When it comes to fitting on the spectrum of the Christian community, I often feel like a spectator looking in and asking “What the hell is happening!?” But I don’t often believe this comes from ignorance, though I admit it does at times. Instead, it comes from a place of disconnection, of wonder and curiosity. On the conservative side of the spectrum which seems to have a death grip on the megaphone of female Christian culture in America, I don’t fit in with the pinterest perfect looking faith that often feels too shallow with it’s recycled message of “Jesus changes everything!”. What does that even mean?! But on the progressive side which has deconstructed their faith to the point the word “deconstruct” has become jargon, I don’t relate to their experience of not being allowed to question their faith. I often feel like a lost puppy wandering around my local churches, Instagram and Christian media looking for a home but there doesn’t seem to be one for the person who doesn’t have it all together and who also questions everything.
Mind you, these are my biases of what I see from my narrow perspective but I know there are more of you out there. I know there are many who, though were raised in a conservative Christian community, still questioned their faith and the church even if it wasn’t out loud. I know there are those who don’t fit the “good girl” personna but also don’t see themselves as the “rebels”. We are the awkward in-betweeners who can’t seem to find a table in the lunch room to sit at.
I grew up Baptist like many evangelicals but I was also raised by a scientist father. Questions were good and welcomed. We were also a very broken family but we didn’t put much energy into pretending we weren’t. As a teenager, I attended my share of “True Love Waits” rallies and signed my virginity away to God until the perfect man came along but I also dated. A lot. And not because I was looking for a husband but because it was fun! Does that make me a rebel? I do vaguely remember the terrible analogies that came from the purity movement: Already chewed gum, cup of spit, a rose with no petals and holding hands with all your exes at your wedding day (that one was a stretch). I even remember crying when my high school BFF’s told me they were having sex with their boyfriends. I friggin cried, people! So yeah, I wore that conversative hat for a while but it never truly fit right. I think deep down inside, all I wanted was the Bible without the wacky culture that it came with. I just wanted to know God and His word. And if the church was the primary way for me to get that, well I would just have to deal with her shit then. But believe me, I wasn’t going to take it very seriously.
The funny thing is, I began to love the church even with the wacked-up culture that accompanied it. Not only was the church the primary way I was able to learn about God and His word, I began to love his people too. Even as the flaws began to rise to the surface (and geez, did they ever rise) I stayed with her. Even when I began to feel marginalized because of my gender, I still loved the church. Even when I began to recognize bad teaching and unhealthy structures, I still listened and searched for the truth. I knew it was under the pile of mess somewhere! Even now as the spectrum of Christian culture feels lonely and the witness of Christian leaders fail (miserably) and the cringe-worthy Christianese paints social media, I still love the church; I literally have zero clue why, it sometimes catches me by surprise. Yet I feel there is something important about not fitting, something I think God has been teaching me all these awkward years that has kept my faith steadfast: I don’t often get too comfortable. This in-between feeling that doesn’t quite fit the “clubs” of Christian culture keeps me from finding any other place to call home than Him.
When a medium sized church, Central Bible in Portland decided to bring me on as their only second female worship leader, I was thrilled. I shared the responsibility with another worship leader and I was able to lead every other week. I made a few changes for my set, like move the drummer to the center of the stage and start as close to on time as possible. I really enjoyed leading people in worship and felt very much like I was walking in my calling. Then I got burned out. I tired of outrageous complaints that made their way into the offering box. For example, one person believed having the drums in the middle of the stage promoted sexual promiscuity. What?!? I tired of the lead pastor taking our staff meetings to call the complainers who were bold enough to put their names on their complaints to hear them out. I was tired of not being taken seriously when I had a few ideas about discipleship. I did this job for maybe 7 months and it was almost too much. I was tired of feeling like a visitor in my own community. So I left the church, burned out on not just that community but evangelicalism all together. But I didn’t leave The Church, I left A church. But I still loved the church and desired to be a part of it, so I joined a sweet little Episcopal parish, St. Peter’s and Paul’s, just down the street and that’s when I fell in love with liturgy. The sacraments, incense, liturgy opened my eyes up to an entirely different part of church culture that made me love the church even more. It was fresh and deep and allowed me to forget my evangelical wounds for a bit. I healed in that church. I continued to attend that community for nine months until my husband and I got married, then promptly became youth pastors at a charismatic community. That story is for a different day.
All this to say is, The Church is vast and messy and strange and the spectrum of culture is beyond our capacity to comprehend. It’s conservative. It’s progressive. It’s straight. It’s gay. It’s black. It’s brown and white and native. It is a multitude of tongues and faces and voices and traditions. It is one giant, absurdly messy table that miraculously never runs out of chairs. It’s a table that we can feel both alone at and very much a part of. There are those who seem more at home at the table while others struggle with the crowds. I am one who often doesn’t feel like there isn’t room at the table for me, so I linger in a corner observing the chaotic and enchanting scene. But there is always room at God’s table even if someone, at some point told me there wasn’t. They are wrong. I know they are wrong and I hope you know that they are wrong too. Regardless of where we all land or don’t land on this vast, wacky spectrum of Christian community and culture. We all belong.
We all belong.
We all belong.
I need to remember this especially when I begin to get judgy about the spectrum or when I feel like there isn’t room for me. I need to remember this when I see and experience the churches immense brokenness and gaping imperfections. We all belong. And we don’t belong in a stagnant, stale scene but in an ever moving, ever changing picture that includes both beauty and pain, light and darkness, redemption and reckoning. This is Christ’s Church and it all belongs. And be assured, God isn’t freaking out about how messy it is, He is patiently waiting and giving us the opportunity to clumsily follow and obey and course correct. His Spirit is within all those to sit at this beautifully messy table. It belongs to us, His children, as we also belong to one another. All of us. From the judgy to the judged.
We all belong.
Bigger Table Theology
I am passionate about BTT but admittedly haven’t written about it since it’s beginning more than a year ago. My love for The Church drives me to preach a message of inclusive that allows for diverse and vast opinions about scripture and culture. Jesus did not die on the cross so he could eradicate culture and create one giant homogenous church. Let’s remember that he said to “Go and make disciples of ALL nations” but I often feel that we are more comfortable and less judgmental towards those from different nations than we are of the micro-nations we have created within our own cultural context. It’s all culture and our culture affects the way we read Scripture, how see the Church and our beliefs about one another. If we aren’t aware of our own culture that affects these major areas, then we are at danger of ignoring and diminishing God’s vast Kingdom to make it into something that we can control for our own comfort. To learn more about Bigger Table Theology, start here.
2 thoughts on “We All Belong”
I use Jesus changes everything in my post but I don’t use it as a bandaid without some depth to back up that truth. Just wanted to share that as I think that was a big generalization in your post. I hear you, though. Totally.
Sarah Martin http://www.liveitoutblog.com
I appreciate that, my friend. Thank you. I realize it is a big generalization and it’s just a hard saying for me personally because I don’t really believe Jesus changes everything. There are some things that actually stay the same. Sure, my salvation is secure, my view of the world and my circumstances are altered but “changed?” maybe not. And does change imply better?
All I know for sure is that Jesus changes me…. I could talk about this for awhile, maybe a zoom coffee chat? Anyways, thanks again for your comment. We are all sitting at the same table, sister!