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Giving Up or Growing Up?: Some Thoughts on Church

2014 January 21

Some might call it resignation or failure; I prefer to see it as maturity.

In a recent conversation with a seminary friend, we both expressed how tired we were with churches that continue to give lip service to being welcoming and inclusive of the gifts of all, but which in reality never seem to actually do anything. The conversation was specifically about women in ministry. Both of us have spent years in Christian circles that are still uneasy accepting women as equal participants in the work of the church. In theory they might say it’s okay for women to preach or be ordained and perhaps they might even speak out against the groups that obviously restrict women, but when it comes down to the practical reality of it all, women are never allowed any real voice. So we’ve served as advocates, trying to bring attention to the voices of women, encouraging leaders to open their eyes to their latent sexism, and hoping we can be a source of change from within the realms we participate in. And yet have seen little change.

I admitted in that conversation though that I was tired of that role. How long was I willing to stay within a broken system helping it slowing become more of a life-giving place of welcome when in reality all I was doing was lending a little extra life-support to a system that doesn’t appear to be getting better. So I mused that sometimes we just have to let things simply die off so that that which is healthy has room to thrive.

Hence why some may accuse me of giving up on the church as we know it.

Maybe.

I prefer to think I’m growing up.

It’s not like the church hasn’t been able to do the dignified death thing before. Yes, most change in the church is a long arduous process often plagued with schism and violence. But not always. For example -Following the ban as set forth by Dionysius the Bishop of Alexandria at the beginning of the third century women who were menstruating were not allowed to participate in the sacraments or approach the alter. Except for a brief challenge to this rule by Pope Gregory the Great in 597 (for did not Jesus permit the bleeding woman to touch his cloak?) this ban was near-unanimously agreed upon for most of Christian history. Although the ban naturally did not apply in anti-sacramental Protestant churches following the Reformation, it remained articulated (if not always followed) in Lutheran, Anglican, and Catholic churches until the mid-twentieth century. And then it simply faded away. Most Christians these days have utterly forgotten that this ban ever existed. It died as more life-affirming practices naturally grew up to take its place.

You see, I love the idea of the church. A group of people who in gathering around a shared meal of bread and wine commit to being one body—one family devoted to the disciplines of love and forgiveness and the commitment to make the ways of the realm of God present on earth as in heaven. I will always be part of that community.

I’m just too tired to waste my energy defending structures that do harm in this world, that teach the inferiority of some, that silence the voices of others, that preach selfishness instead of compassion, that don’t bother to welcome and include all, or that care more for trappings of a building, or altar, or style of worship than they do about living as the family that calls itself the body of Christ. I’m fine with participating in the beautiful and cherishing the depth of tradition, but never when it has such high costs.

Maturity for me right now means letting go of that which needs to die and pursuing that which allows life to thrive. I need to grow up.

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. Peter permalink
    January 21, 2014

    Hi, I follow your blog on my Feedly. I think much of what you express here is felt by ethnic minorities in majority-culture churches. It is often difficult to be “me” at church without my ethnicity being a factor, especially in pastoral ministry. Unlike women who are gifted in areas of ministry though, I do have ethnic or ethnically diverse churches that I can attend. There, I am just me.

  2. Vicki permalink
    January 21, 2014

    I certainly understand what you are saying here. What I find difficult is the in-between time … disconnecting from familiar community and waiting for something new. I know I “growing up” as you would say, but losing the familiar sense of belonging has been more difficult than I anticipated. I see some light at the end of the tunnel but realize that my time of transition will likely be much longer than I expected.

    I am grateful for my online “community” who voices similar passions and longings. You all give me courage to continue and to know that my choices are in line with my calling.

  3. January 21, 2014

    absolutely. i think a lot of old ways–and buildings/congregations, frankly–need to die in order for the Church to really thrive and extend the Kingdom of God on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven. my husband and i talk about this a lot, and often imagine the Church as a phoenix who will rise, but a LOT of junk needs to burn first. it’s sad, maybe, but it’s healthy and beyond that, it’s necessary. there is no resurrection without death, and some junk cannot be salvaged. i think you’re right.

  4. January 23, 2014

    Hi Julie,

    “one hand clapping” is a well-known euphenism for masturbation, you might wish to elaborate on why you use it as yoru blog title anway.

    Churches are voluntary membership organizations, not public companies. To some extent my response to your complaints about you and your colleagues not climbing the career ladder as Christian religious professionals as fast as men is “so what?” – should women basketball players, softball players, volleyball players, etc bitch and moan about fact that they just don’t draw fans as male teams to, so they get paid less?

    When a positive correlation exists between women being lead pastor and more fannies in their pews, women will outstrip men in climbing the career ladder as Christina religious professionals. There is no such correlation, the correletation is still the other way, which is why status quo goes on.

    So, what can you do? How about getting past your gripes – because you, as I, as others reading this blog are quite privileged – and start addressing issues other christian religious profesisonals shun, because doing so is not in their professional/economic self-interest, such as how much the church is complicit in instititional evil in 2014 around the world, by not taking exception to it. Study MLK’s “letter from a birmingham jail” and broaden it.

    My 2 cents, thanks for whatever consideration you deem it to merit.

    Joe Carson, PE
    nuclear safety engineer, multiple-time “prevailing” whistleblower, looking for a Christian religious profesisonal who cares more about confronting institutional evil than their professional standing and ecoromic security
    Knoxville, TN

    • Karl permalink
      January 23, 2014

      You might as well have typed “Hi Julie, I am a dick. I am going to troll your blog now.”

      Julie has written before about the reason for her blog title. Unless you had reason to assume it was about masturbation – which you don’t from even a cursory look at the blog itself – the only purpose of your opening salvo that I can see is assholery. And after that nobody is going to pay attention or give credence to anything you say afterward.

      • January 29, 2014

        Thank you Karl.

        Yeah, a quick visit to my About page where I explain the blog title and a quick look though archives would refute anything but Joe’s jerkiness there.

  5. Onalark permalink
    January 24, 2014

    Great post! My husband and I have been having this conversation a lot lately. Now that we have a daughter, especially, we just don’t have the energy to be in any churches that won’t have a female minister or welcome LGBT folks etc. I felt guilty about this for a while but feel a peace about it now.

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