My personal post calvin theme this year has been anger. There are lighter months, now and then, but mostly I find myself writing month after month about how I’m pissed off and/or heartbroken about all the bad shit in the world, and also about how Christians seem hellbent on making it all worse. Last month was a doozy. I was nervous to put it out in the world. I also felt like I had to.
I want to thank everyone who read it and everyone who liked it or shared it or commented or messaged me, people I don’t even know, people I hadn’t talked to in years, sometimes. It made me feel so much less alone. And it gave me a lot of comfort and hope that I really, really needed. I also learned some things from writing publicly about my anger. I’m still learning them, honestly. But I’m sharing them here, too, because one of the things I’m learning is that sometimes it’s good to be honest before you feel ready.
Here’s the biggest surprise: I did not expect to discover that I am in fact much more deeply Christian than even I believed. I’m not mad at the church because I’m pulling away from the church. It feels, honestly, deeply inconvenient to realize that I am so committed to such a screwed up institution! I would rather not! But I also know I wouldn’t care so much what people did in the name of Christ if I didn’t think it mattered. If I didn’t so desperately want the church to live out its calling. If I didn’t believe that God is so much bigger than all the tiny stupid boxes God gets put in.
And the second thing: people can claim Christ, but they can’t change Christ. They can say whatever they want! They can say that Jesus loves only these United White States of America, and hath ordained the several genocides that brought us to this point as a society, and they can claim his support for all kinds of lesser nonsense as (let’s be honest) people have done since Jesus himself walked the earth, but they cannot make it true. Not one of us owns God; we cannot make God what God is not.
I already knew that. But it’s easy to forget. It has proved helpful to remind myself again.
And it’s also helped to remind myself that I cannot, by sheer stubbornness or force of will or loud expressions of my sadness or rage, make anyone believe me. I cannot, by my own power, persuade a single living soul to change their mind about Donald Trump or about climate change or police brutality or gun control or human reproduction. I cannot change other people. But that is also not what the good Lord has asked of me. I am supposed to act justly, and love mercy, and walk humbly, etc., etc. I still think that involves a lot of prophetic anger. It also requires some prophetic vision. So that’s where I am now, or where I’m trying to be, at least. I’m trying to find different ways to believe, and to be true to it.
I realized, in writing that post and talking about it with everyone who would let me for weeks on end, that one of the things I wanted was an apology. I wanted someone, or maybe just everyone over the age of fifty, to tell me I’m sorry. For all the weird church stuff about how virginity, and then producing children, is what makes women valuable? For preaching that God loves the poor and handing out Dave Ramsey books that blame people for their own suffering? For not putting up a fight against the narrative that abortion and gay marriage were the only political issues Christians should care about, and always in the same way? I don’t really know. But writing about my anger, and hearing all kinds of people say they hear me and that they share that anger, also moved me to remember that there are no clean lines to be drawn here between villains and heroes. I wrote in May that “we are every one of us tangled up in evils larger than our own particular sins.” We are all, I hope, trying to find our way out of them, which is very much a lifelong endeavor. I still stand by what I said then: that every one of us needs curiosity (to remember that God doesn’t fit in our stupid boxes) and moral courage (to be as true as we can be to who God is).
May the peace of Christ be with you, and also with me.
Katie is a doctoral student in English and education at the University of Michigan. She loves the New York Times crossword puzzle, advice columns, oceans, and dogs of all kinds.