On Sunday morning I woke up for the first time in a while feeling thankful. I was thankful to be alive. I was thankful for the sun shining through my window. I was thankful for a good night’s sleep that had followed a special evening out with my oldest daughter.
But mostly I was thankful to be headed to church.
It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I have spent many years wrestling with the church. I was baptized United Methodist, and spent my college years in a Jesuit University, but my spiritual life has been primarily shaped by the theology and culture of evangelicalism. As a young adult I began to realize that my values, my understanding of who Jesus is and the life he calls his followers to, didn’t always match up with the messages and the culture of my church. And as the years went by I drifted farther and farther and fought harder and harder to cling to anything that would let me stay.
It took an act of God to get me to leave.
I had to. I was dying. I was trying to be something I was not and it was killing me. The day I walked away I felt a lightness that only comes with Holy Spirit freedom and liberation.
I know that many of you out there are watching the events unfold around you and wondering if you have a home among your evangelical culture anymore. You are struggling daily to find Jesus there. You are so exhausted by the work it takes to fit. You weep with sorrow over the view your beloved church is presenting to the world of your even-more-beloved Savior and Friend.
For me it took leaving, and then a season of wilderness wandering, of cynical thinking, of grief-filled praying, before the Lord led our family to an Episcopal Congregation. Our first Sunday there were so many things that felt foreign, and so many that felt familiar. It didn’t feel like coming home, but God was so clearly present and working that I was desperate to keep going back and finding Him there.
This post-election week tore me up something fierce, but I woke Sunday morning grateful to be headed to a church where feelings would be acknowledged, grief would be honored, and unity around the one thing that matters—the body and blood of our Lord—would be celebrated.
We sang about peace. We prayed for peace.
We heard a gospel reading that had never felt so scary or so relevant.
We heard from two members of our community who shared that in the middle of the mess they still held out hope, because of the witness of the people of God found in that room.
We looked each other in our tear-filled eyes and without words reminded each other that while the bottom felt like it had dropped out, like we were falling and flailing, that we would be caught. That we would catch each other and that our God was holding us close.
We stepped forward to eat the loaf and drink the cup, not knowing how our neighbor had voted or why. Instead, knowing that in that moment it couldn’t matter less.
And when we passed the offering plate I raised my voice to join my new friends in the song who’s refrain I was thankful to have to sing five times. I needed to remind myself of this truth and to proclaim it again and again:
Earlier this week I had lunch with a friend and mentor who asked me how things were going at our new church. As I tried to explain the place of being welcomed and loved by a community that in many ways still felt foreign and that while I was grateful to know that I was safe and free to be who God has called me to be…well…the evangelical world was still my home. Turns out even when I’m frustrated or embarrassed or even honestly disgusted, evangelicals are still my people.
“You’re a bit of a religious refugee, aren’t you?” he asked me.
Yes. Yes I am. That is a perfect way to describe me. I am a stranger in a strange land. I am grateful every day for the noble people who took me in and bandaged my wounds and gave me a new picture of God’s goodness and grace and provision. They have welcomed me as an equal and valued member of their community. They are my people now too.
And yet my heart still aches for my first home, and my people there. I wonder if some day I will return. I hope someday to return.
If you are wrestling with your first home, wondering how far they can get from the Jesus you know and love, please know that my new friends will welcome you too. They will let you ride out the storm until it is somehow safe again. They will sing wholeness and healing, peace and love over you. They will show you grace. Buckets and buckets of grace.
PS: This post by Rachel Held Evans articulates things so much better than my stumbling attempts. Click through and find comfort that you are not alone.