I will never claim that I’ve worked through all my shit. Nope. Not gonna happen. But in the wake of the Orlando atrocity and the wave of hurt and pain and ridiculousness that I’ve seen on social media, it is becoming more clear to me than ever that we all have to do the hard work of challenging the frameworks, ideas, and worldviews in each of us that lead to oppression, cycles of violence, and perpetuated trauma. I don’t think I’ve done this perfectly or completely. I know that I have more to learn and unlearn. But I also feel like I’ve started down the path of listening to those that are different than I am and letting their narratives change me.
And let me be clear: I am not just writing this to my conservative Christian friends who I see reposting articles about how great Chick-fil-a is in light of the Orlando shooting without saying one word acknowledging how complicit their own theology has been in creating anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in this country. This is also to my queer friends who haven’t unlearned the repressive ways in which they prop up the military industrial complex. It’s to my environmentalist friends who haven’t listened to the ways their rhetoric sometimes diminishes the beauty of human life. It’s to my feminist friends who have never considered the way that their focus solely on the experiences of white women moving up the corporate ladder ignores the realities of life as a woman of color in our country.
What I’m saying is: we all have our own problematic shit that we have to unlearn. Each one of us. And each of us is responsible for taking charge of that process, embracing it, and digging in to the roots in our own lives that cause us to perpetuate violence and hate and cruelty to humans and animals and the environment.
Because I am a Christian, and that’s the language I speak best, I’m compelled in my own process of unlearning unnecessary and destructive patterns by the example of the one I call the Messiah. I know, you’re thinking, “wait, what? Jesus was perfect and without blemish and never thought ill of anyone and did all the right and good things.” Well…there’s this challenging passage in Mark 7 in which Jesus calls a Gentile woman a dog. A bitch. Tells her that all of the good news of the kingdom of God is not for her because of where she lived, because of which race and ethnic group she was born into. He dismisses her based on the racist presuppositions with which he had been raised.
And then something incredible happens. She challenges him. She performs this amazing act of rhetorical genius by taking the words that Jesus used and flipping them in such a way that he can’t help but see her humanity. He is confronted by his own foolishness and exclusivity. And he listens. He doesn’t run away from her in shame or attack her with defensive arguments. He listens. He sees. And he allows himself to be changed. (I love the way David Henson discusses this passage in his blog.)
WE HAVE GOT TO DO THE SAME THING.
I absolutely believe that we as humans must commit ourselves to truly listening to and learning from one another. We have to understand and recognize that there are ways in which each of us prop up destructive patterns and ideas in our minds and behaviors. This is not easy. I know that. But it is the most honest, brutal, necessary, important work that we can do in this world. When we acknowledge those dark systems of misogyny and homophobia and militarism and predatory capitalism and racism and religious fundamentalism that we have been taught by the dominant cultures around us, we can start to allow ourselves to see and hear what our neighbors are telling us.
We are called into allyship with one another. I think that being an ally is the next level of being a neighbor. Like Jesus’s story of the Good Samaritan (in which you see him challenging the racist structures of his day, after having learned from that Syrophoenician woman), where a lawyer was trying to figure out how to limit who he had to care about, Jesus is in the business of continuously expanding those boundaries – requiring us to ever be looking for greater ways to express love and neighborliness. Allyship is the next level, friends. I love this definition from the Anti-Oppression Network:
Allyship is: an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people.
So go learn. Use the hashtag #unlearnproblematicshit to discuss what you’re unlearning. (Thanks to a friend of a friend for inspiring this post by starting that hashtag.) Challenge yourself to listen. To not run away from uncomfortable conversations in which your privilege and dominance is being called into question.
I loved this video that’s being passed around on Facebook right now. We have got to listen to our enemies. To our friends. To our siblings. To our neighbors. Now go. Do it.
There are many words I’d use to describe 2015: exhausting, exhilarating, terrifying, empowering. But most of all, I’d call this year mine. More than any other year of my life, this is the year in which I’ve learned more about myself, been true to my own thoughts and needs, and said the things that needed to be said. I know, I know, that sounds terribly narcissistic and self-gratifying, but it has been a necessary correction to the years and years of denying the truth of what I knew was inside of me.
It all started in January by saying the words that I’d been thinking in my head and heart for years, but had never actually said out loud: “I think I’m done here. I think we need to get a divorce.” I had been dreading those words, but when I said them it was as if all of the weightiness of the truth that had been building in my body was released through my tongue and freed me from drowning in denial. Of course, that was just the beginning of a long process of walking down that separation road, communicating that with family and friends, crying over splitting up the dogs, and asking awkward questions about which spatula I should take with me. But there was never a moment when I regretted saying those words. Those words had created a new future, one in which I was free to explore the new me that I had started to come in contact with over the past few years, but hadn’t fully realized as I felt so stuck in a marriage that just didn’t fit right.
As I’m writing this, I’m realizing I could write for days upon days about this year. I probably shouldn’t do that to you. So, what follows are glimpses of each month of the crazy, wacky, explorational 2015.
February saw me move into my first ever home where it was just me (and the superbly cuddly Tucker). Even though I’d moved away from home at the age of 19, I’d never lived on my own. I’d always lived with roommates and in interesting experiments in communal living, and then with my husband. The night I moved into my new space, I kind of thought I might break down and cry. But as I laid down in my bed, I burst out laughing. The explosion of emotion that I was expecting was not expressed in deep sadness, but an outburst of uncontainable joy.
It was in March when I started full-time at a job that has continually exceeded my expectations. I had been working at First Congregational for 7 months, but in a part-time position, and in March I was finally able to spend my days focusing on ministry and community building, rather than making ends meet by cleaning houses. Working at FCC has been an exercise in rebuilding my trust with church and God. And it has been so rewarding.
April took me to Boston (adding a state to my list of traveled to places) for a training to prepare me to facilitate a curriculum called Our Whole Lives: Sexuality and Our Faith. This incredible comprehensive sex ed course has radically changed my life. Its core values of sexual health, responsibility, self-worth, and justice and inclusivity have helped me unpack the negative messaging around sexuality that had so informed my identity for so many years. I’m so grateful to be able to teach middle and high schoolers about healthy sexuality in a way that is sex-positive and LGBTQ-inclusive. It’s something I wish I had had while growing up.
And in May I turned 30. Whoa buddy. I spent the day surrounded by dear friends who have become family, both at work and at my local “Cheers” (aka The Wild Goose) and then I took off the next day on my first ever solo road trip. I drove into the mountains to a sweet little town called Salida. I spent the next couple of days exploring the art galleries and distilleries and restaurants and hot springs…all by myself. And I discovered that being alone is not as scary as I once imagined. It was liberating and lovely and full of life.
June allowed me the opportunity of leading 19 youth and 5 other adults to New Orleans (another new state!) for our youth group’s annual mission trip. After having traveled extensively through Asia in my early 20s doing relief, development, and missions work, I wasn’t too concerned about a domestic trip like this, but it turned into one of the hardest weeks of ministry of my life. We learned about systemic racism and poverty and gang violence and the challenges of inner city life through the incredible humans we came in contact with. And I was able to encourage and push my youth to deeper levels of compassion and empathy, which was a privilege and joy.
In July, the divorce was final. It was a moment of sadness and joy. My ex and I sat in court together that day and whispered and laughed and apologized. We fist-bumped as we left the courtroom and hugged as we said goodbye on the street. A few days before, I had gotten my first tattoo, a picture of a sailboat, to commemorate the occasion, and the words he had said to me the day I told him I wanted a divorce: “I don’t want to be an anchor to a ship that needs to sail.” I showed him the tattoo that day and shared with him my gratefulness for his understanding and grace throughout the whole process. I continue to be so grateful to him for the way we’ve been able to walk this path together even as we were separating and going our own ways.
August was a blur of awkward Tinder dates, my first musical theatre performance that debuted in the Springs and went on the road to the mountain town of Crested Butte, and my first trip home to Oregon post-divorce. August was…beautiful and weird and uncomfortable all at the same time. I’ll just leave it at that.
September saw me survive my first post-divorce wedding anniversary. My dear friend Ryan (who blogs over at Focus on the Beer) saved the day by having an extra ticket to the Telluride Blues & Brews Festival which serendipitously happened to be over the anniversary weekend. I drank amazing Colorado craft beer and jammed out to the likes of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and took in the beauty of that gorgeous Coloradan valley. It was just what I needed.
And October introduced me to Connecticut for the first time (I was expecting much more from the NE in the fall, but it did not deliver such awesomeness to me) for a work conference. It also introduced me to the interestingness of my first ever boyfriend other than my ex. That relationship has since ended, but it was such a pivotal point in my life and I learned a ton about myself and what I’m looking for in a partner.
November took me to Durango on a Thanksgiving weekend road trip with girlfriends. We hot springsed, mourned a mass shooting in our city, hiked, shopped, slept, and relaxed. We rescued dogs off of the highway and commiserated about life and boys. We ate a lot of mashed potatoes and drank whiskey and definitely, definitely sang a lot of Adele.
And that brings us to December. Sweet December with its lights and carols and snow and darkness. It’s been a month of reflection, of eating too much sugar, of drinking too much gin (I blame you Lee Spirits), of laughing too hard, of battling mice, of snuggling deep under the covers, and coming face to face with reality.
Through it all have been the constants: my friends who have become family, my baristas and bartenders who’ve become friends, my colleagues who’ve become confidants, my youth who’ve become my kids, my ex-husband who’s become a friend. For each of you and the way you’ve influenced and shaped me…thank you.
Here’s to the year of exploring…me. To growing into my identity and accepting myself and making my own way. And here’s to a new year of doing the same. 2016…bring it.
I have been wanting to write this follow-up blog for a few weeks now, to expound on one of the themes from a previous blog. While I discussed a number of things in that post, this topic was the one that got me the most negative feedback. And I should have known that that was coming my way! But I’m glad I’m writing this today.
I was delayed in writing this by my father-in-law’s death a couple of weeks ago. My husband and I are still a bit raw from that (and I may address that in a future blog), but I felt it necessary to get back to writing. If you read this, and feel the necessity to comment in a negative way, I’d just ask that you’d bear in mind our recent loss and realize you may get a not-as-grace-filled response as I might otherwise be capable of.
So. The subject. The LGBTQ community and the church. Here we go.
I went to my local PrideFEST yesterday. With my church. And it was awesome.
A little bit of background: coming from a conservative Evangelical family and faith tradition, my journey to becoming an ally has been a long one. Prior to going to college, my experiences with the queer community were limited. Yes, there were a few friends from high school who came out after we graduated, but then I moved to Colorado Springs and was stuck in a conservative bubble of ministry and church for years. My assumptions about gays were that they were sexual deviants who had been abused as children and were in need of radical healing. When I started at Colorado College, I was suddenly exposed to the largest community of queers that I’d ever been a part of and I was invited into their lives as a friend.
One of those friends was K, who was one of the smartest people I’d ever met. K was curious and excited about learning and friendly and generous and also happened to be queer. We took a number of religion classes together and we ended up both working on a project to host a conversation on campus about homosexuality and the church. At that time, I was still very confused about what I thought on the subject, but I was committed to my understanding that Jesus loved everybody, so I figured that had to include gay people. I just wasn’t sure what that meant. Whether they needed to change after getting saved or live celibate or what. K remembers asking me at that time whether I could ever endorse civil unions or same-sex marriage and I replied honestly that I didn’t know. I struggled with the biblical passages that condemned homosexuality and I didn’t know how to make sense of them in light of grace and acceptance and love of God that was expressed in Jesus.
Since then, my ideas on many issues have changed. I eventually came to the place where I wrote down this faith motto that has been my guide for the past couple of years:
If I am to err in interpreting the Bible, which I probably will since I’m a human being, I would rather intentionally err on the side of more inclusion, acceptance, and generosity. I really can’t imagine Jesus saying to me, “You were too kind and loving and you didn’t put your foot down enough,” but I could definitely see him saying, “You didn’t take care of those around you and you alienated those that I love.”
Because of this decision, I have come to the conclusion that it makes no sense to remove the queer community from Christian fellowship and ministry based on a handful of passages that are difficult to interpret. I feel highly unqualified to hash through those passages here, so here are some links for further research if you’re so inclined. Matthew Vines’ excellent explanation is here. Here’s a discussion on justification through Christ and not the law. There are plenty more good resources out there, so if you’d like more, please ask in the comments or just do some Google searching.
More than tackling the big clobber passages in the Bible, the thing that truly changed my mind on this subject was the example of Jesus to stand with the oppressed, the marginalized, those on the fringe and to challenge those who were doing the oppressing (which was primarily the religious institution of the day). If, as Francis Spufford in his book Unapologetic puts it, “[The Church is] a failing, but never quite failed attempt, by limited people, to perpetuate the generosity of God in the world,” then we must constantly be working to help bring in, welcome, accept, share bread and wine with those who might be “outsiders”. Those who have been pushed aside by society, by the powers that be, by “Rome”, by the religious institutions. For my father, that means serving and ministering to convicts who have been set aside by our society. For my friend Matthew, that means working tirelessly to create a home for single women and their children. For me, that means walking in a Pride parade, singing “This Little Light of Mine,” to a crowd that has been told that their lights can’t be added to the corporate light of the church.
This picture was taken yesterday at the parade and the man in orange’s reaction to our church’s show of support and love was indicative of the response we got all the way down the parade route. The joy on people’s faces was awe inspiring when they realized that the 50-75 people proceeding down the street with bikes covered in rainbow leis, kids out front on their decorated scooters, and a large rainbow balloon snake were from a local church. People joined in our singing. They yelled out “Amen!” They took photos and waved. They celebrated with us the mending of all things.
I recognize that the position that I’m taking now is not popular amongst my community. It’s not popular among my family to be honest. But it’s worth it. The negative comments and diatribes about my “heresy” are worth the joy of being a small part in sharing the generosity of God with the queer community around me. I had some of my gay friends write to me after my last blog and tell me they read it with tears in their eyes, so appreciative of my words of inclusion and acceptance. I see the relief in people’s eyes when they meet me and find out that I’m not “one of those” Christians. I hear my atheist friend K tell me that I must go sit with the kids of Inside/Out Youth Services (many of whom have been kicked out of their evangelical homes in town because they’re queer) and tell them that Jesus loves them.
I walked in Pride yesterday because I believe in hope. Because I believe that restoration is possible. Because I believe that grace covers a multitude of sins. And I’m not talking about the sin of being queer. I’m talking about the church’s sin of reverting back to the sexual purity laws of our spiritual parents and refusing to enter the big messy story of God’s love for all of creation.
And so, queer community – gay, lesbian, bi, trans, intersex, queer, asexual, questioning – forgive me. Forgive me for taking so long to figure out that it’s my responsibility and joy to love you and not judge you. Forgive me for not standing up for your political rights sooner. Forgive me for not believing the best of you. Forgive me for when I’ll get it wrong in the future. I want to say to you that I am yours and you are mine. Help me. I need to know you and your stories in order to better understand my own and the story of God in the world. Come. Eat and drink from the table of God. I will be there to serve you. I am proud of you for your courage in the face of prejudice. And I am proud to stand alongside you if you’ll have me.
And to my friend K who has challenged me in this process: thank you. Thank you for being a true friend. Thank you for showing me what it means to live with kindness and justice in this world. Thank you for answering my questions with honesty and patience. I love you dearly.
Ho. Ly. Buckets.
I was not expecting that last blog to go viral. I mean…maybe a few hundred would view it and it would create an interesting conversation on my Facebook page with some of my friends. But crap. Over 40 thousand people have read that last blog where I discussed some of the reasons I have decided to leave evangelicalism. Many who responded shared their own stories about their exits from evangelicalism and even the church as a whole. They were honest and kind and inquisitive and vulnerable. And many others asked really great clarification questions that I want to address here.
First, no, this isn’t my blog where I discuss LGBTQ equality and the Bible. That will come later. (UPDATE: I have finally written about this!) But I promise it will come. And honestly, full blogs are probably going to be necessary (maybe even multiple posts) to really clarify a lot of these issues.
Before we get there though, I thought that it might be helpful to describe my background a little more. I find that as we come to understand each other’s stories, it gives more shape and nuance and life to an avatar online that we might be tempted to just argue with. Anyway, I grew up a pastor’s kid in rural Eastern Oregon, in a non-denominational church that had theological ties to the Assemblies of God and Four Square denominations. My dad and his dad and aunts and uncles and everyone in my family basically were pastors and missionaries and evangelists in the Assemblies of God. I grew up learning about the Holy Spirit and the necessity for personal convictions and hospitality. After high school and an AA program at my local community college, I moved to Colorado Springs to join a large non-denominational missions organization. I traveled to Thailand right after the tsunami. I worked in orphanages in India. I taught English in China. I encountered a lot of things that I was not expecting, most surprisingly, my own inability to answer the questions of people I was working with, if I could even understand what those questions were in the first place! (No, I’m not talking about language barriers here. I’m talking about true cultural and religious and ideological barriers.) As a supposed missionary wanting to share the love of Jesus with the people around me, I struggled with knowing how to contextualize and communicate the gospel in ways that was helpful and meaningful in the places I was in.
I started asking different questions about the world. About faith. I interacted with people who shared their lives and experiences with me. I grew. Somewhere in the midst of all of that I started developing a deep love for the Middle East, Arabs, Muslims and seeing peace, reconciliation and justice come to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I decided to follow that love and passion into college (actually before I had even visited the region!) to study history/political science focused on the Middle East. I minored in religion and my journey of faith continued.
As I was going to school (at my highly secular college), I was also leading worship at a large non-denominational, evangelical church in the Springs. I enjoyed the friendships made there and thoroughly loved the band that I was able to work with. However, some other aspects of this church environment were less than great (another post necessary to tackle that bear of a topic). After five years there, I eventually ended up leaving on very poor terms with the church, in a state of woundedness and hurt. The effect that this had on my faith journey cannot be overlooked.
Whew. That was a lot of my autobiography. Onto some of the clarifications that need to be made after my last blog.
First, no, while you may have thought you ran upon the blog of a freaking genius prodigy, I do not know all the things. Shocking, right? With that embarrassing tidbit out of the way, we’ll all agree that I will say something that I don’t actually think or say something in a way that doesn’t quite express what I want or that I will have to leave something to smarter minds than mine to figure certain things out. That being said, I’m really invested in this conversation that we’ve started here and I’m committed to learning and sharing and journeying with whomever wants to.
While discussing the things brought up in my blog with my dad, he mentioned that it may have sounded like I thought all who read the Bible in more literal ways are ignorant or unintellectual. Clarification: no, that’s not what I think. I do believe that there is much to be learned about the Bible from academic scholarship both inside and out of the Christian spheres. However, I also think that literalist churches tend to discourage (maybe not intentionally or maliciously though) their members from academic reading and the asking of intelligent questions, hence my use of the word ignorant when discussing the overall feel of many of the evangelical churches that I’ve interacted with. That being said, I know MANY intelligent, thoughtful individuals who describe themselves as literalists, who approach the Bible with humility and honesty. I respect them very much. For those who have questions about the way that I am currently interpreting the Bible, this might be a helpful tool.
Many people mentioned the fact that evangelical does not equal anti-gay rights, complementarian, biblical literalist/fundamentalist, republican/NRA card holder. Sure. You all are correct. I was not as nuanced or specific with my words as I could/should have been. The National Association of Evangelicals describes the evangelical movement as being concerned with the “‘good news’ of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ” and then uses these four distinctions of evangelical belief:
- Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
- Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
- Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
- Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity
Those things being said, some would argue that there are ways to identify one’s self as a progressive evangelical, or to be evangelical and hold the beliefs I have. I would agree with them. There might be those ways. However, in the context that I find myself, in Colorado Springs, a center of the culture wars, the Mecca of evangelicalism, the term evangelical has become something that I don’t identify with. Language, identification, labels should be helpful, useful even. When I call myself an evangelical in this town it does not say what I want it to. It comes with baggage and connotations that I cannot fight with on a day-to-day basis. So, I think my context has a lot to do with my decision. There may come a day when I decide that evangelical means something useful to me again. Or maybe we’ll all move on to different language that describes the place we’re at in our faith journey. Who knows?
The overwhelming response from my “coming out” blog has been a positive expression of people relating with the things that I have written. This excites me. Let’s continue in this journey that so many have traveled before, exploring our faith, testing the limits, stretching out our tent pegs, seeing how we can, “with God, set a table for all who hunger and thirst.” This is the vision statement of the church in which I am currently finding freedom to explore. I think it states beautifully the hope of inclusion, welcome and hospitality that so many of us are looking for. Let’s start creating this space for others.
I guess it’s time to “come out”: I don’t identify as an Evangelical anymore.
That’s hard to write and put down in words, considering that I’ve grown up in the evangelical church and worked in evangelical ministries and churches for my entire adult life, but it’s something that I’ve been feeling and thinking for awhile now. I think it really crystallized during the whole World Vision debacle earlier this year, when thousands of Christians (primarily those who identify as evangelicals) dropped sponsorship of over 10,000 kids in poverty because they didn’t agree with a policy change that would’ve recognized the rights of Christian employees who were in gay marriages. I stayed away from blogging and engaging the issue on social media due to my penchant for getting in over my head in online debates and, honestly, because I wasn’t ready to come out as an ally of the LGBTQ community and marriage equality. I know that I’ll need to write a follow-up to this blog on my allied stance, but that’s not what this blog is about. (UPDATE: see more on my allied stance here.)
This blog is about how I’ve dedicated my life to following Jesus and I feel like Jesus has led me out of Evangelicalism. Eek. That brings up a lot of questions.
Let me state unequivocally that I still identify as a follower of Jesus, or, if you will, a Christian. I hope to frame my life and my will in light of the life of Jesus. However, there are certain decisions that I have come to about my faith in the past number of years that I feel remove me from the evangelical strain as it is currently being practiced in America. I understand that there have been statements and manifestos written, trying to untangle Evangelicalism from the political and cultural assumptions that have been created in the past decades, however, I feel that there are stereotypes and experiences of how modern evangelical is currently practiced that make me want to break my personal ties with the movement.
Some people might see my shifting faith perspective and identification as the product of a compromised moral compass or my secular, liberal education. And they might be right on the latter point a little bit. But I honestly believe that my shift out of conservative Evangelicalism is a result of my pursuit of truth as I follow the way of Jesus – to see the people around me, love them deeply, and work towards greater reconciliation and restoration of all things.
While I don’t have time in this blog to go as deep as I would like to on all the issues I have with modern evangelicalism, I would like to address a few of the biggies. These include an intense tie with the Republican party, a literal/fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible that ignores historical context, a view of women that I believe is misogynistic and repressive, and the earlier stated opposition to equal marriage rights.
First, I think that the evangelical church has been co-opted by Republicanism (and nationalism) to the point where I think Christian values have been supplanted by political conservatism and the church is no longer able to function in its prophetic calling in society. (To be fair, I feel that much of the church on the left has had the same thing happen with liberal politics.) This is most clearly seen to me in relation to patriotism, militarism, and harmful economic practices.
Second, I have long had trouble with a literal reading of the Bible that deliberately ignores the historical, sociological, and religious contexts in which the various Biblical texts were written. This reading leads to an ignorant church, unable to intellectually or thoughtfully come to terms with how to interpret the text in light of modern scholarship. (NOTE: my father pointed out that my use of the word ignorant may lead to some thinking that I think that biblical literalists are ignorant. This would not be true. I know there are many thoughtful, intelligent people who choose to read the Bible in more literalist ways.) As a religion minor in college, I found myself unable to deal with the questions lobbed at me by my secular friends in relation to biblical inconsistencies and started doing my own wrestling with how to read and interpret the Bible in light of the religious theories that I was learning. Unfortunately, this caused my faith to be called into question by my friends and my then church community, and was one of the big reasons for me leaving that life/work situation.
Third, as a leader and as a woman, I found evangelicalism’s overwhelming complementarian view of male/female relationships to be less than adequate. I firmly believe that women are equally loved by God, called into ministry, and able of contributing to societies and families as their male counterparts. The repression of women in the church is something I think that is baseless when looking at the life of Jesus and even when looking at the rest of the New Testament in its historical context. The way I was treated as a female leader in my previous churches was another large reason for my split with them.
Finally, the LGBTQ issue. This is a change that largely came during my time at Colorado College. Attending a secular liberal arts college afforded me the opportunity to be around a population where I was able to interact with more from the queer community than ever before. I know many of my right-wing friends will tell me that just because you have friends who are sinners doesn’t mean you have to justify their sin. Well sure. However, I came to understand that my friends were not gay because they chose it or because they had been molested or any of the other things that I had heard growing up. It was because they were gay. As much as I was straight and white and had blue eyes, my friends were gay. And I just can’t imagine being told that I couldn’t love Jesus and walk in his way or get married or get a job or rent an apartment just because I had blue eyes. So, yeah, that changed me.
A number of months ago I applied for a position at a large Christian ministry in the Springs (to remain nameless) and was asked to write my own personal statement of faith as a part of the application process. I found this to be an exciting and challenging project as it required me to really think through and process the past number of years and the journey of my faith ideas. I based my statement loosely on a short faith motto that I had written down years ago, in an attempt to give my faith some structure as I was wrestling through doubts and confusion. This motto has come to shape my journey.
If I am to err in interpreting the Bible, which I probably will since I’m a human being, I would rather intentionally err on the side of more inclusion, acceptance, and generosity. I really can’t imagine Jesus saying to me, “You were too kind and loving and you didn’t put your foot down enough,” but I could definitely see him saying, “You didn’t take care of those around you and you alienated those that I love.”
To be forthright, I think that if I hadn’t come to a deliberate decision like this, I may have walked away from my faith entirely, like many in my generation of evangelicalism have. I think that making the decision for inclusivity has helped me keep my love for Jesus and the church. From that decisive core, I wrote this more expanded statement of faith that, while it will probably shift and change a bit, I can see myself holding on to for a long time.
My personal statement of faith is fairly simple. I base it on the commands as simplified by Jesus – loving God with every part of my being and loving my neighbors as I love myself. As Jesus defined it in the story of the Good Samaritan, my neighbor is anyone in need, anyone who I find myself in proximity to, anyone who bears the image of the Creator – so essentially everyone. This love compels me to be proactive in justice, mercy, reconciliation, and restoration as these are the things that I see God doing in the person of Jesus.
My faith is dynamic and progressive. I believe that in being called to use my mind to love the Lord, I am called to continual progress in how I think about life and the world around me. My heart is called to be more and more compassionate towards my friends and enemies. My soul is called into great spiritual depth and intimacy with God. My body is called into greater wholeness and health so that I can effectively be an ambassador of reconciliation wherever I may be called.
My faith is communal. Because I believe in the mystery of the Trinity, I understand that at the core of the universe is a community of mutual submission and eternal love. This compels me to live life in community, caring for those around me as siblings in the faith, a part of the same body of Christ, without whom I cannot know the wholeness of God.
I do think that this statement of faith removed my chances of getting a job that I was highly qualified for, but that is what it is. I know that there is much more to be explored and discussed in the coming weeks and months about my faith journey and what it means for the way I live my life now. (This is my commitment to blogging on a more consistent basis, at least once every two weeks.) It is something that I am still wrestling with, especially what it means for the kind of church community that I want to be a part of in the future. But this I know for sure: sometimes the places that Jesus leads you to are exactly the opposite of what you expected or imagined, and sometimes those places find you identifying in new and different ways. All we can do is continue to say, “Where you lead us, we will follow.”
Where is Jesus leading you? Is it anything like you expected it to be? If not, how are you dealing with the change and the transition from what is known to what isn’t?
Hat tips to Jars of Clay for this song that inspired me to write this blog this week, and to Rachel Held Evans for saying a lot of what I want to say all the time, but especially in this blog. (UPDATE: many people asked very good questions after this blog. Read here for some clarifications.)
So, it’s my birthday. Most years this produces constant refreshing of Facebook to see who’s wished me a happy birthday and joyous celebrations. Last year on this day I graduated college and had a monster party and laughed.
Today I woke up depressed.
That’s a hard word for me to write down. It’s a hard reality to admit. It’s difficult to be vulnerable with that piece of information. It’s even more difficult to admit that this is not a passing phase, but a constant struggle over the past months.
This last year of life (and actually the year before it as well) has been the hardest. It has included the loss of friends (both through my own choice for my health and through being cut off and through the natural transitions of life), the death of my grandfather, the serious illness of my father-in-law, the loss of a job (much bigger story there), the worst period of financial struggle that Gil and I have ever known, and a deep spiritual crisis that has left me questioning all that I once held true.
I wish that I had the emotional strength today to celebrate with joy the loveliness of life despite the struggles it includes. Unfortunately I feel that I have depleted the reservoirs. Fear seems to abound. Fear that life will never get better. That I will never again find confidence to be myself. That faith and God and light will remain dark.
Rational, thinking, typical Candace sees all of this as shit. She says to get it together, buck up, be strong, pull yourself out of this funk. I kind of hate that Candace right now. She’s mean and cruel and forces a facade of happiness and strength on my face when all I really want to do is lay in bed. She tells me that writing this is a pathetic plea for assurances and sympathy from the world.
I don’t know how to silence her.
Maybe writing this blog, coming clean with myself and the world about my reality is a step towards silencing her. Towards accepting the place that I’m in and the place that I’m no longer in.
I think that’s been the hardest part of this last year. The lack of stability I feel in my soul caused by no longer being in the places that I used to be. For so long, my life was structured around church and school and ministry. And community. There was consistency and pattern, even if those patterns were unhealthy and manipulative. Structure and hierarchy and standards even if they were abusive and overwhelming. Having released myself from those things, I was hoping for freedom, for life, for healing. I’m finding that those things are more difficult to find and create than I expected. And that realization is depressing.
Most of my blogs follow a consistent pattern. Maybe one I’ve forced on myself without knowing it. I question and process and think on the page and then find resolution, hope, resolve.
I’m not there today.
I was recently asked by an acquaintance if I deliberately seek out conflict. This question came in the context of me sharing about my passion for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how I like to start conversations online (and in person) that tend to get a little heated. (Side note: during an interview once I may have said something to the effect of “I just fell in love with the conflict…well, wait, I mean, I fell in love with these people who are involved in a conflict and I want to help…well, crap.”) Anyway, back to the question at hand. I paused for a moment and my response surprised even me with its profundity. I told her that I don’t love conflict, but that I recognize the transformative power of it. There’s this amazing potential in seasons of conflict to bring about incredible change and transformation. The status quo is unable to be sustained and the parties involved in the debate, argument, frustration, cannot remain the same.
Now, obviously, conflict has incredible potential to create much damage, pain, and suffering. That’s undeniable. But, I don’t think that pain is necessary. I have a deep belief in the idea that conflict, if it is well facilitated and mediated and stewarded, can create lasting positive transformation, both in individuals and large communities. Look at the Civil Rights Movement for example. The situation prior to the movement was unsustainable for the country. But we all know that change would have been slow-coming if not for the strong actions of the influential leaders of that day. However, at that time, those leaders were called troublemakers and instigators. Their actions were seen as inflammatory and unnecessarily confrontational. They created conflict. Conflict was necessary to bring about change. But what made all the difference for their cause was the manner in which their conflict was undertaken. MLK and others made conscious decisions to steward and mediate the conflict with the understanding that they were not fighting against a community or their fellow human beings, but against ideas and prejudices. The conflict was facilitated in a way that was able to bring about lasting change for two communities of people, instead of creating a win-lose scenario.
I see so many instances where conflict is seen as an inherently negative idea. In the conservative church environment that I come from, conflict over politics or disagreements over biblical interpretation are seen as a reason for leaving a community or for labeling someone a heretic. Facebook arguments about gun control or the death penalty end with digital shouting matches and name-calling. Conflicts in Congress are understood as a reason to move further and further away from the center, polarizing our nation.
What if there was a simple perspective shift that could dramatically change how we deal with conflict? What if we allowed ourselves to see conflict as a radical opportunity for transformation for an entire community? What if we decided to do a hell of a good job training our kids in conflict management and resolution? What if we decided to teach our leaders to do the same? What if we understood conflict as the way in which the status quo is done away with, in which we learn to listen to our neighbors and become the kind of society that we dream of being?
What if conflict wasn’t a bad word?