Moving in September was an incredibly massive physical and emotional undertaking for our family. It was so welcome, so needed, but so draining. We weren't truly unpacked and settled until after Thanksgiving. (Still a few boxes shoved in corners, but nobody cares about those.) But the biggest emotional blow of the fall was being somewhat suddenly left with no choice but to leave our church family of over six years. About the middle of October there was a collision of circumstances, personalities, and world views that had been brewing for years, but suddenly bubbled over.
For three months now I have chosen to be entirely silent publicly about this incredibly painful topic because we do not want to unnecessarily divide the church or make things harder for the people there. Even now I will be brief and vague, but I feel like I need to speak up, and at least break the ice on this.
Why leave a church that has been the most loving, most genuinely caring family to us, filled with people we have loved to share our life with? I guess the answer is that we do not, and can not, attend a church simply because we want to love people. We must attend a church that is loving God by actively seeking to understand his word better, by training its people to handle God's word well and to interact with broader world views carefully and thoughtfully. We long to be around people who are not afraid to hear interpretations and viewpoints outside their own tradition, who believe that it is healthy to continually put their own traditions to the test and are constantly willing to admit the weakness of their viewpoint if presented with a stronger one. We long to be with people who are still on the journey for truth, not that they are tossed about by every wind of teaching, but that they are the Berean church who would always search the scriptures to make sure that what they are being taught is really in line with what is written.
Matt and I find it ironic that we were in a church in the protestant tradition, who celebrated each year Martin Luther's challenge of church authority and the cries of "Sola Scriptura" or Scripture Alone as the Christian's authority. Yet this church has a hierarchy today that rivals the Catholic church and its doctrine, now enshrined for several hundred years in confessions and catechisms, is just as untouchable as Rome's was. We realized, finally, that this church really had no place for honest questions, for honest searching, for honest evaluation of itself. It was set in stone, and stone cold to those who would question it. We finally grew tired of being silent, the church felt threatened, and out we went in the name of "protecting the flock" from us, the apparently ferocious wolves. Not that the people in our local church wanted this, or that we wanted it really, but that once a complaint is passed up the chain of command in a Presbyterian church people higher up the chain who do no know us at all and don't bother to take an hour to talk to us, can decide to boot us out because it's swifter and neater for them than the messy work of hashing out our problems, and once that pronouncement has been made the local leadership is left with no choice but to follow through, unless they want to leave that denomination, which they will never do. So out we went.
I find it incredibly sad, and angering, and frustrating, and Christ-dishonoring in all honesty, but that is the state of things in almost every church today. They all have their authority structures which are touted as a protection for the flock, but I find to be more of a hinderance to their growth than anything. The times Matt and I grew the most in our faith were when we were challenged to think of things from another point of view: when we were thrown into a dormitory with Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, and the ever-wild Non-denominationals, and we were forced to hash things out in the lounges and at the lunch tables for hours on end day after day. The classes we grew the most in were the ones where the professors didn't have us memorize a catechism, but threw out for debate some of the hardest scripture passages to deal with and then left us to ruminate on it all weekend. It was hard. It was gut-wrenching, mind-boggling, theological wrestling, but we grew. I grew to become confident in my faith enough to love it and to live it, but never so confident in the particulars that I would refuse to listen to another viewpoint. That would be foolish of me. I grew to learn that I should always listen, always evaluate, and always be ready to reconfigure my worldview if I should encounter good reason to.
That kind of experience made me the Christian I am. This is why it became impossible for us to stay at a church where not one single Sunday School class was actually devoted to studying a book of the Bible, where other viewpoints were constantly misrepresented to make them look weaker than they actually were, where questions about the Bible were answered with a catechism instead of with the Bible itself, where we were actually told on more than one occasion to not bring up our viewpoints because the people of the church were not able to handle them, and where the people of the church were not being equipped to interact with the broader world and the viewpoints of others outside their tight circle. We saw people walk away from the faith because they didn't know how to answer the questions they found once they stepped outside that bubble, and that disturbed us. We saw people celebrate theological viewpoints that we saw enormous holes in, viewpoints that could lead to dangerous errors that might have devastating consequences in practice, but we were not allowed to challenge the status quo or even express our concerns. And so we did what we felt forced to do, we left quietly.
To our church family, if you are reading this: we love you all so much. We miss you. We hated leaving. We wish you nothing but the best. Please call us up, send an e-mail, or drop by sometime. Invite yourselves over for dinner, we'd love to have you. Even better, invite yourselves over for coffee and ask us why we left. We'd love to tell you. But even if you don't want to have that conversation, come by for coffee and tell us how you're doing. We want to know.
And now we are left with the task of sifting through the thousands of churches surrounding us to find a group of people who worship God reverently and with awe, who study his word diligently and with honest searching for his truth rather than guarding man's doctrinal statements, who love God purely, love each other whole-heartedly, and who are happy to join us in a continual seeking of truth, messy as that may be.
We are not a family accustomed to or happy to join in most contemporary church services full of lights, smoke, and heart-pounding bass so loud it would be impossible to hear oneself singing the often man-centered lyrics on the big screen. (And no, I'm not dissing every single contemporary-style church out there, but saying that there would be huge hurdles to overcome, in my opinion, in most of these churches.) Neither are we fans of many traditional-styled hymn-based worship services which sing songs filled with an equal amount of theological error. (For example, I quote, "…and now I am happy all the day." What the heck kind of theology is that?! I, for one, am not "happy all the day" "since Jesus Christ came in and cleansed my heart from sin.") Sadly, many of the old hymns are filled with just as much heinous error as the contemporary worship songs, which is why we had landed at a church that sang Psalms, and we loved that there. Beyond the worship style problems, there are the theological statements of faith that we are supposed to agree completely with in order to be members of most of the churches out there, other than the huge, contemporary-style churches.
Matt and I ask ourselves: what are we looking for? Are we looking for perfection in a church? But we're not. We are looking for a group of people who may not ever agree totally on doctrine, but who are ever willing to walk down the road closer and closer to agreement without being afraid of one another's contributions or tired of that journey. That more than anything, seems incredibly hard to find.
And, my goodness, if your'e still reading this, you win a gold star. That is what I needed to get off my chest tonight, because it has been a heavy rock there for too long, and for me, there is a freedom in writing it out and sending it out to be heard, a freedom to move on.
What else has happened in the last three months?
There has been a lot of work and a lot of chaos in the mobile home park manager business including fun jobs like crawling under a trailer in the dark to spread 200 lbs of crushed lime on a septic leak that no one else wanted to touch with a ten foot pole. Sometimes it is easier to just do something than to spend three days trying to figure out who's job it is to do it. Sometimes I love my job. Sometimes not so much, but I'm hoping the days of loving it will return soon.
We raked lots of leaves this fall.
Emma's asthma had an unexpected and serious flare-up that landed her in the hospital for one day.
Christmas seemed somewhat un-Christmassy without snow this year, but it was happy and calm. The boys got everything Jurassic-World themed that they had dreamed of for months.
The girls got everything themed of horses, cowgirl, puppies, and kittens, just as they had wanted.
My other brother and his family came to stay for two days after Christmas and their boys had a great time wrestling with my boys while we played cards and caught up. It was a lovely visit. I was happy this Christmas season, in a melancholy, introspective sort of way.
My best friend at our old church has continued to be a best friend to me, and her children to mine, which has been God's saving grace to us, and is exactly how Christ would want it to be. She has prayed for me and cried with me and taken me out to Panera bread, and dumped her five kids at my house while she ran errands, and allowed me to dump my kids at her house as well. I am so thankful for that.
Naomi and Emma have learned almost the whole braille alphabet this fall and winter.
It is a joy, and a relief, and a deep sorrow to witness. Naomi's vision is growing ever worse this year, and I'm both happy and afraid that she is learning braille just in time. I was trying this evening to teach her to clip her own toenails, because I really don't want to be doing that forever, but it was so hard for her. She couldn't see her toenails well enough to get the clippers in the right spot. She kept missing and clipping the air over her toenails. I finally had to tell her to close her eyes and feel for the right spot, like she feels for the lines of braille, and she did much better that way. I joked with her that her eyes were playing tricks on her. We giggled, and I grieved inside.
But not all has been bleak. My husband has been putting in extra effort to care for me the last few weeks: to make me coffee, to give me an unsolicited hug, to surprise me with a Christmas present, to download a super nintendo emulator onto my computer so we could race each other in Super Mario Kart until way too late at night. His efforts help to carry me.
And this house, this house that was so difficult to get settled in, is so wonderful. I love the garage in the cold winter. I love the main floor laundry (Toby threw up all over his bedding? No problem! The washing machine is RIGHT HERE!) I love being close to Matt's parents, who have been greatly helpful in allowing me to drop the kids off now and then when I need to. I love the yard and the neighborhood, and the huge kitchen. I love how much more pleasant the cooking is in this house.
Last weekend we took the kids on a road trip to Minnesota for my cousin's wedding, and despite the stress and chaos that is inevitable in such an undertaking, we had a great trip. It was a breath of fresh (cold!) air for me.
This spring, if all goes as planned, we are hoping to take a week to head to a beach in South Carolina with my oldest brother and his family, and to show my children the ocean while all of them are still able to see it. I so hope this works out. We could all use some sand, sun and ocean waves, and happy memories.
Tonight feels still like bleak mid-winter. I risked life and limb to drive 20 miles in the swirling snow and cold to make the monthly deposit for the mobile home park because it was already three days late due to my schedule and the snow. After the deposit, I found that the Amish bulk food store where I usually stock-up for a month's worth of groceries was closed for inventory. It was defeating to realize I'd have to come all this way again in a few days for the groceries. I sighed, and prayed for safety as I drove again along the narrow highway through white fields lined with white trees barely visible through the swirling white crystals all around. I strained to make sure I wasn't missing the edge of the road, or a buggy in front of me.
Then I saw and Amish woman in her black shawl and black scarf tied over her head, in her black dress and stockings, and black tennis shoes walking along the side of the road, into the near-zero windchill, carrying a brown sack of groceries in one hand, and a gallon of milk in the other. There were no houses any closer than a mile away. I wanted to stop for her and offer her a ride, but with a semi-truck behind me and cars coming the other direction, there was no safe place to stop. All the driveways and side-roads were snowed in. I was forced down the highway for my own safety and for the safety of the other cars around me. I saw her in my rear-view mirror: beautiful, and sad, and strong. She would be fine carrying her heavy load in the cold. And so would I.