Dear Church (An Afterword)

I never liked debating. I can surely talk a big talk in seclusion, but my heart quakes and my fingers quiver as I punch keys to form the syllables of my convictions in the presence of others. My stomach turns somersaults and I lose sleep. At times, I find writing those things out in the public eye to be very unforgiving. On a grand scale, I don't have a lot of opinions, and I like it better that way because I get to focus on what really matters to me. I'm transforming, learning, growing in the gritty everyday. Its happening all the time. It really is mind boggling to think that people on five continents stopped by yesterday to see what I had to say about faith and the Church, and to those of you who emailed me or left encouraging notes, I thank you. In the past, I have been called a bad Christian for standing up for what I believe: that people are people, deeply afraid and searching desperately for a love withheld from them by so many. We are flesh and blood, hunting in the dark for meaning and purpose and a safe place to rest our hearts. And sometimes, we lose our way. Sometimes, we walk in aimless circles wondering what went wrong. And while some simply resign to stay lost, the overwhelming majority are crying to be found. I know because I have been there. Perhaps you're in that boat with me?

I don't claim to have everything figured out. I used to, but then I heard someone say that if you have all the answers, you've been asking boring questions, so I've been trying to start from scratch lately. I also know that it isn't enough to simply name the problem. In the gracious company of others, I have attempted to examine that which is broken. I have grieved for it, experienced everything from denial to raging anger to disbelief. And I have tried to accept it, but that's a day to day decision I'm not always good at making for myself, because hope is a four letter word and I swear too much as it is. Honestly, these issues that plague us are much greater than me. Its going to take all of our effort, all of our grace and if you're anything like me, sometimes you run out of grace quickly. But His grace can always reach us, even at the end of our rope.

So I try to be part of the solution by living the truest thing I know, which is love. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love lends of its sweat and blood before shouting opinions. Love turns over the tables of those dealing lies to the hurting. Love goes deep enough to understand that we are all in this boat, trying to do the best we can, and that this cycle of life can be so ugly.

Life is too short, too fragile to not tell the truth. We have divorced ourselves from that notion, maybe because we believe that the truth needs our protection. Perhaps we believe that if the Truth gets out, there would be no way to ignore it. Grace is uncomfortable, because it plucks us out of our complacency. Grace finds us in our grave clothes and begs the question "what if there's more?"

I don't know about you, but I want more: more than a list of rules to follow, more than the magnifying glass hovering over, waiting to find the cracks. I want to share myself on my own time, and allow others the freedom to do the same. Because two are better than one and three are better than two, and this is how we heal: person to person.

Update : I am so thankful for the encouragement and constructive conversation that has taken place over the past few days as a result of these posts. I stand by everything that I have said, and don't regret telling the truth as I and many others perceive it in this instance. This post is not a retraction of anything, not by a long shot. That being said, this has been something of a whirlwind; there is still a lot to process, and I think the best way for me to do that is to go dark for a few days. Aside from the weekly FMF post, I will not be engaging in social networking in the very near future. You may still reach me by email, and I will do my very best to respond in a timely manner.

Dear Church, I'm Still Here.

I really like Rachel Held Evans, and anything related to the culture of a young and growing church, so when a Christian friend in Generation X asked that I comment on Rachel's CNN article on why millennials are leaving the church, I was more than happy to share my thoughts. For the majority of young people, our moral compasses are calibrated by the culture around us without question. For me, personally, the culture around me was The Bible Belt. At twenty-two years old, I've never known any different. I have attended church my entire life, and prayed to receive Christ into my heart at a young age. I grew up to attend an evangelical college, where I minored in biblical and theological studies. Needless to say, my faith has always been an important part of my life.

I wasn't the girl who cursed or got in fights at school. I never drank or went to parties, and I didn't have sex. I barely even listened to popular music. I went to youth group and participated in the prayer circle and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. My identity throughout school was the good Christian girl. But I also battled depression, and felt like I had nowhere to turn.

My parents fought at length throughout my teen years before deciding to separate during my sophomore year of high school. It was during this period that my depression reared its ugly head. When I attempted to talk about it, my feelings were shrugged off, even by my Christian friends. There was a deep seeded shame that I, as a Christian, felt deprived of joy and abundant life. Church didn't feel like a very safe place, and the majority of that time was spent simply going through the motions.

Now, thankfully, depression isn't the monster in my life that it once was. But I know that the slope is slippery. There was a time in college that I deeply questioned my worth, and even battled self-injury. I don't know if I would be where I am tonight had it not been for the love and support of patient friends. If you want to read more about that, click here.

In college, I met a man named Jake.* He was incredibly nice, attractive, and popular. He played basketball, and participated in a variety of activities. I was and still am very fond of him. He was a senior when I was a freshman, and after he graduated, Jake posted a note on Facebook admitting his attraction to the same gender. Later, a group of students extended the opportunity to the student body to anonymously discuss our secrets via a blog. Many of the secrets had to do with homosexuality.  It occurs to me that many Christians view gay people as threatening, even defective. My heart breaks, thinking of how I watched Jake and an untold number of others struggle to feel safe or welcome in the greater evangelical church.

I also met a woman named Katherine* who disclosed in a counseling class that she had gotten an abortion when she became pregnant as a teenager. I was shocked to receive this information, and she admitted that she didn't discuss it on a regular basis (for obvious reasons). Nothing in me can fathom the fear a woman experiences that drives her to scrape out her occupied womb. Fear that she will be abandoned if those around her find out what she's done; fear that life as she knows it will be over should she go through with bringing this life into the world.

Then there was Joyce, who repeatedly posted on Facebook that democrats were idiotic sheep, and that all Muslims rape their babies and hate Christians and seek only to kill. And Kyle,* who says he loves Jesus, and that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot, and will be called out.  And Dan,* who told his daughter that her testimony and their family name were tarnished because of her decision to get a belly-button ring. The list could go on forever.

The conservative church brims with judgment, often with blatant disregard for the hearts behind the statistics. Until these issues become lonely and scared flesh and blood, I fear that we will never learn to exhibit the love and sensitivity required of those who represent Christ.

Gandhi is quoted as saying "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Those in Gen X question why young people are leaving the church. To borrow Rachel's words, it is because we don't find Jesus there. It has nothing to do with skinny jeans or coffee or high technology, or whether there is a drummer in the band or the congregation sings from a hymnal.

There has to be something more. There has to be substance. Because simply not swearing or drinking alcohol or getting pregnant in high school because I was told that they were wrong things never led me to a better understanding of who Christ is. What has? Being loved, and reminded of it often, and experiencing the freedom and safety within the Body to ask questions, wrestle with and heal from my own issues, and become who I was created to be. Don't read me wrong: I'm not trying to downplay sin, and I don't believe Rachel is either. Scripture states very plainly that the consequence of sin is death. We're good at preaching that. What we're not so good at, though, is proclaiming life, and making Church a safe place for sinners.

Now that I'm older, and have gleaned some experience and understanding, I'm working to make a change. Because I believe in the Bride of Christ. I love her dearly, despite her faults. And I desperately want for her to resemble Jesus by drawing in those who are hurting and confused and searching for hope and truth.

*Names have been changed.

The spring of the forest fire.

Oh, how quickly a forest is destroyed with only a single spark. Scripture says that only ashes remain when a rumor is ignited. I have been burned alive, left in smolders by those who thrive on spreading the blaze. Sabrina Ward Harrison once mused that she was afraid that others would find out who she was before she did, and that she would be the last to know. This used to be me, too. I have spent my twenty-two years wrestling. But I finally feel like I know who I am. Once, I felt as though I lacked something to fight for, but today, I know what I am protecting. Ever more importantly, I know whose I am, and who is protecting me.

One of my greatest ambitions is to lead a quiet life, unplagued by the hustle, bustle, and emergency that is screamed to me from every angle. To be in the world and not of it. I have craved strength and dignity, the ability to laugh at the days to come. This is truly the desire of my heart.

I have been hurt countless times by the sword words and judgment of others. I’ve repeated their darkness over and over to myself, but I’m done with that now. I must also confess that I, too, am prone to these judgmental tendencies, and yet through grace alone, I have been proven wrong about many things and people.

I never wanted to punish anyone… nearly as much as I do not want to be punished.

But sometimes, inevitably, the flint messes in our lives rub each other the wrong way. When a fire erupts, the soil can respond one of two ways: sometimes, the soil can benefit, but under other circumstances, the flames could cause detrimental erosion.

And what of grace? Can it really reach down to where we are when we’re at the end of our rope?

Could a garden come up from this ground at all? 

Depending on my heart’s response, this is not the end of the story. I choose the good. I choose right now to be better. The nutrients in the soil increase when there is a fire. The flames may destroy, but they leave quiet room for restoration. What death is experienced in the heat is miraculously contributing to the creation of something new.

Out of chaos, life is being found. 

Grace prevails every time. I am left with no room for doubt.

Yes, I know who I am. My identity is no longer found in what man might say about me. I have been redefined. Love really is amazing, and I am fighting to the death to protect it. In his book “The Cost of Discipleship,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer stated that “by judging others, we blind ourselves to our evil and to the grace that others are entitled to as we are.”

May I speak grace as the gentle answer, so as to turn away wrath. What man has meant for harm, God has redeemed in order to accomplish His will.