“How far are you willing to let Truth change your life? If something is true, and good and right, would you want it, even if it demands a response? What if responding means changing your way of thinking? What if embracing it changes how your family and friends see you? What if it changes your job security? But if it is true, would you want it regardless of the cost, or would you rather live a comfortable lie? Whether we like it or not, each of is faced with this question and will need to decide: How far are you willing to let Truth change your life?”
Does this sound like something you heard as an Evangelical? Does it flash you back to when pastors implored you to “pay the cost” of following Jesus? Urging you to give up the comforts and pleasures of this world for sacrificial faith? Commanding you to turn away from the popular ways of secularism and selfishness for the narrow path of life?
It sounds like that to me. But actually, I wrote this in 2013 one month before graduating college, and I wrote it about following newfound convictions that became my catalyst for walking away from the conservative church. Alone in an evangelical world, I was burdened with epiphanies that led to my deconstruction. My eyes had been opened and I couldn’t un-see how anti-Christ mainstream Christianity had become. The more I learned about what Jesus actually stood for, the more I saw how unlike him many churches really were.
Jesus said “put down your sword” but churches supported guns and war. Jesus said “how hard it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven”, but churches praised the rich and criticized the poor. Jesus said “let him who is without sin cast the first stone”, but churches judged relentlessly and ripped apart people’s lives with their gossip. I tried to ask questions or make points, but most Evangelicals were defensive and closed off.
I wrote this piece about seeking truth regardless of the cost – but in the way that an ex-Evangelical refugee has to pay, not as the face of pious religiosity staring down imaginary oppression.
I had been warned that the world would hate me, but actually it was the church that did. They taught me that persecution would come from doing the right thing, and it did – from Christians. I was trained to think secular groups would try to influence me and control my beliefs, but found that no one on the outside really cared what I did with my private life – only the church obsessed over that.
Christians had always told me that following the truth would be unpopular and cost me greatly. That’s exactly what happened – following my convictions became a deeply unpopular journey because my entire life was filled with Evangelicals who disapproved. The cost was losing everything and starting over from scratch.
I didn’t plan on leaving the church – I simply had committed to learning, growing and being driven forward by my conscience. As I learned new things, I changed accordingly. But there was no room for change in conservative Christianity. At the slightest hint of going my own way, I was accused of taking the easy route – ironically, deconstruction was the hardest thing I had ever done.
Hands trembling, I pulled opened the gate standing between me and vast, lonely unfamiliarity. I took a deep breath and stepped forward, answering the Spirit’s call into the wilderness. I knew Evangelicals wouldn’t let me go easily. I knew they would hunt me down and terrorize me (and they did), but I mustered my courage and went anyway. I gave up my community to venture ahead solo. I lost my friends and made some enemies. I let go of my status and reputation to be slandered and blacklisted. I faced my fears and trusted that Truth is good.
Maybe I should never have looked back, but I still desperately wanted to make a difference in the Christian communities I had known and loved. I did everything I could to gently and slowly expose whoever might be there with openheartedness to the Christ I was learning about – inviting them into curiosity. After all, someone had done that for me.
But I had to be careful. Being too open was dangerous. I wasn’t fully escaped yet. That would take years. I became skilled at using conservative language to express my progressive Christian ideas (knowing all too well that with just one word outside their lexicon, the arrows start flying). But conservative-coding everything I said made it difficult to know how much of my message actually got through. It took so much energy to find ways of creatively weaving new threads of discovery into an old tapestry of tradition, hoping the right people would find it or even recognize what it was.
Eventually, I had to heed the scriptural advice: “do not throw your pearls before swine.” Over the years my writing has changed – because my audience has changed. Now I maintain only those circles of influence characterized by mutual openness, learning, curiosity and reciprocity.
In those early days the mantra that kept me going was “I will follow Truth wherever it takes me” – a moment-by-moment response to reverberating internal echoes of “How far are you willing to let Truth change your life?”
I lost my dream job because I’m queer. Isn’t that illegal? Well, yes. Except I technically left voluntarily. Most former pastors and missionaries do. I left because I felt pushed out and I couldn’t be complicit in oppression any longer. Whether that’s voluntary or coercion, is up for debate.
That’s how churches get away with it – the discrimination. They corner you into a shrinking box until you can’t live like that anymore and you leave. Then they can say you left willingly. You resigned, it wasn’t a good fit, you pursued other opportunities, your passions changed, etc. That, or you hide your real self because you can’t afford to lose your livelihood. Perhaps after years of Christian service, your secular business skills are lacking and you aren’t sure what your options are.
It doesn’t matter whether or not its intentional, pushing “dissident” Christians out of their ministry jobs. Oppression is so deeply ingrained into church culture its entirely possible not everyone there realizes what they’re doing. But the impact is the same and responsibility is not absolved.
I didn’t want to quit my job. Leaving deeply broke my heart. I had worked with the ministry for seven years, employed full-time for three. That community was everything to me. It wasn’t just my job – it was my closest friendships, my fun weekends, my late nights, my meaningful conversations, my outlet for making a difference in the world and my opportunity for discovering my own gift and talents.
My college ministry was my safe place when I was excommunicated from my parents church for visiting a male friend. My college ministry empowered me as a woman – they allowed women pastors and showed me that as a woman I could be equally used by God. My college ministry believed in me as a shy, home-schooled 18 year old and enabled me to take on a vital role in the community. Because of my college ministry I learned I was gifted at facilitating discussions, planning largescale events, writing sermons and public speaking, mentoring and coaching to name only a few.
The acceptance and empowerment I experienced there healed me from a narcissistic church friendship I had had for the previous four years which left me feeling totally worthless and defective. My college ministry pushed me outside my comfort zone in all the best ways and provided me the first opportunities to build friendships with non-believers, to have in-depth spiritual conversations with people I didn’t know closely, and even to speak on a faith panel alongside atheists in front of several hundred people.
Because of this ministry, I became a central hub in a thriving and diverse community – feeling valued and important for the first time. This ministry provided me the opportunity to live in a community house and experience interdependent, sustainable living in ways I had only dreamed of before. This ministry showed me what it is like having a close, tight-knit fellowship of people that have nothing else in common other than a shared belonging and curiosity about Jesus.
My college ministry was the reason I learned how to be family with people I didn’t always naturally feel drawn to. They gave me the chance to complete a two-year internship usually only offered to Bachelor’s graduates after I had earned my Associates degree. The internship was the most meaningful thing I had ever done with my life. I was able to dedicate myself full-time to my passions – making a tangible difference in the lives of people who meant the world to me. Through raising financial support I was able to get paid for doing what I loved the most. Because of this ministry, I was able to help others experience Christianity as healing, transformational and empowering. They made it possible for me to facilitate an environment where people could have the same kinds of powerful spiritual experiences that changed my life.
This ministry gave me the chance to study theology and take seminary classes and achieve my dream of becoming a pastor. Me! A woman! A young woman in my early twenties at that. Earning my licensing credentials was so incredibly validating. After a lifetime of being told women, and especially young women, couldn’t be trusted – here was a ministry that affirmed me in doing pastoral work even as a student. They then went on to empower me to becoming officially recognized as a pastor within their denomination. This ministry was the best thing that happened to me. Leaving felt like the antithesis of everything I held dear.
However, as I moved higher and higher up in the organization, I had the chilling realization that the national and global levels of this denomination weren’t as family-like and accepting as the small chapter I had worked with since I was a teenager. The more I attended huge conferences and met national leaders, the more I experienced judgment and legalism.
The community houses connected with sister ministries where I spent a lot of time during my internship had strict separations between men and women. For instance, when myself and a few other female interns went downtown to get food with one of the male interns, we were warned to “be careful with him”. What did they expect us to do? Have an orgy in the car? These binary divisions and oversexualization were always very uncomfortable and confusing to me as a queer person. The community houses were also strictly no-alcohol, so when a friend of mine came over with some Amaretto-flavored ice cream to store in the freezer during their visit, we were almost told we couldn’t have it (even though it was non-alcoholic). They eventually said it was okay after a chaotic household debate. Rules like these became more and more consuming and nonsensical and ridiculous and I went from feeling safe and accepted to once again being always on edge, waiting for the day I would break an unexpected and unknown rule and my life would come crashing down all over again.
As a student I was aware that my beloved community had a “traditional view” on marriage and sexuality, but it wasn’t a topic that came up much. We didn’t encounter too many people who asked about those policies, so I never experienced it being a problem in a practical sense. However, now as an interned staff member the problematic nature of those policies became painfully clear. Once while running a promotional event in the campus center, a student approached me and asked if we were accepting to LGBT students and I didn’t know what to say. I knew the official answer was no. I mean, they could come to our events of course, but eventually if they wanted to be an active Christian in the community they would be asked to give up that part of themselves. What’s more, they would be asked that by straight married staff who would never have to make a similar sacrifice. Being put in this predicament opened my eyes to just how horrible our stance was – I just couldn’t see Jesus ever telling someone they weren’t accepted. The person standing in front of me was a real human being, not a topic, not an issue, not a doctrine. I ended up telling them “Jesus accepted everyone so we had better do it, too!” My answer satisfied the student, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that while what I had said was morally true, I had somehow just lied about our community. From then on, I often felt like a wolf in sheep’s clothing – acting accepting and loving on the outside, but on the inside I was following oppressive policies and being dishonest with people.
What made it even harder to accept the community’s “traditional stance” on sexuality, was that they were affirming to women in ministry even when most “traditional” churches weren’t. They were willing to do the hard work and theological gymnastics to come to that conclusion – pulling apart problematic Bible verses, studying the original culture at the time, imagining scenarios that might make a writer say what they did, even speculating that some verses had been added in later – but they were never willing to do the same thing with the verses about homosexuality. I knew if the same amount of effort was invested in resolving the LGBT “clobber” passages, a similar conclusion could be reached. In fact, I realized it would actually probably be easier to arrive at LGBT inclusion than inclusion for women pastors. A quick history study shows that the word “homosexual” wasn’t in any English translations until 1946, and the word had been understood as pedophilia before that. Changing the translation had been a topic of debate and not universally accepted as the correct decision.
It became so clear to me that because it was so easy to do the research and change their minds on LGBT inclusion, if it wasn’t happening it was simply because church leaders didn’t want to. It would shake things up too much to change an entire denomination’s stance, so they didn’t bother. They would lose things – things like, clout in certain circles, a percentage of affiliates, and large donors. Women had led the way in establishing the denomination from the very beginning, so female equality never required leadership to “change their minds” or make any sacrifices. Women were always involved in drawing up organizational policies and stances, but openly LGBT people were never represented on decision-making boards. Now generations later, real people were being hurt as a result. A lack of representation always leads to dehumanization and oppression of the underrepresented groups as decisions are made about them without their involvement.
As I completed my internship and went on to becoming a licensed pastor, I continued to wrestle with my growing understanding of my sexual orientation. I had never talked to anyone in the ministry about it, but I decided to tell my best friend who was an intern there at the time. She and I had been through everything together over the last 5 years or so, and if anyone would understand, it would be her. I trusted her. I told her what I knew about my queerness and excitedly declared that self-acceptance was so freeing – I finally felt authentic! She responded by telling me that my “most authentic self is full of sin and brokenness” and that for those reasons I should not strive for authenticity but rather holiness. I was devastated and deeply insulted. We had always been so bonded – we were very touchy best friends and our souls felt joined in a way I couldn’t explain, but after telling her I wasn’t straight, she became cold and distant and avoided touching me. I was completely shattered. This couldn’t be Christlike, could it?
As my theology became more and more inclusive, a divide grew between me and my beloved community. I wasn’t able to teach or preach freely anymore – there was now a limit to what I could say. For a while I taught what I was told to, not what I believed. But I couldn’t do that forever – I couldn’t in good conscious get up in front and say things that I believed were inherently wrong and harmful and untrue. I was also painfully aware that in order to be true to myself, I would lose everything I held dear. I wouldn’t be seen the same way again and I would give up all I had worked toward for almost a decade. I would lose my entire community all over again, seven years after it had happened the first time.
One of my students who identified as lesbian apparently didn’t know our official stance on LGBT inclusion. It wasn’t talked about much and I can understand why. Once she told me “I’m so glad I could find an accepting church community! I don’t think I would be a Christian if I hadn’t found this.” That cut me deep to the bone. What were we supposed to do now? A member of our community found her faith under false pretenses. I couldn’t deny it was a huge red flag if revealing our true beliefs would destroy someone’s faith and their ability to be part of our community.
As a queer, pansexual woman, I couldn’t even tell this student that I shared parts of her journey. I couldn’t share commonality with her as queer women. I couldn’t connect with her as a fellow queer Christian. I had to hide my identity or talk about “remaining celibate” and how Jesus supposedly changed me. As a queer person, I wasn’t allowed to work a job where I spiritually mentored other queer people. Straight people were supposed to do that. Or queer people who denied themselves. The epiphanies were suffocating.
I watched myself being slowly pushed further and further out of my window of tolerance. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t get paid money to oppress people who were just like me. I started to face my privilege as a straight-passing cis-gendered woman who was in a relationship with a man at the time. I contemplated the fact that I was allowed to exist in this community because my life on the surface fit closely enough in the box of their expectations – but not everyone had that privilege of conforming on the surface. I wasn’t comfortable continuing to use my privilege of acceptance to take it away from others. I couldn’t live secretly as a self-accepting queer person while asking someone else to deny their queerness.
It wasn’t just the doctrines on LGBT issues that pushed me away from this ministry. By this time, I had seen too much. I had seen judgmental attitudes, controlling policies and ridiculously strict rules designed at higher organizational levels – but ultimately it was reckoning with the humanity of queer people that pressed me to the point of knowing without a doubt what I had to do.
So I left. I left everything I wanted for my life and everything I saw for my future. I left what I had thought was my calling and what I seemed most gifted at doing.
I left my closest friends and my built-in support system. I left the only place I had truly felt I belonged. I left a job I loved so much, waking up in the morning felt like a fantasy. I left the community I had invested the entirety of my adult life into.
I left in faith that I would be able to find other ways of building community and practicing healthy spirituality. I left trusting that God would not reject me for honoring the way I was created.
I left knowing I had built my life over completely from scratch once before, and I believed I could do it again.
So I found a loophole in the 3-year contract I had signed and used that as an excuse for leaving and I did it. I left. People supported me because they thought I was leaving for “family reasons”, and while that was part of it, I wasn’t fully honest about my reasoning. I couldn’t deal with same the pain of rejection that we regularly asked our queer students and others to experience. I couldn’t bear simultaneously losing my community and knowing they would be looking down on me behind my back, too. I travelled a path all too familiar to many queer people and I hid – for my safety, my sanity, and my survival. In the process of leaving a place where I lived in hiding, I hid some more. It hurt.
I remained close friends with some of the students I had mentored, now with no limits. I was able to maintain relationships mostly only with those who hadn’t had authority over me and were more liberal in their theology. The young lesbian woman who unknowingly spurred on my journey of walking away would actually be the first person I officially came out to about a year later.
My faith in myself was not unfounded. I went on to join leadership at a progressive and affirming church and co-founded an intentional-living cooperative and unconventional church-like community at an apartment complex downtown my small city. I found ways to be a badass non-traditional pastor with no denomination telling me what I could or couldn’t hear from God or how I could or couldn’t love people.
Pastoring “unofficially” meant less recognition, lower status and limited credibility in the institutional church world, as well as no pay. It also meant giving up my treasured credentials with the denomination I had served unless I wanted to pay high annual fees and balance a tightrope between two worlds. I decided I didn’t need a prejudiced man-made organization validating my abilities or God-given calling and chose not to renew – closing that chapter of my life forever.
I will always miss the campus ministry that first loved me and healed me and made me who I am today in so many ways. It will always hurt knowing they didn’t fully know or accept me, and while I have moved forward, I will never “get over it”.
I lost my dream job because I’m queer. But I fulfilled my dream of starting a church and being true to myself and following the Spirit even when it costs me everything. And ironically… that’s something they taught me how to do.
I’m proud of me. It took a long time to be able to say that but I take pride in who I am. I take pride in being different. I am proud of my ability to love people regardless of their gender or their body parts. I’m proud of the journey I took to self-acceptance.
Growing up evangelical it took a long time to make sense of my gender and sexuality. It’s easy to underestimate how integral those aspects of our identity are to the core of our being, how we see ourselves and how we experience the world.
It wasn’t just the outright anti-gay messages that made this process so difficult, it was also the lack of any variety, diversity or individuality whatsoever. It wasn’t just the strict “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” indoctrination, it was also the stolen opportunities to know or love anyone living outside those limiting roles.
Everything was so binary, so black and white. You were either this or that. If you were this, you needed to like that and if you were that you needed to like this.
If you were seen as a girl, you needed to like dolls, and tea parties and pink dresses. And you had to like boys – only boys. You would be quiet and polite, of course. You would be scared of spiders and snakes and heights and going out after dark and you would need boys and men to help you and comfort you and protect you.
If you were seen as a boy, you needed to like trucks and army men, camo and baseball caps. And you had to like girls – only girls. You would be loud and rambunctious and no one would teach you manners because boys will be boys. You would like showing off and having big muscles and getting dirty and you would help all the little girls who weren’t as strong or brave as you.
As a little girl, it was absolutely predestined that I would marry a man someday. There wasn’t any question about it. Remaining single wasn’t an option ever discussed. Becoming a wife and mother someday was a give-in. When I was really young it didn’t bother me too much, my fate was matter-of-fact – that’s just how it was.
It didn’t take long though, for little Sarah to toddle around the yard helping her dad with stacking firewood and wonder my mommy was always inside cooking and cleaning. It didn’t take long for her to notice that her body looked more like her mother’s, even at 5 years of age and to notice a creeping fear of growing up and turning into someone she didn’t feel like she really was. My heart breaks now realizing how early the feeling of being trapped set in for me.
This was all still fairly sub-conscious though, until maybe 5th or 6th grade when I first reckoned with my sneaking suspicion that I didn’t totally fit in. It entered my awareness watching princess movies – realizing I resonated more with the prince doing the rescuing than the princess waiting around for it. I felt angry that the princess usually seemed helpless and weak. I was old enough to realize on some level that the generation I was born into was under no control of mine, and if I had been born earlier in history I would be forced to dress and behave as the princess I was watching. But I wanted to be strong, have a grand adventure, and save the day. I wanted to run mightily through the woods, feel my muscles ripple as they carried my frame, and let my hair stream out freely behind me. I didn’t want to sit around in a castle all day with no part to play in the story other than being a pretty thing to be admired. I couldn’t understand why some girls were okay with that.
It wouldn’t be until sometime in my twenties when I was able to hold the complexity of gender and face my trauma enough to know it didn’t have to be either-or. But for years I struggled with anger around being born female because I wasn’t allowed to see any other way of being a woman. I was kept from knowing anyone else like me existed.
Following those princess-movie-epiphanies, I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be a woman. But that didn’t make sense either. I didn’t want to BE the man. I didn’t want to LOOK like the man. I just wanted to be FREE like the man. I liked being a pretty girl, but I wanted to be pretty AND strong. I wanted to play an important role in the story and be a fearless leader and I wanted a man to fall in love with me someday. But I wanted to rescue a princess too. I wanted the admiration of women and to feel their touch. I wanted to be able to take care of another girl and guide her and love her. I admired the softness and elegance of highly feminine women and I was drawn to the strength, bravery and outspokenness of fierce women.
Most of these feelings were hiding in the shadows of my mind where they were rarely seen clearly.
My church didn’t have as many anti-gay sermons as some, but that’s partly because 20 years ago no one was talking as much about either gay rights or depriving them.
I do vividly remember our pastor saying once “studies have shown that gay people don’t live as long, so we are actually helping them even though they don’t like it! We want them to live longer!” He didn’t bother telling us where these “studies” came from or what the evidence was.
My middle school youth group leader ignited rumors when she cut her hair short. My friends started whispering “is she, you know…?” All because of a haircut! Later however, she did actually end up coming out as lesbian. She was immediately forced to quit her job and leave the community. The scandal permeated the entire church for a bit. My sister freaked out because they had shared a hotel room when going on a mission trip. I remember being upset my youth leader was gone becuase she was the only one I felt totally safe with and I had really looked up to her and her faith perspectives. I remember thinking it didn’t make sense that one of the best people I knew was somehow bad enough she couldn’t be around.
I was in high school when it clicked that my uncle and his long-term roommate were a gay couple. I was very close to my uncle. He was such a delightful person who brought joy to my life, so it confused and distressed me that my family made him hide who he was around me. It never stopped bothering me that they acted like he was something to be ashamed of.
Once my teenage best friend randomly told me she wasn’t allowed to be friends with “gay people” in case it made her gay too. Around the same time, I noticed when leaning in to hug a close female friend how natural it would have felt to kiss her and I wondered why that would be seen as weird, if we both wanted it. To me it seemed a natural way to show affection to a person I loved closely.
When someone in my young adult years suggested I might be bisexual I wasn’t convinced. It seemed to far “out there” to be the true me, I thought. I didn’t feel that edgy.
In college I noticed feeling butterflies around some of my best friends and as I got older and enjoyed longer-term intimate friendships with women that nurtured my soul, I experienced feelings and attachment I could only really describe as being in love.
In my mid twenties I moved to a progressive city where I joined an inclusive and affirming church. For the first time I was part of a faith community where diversity was celebrated. I LOVED it! I got to do life with so many interesting people and I was accepted just as I was. I didn’t have to fit a label. No one asked or blinked an eye if I held hands with a woman or said “she” when talking about my date. I started noticing I didn’t only have crushes on cis-gendered people and the term pansexual floated through my mind. I learned about gender identity through casual conversation. Other people’s stories taught me I don’t have to identify as trans to feel out of place regarding society’s expectations of my gender. The term genderqueer was helpful. Lots of my friends identified as queer and there wasn’t even a need to “come out”, because no assumptions were made.
It wasn’t weird to anyone that I presented as feminine and “straight-passing” but often felt more masculine. No one was fazed by my attraction to men and women and people of all genders. It was just another way of being in this multifaceted and magical world. Around town I saw and interacted with so many people just like me and so many who were not at all like me and it was absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing how much healing inclusive community brings.
Nowadays I don’t really worry anymore about what labels or categories I fit into or what hobbies I “should” be interested in, or clothing style I’m going for or if I’m “queer enough”. I just do what I like and wear what I like and love who I like and I think that’s the best way to be.
I see now all I ever had to do was be myself and embody love.
It took over two decades to find this peace. I finally learned I don’t have to be someone I’m not in order to be me. It’s been a long journey and I’m proud of me.
As a person with a very painful church history and a recent death I will forever grapple with – “Resurrection Sunday” is complicated.
The Evangelical Church I was raised in never really celebrated resurrection, instead they used Easter as a conversion opportunity – accosting the congregation with promotions and guilt trips for weeks beforehand about inviting the “unsaved” to church.
So it came as a surprise to me when I was college-aged and learned from a progressive Christian that Resurrection Sunday was the most important Christian holiday. I was fascinated and began reading up on it and immersing myself. About a year later I had the beautiful opportunity of attending an Easter Service at a progressive mainline church that followed the global church liturgical calendar.
There I was exposed to progressive Christian theologians for the first time who rightly spoke out that Resurrection Sunday should be less about theology or an alleged historical event, but rather about a lifestyle of bringing life into dead places in every way possible.
I learned about how in the ancient world resurrection wasn’t understood as just one person coming back to life, but rather about making life available for all people. I came to see the story of Jesus’ resurrection as a reminder of the possibility of our own and our responsibility to bring life to our own worlds.
I began to commemorate Easter each year by celebrating the idea of new life both physically and spiritually and committing to being an avenue through which that life could come. I grew comfortable “worrying less about what some people say they believe happened 2,000 years ago and more about if we are living as if resurrection still happens.” (Carl Gregg, 1)
I discovered and was inspired by theologians and activists like Saint Francis, Barbara Brown Taylor, Shane Claiborne and Megan McKenna.
Shane Claiborne greatly impacted me with his work through The Simple Way – an intentional living community in the poorest neighborhoods of Philadelphia. I read about their cooperative projects planting gardens in the concrete jungles for children who had easier access to guns than salads. They called it “practicing resurrection”.
Claiborne says: “When a kid pulls a carrot out of the ground for the first time it is magical. The more they see things that are alive, the more filled with wonder they become at the God who made all this wild and wonderful stuff like fireflies and butterflies, hummingbirds and earthworms – and you and me. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that there is a beautiful God when so much of what you see is ugly. It’s hard to believe in a God that is a lover of life when there is so much death and decay and abandonment. So we talk a lot these days about “practicing resurrection” — by making ugly things beautiful… and turning vacant lots into gardens… and loving people back to life. Not a bad encore after Easter here. After all, resurrection is something we get to do every day. Every day is Easter. We are resurrection people.” (2)
Tears came to my eyes when I first read Megan McKenna’s story: “Once in a parish mission when I was studying this scripture (Luke 7: 11-17) with a large group, someone called out harshly, ‘Have you ever brought someone back from the dead?’
“My response was ‘Yes.’ I went on to say, ‘Every time I bring hope into a situation, every time I bring joy that shatters despair, every time I forgive others and give them back dignity and the possibility of a future with me and others in the community, every time I listen to others and affirm them and their life, every time I speak the truth in public, every time I confront injustice — yes — I bring people back from the dead.’ ” (3)
Her words prompted reflection on all the ways I had been brought back from the dead – how being part of radically accepting Christian communities breathed life into the dark and dead places in my heart left there by abusive fundamentalist churches. How the people who believed in me when no one else did might have actually physically saved my life. I thought about the people who lent me money and provided me a place to live when I escaped my abusive marriage. I thought about the many others in my community with similar stories. We were dead people walking and living again and like babies, trying to get used to this strange new ability to move and jump and breathe and see and understand. It’s exhilarating and mind boggling and contagious and messy all at the same time.
For about seven years I was very passionate about resurrection being the center of my faith, and probably rightly so. I became keenly aware of the implications that resurrection had for justice in our communities, and that for resurrection to be possible, everyone had to have equal access to it – opportunities for education and housing and sustenance and meaningful work were the building blocks of resurrection without which it would come crumbing down. Resurrection wasn’t possible when some people were pushed to the margins because of their gender or racial identity. Resurrection didn’t exist where merely a verbal message of hope was preached to people on the verge of eviction or struggling to buy food or pay for medical bills. Resurrection was void without the liberation of us all.
I took seriously the words of Barbara Brown Taylor that “new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” (4) I saw it as my calling to move closer to the margins, to look into forgotten faces and be present in unpleasant places because that is where resurrection is born – and it isn’t possible without the deliverance of the most vulnerable and oppressed.
A few months after a harrowing escape from abuse and starting my life over from scratch, the upcoming Easter holiday felt more significant than ever. I wrote a progressive Easter liturgy and then used it to lead a reflective gathering with my friends and roommates in my overcrowded apartment I stayed in for six months following my divorce. The group of us came together to celebrate that death itself was dying, as is poetically described in Isaiah 25 saying God will “destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples” and “swallow up death forever”. We celebrated where each of us saw resurrection in our own lives and mourned where we were still waiting for it. We solemnly recognized that we still lived in a world that didn’t look much like resurrection and that we saw a lot of hell all around us. We acknowledged that the church wasn’t doing its job and that our calling was to bring heaven to earth, starting with us.
The next year I leaned fully into my tiny progressive church community that did life together more as a family than as a traditional church. During that time I co-founded an intentional living space with my neighbors-turned-friends in my downtown apartment complex. I dedicated most of my free time each week to organizing gatherings and neighborhood potlucks, tending to the community garden, and running programs we had set up for meal-sharing and car-sharing.
Before grief, I might have believed I had accomplished resurrection or that practicing it meant there could always be light found in the darkness, that any situation could be redeemed.
And then, only a month before Easter, my life came tumbling down. The person who mattered the most to me was snatched from this life in an instant. The person who had brought the most healing and resurrection to my own life, suddenly needed resurrection and didn’t get it. I could have given up anything else and still been okay as long as we had each other – but this, this was too much. After a number of years focused on reclaiming Resurrection from Evangelicals and making it a foundational part of my radical faith, this last year when Easter rolled around – I ignored it. I hated it. Resurrection didn’t happen for me or for the person I felt deserved it the most. What good is resurrection if it doesn’t, you know, resurrect somebody?
Before grief I would have expected to look for a silver lining in this terrible time: maybe the way people came together in the aftermath of the tragedy, or the growth I experienced surviving the unthinkable, my increased empathy and understanding. But no, Caleb’s life was not a problem, he didn’t have to die for good things to happen. There is no silver lining. Death is always irrevocably bad.
But maybe this is what makes resurrection so important.
Death is the greatest travesty and fighting death should be our most driving purpose.
Researching cures for cancer, that is resurrection work. Raising money for that research is resurrection work. Protesting wars is resurrection work, designing safer vehicles is resurrection work. Rebuilding after hurricanes, preserving history, passing environmentally clean legislation – those endeavors are resurrection work. Funding schools and hospitals and government assistance programs, that is resurrection work. Equity work is resurrection work – making sure that life is equally livable for everyone. Supporting the person who is suffering so much emotionally or physically that death actually seems like a better option – that is resurrection work.
Admittedly, my faith has evolved drastically in the fallout after Caleb’s death. My spirituality has shifted more and more toward mysticism and looks less recognizably Christian, although Christ and the ancient Christian tradition still inspire me. I believe in an afterlife – more now than I did before. I’ve had experiences I can’t ignore. But ironically, resurrection isn’t about life after death; resurrection is about protecting this one, and that’s something evangelicals get wrong. We can’t ignore the suffering of those around us and preach about a heaven far off for another place and time and say we are resurrection people. Resurrection people bring heaven to earth, because death is the ultimate atrocity.
As resurrection people our purpose is to “get in the way of death”, to stop it, to slow it down, to put up as many obstacles in front of death as possible. (Chris Gerhz, 5)
The death of hope, the death of opportunities, the death of relationships, innocence, equality, and certainly the death of our bodies – none of it is good and none of it is okay. That is why resurrection work is the most important work, and that is why life is sacred.
2 Shane Claiborne via HuffPost https://www.huffpost.com/entry/practicing-resurrection-t_b_1443621
3 Megan McKenna, from her book Not Counting Women and Children: Neglected Stories from the Bible
4 Barbara Brown Taylor, from her book Learning to Walk in the Dark
5 Christ Gerhz via his blog, The Pietist Schoolman https://pietistschoolman.com/2017/05/14/history-practice-resurrection/
God may have made day and night,
but God also made sunrise and sunset
color splashed in amber light
painted skies so we won’t forget
There are more than two ways of being
God may have made day and night,
but God also made sunset and sunrise
bluebird skies, dawn growing bright
pastel rainbows dazzling before with our eyes
There are more than two ways of being
God may have made night and day
but some nights are starry, crystal clear
and some nights are moonless, foggy gray
dewy or frosty, changing with the year
There are more than two ways of being
God may have made night and day
but some days simmer, air thick and still
others frigid, lung-biting, a frozen display
some days are blustery, others tranquil
There are more than two ways of being
God may have made woman and man
but why can’t people be more unique
than we experience night and day can
what we like, who we love, how we think
There are more than two ways of being