If you’ve been reading my work lately, you know I’m going through a thing. This thing involves a lot of being in love with Jesus, but not a whole lot of being in love with the institution of Christianity. This thing involves loving the people in my church like crazy, but for some reason not being able to go to church.
This thing involves missing going to church, and yes, I admit, a lot of anger and frustration. I’m frustrated with Biblical scholars who have been shoving misinterpretations down our gullible gullets for years; I’m angry with institutions policing women while men get a free ride. I find the fear mongering and the hate hawking of the likes of the Graham children to be intolerable (Anne is selling prayers in her new book. Can you imagine? Commercialized prayers. And she thinks it’s gay people that make God mad.)
I’m angry and frustrated over things like Maddi Runkles not being allowed to walk with her graduating class because she got pregnant.
I was just about to write about the great things that happen within the institution of Christianity when I first read about Maddi. There’s still a lot of love there, and because I’m so vocal with my criticism, I think I should talk, too, about what’s good. After all, it only seems fair.
Things like the volunteers at my church — they’re amazing. They are people who show up week after week, day after day, doing amazing and hard stuff. Sometimes the hard stuff is as simple as stuffing envelopes, which, if you’ve ever done it, you know is very hard.
Sometimes the stuff is hard like working with the homeless population of Newark, or feeding hundreds from just a loaf of bread and some soup mix, or the simple act of making sure every light bulb in the building is screwed in right. These are the masses who work behind the scenes, who never get recognized, who make the weekend experience go right or help brighten the day of a person in need when no one is looking. This is the team that has, for the past how many years, gone to that one old lady’s house to do a yard clean up. She doesn’t come to our church. We just did it one year and now, volunteers just quietly keep going back.
This is the kind of stuff that’s great about the institution of Christianity.
On a more personal note, the few people who have reached out to me directly since I’ve been gone — to make sure I know I’m welcome back anytime, to let me know they’re thinking about me, to encourage me or just say hello — these people have made my heart a little bigger, a little softer, because I’ll more than own up to the fact that my heart may be getting a tiny bit smaller and harder these days. I keep trying to breathe, and there’s this big block of wood in my chest. These people who reach out — they are an inhaler during an asthma attack, they are cool water that soothes my burning throat.
And then there are the people I know who are doing amazing things — the kinds of things I’ve always dreamed of doing and failed at doing. These are people who are rescuing baby girls in India, helping refugees, educating victims of the Rwandan genocide. These are people I know, personally, who are doing these kinds of amazing things. They are being Jesus, right here on this earth. I want to be them when I grow up. I want to use my powers for good like they do. I am an utter failure at this, so I use my words. Words are my version of hot pants and a cape. My words are my empty-handed offering to the world. They are, in the end, my only true possession, for though I am surrounded by things, often I feel, inside, a little like Job a lot of the time.
And then, stuff like many of you happened. I wrote about Maddi’s case for a few reasons, which I’ll go into in a minute. But first, I just want to say thank you to the many of you who sent packages of diapers or other baby gifts to her. You guys are what’s great about Christianity, too. And because I know there was some talk about it, let me tell you what I know:
Some people have said they got discouraging messages saying that their packages were undeliverable, and thought perhaps that the school was refusing them. I received confirmation that my package was delivered, however, and many other people reached out to me to say they had actually received a thank you note through Amazon from Maddi herself. According to this article, Maddi got “tons and tons” of stuff from people all over the country, and while I’m sure not all of it was from us, at least some of it was, and that matters. I heard from the reporter who wrote that article that the school did not refuse any packages, but did ask that they be redirected to Maddi, which may have resulted in the “undeliverable” message some of us got.
Bottom line, though, is that your generosity shone through. And while I know Maddi benefited from that generosity, I did, too. Because there are so many loud voices that want to shame and shun women, and you stood up to one of those voices with love and grace. Witnessing that healed me a little bit; it shaved down some of the splintery edges of my hardening heart, got to the mushy part underneath, and for that, I thank you.
And I’d like to point out, because this is important, that I got a lot of emails and private messages from men who were supporting Maddi. I also got a lot of encouragement from men about attending seminary. That matters, you guys. It matters a lot. Thank you.
Let me take a moment here to explain why I wrote about Maddi, and why, sort of on a whim, I decided to include that bit about sending her gifts.
First, I wrote because by nature, I seem to be an “underdog-sticker-upper-for.” Always have been, probably always will be. I tend to speak out when I see injustice. I often wish I could just mind my own business, but that just doesn’t seem to be who I am. Maddi got the raw end of a deal, here, and I wanted to offer her my support. The only super power I have are my words, so I offered her my words. And a box of diapers.
Second, there is the larger issue of shaming and shunning women, of the dual-edged sword that woman are constantly asked to dance upon. Many have pointed out that the father of Maddi’s child has gone unscathed in all of this. She has chosen not to reveal his identity, and that’s her choice; she has simply said he does not attend the school. The bigger problem, however, is that in these types of situations, it is always the woman who will bear the bigger brunt of Christian brutality in the name of “loving discipline”. It takes two to dance this tango, but in scores of similar circumstances, only the woman will be scorned. For young girls living in a Christian world, this is a devastating truth. Until the world of Christianity understands this imbalance and responds with grace and love, abortions will continue. I think its time for the institution of Christianity to claim its own complicity in the abortion rate it claims to hate.
Third, and this is the biggest reason, I am tired of how we Jesus Freaks are always portrayed in the media. It seems the only ones who get the microphone are the pharisees and the hypocrites, and all the world sees, then, is our legalism. Don’t get me wrong. I can be a legalistic jerk like the best of them when it suits me. I think it’s important that we progressives don’t get all legalistic about our progressiveness. But the world only ever sees a Jesus who seems to hate it, and I don’t think we’re doing Jesus or ourselves any favors with that.
A woman I respect once said to me, “Progressives are notoriously bad at self-organizing,” and I think that’s true. That’s why the world doesn’t know we exist, and why my friends who are not Jesus Freaks are always so surprised when they learn more about my personal faith and why I feel the way I do. I’m in an echo chamber for sure, so I forget that the world doesn’t know we’re out here — we tattooed and pierced outcasts, the snickering in back of the bus folks that we are. So when I asked us all to send gifts to Maddi, it was partially because I wanted us to stand up and be counted.
And we were.
For that, I really do thank you.
DoveWriters, the Christian Writer’s Incubator, is now accepting applications for our next round of Writer’s Suites, which begin on June 19th.