finding Christianity in a church that needs to break

*Disclaimer: I refer to God as “He” for the sake of familiarity and mentions in text, but I often call Him ‘her’ or ‘she’ – I fluctuate, as I see God as no gender and all genders.

Where do I fit in Christianity?

I remember the very first time I committed a crime. I was seven and my sister was two. I walked a mile to the local farm stand and while I was trying to figure out how to make off with a bundle of bananas, there had been a car crash in front of the store. Everyone ran out to the man behind the wheel, and stunned by my luck, I made off with bananas and grapes. It wasn’t exhilarating; I was initially crushed by guilt and the reality that I’d lost my shot at heaven because by then, I’d been in Sunday school enough times to get the general gist of wrong and right. However, most of my guilt evaporated when my frail sister ate two bananas on her own, and it became a habit to try finding things from the gas station and produce stand that were easily hidden. Eventually my guilt was nonexistent because hunger overrides everything, except anger. My hand felt forced, so eventually, I said ‘fuck your laws’ to God above and did what I had to do. It was years before I accepted His invitation to talk.

My childhood is one I used to avoid discussing; it invites questions I used to not want to answer, and instantly made me feel defensive. I’ve gotten over that. I am known to casually mention something from my childhood that seems fine to me, but elicits shock from others. Sometimes they hurt for me when I feel fine, because I have familiarity with my history, and sometimes they want to fix something that is decades old. I have learned that mentioning it may not be easy to digest for people, but it’s important to understanding who I am. If I can live through it, they can live through hearing about it years later.

I have arrived at a place where I accept and love my ten year old, sixteen year old, twenty year old, and now nearly-thirty year old self. That’s all grand, me loving me, but does God love me? Especially within the confines of an imposing, alienating, and often rigid religion? Where do I fit when a lot of what I did to survive is preached against? My heart, having found God five years ago, cries for Him, but when I run in his direction I abruptly collide with the thick, glass wall of religion. I can see Him on the other side, and all of these things He has promised me, but a community is keeping me back. A community is constantly challenging me, making it hard to fight for something so sweet and glorious, because I am not what they think I should be. To them, I am not worthy of Him. While logically, we know their opinion counts for shit, that opinion has formed much of religion like a clique that wears pink on Wednesdays.

This community is the church.

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taken at the Westminster Abbey in Mission, BC

I know a lot of you are Christian, and I love you. So many of you are my friends, people who have made me feel welcome not despite, but with all of the things that have made me who I am. This is not for you, but rather, our religion. We have to agree – the church is often alienating, it is rigid, and it is difficult. It is full of people who have very narrow, specific ideas of who we should be and how we should act. The church has made it difficult for Christianity to thrive in today’s climate, because we live in a time full of people who are fed up, and it’s pushing people from God. We are so completely done with how the church has treated the outcast, and how people of color and the LGBTQ+ community have been wholly glossed over and oppressed. We are done with a church that has taught Christ’s message while simultaneously ignoring it. The Christ I know is a man who hung out with prostitutes, a man who chose to reveal Himself to a woman many times, and who finds the unlikely to be speakers of His truth. The Church, rather than accepting the same people Christ did, seeks to change or admonish them. Christ himself said there would be many false prophets, and I think what makes it more sad is they don’t realize that they are. They take rules written for older times and attempt to apply them today. They ignore fundamental truths about love and acceptance, in favor of weeding out the unworthy. They use righteousness to assert dominance.

For the past four years, I have struggled to call myself a Christian. I haven’t had the ability to fully embrace a system that was built on the backs of my gender. I have felt the steady pulse of Christ’s love, but through that impenetrable glass. I’ve often slumped against its surface, exhausted from trying to reach Him. And each time, I’ve heard the tender whisper, “Don’t give up.” So I sigh, I get up, and I bang against the glass again. I figure if He was willing to see me through the years I turned my back on Him, I would be remiss to give up.

I felt my patience starting to thin right when a woman’s teachings came into my life. She’s a Lutheran clergyperson, and she is Nadia Bolz-Weber.

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via Sarcastic Lutheran

Nadia is a tattooed woman who swears with ease, has a past with alcohol and dark moments, and she has a huge following. She felt the call from God to lead after she couldn’t find a church that felt like home. Her frustration with the church and finding a place where she belonged heavily mirrors my own. She felt a pull toward God, but nowhere to follow it. Pretty soon, people from all walks of lives started to listen to her speak; her church is full of members of the LGBTQ+ community, drag queens, drug and alcohol addicts, ex-convicts, and even socially-accepted people who have no sordid past. She attracts this following because she is a woman who beautifully and humbly conveys Christ’s message. She embraces who she is not because it’s edgy or sexy, but because she knows that it is the self who God loves. She’s relatable, her messages full of bare truth, and she calls out the varied issues within the church itself. She is bringing the outcasts closer to God because she is one of them. She’s saying who you are right now is enough for God’s love. He still loves you when you sin, when you aren’t your best self. While she supports growth, kindness and healing, she tears down this idea that we have to keep forcing ourselves to be our ideal self. She says, “But the truth is, no one has ever become their ideal self. It’s a moving target, a mirage of water on a desert road. The more we struggle to reach it, the thirstier we become, but we come no closer to actual water. I’m not saying God will get you to the mirage. What I’m saying is the self who God loves, the self who God is in a relationship with is your actual self.”

My heart skipped a beat when I first stumbled upon that token of truth, conveyed in a short 2 minute clip on Facebook via MAKERS (their bio reads: “MAKERS is a feminist media brand for newsMAKERS, historyMAKERS, and troubleMAKERS”). In another video, she discusses that we are worthy of God’s love by being exactly who we are, and discussed the infection that runs deep in our patriarchal, exclusive church and society. I felt on the verge of giving up hope, but what she had to say broke a dam in me. This loneliness and isolation I felt, living in the Bible Belt of the greater Vancouver area, started to lose its hold on me. I still struggle feeling alone in a place like this, very far from home and my multi-cultural environment, but her sermons have helped. Seeing someone who is so much like me, leading a congregation has been instrumental in helping me bridge the gap between me and the embrace of God.

I only just really started listening to her sermons, which can be found as a Podcast named House For All Sinners and Saints (HFASS). They’re short (12-14 minutes long) and sometimes feature other speakers, but each is incredibly impactful so far. Instead of trying to figure out my faith alone, I almost feel part of the church again. A church that actually embraces me and is fighting to tear down the large divide between God and His people. It’s not that I want to blindly follow Nadia; she mentions that I will most likely get disappointed at some point during being part of the congregation, but that’s life. It happens. I actually have a church that’s within an hour from me, that I feel so at home in, but two young kids and a 45 minute drive keep us separated most Sundays. I just feel that spark to keep pushing to God. I find myself on steadier footing, able to hear God more, and feel more willing to work hard in the church to change history. I don’t view Nadia as an escape from ‘the church’ – I view her as motivation to keep pushing for healing within the church. I am starting to view it as less of an obstacle.

I struggle with texts of the Bible and I am still figuring this out, working on reconciling my beliefs with things I read in the text and deciphering complicated passages and historical placement. I spent the second half of my childhood and adulthood around multiple cultures and religions and find myself agreeing with some aspects of different ones that don’t align with what the Bible says. This is all a journey for me, but the one thing I feel firm on is God. Even in my trials and suffering when I turned from Him all those years, I can look back and see the grace and guidance that was always there. We could have starved. Maybe if that car accident had not happened, I would have not been able to feed my malnourished sister. My complete brokenness that led me to Canada was a blessing in disguise that brought me to my husband. I have been able to look back and see so much good, but have also been able to see that sometimes shit happens. People can exercise free will for the negative, and there are times when nothing good comes from it. Tragedy can strike without reason. The enemy can prevail, in that moment. I have been able to make peace with what I have endured without blaming God.

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Nadia Bolz-Weber

One reason I have felt so alienated is who I am has been repeatedly stifled. I am a woman who curses, who discusses sex openly, says ‘vagina’ probably eight times a day, who uses humor as a vessel for my narrative. I am tired of apologizing. I have spent my entire life trying to atone for not being the ideal version of myself. I have bought into this idea that I could be a better Christian if I would stop cursing so much, stop collecting tattoos, stop fucking up. I would have been more suited for God if I had refrained from pulling the ribbons on the gift of sex before a marriage let me. Maybe I’m not a great Christian because I believe saving yourself before marriage is just another method of control over your autonomy by the enemy. Maybe I would be a better Christian if I believed masturbation was wrong. Maybe I would be worthy of Christ if I didn’t listen to Kendrick Lamar. Maybe, maybe, maybe. But I’m not going to change my stance on those things anytime soon, and I’m totally fine with that. There are so many things I could keep listing because I have lived in a religion built on shame. We all have. But I know that Jesus rebuked shame. I know that God created a world to be full of love and acceptance. That guilt and shame are a weapon of the enemy, yet the church has wielded them like swords for a battle they made up.

“When the boundaries, protections, and rules become more important than the sacred thing they are intending to protect, casualties ensue. Wars have been fought and spiritual casualties have piled up over the last 2,000 years because we Christians think purity of doctrine is more important than love, more important than joy, more important than people.” -Nadia Bolz-Weber

There is so much more I want to write on this. I could section it off into various posts on specifics mentioned briefly, and maybe I will. For now, I’m just trying to share my experience and to keep tapping the weak spot I found on that glass wall. I feel it starting to quiver; I can hear small splinters in the grooves of its surface, and I feel God’s warmth more. I hear His words of comfort grow louder, and I am starting to understand that I have a purpose. I see the fissure in the church starting to deepen, and I welcome it. I will be part of it. And when it’s time to heal, I will be part of that too.

 

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