the Empathy List #71: Churchy Lady

Why I haven't given up on church yet.

Hello friend, Liz here.

Lately, Christianity is in the news a lot... because we're making some poor life choices. Have you noticed? ;-)

Case in point: 

  • One megachurch in Minnesota decided empathy was a sin and fired a pastor because he was too compassionate (I wish I were joking);

  • My denomination is right now reckoning with multiple failures of leadership and ongoing failures in protecting victims of sexual assault within church settings;

  • American evangelicals supported Trump overwhelmingly in both 2016 and 2020 (I’m still not over it!), and they might do it again in 2024;

  • Plus innumerable failed leaders and more failed leaders. Sigh. 

Every so often, I meet a new friend, one who hasn't heard the complicated story of my past church trauma, and I think, where to begin? Recently, at coffee with a new friend, I made an attempt. After hearing a tidbit of my story, my friend asked,

"So, how are you still going to church?" 

That is a logical question to which I offered an inarticulate answer. But I'd like to dwell there now, and to ask the question another way:

Question: when would you give up looking for your only set of car keys?

Answer: never. 

I do not mean to be glib, but the truth is, I have never been religious because church made me comfortable and happy. As I have written in the past, I think, generally speaking, that church is NOT safe for most of us. (Not to mention that I have a highly developed guilt complex…) 

Also I don’t believe the point of my weirdo religion is fulfillment or happiness, at least not any time soon—after all, the central texts of my religion assert that Jesus’s message led to a kind of fame that looked more like humiliation than celebrity, with my leader’s life and nearly all his followers concluding in spectacular executions.

But currently, I have found a safe (for me) place to go to church.

Here’s what makes a safe church for me:

  • These Christians approve and employ therapy.

  • These male leaders are not threatened by strong females (or by other male leaders) and, in fact, welcome others’ engagement, leadership and preaching.

  • These church people disagree with each other about many things and still have managed to share a pew—because their relationships are more important to them than being right. Disagreement is NOT the worst thing.

I’m telling you, after decades in unsafe churches, that list of qualities is a real life miracle.

I do still feel occasionally jaded, uncertain or triggered at this church; that hasn’t gone away. Yet, I do not fear speaking up when I disagree because I know that my voice will be honored. And to me, that’s a big f*ing deal.

In case you’re curious, here’s what I’m NOT looking for in a church:

  • A professional music ministry where a big deal band writes their own songs for our congregation;

  • A big name preacher;

  • Personalized groups for so I can experience personalized care in my exact life stage (“married & parenting thirtysomething beer drinking group”);

  • Attendees and leaders that think and look like me.

    I’m also not waiting for a lightning bolt from the Lord that will tell me to get mine seat in thine pew over there this instance, young lady.

Instead, I’m personally, in my own life, aiming for a place to go to church where I can cultivate faithfulness, generous orthodoxy, relational spaciousness, truth-telling.

I want to be humble. I don’t have all the answers and I won’t fake that I do. (And I won’t believe you either if you say YOU’VE got all the answers to life’s most head-scratching questions.)

Currently, my small neighborhood brick church in a gentrifying neighborhood in Denver, Colorado feels like home, and I’m grateful for a community of kind-hearted and smart people in which to invest.

And, cautiously, I’m volunteering more and speaking up more and committing to these people more.

That’s the way you grow, right? To experience healing, we must be vulnerable with each other. Of course, that’s also how we get hurt; they are the same mechanism, and they are also the only mechanism for personal growth.

I am a believer that we can learn from both HURT and SAFETY, which means I tend to lean into scary places.

Vulnerability is the key to driving the car, and I’m never giving up the keys. There is no other way forward but to stick your neck out again, in hope that the risks, eventually, will be worth it.

Friend, what about you? Do you attend church? Why or why not?

(…by the way, I can understand if you’re done with church. This season has been… insane. In different seasons, I have decided to sleep in on Sundays rather than face a crowd of people who couldn’t offer me kindness.)

REPLY to this email to let me know. I’d love to hear from you after my summer away from this listicle of mine. ;-)

Thanks for reading. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant

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