I have felt painfully alone throughout this journey away from my old church, having to discontinue attending the church-based small group, face questions from my kids about why we can't go to this or that "fun" church where they give out cookies and entertain them with puppet shows and a rock concert atmosphere, and go on an entirely separate faith journey than the one my spouse is currently on. I have quizzed every Christian I've come across about where they attend and why, searching for that Holy Spirit light bulb moment inside myself, and come away with nothing. I don't miss any specific church, yet I desperately do miss the fellowship of congregation - not feeling so utterly alone in my faith in something bigger than myself. I miss it for my kids, who have always enjoyed attending, and have found their own genuine and innocent faith in God. The worst of it is, I am not sure that there is a home for me, a place for a woman caught between liberal protestantism and evangelical conservatism. I don't think I am acceptable to either side, yet aligning myself with a new church would force me into a decision that cannot be made.
I thought I was the only one, until I stumbled across this blog, and the absolutely lovely comments that follow. It gave words to so many things I'd been thinking and feeling about my place, my beliefs, and the grace we all need for one another. The plain truth is that I don't fit anymore. I used to toe the line, but now I cannot. I used to be able to swallow it and censor myself, but more and more I feel called to challenge these old norms modern Christians embrace. To think and question, not the faith itself, but the execution of it. What is at the core, and what is ancillary? I've been pondering where I fit, what denomination I should investigate, and come away realizing that there is nowhere to focus my search.
I don't belong with conservative evangelicals because:
- I don't believe religious people should flex political muscle regarding matters that should be decided on by the individual, such as personal moral choices
- I don't believe that the only point of Christ's life was to forgive sins
- I don't believe it's morally enough to say you are forgiven, and do nothing about living better
- I don't want to be a part of a church that makes people of different races, languages, backgrounds, abilities, incomes and sexual preferences feel unwelcome and unloved by their Creator
- I don't want a list of rules to follow regarding dress, conduct, and gender roles
- I don't want to be part of a church that doesn't recognize the valuable contribution women can make to a dialogue or leadership, that silences women, and ascribes less value to their voices, needs, and opinions
- I do not think it is okay to abandon the less fortunate to their own fate
- I do not think God's goal for our lives is to be happy, comfortable and materially blessed
- I do not believe in a 6,000 year earth
- I do not believe that you can check your brain at the door when interpreting the bible
- I believe in grace for our differences, and that I am incapable of knowing everything or having a lock on the truth
I don't belong with the liberal protestants because:
- I believe Jesus came for more than to simply teach us to lead a good life
- I believe in Christ's literal resurrection, and the resurrection of all the dead
- I believe that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in believers, guiding, teaching and encouraging and that through prayer people can be healed and lives can be changed
- I believe God is actively, intimately invested in our life and choices
- I believe in a lively worship of a living God
- I reject tradition for tradition's sake
- I like to read the bible on my own time, want to hear (even obscure passages) taught in church, and expect church leadership to encourage it's members to do the same
- I do not believe in infant baptism
- I do not believe ceremony is what makes us clean or acceptable
- I do not believe our mission on earth is just to "be good"
- I believe in hell, the devil, and evil spirits
Choosing is impossible, and in recent years I've just been forced to masquerade around certain people, pick apart a sermon on my own time, and practice grace for the people around me who have no idea what is going on in my faith journey. I have challenged, and been faced with bigotry and arguing, and worse - pity and condescension. When all I desperately want is to bridge the gap. To find a church of misfits who accept one another, work in their communities, and preach the forgiveness of sin through the sacrifice of Jesus. A church that doesn't have it's eye on bigger and better and more and fancier and world domination, but on humility and service and humble acceptance. A church that stands apart from, yet opens up to, the world around itself.
Yet I know no such place exists. And you wonder why they hate us - society, that is. We humiliate ourselves with our intolerance, and adherence to our own Gospel. We embarrass ourselves with our political rancor and narrow mindedness. We miss the most obvious truths of our faith while we are hyper focused on enforcing obscurities like how women should dress, how much of our income to hand over to the church, and what people should do in their bedroom. We fail and fail and fail again at looking outside of our own lives to see where we can build up and heal instead of tear down. Individuals do it, and evangelical churches do it - leading by providing no example. Caught up in the "business of church".
Still, even without a church home, a reinforcing network of believers, or any structure - God is near. He is not in a building, or a set of dictums or only available through ceremony. He is always beside us. And the most holy moment I have had in the last 6 months came when I was on the run, of all places. My legs had taken me down to the litter strewn, and funky shore of Lake Ontario at sunset. As I ran along, I watched a light show of colors, changing moment by moment as it played with the low clouds over the water. I saw the way the waves broke along the sand, and the juxtaposition of trees just changing color for the season against that purple and orange sky, and I felt well up in me the very presence of God. In awe of His beautiful creation, in awe of the legs to run through it, the eyes to see it, marveling at the wonder of what the next world must look like, if this broken one contained such beauty. I felt watched by Him, loved by Him and very very grateful. Finding Him in these beautiful moments is enough for right now as I daily fight against my cynicism and look for good and hope again. To give up my hope is to give myself over to the darkness, and that is a place I will not go, because that is the one place that God is not.