Slowburn Evangelicalism: I don’t know whats going on, but it’s something.

Saturday night I sat in a local up-scale bar with friends. We discussed politics and religion over Moscow Mules in glinting brass mugs.

It’s no secret to any of my friends that I am a Christian. It’s no secret that I have many frustrations with the church, but in the end, I am convicted to believe in the saving God. However, conversations about faith or religion are not avoided with me or anyone in the group; they know where I stand and there’s no attempt to convince me otherwise. There’s also no attempt on my part to convert them to Christianity. We reach a mutual understanding of each other’s positions, and part ways feeling (if nothing else) intellectually stimulated.

Growing up in the evangelical church, this might feel… wrong. It sounds wrong, to some. In fact, it was this very notion, this behavior, that caused me to lose my VIP status in my church.

If your faith isn’t compelling you to testify to others, you should take a closer look at your faith.

How much do you have to hate the other person to not share the Gospel with them?

These were two things that I was taught over and over again growing up, and they still fill me with anxiety. I’m not particularly compelled, but the suggestion that I’m damning others by my inaction is incredibly stressful.

The thing is though… I have no power to save anyone.

Read it again. I have no power to save anyone. I cannot offer anyone heavenly grace. I cannot rescue anyone from the grips of sin. I cannot save anyone.

Well, yes, my evangelicals would say, yes I know that. But I can plant the seeds. That’s our job.

You are so right. That’s why I practice a slowburn evangelicalism.

In the world that I grew up in, many people already know the basic points of the Gospel. They know the points on the Bible tracts. There’s very little sense in talking at people about this.

In college, my roommate was a self-proclaimed staunch atheist. She came from a Catholic background and had become disillusioned by the intolerance and hypocrisy shown in the church.

So have I, I said. We have that in common. 

Over the next 4 years of close friendship, we have talked about frustrations with the church, our own beliefs, our doubts, our hangups. I tell her what I love about Church and she encourages me. We talk about the universe, science, how vast and crazy and specific this world is and how can it be an accident? She agrees.

Four years, this takes. Six years of friendship, and four years of discussions. Leading up to Moscow Mules, in a bar at my city.

I’m an agnostic, she says. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s something.

This is what it means, my friends. This is what I yearned for in every conversation I had with her on faith. I saw her heart, which had been so hardened, so bitter, open to me. I tried to show her every kindness that I believed in, instill upon her every ounce of grace I had been given. And I passed along all of the unconditional love I could muster. And I praised my God for giving me this human, this friendship, the universe, and the cool night air.

I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s something.

Slowburn Evangelicalism: I don’t know whats going on, but it’s something.

A tale of fake high school crushes

High school is tough. Four long years of trying desperately to both stand out and fit in. What do I like? What am I good at? Who am I?

I grew up in an area where homosexuality was just not an option. It wasn’t even considered. And when i finally learned about gay people, I thought ‘being gay’ was just something you did that was bad, I didn’t know relationships between gay people were an actual thing.

So anyway!

Starting in middle school, as is extremely normal, all of my friends started having crushes on people of the opposite sex. My guy friends started becoming interested in the pretty girls (who somehow managed to be ALWAYS the same 5 girls) and my female friends would spend lunch hours talking about their crush of the week or month or day.

In those days there was a check list of traits that you had to have in order to be considered crush-worthy. We were kids, emulating Tigerbeat magazines and Nickelodeon Stars, channeling every bit of pop culture that was surrounding us. If Tigerbeat said Zach Effron was the the it-boy, then it meant those boys in class with shaggy skater hair and a wide smile were also the it-boys.

The it-boys were fairly easy to identify and therefore easy targets for my fake crushes. I remember sitting in the cafeteria with my girl friends as they once again had the discussion on who was crushing on who. I had so far avoided being roped into these discussions, but today I couldn’t escape.

“Lily, who do you have a crush on?”

I thought and thought, but couldn’t muster an answer. What boy did I have a crush on? I was friends with Jake, but I didn’t want to kiss him. I liked spending time with James, but I didn’t like like him. As the time passed and I stayed silent, I began to blush, embarrassed that I was the odd one out.

“She’s blushing! She does like someone!”

“Awww who is it?”

I didn’t want to tell them, because it would be lying. I never gave guys much thought in that way. I was a tomboy. I was one of the guys. They didn’t make me nervous or shy. The only person in school that made me speechless was Joanna.

But I couldn’t say that because we weren’t talking about girls. We were talking about boys. To satisfy my friends, I looked around at the photos on the cafeteria walls. The boys soccer team. I picked a guy–Jackson–an it-boy. I had known him for years. It would probably be believable.

“Jackson?” It wasn’t. “You like him??”

I couldn’t spare myself the teasing, but it was better to fake a crush on Jackson than it was to admit to myself that the reason I was faking in the first place was that Joanna was my first crush. Blonde, kind, gentle and talented. Every time I spoke to her it lit up my heart. I could feel the butterflies, and my world would speed up and slow down at the same time.

But thank God for Tigerbeat. Thank God for Cosmo and for TMZ. Thank God that young women are so predictable. I faked it for years. The it-boys were always easy to spot and required no further explanation from me.

And I could save my butterflies for the blonde girls, the girls with tattoos and quiet smiles.

A tale of fake high school crushes

10 Party tricks for introverts

Social tips from an introvert: How to become instantly endearing.

We’ve all found ourselves in social situations where we’re a little unsure of what to do. Maybe, like me, you’re an introvert. Or maybe the situation is awkward due to the group composition. Maybe you’re meeting people for the first time, or maybe you’re meeting people who may or may not like you.

This weekend I was in an interesting situation where I was a little unsure of what to do socially. All in one party, I had to meet new people, reconnect with people who I hadn’t seen in years, interact with children,  all on 4 hours of sleep and somehow come out unscathed.

I played a game of endearment; specifically, how many people could I endear myself to in the 3 hour time frame?

Here are the tips:

  1. Open the conversation

    • “How are you” will absolutely suffice, but might prompt a one word response. Instead, try “how is your summer going?” Or “what have you been up to this summer? Did you take any vacations?”
  2. Find the story

    • Search around for the thing they want to talk about–A trip they went on, or what they’ve been bingewatching on Netflix. Maybe its their kids, or pets, or new spouse. Then ask them about it.
  3. Learn something new

    • Give them the opportunity to educate you. Listening is hard, but if you approach it with a learning mentality, you’ll find it much easier. Tim is on the travel soccer team this summer. Is he enjoying himself? Does he want to play in high school? What position does he play?
  4. Ask at least two “learning” questions before you say anything about yourself.

    • Conversation should flow, story to story. In order for the flow to be smooth, each party needs room to tell their story. Give the other person space. People love when you ask them questions, and it genuinely is easy. You don’t have to think of how to respond– just ask another question and learn more!
    • When you are ready to talk about yourself, keep it brief and on topic. Add another spotlight to their story instead of stealing from it.
  5. Smile!

    • Laughter is endearing! You don’t have to laugh hysterically or smile constantly; rather, genuinely enjoy the moment with the person you are speaking with. It’s only one moment in a million; it is brief. You can do it.
  6. Thank the host(s) individually.

    • This one is genuinely super easy but it’s often overlooked. When you’re saying your goodbyes, add a “thank you so much for having me over! I really appreciate it!” Adding a handshake or a hug where appropriate will bring a level of sincerity to your words.
  7. Offer to help clean up.

    • Humble yourself, and just offer to help. More often than not they will refuse help anyway.
  8. Talk to a variety of ages.

    • Talk to the adults, talk to the youngsters. It shows you’re a well rounded person. The conversations don’t have to be long; the effort was still made.

If you need a little help…

9. Compliments. Everyone loves to be complimented. I like your hair! I love your backyard! Your children are so sweet! It’s one of the easiest things to do– just make sure you come across as genuine.

10. Take a shot. Of alcohol. Sometimes you can put on  your best face but you really just do need something to take the edge off the nerves. No shame, just drink responsibly.

At the end of the day, you may still be worn out and tired–you are an introvert after all–but if the other people left the conversation with better energy than they started with, you’ve done your job.

Parties are never going to be easy for the introvert–think of it as a time to endear yourself to others. Perhaps the next party will be easier.

 

 

10 Party tricks for introverts

The mission trip that never existed

When I was in college, I went on this AWESOME mission trip to New York. But according to my church, this mission trip never happened. I’m not sure why… I have a few ideas though. Let me tell you about it.

*note: this happened in 2013, so this is how I remember it 4 years on. Time has naturally distorted certain things.


To start off with, this was 2013. That year, in my evangelical congregation, was the year that things officially started to fall apart. Not ‘behind-the-scenes’ falling apart, proper public falling apart.

Our youth pastor–a close friend and mentor to me–had been outed and dismissed after having an affair with a married church elder. No one saw it coming, and I was a wreck. I was one of the closest people to her; we weren’t far apart in age and she had been my confidant in high school and beyond. She shaped me into the person I had become. It was a bad time.

That instance was just the beginning of years of discord within the congregation. But lets stay at 2013.

In the midst of this falling apart, the church had booked a rather last-minute mission trip to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn. It was an adult mission trip, so a ragtag group of volunteers  were recruited (some, like me, a week before the trip) to trek north for a long weekend in the city.  Very little planning, because we could all fend for ourselves.

Our youth pastor was supposed to go with us, and as we loaded into one of two vans to travel north, I could already feel a void in the group dynamics. Of the group, only 5 of us were women, vastly outnumbered by the men. It was understandable; our task was to help rehabilitate homes that had been devastated by hurricane Sandy. Typically, women did not sign up for construction missions. I’ll save the bigger rant for another post, but I’m NOT good with children. If there’s a construction trip, sign me the hell up!

The group was a colorful group. Not many of us were super close. There were a few relatives and coworkers on the men’s side that shared ownership of a local construction group. The women were… different. Two of us were college-age girls, both attending secular colleges, both of us branching out of our strict upbringing. One girl had just graduated bible college but was (no better way to describe it) non-conforming. One woman had an atheist husband, and the other came from a harsh background.

None of us women would shut up. We were the ones who “caused problems” in church. I was a harlot. My friend was ‘abnormal’. The two older women were outspoken and liked to crash the boys’ club. To be honest, it was the most fun I’ve had with a group of women all together.

The mission work itself was intense. It had very little to do with telling people about Jesus, which is perhaps why my church doesn’t really talk about this trip. What did we accomplish anyway?

I think we accomplished a ‘show, don’t speak’ demonstration of the gospel. Here was  random group of people, working their asses off for no pay, in a hot, damp basement, accomplishing so much in record time.

By the end of the weekend, we had installed wall frames, drywall and drop ceilings, and bathroom fixtures for an elderly lady who lost her basement in the hurricane. The basement was a source of income for her, and since the hurricane, it was unable to be sublet.

I had a blast. I learned how to install drywall and remove floor tiles. I bonded with my group members as we all did things well beyond our comfort zones.

That weekend we were also invited to attend Resurrection Brooklyn’s Sheepshead bay church plant. The church was evangelical, just like ours, but incredibly different. THey had a more liturgical church service, and we read many more creeds than we were used to. We were also served communion with real wine (the horror) and listened to a contemporary band (again, the horror).

One of the neat things I learned about this church was that the band was made up of professional musicians. (they paid them too! Imagine!) The musicians were hired on the basis of them being reliable, talented band members, and oddly, faith was not a factor. Yes, there were non-christians in the worship band

Again, the horror. This was the first eye-opener I had into the more liberal side of Christianity. My church would never let anyone lead worship who wasn’t a christian (or didn’t appear to be a christian). But here these musicians were. Christian or not, they were in church, witnessing the service every Sunday. It’s that a cool witness? The pastor and elders along on the trip didn’t necessarily agree.

Speaking of communion wine… after the work leg of our trip came to a close, we were invited to a party at the home of one of the church leaders. He was a young man, with a lovely wife and child, and a fantastic Brooklyn city home with a backyard and everything. The house was incredible, and the church members gathered were warm and wonderfully welcoming.

This party was the most ridiculous church party I have ever been to. First of all, they overnighted crawfish (crawdads I call them, my mom is from the south) from Louisiana specifically to have this BBQ in the backyard. They cooked up corn, potatoes and crawdads and we had a regular feast.

AND THEY SERVED US BEER. BEER. At a CHURCH FUNCTION. I know right??? We were all over 21, so there was no harm in having a few beers, as we were offered. The church leaders became visibly uncomfortable. I was thrilled.

We did take photos of the event, however, none of them saw the light of day because there was alcohol in them. Yes, lets all pretend we don’t drink. We’re all perfect angels.

After my church goes on a mission trip, there’s always a member of the trip selected to share about the trip during the service. Not so much to brag about what was accomplished, but to keep our church family in the loop. After all, I felt I grew closer to members of my church family while on the trip.

My parents and I kept waiting for someone to talk about it during the service. Weeks went by and no one did. No pictures of the trip were posted on the website or hung up in the hallways. Nothing was put in the bulletin. It was as if the leadership wanted to forget that the trip ever happened.

Was it the fact that we traveled to Brooklyn, of all places, instead of a place more destitute? Brooklyn isn’t Haiti. Was it the fact that the evangelical church we worshiped at was not what was expected? Was it the alcohol? Was it the members of the trip themselves? Us misfits and outcasts?

A year later, my friend would become non-conforming to the fullest, coming out to her family as gay and leaving the church. I would be accused of aiding the affair between my former youth pastor and the church elder. The older woman with the atheist husband would be asked to step down from leadership roles for “not being a team player” or some bullshit that smelled suspiciously like misogyny.

We were a band of misfits entering a different world. Was it too scary for our congregation? Too uncomfortable for them to hear/

Was it more comfortable to pretend that the work of God wasn’t done? That His kingdom was not advanced?

Was it more comfortable to accept a lie than to admit that our band of sinners was able to help those in need?

The mission trip that never existed

She sent me a symphony

via Daily Prompt: Symphony


She gave me a smile in September, and I saw what couldn’t be.

Love was the impossible. Quite genuinely.

And in January she gave me comfort in a blizzard.

My heart raced through my parka and I hoped she couldn’t feel it.

She told me in February that her heart was racing too.

I was different, I was love.

I had never been love before.

My light, my sunshine, my absolute heart.

Nine months of gentleness and the promise that I was

Adored.

She was my sunshine and I was her northern lights.

And in the New Year she gave me a goodbye.

It seemed premature. We hadn’t even fought. Hadn’t told the world

that we were each other’s peace. Hope that our world would see

and understand.

But you can only send so many kisses from nine hours away.

But you can send music.

I was in darkness and she sent me beauty when I was alone.

Divenire.

She sent me a symphony

and I saw colors in the dark.

She sent me a symphony

Dear everyone: I don’t know.

 

“To say ‘I don’t know’ is the beginning of faith, for me.”  – Kent Dobson


Dear parents,

Dear pastors,

Dear youth leaders,

Dear teachers,

Dear friends,

I don’t know.

I’m sorry if this makes you feel like you’ve failed in some way. I know for 23 years I was a faithful consumer of valuable teachings from all of you. I know I was sort of the golden girl; someone your children could look up to and you could trust that I wouldn’t lead them astray.

And you were right. For all accounts, I was the image of a Godly woman. I tried to follow all the rules.

And in a way, you’re still right. I do try to keep up the image of a Godly woman, no matter how much that feels like lying.

But here, let me tell you I’m sorry, because I don’t know.

There’s a lot that was taught in my evangelical church, my tribe, that I do not subscribe to. (like, a LOT). But I don’t know exactly what I do subscribe to either.

Please don’t mistake this for an abandonment of faith. In fact, I feel as though it’s the exact opposite. I am finally leaning not on my own human understanding. I’m no longer leaning on anyone’s understanding, really. I’m just accepting the fact that I have. no. clue. 

The stuff that theologians have tried to explain, that teachers have tried to sort through, the tough questions about God and the world and our own souls…. I don’t know about any of that stuff. I can’t even describe God in my limited human vocabulary. I can’t even comprehend God in my limited human brain.

To pretend otherwise anymore is lying to myself.

So, I’m sorry to say, I don’t know. If that sounds like nihilism or agnosticism or what have you, I’m sorry. But I’m using my God-given brain, my God-given experiences and my God-given soul to arrive at these “conclusions”. Sorry if that sounds like I’m a lost cause.

I don’t think I am. In fact, I feel more connected to faith, to spirituality than I have ever been. It is pure faith. I can’t explain any of this stuff, I can’t show it to you. I’ve never seen God or heard Him. This is faith; to say I don’t know.

But I do believe in God, even if I can’t explain Him or understand Him. I believe in Jesus. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the resurrection. I believe in Love. And I’m trying to channel God’s love through me unto others.

I’m okay with leaving questions unanswered. Maybe I’ll arrive at more concrete conclusions as I go through my life. Maybe I won’t.

Parents, friends, teachers, I’m sorry that I no longer subscribe to the black and white world in which I was raised. God painted the world in all hues and shades. To confine him to a binary system does nothing for me any longer.

Dear everyone: I don’t know.

The time I lost my church VIP status

In my youth, I was a bit of a church hot shot.

I checked all the boxes. I dressed conservatively, I didn’t date, didn’t swear. I volunteered for every mission trip and befriended all of the unpopular kids.

Because of my squeaky clean image, I got asked to do a lot of things around the church; reading during the service, helping with the younger youth, teaching Sunday school…  I didn’t realize I was ‘flagged’ as an important up-and-coming member of my evangelical church.

I’m not sure what that would have looked like. Did they have an eye on me to be an elder? Surely not, since the shift had already started towards disallowing women in leadership roles. Perhaps a deacon? No idea.

Looking back, I can pinpoint the exact moment I began to lose my VIP status. I graduated high school in 2010. In 2012, I was invited back to speak at my former high school’s baccalaureate service; a church service for the soon-to-be graduates.

I was supposed to give a speech on living out your faith in college; holding fast in your morals after leaving our conservative community.

I knew what they wanted to hear. The leaders of the conservative Mennonite and evangelical congregations wanted to put a shining example of purity on the podium.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t interested what the leaders wanted to hear. I was there for the kids; the high school students, most of whom would be going one of two ways, as so many of my classmates had done.

The ultra conservative kids–my peers–would either enter the secular world and become enamored with it or reject it completely. They see only two options because we were taught only two possible outcomes. Either you are in the world, or you are apart of it. In college, you reach a fork in the road, and you either reject the church’s teachings and fully immerse yourselves in the world of debauchery or you flee from that, decide that the secular world is too much and retreat into missionary work in Costa Rica.

I wanted to impart on the students that there are more than two options. The world isn’t really that black and white. I told the students that in college you do have options; to live out your faith or to not. But living out your faith doesn’t necessarily mean passing out tracts with the Intervarsity group or arguing with the science teacher about evolution.

I told the students that I didn’t fit into the campus Christian group. The people I felt most blessed by the presence of? My atheist friends. My Muslim friends. My Buddhist friends. My gay and lesbian friends.

At the word lesbian, there was an audible gasp and murmur from the back of the crowd where the adults sat. For once, I was speaking what I actually believed, and it was “not appropriate”.

Essentially my conclusion (from my notes):

“Don’t be afraid. Jesus calls us to be in the world. I show the love of God and the radical love of Jesus by loving those that the church has rejected  have not had positive experiences with the church. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.”

[If I were giving the speech now, I would have used stronger language].

I said it. I stood up there and actually said what I believed. It was freeing and confidence building, both of which my evangelical church would say is wrong. Lean not on your own understanding and all that jazz.

But it strengthened my understanding of God. Of Jesus. Of what I’m supposed to do on this earth. It was the beginning of a new chapter of my faith.

It was the end of a chapter as well. Afterwards, I was told that my speech caused “discomfort”. Good. That’s what I wanted.

I learned that the church is scared of lesbians in particular. And I was never asked to speak at a church function again.

Hopefully my speech helped someone.

The time I lost my church VIP status