My four-year-old thinks that God lives in her butt. This is a non-theological yet logical conclusion in her developing mind. God made her. God lives in her. So God must live in her butt. I find this quite fascinating that over the hundreds of Sunday school lessons and conversations at home, this specific bodily location where the Creator of the world resides is her main take-a-way.
She also tells me that God loves me. And if I didn’t already know how loved I truly am, I am sure that she could be one to persuade me otherwise. But it took a while to get there.
I was a youth group kid of the ’90s. If I wasn’t at summer church camp or screaming at a Michael W. Smith concert, I could definitely be found repenting for something I felt guilty for but didn’t quite understand. The leaders of the churches I grew up in were middle to older white men. I occasionally had women who would sing, play the piano, or teach my Sunday school, but they were never referred to as pastor – no matter what degree or background they had. My mother was in charge of baking the communion bread at home for a few years, which meant we also got to take home the leftovers. By Tuesday night, I was high on Welch’s grape juice and bread – indulging in that sacrament to make sure I was extra forgiven.
There was talk of hell and sin, but there was also joy. I danced in church. I clapped and sang. I met good people and I met not-so-good people. I have many memories of happy things within the walls of a church and some awful ones.
I chose a conservative Christian college, dated aspiring white male pastors, married one, and divorced one. I hid things a young adult should never hide and found myself in situations I was not prepared for.
My twenties and early thirties were me trying to be an adult. It also included gallons of alcohol and meeting repressed and misogynistic men on Christian dating sites. It was a trash fire of overindulgence and shame. My life was absolutely void and chaotic, and isolating.
And then there was church.
When I filed for divorce from my previous senior pastor husband, I specifically remember a few actions taken by church members and even top church officials.
“You know who you married, right?”
“I guess you don’t want to be a pastor’s wife.”
“Divorce is a sin. You must repent and go back to him,”
It had been taught, preached, insinuated, ingrained in me as a female that men are to LEAD us. Your husband was to be the “head of your household.” Anything else was a gray area.
But there was a glaring disparity of responsibility – and it was always pointing to a woman to take it.
As we entered the middle of the 21st century, more disparities slapped my Evangelical face, such as the church’s blatant radio silence on racism and matters of privilege and equity, and inclusion within the LGTBQ+ community.
I sat in chapels that hosted “pray away the gay” discussions. I listened to sermons that twisted sin and sex and sexual orientation so that many queer-identifying members either left on their own or were stripped of their value and services within the church.
It was then that my relationship status with The Church changed to “It’s Complicated.”
That was 2014. And here I wish I was telling you that I got it all figured out, but it is actually just the opposite.
I will never make sense of the shortcomings and failures of The Church. I can only sift through the rubble of what was and find the shining remnants of truth that resonate in my spirit.
And this is what I know.
I encountered Jesus in the rubble. In fact, that is where the best encounters take place. And as one of my favorite pastors, Rev. Nicole Caldwell-Gross, says, “encounters with Jesus transform us from a receiver to a risk-taker.”
It was risky for me to step foot inside another church, try to smile, and try to trust. For months at a time, I just sat in the back rows of our chapel. Some weeks I would cry, some I would grit my teeth, and some Sunday’s where I felt absolutely nothing. Deconstructing and rebuilding my faith was and continues to be risky because many foundational pillars of my faith have solidified themselves in other areas of my life. I had to be ready to do the work by allowing the pillars to fall. But I did it and continue to do it because it’s worth it.
Because of the permission I gave myself years ago, I will no longer accept silence from the pulpit, indifference to injustice, or discriminatory and bullish behavior. I will fully seek women, Black men and women, and those in the LGTBQ+ community to preach, teach, and lead.
So here we are at Easter. Toddlers in bow ties and on sugar highs on the hunt for eggs and Easter bunnies while we sing six verses of Up From the Grave He Arose in our Sunday best. It’s fun and joyous and yet seriously weird. The Easter story is weird. I get it. Out of all the faith teachings, the crucifixion and resurrection story has to be one of the most rated M for mature and graphic pieces that are readily told. And once you start deconstructing and tearing down all that you know, the pictures you had painted in your head since vacation bible school drastically change. You have permission to doubt. You have permission to change your mind. You have permission to accept or reject. You have permission to question everything. You have permission to leave and find what you have been longing for.
I am still navigating my way and have unanswered questions, but I know this; I won’t stop looking for Jesus in the rubble. I hope you won’t either. It’s worth it.