I just finished reading Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans. I immediately Facebook messaged my Pastor, whom I haven’t seen since Easter Sunday, and told her she needs to read the book. Somewhere in the middle of it, I tweeted the author and told her I wanted to hand one out to every pastor in our rural Ohio community. Of note: The author “liked” my tweet.
I dog-eared pages. And it’s a library book. Sorry, other library patrons and librarians. I’ll un-dog-ear them when I return it. And after I purchase it, I’ll re-dog-ear them in my own copy.
It was a book I needed to read.
I’ve been wrestling with and writing about the church. I’ve not shied away from the fact that the big-C Church leaves me somewhat uncomfortable these days, and by these days, I mean for years, and by uncomfortable, I don’t mean that I feel convicted of sins. No. I mean uncomfortable in the way that I sometimes hide or downplay my faith, though it remains strong; I don’t want to be associated with the hatred that seems to come part and parcel with evangelical Christendom. I don’t want hate in my life at all. It’s really a thing I try to avoid.
I can handle anger. And sadness. And deep depression. I can manage anxiety. I respect fellow Christians who dare to question and ask the hard questions. But I can’t handle hate in the Church. I cannot. I will not. I won’t. And I won’t expose my children to it. End of discussion.
Except it’s not the end of the discussion, is it? Or I wouldn’t be reading books about faith, listening to praise and worship on Sunday mornings, discussing God and Jesus-like love with my sons, and continually battling this out in my head, heart, and soul.
Many chapters spoke to me, but the one that left me sitting in my bed on a cold, rainy May afternoon with my heart in my hands was “Evangelical Acedia.” I don’t pick this chapter because she started it with a quote from a Taylor Swift, though that didn’t hurt. “And I know all the steps up to your door. But I don’t wanna go there anymore.” So then I tweeted, in heartfelt response:
— Jenna Hatfield (@JennaHatfield) May 15, 2016
It was the chapter about the World Vision debacle in which they accepted LGBT employees, lost 10,000 child sponsors, and then said, “Oops, sorry, no more gays for us. Too bad, so sad.” I remember feeling, like Evans, so elated at first, and then so bone-crushingly hurt. And pissed off. And then really, really jaded. I’m good at jaded. Cynicism is my dark friend; I wield sarcasm like a sharp sword of protection. I remember pushing the Church away at that point. You don’t want me? I don’t want you either.
And then something happened. Someone said something or did something or tweeted something, or I listened to “Oceans” just one more time, and there I was, as Evans puts it:
“And suddenly I’m caring again. I’m invested again. I realize I can no more break up with my religious heritage than I can with my parents. […] As long as I have an investment in the church universal, I have an investment in the community that first introduced me to Jesus. Like it or not, I’ve got skin in the game.
And that’s why I wrestle with this so much. I grew up evangelical, or as evangelical as you can get in Presbyterian church (Frozen Chosen, represent) going to a non-denominational holiness campmeeting in the summer and on youth group short term mission trips with Episcopalian teens and leaders. Writing that, maybe I was forming my own type of faith statement even in my teen years; maybe this path I find myself on right now isn’t so surprising. Maybe I surrounded myself with different thoughts and practices because I knew, in some form or fashion, what was coming. Not in the ESP way but in the “this is inevitable” way. That aside, I’m invested. I care. I’ve tried not to care. I’ve tried, as Evans writes, to use my cynicism to block myself from caring. But I care.
“When I write off all evangelicals as hateful and ignorant, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I jeer at their foibles, I am numbing myself with cynicism. When I roll my eyes and fold my arms and say, “Well, I know God can’t be present over there,” I am numbing myself with cynicism.
I am missing out.
It’s easier to push it all away. To even refrain from discussion or constructive debate because what’s the point? To shrug and figure we’ll never come to a consensus on who’s human enough to deserve God’s love. (Answer: Everyone.) To just keep doing my thing, our thing we do as a family, because it feels safe. Safe is easier.
“We have to allow ourselves to feel the pain and joy and heartache of being in relationship with other human beings. In the end, it’s the only way to really live, even if it means staying invested, even if it means taking a risk and losing it all.
Okay, well, now I feel convicted.
I don’t know what the right thing is for my family right now, what the right thing is for Christianity and the Big-C Church. I don’t know the answers, but I know that walking away, wiping my hands of this hurtful, painful, messy mess we’ve created doesn’t do any good for those we have left hurting, alone, and craving for understanding, compassion, and the love our Savior spoke of so often, so perfectly. Leaving them to fight alone, from the outside, serves no one. Someone has to fight from the inside. But sometimes I’m just busy fighting for my own life, really freaking literally. Can’t we find a little balance? Isn’t there someone else in South Eastern Ohio—or anywhere in Ohio—who cares enough to say enough is enough?
Maybe we, my four person family unit, need to ditch evangelicalism as a whole. Maybe, like Evans, our family should try out the only Episcopal church in town; it has a lovely red door and maybe we’d be great at Catholic Light. Maybe we need to stay where we are and fight the racism, sexism, bigotry, hatred, and fear of LGBT within the United Methodist Church as a whole, and in our own community. Maybe we need to sit down with other like-minded Christians and discuss where we see our small, rural Ohio city in ten years when it comes to the love and acceptance of all, of all. Maybe we need to focus more on the love, less on the cynicism, and maybe, God-willing, we’ll all come out of this feeling something closer to God’s love than what’s happening right now—politically, Christian, humanitarian—all ways.
I almost feel something akin to hope after finishing Evans’ book. I just hope I can hold on to it long enough to see some seeds take root. Maybe there’s hope.*