When I Needed an Affirming Church

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I didn’t want to go to an affirming church.

 

I hated the idea of it. The Bride of Christ being chopped up, segregated, set to Safe and Not, Black and White, Lutheran and Episcopalian- all of it. I hated the idea that there are places where my friends and my family feel most welcome, but I, on the other hand, am most certainly not.

 

And even though my caring circle had told me of this church and that church and the whole color wheel of churches waiting with arms ready to hug me out of the cold- I stayed squarely put, strong in my stubbornness. Willing to stay as long as it took for them to love me like Jesus does.

 

And there are craters now, deep ones, along my strip of church life and they are there because I stayed. They’re real and they’re significant, but like any wound, I believed that in time they would heal and scar over and make me stronger. So stubbornly, again, I stuck to my ground and waited for that spiritual wave to lift me up like it was doing for everyone else in the pews. I waited for my bitterness to break and disintegrate into joy.

 

But what I didn’t know was that church wounds, like old aches and pains, can flare up. They can, for example, come strutting to the front your mind and stretch the hour long sermon into one big warped picture pressed against your eyes, one in which every flaw and hint of offense can be traced by a fingertip’s touch. They can divide you, distract you, infuriate you to the point where you are clutching to the pew lest you launch into the air like a heat seeking missile.

 

Warped or not, there is truth inside that distorted perception. My craters, after all, have fingerprints.

 

I’ve been falling in and out of the craters for many years and if you saw me now, you might call me jaded and I might say you’re right. I might say the whole thing has soured me to the point where I run at the faint aroma of fundamentalism. Yet, at the very bottom of my heart, there’s a longing that looks past the grudges and hurt. A longing to hear God again.

 

Because I can’t hear Him when I feel alien, alone, uninvited to the party. I can’t hear Him because I was wounded too many times and now, all I see are misplaced motives and suspect eyes. I can’t hear him when the walk of faith ahead is full of barricade after barricade thwarting my every step.

 

I had two moments of epiphany within the same week. The first was an about-face to my long-held belief that I didn’t actually need church because my faith is organic and good and my own. Which is easy to say until you try to remember the last time you prayed with friends. Until you try to remember the last time you prayed at all. That’s when I saw my own spiritual dilapidated state.

 

The second came on the drive home of that godawful sermon on Mother’s Day morning, which I won’t dwell on, but I will say that in that runaway car I  realized I had been trying to cure something that wasn’t going to take. The conservative Christian community is not friendly to me right now and I can’t keep pretending that it’s only my own broken perception.

 

And in the end, my jadedness and bitterness and longing organized themselves into a crystal clear option. If I wanted to follow Christ, if I wanted a boundless and beautiful love affair with my creator and redeemer… I had to leave the Non-Affirming Church.

And so I did.

 ~

At Revolution Minneapolis, the theatre is a small room inside a big flashy bar and when the entry door opens, the music and clanking glass blares in loud like a gust of wind. Jay sits beneath a line of lights and talks about inclusion, talks about Peter’s embrace of Cornelius, and talks about how it is time for our Church to love our lesbian gay bisexual and transgender Jesus-loving brothers and sisters. And for a split second, I swear my heart sprang forward a little.

 

And maybe this is when a choice becomes the best choice. When I find that affirming does not mean reserved judgment, but swaddled up and squeezed. When even as the music and bar howling opens fire through the door, I feel more at peace. I feel myself center. I find I can pray fluidly and recklessly and dotingly. I can look up at my path and see it open, clear, inviting me to fling myself forward in a blitz. 

 

There’s something to this Affirmation. Something sacred and so much more than being a sexual minority. It is naturally unconditional with it’s fierce love. Where your skepticism was once deemed deviant, here it is remarked as inspiring because too many out there aren’t wrestling with God. And when you come in dragging bitter drenched boots, there’s a server with a glass of PBR and a penny for your thoughts and a good pastor ready to talk after the hour’s up.

 

And it’s like the way Jesus is- how there is nothing that is too much, nothing too outcast, no jadedness too lost to make anyone love you any less. To make anyone use the word heretic or radical or godless. To make anyone shove you out.

 

It’s a medium. It’s a blitz into the deep blue. It’s some peace and quiet and finally feeling yourself pressed into the neck of God.

 

And more than anything, it is long overdue.

 

RR

  • Laedy G

    I concur! I left a fundie church for an affirming church about a year ago, and it was amazing, like rediscovering the gospel. I love my new church, but still am afraid to love it too much, lest it burn me like the last one. I don’t think my new church is a cult, though 🙂

    • registeredrunaway

      Ha- yeah, there is always that worry, which sucks and is so not what we should feel in any House of God! But I’m learning that affirming folk have a greater capacity to love.. which is a bold thing to say, but the fact is that they love with their arms and not just lip service.

  • I’m right there with you, man. Through a haphazard series of connections and events, I met the affable David Owens (the very same one you featured in your love letter series) and he invited me to the Downtown campus of Church of the Resurrection (megachurch with senior pastor/author, Adam Hamilton). The venue is much like what you describe in your experience with Revolution Minneapolis and sometimes I do catch myself thinking “is this too trendy?” Granted, I have only been to worship twice now and have only just begun to build relationships, but there is something key here that helps me “get over” my intellectual fears: I can be known there and not be the center of theological debate. I can be known there and not be seen as something to walk on eggshells around.

    Those are my two desires at this point: I want to be able to casually and safely say that I’m gay if the conversation randomly calls for it, and I want to be seen as a just another brother. Sure, I have burns which reignite around fundamentalism or labels, but I am also irked by the thought of giving into the compartmentalization of gay Christians within the Church. I’m depressed by the thought of only having intimate friendships with gay Christian men.

    I don’t think these thoughts make us picky or stubborn, but I do believe desires like these — and like the ones you’ve mentioned — keep us aware of the fact that things aren’t even “good enough” for us to just sit put. Whether by planting our in an anti-gay church or by remaining in affirming-only circles. Our worldview MUST be bigger than just a single church congregation.

    I’m sincerely happy for you, RR. I echo the feelings you’re having with your new church.

    -mea

    • registeredrunaway

      Thanks Michael! And I’m really glad you started going to a good and loving church with David! That’s pretty fantastic. And I so agree with you. I want a church and a community that is bigger than only intimate friendships with gay men while also being with a church that can be my medium, allow me to hone in on the service and my own thoughts and prayers.

  • I definitely feel you there. I too am now trying an open and affirming church (the only one in my town). I’m not in love with it, but the community is really strong and diverse there.
    I’m just now jumping back into the church scene so its been rough.
    If you have time, maybe you could check out my first attempt at a blog! Read my first post, “How I Came To Be ‘Discarded.'” A lot of what you said resonates with me as well.

    http://discardeddaughter.weebly.com/blog.html

    • registeredrunaway

      Wow- definitely not an “attempt”! That was beautifully written, heartbreaking, but it also must’ve been healing to put that all down into words. I’m glad you found my blog! You are welcome here discarded daughter! I look forward to reading more of your writing!

  • Ford1968

    Hi Mea:
    You say “I can be known there and not be the center of theological debate. I can be known there and not be seen as something to walk on eggshells around.”
    Yes! How wonderful it is to be seen as a person and not as an issue.

  • Ford1968

    Hi RR:
    “…finally feeling yourself pressed into the neck of God.” What an amazing image that is to me!
    I was doing some reading over the weekend and discovered that the rainbow challah you used for communion on Mother’s Day was baked by Tony Jones’ family. That’s pretty cool.
    Best!
    Ford

    • registeredrunaway

      Yah it kind of became RainbowGate! Obviously some conservatives had a big hubaloo over it, but man, you shouldve seen it, it was beautiful.

  • And in the end, my jadedness and bitterness and longing organized themselves into a crystal clear option. If I wanted to follow Christ, if I wanted a boundless and beautiful love affair with my creator and redeemer … I had to leave the Non-Affirming Church.

    And so I did.

    Good for you — and I’m with you, too! I’ve found that “affirming” churches understand humanity in a sense that self-righteous fundies never will. And in one sense, I pity fundies; they just understand what the love of God feels like — it is freeing, not binding and constricting.

    Reading your journey inspires me, immensely.

    • *correction*

      The fundies just *don’t* understand what the love of God feels like . . .

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you as always William. Comments like yours keep me going!

  • Thanks for this honest and hopeful reflection. This is what I dream for our church (thewellatspringfield.org) – to embrace and share that love of Jesus that discards no one. We are hearing stories similiar to yours, and truthfully, it’s these kinds of stories that keep me going down the church planting/now pastoring path.

    I do have question: Is “affirming” a distinction that a church gives itself or one that is given to a community by those who have experienced the affirmation? In other words, is it necessary to hang the “open and affirming” sign (or website/FB page/etc.) out or is this something that you allow people to experience for themselves?

    • registeredrunaway

      Great question and, may I say, I am so happy there are people that care like you in the church! It’s encouraging to me.

      For this church, Revolution Minneapolis, the pastor is public about his belief that God blesses same-sex relationships, that homosexuality is not a sin but another part of creation, all that. It’s difficult for many churches to make this switch and I really get that. My brother is a pastor of a church and they aren’t affirming, which isn’t to say that they’re anti-gay, they just have a different perspective on gay relationships.

      But even there I struggled because for me, personally, I’m still nursing old wounds and just being a more traditional structure didn’t let me heal like I needed to.

      So- I think the most popular definition of affirming are those that are public about the reformed theological belief on marriage. Those that aren’t are those that are public about their opposition gays and support for the traditional definition of marriage, and there’s a lot of gray in between.

      Hope that helps! I’m glad you commented here, its a really important question!

  • Thanks for this heart felt post. Many of us on our own individual journeys feel lost.. and no one will understand our situations, but I pray you have found the heart of Jesus in Revolution Church.

    It is not important if we agree regarding same sex marriage, BUT WE DO AGREE Jesus loves each of us and wants what is best for us.

    If it was the woman at the well, a man blind from birth, or a tax collector I HATE TAX COLLECTORS (kidding) no matter if the matter was sin or circumstance.. Jesus wants what is best for each of us.

    pardon me for always speaking in cartoons.. it is what i do
    http://thebackpew.com/cartoons/faults and
    http://thebackpew.com/cartoons/gettingoutofbed

    I believe He desires we find community with other believers that will pray for us and not judge us. judging is above my pay grade.. most things are for me except for channel surfing 🙂

    Blessings in your journey

    Jeff (Back Pew Guy Larson)

    ps – I live in the Twin Cities too, and attend Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove