Tuesday, March 20, 2012

15 Reasons I Stayed in the Church

Is it weird to have Internet Friends? Sometimes I think so. Like they're not much more real than the imaginary friends my sister was always going on about when we were younger. Rachel Held Evans has become one such I.F., although I am led to believe that she is, indeed, a real person. Her blog is a fantastic resource for all kinds of issues, from Biblical authority to church culture to interviews with Christians of all stripes.

Earlier today, she shared a great post with 15 reasons she left church. She and her husband have been looking for a new church home, she writes, because staying where they were was no longer an option. Reasons like wanting to "help people in my community without feeling pressure to convert them to Christianity," or knowing that she would never see a woman preach in the church where she grew up. Reasons that would make me wrestle with the goodness of God and the purpose of the church. 

When I read things like this, sometimes it makes me wish that I had things harder. I know, it's a weird thing to say. But I'm a weird person. Sometimes I think that, I don't know, it would have helped me develop a sense of solidarity with people like Rachel that goes deeper than mental assent, or maybe it would have helped me form stronger opinions? Because that's an area where I'm seriously lacking. (NOT, as the kids say.)

But I didn't have things too bad when it comes to the church. In fact, I've had a pretty fantastic experience in the church. So, here are 15 reasons I've stayed.

1.  I stayed because I saw fantastic expressions of creativity. Dance, art, plays. They weren't always great, but they reminded all of us that there is a place for every gift in the life of the church.

2. I stayed because there was room for my doubts and questions as I grew up. I was allowed to grow into my faith, and still am. 

3. I stayed because I found some of the most authentic, vulnerable community that I've ever known in a small group of friends. 

4. I stayed because I have never been told by someone in my church that I cannot do something because I am a woman. I haven't always seen it modeled perfectly, but I've seen men and women working so hard for equality played out.

5. I stayed because one time my dad totally, embarrasingly mis-read Psalm 150:6 as "Let everything that has breasts praise the Lord." And people laughed and laughed and laughed and then they showed that video at the going-away service.

6. I stayed because when one of my dear friends killed herself, no one suggested anything other than that God loved her deeply and that she was with him. There was space for our confusion in the vastness of God.

7. I stayed because of my mom, whose capacity for awe and wonder at the world and whose incredible gifts of leadership have always had some kind of place in the church. She has been tenacious.

8. I stayed because of my dad, who said not too long ago that if Jesus could trust the news of his resurrection first to women, we as the church could damn well trust them to teach and preach. (I don't think he said 'damn well' in church, but you get the idea.)

9. I stayed because of my best friend Kaitlin, who has a heart-achingly sweet love for the church unlike anyone else I have ever seen, and who has shown me that even the worst and ugliest parts of the church are not outside of redemption.

10. I stayed because my ongoing struggle with anxiety has been met with compassion, grace, and listening. 

11. I stayed because I spent holidays with my family at soup kitchens and shelters all over the city of Chicago on trips organized by our church to serve, even when I really didn't want to. And I'm so glad I did.

12. I stayed because my husband and I got married in the sanctuary of the church we attend now, and every time we walk in I remember that funny, strange, wonderful day that we spent with all the people we love. 

13. I stayed because our church works with local community partners to further public education in under-resourced areas, which is really the gospel in action. 

14. I stayed because most of the people I talk with refuse to give pat answers to complex questions.

15. I stayed because I've found freedom in these remarkable places. 

Make sure to read Rachel's post if you haven't already. Have you left? Stayed? Why?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Day for Women

Today is International Women's Day. I never would have known that were it not for a college professor of mine - Susan Penksa - who taught international politics at Westmont as well as one of my favorite classes, Sex, Gender, and Power. There were about eight of us in the class; five women, three men, something like that. I loved that class so much, and for many reasons, not least of which that some of my research included reading through tens of issues of Vogue.

Because it is a Christian school, Westmont would probably end up a bit to the right of many public colleges and universities. But as a school, the spirit was very much one of inquiry and questioning assumptions and leaving nothing off-limits. The political science department, when I was there, had three professors, and they were all quite liberal. (Which I loved.) So we had classes like Sex, Gender, and Power as offerings, and we were able to have important conversations with our peers and professors about the very real inequality between men and women across the world and in America and in the church.

So, it's a thing I think about a lot. Women in the church, in the developing world, in politics. Why women still earn less than men for the same job. How so many women are pigeonholed professionally, ministerially, physically - in every way - because of our gender.

Sometimes, I wonder if we have all bought into a kind of theology that tells us that women are still essentially fallen, and men are fully redeemed. Not overtly, of course. But there's the danger--when we start to operate from the assumption that our culture defines our theology, we forget the radical message of Jesus that includes everyone as part of God's redemptive plan.

This kind of insidious thinking will cripple the church, and we do not have to buy into it. It is not the truth, but some people will be quick to tell you that it is, that women can only exercise certain gifts within the church, that it is better to leave the decision-making and the leading to the men. When you hear that, you guard your hearts. Hold your gifts tight in your clenched fists when you are with these people, and risk when you must, and open your palms to your safe community. But don't stop there.

So to the women in my life who have shaped me and continue to be some of my richest relationships--to my mom and to Kaitlin, to Courtney and my grandmothers and aunt, to Rachel and Myrna and Betsie and Lauren, to Mallory....there are no words.And to the amazing men who have also helped to show the way: thank you for your courage and your love.

Now go celebrate some women.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Seven years

It's hard to believe that seven years have passed.

I was in the backseat of a friend's car, driving back up to campus when I got the call.

Suicide was an abstract concept for me until then.

At first, we all thought she was missing. She was beautiful, bubbly, kind, trusting. The kind of person who would give up her first year of college to live and serve in an unknown town in Mexico. So it wasn't a stretch to think that, in a moment of characteristic warmth, she had let someone get too close to her.

From what I know of that day, she had, in some order: saw her fiance, taken a test at school, and driven away. Maybe she didn't actually take the test? I can't remember. Either way, she went missing. No one knew where she was, but we all had some strange confidence that she would be found. She was 20, beautiful, recently engaged.

They found her car near Shedd Aquarium.

They found her body in the lake.

I found out on a date with Zack. I found out right after dinner, and had to sit down on a pile of dog food bags outside of Petco in the Five Points shopping center in Santa Barbara. We had gone to dinner at Fresco, but I couldn't eat.

There was a big group of us in high school -- thirty, or so, at the outside, and about ten or twelve close friends at the core. Laurie moved between the outer and inner circles, but she was liked by everyone. We all knew her story, knew her family, we all got notes from her signed with a heart and a cross and a verse - 1 Peter 3:15; always be ready to give a reason for the faith you have.

And she was.

Until she wasn't.

I still find myself feeling surprised by it. Seven years after the day she killed herself, I wonder if it is real. If she didn't just go hide somewhere and start a new life. It doesn't compute. Behavioral psychologists talk about 'cognitive dissonance,' the tension people feel when they have to hold different beliefs simultaneously. Sometimes, I feel that way about Laurie. I believe that she is dead. I saw her water-bloated body at her wake, I watched my nineteen year-old male friends carry her casket down that aisle, I cried to my boyfriend about the injustice of it all. But then, I don't believe that she is dead. I don't feel it in my bones. It doesn't add up. Sweet, kind, happy Laurie. But she changed in so many ways after we all left for school. We lost touch except for the occasional email. We didn't know her anymore.

Since that year, every year on March 2nd I have gone for a long drive by myself, and I think about her. In Santa Barbara, I would drive up East Mountain Drive and then keep going until it was time to turn around. And I would listen, on repeat, to Jonathan Rice's "The Acrobat." It was the only time I would ever listen to that song because that was a sacred drive, a sacred moment.

One year, I drove to the end. As far as I could go until the mountain stopped me. And at the very end, at the end, in blue sidewalk chalk words was written:

"Welcome Home."

I haven't been back to the Aquarium since. I don't know if I can, because I don't know if I want to believe that she is gone. It's been seven years, and it feels like one, and it feels like one million.

If he should fall
He will surely die
And his body will sink and his soul will fly
Into the night where the spirits scream
He will leave this world and become a dream
He will leave this world and become a dream