I have a confession to make. I have been dishonest a lot lately. I have put on one face for people and secretly carried another much closer to my heart. I’m not really a fan of Christianity. I do like Jesus, but I’m not sure there is any correlation between him and the church. Jesus spoke about love as the highest command, love for God and for neighbor. I just don’t see that in church. In fact, both my wife and I have experienced far greater love outside the church in recent years. We have been loved by her roller derby team, which was like a family to us while we lived in Birmingham, while at the same time finding ourselves alienated from the seminary community I was attending.
My wife gave up first. She came home crying one time too many from the wives club and one church’s women’s group. She was just too different to be accepted. The churchy people at her work were also conniving and cruel, even though they almost all went to the same, famous church on the mountain. I was known as a liberal on campus, but my views came from my beliefs about Christ. In secret and in hushed tones I was told that I was respected for standing tall, but in public I was physically assaulted by two peers because of my views, one is a big campus ministry leaders, the other a Navy chaplain. Some professors told me that I misinterpreted the situation. The situation being two men shoving me up against a brick wall and screaming at me that I work for Satan. Another professor told me that he wasn’t surprised, but I should probably just move on. I tried hard to see the good in the Christian community, and I did find some pockets of refuge, but by and large even those pockets were openly mocked by the majority. I didn’t give up then.
When I finished seven years of theological education and pledged myself to the service of the church, I moved back to California. The south is just the south I told myself, things will be better at home. For six months without any income I spoke to church leaders about my want to serve. I had top educational credentials and nearly a decade of experience. I thought I would have no trouble finding an assignment to use my gifts to serve the church. I heard the same story from church leader after church leader. They were impressed by me but not interested in helping me. In one interview with a denominational official whose job it was connect pastors to churches, he told me that I was too young to be attractive to churches. I protested, claiming more experience and and education, as well as endorsements from respected Christian leaders around the country. He told me it didn’t matter, none of that is what churches want. They want gray hair. His counterpart in a different denomination quizzed me about counseling very difficult situations I had encountered in the past. I told him one story of someone with a problem and the answer I gave him. He told me that my answer to the person’s query was the best he’d ever heard. But alas, I was just a kid. Don’t call us, we’ll call you. That never happened. Cracks in my armor began to appear.
I was told by several people that planting a church was the way to go. So I put my mind to it and came up with a plan. I passed it around and heard the same great praise I was used to, but nevertheless no one wanted to support it. They wanted to spend tens of thousands of dollars supporting people who were better looking, more charismatic than me. I asked, “what does that matter?” The answer I received was a fledgling attempt to rationalize the choice. “Well, he will be a good preacher one day, like you are now, he doesn’t really understand theology that well or why he is doing what he is doing, but he probably will one day. People seem to like him and he’s great at parties…” Really? Is that what this is all about? I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing. More importantly I was beginning to understand that I had been lied to. My undergrad school and seminary said they’d be there to support me, alas most seem to want to forget my name. You are too divisive, you question too much. You need to shut up and go along with the flow.
It’s not as if I choose to be a contrarian. I worked as I was trained. I formed my understandings of the church based on what I was taught. I formed my theology based on reading the Bible, commentaries, and theologies. When most students would read the minimum, I read three books for every two assigned. I bent my personal beliefs to the will of the theology I was learning, rather than try to bend theology to my own will. This caused me to go from a happy cultural Christian to a frustrated believer in something more.
Since being home, I have found a scant few within the church that love me for what Christ has made me. I have actually found much more love on the outskirts of the Christian community and from far beyond its reaches. This creates a problem for me. For I was led to believe in my readings of Scripture that the Christian community was where I would find God’s love. But it is there that I have found the least. Time after time I have dismissed my experiences as isolated events which contrast what I believe. But now I am beginning to believe that my experiences are a window to a truth.
What does this all mean? I am not really sure. I have been personally vested in the Christian world for so long I don’t know what life looks like apart from it…