I shall begin by apologizing for the length of this post. Once I started, I couldn’t stop. So much going on in my heart right now…but I’ll try to be as brief as possible. I just can’t make any promises…
I have noticed that of late, my heart has been resonating deeply with the generation known as “the Millennials”. At 42 years old, I am squarely in the Gen Xer group as far as demographics go; but there are aspects of my thought process that land me squarely in the Millennial category (ML will be the abbreviation I’ll use; GX for Gen X).
One of those areas is church. As I’ve watched the squabbles that go back and forth between certain camps within American Christendom, I am, quite simply appalled. There is no end to the vitriol, accusations of heresy, and the like. The spats I have witnessed on Twitter make me cringe with embarrassment – and mostly for the conservative side of the argument. Surely these folks (mostly guys) are more mature than they let on when they have only 140 characters to get their point across. You wouldn’t know if from what you see…it’s sad.
And don’t get me wrong: the vitriol comes from both sides. But it just amazes me when I see it come from the so-called older and wiser of the crowd. Shouldn’t they be showing a bit more maturity than their younger counterparts? And yet they are doing the same stuff, if not worse! That is, until they stop their virtual ears and refuse to listen – by blocking whomever chooses to challenge them. That takes the cake for me altogether.
But this is the deal: does this accomplish anything? More pointedly, does this accomplish what you are setting out to accomplish? And what exactly is it that you seek to accomplish? Is it enough that you seek to prove by any means necessary that you are right? Even at the expense of someone’s heart or even faith? Or are you seeking something more, something deeper? Because, let me tell ya, if that’s what you’re after, you are sorely missing the mark.
I speak to the nebulous “you” because I have no earthly idea who exactly I am addressing. I mean sure, I could name some names and point to some ministries, but I would rather not, lest I be the next person in someone’s cross-hairs. Not that I think my opinion is all that and a bag of beans; but somehow, if I link to certain people or ministries, that could potentially make them aware that I exist, and I like being safely anonymous. I even went so far as to delete my old Twitter account and begin a new one because I grew weary of watching the civil war ensue daily in my newsfeed. Yes, Twitter now has this nice mute feature, but who has time for all of that when you follow over 1,000 people? As melodramatic as it may seem, starting from scratch, with an eye to careful selection of who I choose to follow was the better route for me…
But, I digress…back to my main point. MLs and GXers…and my being an official member of the latter but resonating with the former.
Rachel Held Evans
is the example I will choose because it seems she gets the most crap from the other side of the theological fence. My favorite example is when she “made it official
” that she had jumped the Evangelical ship in favor of those nasty, heretical Episcopalians (the sarcasm is strong with this one…). Anyone who has read her blog for any period of time would know that there was no fanfare involved in this – she simply announced one day that she was speaking (preaching…! Gasp!) at her church – her Episcopal church. And the Evangelical world lost its collective mind. Really?
This episode actually sparked my curiosity and led me to dig deeper into the ML angst that RHE seems to represent. And now I find myself reading books like Jesus Feminist and RHE’s new book Searching for Sunday…and nodding my head and my heart in solidarity with these two women and the ache of their soul. The questions and doubts that they are not afraid to wrestle with out in the open. The realness and raw transparency with which they share their lives and their hearts.
And what do they get in return for this? The left foot of fellowship from brothers and sisters who cringe at their audacity to be honest about who and where they are? I mean, do we seriously believe they are being contrary simply for the sake of being contrary? Or could it be that they are simply being real, sharing real experiences, real struggles and a real and genuine desire to find truth? That’s what I hear when I read their words, when I listen to what they are saying.
I straddle a fence that makes life deeply uncomfortable for me. I am a bit older than most of the men and women I have discovered lately, and I do have many of the characteristics of my own generation and even the generation before me. I believe that truth can be known; I have a strong assurance that the Bible can be trusted and is reliable and accurate in all it teaches; that it must be the plumb line that we use to evaluate everything in our lives and our cultures. So there would be very really differences of opinion on certain issues, particularly certain social issues. I believe the words of Jesus – all of them, including the part where He said He is the only way to the Father and all that – and want my life to reflect His character. That is, after all, what we are called to do, isn’t it? And that entails far more than simply knowing certain things. There is a “do” element that must spring from the “be” and the “know”. I’m just sayin’…
I guess you could say I am a demographic mutt if you will – and I happen to be Black, which I believe casts a slightly different angle on my personal experiences. To be a Black woman who has gifts that are normally attributed to men (like pastoring, shepherding and teaching); to be a Black woman who does not feel at home in either an entirely Black or entirely White context; to be a Black woman who has felt like an outcast in her own race her entire life; the struggles and questions of these leaders all feel so very real to me. I have written elsewhere of my identity struggles as it relates to ethnicity, and perhaps that is why I resonate so much with the struggles I see in these beautiful women and this generation.
I understand doubt and struggle. I understand the feeling of being muzzled and fearful of expressing that doubt and struggle. I get the pain and frustration of being silenced, unheard, cast aside, or disregarded. I have been marginalized and misunderstood. And all of this has happened in the context of church. And yes, I know what it feels like to want to just simply give up on church altogether. What keeps me going is that the Lord has said that the church is His body. I’m a part of it whether I want to be or not…and I can’t choose my family. So I press on; I don’t give up in the face of doubt and questions, and hurt and frustration. Because I understand we are all in that process, and it won’t all make sense until we see our Beloved Savior face to face….oh how I long for that.
But in the meantime…perhaps the answer to all this collective angst is not to rail against it; to not seek to silence it. Maybe this is the way the process works; maybe we need to just listen…pray…love. Speak truth, yes. But then wait…listen…pray…love some more. And let the Lord do His work.
I guess I can end this long diatribe by saying this: Truth is truth. I believe that wholeheartedly. But people work out their response to truth in vastly different ways. Some receive it readily with little fanfare; others come to it fighting and screaming. And then there are some who will never come to it. In other words, it gets messy; it not a proposition or logic puzzle; real people, with real lives trying to reconcile truth to their real selves. We should not be afraid of that struggle; we should embrace it; embrace them, and show that we will love them even if they never embrace Truth. Stop sanitizing it and let the nitty gritty show itself, so that the grace of God can shine, not our intellectual prowess or absolute certitude. The rest, in my humble opinion is up to God.