to tell, and I’m wary, only because it’s so new. I still have so many questions for God, and about Him. This past school year, I spent every Thursday morning with an amazing group of women as we studied our way through part of the Old Testament, from Joshua all the way to King Solomon (I know, not exactly the place you’d send a doubting believer to learn about God’s grace, but there I was anyway). My questions continued: why all the genocide? What about the innocent women and children who had no say in their very patriarchal cultures? What about the wrath of God and His punishment of people over and over and over? The flippant answer of “well they messed up” did not make it all of a sudden better for me. Even though lots of these questions weren’t answered, the best part of our study was that we began to see that even in the midst of Old Testament craziness, there was great love, great grace, evidence of God’s plan, threads that ran through each story that pointed directly to Jesus.
As you can imagine, none of this questioning and doubt and struggle feels good. To be honest, I’m still here a little bit. There are still moments that catch me off-guard and news stories that make me cringe and Facebook memes that make me angry and ashamed to be part of The Church. I still go through periods where I sometimes think: Is God even real? Are we just some kind of cosmic accident?
But then I remember things I cannot explain, like how a good worship song can bring me to tears and give me goosebumps every time, how sometimes I have a writing day where everything comes out just perfectly, how sometimes in an important conversation, the words I didn’t know I had just come to me, flow out of me. How when a rainstorm is over and the sun comes back out, there’s this smell of newness, of refreshment, of starting again. How my five year old repeatedly picks the story of Jairus’ daughter and the old sick woman to read in her Jesus Storybook Bible (Mark 5:21-43, my all-time favorite) and I’m reminded again and again of the goodness of Jesus, His compassion, His care.
And also, I’ve learned so much.
I’ve learned that just like parents and teachers have expectations and hopes for their kids, so does God for us. I’ve come to believe that the expectations He has for us aren’t for His own good, but for ours. When we tell our kids that we know they can ride a bike, score a goal in soccer, learn a song on the piano, write a story, it’s easier for them to strive towards that goal when they know someone believes in them and loves them. We do this because we love our kids and want what’s best for them, not because we need a reason to love them. So does God; in His love for us, He wants the best for us.
I’ve learned that when no one has expectations of you, it’s much harder to think you’re capable of anything. I’ve seen kids give up because it seems like all the adults gave up on them, too. I’ve seen people with tremendous potential never even touch a fraction of it because nobody cheered for them or told them they could. God does this for us, gives us hope and the strength enough to keep trying. And His only expectations of us? Love Him and love people. That’s it.
I’ve learned as a mom that children really crave boundaries, that they feel safe when they know where the line is. And when you look at the things considered sin, boundaries that aren’t to be crossed, they really consist of actions that hurt ourselves or hurt people around us, directly in violation to Jesus’ command to love others as we love ourselves. Just like parents make rules for their children’s protection and their good, so does God for us; He works for our good. He doesn’t want us to remain angry forever at someone who wronged us because anger and bitterness hurt our very souls. He doesn’t want us to steal or murder because those things harm another of His precious children.
I’ve learned that God isn’t about keeping people out of heaven, but instead I believe He’s about helping us discover heaven here, now, with His people on earth. He’s about helping us be whole people–wholly known, wholly seen, wholly loved.
I’ve learned that my privilege, racial and economical, has caused me to experience God and His blessings differently than those who live without that privilege. I’ve learned that the stories of the marginalized are as important as mine, that we need to listen to them, that we need to believe them when they share their pain.
I’ve learned that God created each one of us uniquely, with talents and desires and dreams that are our own and no one else’s. I’ve come to believe that, like our skin color and personality, sexual identity and orientation are part of our created makeup, and that to deny someone’s right to fully be the person they were made to be is cruel and inhumane. I’ve learned that when the majority tries to limit the rights of minority groups, it makes it somehow “okay” to treat them as less than, without kindness, without inclusion. And I believe this goes against Christ’s teaching.
I’ve learned that when reading scripture, it’s vitally important to understand the culture and the context in which it was written. Barbara Brown Taylor writes in Leaving Church, “That God should use such blemished creatures to communicate God’s reality so well makes the Bible its own kind of miracle, but I hope never to put the book ahead of the people whom the book calls me to love and serve.” I share her hope.
I’ve learned that no one, absolutely no one, is “too” anything for God. And no one, absolutely no one, should be turned away from our churches and communities. Jesus not only hung out with the lowest of the low in His time and place, but He sought them out purposefully; I don’t know when we lost sight of the significance of this.
I’ve learned that while The Church as a whole has a lot of problems, there are wonderful people inside the church, across all denominations, doing their best to show the love of Christ to everyone that enters their doors. And I’ve learned that just because people belong to a certain denomination, their chosen denomination does not determine their identity.
I’m constantly reminded that God is here. He loves me, and I can find my identity in Him as one of His beloved. I’m reminded that hurt people hurt people and that the way to stop that cycle of pain is first to prevent it from happening in our own homes and our own circles of influence. I’m reminded that this time is just a small blip in history, and that even though we have so far to go, we have come so far as well. I’m reminded that people are mostly good, that the ones who are the loudest are often in the most pain and that they are what makes the news more exciting, the next big story. I’m reminded of all that I have to be thankful for, that even on hard days I wouldn’t trade my life for a second.
Here is what I believe to be unequivocally true: Jesus loves the refugees and wants them to find safety and shelter. Jesus loves survivors of sexual assault and wants them to find peace and security. Jesus loves minorities and gay and transgendered people and wants them to find a sense of belonging. Jesus loves the poor and the prisoners and the pregnant teenager and the heroin addict and wants them to find hope in a brighter future. Jesus loves the loudmouths and the judgeypants and wants them to love like He does. Jesus loves me and He loves you. He doesn’t love us ONLY IF we change, He loves us as is, because love with an agenda isn’t real love.
He told the woman at the well to go and sin no more, not SO THAT He could love her, but BECAUSE He already did.
He’s able to because He IS love. That these truths were ever questions points directly to our human failing alone, not God’s. His was always a perfect plan from the beginning. So I’ll move forward with my purpose in mind: to love Him, to love others. I’ll continue to read scripture and interpret it through the lens of His grace and His love, and do my best to view every single person as His child. I’ll fail daily, but He’ll be there cheering me on.
I’ve had Hillsong’s “New Wine” on repeat for a few months now, like a sort of anthem, theme song, mantra. The music is beautiful, but the words speak right to my heart and have become my prayer:
In the crushing
In the pressing
You are making
In the soil, I
You are breaking
May He make new wine out of us all as we, like Peter writes: “…make every effort to add to [y]our faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love” (2 Peter 1:4-7). I believe we were meant to keep asking, keep seeking, keep striving, keep adding to our faith and to our knowledge, for that is how we become whole people, whole like He made us to be.
I went through a period where I felt like my story wasn’t a good enough or convincing enough story of God’s grace. I grew up in the faith and mostly stayed in it. I have not battled addiction or suffered abuse. I had a great childhood, amazing parents. But my story matters. And yours does, too, whatever it may be. I hope you can find it and really feel it and share it. Because you never know who needs to hear it.
My Book/Podcast List
Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor
The Most Beautiful Thing I’ve Seen by Lisa Gungor
Unclobber: Rethinking our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality by Colby Martin
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows by James Bryan Smith
Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Blue Babies Pink podcast- B.T. Harman (formerly known as Brett Trapp)- for the record, get out the tissues when he explains towards the end what “Blue Babies Pink” means- I was a sobbing mess.
Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love podcast, specifically these episodes:
SuperSoul Conversations with Richard Rohr (this one is truly incredible)
And this blog post, by Sarah Bessey, telling her story of becoming affirming of the LGBT population
Thank you so much for hanging around this long. I’d love to hear your own stories when you’re ready to share them. I will always and forever believe that there is unlimited room at the table for conversations like these and unlimited room in our churches for all kinds of people.