How ... How Did I Get Here?
Perhaps you have read Rachel Held Evans' post titled, "15 Reasons I Left Church." With over 800 comments, it has clearly struck a chord with some people. Similarly, Christian Piatt's post on God's Politics, Four Reasons Why I Came Back To Church, has been making the rounds on Facebook. Well, I posted it, at least. They are both about the authors' experiences of being a young adult in relationship with institutional Christianity. It's a difficult topic to write about...there are trends, of course, but in general the journey is so particular that one cannot really generalize. I think both authors do a good job simply offering up their testimonies, affording the readers an opportunity to make whatever connections we find.
So, in the spirit of connecting the dots, I offer this song and a wee bit of testimony.
I am often surprised by my presence in the life of the institutional Church. I was not raised in the tradition. Rather I played Dungeons and Dragons. I think that may distinguish me from many who have been circulating these kinds of posts of late. I came to faith in college and became more involved as a young adult and not less involved. So, I don't really have a story about leaving church and coming back again. I don't have a story about disillusionment or about women in ministry. The tradition that I found and that held on to me could manage my disillusionment and ordained women. So...Yeah. But let me testify for just a moment here about why I'm still invested in the Church and even in some of its institutional forms. It does all stem from what I experienced as a young adult. I posted this comment to Rachel's post.
1. My college choir was required to sing one chapel service a month. Byrd, Tallis and African-American spirituals got into my voice and my heart. So did Dr. David Burhans, the chaplain.
2. I started hanging out with Rev. Judy Bailey, the Baptist Student Union chaplain. (Long story.) So, female clergy, not an issue.
3. I was taking classes in Biblical history, the Bible as literature, and Greek...Discovering that there was more than one flood narrative in Near Eastern religions made me believe that the Bible might actually be on to something after all. Ah, the sanctity of the literary critical method...
4. I met Fundamentalism face-to-face and had to make peace with my own heart in response. I deny Fundamentalism...while striving to love the people (Not always easy). I was up to my eyeballs in the Southern Baptist Convention.
5. I lived in a religious community (http://www.richmondhillva.org) for five years. Radical hospitality, daily prayers, racial reconciliation, men, women, and children in leadership. Divine Community.
6. I served as a musician again and again. And again. (In Richmond: First Presbyterian, Ginter Park Baptist, Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter; in Chicago: Sacred Heart Cathedral, St. Peter's in The Loop, St. Mary's Bronzeville, North Shore Baptist, Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler, Community Church of Wilmette; Bay Area: First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, St. Augustine's Catholic)
7. I found a Baptist church with a woman in the pulpit in Chicago. Well, they found me. (Long story) Eventually that congregation of various ethnicities (http://www.northshorebaptist.o...) and diversity in leadership ordained me.
No matter how daft my questions, how passionate my disagreement, or dysfunctional my interpersonal relationships, the church never backed away from me. There was always someone in the life of the congregations I served as a musician or worshiped with on my own accord who reached out to me and drew me back in. Always.
When I wanted to know the difference between an "avatar" and a "messiah," someone was there to answer the question and then didn't freak out when I held on to the avatar notion for a while. When I wanted to know how the Trinity was not polytheism writ Neo-Platonic, I encountered the same patience and loving kindness. No one ever tried to "correct" me. They just kept offering what they had. They provided opportunities to understand that it was up to me to decide for myself.
When I hurt other people, when I hurt myself, when I struggled to find my footing in the world, the church reached out to me and provided help as I needed it. They literally fed me when I was out of work. The church did these things. They helped me grow up at every turn. When I had nothing to offer (or believed that about myself) they didn't care. They kept inviting me in...into the life of the liturgy, into the life of the fellowship.
I am in the church still because people reached out to me. They went looking for me when I tried to walk away. They sought me out when I needed to feel included. I cannot overstate the importance of this kind of relationship building with young adults...or anyone of any age for that matter. I still depend on it and I'm far from young. There's nothing better than a generous and sincere invitation.
The church nurtured my curiosity about faith and religion, history, literature and music (My, the music...evrything in church has been about music). They kept me singing. They gave me space to compose music (and some really bad music at that). They taught me how to lead. They taught me how to serve. They let me fail...at everything. They sent me to seminary after we discerned that call together. They've encouraged me in this Ph.D.. They keep encouraging me to expand and express my passions. I assume that this will always be the case and I have attempted to offer the same grace to all I meet.
Another piece of the puzzle that I must be clear to state is this: The church loved those whom I love. My community of friends and loved ones has never been limited to Christianity. It didn't start with Christians and I certainly wasn't going to drop those friends or my family for that matter in favor for my new Jesusy ones. Nope. You see, my friends, those who do not have a relationship with the Church, have been tremendously supportive of my endeavors as well. They have loved me throgh thick and thin and I have loved them. A good church (as this post is about church) doesn't get jealous when it's people love the world...even in spite of the institutional forms of religion. That's something I learned as a young adult as well. It keeps it all in perspective. One need not choose between the two. Such a bifurcation is false.
Okay...this is really too long now. I just wanted to put this all out there. Thanks for reading all of this.
(Note: There have been a couple of specific posts about Catholic experiences. One was an editorial in the New York Times, "Rethinking His Religion." The second is "Lapsed Catholics Explain Why They Leave Church.")
Tripp Hudgins is a doctoral student in liturgical studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., and associate pastor of First Baptist Church of Palo Alto, Calif. You can read more of his writings on his longtime blog, "Conjectural Navel Gazing; Jesus in Lint Form" at AngloBaptist.org. Follow Tripp on Twitter @AngloBaptist. This video post was edited by Jordan Krumbine of Horbawrong Studios.