Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Crooked Stick

Recently, at a Bible study I attend, the teaching leader talked about a Crooked Stick and how 
GOD can draw a Straight Line 
with a Crooked Stick.  

As a Wordy Girl, I love analogies and word pictures, really any literary device.  This thought and image of God drawing a straight line with a crooked stick has been powerful for me this week.  (We've been studying the life of Moses this year, and, OH, can I identify with Moses in his doubts and sins.)

I am very much the Crooked Stick.  I am a mess, while trying to live a meaningful life despite my crookedness.  My list of hardships and heartbreaks is a long one, as are my doubts and sins.  Yet, I get up each day, hoping still, searching still for the goodness and blessings and impact to come out of this messy life.  Honestly, I am often still searching for God.

I tend to wear my mess.  And I am ok with that. Self-awareness is something developed strongly in me in these recent years and therapy.  I know my strengths and weaknesses and own it all.  God created me to be a passionate person, an advocate, a voice--really it's the passion I wear most on my sleeve. Passion is often born of heartache, hardships, and wanting more and better for those you love.  While there are people who do not appreciate that in me, I am ok with that as I don't need for them to.  I am expecting God to use it--every piece, bit, tear, and healed scar.  I do not live and breathe and serve and engage to fit into any one's idea of the correct mold that some have tried to fit me into in the past.  It's not me, it's not my role, and it's not even right.  

Our faith journey as a family has not been a typical one, and there have definitely been some crooked sticks in our paths.  Some of these pit stops we've made, I wish we had skipped right by, though I don't want to skip any of the blessings that HAVE COME.  Keith and I grew up in Churches of Christ, though VERY, VERY different churches.  I am thankful for this heritage, even though it's not been the place for us for some years.  I can't say that is the same for Keith.  Together, as a couple we chose Churches of Christ at first, but CofC's that were different than most--you know "progressive" and "liberal."  We've been welcomed and enjoyed deep fellowship and joy at a black Baptist Church.  We experienced the most Spirit here.  We tried out a CofC that has dropped that label, because of the changes in worship, women's roles, and the Spirit.  We tried a home-church from a non-denominational background that didn't end up being very healthy.  We've attended non-denominational churches, some with charismatic roots and some Bible churches--often offshoots of Baptist churches. We've visited several Methodist churches.  A lot of what we've searched for as a family was authentic communities, connection, fullness in the Holy Spirit, and churches plugged in to justice and service.  

And diversity--we have always longed for and searched for churches truly integrated.

Recently, I have been visiting an Episcopal church and meeting with the head priest, Father John.  Aaaaaaannnnnd, I am going to just leave that right here for now.

We've been told along the way straight up that we are going to hell.  For things like going to churches where hands were raised, where women had roles in public & in the service, where prayer languages are allowed, where there were instruments, where services were not on Sunday mornings--or on Sundays at all. For not going to the one true church.  People!  This was before Keith was even an agnostic or atheist!  I have sat in services where ministers have declared who is a true Christian and who is not, based on beliefs about creation, evolution, and the Bible--and who do not leave room for doubt or for those trying to figure it all out.  My children have heard in children's classes they have to believe 100% in creationism, and where the discussions were shut off, and they were promptly sat down to view hardcore creationist videos.

I'm reading more and more articles these days about believers' unrest with church.  We want more, different and less all at the same time.  We want less patriarchal & traditional gender roles.  Less showiness, less focus on programs, and less production; less trendiness. More authenticity. More safety for being real, open, upfront, saying doubts aloud, and asking the hard questions.  

The reasons for leaving sometimes vary by the individual.  Many of the articles, posts and blogs repeat reasons that are coming up across the board.  Professional women are leaving because of traditional gender roles that don't fit their lives or their gifts or beliefs.  These women do not wish to serve in the children's classes or the kitchens and for whom crafts and/or decorating are not an interest.  Young adults leave because traditional religions completely shut off and won't discuss science, evidence or doubts.  Intellectuals also tend to leave when doubts, science, and evidence is not open for discussion.  It goes on, these are just frequent, current examples.  Generally, all of the writings and reasons I've read support that most people are looking for a church home that meets them where they are, as they are, and connects deeply--inclusiveness.

I've even read articles about what some are calling the "done-ers."  "Done-ers" believe in God and Jesus and even have avenues of fellowship with other believers, but are DONE with churches and organized religion.  They stay home on Sunday mornings. There are way too many believers who have so much to offer sitting on the fringes looking for something and someone and a place that truly pulls them in--not just the elite, core, leadership or original members.  

And many of these done-ers have been trying to hang in there.  
For YEARS.  
And, then, they are Done.  

I get it.  

I've been close to being a "done-er" for some time now.  I am just sitting on the curb, one foot in, one foot out.  I'm weary of church stuff.  I'm disappointed in the church as a whole.  I'm tired of being beaten up by church people, ignored by church, and often see little point in attendance.  Seriously.  And though I am not currently working outside of my home, I still think very much as a professional woman.  I do not want to teach kids' classes, change diapers, or cook or serve food or do crafts.  Yes, I can do those things and have, but they are not MY GIFTS.  I have a WEALTH of skills, expertise, and more than one life full of experiences, all of which have NEVER been tapped into by any church, though I remain open, willing, and ready to use it all for God and God's people.  

Please don't think I am completely alone.  I am not.  I have a couple of people who are mine.  They love me and get me. They speak truth.  They know when not to speak.  They show up in many, many ways. They are not tied to a church for me.  They are my people no matter what.  And I am their people.  Keith is our people, too, regardless of faith.  I have had to face my expectations for and beliefs about community in recent months, let them go, and grieve their loss.  I no longer look for a church to be my community or my place for authenticity or service.  I tried desperately, begged, pleaded and was open about what we needed as a family when questioned, but churches are not a place where community can happen for Keith and I as a couple and with our children.  I have these things, but they are not tied to a church.  Togetherness looks different for us than I would have ever expected, and I am ok with it.  I have forgiven those who are not willing to be together with us.  And I am moving on.

I've also read articles and posts on how we shouldn't talk about any of this.  This is private business.  And we should not be debating, discussing, pointing out flaws, or calling Christians out.  The thing is, it already isn't private.  The world is already watching and knows our strengths and weaknesses.  When we don't or can't own up to these things, we can't work on them.  When we don't or can't own up, we turn many people off.  
Because they already know.  
We all do.  
And in an age, where women, intellectuals, done-ers, and youngsters can access anything and everything, we need to be ready, able, and equipped to meet people where they are.  Publicly.  We can also find a precedent in history, such as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, and in the Bible, in the letters of the apostles, for convicting, encouraging, and training each other as church people publicly.

What I'm not seeing addressed so much in articles, posts, and blogs is that when done-ers just leave church,  they often end up leaving God down the road.  For agnosticism and/or even atheism.  And I remember my husband being there.  Before agnosticism.  Before atheism.  He could really find no good purpose for church after a while.  Attending, volunteering, serving, etc, really had no impact on his life.  We weren't really in community,  though we tried.  Looking back it is always easier to see the progression. And I fully believe, if Keith in his doubts since childhood, could have had a safe place to speak them, feel them, wrestle with them and still be accepted and loved, I believe we would not be where we are now as a family standing together on different foundations.  I'm concerned now if everyone feeling disillusioned with church and who are questioning if churches are truly meeting their purpose,  are headed in the same direction as Keith?  
Are they going to fall away?  
Am I? 

Some have told me not to worry, let it go, it'll all be good, because God's going to be the victor in the end.  While I believe God is and will be the victor, I am not willing to let it go and wait, doing nothing to improve our footprint in the world and hearts of unbelievers and strugglers.  
I am unwilling to let this conversation die.  
Because in my life.  
It's real.  

And true love doesn't sit by and let the person, the receiver of its love, drown in front of them.  Because it will work out 

I've watched my husband struggle and fall away.  I know what that does to a family, a marriage, an individual, to children and even a community. These conversations are dark and light, LIFE and DEATH.  
  • How can we be so nonchalant about it all?  
  • How can we so easily dismiss those challenging us--whether they're in our fellowship or without?
  • How can we use our energy just to put up defenses, quiet doubters, and circle up with those just like us, ignoring who Jesus called us to be and to reach?  
  • Are you willing to become another Pharisee? 
  • Don't you want to fulfill your beautiful purpose as the Bride of Christ attending to his body

For almost 3 years now, love has been the message coming through to me--through multiple Bible studies, messages, & sermons, individual people and words of knowledge, experiences and affirmations. I am done with lots of things, but I am not done with Jesus.  I am not done with love.  Right now, it is scripture, the hope of better, and my kids that keep me going to church--whatever church it is. It is this love and hope that keeps this Crooked Stick believing God will use me, and is using me, to draw a straight line--a line pointing everyone back to Jesus.
And I'm searching.
I'm searching for MORE JESUS and MORE LOVE.
And I'm speaking and acting.
I'm speaking and acting for those on the fringe, those never invited in, and those unable to speak up for themselves and who have never had a place at our tables.

And this Crooked Stick will not go gently in that good night."  
And I will "rage, rage against the dying of the light."
(Borrowed from poet, Dylan Thomas)

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