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!).
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.
I still remember the feelings of wonder and dread as I read about Middle Earth, and the conflict between good and evil within her.
And I remember the feelings of anxiety and tension, wondering if Bilbo or Gollum would emerge from the dark victorious.
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.