One Month After My Defense of the Lone Ranger Christian

Well, I did it. I created a conversation. A lot of conversations, actually.

After posting In Defense of the Lone Ranger Christian on my personal Facebook profile, I had 15 private message conversations, 5 text conversations, a phone call, an unexpected letter in the actual mail, and a handful of other in-person interactions. There were 58 comments on my personal Facebook post, not counting my own, 3 comments on this blog, and there were over 730 page views (and still counting) on that specific post--a record number for my blog. That blog post didn't go viral in the internet sense, but its presence was felt in my circle.

Nearly all of my interactions were positive and supportive. Not everyone agreed, but they were respectful and kind. Some very loving. Only a few people were rude--tough love, I think it's called--but there is something that I think a lot of people missed:

I didn't leave church because I was hurt.

Did I get hurt? Yes. Shaming words hurt. But that hurt occurred in response to my leaving.

I could talk about why people are leaving the Church--about why it's not about music or immature conflict resolution skills; however, there are far better ones out there than I could write, at least at this stage in my life. My reasons are varied and personal, none of which have anything to do with personal conflict with church members.

Instead, let me clarify that the post was to point out the shaming that Lone Rangers receive when they decide to either leave a church or never join one, whatever their reasons may be, and to provoke church members to think about their assumptions.

***

Now, allow me to drop my defenses for a vulnerable second.

My husband pointed out that I "withdrew fellowship" from church before any church "withdrew fellowship" from me.

He's right.

I've been mulling it over and I guess everyone is hurt in the process of a church break-up. When you've been in, or associated with, a particular church since preschool, your church is your family. These were my people, my community, my tribe. They raised me. They were people who poured themselves into me as a child, teen, adult. They were my childhood friends. They were people I served and people I served alongside. They were friends who confided in me things I still hold in confidence. They were friends who know some of my worst moments, including puberty and the years I spent as a legalistic Christian.

And I left them.

In actuality, I left the doctrinal structure of the churches I grew up in, but it's sure hard--for everyone--to separate the structure from the people when doctrine mingles with a name and a shared history.

It's messy.

As we sift through the shattered glass of our broken church life, I challenge all of us, Lone Ranger and Church Member alike, to ask a question I asked some time ago in another blog post

What are they afraid of?

Church Member: It's frustrating to see all your efforts to love, preserve truth, and welcome others into a relationship with Jesus and the church being rejected, picked apart, and mocked by the same people you brought food to, cried with, and celebrated with. 

Lone Ranger: It's frustrating to have your decision to leave or never join church blamed on you having an issue with entitlement, a lack of morality, or shallow Christianity. It's hard to be condemned if you dare to be or believe something different, but condemned and dying inside if you don't.

While reasons and methods of hurt are innumerable, I think the number one motivator is fear. And if we can remember that everyone is afraid of something and reflect without unhealthy judgement what someone else's fears might be, perhaps we can get a little closer to having a love that casts out fear.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that those who have encountered spiritual abuse should go back and work it out Matthew18-style. 

I'm not suggesting that those of you who don't believe in church anymore should walk back in and go back to pretending that you do. 

I'm not even saying you should go to church, even on Christmas and Easter. 

But, Lone Ranger and Church Member, in an attempt to keep us from cementing the idea of "us" vs "them," maybe we can put ourselves in each other's shoes and see if we can imagine what fears may be motivating the other. 

The process is disarming and causes us to see that we are not really at war with each other, but at war with our born nature to demonize those who aren't like us and justify any means possible to preserve our own way of getting along in this world.

This last month has made me reflect on my internal conflict between protecting myself through isolation and wanting to be known and understood. I've learned what some of my triggers are and just how much church talk I can handle before I crack.  I've been validated, making me think that maybe I can let my guard down, and I've been harshly criticized, both directly and indirectly, making me think it's time to add a new layer of bricks--or maybe throw a few.

I've also been challenged to step back, chill out, and remember that the church member is still a person. And I think I may have challenged church members to do the same in regard to the Lone Rangers out there. 

I'm not saying that I've perfected the practice of reflecting on our shared humanity or that my protective default to categorize myself apart from "them" has disappeared. But, perhaps all of us can move beyond the death march of name-calling and labeling and, instead, nurture the new life born within us by remembering to ask a simple, yet compassion-provoking, question:

What are they afraid of?

And once you do, maybe you will finally be able to put to words what it is you're afraid of, as well.  




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