“We are an entire generation with the broken pieces of our religion scattered on the floor around us. We are the children who learned fake smiles too early, who found all the right answers dissatisfying, who know what it’s like to sit in a pew with our hearts a thousand miles away. For us, Sunday morning is the loneliest hour of the week.”
~ Micah J. Murray, “Why We Left The Church”
When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg in 1517, it became a powerful symbol for the Reformation’s protest of clerical abuses. The power of the symbol, however, was not just what it said. The power was aided and abetted by a technological revolution: the invention of the printing press. This was one of the first controversies in history that spread like wildfire and reached everyday people through the written word. Indeed, Luther’s Theses — written in Latin, as was customary — was translated into German, which speeded its dissemination.
I have wondered lately if perhaps we have reached a similar moment in time.
The culture wars have really done a number on American Christianity. Both the Catholic Church and the Protestant Church have been rocked by accusations of widespread corruption and sexual abuse. Evangelical leaders have doubled down on their alienation of LGBT* Christians and Christians who do not fit their narrow molds, drawing so many lines in the sand it is hard to keep up.
And honestly, much of what I have seen in the Emerging Church does not look that much better. It has some of the exact same patterns but baptized in High-Def and slightly better marketing. It’s similar to the feeling I got when Modesty Culture evolved from “Don’t wear that” to “Modest is hottest.”
Nice try, but still no.
But I know people are speaking out. I know people are trying to listen, trying to love, and trying their best to put everything on the line and be honest about their brokenness and their journey — their humanity, really.
I know these people are out there because they are blogging.
Some people hate this new wave of communication. It is dismissed in various ways — as the “new journalism,” or the “female sin of the internet,”, or “rage-blogging.”
I wonder how people expressed their fear of the printing press back in the day. I might be willing to put money on it that their expressions of fear have some uncanny parallels to what is said about blogging today.
But people are blogging. People are speaking up. And I see these Christian thinkers and writers trying their best to change the course of the American Christian conversation. I see them trying to reclaim their faith from the politics and the line-drawing and the Cast-The-First-Stone mentality. I see them trying to listen.
They are using their platforms not to lecture, but to create conversations. To engage human beings as human beings. To be public about some of the most personal, embarrassing, and frightening experiences they have had. To give faith — love — hope.
I read their words and I cannot help but think, “How cool would it have been to grow up in a church where this is what sermons looked like?” To hear a pastor say, “I struggle with mental illness.” Or, “I want us all to listen to our LGBT* brothers and sisters. I want us to listen, relate, and love, instead of condemn.” Or, “I want our church to be a safe place for the broken among us.” Or, “I want our church to take abuse seriously.”
That is real talk. That is humility and honesty and putting other people before one’s self.
It may not be pretty. In fact, it usually never is. And it may not be spoken about in Good Christian Ways. Because sometimes life is fucked up and there is no other way to say it. But it is at least real.
Growing up in a bizarre landscape of flannel graph saviors and Jesus Loves Me lullabies, I could have used more real. I would have loved to know that real is ok. That real is pain and sorrow and brokenness and tears and sometimes, all we have the strength to do is just cry together, swear a bunch, and shake our fists at God. And that is ok.
But I did not get real. I got the American Jesus. The American Church. The dollar store faith and the pulpits of whitewashed sermons. The deaf ear to children’s cries and the fetish for the “right” doctrine.
Yet people raised just like me are crying out. They are crying out for something better.
People like Emily Maynard, who is challenging the Purity Culture, the alienation of single people, and trying to bring Christianity back to a “a dynamic theology of personhood that involves everyone.” Who wants a Christian worldview that is bigger than simply believing “the right things.” Who is unafraid to express anger because “anger isn’t a sin; it’s a sign.” Who is unafraid to express anger with angry words because, sometimes, we “need strong words to engage reality”. Who is committing to fight child abuse. Who has committed to listen to the cries of the next generation.
Or people like Grace Biskie, who I cannot read without breaking down and crying. She is such a courageous, honest writer. Her scars and tears and pain are out there for the world to see and she does not blink an eye. A thousand sermons growing up do not hold their weight against just one of Grace’s posts. She has bared her soul about sexual abuse, about mental illness, about how hard it is — even for a Christian — to “just try to fucking survive” sometimes. Who understands social justice and racism and the need to fight back against injustice with words.
People like Micah J. Murray, who more than anything has inspired me to listen to alienated voices. To speak less and hear more. Micah’s post on “Why We Left the Church” — where he invited others to share their stories, without judgment, without condemnation, with nothing but a desire to know others’ stories — stirred my heart more than any four-chord praise song I ever learned as a teenager. He is refusing to think in the cliches and language of American Christianity; he is done with saying “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.” He is speaking out, as a male, against Purity Culture. And he is questioning the politicization of Jesus, wondering about “what to do when we find ourselves at the intersection of the Constitution and the Sermon on the Mount.”
People like Benjamin Moberg. Who is daily reshaping the conversations about LGBT* Christians and what they have experienced and suffered at the hands of the Church; who is challenging what it means to love unconditionally, what it means to truly accept. “The words you see before you,” Benjamin writes, “are the sons and daughters of a life lived in the shadows of Conservative Churchianity. They are the Biblical bullets I have withstood, and the flickering flames that kept me company.”
Really, I could go on and on. And it’s not just my generation. It is people like Julie Anne Smith and Alex Grenier, too. I want to say I am “blessed” to know them — but really, I hate using that word because it feels buzzy and dirty in my mouth. And I know Julie Anne and Alex understand what I mean and I love them for that.
There are so many bloggers these days who are reclaiming their faith from the vapidity of American Christianity. People who refuse to fit into a perfect cookie cutter mold of what a Good Christian Person is supposed to be. It is messy and heartbreaking and infuriating and tragic — but so is life. And if your faith is not true to life, then I really could care less about it.
I am not the same person I was ten years ago.
Ten years from now, I will not be the same person I am today. I am a process and I would not have it any other way. But I do know this: that what I see in the words of Emily, Grace, Micah, and Benjamin (and so many other writers) is powerful. It gives me courage. It warms my soul — a soul that froze and shattered into a million pieces time and time again in the pews of the churches that claimed to save it.
It feels good to feel. It feels good to know feelings are ok. It feels good to know I am not alone in my pain. Whether the next Reformation will rise up from blogs like these, I really do not know. But they give me hope.
And the gift of hope is a Reformation enough for me.