I was just reading some Ephesians (1-4), and I’m pretty irritated.
I have written on this blog several times that I have really only been invested in knowing Jesus for 8 months. I say that I “met Jesus” in Chile, not because I hadn’t heard about him and didn’t think he was a cool guy before, but because I decided to pursue the nagging feeling that maybe I should give that a shot. Well, I did, and it worked (not because of me, thank God).
But let me take a moment to talk about the things that made it difficult to do that sooner.
I grew up in the Methodist Church. When my mom took us to church, it was off and on again, months or years at a time, and when I was living at her house. I didn’t like it when I was really young, because it was terribly boring. I believe that children have just as much Holy Spirit in them as anyone else, so I will tell you from experience that my opinion of the church I attended here and there hasn’t really changed since I was a kid. I liked the people well enough. I sat through the sermons when I had to. But I really didn’t like them. I knew a little bit about the Bible. My mom used to read us stories from the bible before we went to bed; I’m not sure what that book was but dang was it great. I hated the little pictures that came with it; I was a really sassy kid (nothing has changed) and I found the pictures of cartoon sheep and whatever else just as demeaning then. The rainbows didn’t really help the fact that the bitchy girls at Sunday school always told me I drew my rainbows wrong. The “teachers” were off in the corner doing their own thing most of the time, and it was about as great as rocks.
Then, I came back to church after a several year hiatus (idk why). I don’t know how old I was, I’d say I was probably about 9. We were learning a lot about the Bible; I had a thousand questions and no one that was willing to give me a straight answer. I didn’t have my own Bible, but I was teaching myself to read better through Harry Potter. When I was a kid, I was the one that loved young adult lit as a fourth grader. Don’t call me smart; just write better children’s books. There was so much more to care about in books that were not specifically targeted at what “children my age” wanted; it was like Matilda but with a longer race to the happy ending. I wish I could have walked myself to the library, but alas, that was not in the picture.
When I went back to church around that time, I understood nearly everything that was being spoken to me. I was baptized as a baby and God was never not real to me from what I can remember. But I lost interest; it was so much easier to live my life and not really care about anything else, because at that point, no one else really did from what I could tell.
I don’t know exactly how old I was because I wasn’t really writing then, but I remember wanting to be a Prophet when they asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I was serious. They laughed at me. Ok, fine, moving on.
When I was moving into puberty (and hating life more progressively), not only did the adults I went to church with not intercede when their bitchy children or youth group members decided to mock me for my lack of social graces, they joined in. I’m not joking. I went on several mission trips, and not only was I mostly miserable talking to the people I’d come with, I was depressed all but the times I was physically working or talking to the people I didn’t know, who were infinitely more fascinating and relatable.
When I got depression in high school, the shit really hit the fan. Bad advice came crawling in from every corner of the room like a plague, and most of it was directly at my mother for things she should do to try to “get us in line”. I have to have a lot of self-control right now when I write this, but the essential detail is that hypocrisy is alive and well wherever you go, and it wounds.
So yeah, I went to college. I joined the local Methodist campus ministry, and I was conveniently on study abroad when that went up in flames. To everyone’s surprise, none of my peers or I was consulted in the traumatic fallout that executive decisions were performed with; hell, we were heartbroken. The interpersonal conflict that was had riddled our church was fashioned into a blade behind closed doors, and it left some serious scars in most if not all of us. They moved a new pastor in and booted our female pastor that like the rest of us is flawed and loveable (those two always come together) based on things that were never revealed to anyone really, not even her. They transferred her as far away as possible, and did their best to make sure that it was swept well under the rug. Cowards.
Needless to say, I’m still upset about that. It isn’t Christian to call names, but wounds are wounds, and lies are lies.
But I was in Chile. I had left in peace after I came in peace. I decided on my study abroad program with very few criteria except that it was in Latin America, Spanish-speaking, and somewhat affordable. Down to the scholarships I used to go, I let God do the rest.
So here is me, with a suitcase and a backpack, leaving KCI airport and derping my way to Latin America. I was so ready, I had used it as catharsis for that entire semester and I had done enough research to compensate for the fact that I had never flew on a plane alone before as well as the fact that I had never been abroad, let alone however many other things that are still cached in fine detail on my Google Drive. It was beautiful. There was the opportunity to accept Christ and reject all the other garbage and I took it because it was my best option. It was hard to relinquish a lot of that fear in the beginning, and there were some very dicey moments, I’ll be real with you. One of those moments was at the church retreat in which the pastors gave a very textbook “Gay is bad, don’t do that” rant in Spanish, and I cried myself to sleep. You see, back in the day of inner turmoil and absolute crazy, I self-identified as bisexual. It has been lolz on lolz on lolz to re-contextualize that one for my “friends” and family, and I have gotten some pretty thick skin lately from both sides of that shit-storm. I also used to take antidepressants for 5 years; I dropped that cold-turkey back in May, 2 months in. We could go through a long list of crap I’ve had to sacrifice to figure out most of where I stand, but I’ll save you the gory details, the point it that it is a lot.
If I have to tell you three thousand different ways that is a blessing to me every day, I won’t, I will just ask God to. I trust him to provide for a lot, and he’s ushered me through a car accident, the semester from anxiety row, health problems, and learning to murder a lot of insecurity in cold blood lately without many people’s best knowledge or intentions. There is a subtle irony to being a newer Christian that also is willing to take a lot of risks based on faith: you aren’t going to make many friends unless you shut up and let your actions speak for you. You aren’t going to make friends with the people you live with. You aren’t going to make friends with the “friends” that hung out with you because you were casually “interesting”. You aren’t going to make friends with the people that you’d like to chat with about the gospel, and you certainly will need to shut up in order to make friends at most churches. But not mine. 🙂
I may be young, but at my church, I’m given the free reign by God and the grace by other humans to be genuine. I’m talking with people who are interested in living the gospel, and the bitchiness and lies is barely noticeable in comparison to the compassion; partially because it’s a blip on the radar in terms of size, and partially because God is so invested there. All churches have problems, but our Pastor and his family are the first to admit that. They are kind; they aren’t in the business of roping you into false confessions and measuring out how much shame you should consume that week. Giving of anything is an option, and there is an emphasis on Christ’s love that I have never seen anywhere else except in volunteering. You want the character of Jesus? Please come to my church (Velocity Church of Lawrence, Kansas, United States 😉 ).
I go to a school where many people that I know are Christians. I love many of my friends to pieces, but when I think of Christ, I don’t think of one group of people, I think of all people. I have been to so many churches (and lately after coming home) that reinforce bad theology, bad fellowship, and genuinely sin as it sits in church pews.
I’m not saying I know anything more about this than you do, but I am saying that I shouldn’t have to have xxxx number of Bible verses memorized to believe in an almighty God that intervenes for me. I shouldn’t want to read the Bible only when I’m trying to measure out self-blame. I shouldn’t want to seek attention in places that break my heart, when the only thing that heals it isn’t just in scripture, it’s right before my eyes: over, under, inside, and in-between. There is no place God isn’t, and he doesn’t come dressed in Church clothes, he comes dressed as a beggar or in the eyes of someone you disowned. When they say that Christ comes as the person you pass on the street, THEY MEAN IT, just ask my friend Nikki. She volunteered with me in Hogar de Cristo, a soup kitchen for men and women living in situations of homelessness in Valparaíso, where we were studying. She is my adventure buddy: I sent the emails finding her a place to volunteer, and she was bold in a way that made me come with (I also didn’t want her walking the area near our school at night; it wasn’t safe and I was down to volunteer regardless of where). I was also able to volunteer in the Comedor Popular, which was run by my mama chilena Myriam (host-mom) who has such a servant’s heart that it still humbles me to think about it. But, goodness isn’t measured in church attendance, or what is highlighted in your Bible. It isn’t measured in your opinion. It isn’t measured in your failure; especially if you believe that Christ redeems you no matter what you’ve done. I guess you really have to walk through the dark to realize how disproportionately God is there in it, and I am not ashamed to talk about his goodness there; I’m much more embarrassed to talk about his goodness in good times. I’m not so used to those, and they can make me panic (Too good to be true????) waaaaaaaaaaay more than really scary stuff. If I ever have a surprise birthday party outside of Chile (we had a really obvious celebration with my Bible study in Chile that I should have really realized before it happened, but they pokerfaced it without my realization; lol), I will either cry of happiness, or cry of happiness and panic that I’m crying of happiness. But that is how it is.
I may not know all that much about the Bible, but I do know that God calls us to love him, and love others in that order. He does not call us to love us more than we love others. He does not call us to love others more than we love him. And in places I’ve been lately, let me tell you, that is rare at best. It isn’t natural, and it’s really really daunting. But his goodness makes up for all of it, even if you die an “utter failure”. The mustard grain clause means that if you love him and believe that he will save you from death and say it with your mouth (this part is for your benefit; hear your words and realize the power they hold, if you say it and don’t mean it you aren’t any better off according to the Pharisee clause) then you will be saved, regardless of prison time, murder, drug addiction, mental illness, or anything else you can think of (and I mean ANYTHING).
In most of the churches I have seen lately that aren’t mine, goodness is a pissing contest of who can accumulate more Jesus points (Jesus points was actually a running joke I had within my atheist, agnostic, and lololol me friend group back in 8th grade; it’s still funny). That makes me sad, because if church is like that, why even go? It makes me sad because only God can change hearts, and if you aren’t willing to listen to God when you’re there on Sundays, why are you there? It makes me angry, because I can recite for you a laundry list of scars that still sting over the damage that people can do when they preach the gospel but don’t believe in it. And it makes me scared that, if I attend Church, I may someday turn into one of those people. At least when I called myself an atheist for one week in 10th grade, I didn’t make fun of the people sitting across the cafeteria from me alone while wearing a Young Life bracelet and acting as if Jesus would intervene for their awkward souls while I sat there at ate my Mac and Cheese that was basically 30% plastic byproducts. Nah man, even when I too made fun of their awkward souls, I had a very distinct if not very sensitive understanding that my soul was just as hilariously awkward, and dude, I was the kid that mocked our teachers to their faces. I don’t know if that makes me much of a nice person, but then again, the point is not about nice people or not nice people. It’s about people, and being broken together.