Post By: Matthew Morrissey, Contributor
Its 11pm on a Sunday evening, a time that represents an end and a beginning; a completion and a threshold share their presence. Sitting across from me is my friend, my brother and confidante. As we consume the remaining crumbs of a shared three dollar appetizer I am reminded of how extraordinary the ordinary can be. He talks and I listen; that’s our usual rhythm. We tell stories, stories that represent our togetherness and stories that tell our journey. For some this is friendship, for others romance but for me this is church, at least for now. Neither one of us are pastors despite our Bible college degrees. But here in this moment I feel connected again to the beautiful body of Christ. My relationship with the Church has been confusing, hurtful and lovely. She has been my rock and yet she has also been the one to cast the first stone. But here I sit at the intersection of text and soul encountering the face of Jesus once again. In the middle of a TGI Fridays I find my church.
I grew up as a pastor’s kid of an Independent Fundamental Baptist Church. Services were three times a week not including Sunday school. I developed a spirituality driven by fear and monitored by anxiety. Standards were the name of the game. Were yours high enough? My God box was small and my soul yearned for more. In the dark of the night I laid, praying prayer after prayer begging God to save me from hell. As a teenager I attended conferences where we bore the screams of vein-popping, deafening preaching of hell, fire and brimstone. It was not uncommon for words of hatred and bigotry to slip out of the mouths of self-righteous idolized preachers. Looking back I can see the ways my soul was damaged but despite the pain, grace was beginning to heal.
Curiosity and wonder have been my normal. Somehow this wonder led me to wander outside of my fundamentalist camp and into the center of American Evangelicalism. I ended up doing my Undergrad at a Bible College known around the world as a staple in the Evangelical community. Here I received healing and growth; I found grace for the first time. I quickly learned that the Christianity that I had grown up in was not the same as my roommates or classmates. I soon realized that I was an outsider. Though this Christianity was life-giving and liberating, I quickly identified that in the ethos of Evangelicalism was the same echoes of fear I had heard so clearly in my fundamentalist past. The church has a problem, she is stuck in a cycle of fear perpetrating her reaction to a perceived threat. In my world of psychology we talk frequently about the primitive response to fear in the body, mind, and soul. We recognize fight or flight patterns in clients, communities, and society. This physiological response that occurs in the brain effects all three major nervous systems. Your amygdala is responsible for this incredible psychological and physiological phenomena that occurs at all levels of the body, mind, and soul. Ironically, this response to fear as either fight or flight is what has saved the lives of countless prey in our vast animal kingdom; yet it is also the very thing that fuels the destructive pattern of the church’s response to culture. This response is can be both life giving and life taking. It is the very thing that protects from danger but when malfunctioning it can be the very thing that brings unwarranted death. The church and her amygdala are misfiring all over the place, sending false messages of either fight or flight through the entire body of Christ. She fears that which she does not know. She is terrified to admit that she may be wrong. She moves in fear and fights against her perceived threats. She has lobbied against the rights of others. She writes letters to the president claiming the right to discriminate in the name of diversity. She stands at the corners of the public square with picket signs and fights for her own rights, her own survival, and her own perceived justice. She flees from the words of others who try to calm her down. She is the midst of a full-fledged anxiety attack gasping for air. She has lost her rational and disposed of her calling to be redemptive agents of the good news. She has traded words of blessing for words of cursing. She keeps her guard up and fails to see the beauty of the world around her. Ultimately, she has deafened her ears to the gospel because of the loud explosives the ring deep in the battle ground of her cultural war. In fear there is no conversation, there is no engagement; there is only fighting or fleeing.
Fear is what drove me to God yet fear is also what drove me away. I have fought and flown my way in and out of Evangelism. Yet, I have hope. I sit in the tension of what is. I am learning to be present, to be honest, and to be whole. I sit in TGI Fridays on a Sunday night being present to the sacredness of being known. In this moment, I have found a church that is not afraid. In the face of otherness she chooses togetherness. I am known and loved. Church, you are known and loved, so drop the fear. Instead choose to swim in the vastness of the divine who holds all things. Be not afraid, but love.
Matt Morrissey is a reader and thinker inspired by the stories of all. He has his Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Counseling and is currently pursuing a Masters in Counseling Psychology from The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. He is passionate about the healing of souls in the context of theology and culture. When he isn’t fighting his way through Chicago traffic he can be found sipping on sweet tea and binge watching Parks and Rec with his wife on any given night. Matt doubts and believes, asks questions and ponders harder than necessary. He is a hopeful member of the Evangelical community ready for a change.