dear church (can we please have different conversations?)

this is my contribution to my brilliant friend Allison’s syncro-blog “Dear Church”. If you also have some things to get off your chest, find out here how to and join the conversation. 

Dearest Church :

A couple of years ago, I was quite prepared to never be part of you ever again. One of your branches decided I was disposable and cast me out without so much as a second thought. My willingness to walk away was a mixture of “well if you don’t me, I don’t want you” and an unbelievable pain at being called horrible names by my church. After several months of crying and reflection and pro/con lists, I decided to stay with you.

I re-make that decision regularly.

Now, do not get me wrong, there are times I find you simply delightful and you are “home” to me in a way that few other things are. As someone who lives outside my home culture and has spent most of my adult life doing so, little makes me feel more at home than singing hymns with a simple piano and a group of family I’ve never met before.

But – like any relationship - choice is a big part of our relationship. Every time someone stands up in your name and makes a comment which makes my blood boil? I choose to stay. Every time I have to defend your true intentions to my friends who have been hurt by false ones? I have to choose to stay. And I know I’m not alone in this.

As someone who is a professional academic studying you and your use of language, can I make some simple suggestions to maybe change how regularly I (and many others) have to make that choice? I had a beloved professor in seminary who used to tell me I was free to abandon a congregational church but that I should never, ever abandon the Bride. I carry that thought in my heart as I write this. I firmly believe that if we could use different language and have different conversations, we could embrace our identity as the Bride more firmly.

Instead of “my pastor speaks for God” can we say “my pastor does his/her best to use the education they’ve acquired and the insights they have to show me new things about Scripture/God/Church that I never would have thought of on my own”?

Instead of “if the Bible says it, I believe it” can we say “I find my truth in the words of Scripture but I acknowledge that I am also influenced by 2,000 years of tradition and history and we may not fully understand everything”?

Instead of “hate the sin and love the sinner” can we say “I don’t need to agree with every choice someone makes to love them”?

Instead of “you are going to hell” can we say … well, anything else? It really is time to stop invoking that threat.

Instead of standing on street corners preaching to anyone passing by, can we commit to loving people for the long term with no agenda? Instead of focusing our budget on the activities of a Sunday morning, can we hire social workers to help craft our interaction with our local and global neighborhoods? Instead of paying for buildings can we talk about meeting in houses or public spaces? Instead of involving ourselves in the reproductive and sexual choices of people we do not know, can we involve ourselves in the rhythms of our communities?

Can we start talking about promoting farming and local food in America? Can we talk about how Jesus wasn’t an American and God is an ahistorical and apolitical deity? Can we promote artistic expression and the laughter of children in countries we’ll never visit? Can we fight for clean water and proper dental care?

Can we be known by what we are for rather than what we are against? Please?

 

wait, summer is over? summer was here in the first place?

“Summer” is a relative term.

For most of my life, summer meant raised temperatures and shorter sleeves. It meant life slowed down just a bit and novels became a certain fixture of my days. Rita’s Water Ice, salt water taffy, barbecued items for dinner and – possibly most importantly – Jersey corn, tomatoes and blueberry pie.

This summer included only a handful of those. I did get to consume Rita’s (on several glorious occasions while visiting the family in Yardley) and had some delicious vegetables purchased at road side stands. I read a few novels (Grave Mercy  by Robin LaFevers is an absolute must for anyone who enjoys things in the vein of Hunger Games, by the way) and my feet found both the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.

But slow down?

No.

My summer did not do that.

Any concept of “rest” or “sabbath” pretty much went out the window on May 24 when my research proposal was rejected and I was given a new reality to live in. Within one hour I went from confidence and excitement about what the next season of my life was going to bring to abject horror, fear and panic over not having a plan. My stomach lurched and I felt that the walls were closing in on me and I barely escaped the room before dissolving into heaving sobs.

Over the next week or so, I cried and yelled and processed and freaked the flip out and came to peace with the new reality. With the help of favorites and family on both sides of the ocean, I formulated a new plan and moved forward in it. I downloaded thousands of pages of new articles and ordered new rounds of Inter-Library Loans.

Of course, it was not just my professional life that shifted. The personal one took a shift as well and some very serious conversations about permanence had to take place with the Irishman. Because – and this is a particularly delightful side effect of being an ex-pat – if I fail this next proposal (to take place in the beginning of November) my visa will be revoked and I will have 60 days to leave the country.

The end result of this, as I sit on the cusp of September, is that I only have vague recollections of not being so stressed and anxious that my sleep exists uninterrupted. This is a large reason why the blog has remained dormant, along with a few other reasons I’ll try to explore in the next wee bit.

All of that to say – my summer was not full of rest. There were moments of glorious sunshine and lazy moments spent on beaches. I sat at long, luxurious meals with family and explored new worlds. I celebrated marriages and dreamed  of others, but everything was punctuated with the nagging thought of “I may loose my visa in four months” breathing down my neck. As I move forward into autumn (arguably my favorite of all the seasons, especially for the three or so weeks it shows up in Northern Ireland), I will once again be surrounded by stacks of notes and color-coded post-its as I attempt to craft a new proposal.

And then? Over Thanksgiving? I will finally have my “summer”. My delightful sabbath where no professional work will be undertaken and I get to introduce my Irishman to my family and my world in the hopes that he finds home there as well.

So here’s to large cups of coffee and incredibly understanding friends, supportive families and a boyfriend without whom I would not have survived this summer this well. Here’s to shifted reality and finding my footing on an uncertain terrain. Here’s to movable summer and the promise of eventual rest.