This week, I reached a pinnacle of achievement, being quoted by the pastor in the Sunday sermon. …Although come to think of it, it might be a rather ignominious achievement, having been quoted for my great doubts rather than my great wisdom.
You see, a month or so ago, Pastor Thomas stated in church that all were welcome.
So I did a little poking to find out just how far that welcome went.
Sometimes I think in church when we think of “welcoming everyone,” we’re picturing a recently-sober addict off the streets or an agnostic who has started searching for truth. We picture ourselves being gracious to even those so different from ourselves.
But I’m not a new Christian, and I’m not new to the church. I don’t drink. I don’t have a colored past. And I could quote the Psalms up and down.
But I doubt the inerrancy of the scriptures.
Even typing that is terrifying. It would be better if I just did weed, right? Then at least I could be a project to be fixed.
I’m sorry. I’m sounding jaded.
Church has not always been a safe place for me, or those I know and love. In my previous religious experience, church creeds from A to Z left no room to wiggle. (Or to sound jaded, again: left no room for thought.) And I have watched as friends have been “farewelled” when they wiggled. Recently a friend of mine at another church, upon revealing to her pastor that her stance on women’s roles had evolved, was told, “Don’t come back.”
And I am a big, fat coward.
I want to belong. I want to be accepted. I don’t like to be on the fringes.
That’s why I have been silent—for years. Silent as I have questioned everything I once felt so sure about. I’m an Every-Other-Day Atheist. (Kind of like a Seventh Day Adventist, but more heretical.) I’m never a 6-Day Creationist. And on my best days, I can’t muster up even a weak adherence to biblical infallibility.
Although my faith has been going through one of the greatest crises (and renaissance for that matter) of my life, I have stayed mum. I’ll admit it: I just don’t want to be farewelled. I value the family too much.
But the cost of silence is great.
Besides the obvious consequence of making me a neurotic basket case, I have discovered an even greater one.
Because of my silence, I worry that the space between us has grown too vast.
I’ve been on a journey, and I didn’t invite or allow anyone else along. And now, my face weathered and my jaw set from the trek, I am unrecognizable to those who know me. How can I explain to them where I am or where I’ve been when I never even told them I’d stepped out the door?
How could they possibly understand where I’ve arrived when I refuse to show them the map of my vulnerability? When they don’t know the many stones I’ve stepped upon to get to this place? Now, I find myself in a place they wouldn’t recognize. I don’t know if they’d accept me, but the kicker is that they can’t even understand me.
I don’t regret my journey. But I do regret going alone.
Is Pulpit Rock safe?
As I admitted my evolving faith to Thomas to find out if the welcome extended even to the likes of me, I wasn’t chucked out. He listened to me and tried to understand my experiences. He empathized with me. And those few friends to whom I have shown a small corner of my map have shown me love.
But I do recognize that this isn’t only hard for me. It’s difficult for anyone who hasn’t been on this same journey as I have. It’s hard when people start questioning your beliefs—the beliefs that are so dear, valuable and life-giving to you. It’s threatening, and it can feel like an attack on you.
And how far is too far? How much can the bonds of unity stretch?
I don’t think there’s an easy answer, for me or for you.
But as I have called out from my distant peak, with much fear and trembling, people have tried to hear me and to understand, and for that I am grateful.
The next phase of the journey has yet to be charted on the map. But this time, I might invite a few friends along.