I’ve found it difficult to talk to some of my Christian friends about this project. I bring up the website, or maybe they tentatively ask, but I can see written on their faces: “I don’t know if I agree.” I let the conversation drift off, not wanting to make people uncomfortable. Over the past 6 years, I have worked hard to be one thing all the time. I used to fracture myself into different personas at different times. We all do this a little bit: work-persona, church-persona, social-persona. For me, this segmenting came out of a deep desire to love and serve people; to be everything to everyone. I became exhausted and compromised. Through therapy, reflection, and a prayerful meditation practice, I have worked hard to present my whole self - warts and all - everywhere I go. In many ways, this project was born out of that work. Yet, I can feel old tendencies creeping in: reading the room, choosing my words carefully, editing to see if I can share my real thoughts or if it would be safer to keep them to myself, wondering if there is space for me at the table.
I have worked hard to present my whole self - warts and all - everywhere I go.
Like many of the voices we share here, I am hard to categorize. I’m conservative in some ways and liberal in others. I am fundamentalist in a lot of practices but approach everything in a deconstructionist way. I want to throw open the doors of the church but also deeply concerned with justice. I am a driven female, but participate in traditions dominated by male-only leadership. I have a weak sense of human hierarchy but have no problem devoting everything in my life to God, who I call Majesty. I don’t fit into the boxes that most of my Christian peers are familiar with. The more vulnerable I get, the more true to myself I get, the less these boxes fit.
This project is an outworking of that dichotomy. It is a space for all the voices of the church to be heard. Even differing voices. Especially the ones that make us think. This is asking a lot of the church. Why? Because ultimately, we are asking people to face discomfort. There are two layers of discomfort: We are considering how actions could unintentionally cause harm, which can create a knee jerk defensive reaction, and we are asking to loosen the white knuckle grip on dogma, to see how we love and interact with people in reality.
The more vulnerable I get, the more true to myself I get, the less these boxes fit.
For every story on this site, there is a human knocking at the door of the church. Behind them, anyone who walks a similar path. I want to hear their stories, I want the church to hear their stories because I believe the church was designed to be the most beautiful community, the most loving family, on earth. There is a seat for everyone. Too often, I feel like Christians metaphorically fuss over how many chairs should be put out, or guard the door of the church. The concern is usually sin. Sin is a key part of Christian doctrine. Christians are called to evaluate our own lives to weed out the sin that causes harm to ourselves and others. When groups of people start to do this, there is a tendency to mix in cultural assumptions, to make it more about us vs them. Without meaning to, we can become protective of the doctrine instead of protective of people. If we are not careful, evaluation of sin can be more like sinless us vs sinful them, instead of me vs my own sin.
We can become protective of the doctrine instead of protective of people.
Jesus told a few stories about tables. In Matthew 22 Jesus compares the Kingdom of God (AKA the way things are meant to be) to a wedding feast. A king prepares a huge wedding feast and invites all the finest- the religious and powerful. They don’t come to this lavish party, so the king goes out and invites everyone. He fills the hall. Later on, when asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus says: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (NIV) Everyone is invited to God’s table, and the greatest command is to love God, and love others. All the doctrine is fulfilled if we do that well.
The same story of the table is in Luke 14. Luke says they were at a sabbath day feast when Jesus told the story. Apparently, the people at the feast (really religious people) were jostling for the best seat at the table. Before launching into the story where everyone is invited, Jesus says: “When you’re invited to dinner, go and sit at the last place. Then when the host comes he may very well say, ‘Friend, come up to the front.’ That will give the dinner guests something to talk about! What I’m saying is, If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face. But if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited... You’ll be—and experience—a blessing.” (The Message)
Everyone is invited to God’s table, and the greatest command is to love God, and love others. All the doctrine is fulfilled if we do that well.
Who gets a space at the table? Who do we invite in? Do we want people to bring their whole selves? Or just the fragmented bits we are comfortable with? This space I’ve tried to open up in my life, this space that we hold at Our Church Too, it isn’t a club for the like-minded, and we aren’t going to get it right all the time. By keeping the dialogue open, we will say things that offend people on both sides of the table. By reaching for authenticity, we want to hear many different voices, keeping our ears and hearts open to one another -even if we don’t agree. I truly believe we are better together, in all our diversity of thought, life, and experience, than we are in segregated holiness clubs.
Which brings us back to being our whole selves the whole time. I used to fragment myself because I was afraid to bring all of me to the table, my doubts, my left leaning politics, even the words God spoke over me, because they didn’t fit into the cultural Christianity I saw around me. Fragmenting avoided initial discomfort, but it also hurt. It reduced my belief that God could love me, just the way I am.
We are better together, in all our diversity of thought, life, and experience, than we are in segregated holiness clubs.
Ultimately, I was wrong. When I decided to tell people about my doubts, about my real issues, about all of me, I was met with overwhelming love and acceptance. I had a church family that caught me, that didn’t rail against me because my doctrine didn’t always line up with theirs. I was wrapped up in love; I was allowed to continue to serve in leadership. I was allowed to stay, not on a condition that I change, but because I was allowed to be a vulnerable leader who didn’t hold all the answers. I was allowed to work out my fragmentation in fear and trembling within the church walls, to stay at the table. This reaction: love, acceptance, and even admission that they didn’t have it all figured out -this feels rare.
I was allowed to work out my fragmentation in fear and trembling within the church walls, to stay at the table.
Can we cultivate space in our lives, in our homes, in our churches? Can we get uncomfortable? Can our churches move beyond Sunday gatherings, to an integrated experience of transforming one another as we listen with our hearts and minds? Because everyone deserves a space in the family, at the table, in the church.
Indy and Erin share the Our Church Too Christmas letter from them to you.
Erin reflects through poetry on why she stays with church and her hope for the future of the Church.