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

worship language

Not everyone is called to be a pastor. Not everyone is called to be an evangelical street preacher. Some people worship differently.

It took me quite some time to realize that, but there’s not a one-size fits all approach to worship. Jesus gives an outline of prayer, but there’s not a concrete set of tenants we have to follow when worshiping God. We aren’t required to raise our hands. We aren’t required to sing hymns from 1608. We aren’t even required to be in church.

This is why there are so many different types of worship services. Whether it’s a large formal gathering with recitals and a booming organ, or a contemporary service at a small church populated by young people, people are worshiping God. I do think it’s important to find your personal worship language–in what way do you present your best self to God in worship?

Mine is music. I feel a deep spiritual connection to music as it is, and while I have my (minor) issues with both modern worship songs and old hymns, I still can’t explain the sense of peace and emotion that hits me during the music parts of the sermon.

I’m so incredibly blessed that I am able to take part in my new church’s worship band. I am in no way a professional musician, but playing taps into a part of myself that is more genuine than words can say; more fervent than any silent prayer. It’s not perfect, but my best doesn’t have to be technically perfect. Laying my best self before God, for me, means turning the focus off me; turning my brain off its racing thoughts, setting anxiety aside and being totally and completely present.

It is the art of losing myself in giving Him praise.

Here’s the song I’ve been vibe-ing to the past few weeks:

 

A thousand times I’ve failed, Still Your mercy remains
And should I stumble again, I’m caught in Your grace
Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame
Your will above all else, My purpose remains
The art of losing myself, In bringing You praise
Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame
In my heart and my soul, Lord I give You control
Consume me from the inside out,
Lord, let justice and praise, Become my embrace
To love you from the inside out
Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame
And the cry of my heart, Is to bring You praise
From the inside out, Lord my soul cries out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

worship language

Dissenting views are not productive

Everything is political. Life, by very nature, is political. Every choice you make is political.

But here, for a minute, please understand I am not talking about American political parties, or socialism, or communism, or any other mainline political system. I’m not talking about propaganda from the top government.

Lets talk about religion–American Evangelicalism to be specific.

Dissenting views are not helpful to our cause.

The church I grew up in was the strict conservative type of Evangelical, rather than charismatic. The congregation was full of academics and theologians–very smart people.

When I was in high school, I was encouraged to think critically about theology and what I believed. Discussion was actually lively in our high school Bible studies and groups. However upon graduating into the ‘adult’ world, I found that studies suddenly became much more like lectures; one side presenting a view point and leaving it at that. No one argued. No one questioned. A few times I wanted to say something in response to what had been presented, but I felt that, being a young person, my views would not be valued, especially if I happened to disagree.

Unfortunately, it only seemed to get worse as I got older. The teachers of these adult classes seemed to always want to “invite discussion” but couldn’t figure out why no one was discussing.

For instance; I had come come from college once to class where an elder had just presented a rousing lesson on the tenants on marriage, ending of course, with the condemnation of homosexuals and harping on the slippery slope that this country was going down.

“Questions?”

“Opinions?”

I had sat there, quite full of opinions. All of them dissenting. But as I looked around at the older, politically conservative crowd, I realized that my voice would be a whisper at a Baptist revival; swallowed by the noise and quite powerless to reach anyone.

I couldn’t fight all of these people. I could’t argue my opinions–my feelings– against church elders, seminary graduates, and teachers.

Whether or not others felt a similar way, I would never know. The environment that had unfortunately been created was a spiral of silence.

 The spiral of silence theory is a political science and mass communication theory proposed by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, which stipulates that individuals have a fear of isolation, which results from the idea that a social group or the society in general might isolate, neglect, or exclude members due to the members’ opinions. This fear of isolation consequently leads to remaining silent instead of voicing opinions.  [Wikipedia]

 

This theory is not only proven in Evangelical circles time and time again, but this spiral of silence is detrimental to any semblance of diversity in a group. It forces conversations on the hard-hitting issues out of the church’s doors.

If church is supposed to be a family, or at very least, a community, then I find it very sad that these conversations cannot be held within the community.

I had to go elsewhere to talk about depression, anxiety, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights… hell, even education in any type of depth.

The fact is, God influences the way I think about all of these issues. The love of my Heavenly Father and the grace I have been shown affects the conclusions I’ve come to and the questions I still have about all of these things.

Christ impacts my worldview. So why can I not discuss my worldview with my brothers and sisters in Christ?

Perhaps if I were braver, I would have stood up and said that same sex marriage isn’t what’s dragging the country downhill. Perhaps if I had more confidence, I would have stood up, as a young woman, and stood before the gray-haired elder, asking if he would still say these things with a gay person in the room.

But I’m not brave. Fortunately, the responsibility doesn’t lie solely on my shoulders. We can all do our part (conservative and liberal alike) in embracing differences. We can have grace for one another. Have grace for one another’s viewpoints.

We’re all human and we all arrive at different conclusions because we all walk different paths in life. But these paths have led us to each other; to a community of fellow believers who have come together to fellowship and worship our creator.

If Evangelicals are truly Calvanists and truly believe in predestination, then they are predestined to having this diversity in the room in which they’ve found themselves. And if my Evangelical brothers and sisters pride themselves on their theological education, I pray that they can be confident enough to listen to another’s viewpoint. After all, John Calvin, in his day, was just a man with an opinion.

Dissenting views are not productive