This is part of my apparent on-going posts on church: If you feel like quitting church, If you've quit church, and When you need bread and the church says no. There's no need to go read all of those, that's just my forewarning of where I'm going, and some back-reading if you're interested.
This week, after the This Is Us finale (what in the world was that?), my husband and I caught the end of a live streamed Q&A hosted by a couple of our denomination's leaders in America. It was a way to connect young people's concerns with responses from church leadership--I think? Whatever the intent, it was a good opportunity for "the church" to address important and timely topics that aren't always brought up or welcome in typical religious settings, and I commend the effort.
The few concerns and questions that we heard from the audience and the careful answers in response, I just felt more of what I usually feel in these types of set-ups and discussions: more disconnected and like I don't belong.
This disconnect really is nothing new for me. I first shared about this tension I felt with church 4 years ago. I can't even believe it's been that long, because I would have thought back then, that it all would have been resolved by now. Or at least starting to? Yet, here I still am, waiting in the tension.
Scenarios like this live stream and hearing views that differ from mine from church leadership just reminds me of the tension and the void I've felt for a long time now, and sort of stirs me to questioning it all again.
So that's where I sat at the end of the live stream earlier this week. Bible, pen, and journal in my lap, praying about that tension and void that stands in the place of "church" for me right now. It leads me to questions that I don't even want to type because they're such a downer, like: Do I belong anywhere?
I let that question be for a moment, and realized perhaps it's fine or maybe better if I don't obsess about belonging. The belonging as I tend to think of it in terms of church and humanity and seeking approval from anything or anyone but Jesus, it's an ongoing struggle for me. "The desire for others' love [and acceptance or approval] can become a substitute savior." (Love Idol, affiliate links used*)
This world is not my home, so feeling like I'm wandering or a stranger or don't belong among the man-made is maybe actually a good thing.
I find myself wondering if it was simpler when Jesus was alive with John baptizing on mere admittance of belief and Jesus preaching about love being the fulfillment of the law and people simply being Jesus-followers because they literally followed Him around. None of this getting-approval or acceptance through membership from a local church.
Church leadership was constantly at odds with Jesus and everything He did. He kept showing up and teaching at the synagogue. He also spent a lot of His time on mountainsides and travelling between towns and in homes, meeting people where they were. And the holy men did not like it.
One of our denomination's founders wrote an insightful book on Jesus' life called The Desire of Ages. She notes this tension between Jesus and the church leaders often, and notes each time how it will continue. We'll continue to struggle with this tension between Jesus' radical love, grace, and truth beyond our understanding, and the rules and burdens based on tradition that righteous men would rather us be tied to.
She writes, "When the Reformers preached the Word of God, they had no thought of separating themselves from the established church; but the religious leaders would not tolerate the light, and those that bore it were forced to seek another class, who were longing for the truth. ... Often those who follow in the steps of the Reformers are forced to turn away from the churches they love, in order to declare the plain teaching of the Word of God."
Yet, many people in my denomination (perhaps any denomination?) would argue that we are the ones with the plain teaching of the Word of God. We are the ones with the true light following in the steps of the Reformers. I have a hard time accepting that when the established church is historically what needs the love and light of Jesus.
Jesus' experiences give me a bit of peace in my struggle, because Jesus gets it. He came to save individuals, and there were religious men that tried to interfere with that personal salvation because they didn't like their power being taken away. While I'm not exactly trying to take anyone's power away, by connecting with Jesus while questioning organized church, I kind of am.
Put another way, "this is what's most annoying and beautiful about the windy Spirit and why we so often miss it. It has this habit of showing up in all the wrong places and among all the wrong people, defying our categories and refusing to take direction. ...God is present both inside and outside the traditional church, working all sorts of everyday miracles to inspire and change us if only we pay attention." (Searching for Sunday)
I'm still left questioning--where, what, why, how, who? Where should we "go to church" and spend our time worshiping God and investing in community? What do we go to church for and what do we have to offer? Why is it what it is and is what it is okay? How do we change it or stay and "be" the church? (Because that's a favorite line: Don't leave the church, stay and be the church! But what does that even mean or look like when I don't agree with the church excluding certain groups of people?) Who is meant to lead or be helped or get involved or come along this journey?
It's really not anything new, this feeling lost. At the heart of the matter, it doesn't concern me too much, because it's just that--a feeling. Which always makes me think of a song I heard a pastor use in one of his sermons to the tune of Yankee Doodle: Feelings come and feelings go and feelings are deceiving; I'll trust alone in the Word of God, for nothing else is worth believing. (Or something like that; I heard it years ago and didn't write it down.)
God is my anchor. His love is my mission. His spirit of truth is my compass. Even if the full picture and all the answers won't be revealed until His return, I know that He is not giving up on me or "the church," and He's not giving up on us His people.
The truth is, as long as there's a panel of faulty men saying who's in and who's out (of church or God's Kingdom), I have a hard time getting on board. I have a hard time believing this form of "leadership" is what God really wants for or from us. He came for the outsiders, and here "we" (as "the church," Christians, Adventists, Americans) are just creating more outsiders.
It's not a label (or a lack of labels) that saves us. It's Jesus. All Jesus. And no man-made divide or boundaries will keep Him from us. Thank you, Jesus!
I'm finding comfort reading Katharina and Martin Luther--about the famous protestant reformer from 500 years ago and his wife. Not only is this the first I've heard of Martin Luther having a wife (a renegade nun with opinions and courage at that), this is also the first I've really considered the context of what it meant for Luther to do all that he did.
I'm realizing what a big deal and challenge it was for Luther to step forward in faith in God over man. To state and act on differing beliefs and new insights that went against an entire institution and governing tradition. To face even his close colleagues and peers. To confront men ready to damn him to actual hell (because they believed in their insight and traditions and their own power that strongly).
"According to Luther, Scripture could, and did, contradict church doctrine and well-established traditions, which made the church wrong. Christ alone was the key to salvation. In short, Luther argued, God speaks to all people through his Word; no mediator or intercessor is necessary between God and man except Christ himself, and Christ speaks 'not to an institution but to the heart.'"
The question that really comes up for me in all of that--thinking of Luther's struggle against church tradition, and Jesus' run-ins with religious leaders, and Ellen White's assurance that we'll continue to conflict with church leadership--if church leadership has a history of being so off, do we really think we have it all figured out today? Can we be so bold as to say that this is how far we've come and we have no further to go in our understanding of God and His Word?
We're not yet with Jesus in Heaven or the New Earth, and as long as we're still here I'm 99.99% sure that we don't have all the answers. (I'm leaving the .01% in case there's an Enoch or Moses or Elijah walking with God among us now.) It's actually quite probable that pride in our assurance that we have things figured out will be the first sign of our fall when we realize we don't have all the answers.
Knowing this actually gives me peace. Even in all of that uncertainty and questioning and constantly bringing that before God, I am certain of the biggies, because the Bible makes them clear over and over and over.
Here are just a few, off the top of my head:
1. Jesus loves us and gives us salvation through Him.
2. He tells us to love. Love Him and love others.
3. He's not giving up on any of us. Not even the people or groups of people we've personally already written off.
4. God's role is to be God, and man's role is to need Him. (And, just to be clear, Man is not God; and even though God's Son became man, He is still fully God.)
5. And that brings us back to 1: Jesus' love and salvation for us.
This has kind of been a more rambling post than usual, so where does this questioning leave me?
Still in the tension.
All's quiet even in the static right now because God's just being with me. We're in the tension together, and He's here waiting with me. I know He won't leave me alone here, and He assures me this tension isn't all I'll ever know. This is just a season and He's with me in it and through it to the end. Which is really the beginning of forever with Him.
And I'm good with that.
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They say that time heals, and I tend to agree... with the proper care and tending.
>>> A quick disclaimer: Below is a post on a topic I feel highly unqualified and incompetent to write on. I also fear coming across as ignorant in a conversation I really want to be helpful. So please read this as a humble offering; my own small step to stand with people who have been saying some of these things for a long time. <<<
When I was 6 or 7, my hands slipped off a wet metal rail I was swinging under, landing my head smack into the broken cement steps just below me. I sat up stunned, then started screaming after I felt my hand to the hole beside my eyebrow and realized that wasn't just rain I felt, there was also large drops of blood dripping down my face.
My mom rushed me to our family doctor, and 8 stitches later I was good to go. Kind of. I mean, it still hurt and was a gross wound for a little while as it healed. I would even feel sharp twinges and discomfort in the years that followed as the skin changed. But time did its job, and all that's left now over twenty years later is a scar that's only sometimes glaringly obvious.
Sure, time healed--only with the stitches it took to repair the hole. Without that, well, I don't know, I'm not a doctor. The bleeding likely would've continued, the wound wouldn't have healed, and I'm pretty sure a dangerous infection would have appeared. I'm sorry, this is getting gross.
Where I'm going with this, if you haven't already deduced for yourself, is that time heals in the course of history, too. But only with the proper care and tending to set that healing in motion.
It's all too tempting for white people to look back in the not-too-distant past of black history in America and think, "Wow, those were rough times. I'm glad that's over!"
But has enough time passed to heal any of those wounds? And has healing even really started just because those tragedies are over? I believe there's still more we can do to reconcile. We're not as removed from that scarred past as we believe. People my parents age were born when these awful and open forms of hatred were still being played out. And people my grandparents age likely saw these injustices firsthand.
Mississippi Burning (a movie I saw a few times as a kid and still impacts me) is a fictional story set in some of the actual horrific events in the south in the 60s with police officers as KKK members doing some of the cross burnings and lynchings.
That is the dark backdrop of Martin Luther King Jr.'s work and the whole civil rights movement. A time when Ruby Bridges was the first black child to de-segregate an all white school in Louisianna, and as a small girl had to be escorted by U.S. marshalls through an angry mob of adults. She's now only 62.
How do people who lived through those times go from fearing for their actual lives without knowing if law enforcement would help them to simply putting it all behind them? If you went through that, wouldn't you still have some trepidation? Wouldn't you need to see some effort from people of the other side to help care for you and tend to you as you heal? Wouldn't you still raise your children to be cautious and careful with their trust of such people?
I know I would.
And what about the KKK members and all the white people that actually supported segregation and yelled and did hateful things in retaliation to the civil rights movement? Did this hatred and divide just disappear because civil rights leaders said for it to? Did all of a sudden everyone decide to love and accept and get on board with civil rights for all people regardless of skin color?
Perhaps people just got better at hiding it.
Real lasting change takes time. But it also takes the care and tending of real apologies and awareness and reconciliation from people with power--individuals and organizations.
Because, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "1963 is not an end, but a beginning." In some small way his mission and the whole civil rights movement continues when I learn to do better and when I help my children learn to do better. To help them be loving and kind to all people rather than falling into the easier assumption that different is somehow less than or not worth standing up for or, worse, needs to be silenced.
There is still freedom and justice to gain for all, and if we'd look around a little less defensively we'd see it. We would see areas where perhaps our brothers and sisters of color still aren't able to sing of the same sweet liberty we enjoy. And "if America is supposed to be a great country then this must become true. So let freedom ring..." (Quotes from King's "I have a dream" speech.)
While Black History Month may be a time of honor (both lamentation and celebration) for black people, I'm realizing perhaps it's a time of awareness and an invitation for the rest of us to finally be attentive to real and present wounds for black people and all people of color. (I'll save the other racially scarred parts of American history for another post.)
Ways to Be Aware and Attentive
Below are a few ideas I've learned of what this awareness and attentiveness might look like. I don't share because I do this perfectly; I share because we have to start somewhere. I know this is late in coming now at the end of February. Thankfully Black History Month is a yearly glimpse of awareness, and we have all year long to do the attentive caring and tending and reconciliation.
1. Shut UpThis is first and crucial. We all have opinions and generally form those from our own limited perspectives and are quick to spew them out when given a chance. When we are not the people personally lamenting or hurting, then we have to be quiet. We have to stop talking to be able to hear and listen and tend to others' pain.
I learned this firsthand last year when my husband and I were talking with friends about protests that had been going on. We were sitting in an iHop near the only other table filled besides ours, where a black young mother sat with her two young daughters. We had just mentioned these recent events and barely started discussing it, when the mother, noticeably shaken up, turned around and asked us to not talk about that there. We apologized, and changed topics.
We left the restaurant with pits in our stomachs. We had clearly hurt her where she was already wounded, and we truly believed we were for her. My husband pointed out that we just don't know. We can listen and even agree, but the pain is not our own and therefore it's not always ours to talk about, even if we side with the hurting. We need to be more careful of when we speak, especially when "discussing" current events in public places like online and in restaurants. We don't have to shut up forever, but it's easier to lovingly listen when we're quiet.
2. Seek OutIn the women of color panel at IF:Gathering, Amena Brown said a few things about this that stood out to me: "Let the marginalized speak for themselves--don't tell their stories for them. ... Look at our tables and ask who is missing. ...Then back up so someone else that doesn't have my privilege and power can speak for themselves."
We have to seek people different from us in order to hear their perspectives and expand our own. Sure, we could find people like us saying similar things, but we also have to let people different from us speak for themselves. A few ways to do that:
- Read books from people of color. To start, see the suggestions in the comments of this Book List to Move the Conversation Forward. There are other similar lists if you search. I really appreciate Deidra Riggs' welcoming and calm presence in any controversial conversation, and I look forward to reading her soon-to-release book One: Unity in a Divided World.
- Follow people of color online, including those sharing and talking about race in a way that speaks to you. A friend recently pointed me to Angela Belt, a designer who has been featuring 28 Black Taste Makers in her Instagram series for Black History Month. It's a beautiful and inspiring introduction to some talented people I may not have heard of otherwise.
- Watch documentaries like 13th and The House I Live In to realize what "progress" has really looked like since slavery and civil rights, or movies like Selma to remember America's not-to-distant past.
- Checkout Latasha Morrison's site Be the Bridge and get her free download 10 Things Every Racial Bridge Builder Should Know.
- Include people of color. We can't be afraid to reach out and talk to and invite people who are different to our tables or our circles or our gatherings. Also, when we're in charge of programming for a church or another organization, we should consider how we might intentionally incorporate diversity. And make sure planning committees are diverse, so that a variety of ideas and perspectives are being offered to reach a variety of people.
Once we start seeking out these voices, we will find a beautifully diverse rabbit trail that leads past our preconceived ideas to beautiful, enriching, mind-opening worldviews.
3. ListenThis is really just a continuation of seeking people out. They can't just be present but silenced. We really have to read and listen and hear what they're saying and experiencing. Like this post from my friend Latrice, To All My White Friends Regarding Recent Events, where she writes: "I just wanted you to offer on social media the same compassion I know you would offer my family and I to our faces. ...Do you know what happens when we start a conversation built on a foundation of compassion? When you, as a part of the body of Christ, adopt a permanent stature of empathy and caring, even for those who are nothing like you, even for those you can’t relate to and don’t understand, even for those you actually disagree with? Well, then you start to make something beautiful."
We might have different experiences, but we can still listen and validate and empathize and care and bring Jesus' love.
When people are lamenting over current events on social media, read the comments from those hurting without jumping into writing your rebuttal. Feel their pain, if only for a moment. Maybe even tell them so, especially if it's someone you know personally. When you see a protest, resist the urge to be defensive and consider what it's really about. Hundreds, even thousands, of people don't show up for one cause if they aren't personally convicted.
This is where finding trusted voices helps. It can be hard to relate to strangers giving differing opinions, but even an uncomfortable perspective is worth listening to from a friend.
4. Stand UpIn the previously mentioned panel at IF:Gathering, Latasha said, "We don't have to fully get it or understand to lift up the hands of women of color and stand with them." This is important and helpful to remember. We shouldn't discredit or brush off the plights of others just because it's not our experience or our perspective.
In Deidra's blog post The What to Do Issue, she shares several really good things to do to move the race conversation forward, including speak up: "If you are speaking up about other issues, you can speak up about racism." Just because Americans don't own slaves, doesn't mean that a form of slavery doesn't still exist. And just because we all use the same drinking fountains and sit anywhere on buses, doesn't mean that racism has magically disappeared, so it's important to acknowledge it and stand up to it and apologize for it when we see it.
5. PrayI don't see prayer as the least I can do, I see it as the most I can do, throughout each idea above. I pray for my brother, and people like him, with years behind him on the streets of Wichita as a police officer, and I pray for my black friends, many likely with ancestors who came to America as slaves. Both groups of people have struggles so very different than anything I have experienced or understand, and prayer is the only way I can find peace in the tension between.
Among those prayers, I'm also praying for a change a little closer to home--in myself and how I raise my kids. Quoting Latasha one more time, starting the panel at IF:Gathering she prayed, "Step into our biases and prejudices that would keep us from hearing You."
Yes. That. Jesus called us to love--love God and love people. And the more we shut people out and shut them up, the less actual loving we are doing, and the more we're disconnecting ourselves from God. Sometimes we feel justified because that's what prejudice and bias does--it tells us we're right and that's all that matters. However, our rightness does not take away someone else's rightness, and joining those conflicting perspectives with love is really all that matters for me as a Christ-follower.
So, while we as America have improved from slavery days and have improved from King's day, we still have lots of room for improvement. It seems the issues that feel like they revolve around a segmented population, might actually start with ourselves--how we view others different than ourselves and how we talk about those differences with our people. I am praying for Jesus to step into my own biases and prejudices so that I can shut up and hear Him through new voices with differing perspectives, and stand with people against their injustices. When we celebrate how far we've come in America, I don't want to forget how far we still have to go.
Now, heading back into silence to continue seeing, hearing, praying, and changing within myself and my own family.
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It seems everyone's got something to say about millennials. From our tech-use to our desire to do work that matters (and why that's a problem) to how to keep us, or get us back, in church. While not everyone agrees on the precise birth year range for millennials, it's roughly between 1980 and 2000, which means I am one, whether or not I fit the stereotype.
You know the stereotype: Man buns (what's the female equivalent?), excessive use of smart phones (guilty), tattoos, hanging out in coffee shops (I wish). It doesn't matter that these descriptors also apply to other age groups or that there are plenty of millennials that don't epitomize any of this. It also doesn't seem to matter that these aren't even our important identifiers (let's go back to that doing work that matters and I bet we'd find a connection to our wavering presence at church). The rhetoric tells us we have been labeled mostly as a problem.
There's enough "bad press" or negativity around my generation, it's time we stop being spoken about and instead speak for ourselves. To step up and call up our peers, contributing the best of what we've got and making the most of what we're working with. Many of us are already doing this, but lest we get bogged down by yet another joke undermining our generation, this is your reminder to keep on.
Millennials: You're my generation. One worth fighting for. More importantly one worth fighting with. We don't need to convince anyone of that but ourselves.
First, we've got to stop listening to the negativity about us and truly seek truth. Who we are, what we have to offer, our purpose in this world, and how we'll overcome the challenges of this season. These important details are not up to marketers or researchers or church leaders. Our questions of identity and purpose through all of life's seasons (yes, for you other generations, too) belongs in God.
That's the purpose of this post. Circulating some hope and truth and encouragement for my generation. But not just for millennials, because the truth about our identity and our purpose transcends generations.
Our Identity: We are made by a Creator who loves us...We are made in the image of the God who created the universe (Genesis 1:26). We are children of God and thus heirs; as heirs we may take part in Christ's suffering, but we will also take part in His glory (Romans 8:16-17). We don't yet know our full identity as children of God, but our hope is that as Christ is revealed, we will find that we are like Him (1 John 3:1-3). We won't let anyone look down on us or label our generation with negativity; we will read truth and meditate on truth and let our actions speak for us in love, spirit, and faith (1 Timothy 4:12-16).
Our Purpose: to love God and people...Our "all" in life comes down to fearing God and keeping His commandments (Ecclesiastes 12:13), which are summed up in loving God with heart, soul, and mind, and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40). As the Israelites were tested in their faith and God provided for them, we know that we will have trials in our faith and God provides for us (Deuteronomy 8:1-6). Whatever our excuses and our limitations to not show up, God is calling us anyway (Jeremiah 1:4-10).
Our Season: for such a time as this.As long as earth remains, seasons and the ups and downs and rhythms of life will go on (Genesis 8:22). There is a season for everything, and a time for every purpose; God has placed eternity in our hearts to endure until He makes everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, 11). Like a tree planted by rivers of life, our lives will bear fruit in season (Psalm 1:3). We will not get tired of doing good, because we will see the reward if we don't give up (Galatians 6:9). We will not get away with sitting idly as the world all around us aches and even dies in the need of God's love; we exist for this time and this place to do our part (Esther 4:13-14).
To recap: You are God's special and planned for creation and generation. Your whole life has purpose and meaning that starts with loving God and loving people. Your identity and purpose remain through any season, even when you don't feel it. And God's good gets the last word. Always. When we live in these truths--in God's truth--we will impact our present world for His glory.
Let's encourage each other across generations with this Truth, because we are stronger together in Christ than we are apart (1 Thessalonians 5:9-11).
Don't let anyone try to convince you otherwise.
PS, I led a discussion on this with some fellow millennials this last weekend. If you're interested in discussing and praying with your peers on this topic, you can grab the handout I made with Bible texts and discussion questions about our identity and purpose through all of life's seasons.
Get the PDF >> here.
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