Why Christian?

FullSizeRender (1)This weekend I had the incredible privilege of attending the Why Christian? conference hosted by Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber, two of my modern day heroes of faith. Eleven incredible (and completely badass) women of faith were invited to publicly answer the question “Why Christian? Why, in the wake of centuries of corruption, hypocrisy, crusades, televangelists, and puppet ministries do we continue to follow Jesus? Why amidst all the challenges and disappointments, do we still have skin in the game?” Excellent question indeed.

So, three weeks into my seminary journey, I showed up at the entrance of St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral for the conference feeling exhausted, frazzled, and deeply questioning what in the world I was doing in seminary. For the most part, I was really enjoying my classes and was starting to feel at home the seminary community; I couldn’t point to anything in particular that was going poorly. However, I was feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with the uncertainty of ministry in a rapidly changing church and was growing increasingly more terrified as I tried to envision myself in the role of anybody’s pastor. The initial excitement of new people and a new place was starting to wear off, and I was feeling bogged down with the realization of the commitment I had just made to theological education and the scary unknowns that follow. I had been putting on my brave, strong, positive attitude persona for three straight weeks, and quite frankly, I was worn out. Mostly I just wanted to curl up in a ball on my couch and watch Harry Potter, but I reminded myself that I had paid for this conference and I had been looking forward to it for months on end and like it or not, I was going to show up and participate. So I did. And I am so very grateful.

At the expense of sounding incredibly cheesy, each conference speaker spoke light, love, and wisdom right into my soul. I was challenged, confronted with my own privilege, and deeply inspired by Austin Channing Brown’s sermon on race and the God who promises death is not the final word. I was left in awe of Nichole Flores’s deep theological wisdom and passion for human dignity. I was touched by Mihee Kim-Kort’s dedication to social justice and hospitality for all. I was moved to tears by Rachel Murr’s vulnerability and authenticity as she shared her story of heartbreak and hope as a gay evangelical Christian. I joined the chorus of laughter as Jodi Houge lifted our spirits with her dry humor and felt empowered by her dedication to God’s call as she leads her church called Humble Walk right here in Saint Paul. I was blown away by Kerlin Richter’s seemingly effortless ability to connect her passion for liturgy and sacraments with social justice, selfless love, and thoughtful accompaniment. I was left blown away by Allyson Dylan Robinson’s profession of God’s infinity and mystery. I was grounded by Tiffany Thomas’s spunk and courage as she seemingly fearlessly lived into her vocational call as a young, African American pastor. And I was amazed by how deeply Emily Scott’s words resonated with me as she shared her story of finding her voice and living into her gifts for ministry. (Note: The incredible Winnie Varghese and Jes Kas-Keat spoke as well; I just missed their sessions. But you should still check them out because they’re awesome.)

Each of these women, in their beautiful diversity, are living unapologetically into their vocational calls. Each woman spoke with her own voice, from her own perspective, sharing her own personality.  With each speaker, I regained the courage to keep going and to trust that I am enough, that maybe, just maybe, God can use me too, right where I am. With each speaker, I was reminded that I am not on this journey alone. And with each speaker’s profession of faith, I began to remember not only why I am in seminary, but why I claim this crazy Christian faith in the first place.

So, why do I call myself a Christian?

I call myself a Christian because as much as I try to be, I am not superwoman. I need the constant support of my brothers and sisters in faith, and I need to be reminded, sometimes on a daily basis, that the world does not in any way, shape, or form rest on my shoulders. I need to know that I am part of a story way bigger than myself, a story that I quite frankly do not have the power to mess up or to save.

I am a Christian because I am a perfectionist who messes up all of the time. I am in desperate need of God’s grace and mercy, a God who meets me where I’m at in the midst of my imperfection and messiness and stubbornness and reminds me time and time again that I am loved. So dearly loved. I am loved by a God and a Love that is so infinite that nothing, nothing, can ever separate me from it. And I so desperately need to trust that this is enough, that I am a Child of God and therefore I am enough.

I am a Christian because in the midst of a broken society filled with racism, sexism, homophobia, poverty, mental illness, violence, and religious intolerance, I need to know that this is not the end of the story. I need to know that there is another story line, a story of death, yes, but also of resurrection and new life. I desperately need to believe not only in the promise of a more beautiful future, but in the promise of a God whose Kingdom is breaking through in the here and now. A Kingdom that turns our world upside down and challenges the harmful, hate-filled divisions we have created between black and white, rich and poor, male and female. I am a Christian because when I look at Jesus, when I see a God who makes a move so radical as to put on flesh, I am filled with hope for this Kingdom that just might have a chance after all.

I am a Christian because despite the brokenness and messiness and divisions and countless mistakes we have collectively made, I love the Church, and I have been woven intricately into this big, beautiful Body of Christ. It is a Body that has existed long before me and will continue to exist long after me, and thanks be to God, I am not a central character.

I am a Christian because every time I get frustrated with the Church, which is a lot, I still find myself almost inexplicably drawn to the sacrament of communion. I just can’t keep myself away from a God who tears down our social constructs and is always making room for more people at the Table—even, especially even, the people who I don’t necessarily like, the people who make me uncomfortable, and the people who make me recognize my own privilege and biases when I would much prefer to look in the other direction.

I am a Christian because I was claimed by God in the waters of baptism and quite frankly there’s not much I can do about it. 🙂

Peace,

Alex

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Disorientation, New Adventures, and an Attempt to Articulate ALL of the Feels.

LutherWhat a ride! Exactly one month ago today, I completed my last day of service at The Gathering Place. Two days later I shared a bittersweet goodbye with my Urban Servant Corps housemates and fellow volunteers, packed up my car (how I managed to accumulate that much stuff during a year of full-time volunteer work is completely beyond me), and watched the Rocky Mountains disappear in my rearview mirror as I began the trek back to South Dakota.  (Thank goodness for NPR, podcasts, and 90’s music. I also may have spent a good 45 minutes trying to learn all the words to Lutheran Swag. I did not succeed.)

Three days after that, my family and I packed into the car again and spent a week enjoying the lake life in northern MN. Upon completion of a successful family vacation, I spent a couple of days in my beloved Fargo-Moorhead reveling in the company of some pretty fantastic people. Then I returned home, spent a couple more days sorting through everything I own, packed my car to the brim again, and took off for St. Paul to begin the next leg of the journey: seminary.

After putting a whole lot of time and energy into fighting the mere idea of seminary just one year ago, I still have a hard time speaking of “the s-word” without a little bit of sarcasm and a lot a bit of sass. The reality is that overall, I am thrilled to be here and am incredibly excited to delve into classes and embrace this new community. However, the other simultaneous reality is that I am utterly terrified and continually find myself on an emotional rollercoaster peaking at “This is the absolute best! These are my people! This is where I need to be!” and quickly making the seemingly vertical drop to “What in the world have I gotten myself into??” and the ever dramatic, “What have I done?!” (I have also been informed by multiple sources that these feelings will probably not go away. Ever. So that’s neat.)

I also find myself struggling to process my Urban Servant Corps experience along the way. After spending a year living in the center of Denver, just a couple blocks off of one of the city’s most notorious streets, I now find myself living in a fairly well-off, quiet, residential neighborhood in Saint Paul. After spending a year working full-time with women and children in the clutches of some of life’s worst nightmares (homelessness, poverty, domestic violence, mental illness, etc.), I am now working at a Lutheran church in the same, comfortable neighborhood in which I currently live, composed of nearly all-white, very Norwegian middle-class individuals and families. After spending a year living in intentional community with seven other housemates in a 115 year-old house where we shared a budget and deliberately explored what it meant to live simply and sustainably, I now live with only one roommate in a fairly modern, comfortable, quiet apartment. I spent a year celebrating with folks who were finally able to find employment at a gas station or fast food chain, and I’m now surrounded by people with enough privilege to spend 2-4 years in graduate school, contemplating the meaning of “vocation” and “calling.”

In some ways, I feel like I have returned home. To “my people,” to my reality, to my comfort zone. And somehow in the midst of it all, I feel completely lost.

I feel especially disoriented every time I try to pick apart the pieces of my year in Denver that I want to carry with me. What elements of simplicity are sustainable for me?  What things can I leave behind? Which pieces of my year at The Gathering Place were life-giving? Which pieces of my service experience had me on the fast track to burn-out? How can I possibly begin to apply all (or even just a few) of the lessons I learned in the realm of social justice in my new context? How do I keep my own level of privilege in check when it’s not being blatantly handed to me every single day? How can I share my experience in a way that is helpful to both myself and others without becoming accusatory, preachy, one-sided or simply bursting into tears? How can I look upon this “new” context, this context in which I have largely called home for over 20 years, with grace and love, but also with a willingness to challenge the status quo?

And then there are the community life withdrawals. I, a proud, self-proclaimed introvert, was not prepared to miss the constant bustle and chatter of intentional community life, but here we are. I miss house dinners and creative cooking endeavors, breakfast table vent sessions, well-deserved coffee and frozen yogurt runs, mountain excursions, and spontaneous late night adventures. Intentional community life was challenging, beautiful, raw, and at times all-consuming. I hated it and loved it at the same time, and now I’m not quite sure what to do without it.

And then there’s this whole seminary roller coaster I seem to be on and this thrilling, terrifying gut reaction I still have to the word “pastor.” Sometimes I think it might take me all four years (or an entire lifetime?) to simply come to terms with that.

How exactly this all fits together, I’m not sure. The past, present, and future are so intricately connected, but right now I feel like I’m bouncing back and forth between all the three, getting a little more uncertain with each passing moment. The last thing I want is for my Urban Servant Corps year to be an isolated experience on which to look back with fondness (or frustration or wonder) every few months or years. It needs to come with me into each new context I encounter, but right now, how that will look is a mystery. Right now I have way more questions than answers…about everything. But maybe for now, that’s okay. Maybe for right now it is enough to try to embrace the uncomfortableness, the disorientation, and the questions. Maybe for now it is enough to admit that I still do not have all the answers, and that I still have so very much to learn. And maybe now is as good of a time as any to practice granting myself, and others, lots and lots of grace.