In December I switched from an Evangelical church to an open and affirming congregation that allows me to address doubts and concerns I’ve had for many many years.
It wasn’t an easy transition for me. I came from a background where everything I was supposed to believe was rolled out like a red carpet for me. I only needed to dance.
I’m an awkward dancer. I’m six foot tall and my husband isn’t a party guy. I’d often find myself alone on the carpet trying to figure out the beat of the songs. When the kids came along, we’d ring-around-the-rosy every Sunday and be appeased with doughnuts and life groups, but in the end, I felt exhausted from my shimmying to something that I thought I was supposed to get but just didn’t.
When I started opening my mouth about my questions, I was shocked to find many people on the carpet had the same ones as I did, but they chose to accept what worked and moved on. I have zero disrespect for these people, it’s just not me. I am not one to go with the flow if I’m not comfortable. I had to, in the end, quietly leave. Much to my inner narcissist’s surprise, there was no banner shouting “Andrea has left the building!” Nope, not even a phone call or an email. I was either that much of a disappointment or not important enough. Either way, it was an immense relief. (If not a bit terrifying. Now what?)
My New Building
No one was more shocked than I was to find that at my new tiny church God showed up even more strongly than he had before. I felt a sense of peace and belonging I had not felt in years. It’s a place where, in true Rachel Held Evan’s style, we all are called to the communion table. We don’t have an agenda to push. We have only God’s love and grace to receive.
This kind of message seems radical and hippy dippy to many more conservative folk. But to me, it reminds me of Jesus: a rebellious conviction to love everyone. (Unfortunately this kind of acceptance got him killed. But I get it. He was no longer able to live with the hypocrites. And that goes for me being able to live with my dual personality of wanting to fit a mold I just wasn’t cut out for.)
Getting clean with who I was felt so refreshing. But I had been warned about this kind of serenity before from my more conservative church: “It’s the devil.” And yet, having done an immense amount of spiritual work through 12 step, I knew this simply wasn’t true. In my 12 step, it is crystal clear that to not live a life of honesty and integrity is to drink, and to drink for many is to die. I was not willing to die in body or spirit. Instead, I chose surrender.
The Power of Surrender
I could go on and on about the power of surrender and what that means to an over-thinker like myself, but in a nutshell it means: I am not God, neither are you, how about we just lay down or guns and admit we don’t know everything? How about we let go and trust that each person has a God of their understanding to guide them to make decisions for themselves?
For me that is Jesus. But until he shows up at my door with a cappuccino and a doughnut, I’m not willing to tell all my other friends of faith that they are 100% wrong in who their higher power is and aren’t going to heaven “until they know the truth.” The path to destruction might be wide, and the road to salvation might be narrow, but that simply cannot be true of our hearts. Hell is happening NOW, with our minds too narrow and our compassion not wide enough. People are dying. People aren’t getting the healthcare they need. People are being sent to prison for making heart wrenching decisions for their children.
Surrender also means listening. In joining a new church, I asked question after question of my gay pastor. “How do you reconcile your sexuality with the Bible? How do you keep from creating a God of your own understanding?” These open questions and resulting communication was both scary and transforming. But in the mystery, like driving through fog, light came at the other side. In being patient in the dark, I felt more of God’s all encompassing love than I ever felt listening to straight up theology.
It also meant asking my friends about their feelings on abortion. I heard story after story about why they did, or did not, choose to terminate a pregnancy. Instead of feeling judgment or elation, I was led right back to surrender. And in doing so, I was overwhelmed again and again with the idea of dignity: That a woman must decide for herself what she can or cannot live with. That her life, and others’ lives, are as valuable as the one in their womb. And as painful as that is for me to admit to my inner evangelical, it’s what I believe now to be true. No one – especially a rich white man – gets to decide this.
I am not writing this to convince you on what you should or should not do with your life and your votes, especially if you disagree with me. But I am writing to you to consider asking yourself the very tough questions that I began asking myself a few years ago:
- If your child came to you and told you he or she was gay, would you pound them with theology and Bible verses or would you wrap them in your arms and tell them you love them?
- Do you really believe that everything written in that Bible is 100% without error? Because if you do, you have a lot of explaining to do. And if that explaining makes sense to you only from a place where, in our society today, straight white people win, would you consider that maybe, just maybe, it’s possible you are wanting to interpret something that best fits your view of the world versus real people with real struggles and needs?
- Do you truly think that God stopped talking 2000 years ago when the Bible was shut and that we can’t possibly see God in people and situations outside the book of Revelation?
- If your 16-year-old daughter comes to you pregnant, are you willing to tell her that she must have this child or face prison time?
None of these questions are comfortable, but they are real. Is our God big enough to handle them and have us talk to others with dignity and respect? Mine is. And for that I’m so grateful.
I am being clear with you all because, like my decision to leave a conservative church, I can’t live with pretending to be someone I’m not. While on one hand I can’t stand what the internet has done to our culture (the polarization, the vamping, the lurking) I also am in acceptance of the fact that it’s not going away anytime soon. And so, with that in mind, I felt it important to be have my virtual life match up with my human life. Unlike the Andrea of old, who might have done this out of defense or wanting to fit in, the Andrea of now is doing it from a place of transparency and truth. Right or wrong, this is who I am. Maybe you are in a place I was and need to know that someone else is out there.
Consider this your virtual red carpet to dance in the unknown. To rub shoulders with other people and ask about their stories. To make decisions based on real human beings with hearts, not just theology, and begin to trust your journey.
Services at my new church start at 10. Perhaps you’ll join me at the table.
The Table reminds us that, as brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family and invited to God’s banquet, we’re stuck with each other; we’re family. We might as well make peace. The Table teaches us that, ultimately, faith isn’t about being right or good or in agreement. Faith is about feeding and being fed. – Rachel Held Evans
Happily Ticked Off Tip #53: When you get to know someone’s story, your heart transforms your head and not the other way around. Every time.
(Note: It’s a special ed journey… your kid doesn’t need to have Tourettes to relate!) Follow me on Twitter@AndreaFrazerWrites or on Facebook.