A pastor’s apology to the #LGBTQ community.

“Little country church” by Tim Wilson

To those in the LGBTQ community,

I suppose I should first offer an introduction. My name is Michael, and I’m a pastor.

Because of my role as a pastor I’ve witnessed, over the past few days, conversations responding to the recent Supreme Court decision that are anything but Christlike (read: Loving and compassionate).

You see, the reality of this situation is my fellow church-folk are struggling with this issue. Compounding this problem, as Christians we’ve often come from a place of legalism, and in many ways, even as I write, we’ve not broken free from this law-first theology. Because of this theological reality, we have almost no practice dealing with something as controversial and emotionally/physiologically complicated as same-sex attraction.

Really, this is bigger than same-sex marriage. The Church has historically done an extremely poor job of dealing with sexuality in general.

And so, it’s from this place, and with this understanding, that I, an ordained pastor in the church, would like to offer a few apologies.

Please forgive us for succumbing to fear.

When it comes to same-sex marriage, for many of us, fear is ruling the day.

For too long, the church has been so intertwined with a particular political agenda that we’ve lost the ability to speak graciously and live lovingly into a difficult situation. We’ve stopped listening to Jesus’ commands to not live in fear and, instead, listen to the talking heads who evoke fear.  And because we rely more on these cable-news networks than Christ’s example, the result has been that we’ve turned you into talking points and into a faceless agenda. In this, we have rejected the truth that you, like me, are a human being, made in the image of God.

Please forgive us for not seeking out your story.

Because you’ve been treated as an agenda instead of a face, a name and a story, we have been unwilling to hear the journey that’s brought you to this point. Because we’ve not listened to your story, we’re unaware of the ways in which the pulpit has been used as a club and our Bible as a knife to wound instead of heal.

I’m sorry we’ve not treated your story with the care and gentleness it deserves. I’m sorry for the times when you’ve tried to share your experiences in our pews only to be shouted down with Bible verses and theology.

Please forgive us for ignoring your pain.

Because you have become an agenda, and because we don’t know your story, we don’t understand the pain you carry with you each day. The church doesn’t understand the thoughts of suicide and self-harm that many of you carry with you from the moment you wake until the moment you finally fall asleep.

Please forgive us for treating your pain as somehow different than ours.

Please forgive us for acting as though your pain will contaminate our social gatherings. Our callousness is anything but Christ-like, and you deserve far better than the church has provided.

You deserve community. You deserve love. You deserve attention. You deserve the right to be heard.

Forgive us for refusing your questions

In those times when you’ve actually spoken, forgive us for shutting your questions down. You see, for so many of us, we’ve operated on a black and white standard our entire lives. We have been unaware of the shades of grey that reflect the sexual spectrum.

We’ve never understood the complexity of human sexuality.

As a result, when you share your thoughts, opinions and ask your questions, we’re unsure of how to respond. Simply put, your questions scare us, and this should not be the case.

Please forgive us for those moments when you have taken the chance and put yourself “out there” and found only silence or resistance.

Please forgive us. You deserve better.

Please know the grace we’ve received is far better than the grace we’ve offered.

There is a beautiful quote by the Christ-follower, Dorothy Day that says,

“As to the Church, where else shall we go, except to the Bride of Christ, one flesh with Christ? Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”

How often we’ve failed. How often we’ve missed the mark. These past few days, we’ve acted far more like a harlot than the bride of Christ.

And so I beg for your forgiveness.

My friend, in spite of what the Church has conveyed, you are a person of incredible worth, and you are a person who matters to Jesus.

I recognize this damage will take some time to undo. I also understand that many of you may never come around our places of worship again, but know that should you find yourself with questions, doubts, fears or loneliness, you have a place in my church.

You have a place at my table.

My church welcomes you.

You are loved.

A repentant pastor.

The Church in an age of Suicide. (Are we really a people of hope?)

Creative Commons:

Creative Commons: “Solo/Alone” by Hernán Piñera

Recently, I had the great privilege of being invited to be part the planning team for our city’s inaugural  National Suicide Survivors Day. While you can find more information about what this day is about here, the purpose can be summed up this way:

Survivor Day is the one day a year when people affected by suicide loss gather around the world at events in their local communities to find comfort and gain understanding as they share stories of healing and hope.

Sitting with me around the table, I found civic health care representatives, representatives from AFSP as well as survivors of suicide. It was a beautifully eclectic and compassionate group of people.
During our time of planning, we shared stories of how they had been impacted by suicide, some shared the stories of their own attempts to take their life, and we talked about what National Survivor day looks like.

This day is intended to be a place for people to find hope, community and love in the midst of a very dark chapter of their life.

It was a meeting filled with tears, hope and beauty.

Over and over again, during our time together, I kept thinking, “this is exactly the kind of thing the Church needs to be part of.” After all, we are Gospel people and it’s the Gospel which offers hope, offers love, and demands compassion towards others.

A perfect fit, right?

As this internal monologue ran inside my head, a question in regards to where this celebration would be located came up- “Where would we meet?” someone asked.

Hearing this, I grew excited. I have space at our church, and would gladly offer it free of charge. After all, the good folks of Living Vine Church are some of the most wonderful embodiments of love, grace and compassion I’ve ever met.

But as my building was mentioned, the leader of the meeting spoke these words,

“I can’t stress how grateful I am that your church would take the time to participate in this meeting. Your folks are welcome here and deeply hope this partnership continues. But I need to encourage us to not meet at a church building. Our group has found through the years that the very people considering suicide, or those who’ve lost people to suicide, are quite often ones most deeply wounded by the church and will not come to this event if it’s held at a church.”

In that moment, my heart broke. It broke because I knew they were right about the American Church.

How? Lets start with a few statistics.

According to a Williams Institute (UCLA) study, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt. This number climbs to somewhere between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. This number then doubles to 41 percent when speaking about trans or gender non-conforming people.

41 percent.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Stories of those in transition

At the time of this meeting, our culture (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) was ablaze with social commentary about the transition of Caitlyn Jenner. The church and her leaders gladly jumped in.

Some in the church were kind-hearted and gracious.

Many, however, called Caitlyn and those who dare defend her, the worst of names.

They called Caitlyn a monster (shamefully evoking Frankenstein references).

They called Caitlyn defenders heretics.

An aggregation of theological perspectives, put together like a mosaic, created the picture of a villain in the 21st century.

In personal conversation, this is often the case, as well.

I’ve frequently heard those who find themselves same-sex attracted, or those who don’t identify with the gender of their birth, being compared to those who practice beastiality or pedophilia.

“Both are sin” we say. “God forgives us all” we say.

But do we not see the hurt inflicted in such verbiage?

Do we not see the brokenness this creates in the name of Christ?

Do we not see the ways in which the Community of Healing has become the Community of Exclusion and Rejection?

What kind of Church do we want to be? 

The truth is, the church is in the midst of a very heated debate about same sex marriage. In this debate, Christians are entrenching in their particular theological bunker. Throwing exegeted passages from their bunkers like grenades.

And you know who is hurt by this?

The very ones we are commanded (and claim) to love.

For in our proclamations of biblical marriage, we’re destroying the image of God in others.

The uncomfortable truth is, as the priesthood of believers, we bear the weight of dealing with this issue in a theologically responsible way.

However, it’s important to remember that every one of my same-sex attracted friends has reminded me that they don’t demand that the church marry them and their partner. They only ask for kindness and compassion.

Kindness and compassion: two things we’ve (myself very much included here) failed at miserably.

And so, as the church continues claim to be beacons of light and love in our world, and as we sing songs asking for God to “break our heart for what breaks yours,” we ignore those around us who are searching for connection and community.

Through the ways we’ve talked, the ways we’ve acted, and the ways we’ve responded to stories of others and trusted confession of others, the church has become a place they no longer trust. A place where they no longer find love. A place where the most vulnerable are no longer willing to walk into.

This begs the question:

If we’re called to be people who bear the image of Christ, yet don’t bear it, it must be asked: who’s the real heretic?

The Church I hope to pass on to my children

Creative Commons: keeva999,

Creative Commons: keeva999, “Country Church”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about legacy. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the church; more specifically, I’ve been thinking about what sort of church I’ll be leaving my kids.

Leaving.

This is an interesting word, isn’t it?  It’s interesting because there has been quite a bit of talk lately about people leaving the church.

Earlier this month, the Pew Research group released a National study that found:

Overall, 35% of adult Millennials (Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are religiously unaffiliated. Far more Millennials say they have no religious affiliation compared with those who identify as evangelical Protestants (21%), Catholics (16%) or mainline Protestants (11%).

Fully 36% of the youngest members of the Millennial generation – those between the ages of 18 and 24 when the survey was conducted in 2014 – eschew an affiliation with organized religion. This youngest group was not eligible to be surveyed as adults during Pew Research’s initial Religious Landscape Study in 2007. But the older cohort of Millennials – those born between 1981 and 1989 – was surveyed that year, when they were ages 18-26. In 2007, 25% of this group identified as religious “nones.” Among this same cohort, now ages 25-33, the share of “nones” has increased 9 percentage points and now stands at 34%.

This trend has been true on a denominational level, as well.

Recently my wife and I attended our Denominational district assembly where we were told that the Nazarene Church in the US and Canada had shrunk by 43,000 people over the past 10 years, and our district had struck 23% over the same period.

All of this begs the question, “Why?”

The “why” isn’t very easy to get at. People are complex and diverse, and their reasons for leaving are equally so.

However, in 2009, a protegé of Chuck Coleson, a man by the name of Gabe Lyons, gave us a window into the answer when wrote the book Un-Christian.

Lyons’ book dealt with the Church, with those who refuse to attend, or those who have left, and what their perceptions of the church might be, as well as the reasons they left.

His findings were that the Common Perceptions of Christianity were that Christians are:

91% Anti-homosexual

87% Judgmental

85 % Hypocritical

75% Too Political

72% Out of Touch with Reality

78% Old Fashioned

70% Insensitive to Others

68% Boring

Now, I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. Nor am I going to pretend these present a full picture as to the exodus of Millenials from our churches.

I am, however, wanting to share my hope for the church moving forward.

I want to dream, for a moment together, about what the church could look like as we hand it off to the generation that is inhabiting our nurseries. After all, everything we do today will affect my kids, and their kids. The issues we tackle today will benefit them, and the issues we ignore today will be issues that compound and are forced upon them to deal with.

And so, as a Father, I wanted to spend a few moments and talk about the church I hope to be. I want to share what I dream the church will look like for my children one day.

1.   Inclusive

I hope to be part of a church that no longer pushes people away. I hope to be part of a church that welcomes in the messy, and eats with those who are culturally shamed and refused.

I hope to be part of a church who welcomes into the community of believers the drug addicts. The single moms. The abortion clinic doctor. The Democrat. The Republican. The pot-smoker. The recently divorced. The frequently divorced. The over-eater. The under eater. The alcoholic. The attention seeker. The over eager. The unreliable. The food stamp user. The Bentley cruiser. The prescription medication abuser.

I hope to be part of a church that welcomes into the community of believers the biblical literalist. The evolutionist. The same-sex couple. The overwhelmed, newly married couple. The Doubter. The overly confident. The apathetic. The poor.

I hope to be a church that welcomes each person in, knowing what unifies us is Christ. Knowing what convicts us is his spirit. Knowing what provides the soil for the difficult spiritual work is the love and acceptance of the spiritual community.

2.   Justice oriented. 

I want to be a church that seeks out the oppressed, and diligently fights against injustice.

I want to be a church that is willing to live in the uncomfortable reality of someone of a different race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

I hope to be a church that’s willing to mourn with the family of a boy unfairly treated by police.

I hope to be a church who mourns with the family of a police officer shot in the line of duty.

I hope to be a church that fights against a system that oppresses based on color of skin.

I hope to be a church that mourns the life of the Afghani child killed in a drone strikes.

I hope to be a church that mourns with the family of a fallen soldier.

I hope to be a church that supports soldiers dealing with PTSD and depression long after our government has abandoned them.

I hope to be a church that refuses easy answers, and a church that asks hard questions.

I hope to be a church that chooses Christ and his Mission over Politicians and their schemes.

I hope to be a church that listens to the cries of the oppressed.

3.   Confessional

I hope to be a church that accepts that we are a broken people, filled with broken hearts, and wounds that cause us to lash out at one another.

I hope to be a church that allows us to confess our short comings to one another. To speak the struggles of our hearts. To name the issues that bind our wrists. To encourage the forward movement of a people who can hardly stand by themselves, but who find strength and courage in numbers.

I hope to be a church where pastors no longer feel the need to put on a mask of perfection, but can live out their calling to be a wounded healer.

I hope to be a church that lets her people bear their scars, and a church which nurses the wounds of the broken.

4.   Forgiving

And in the moments when we hurt, I hope to be a church that practices the sacred practice of forgiveness.

I hope we can be the church that forgives freely, and without any expectation of return.

I hope we can be a church that forgives past the point of convenience.

I hope we can be a church that sees our oppressors as humans created in the image of God.

I hope we can be a church that forgives, even when culture tells us to retaliate.

5.  Loving

I hope we can be a church that lives out Christ-like love. A love that says, no matter what you do, no matter where you go, no matter what you say, you are loved.

I hope we can be a church that loves out of a deep understanding that we were first loved, even at our most unloveable. A church that recognized we were welcomed into the family by no right of our own.

I hope that we can be a church that lives this love out in a real and tangible way in a world that is desperately seeking love. And I hope to be a church that realizes this sort of love is a bit chaotic and messy, and hope to be a church that loves anyway.

Friends, lets become this church. If not for ourselves, for the sake of our children.

And when we do this, maybe- just maybe- we’ll find our youth returning to the fold.

On Wyoming, and experiencing peace together.

Creative Commons:

Creative Commons: “Un nuevo viaje!” by Andrés Nieto Porras

On Wyoming and Experiencing Peace.

Somewhere along the line, we got this image that the best way to experience God was to do it alone. Whether through worship, through prayer, through devotions or through confession, most of us have spent the majority of our spiritual lives building walls that isolate us from others.

We grieve alone.

We sin alone.

We try to experience God alone.

But try as we might, we’re never quite able to experience peace alone.

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I have made the drive from the Midwest to the West Coast twice.

The first trip was made as recently graduated college student, idealistic and feeling as though I was in complete control.

The second, as a recently hired pastor, anxiously packing and carrying the possessions of a wife and 18 month old little girl to a city I had spent a few hasty hours interviewing, late Saturday night and early Sunday morning, with a beautiful congregation.

The first trip, beginning one June morning, was done with two of my closest friends. We packed into an old Ford Taurus and started West on I-70. Our destination was a wedding in Northern California where we would celebrate another close friend’s wedding.

Along the way, we found ourselves caught in a rocky mountain snow storm, witnessed the brilliance of the stars in the Utah desert, the brilliant lights on the Los Vegas strip at night , and frigid wet of the Pacific followed by the warmth of a bowl of San Francisco Clam Chowder.

The second trip was made with my Father-in-law. Being winter, and not wanting anything to do with the Rockies in January, we decided to take the southern route; old Route-66.

Pushing west, an overloaded mini-van and a moving truck, together we witnessed the beauty of the Texas Basin, the oasis of Flagstaff in the midst of a sea of red clay, meteor crater in Arizona, and the beautiful rolling hills that run along “I-5” in California.

There was a distinct moment during each trip out West when I remember being awe-struck by the sheer beauty of what I was seeing, and then became overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to share this experience with someone else.

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Peace.

We yearn for it, don’t we? Our efforts are dedicated to finding it; often finding that our searching is in vain. And so we keep searching for it through books, through music, through exercise, or through long drives at night.

After failing more times than we want to admit, we find ourselves believing maybe we haven’t pushed the right buttons, or maybe we lack enough self-discipline.

What if peace isn’t what we’ve been taught it is?

What if this counter-intuitive peace was so powerful and so beautiful because it has more to do with the collective whole rather than the individual?

What if peace was never intended to be found alone?

In a sermon about the Kingdom of God the peace it brings, Pastor Tim Keller talked about peace this way:

“God created the world to be a fabric, for everything to be woven together and interdependent… The more interdependent they are, the more beautiful they are. The more interwoven they are, the stronger and warmer they are. God made the world with billions of entities, but he didn’t make them to be an aggregation. Rather, he made them to be in a beautiful, harmonious, knitted, webbed, interdependent relationship with one another.” 

It’s this communal experience of peace that prompted the angels to proclaim “Peace on earth.” The word used there was “Eirene.” It’s a word used to describe a collective peace; this is peace on a national scale.

Eirene shows us that Christ didn’t come to save you, and he didn’t come to save me. He came to save us.

When the church is acting in one-accord and when it’s threads are tightly woven together, there is a peace that is present in the midst of the people who goes beyond any explanation, and defies any logic.

Kingdom peace, in all its beauty, will never be found through escape; it can only be found through communion.

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With the wedding a success, we began our trip back to the Midwest. I had the lonely responsibility of driving the grave yard shift from Salt Lake City to Denver Colorado. The road stretched for miles with no turn in sight, and we found that the only change for miles was a slow and steady rhythm of small hills that rose and fell like a small child peacefully breathing. Couple this with the soft hum of the tires and I quickly I found myself to be the only one awake.

It was dark.

Then came Wyoming.

The Sun began to creep up and cast the full range of reds, oranges and blues along the eastern sky directly in front of me. I was witnessing art in progress.

This moment was sacred, it was peaceful and I knew it was a gift.

Disappointed that I would be the only one to witness this sunrise, I hopefully glanced over at my friend, Chris who was sitting in the passenger seat, and saw that without my knowing he had woken up and was silently soaking in this moment with me. We witnessed the slow birth of beauty, and experienced a quiet peace.

That was 6 years ago, but Chris and I still talk about that sunset to this day.

Originally published in Standard,  February 22, 2015 (WordAction Publishing Company: Kansas City, MO). All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

The Necessity of Stories: A response to my open letter

I recently found myself at the receiving end of a post gone viral. For someone who has a very small social media platform, it was quite an eye-opening experience.

I wrote words that meant a great deal to me. I asked questions which were very personal and were questions which found a home in the deepest parts of my soul. I made myself vulnerable. I opened myself up and I quickly realized the questions I asked both resonated and offended in equal measure.

I subsequently spent two weeks talking with those who agreed with me, and more often, listening to those who disagreed with me.

At the end of it all, I don’t harbor ill-will or feelings of anger against anyone. For the most part, people were very Christlike- if not passionate- about their disagreement with me, and in a time when we need more passionate, Christlike disagreement, I respect them greatly for their fervor.

I have, over the past two weeks, also been thinking about how I wanted to respond to those who were offended by my asking tough questions.

Many have done a fantastic job explaining why it is very Biblical to question authority, particularly those in Spiritual leadership, and have done a beautiful job of citing Scriptural examples of this, and so I don’t feel the need to rehash this.

I do, however, think there is another aspect of this anger which must be addressed; this being the larger issue of our willingness to hear and respond to people’s stories and experiences within our communities.

We all love a good story. 

Whether it’s a book, a movie, a comic, or a podcast, stories and the characters within them, do something to us few other mediums can. They evoke within us feelings we can’t suppress (and we love them for this).

We’ve all experienced the power of story, haven’t we?

I still remember tearing up as a 10-year-old when Goose dies in the arms of Maverick in Top Gun (don’t judge me!).

goose

I still remember the feeling of rage when Tom Robinson is convicted of a crime he never committed, by a jury that was never going to let him go free.

tom robinson

I still remember the feelings of wonder and dread as I read about Middle Earth, and the conflict between good and evil within her.

gondor

And I remember the feelings of anxiety and tension, wondering if Bilbo or Gollum would emerge from the dark victorious.

riddles

Stories create within us, this unique ability to know the heart and experiences of others.

To quote my favorite literary character, Atticus Finch,

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

To listen to another’s story is the sacred act of climbing inside another’s skin and walking around a while. Their eyes become our eyes, their skin becomes our skin, their hopes become our hopes, and their fears become our fears.

Our church desperately needs more stories. 

The comment section of my “Open Letter” is filled with stories of those who were wounded by our denomination. These stories are important and need a place to be told.

We need the stories of clergy hurt by their colleagues, congregants or superiors.

We need the stories of parishioners who were hurt and silenced by clergy.

We need the stories of the ways leadership has stifled questions and who subsequently pushed the questioners out of their ministry assignments or their home congregations.

Simply stated, we desperately need to hear the stories of the people.

We need these stories because they lead us to, as a denomination, a greater depth of empathy and compassion. And in a time of great misunderstanding or resistance, this empathy, compassion and commitment to understanding will become the balm that heals our corporate bodies and souls.

However, this road to empathy is a difficult one.

To gain a deeper sense of empathy and understanding, we as the church must allow ourselves to be broken by what we hear; by these stories of the people. We must allow ourselves to identify with the victim, to hear their stories, even when it creates within us a sense of instability and even (especially) when it goes against our own experiences.

We must listen and tell these stories, we must ask these questions, even when others demand our silence.

We must resist.

We must do so lovingly, generously, and in a deeply Christ-like way, but we must resist all the same.

We must resist because we are a people who exist for the broken. We are the followers of a Messiah who identified with those who were told to shut up.

We must resist because we follow a Savior who listened to the voiceless.

Our church seems to be dividing down an experiential line. 

We’re dividing ourselves along the lines of those who love and appreciate her, and those who have been wounded and find themselves unable to trust her.

And the gap between these two continues to grow.

Friends, we must remedy this. Friends, we can remedy this.

This remedy will come when we decide we’re done with being an idealogical people, and instead dedicate ourselves to becoming a story telling people.

Friends, lets tell our stories, and may we watch as the beauty of reconciliation unfolds before us.

Book Review: “Searching For Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans

search

Books are beautiful things. They move us, shape us and through them we grow.

Some books are better than others. Some make us laugh, some make us cry, other books find themselves flung against the walls of our bedroom in anger. Anger which we may or may not feel guilty about later.

Still other books are exactly what we need at exactly the right time. They hit that nerve which speaks to us in ways more significant than just as words on a page. They convey a deeper truth, they give a name to that aching within our soul, that scratch we haven’t quite been able to itch.

What Rachel Held Evans just published in Searching For Sunday is that kind of special.

 A little about the book:

“Many months would pass before I understood that people bond more deeply over shared broken than they do over shared beliefs.” p. 67

Part memoir, part theological exploration, Searching For Sunday effortlessly weaves the telling of Rachel’s story with a theological exploration of the seven sacraments; baptism, confession, holy orders, communion, confirmation, anointing of the sick, and marriage.

As she explores the sacraments, Rachel walks the reader through her own experiences with the church, tells of how it shaped her, formed her, hurt her, how that hurt pushed her away, and how she found her way back to the community of believers once more.

Many attest to the fact that the spiritual journey is an intimate experience akin to marriage. Into the fold we bring our fears, baggage and hurts, and in doing so, we find ourselves deeply exposed for all to see.

For many of us, we will fight our whole lives to keep this sort of thing hidden from the eyes of others within the church. Rachel, however has courageously invited us into this journey. Sharing with us her story as tangible proof that those who doubt are not as alone as maybe they once believed.

What I loved

“But the gospel doesn’t need a coalition devoted to keeping the wrong people out. It needs a family of sinners, saved by grace, committed to tearing down walls, throwing open the doors, and shouting, “Welcome! There is bread and wine. Come eat with us and talk.” This isn’t a Kingdom of the worthy; it’s a Kingdom for the hungry.” p 147

I could write 5000 words on all I loved in Searching for Sunday, but for the sake of brevity I’ll limit it to only a few.

Even if the rest of the book were rubbish (which I can’t stress enough, is not the case), I would recommend readers buy it for the chapter on Communion alone. At multiple points during this section, I found myself choked up, with goose bumps, and audibly (and inaudibly) shouting my agreements.

Filled with stories of Methodist dance parties, heavenly bouncers, and stories like how the Eucharist was a divine instrument of racial-reconciliation in the 1940’s segregated South, Searching for Sunday provides the skin-and-bones beauty and sacredness of what the sacrament of Eucharist really means. It paints the beautiful picture of how the taking of the cup and the breaking of the bread unites people of all races, genders, political affiliations and orientations.

Rachel reminds us that the Eucharist is a divine act of remembering that not one of us belongs at the table, yet because of Christ, all are welcome at the table. The Eucharist reminds us that the food is just as much mine as it is yours, that the nourishment provided by the bread and the cup will heal you just as deeply it heals me. It reminds us that we need to let go of our disagreements, and in finding ourselves face-to-face with those we disagree with, speak the divine words of Jesus;

This is my body which was broken for you.

This is my blood which was poured out for you.

Easier said than done.

As I read and re-read this section, I once again rediscovered the beauty in the Eucharist. The deep and unending mystery of the eucharist. The great hope that comes from remembering Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

It was a journey in finding myself at the Table of Christ for the first time, again.

In conclusion

I cannot recommend Searching for Sunday strongly enough. It moved me, shook me, reached deep within me and changed me. While the American Evangelical church has lately become known for who they are against instead of who they are for, Rachel reminds us through her words, and through her stories, that the church isn’t defined by either of those categories.

Rather, we’re defined by the one whose table we dine at. For we eat at the table of the King.

You, me and the guy whose politics we can’t stomach.

So let’s pass the bread, let’s break open the wine, and lets remember that there is plenty for all to eat and be filled.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

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For those who want to purchase the book, today is the day to do it! Rachel is giving away free download codes for “Seven Songs,” an album by singer/songwriter (and sister of Rachel) Amanda Opelt. “Seven Songs” was inspired by the seven sacraments featured in Searching for Sunday, and so they are closely tied to one another. So make your purchase and submitted you proof of purchase by April 18th, 2015 at 11:59pm EDT, and this amazing album is yours!

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About Rachel:

rachelRachel Held Evans is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled (2010), A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012), and Searching for Sunday (2015). Hailing from Dayton, Tennessee—home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925— she writes about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt.

An Open Letter to a church I love. (Is there room for me?)

New-LogoTo the leaders of our Nazarene tribe,

It’s been a tough few months for us, hasn’t it? We’ve been through a lot together.

We’ve read about our family in the pages of newspapersmore than once. We’ve felt the effects of strong disagreement, feelings of betrayal, and the need for apologies from others and from myself. We’ve accused, we’ve repented, and done all within our power to be reconciled once more.

These stories, however, are beginning to pile up: NPH, MNU (Randy Beckum), NNU (Tom Oord).

If I’m being honest, as an ordained pastor, I really don’t know where to go from here.  I’m really, truly at a loss for words.

I think it goes without saying, that many issues like the ones we’ve recently faced require a great deal of discretion. I also know that leaders in high positions are forced to make decisions which are unpopular, but are done in the best interest of the group they lead. These same leaders are then forced to weather the storm of outrage and calls for transparency in silence; knowing they will do more harm than good in their justification.

I get this. I really, truly do.

However, I ask that you see this from our side. 

In the past year, two of the most respected leaders and theological thinkers in our denomination have lost their positions. These men both happen to be progressive in their practice and theology.

Randy and Tom are two men I deeply respect, and these are two men who have shaped my own theology, and who had a hand in saving my own faith. I respect them deeply; not because I always agreed with them, but because they were leaders unafraid of asking the difficult questions.

But they are now silenced.

What was the reason for their demotion and/or removal? We don’t know. Nobody will tell us.

Their departures/demotions are filled with confusing and contradictory evidence.

Now, again, I admit I know very little of these situations. I know little of the background to these removals. While I’m not privy to this information, as an ordained elder in our tradition, I do believe I have a right to say this:

There is a point when perceptions begin to convey a cultural reality.

This unveiling reality is that difficult questions are unwelcome, and hard conversations are not allowed to be had.

For me, the only thing the Nazarene church has done in the past 6 months is plant a question firmly in my mind: “Is there room in the Nazarene church for me?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this Denomination more than anything. My children are the 5th generation of Palmer’s who have darkened the doorways of a Nazarene church. The history of this church is in many ways the history of my own family heritage.

I will never leave her. We are forever tied to one another.

Recent events, however, have begun to make me ask, “while I’ll never voluntarily leave the Nazarene church, will she push me away? Will she walk away from me?”

Because the questions asked by Randy Beckum, and the questions asked by Tom Oord, are the same questions I, myself, am asking, and these recent events have placed me on very unsteady footing.

It was once said,

“I often hear people in churches across America asking, “Where are our young people going?” I can’t help but believe they are leaving our sanctuaries of certainty in search of spaces where their doubts are welcomed and where there is room to wrestle with faith’s uncomfortable questions. If the church wants to find the next generation returning to the fold, they must accept all that comes with them. Doubts, fears, questions and all.”

This brings me to the thrust of this post:

To those in leadership positions in the Nazarene church, while I admit the truth behind the removal of Tom Oord and Randy Beckum might not be theologically based, the message you’re sending about them very much is, and it’s a message we millennials are receiving loud and clear.

“Get in line. Don’t ask questions, and all will be okay.”

So I want…no I need to ask a question as a friend, colleague and person who deeply wants our tradition to live on: “Is there room for us?”

Because, if I’m being honest, right now I am struggling to believe there is.