“Tell me your story,” he said.
Where should I start?
“Start at the beginning.”
So I did. I think I was about eight years in when he stopped me.
“Wait, you’re still a Christian, after all that? You realize that’s a miracle, right?”
Yes. And yes.
They always say that, when they pull up a chair and venture a glance at my past.
It’s always “no wonder you’re so angry” followed by “it’s a miracle that you’re still a Christian” and then, inevitably, “but why are you?”
And I don’t know what to say. Only that I still am.
All I know is that Jesus is my friend. God is my Mom and my Dad. The church has been the greatest source of pain in my life, but has also become the channel of my greatest healing.
I’ve told you that Christianity should go to therapy, because it’s pretty fucked up.
I’ve told you that I don’t have my shit together, not even a little bit.
And all of this is true.
But also, I need to tell you this:
I am a Christian.
No matter how disillusioned I am, I can’t seem to shake Jesus. He won’t let me go.
So here I am. These are my confessions:
I go to church.
Oh, I know I’ve written about when we criticize the church, and when we throw stones. I’ve collected hundreds of stories of why we all left the church, and held them up as evidence against the institution that has destroyed the precious hearts of so many people I love. I’ve told you that the church is dying and I am glad. And I stand by every word.
But still, every Sunday morning I put on my best cut-off shorts and walk my boys six blocks to a church that could probably be called “evangelical”. And every goddamn Sunday morning the Spirit meets me there.
I need you to understand that this is not a “cool” church. The name is a generic Bible word. The band is your basic two-guitars / one keyboard / drummer-in-a-fish-tank set-up. The songs are all praise songs written by mega-movement churches who still make me uncomfortable. There’s probably not going to be a gay wedding there anytime soon, and most of the people probably believe in some sort of hell.
But I swear I hear the gospel preached every Sunday morning. I feel it deep inside my chest, beyond my questions and objections.
I chose this church because it was the nearest church that had child-care for my kids and weekly communion for me, and because it wouldn’t piss me off with right-wing politics.
This church chose me, because God loves to meet me in the places I least expect. So I keep showing up.
I pray a lot, sometimes even out loud.
The praying a lot doesn’t surprise me. The praying out loud doesn’t surprise me either, really. What surprises me is how much I mean it when I pray. I’m surprised that my prayers are no longer something I’m saying because I’m supposed to, or because I want you — and God — to think that I’m a good Christian.
All my best prayers are still laced with swear words. You know this. But they are honest. And I am deeply grateful for a God with whom I can be honest.
I hear from God.
I can’t even begin explain or defend this. I have a notebook labeled “SHIT GOD SAYS”. And when I hear from God, I write it down.
My mind doesn’t understand. My heart knows.
I listen to music about Jesus. Sometimes I even listen to praise music.
I am the most cynical and judgmental. Was. Whatever.
Some people have said that I’ve built a brand on being cynical and judgmental; it’s not true. If I have a brand at all, it’s simply that I am honest about what’s inside my chest. And there’s been a lot of cynicism in my chest. (This is what happens when childlike innocence is betrayed, you see.)
But it’s true that I have been fairly cynical for many years about the whole Christian music industry, especially about worship-as-product consumerism. “Worship” music was the worst offender, because how can you “practice” for worship, much less sell tickets to “worship”? It still feels all sorts of upside down.
But early last year, that damn Hillsong jam about the Oceans snuck into my playlist, wedged inconspicuously between Eminem and Coldplay. And I let it stay.
I listen to it when I’m walking, and when I listen to it I sing. And when I sing, I mean the words that are coming out of my mouth.
And this is the worst part of all…
I raise my hands when I sing.
But you see, I believe in worshipping with my whole body. And as my spirituality grows to fill my body, I’m finding that the lines are blurring between Saturday night dance parties and Sunday morning worship. The Spirit meets me in both. And I raise my hands.
My sister took a picture of me last weekend at a church retreat, and I sure do look like a Christian.
This is not good for my aforementioned cynical and judgmental brand, but it is honest and true, so I felt like I had to show you.
It surprises me as much as it surprises you.
I even read parts of the Bible sometimes.
Don’t get too excited. I still hate the Bible the way someone nearly drowned hates the water. The actual book, all bound up and sorted into chapters and verses, still feels like a thousand pounds of chains draped around my shoulders. I still turn upside down and run away whenever I hear you say “The Bible clearly says…”
But I printed out a Psalm and carried it for a week in my back pocket last month.
And most days I find words plagiarized straight from the Scriptures in my mouth, weaving themselves into my prayers and my journals and my conversations. And somehow, the Spirit meets me there too.
I am borne along by the River.
This is the only answer I have, to your “Why?”
It’s not a satisfying answer, and it’s certinaly not neat. And when you ask why I haven’t been able to lose my faith (no matter how hard I try) while people that I love haven’t been able to hold on to theirs (no matter how hard they try)… I won’t know what to say.
If you are one of those whose faith has abandoned them, I want you to know none of this is meant as an indictment of your story.
I believe that there is so much love and beauty in the world that it will find you no matter where you go, no matter by what name you call it. I believe that whatever faith you have or do not have, it is enough.
I saw a video clip yesterday, of a dog in a boat in a river.
A wave crashed over the front of the boat, and the terrified dog landed in the water — whether he jumped or was swept over, I’m not sure. Probably both. But the moment he splashed to the surface, his human reached into the water, fished him out of danger, and set him back in the front of the boat.
I am that dog. This is my relationship with faith, with church, with Jesus. Every time I am swept overboard, every time I leave the church, every time I lose my faith, God grabs me and puts me back in the boat.
All my fear and flailing and honest searching and hopeless swearing ultimately have very little to do with my staying.
Jesus can’t seem to lose me.
You might be rolling your eyes at me now, and my stubborn insistence on making this relationship with Christianity more dramatic and angsty than it needs to be. I don’t care.
All I have is this scrap of my story, honest and unresolved. Don’t call it a “testimony” — that will make me cringe.
But I won’t pretend to be something that I’m not. For a long time, it’s meant I won’t pretend to be more religious or certain or into Jesus than I really am. Now, I won’t pretend to be more disillusioned or more disinterested than I am.
Here I am, with my fresh tattoos and old scars and miles of baggage, with my familiar cynicism and my new and growing sense of wonder. Here I am with my worship music and my cross necklace and my prayer beads and my hands in the air. Here I am, with a thousand reasons I shouldn’t go to church, but here nonetheless.
I am reluctant, but I am a Christian.
I just thought you should know.
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