A little while ago I told you about a ministry with graduate students that I was seriously considering joining. I had a few meetings, went to a few events and requested the application (a 15 page application!). I was trying to be very excited, it seemed like all of these doors were opening and I was being directed through them. Then I sat down in front of the application…
I began reading the questions and soon felt like I’d been transported back to my senior high school creative writing class. The teacher assigned us three pages of questions about a short story (seriously, THREE pages!). They were all the wrong types of questions, awful questions for budding writers to have in their minds. When I’d try to answer them I’d just start writing scathing critiques of the questions themselves. I knew it was awful of me. I begged the teacher for a substitute assignment: “Please, I’ll write you a story. Anything else.” “Lindsey, just answer the questions. They aren’t that difficult.” Oh, but they were for me.
It took me forever but I did finally turn that assignment in (terribly late-thankfully, I don’t think she penalized me). Writing each of those answers was painful. It was painful because I didn’t believe in a single sentence I was constructing. Though I’ve matured a lot since then (hopefully), there is still that girl inside me. These questions weren’t awful. They were certainly reasonable questions to ask someone thinking of joining a Christian ministry. Some of them are beautifully thoughtful but something about them and about me was at odds. I was telling myself it would be okay, I should just write the appropriate answer. Then I came to the deal breaker:
“How would you encourage someone to attend church regularly if he or she were not inclined to do so?”
I couldn’t write an answer to this question. Not without being a hypocrite. Over the last…um…five years now (?) my church attendance has been…patchy. There have been months, semesters; when I’ve opted to just listen to sermons online instead of attend a church. Even when I was a small group leader for a church in NYC, I only made it to Sunday service about once or twice a month.
It’s not that I’m lazy (though maybe sometimes it’s because I’m lazy). It’s not because I’m especially bitter or frustrated with Church, as this woman was. To be honest, from the stories I’ve heard from other Christians, I’ve come to realize that I’ve experienced some pretty exceptional churches throughout my life (sure, I’ve gone to a service or two at one of those ‘typical’ uber-conservative, close-minded American churches or those ones that peddle ‘American values’ as Christianity but it’s been rare). I could give you lots of little reasons (like how I’m too critical about pastor’s sermons) but I don’t think they’re the root cause. The root cause is twofold. In part it is because, since my freshman year of college, I haven’t found a church that I’ve been able to be truly and entirely passionate about being a part of. And it is because I’ve come to value my quality alone time with God on Sunday mornings, listening to a sermon as I eat breakfast, taking notes and reconnecting.
So, as you can see, I myself am not inclined to attend church regularly. Truth be told, I feel that this is the best decision during this transitory time of my life. (I’m not ready yet to even claim my location on facebook, I’m definitely not ready to commit to a local community). Though I still value church, and am glad each time I attend (well…most times), I would have a hard time honestly making a convincing case for church attendance. Especially because over the years I’ve come to feel that it’s most important to be a part of the Church (universal) than a particular physical church. In other words, what’s most important is making time for valuable fellowship with other believers, using ones gifts for God’s glory and spending meaningful time with God and learning about Him.
Thinking about all this made me realize why these questions and I weren’t getting along. To put it patly, I’m not Christian-y enough to be so closely tied with a Christian organization. It’s funny to me that my mom had this same realization at about the same time as me. She met with someone from her church about helping out with children’s church (she’s the director of the program). It floored her how he could say a swear word and mention God in the same sentence, she found it kind of endearing but still shocking. And she thought “This is like my daughter.”
When she told me that I laughed and thought about when I was at Cornerstone University (a Christian school and my alma matter) with Logan. As he was showing me around the new additions to the student union I swore. He said, “Should you really be swearing here.” I chuckled, “Logan, don’t you know I swear more on this campus than anywhere else? Julie used to say to me, ‘Lindsey, do you really need to be dropping the f-bomb so loudly in the middle of the student union?’” I remembered how, during my sophomore year, I used to proselytizing about my opinion on the justification for using swear words appropriately. I even got a few converts.
This is a petty example, of course. It might even seem like a childish act of rebellion. But the truth is that swear words aren’t just a part of my vocabulary, they’re a part of who I am. I use them and I love them because they’re gritty and powerful and playful and human. Because we don’t have other adequate expressions that convey the same emotional meanings (to say a man had sex with a woman and to say he f###ed her are two different things). The Christian world’s aversion to them is so symbolic of how it likes to shy away from anything messy, anything gritty about reality and God. How it’s so afraid of powerful emotions (unless it’s getting overly emotional about homosexuality and abortion). How can I not want to make them face these things? How can I deny them myself?
That’s always been me. Pushing Christians buttons, challenging them to break out of their narrow comfort zones. Always feeling outside these boundaries myself. Though I’ve grown up going to church, with modestly conservative Christian parents, though I deeply love and am committed to the Christian God, though I care greatly about sharing the Good News, the Christian world is somewhat foreign to me. Despite four years at a Christian university, I think I’ll always be somewhat of a stranger in that land even though I’m fluent in the language. And, truth be told, I don’t want to be a full citizen because I don’t want my world to be so small nor do I want to give up the language that means so much to me.
But coming to this conclusion made me start to get panicky again. Part of me just wants to want a somewhat normal life, a somewhat normal job, that’s relatively stable. This would’ve given me some stability and a job description so that I could answer that awful question “What are you doing?” more easily. It’s such a blessing that my parents are understanding. And that, just as I was thinking of giving up and searching for a ‘normal’ job, I have my old roommate, Nichelle, telling me, “Come on, Lindsey! Can you really imagine yourself going to a 9-5? Getting up at the same time every day? Having the same schedule every day? That’s not you! That’s never been you. Do what you’re passionate about!” I’m also grateful for a God who hears my prayers of panic. Not too long after that conversation with her, I got a call about setting up an interview so that I can pick up more promotional work. (During this time, in which I’m so indecisive, the two decisive statements I can make are that I love promotional marketing work and I love writing).