A love letter to Hope

I am deeply disheartened.

I grew up receiving all sorts of mixed messages from the Church, my peers and the whole world about who Jesus is and what He calls us to. Some people seemed to think it was about rules, about rights and wrongs. Some people seemed to think it was a race of sorts – whoever tells the most people about Jesus wins. Some people taught me it was about love, a love that is bigger than anything that can be understood. Some people thought the best way to show the character of Jesus was to bring shame. Some people told me Jesus was fun; some told me He was no fun. A lot of people made it seem like the whole thing was about what you aren’t allowed to do, all motivated by fear of the burning fires of Hell. Everybody told me God was a boy. I was a little confused.

When I went to college, I started to listen to the bigger questions that had been rattling my mind for years. Why do I believe in God? Why does anybody?

I started to ask people this question, and kept notes of their answers. They varied a lot, and more often than not the response was a look of confusion and a shrug of their shoulders. I guess we’re not supposed to think about that kind of stuff. Some people did have answers, like powerful stories about the life they had been saved from, how they felt called to greater love, how they had this peace now that they couldn’t quite explain.

For me, I wasn’t convicted in the same way and I felt a little lost. Second semester freshman year I took a class called Christian Feminism that quite literally changed my life. I learned a different side of God, and I learned that God wasn’t ashamed of me because I was a woman. I learned that Jesus was perhaps the first feminist, and that all these secret ideas I had about how we should live empowered and not submit to oppressive gender roles were ideas God has too. I learned that I didn’t have to be a kind- of Christian and a secret feminist, but that the two actually work best when together.

“For there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”

Did you know God transcends gender? God isn’t a white man. No, he isn’t a white woman either. He’s bigger than everything, and everything all at the same time. God is every gender, every race, every mountain and every breeze, the entire universe and then some. This class made me rethink the God I learned about, and set me up for a real desire for something greater that perhaps encompassed the things I felt were missing.

The center of my understanding of God is love. Love. Love that calls us into action, calls us into being and shapes our entire lives. If I am living in union with God, I am living a wild life of love.

I learned that God is about unity. Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, age or ability, we were all created by the same source of love. This should be bigger than all else, and give us reason to care for each person as if they are our own, because they are. That’s why we have to take care of the marginalized; it’s why we need to have conversations with people who are different,; it’s why we have to learn from each other. Most of all, it’s why we have to love each other and see the innate worth in every human being. This is the call of the Church.

I am disheartened because I know this is not often the case. I am disappointed because I know sometimes the Church is the very last place where people experience this kind of unity and love. I am sad because the Church has historically been the cause for a lot of hatred, a lot of violence and a lot of shame. With a real understanding of the kind of love we should be encompassing, there would be no room for anything at all resembling hatred, exclusion, shame or judgment. I simply do not understand how we have come so far from the truth of Jesus, and why anyone who doesn’t understand God as love would still want to worship Him.

Last week, a message was given in chapel that hurt many people by reinforcing oppressive gender stereotypes, rape culture and victim blaming – all while using scripture as support. This is not at all the first time I have heard such a message in Church and will certainly not be the last. It says little about the preacher and much more about the cultural norms and patriarchal ideas we have all internalized. I do not leave because I know who God is, and I hope desperately that someday these direct contradictions to the love I know will be realized, repaired and a new culture of unity will take place.

This was the first time I realized I wasn’t alone in my disillusionment with sexist norms that are just plain wrong. A student organization took a stand. They collected issues with the message and went to speak directly to the chaplain, asking for a dialogue to voice their hurt in hopes of reaching common ground. This is such a beautiful picture of what the Church should be. Unassuming, working together to reach common ground, holding commonality higher than differences and being honest; not afraid to hold each other accountable. However, the conversation was demeaning and fruitless. As a next step, the group decided to host a peaceful public protest with the intention of holding our higher-ups accountable, and making it clear how many people are affected by hurtful words falsely backed with the word of the Lord. The goal was to fill the first few rows during the next chapel with protesters, to stay for worship and then silently leave when the chaplain began to speak. Not as an attack, not as an act of hate, but out of a calling to higher love a representation of the power of words, and the harm of sexist oppression. The demonstration was an empowering symbol that we can use our minds and our hearts to discern truth, and can love Jesus without sitting complacent and listening to messages that support the opposite of what we are called to. I am proud of this group, proud of all the participants, proud to be in a place and with people who are not afraid to make their voices heard. I am proud to be in a place where I can stand up for what I feel is right.

I am proud, but I am disheartened. I am saddened by the hundreds of people who did not leave the chapel. I am disappointed in the people who filled the rows next to me, begging me not to leave; to sit quietly and listen. I am sad because I cannot see where Jesus is in all of this mess. I do not feel united; I only feel polarized. I left the chapel because I wanted to hold the Church accountable for greater unity. I am disheartened because I sometimes see the least Jesus within the four walls that should be abounding. Abounding in love, understanding and unity.

My desire is that we will be able to recognize Jesus as bigger than any difference we might hold. That our unity will overcome our disillusionment. Our love be stronger than anything else. I hear the voice of love calling me to reason and understanding, suggesting forgiveness and steadfastness. When we become sides and fights and words and misunderstanding, we are missing out on something so much greater.

Let’s please be different. Let’s be better. Let’s embody love in a way that echoes the love of the father, that draws us closer to each other not because we are the same but because we each hold the same unbelievable value, woven together in the same Spirit that set the universe into motion and breathed life into dry bones.

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