Dabbles in a Minority Position

I've not had many experiences in being a minority. I'm white. I grew up in an affluent neighborhood. I was privately educated. My only real minority experience came from being a female who loved ministry in a church environment that preferred its ladies demure and supportive of male leadership as God-ordained and superior. But other than that, especially in my conservative church as an untitled minister (that darn vagina sure caused problems), I've never been on the receiving end of church rejection. I played by all the rules and reinforced them later as a leader. 
As I've sifted through my faith after my husband got fired from ministry, a lot of my traditional church values have been through the fire of loss, trauma and a desire to not tolerate anything that doesn't ring true in my spirit, regardless of the way I was taught to view everything. 
This process has turned me into a Christian who has much more progressive leanings than how I was raised to see God, the world and the Bible. I'm really, really happy about it. It feels like coming home. When I stopped going to church to tune into myself and to undo some of the messaging of who I was taught God is versus who I knew in my heart He was, I didn't know if I would ever go back. It started to feel irrelevant to my life (which was a HUGE turnaround from not knowing who I was outside of the church community). I no longer cared about church squabbles and politics. I wanted to be a citizen of the world, to know it, to love it, to participate in it, rather than shutting myself off from it because we're "so different" and it might sully me in some way. Embracing my humanity and the world we live in has been such a freeing and healthy thing for me.
To my great joy and surprise, I have found a faith community that supports and encourages my spiritual process. Rather than needing to translate the messages I was hearing on Sunday so I could maintain healthy boundaries and not wallow in shame and duty, I found a community that values what I value and challenges me to go further with it. It has blown me away. I cried the whole way home the first time I attended my new church. I couldn't believe something this good actually existed. Turns out, you don't have to be conservative in order to follow, love and value the messages of Jesus. It's been so healing and beautiful for me (and for Macy, who attends with me). 
This morning, I was watching Bruce Jenner's courageous interview with Diane Sawyer. (You should watch it. It's on Hulu). And as he told his story of hiding his transgender identity all his life out of fear of hurting the people he loved, I realized that I too am in a fear dilemma. While I'm happy to be a gay-loving, peaceful, simple living, advocate and believer in Jesus, I am running the risk of being ousted by "my own." I experienced a taste of this after I posted a simple article about Christians serving the gay community by providing wedding services when asked. I'm afraid that by following my heart and my faith and my true spiritual self I will be rejected by my people. My ministry comrades, my family, my childhood friends who have spent years totally "getting me" might misjudge me, label me, disrespect or patronize me. I've never really been on the receiving end of this. I always hung out in environments where I was the majority. It's scary and a little sad not feeling accepted for something that deeply matters to you. 
I'm learning the danger of labeling myself and others. As I happily label myself "progressive," that term might lead others to think they already know where I'm coming from based on assumptions of what it means to be a progressive. Likewise, I think my more conservative friends felt called out by some of the articles I've shared online, making them feel misunderstood or labeled in a negative way. I really want to create an online space that's safe. I sometimes unfriend people on Facebook for that reason, because dialogue requires a certain level of respect and human decency that not everyone is ready to give online. I feel an obligation to tend to my safe space by eliminating threatening people from that conversation if they can't be respectful of others. 
My faith process is so sacred to me and while I'm excited to share things on here, I am also not in a position where I feel comfortable defending myself or having to prove the validity of my convictions. My values are valid because they are true to my heart and because I really try to live by them. There are a lot of reasons and relationships and stories that have contributed to that process for me. And I like to tell my story when I feel safe and compelled to do so. But I do not owe anyone anything nor am I an expert on anything but myself. There are resources written by true experts on any number of religious and political positions. I've used them and everyone should read and explore any issue or faith position they want to learn more about. 
It's a new power shift for me to run the risk of being rejected on my home turf. It's helping me identify with what it must be like to be a minority. I know my experience is so small in comparison to true, live-long minorities and I fear by even using the term "minority", I'm dishonoring all the pain, grief and violence experienced by minorities that I'll never really understand. I guess I want to say, you never know when you're in a power position, if your life might lead you down a path that inverts that power. I'm learning so much from this experience. I'm reminded that I am valid and that I am "the least of these". I'm not better than anyone else, ANYONE else. But I'm also okay and I'm good. There is a place for me at the table. I have so much to learn. And I'm honored to be learning. I feel it is one of life's greatest privileges. 
I spent a lot of my life believing that conservative values were the only way to follow Jesus. That I needed to tune out my culture and my own evil heart, or at least beat it into submission, in order to be a Christian. When we find we can no longer do that, most of us walk away from faith entirely. And let's face it: we're leaving in droves and we're not looking back. What I have joyfully and humbly discovered through blind luck and beautiful friends, is that I no longer have to choose between my heart for people and my heart for God. That by tuning into my culture, my humanity and the stories of the people all around me, my faith is becoming deeper. I'm finding myself in the Bruce Jenner's and Eric Garner's. And my heart breaks. A lot. But my faith in God is not easily threatened. Being asked to prove its validity is still painful, frightening and very triggering for me. I'm learning to decline proving myself. I don't have to do that. What I do have to do is be true to the spirit within me that tells me: I matter. Kindness matters. God loves me. And because of those things, so does every single living, breathing person on this planet. And I refuse to tell them otherwise.

"In the End, Only Kindness Matters" - Thank you, Jewel

Unfortunately, writing a blog about being a perfectionist does not negate the voice in me that wants each post to be complete in my heart and in my head before I post it. While there is something to be said about not just word-vomiting out there for all the world to see, I realize that my perfectionism may just be getting in the way of my writing...about my perfectionism. I'd like to share my story while it's happening, as I'm learning, in the middle of my process. That means that I may change my mind. I may later read my posts and be embarrassed by how unenlightened they may seem to me in the future. All I can say is, this perfectionist is willing to take the risk.
Perhaps that's why my post about no longer going to church created such a wave among the people I know and love, because most of us don't read articles by people who haven't landed on a conclusion yet. We don't speak in the dark night of the soul. We suffer in silence and speak again once we've come out on the other side. And then we do so with authority. It's a lot more vulnerable to put your story on the internet while it's still being written. 
But that, my friends, is exactly how my series on my current values began, with honesty. It's not surprising to me that kindness is the necessary follow-up topic. My definition of honesty includes vulnerability and a willingness to be wrong. It's about breaking down walls. But honesty, without being tempered by kindness, can actually have the opposite effect. I've seen many walls being put up in the name of honesty. It comes down to posture. 
It's not just about what I say or why I say it, but where is my heart in that moment? Now that I've been through a major job loss and identity crisis, I no longer assume that my life is secure, that the things I have are deserved or permanent. This gives me the humility to be gracious to the people around me. It allows me to share my money, my time, my humanity without being an asshole in the process. I don't assume I'm right, better, or safer than the person next to me. 
This is probably my specific church background talking, but I often felt that being right (having the right biblical interpretation and applying it) was way more important than being kind. That kindness meant communicating the truth we had no matter how offensive it may seem to the listener. If we love the people around us, that must mean that we need to tell them how fucked up they are, right? That's what God would have us do. 
But let's face it. It's not "good news" to tell the world around us that they aren't enough; they need to do more, be more, be better. That their choices are wrong, their political beliefs are against God and they're going to hell. 
I'm not saying that truth has no value or that there doesn't come a time when we have to say hard things (nor am I saying I still believe the aforementioned ideologies). Real relationship includes conflict. I just think our priorities are wrong. If our goal was mercy, the love and grace of God would pour out of us and I am CONFIDENT that it would change the world. 
So many problems in our world would go away if we spoke and acted with kindness as the goal. Often, I find our conversations and actions are motivated by pride (needing to be right or prove a point), fear (needing to be in control), or ignorance (an unwillingness to learn from others). What would happen if we looked at others as equally deserving as us? How would we treat the people around us if we knew what it was really like to be them? What thoughts would run through our minds when we witness a young mother with multiple snot-nosed kids in the grocery line cashing WIC checks or using food stamps? Would we think about how they're such a drain on the system? How they need to get it together? Or would we instead think for a moment about what it would be like to be that woman? How hard it must be to not have enough money for food? Or even more radical, admitting to ourselves that THAT COULD BE ME. We are all one moment away from being that lady. So, don't be annoyed when her multiple transactions take longer. Smile and be patient. 
The people around us need grace, not grief. The world needs more kindness, more mercy, more listening. And when I say "the people around us", I mean US. We've got to stop being so hard on ourselves so that we can extend grace to the people around us. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to your neighbor. This is the work of God.

Why My Faith Has Led Me Out of Church

I've hesitated to write this post for awhile, though I think my ministry posts elude to a lot of what I have to say already. In my former life, the church was a big part of my identity and my faith process. I knew that my love affair with ministry fueled my own issues (my need for approval, my comfort zone of only being with fellow Christians, my need to be above reproach [this is Bible-speak for looking like a good person all the time], my need to be on the top of the heap [church is a hierarchy], and more) but I also knew that those ugly truths were in bed with the good stuff too (I honest to goodness cannot fake anything, so all appearances of commitment, love of God, goodness, belief in others, boundless energy for service were real). I didn't know how to separate my love for God with my love for ministry. Many people cannot see the absolute need to do such. I think we want to justify good behavior that comes from our own sinking holes of need because we think good behavior leads to good things regardless of motive. There's even something in the Bible to that effect (something about Paul saying that preaching Christ has value even if it's coming from a bad source). Plus, when we put all our hopes (and more importantly, the church's future) into our ability to do good things, how else can we move forward, knowing that all of us have coexisting good and bad motives?
It's hard for me to admit publicly that I'm not going to church. I fear, as all of us with ministry baggage do, that my story may serve as a discouragement or may be used as endorsement for all choices remotely similar to mine. I have secret fears of how this will affect my children. (I also simultaneously fear what the church would teach my child if she were there). I expect that some (many) will write me off as someone who has fallen away (lost their faith) or who does not keep my commitments (something I really disrespect). I want to clarify that within myself, I am really proud of my choices and am open to telling my story to certain people who I trust and respect, knowing that it's largely possible that they will understand where I'm coming from. But to admit this publicly, ONLINE, is a totally different thing.
I've worked hard to protect my "sacred space" (which oddly, sounds sexual, but not what I'm referring to). I define this as my soul, my theology, my self-concept, my heart. I am impressionable. I cannot be a part of a group and not identify with its larger story. Some of the lessons I am working to undo from my lifetime in church are essential to my personal faith process (saying no, embracing my humanity, putting myself in the shoes of the downtrodden versus the saviors, listening to my voice, taking risks, focusing on what I have in common with "the world", relinquishing anything that reeks of entitlement or consumerism, refusing to believe that everything has a solution or one "right" answer and that I know those things). This makes the church environment a great source of temptation for me. I immediately fill my calendar, gain approval, show my niceness, and find incriminating things in my heart to feel guilty and shameful about and set to work on self-improvement.
I live in hope that one day, when I'm MUCH less bitter and able to set firm boundaries in said environment, I will be able to be a part of a church. I have no idea what my future church looks like. For the last 3 years, my church has looked like my living room and my fellow parishoners are my female friends. I am very selective about who I allow into that sacred space now. I look for women who are open, honest and actively struggling in some shape or form. I am a big fan of people who are "in process."
I imagine some people would read this and roll their eyes. Like, what is the big deal? So you don't go to church. Most people don't. Why is this shameful or embarrassing? But with my background, this is a big deal. Is it possible that the church sound system is so loud that we can't hear God? Could it be true that the group mentality is speaking in direct contradiction to what I personally need to be doing in my life? I'm learning to set better boundaries to where the church may one day be a safe place for me to share my soul again. But for now, this sojourner is keeping company with just a few.