From time to time, subscribers receive a bonus essay from me, usually from the archives of my now-closed blog (2004 - 2019, RIP). This is a small way for me to thank you for your support of my work and of Field Notes, resurrect and share past favourites, and hopefully bring a little encouragement and goodness to your inbox at the same time. - S.
(Image by Taylor Rauschkolb.)
I was a tongue-talking eight-year-old in a new church that was meeting at an old leisure centre. I guarded my confession – I’m coming down with a healing! when my throat had a tickle, and I believed in thirty, sixty, hundred fold returns, calculated to figure out how much God owed me for my tithe. I secretly wondered what was missing in the lives of people who were sick or depressed or broke: obviously, they were not blessed. By the time I was a teenager at the Jesus camps, pledging my life to being a warrior in God’s culture army, I had memorized Bible verses as answers, and developed a pretty major evangelical hero complex along with my superiority and false sense of control.
I was nineteen and full of disdain for my old ways. I broke with the faith of my youth, railed against over-realized eschatology, studied theology and waxed philosophic about all the ways they were doing it wrong. I judged the Christians of my youth and my context, and I found them wanting, clearly I had a better theology now. I was stumbling into the fringes of an emerging movement in the church. Finally I found my tribe, we were so much right-er than anyone else.
And less than ten years later, I had abandoned the label, poked holes in the arguments I used to make, found the inconsistencies, the hypocrisies. I judged the people who helped usher me into this new season of my life in Christ, and I found them wanting so I held them up in my mind or in public for mockery and slander.
I disguised my critical heart with a lot of talk about critical thinking. I found the points of weakness and drove a chisel into it, let’s watch it splinter together. Then I found Twitter.
These are just a few seasons of my life: I also had my anti-institutional church season, my I’m-not-a-Christian season, my agnostic season, my angry feminist season (still there some days…), my new-wanna-be-theologian season, my screw-it-let’s-just-knit-things-season, my I’m-a-new-mother-and-I-know-everything-now season. I have had seasons for my marriage, for my work, for my processing, for my mothering, for my relationships, for my writing, and so of course, I’ve had them for my journey with Christ. I imagine I’ll have a dozen more, I’ll look back on the me-right-now with wiser eyes someday, I’m under no illusions.
Now I feel tender-hearted when I look back at my own self in those seasons. And I feel tender-hearted towards all the people who were there with me, all of us doing the best we could do with what we had.
I’m redeeming it. I am reclaiming.
In God, we live and move and have our being, and God was in and amongst the movements because They were moving in the people there, and now I see outside and in and among, and above all, for us, for us all.
I will gather up all these disparate seasons and thoughts and opinions and experiences, and hold them all in my hands with gratitude.
I’m able to find something good in the over-the-top excessive prosperity preachers and the smug theologians and the pot-stirring elitists and the overly passionate kids in the stadium light shows and the evangelistic new mothers and the disillusioned bitter cynics because I’m still all of those things, too.
Someday I’ll add the woman I am now, the theology I practice, the things I believe, the work I do, the words I write so earnestly to that list.
It’s not that I don’t see what is wrong. It’s just that in addition now to the wrongs or the missteps or the weirdness, I also see the beauty of my young first generation faith: a love for the Scriptures, a deep and profound sense of God’s inherent goodness, a respect and love for language and words, a passion for worship and full engagement. I see the beauty of the other seasons, too: the respect for education, the widening of horizons, the gift of anger, the awakening to complexity, and a tribe of sinners-saved-by-grace reminiscent of a messy first-century Church. I see us all trying very hard. I do see grace even in the places that wounded me the most. I look back on the people, on the movements, on the seasons, and I want to curl up beside all of us, listen, love, and be kind.
I forgive you, I forgive us, can you forgive me.
There’s room for all of us. There’s room for all of me.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting soft, literally and figuratively. Maybe it’s because I see this cycle of seasons in our own lives and in the Church, and I see it happening again. Maybe it’s because I don’t’ want to exchange one kind of fundamentalism and certainty for another, still under the illusion of purity.
Maybe it’s because I’m gratefully disillusioned about church leadership. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty convinced that we’re all doing the best we can do, most of the time. Maybe it’s because I don’t think anyone has the corner on truth. Maybe it’s because I’m thankful for the extremes and all points in between, because they keep us growing, keep us alive, keep us reforming.
Maybe it’s because I’ve been wrong so often.
And maybe I want a little more kindness for the ones still on the journey.
Likely it’s because I imagine someday the Church will look at me with disdain on their faces and cancellations on Twitter and coffee shops and doctoral dissertations on all the ways I did it wrong, and all I’ll know then to say is that I know, and I’m sorry, I hope I learned to be kind.
P.S. If you liked this essay, you might like my book Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith (which might be the most Enneagram 9 subtitle ever).
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