I Haven’t Been to Church in Four Months, and I’m OK

Church

Outlook Mag

Next week will officially mark four months since I’ve gotten myself out of bed on a Sunday morning to attend a church service.

I’ve kept myself otherwise occupied.

I played card games with Bryce and our roommate. I visited my mother and helped her with yard work. I watched a lot of TV and read a few books. I spent Mother’s and Father’s Day with my future in-laws. I added to our wedding registry. I fasted from social media.

I slept in.

But I haven’t been with a traditional community of believers.

I have become what I once feared: a non-church attending Christian.

The congregation members I grew up with attached a lot of adjectives to people like me: lukewarm, backsliding, and hedonistic are probably some of the nicer ones.

You can’t be a Christian without a faith community, they insist. If you’re not part of a gathering of believers, you will follow a God in your own image and become idolatrous, they warn. Why must you be one of those pesky Burger King Christians who has to have everything their way, they fuss.

But guess what?

I’m OK.

I’m well-rested, emotionally stable (to an extent), and still in love with the Church, the Bible, and the Holy Trinity.

This being said, I still struggle to read the Bible. I find following Jesus into the difficult places harder than ever. I find God to be more mysterious than I could have imagined. And I am more annoyed by the Spirit’s non-stop calls to lay everything down and open myself up to love.

I still talk about theology and what it means to follow Jesus, although I’m even less reverent than I’ve ever been. I partake in communion, but I break the bread of gigantic slices of Manhattan Pizza with my co-workers and gluten-free, vegan rolls with racial justice co-conspirators. I pray more than I have in some time: for peace, for my loved ones to get through their days, for mercy and justice, and for people to just listen. I look for God’s presence everywhere and in everything, in the breaths I take during a run, in my fiance doing the laundry for me, in protesters as cops beat them, and in writers who share their stories and trust they will mean something to someone.

I know there will be people who will read every single thing I’ve just said and see it all as lies and heresies, more evidence of my backsliding ways.

But in reality, I feel more solid in my faith and more confident claiming a Christian identity than I have in a long time.

It could be because I’m living with my fiance and not afraid of anyone’s nosy judgment, or because I’m politically and socially engaged with no fear that a theological higher-up is breathing down my neck, waiting for me to make a theological mishap and tear me down. Maybe it’s because I have more freedom to actually ask a variety of people a lot of interesting, difficult, uncomfortable questions without having the authenticity of my faith put on trial.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting more sleep.

I’m not saying I will never attend a traditional church again. By no means. In fact, I can no longer pass an Episcopal church without feeling a tremendous pang in my heart and an intense longing for choir anthems and collects.

I also have to admit there are some drawbacks to not having a faith community right now. I miss the communal life of choir practices and youth Sunday School. I miss long, deep conversations with clergy. I miss coffee hours after Sunday service and lunch time gatherings around the seminary table.

But I can’t say my lack of a “real” faith community is completely awful either. And I definitely can’t say I will regret this time in my life, or that I feel like a failure and a backslider in my walk with Christ.

For once in my life, I feel OK with where my faith journey has taken and is taking me, even if it’s the non-traditional route.

And I’m going to soak that up for all it’s worth.

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Water for the Fiery Soul: My Brief Break from Watching the News Everyday

Active.com

When Mom was pregnant with me, she swam daily laps in the community pool at her Orlando apartment complex.

And as she swimmed, I kicked and tumbled within her womb like a wild child.

Water has always been my favorite element. But me? I’m not like water. I’m like fire.

I burn. I blaze trails, burn bridges, and destroy foundations. I engulf my surroundings and heat them up to their melting and warping points. I don’t change for them; I make them change for me. I leave trails of ashes, kindling, and charred remains. I leave behind smoke that chokes throats, stings eyes, and makes people gasp for breath.

Water is my opposite. It can flood, damage, and drown, but it also cleanses and flows. It takes the shape of its containters instead of forcing them to adjust for it. It is a habitat and home for a variety of creatures. It cools, refreshes, gurgles, and comforts.

I am fire, and I love water. But if I’m honest with myself, I spend more time in the fire, especially in the past year.

I’ve been following the news everyday, especially as it relates to civil rights activism, Islamaphobia, and police brutality. And it’s burned like the fires of hell. One week, it burned white-hot, and I felt its pain and consumption. I realized I was very thirsty. I wasn’t quite parched yet, but dehydration was close.

So in the past few weeks, I stepped away from the fire to partake of the water I love and so desperately need.

I’ve gone swimming in my future in-laws’ pool for various get-togethers. I watered my mother’s plants while she was away on vacation. I planned and helped execute a summer day camp with my co-workers and some amazing volunteers, during which I drank gallons of water.

I began a new fantasy series. I binge-watched American Gods and Preacher and am in the process of re-reading the later’s comic series.

I began moving out of our current house and moving in with my future in-laws as we search for our first home as a married couple.

I added to our registry and began a honeymoon fund. I spent time looking through old pictures of myself and Bryce to send to my cousins as they prepare my bridal shower, and I’ve seen how much the two of us have grown in a million ways. I ordered invitations, cake toppers, and ring bearer boxes, and I browsed wedding rings. In short, for the first time in this process, I thoroughly enjoyed wedding planning.

After a long time dwelling in the fire, the water quenched my parched throat and washed out my stinging eyes. It flushed away the soot and cooled my burning skin. It carried me to new places I would otherwise avoid and ignore. After the fire’s deafening roar, the water spoke softly to me.

When I jumped into activism, I kept hearing pleas to be careful, to remember the discipline of self-care and protection from burnout, to treat it like a marathon and not a sprint. And I said, “Yeah, OK, Mom, I’ll be good and I’ll be fine.”

And this still happened.

I’m afraid to go to the waters and partake. After all this time, I’m still afraid the world will stop turning without me and my voice, opinions, and actions. I’m afraid people will become more racist and hateful if I don’t constantly remind them of how messed up the world is because of their hardened hearts.

I’m afraid to take a break from being God. I’m still recovering from this freaking Messiah-complex.

But I remind myself that while in the water of my mother’s womb, I wiggled and played as she swam in the water of her community pool, relishing in its coolness and flow, wanting to join her out there in that big, scary, mysterious world. Mom had a little ball of fire in her womb, and all that firecracker wanted was to swim in that refreshing pool of water with her.

I am still a ball of fire who yearns for the quenching water, a raging inferno that desires the easy, steady flow of the river. As I’ve drank deeply of the water, I’ve wondered how to reconcile the fire within me and the water that brings me such joy and contentment. I’m still figuring out how to swim in the water without extinguishing my flames.

Maybe, one day, I’ll be ready to embrace both my inner fire and my deep desire and need for the flowing water.

At least until my dominant fire takes over again and I have to burn for a while before I realize how parched I am.

And then I begin again.