In the darkest days of winter, I FaceTimed a friend. It was cold and snowy and dark at 4:30. My recently adopted dog was driving me bananas, and I had spent a few months steeping in the loneliness and depression reserved for extroverted recent college grads who move to a new city in the middle of a pandemic.
We’re not particularly close, this friend and I, but we find time to chat every couple months. I remember making light of my stresses and fears to avoid uncomfortable consolation. She asked me how I was seeing God.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I wasn’t. I concocted a few rambling sentences about growth and change and uncertainty, which didn’t begin to answer the question. I don’t think she noticed.
I didn’t know how to tell her that I haven’t been going to church. I could make excuses and say it’s because I was afraid of in-person services or because I just hadn’t found a church home yet. But the truth was—and is—that I think I’m just afraid of the church. And, I suppose, by extension, God too.
Don’t get me wrong: I grew up in church and place a high value on my personal relationship with Christ. But these days, when I think of Christianity, I think of the oppression and racism and homophobia perpetuated in its name. I resonate with Finnely King-Scoular’s essay from last week: I think of colonizers and abusers and acts of violence. When I think of cracking open my Bible (which has sat faithfully gathering dust on my nightstand for the last six months), I think of verses weaponized to condemn individuals and communities. I feel a tightness in my chest when I think of Jesus’ words being used to ostracize instead of welcome. Am I the only one who feels this way?
Lately, I’ve been having conversations like this with my friends more and more. One friend said, “Everyone I talk to seems to have some story of church trauma.” Another commented, “Am I … a universalist?” These friends and I, we do love Jesus. At least, we try. We do love people. At least, we try. But we’re finding it harder and harder to love the church.
How can I reconcile my personal commitment to Christ with the broken, havoc-wreaking institution built in his name?
I could quote the scripture and tell you about the wonderful faith-filled community I found at my church in college. I could just compartmentalize my personal faith and ignore how problematic and actively harmful Western Christianity continues to be.
But that would ignore so many people hurt by the community I’m part of. That would trivialize the complexity of God’s good creation and make me comfortably complicit in the host of injustices perpetuated under the banner of churchisms like “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
I wish my post could conclude on a light, hopeful note: “I don’t know what to do, but I’m trying!” or “I’ll just keep praying about it, and trusting God!” or “there’s so many good people out there, we’ll figure it out eventually!” Those sentiments seem hollow and trite. And, if I’m honest, more than a little naïve.
The truth is, I don’t know. The truth is, I’ve been finding it hard to pray and easy to complain; the nebulous big-C Church is a conveniently blamed scapegoat for the arrogance and injury I carry in my own heart and inflict on others. I wonder about finding a new church home in Rochester, about how I hear from God, and what to do.
Longing for the redemption of the church (and myself), I did go to in-person church on Easter for the first time in a year. It seemed like the thing to do at the time. But it did little to help me reconcile my faith and my fear.
For now, I sit on my balcony every morning with a cup of coffee, a time I once reserved for scripture and prayer. I watch day by day as the buds on the trees turn to leaves and the daffodils sprout, and I wonder if I’m too late.
I see the signs of spring and am reminded of the God I know, the God who sustains, supports, and cares. Who welcomes the homeless and comforts the widow, who flips tables in the temple and offends people in power with his radical community. Who revels in transformation and rebirth, and challenges injustice in all its insidious forms. Who delights in the natural world and in me, who invites me to my critical reflection, but also asks me—asks us all—to be better.
What if I can’t? What if we can’t?
What if the seasons change, but I remain the same? Paralyzed in uncertainty, I suppose I’m muddling through—without the confidence I hope for, and distinctly without answer to my friend’s question: How are you seeing God?
Perhaps summer will be different.
Lillie grew up on a forty-acre hay farm in Central Oregon, making the trek to Michigan to study mechanical engineering and sustainability. After graduating in 2020, she moved to Rochester, NY, where her day job as an engineer for the local gas utility funds her outdoor adventures, love of books, various craft projects, and investment in her new community.