Where there is God, there is life.

A Tree and its Fruit
(Matthew 12:33-37; Luke 6:43-45)

15Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.

I was told growing up to beware the false prophets. Beware the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Beware the World; it will look like life but it will lead to ultimate death.

If we follow that logic, life within the church–within Christ– should lead to ultimate life. When you’re in Christ, it’s supposed to give you hope for the future. You’re supposed to be able to look forward with anticipation.

Somehow ironically, I ended up suicidal and broken.


My church, and perhaps many others of evangelical conservative faith, will claim that it’s not the church’s fault. If I’m not feeling the hope of the spirit, then my faith isn’t strong enough. Or maybe I’m not “in Christ”, as I claim to be.

The fun thing about all of this is that I followed all of the rules. For 20 years, I was a good evangelical girl. I attended ALL of the church things. I knew all the creeds and sang all of the songs. But some of the worst moments, the worst feelings, the worst thoughts I had about myself came from teachings I learned within the church walls.

Maybe that’s just the way it’s supposed to be. Maybe that’s my cross to bear, I thought. After all, we’re supposed to reject ourselves–our own ideas and pleasures– and listen for God’s plan.

Perhaps it was just my denomination, but I grew up with an ultra focus on how humans were despicable to the core. Total depravity, was the buzzword. And we were all supposed to accept this.  We were rotten, disgusting, prone to every sin in the book, riddled with every soul-disease imaginable. Any thought, any action, that came from within ourselves, was pure evil. Only thoughts, actions, and words that came from God were pure and good.

I might be oversimplifying, but I am not exaggerating. This belief was the heartbeat of the church; at the core of every message. The idea was that God is so good; if you bury yourself and lift him up, you’ll be just fine.

But in order to bury yourself, you have to kill yourself.

This wasn’t a suicide cult. But I found myself as a young person thinking more than once, “if the afterlife is so good, and if now is so bad, why can’t I just go?”

But like everything else, suicide was a sin too. It looked grim, as a young person, stuck in a world of hating myself. Hating myself because that was what God required. God didn’t want us to glorify ourselves. We weren’t supposed to love ourselves. That was what the World told us to do. We were different. We were cross-bearers.

And so I just kept hating myself.


What was the fruit of this?

The fruit of this wasn’t the glorification of God. As I made myself less and less, a change came over me. I became resentful of my peers. It bred insecurity; my confidence crumbled. I made myself small, skipping lunches in favor of grueling workouts in the summer heat, desperately trying to diminish the space I was taking up on earth.

I hated my body. My pale skin, my widening thighs. I hated my voice. I hated my heart, how it led me to dead ends in the arms of lovers that I could never keep.

I hated the fakeness of it all. I hated the faux compassion from the pulpit after a sermon of condemnation. I hated the smiles of elders who preached we were to hate ourselves. I hated that they got to go home to their families; their loving nuclear families that they were allowed to have because they were God’s chosen.

Maybe I just wasn’t chosen. My heart felt walled and guarded. When I looked to the future that God was supposed to have planned for me, I saw nothing. Felt nothing. I cut my skin to try to feel something. I cut my skin to try to get rid of the badness, or maybe to get the outside to reflect the badness that I felt within. The badness that I was told we all had.

I exited my teens, fragile and broken by the religion that had raised me, looking for a hint of kindness among the evangelical at college and finding nothing but judgement and anger.


When someone committed suicide, the language changed only slightly.  ‘It was a waste,’ they called it. ‘A grievous misunderstanding of God’s plan for their life. They were unable to see the love that God had for them. They couldn’t understand that they were precious to God; God’s beautiful creation.’

I guess you have to die to be glorified.


The whole thing is morbid, really, and I guess this whole religion, at its core, is rather morbid.

But the story doesn’t end with a crucified Christ and a sealed tomb. The darkness only lasts until the morning. Somehow that message has been lost.

Christ brings hope to the hopeless. Comfort to the hurting. Christ brings life to things that were once dead. We may have been depraved, but now we are glorified through Christ. It’s a game-changer.

Yes, some need to hear a humbling message. But overall, especially to young people, and during times which seem so dark, we need to hear the gospel. The good news of Christ. And that good news isn’t that we are supposed to bury ourselves. We are to lift up ourselves. Lift up ourselves and each other in the name of Christ and go.

Maybe if someone had told me I was beautiful, I would have one less scar. Maybe if someone had glorified us, as young people, more of us would have stuck around. Maybe if someone had told me that God loves me, just as I was, no matter what, I would have spent my teenage years looking upward to God instead of inward at the body I despised.

Because the truth is, friends, where there is God, there is life. When I picture what life looks like in a church setting, it isn’t what I was brought up to believe it was. It’s not numbers, or children, or activities. It is simply people thriving. Thriving. Not surviving. Not coping. Thriving.

Over the years I’ve grown to recognize that while the evangelical church in which I was raised considers their view on the Bible the ultimate and sole correct view, this view produces bad fruit. It produces hurt and pain. It pushes people out instead of drawing them in. It tears people down instead of building them up. It does not produce life. Instead, in my case, it nearly produced death.

As my heart settles into a wider understanding of myself and of God, I realize now that good fruit comes from my new congregation, from the liberal Christians on twitter, from the faithfully LGBT community, and many others. Good fruit like the comfort and acceptance of the trans boy at my youth group. Good fruit like the lesbian who almost lost her faith being invited to lead worship. Good fruit like young people being encouraged to ask weird questions. Good fruit like pastors speaking out against injustice to a congregation of white rich people, and them listening.

Beware the false prophets. By their fruits you will recognize them.

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Where there is God, there is life.

I have a fear of intimacy and “sloppy wet kiss” sounds horrifying.

And Heaven meets earth like an unforeseen kiss,
And my heart turns violently inside of my chest.
I don’t have time to maintain these regrets
When I think about the way…

That He loves us,
Oh, how He loves us….

You don’t know this song? What were you doing in 2009, living under a rock??

How He Loves was a praise song that rose to popularity very quickly in the contemporary praise and worship circles. My church was not contemporary, so by the time I heard it, it was probably already at maximum popularity. Once I heard it once, I heard it everywhere.

I assumed it was a David Crowder song, with the lyrics shown above. Unforseen kiss always seemed fairly poetic, although a kiss metaphor wasn’t something that would be used in my church setting. We were a “leave room for Jesus” type. Like, majorly.

I was attending a contemporary service put on by some young people in my community that summer when I heard the other version

And Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss…

Excuse me, what?? Sloppy, wet kiss? If a kiss metaphor was out of my world, this sent it into the stratosphere. Where did this come from? Did these young people change the words themselves?

No, I learned. That’s the original lyrics, penned by John Mark McMillan, changed by David Crowder to make them more approachable, more more worship-friendly, more safe.

That’s crap, these young people had decided, and performed the original version. But at the time, sloppy wet kiss didn’t sit well with me. At all.

Why? As I sought the answer to my disproportionate discomfort, I came to a few conclusions:

  • The adjectives sloppy and wet are both negative. Kiss is typically a positive word. Unforeseen on the other hand, could be positive. The two words hold less dissonance.
  • Sloppy and Wet is not how I wish a kiss to be. That sounds gross and makes me uncomfortable.
  • Unforeseen, in a positive sense, is a surprise–something you do not expect to receive. This was in line with what I had been taught on grace, and God’s relationship to man.
  • But lastly, I have never been kissed, so I don’t understand the metaphor at its core.

In 2009, I was 17 years old, nearly an adult. Sitting there in that auditorium, listening to my peers sing this song on the stage, I realized that I was very out of sorts. An ugly jealousy sprung up inside me. I had never been kissed. The rest of all of these kids had. I knew. I saw them in the hallways. I was 17 and no one had ever tried to kiss me. No one had reached out to hold my hand. No one had even embraced me tightly.

Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting to ever be kissed, therefore unforeseen was the perfect word for the metaphor.

I don’t know where exactly my fear of intimacy arose. Perhaps it was the constant preaching I had been subject to (young people were not even allowed to hug in my church). Perhaps it was getting yelled at (literally yelled) when a female friend of mine snuggled into my shoulder on a couch at youth group, and I rested my head on hers. Perhaps it was the fact that I never saw my parents (or any of my relatives) hug or kiss. Perhaps I was simply afraid of failure; at 17… 19…21… most people had already done this stuff. What if I was bad at it? What if my hand was too sweaty or too cold? What if I was a dreadful kisser? What if my kiss was sloppy and wet?

It wasn’t until I was 23 that I finally experienced intimacy. At 23 I had my first kiss. I held hands with my significant other when we walked down the street, while I drove my car, while we sat on the porch. I was greeted with a smile and a kiss. I was allowed to get close, in fact, my closeness was wanted.

I still have a fear of intimacy, but it’s a different kind. It’s not a fear of failure, and it’s not a negative fear. It’s butterflies. It’s electric in my veins. It’s the excitement and fear of asking “can I kiss you?” and the calmness of the moments following.

Somewhat guiltily, I think I still prefer unforeseen, but I get it now. I understand sloppy wet kiss, because things aren’t perfect, but when you love someone, it doesn’t matter.

I have a fear of intimacy and “sloppy wet kiss” sounds horrifying.

Eva wants me to become a youth leader.

Eva wants me to become a youth leader.

“Just come hang out!” she said. “You don’t really have to do much.

“I would 100-percent support that.”

I love Eva. I love Eva and Joey and Porcha and Alex and the rest. I want to make sure that Eva knows she has a family– that Porcha knows God loves her just the way she is. I want to help Alex along a journey, towards a destination I have no particular answer to, but I want them to know that they are made in the image of God.

I want them to know that when the world abandons them, God will not. And I wont either.

Growing up I had people try to do that for me. They helped me so much. They were my confidants when I had nowhere else to turn. They were my therapist, hearing the records of my anxieties and grievances. But they all fell short. Humans do that.

Eva wants me to become a youth leader.

They see me in the praise band on Sunday. I make sure to ask them about their weeks and listen. I make the tough conversations easy to voice. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have the answers. I just want to make sure they’re all doing okay.

I want them to know that I’ve been there. I see you. I know how you got those scars. You can show me or tell me and I will understand because I have them too. You don’t have to explain. I know how many questions you have, how complicated identity seems. You can skip the explanations, which often are not easy. I get it. I see you. You’re my younger sibling, my little bird.

My God. If I had someone, even one person, tell me that I was beautiful, that “same sex attraction” wasn’t an abomination, that I was made in the image of God–No exceptions!–it would have saved me countless moments of hating myself. If one person took the time to listen, to hold me tight, to tell me that my feelings were valid, I maybe would have less scars. Maybe I would stand a little taller.

I just want to make sure the kids are alright. I don’t want to leave them. I want to be the person I never had.

I’m not sure anyone else wants me to become a youth leader.

Me? Who refuses to dress up, despite playing in the band every week. Who comes, frail and pale, with dark circles and makeup clearly from last night. Who jokes during the church service. Who can’t pray out loud anymore. Who is perhaps too open about her drinking habits.

No. They don’t want that.

Even if they do, I can’t become a youth leader with a clean conscious because I am gay. I am gay. What if the parents decide that I am unfit to lead their kids? What if I bare my soul, my identity, to the church leaders and they decide I am unfit for everything? Could I still play in the band? Could I still hang out with the youth?

I don’t want to be a problem to be solved. I don’t want to be an issue to be fixed. I just don’t want to leave them–the kids. I just want to make sure they’re doing okay. Because God, life is hard.

Eva wants me to become a youth leader. I do too.

Eva wants me to become a youth leader.

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