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.

I’m Reading the Bible Again, and I’m a Little Nervous About It

RadicalChristian.com

I’ve started reading the Bible again.

Only 6 years ago, I wouldn’t have taken out time to craft a blog post about this. I would have just done it, because reading the Bible regularly was what I did.

Sure, I’d go through spells in which I fell behind for a couple of days, or maybe even a week. But otherwise, I was a devout Bible-reader, a lover of devotions and daily quiet times, back when getting up before the sun was (slightly) easier than it is now.

By the light of my desk lamp or under flickering fluorescent in the dorm basement, I would read, journal, and pray for at least 30 minutes a morning, devoting the time with all the gusto I could muster in those pre-dawn hours. I looked forward to these quiet minutes with God’s Word. I used to see so much truth, hope, guidance, and love in those stories and verses, whether I proof-texted them or did amateur exegesis on them.

I felt God’s presence in a way I never have, before those times or since.

Then the faith crisis hit.

Before my eyes, the Bible transformed from a story of hope inspired by God himself into a text of manipulation, fear, and lies. My faulty foundation had been built on those words and how they’d been taught to me, and they had been found harmful and lacking.

The devotions grew more shallow. The regular quiet times ceased. Eventually, I stopped reading the Bible altogether.

After all, how could I trust something that had deceived me so much?

Instead of reading Scripture, I focused on service and worship. I connected with God through hearing peoples’ stories, in regular conversations and through blogs and books. I felt God’s presence when I mentored children, gave and partook of communion, gleaned food for local pantries, and helped people get free groceries for the month.

These became my devotions and daily readings, the living Word with me, and in many ways, these practices saved my faith from certain death.

Eventually, in fits and starts, I started to read the Bible again. I would halfheartedly begin my devotional practices but drop them once life became too busy. This changed a bit during seminary (for obvious reasons), but I read Scripture in an academic context.

However, contrary to popular belief, seminary didn’t further damage my relationship with the Bible. Instead, it helped me learn to love it again by allowing me to study and deconstruct it, to see how verses turned into ideologies and how context could upturn all of them.

In short, seminary taught me to love the Bible for what it is, not how I or any culture want it to be.

Now, after all that time of study and with a Master’s of Divinity, the idea of reading the Bible for my own spiritual health still freaks me out.

What came so naturally all those years ago feels like lifting an Olympic-sized weight after I’ve regressed to 5-pound dumb bells. And instead of allowing myself to simply practice studying again, I’m asking myself a million questions.

How do I read this now?

How do I read these texts after I spent a lifetime learning they only had one interpretation?

How do I read the stories of divine healing after I have seen and experienced unhealed pain?

Will the Bible push me deeper into the beliefs I already have, or will it make me become the person I once was, who I have fought so hard not to be anymore?

Will the Bible teach me to become a quiet and submissive woman after working so hard to be bold and confident?

Will I find myself chanting “All Lives Matter” and “America is a Christian nation” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin” in spite of everything I’ve learned about racial inequality, the brutal politics of our nation, and harmful notions of sexuality?

Will I care about any of the things I care about now, or will I cast those all away like I did my past ones?

Will I find God’s voice, or my own, or my culture’s, or some messed up combination of all of them?

Who will I become as I let this text shape me again?

I’m afraid to find out, because I fear the past me, the one who got so much out of those quiet times and turned a blind eye to the people God loves most: the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.

I fear becoming the person who feared learning new things would make me “too worldly.”

I fear becoming the person so affected by the warped concept of purity thrust upon me that I spent nights crying myself to sleep because I had sex before marriage.

I fear becoming the young woman afraid to take on leadership roles because I was taught my desires to usurp the authority granted for men alone violated God’s will.

I fear becoming the person who would not embrace my LGBTQ friends as they are.

I fear that Bible-loving girl, and while I want to love the Bible, I don’t want to love her. And I sure as hell don’t want to be her.

But that girl and Bible-reading are so tied up in each other, I’m not sure how to do one without becoming the other.

In short, I don’t know how to read and love the Bible as I am.

I’m trying to figure that out, though. I can’t properly explain why. I don’t know if it’s the Spirit’s prompting, or because I re-read The Unlikely Disciple and felt nostalgia for my old evangelical devotion days, or because I feel like I “ought” to.

All I know is I’m doing it. And I’m praying, in fear and trembling, for it to change me, but I’m not sure how I want to be changed.

Ashes and Adulthood

ash

International Velvet

I’m struggling to pay for rent, utilities, and basic necessities without assistance from family and friends.

I’m in a desperate, almost futile search for a job which meets my physical needs and gives me a sense of joy and accomplishment.

I don’t feel like a “real adult.”

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

This weekend, I went with my fiance to check out a reception venue, and we’re both in love with it.

We walked around our old campus and reminisced.

We spent the weekend playing an RPG with old friends, laughing and acting like rowdy orcs, elegant elves, feisty halflings, and bumbling elf-saurian hybrids.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

45 wants to slash funding for domestic programs, from healthcare to the arts, to increase our military power.

His cabinet equates Jim Crow laws on education with the “good news” of “school choice” and “cracking down on crime” with further funding of the police instead of investigating the instances of brutality.

In Edinburg, our local officials are more interested in making power plays at school board budget meetings.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Moonlight won Best Picture.

My friend took his GREs.

My cat is showing signs of recovery after a terrifying bladder blockage.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Life begins, and ends, in beauty and chaos.

Life unfolds the same way.

In the meantime, I will remind myself:

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

 

An Open Letter to a Nosy Customer at Jimmy John’s

A post from 3 years ago, in which I had a less than pleasant conversation with a customer at Jimmy John’s, where I worked for a year after college graduation.

*****

Dear Nosy Customer,

Yesterday afternoon, you asked me an innocent enough question: “How long has this Jimmy John’s been open?”

After I answered your first innocent question, you asked me another seemingly innocent question: “Are all of the schools out?”

Being the polite worker that I am, I informed you that JMU and EMU had finished classes and exams, but Bridgewater hadn’t. I then told you I went to BC.

Then came your third could-be-innocent-but-moreso-nosy question: “What was your degree?”

And even though I could have guessed where this conversation was leading, and even though I guessed that it wasn’t a conversation I wanted to have, I put my best customer service skills to work and told you: “Philosophy and Religion.”

I was just doing my job. I was being polite and courteous to you, the customer, who is apparently always right. And how did you repay me?

You then asked the rudest, most despised, obnoxious, and nosy question that anyone, from absolute stranger to dearest friend, could ever ask:

“So what are you going to do with that?”

As if that weren’t intrusive enough, you went on to offend me further by saying, “Just gonna work at Jimmy John’s your entire life?”

You see, good sir, I work with lots of annoying, obnoxious customers day in and day out. I encounter people at my other job complaining that we don’t have enough items (yes, there are things you cannot find at BED BATH AND BEYOND) or need just one more coupon to save just 5 more dollars. I deal with people who didn’t get the proper amount of oregano on their sandwich or are disgusted with the fact that we don’t have salt and pepper. And I coordinate a mentoring program for kids from the rougher sides of the streets, who don’t always have the best manners and give a whole new meaning to the world “holy chaos.”

But to be entirely honest, your comment was the most obnoxious, rude, and intrusive one I’ve received in a long time. And trust me, those kiddos I work with have some choice words during those rougher weeks.

You know why your comment was so offensive to me?

Because I ask myself that question every damn day of my life.

What am I doing with my life? Why am I working two part-time jobs and coordinating a mentoring program after spending 4 expensive years at college? Why am I barely making rent and other payments when the college kids I work with have money to spare on liquor-filled weekends? What is my life going to look like 5 years down the road? Do I even dare look that far ahead? What’s the next step? Where do I go from here?

You see, I think the reason you pissed me off so much yesterday is because I see so much of my own skepticism about my life in your comment. And I hear so much of the world’s skepticism in your words. Whether or not the world’s skepticism is real or imagined, its nagging constantly in my ears.

And it sounds an awful lot like you. But even more so, it sounds an awful lot like me. 

I’m sure you didn’t mean any harm. I’m sure you’re a nice guy and have a lot of people in your life that love you dearly. And even if you’re not nice and don’t have a lot of people surrounding you, you’re a gift.

And to be entirely honest, even though I hate that question and others like it and I try so hard to not say it to people who have just graduated, I still ask it. And more often than not, I’m a little judgey about it. And to be even more honest, as I see my friends and peers getting engaged and married, going to grad school, starting families, getting cool new jobs, etc., I’m more than the teensiest bit jealous. Because I want that, and I don’t know if it’s mine to have, or when it’s mine to have.

But please, please, PLEASE…Don’t ever repeat that comment ever again. Not to me, not to any recent graduate in any stage of life, not to any person stuck in a seemingly “menial” job (or multiple ones at that), not even to anyone who seems to have it all together.

Because I have a feeling that no matter what stage of life we’re in, we don’t know exactly what we’re doing, and we don’t always know why we do what we do. In fact, I don’t think there’s ever a stage in life when we have it “all together.” I used to think that when I got to this age, I’d have it all together, and from this letter I just posted, you can already see that I’m nowhere near that stage.

I think we’re just living moment by moment, day by day, hoping that each little decision we make pushes us more to where we need to be.

So yeah. No hard feelings. But please, think before you speak.

Much love and hoping for a better conversation should we meet again,

Lindsay

An Exchange Between a Frustrated Millennial and a Fatal God

rebirth

artcorner.com My favorite symbol of death and resurrection

In a recent post, I described a severe morning panic attack I experienced over a month ago.

A week after that attack, I was in Harrisonburg returning a book to the local library for perhaps the last time, and internally, I was mourning the loss.

At this point, I had lived in Edinburg, a middle-of-nowhere country town about 40 minutes away, for almost 2 months, and I continued to mourn both my move away from the town I called home for the past 4 years and my graduation from seminary. I also continued to live into the transition of the new joys of my engagement to Bryce and a new job as a church secretary.

But the transitions, both the joyful and the heartbreaking, were still hard to navigate. Instead of feeling joy and excitement for the future ahead, I felt anxious, sad, and a bit miserable. I worried about my stress levels, my relationship with my fiance, my work competency, my adult competency, the unsettled state of the new house, our future wedding, and the upcoming Rally Day at my Episcopal congregation (which I had agreed to do when everyone else said we didn’t have to.)

Here I was in front of my beloved Harrisonburg library, realizing I would probably never check out books from it again, and I felt the deepness of this loss  weighing upon me with all of the others.

So as I walked away from the library, mourning the loss of my past home and fearing what the future held, I once again cried out to God, and once again, it contained a lot of frustration.

Excuse you, God, but why does everything feel uncertain and scary? 

I want you to tell me that everything will be OK.

Actually, no…I want more than that. I want you to guarantee that everything will be more than OK. I want everything to be perfect, because if it’s not, then it’s wrong. 

I thought if I followed you, things would go well for me, but I’m beginning to realize this was never part of the promise, and that irks me.

So where is the happiness and the guarantee for things to go well? Why won’t you promise me that much?

Believe it or not, I got an answer, but it wasn’t one I liked.

The answer was this:

There is no guarantee for things to be perfect, because I have called you to die, and you continue to see death and dying as imperfect and wrong. You continue to cling to the hopes, dreams, fears, and failures to which I call you to die every day.

I have called you to die in order to enter everlasting life, but I didn’t say this life would be easier. Those deaths will lead you to life, but not the one you expected. 

You have to learn to die in order to live, to let go of your enslavement to your own expectations in order to live into the beautiful, terrible reality that is real human life.

Here it was: the call to let go and learn to open my arms and let life be what it is. This is a call to die to my desire to be perfect, my desire to be God, and my seeming need to control my life and the lives of others.

I know it is so very necessary, and I also know it is so very difficult.

This is where church actually helps me, though.

Each week at Emmanuel Episcopal, as we prepare to receive the Eucharist, the priest tells the story of the Last Supper, and when he finishes the story, the congregation is asked to proclaim the mystery of our faith. And as a group, we chant:

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

It’s not a mantra I only say on Sunday. It’s what I have to tell myself every single time I want to be the one in control, when I refuse to die to myself and my ways. Every day I have to tell myself:

As Christ has died, so must I die. As Christ has risen, so will I rise. As Christ is returning to us, so will I return to this life and the life to come.

Thanks be to you, God. Now please, help me be a bit more OK with this.

A Psalm by a Postmodern-Millennial-None

Augustine

St. Augustine, because this is a confession. Get it?

I couldn’t decide which label to use for this psalm, so I applied ALL the labels.

Also, this is me speaking for myself, not ALL millennials, postmodernists, or “nones.”

I am frustrated.

I am frustrated with being seen as a brat kid who wants everything, including Church, to be “my way,” when I challenge how things are done. Perhaps even more frustrating than asking the questions is having them met with scripted, empty answers.

Not only am I frustrated with asking too many questions; I’m frustrated that I seem to be the only one asking them. I can’t be the only one who wonders if there’s an alternative to substitutionary atonement in regards to the meaning of the crucifixion. I can’t be the only one thinking about racism and white privilege, but it often feels that way when I’m greeted with defensiveness when I bring it up. 

In the atmosphere that surrounds me, in the articles and books I read for classes, in the words and lack thereof of the people around me, it seems like I’m mostly alone in this. 

I feel lonely, even when surrounded by others, like the last person awake at the slumber party wanting to fall asleep so she feels a little less awkward.

So I’ll actually ask something of the Church, and of God. Again.

To the Church, to the schools which educate us, to the families who raised us and the communities who surround us:

Please. Listen.

Let me and others challenge and doubt without feeling the need to give me an arbirtrary answer to fill in the awkward void.

Let me claim my own voice without assuming I want nothing to do with community. Let the voiceless claim their voices, those who are silenced for their race, ethnicity, sexuality, or religion, or because of the violence done against them. Don’t call us entitled brats when we do so. Instead, listen humbly and welcome us in, and repent of the times you stuck your fingers in your ears and closed your eyes when you could have acknowledged the divine image and voice within us.

Stop slamming individualism for taking people away from community and structure, when it has been responsible for people finally finding real community instead of the shallow unity (or conformity) you think community is.

Be willing to deconstruct and break down what makes your worldview. Be willing to hear the perspective of another who is unlike you in as many ways as possible. Yes, it will be uncomfortable and challenging and scary, but it might deepen your faith and understanding, and it might make you realize how certain ways of living are very damaging to those already marginalized.

Let’s stop focusing on “bad theology” as only bad belief, whatever that even means. Instead, focus on how bad theology is more often than not bad practice.

I’m not only frustrated though. I’m still hopeful.

Oftentimes, I find this hope in the Church. There have been people who have sat with me and my questions. Some have debated with me and challenged me with their own insights without discounting my own. Some have held my fear and pain and helped me work through the tangles. Contrary to popular belief about postmodernists/nones/millennials, I find hope in the Church’s rituals, especially communion, in which we come together as God called us around the Table, where differences aren’t washed away in the name of conformity, but instead are welcomed to the meal.

But I also find a lot of hope outside of the Church, in the places I’m often told aren’t considered “holy enough,” because they aren’t in a church building or aren’t called “Christian” events. I’ve found amazing sacred space in the theater, in the smells of paint and the sounds of reading lines and loud laughter, and especially the time I sat with a group of predominantly LGBTQ people as we shared stories of how we’d been hurt by the people who claimed to love us and love God. I’ve found sacred space in Fort Lauderdale, FL with my Dad, stepmom, and siblings, all of whom are Muslim, as we talked theology, made flavorful Arabic dishes, and (in the case of me and my sisters) fangirled over Sherlock.

I’ve seen the sacred spaces, the holy ground present wherever two or more are gathered in Christ’s name, and in some of those spaces, Christ’s name isn’t even mentioned.

But I believe his name doesn’t need to be invoked for him to be there. I believe the power of our own presence with each other demonstrates God’s constant presence with us. 

So while there are days in which I am frustrated, there is an even more stubborn hope deep within me which says it will be worth it. And if it was worth it to those who have struggled before me, who faced silencing and oppression and violence of which I could never dream yet pushed forward and shouted all the more from the mountaintops, then I will keep moving forward.