I think it's time that I confess something, and it may come as a surprise to some of you. I haven't been to church in a really, really long time. And while there are some things that my heart continues to long for; worshipping and praising God with other people, seeing children grasp that they are loved by the Creator of this earth, and building relationships with fellow believers, there are also experiences that I've had with churches I've attended that have left me feeling even more broken and ashamed and confused than ever before. I'd like the share those stories, but first I want to tell you what I believe:
- I believe that God knew me and my inner most thoughts before I was a thought in my parents' mind. That my life, my choices, my celebrations and my sorrows are important and cherished by Him.
- I believe that God knows, loves and cherishes e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e, no matter what. This isn't a get out of jail free card, but there are no exclusions or limits to God's pursuit of us.
- I believe that God felt pain and suffering when He allowed Jesus to be crucified, just as any father would. I believe that Jesus experienced the emptiness of separation from God in hell, and that he proved that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.
- I believe that God created the Earth, but I am not clear about when, or how long it took. I believe that He is the designer of evolution and science and therefore, they can all work together.
- I believe that God uses people, whether that be family, friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands, wives, partners, children to show us His love in a way that we see and feel. I don't believe that we have the right to condemn how that love is given or received.
- I believe that when we are born, we are imperfect, but never wretched or filled with sin. I believe that pounding those thoughts into a child's heart and mind is more detrimental and damaging than people realize. It is possible to be good without believing in God (although, you're missing out some pretty overwhelming love).
- I believe that God gave us free will so that we could make mistakes, and take ownership of learning from and taking value from those experiences. I also think that God gave us free will so that we can think for ourselves and wrestle with our faith and our doubt.
- I believe in God's constant forgiveness, when we ask for it. How do we learn from our mistakes, if we don't own them, apologize and make changes?
- I believe in the power of prayer and the impact of maintaining my relationship with God through both reaching out and being still to listen.
- I believe that God hates religion. I think that rules and regulations become the very idol that He asks us to denounce, because they get in the way of the real relationship that He is waiting to have with us.
- I do not believe that God gave me Diabetes. God does not inflict suffering and pain on us. We are broken people, and that can sometimes manifest physically. In the same vein, our brokenness can sometimes result in terrible things happening to innocent people. He is there, feeling our pain with us, through it all. He is there through our anger and confusion and fear, and He is there when we find hope.
So if I believe all of this, why am I not going to church? I want to point back to Rachel Held Evan's article where she says,
"Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.
I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt."
I'll have what she's having...
A few months ago, I went to a church service with a friend. This particular church is filled with guys and girls my age and their 34,589,903 children. I was looking forward to reconnecting with people I hadn't seen in a while and worshipping along with their renown praise band. Everything was great, until the pastor got up to speak, and I realized the topic on the table was one I'd heard about a thousand times before. Sexual immorality. Over and over again he told this congregation-held-captive that premarital sex was shameful. That homosexuality was disgusting. That there was no room for gay people in church, but there were people down front who can pray it away for you. By the end, I was sweating, my heart pounding, hoping that there wasn't anyone in the room who was gay or who was questioning if they were gay, just so they didn't have to feel this awful and pointed hatred. I wanted to ask that pastor one very simple question. "Who do you think you are?"
Who are we, that we feel we have the authority to pass that kind of condemnation on fellow human beings? We spend so much time pointing out each others' faults with white knuckles, that we completely miss the whole point: Love. Grace. More Love. How's that plank feeling?
I visited a church with a friend and her family. The pastor stood in front of his congregation and said, "I don't understand why anyone would need to see a counselor if they have Jesus." So what happens, if there is a person in that room who is dealing with a serious chemical imbalance, or suicidal thoughts. What happens if that person is trying to work on these things with a therapist, and that relationship is the only thing that's keeping him from making it all go away? What happens if that person has never been to church before and now also feels bad about seeing his therapist, but he has no idea who Jesus is? How do you think this is going to play out?
When I first got married, I remember having a really hard time transitioning from the constant negativity around anything sexual that I heard growing up in my youth group, to all of the sudden being free as a bird. As a young, high school girl, it felt as though our one and only goal was to be "the bride who wore white." Needless to say, this very drastic change in mentality because of a 20 minute ceremony, a signed piece of paper and a party was jarring. I don't want to get into anything too specific here, but I often question whether premarital sex is really as black and white as some make it out to be. In some gray circumstances, can waiting actually be more damaging to the relationship? What is the Bible's definition of marriage? What did Adam and Eve's wedding look like? Who signed their marriage certificate?
I guess the point of this post is that I really want to feel safe going to church. I want my friends who might not believe the same things I do to feel safe going to my church with me. I want to find out how natural history and God's omniscience and sovereignty coincide. I want to learn and grow and not feel like I'm part of some cheesy infomercial. If I wanted to see a concert, I would buy a ticket. If I wanted to cry my eyes out, I would watch Marley and Me. If I wanted to feel really bad about myself and the world around me, I would stop taking my medication. Enough is enough.
Rachel says this better than I ever could,
"We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there."
I haven't lost Jesus. My faith flame has not burned out. I have hope that I'll find a place where my soul can rest. Until then...