In 2012 on a Tuesday evening in February, the “what are you giving up for Lent” question was asked. Of course, sitting in the circle of comfy and not-so-comfy chairs in that small group, each person was expected to have an answer. My answer was snarky:
“For Lent, I’m giving up going to church.”
My main reason for saying it was to rebel against what I considered the stupid practice of coercing each other into some pious sacrifice. Giving up going to church for Lent was my way of saying, “fuck you” to the coercion and the shaming energy behind it.
I was tired of playing this game. I was tired of the claustrophobic environment that was “progressive” conservative evangelicalism. I was tired of hiding in a community who claimed to be accepting and authentic. They were not.
Maybe it was Rachel Held Evans who made me want to be subversive. Maybe I was slipping down the slope she described in her post that January. Maybe I was looking for a reason to leave the church. Maybe I was counting the cost of coming out by then, and I wanted to reject them before they could reject me. I don’t know. I don’t remember my thoughts from seven years ago.
I do remember the trauma I felt from the binary choice I knew I was about to make. Stay in and lose myself or come out and lose my community. I knew there was no “third way” with my Christian friends, and I knew my choice would be to come out. I couldn’t stay in any longer. My heterosexual cloak was threadbare.
By then, I had “confessed the sin of homosexual thoughts and feelings” toward my roommate.
By then, I had started “healing prayer” sessions at my evangelical workplace.
And by then, I was very aware that the rarified air at the top of the slippery slope was an artificial environment.
The top of the slippery slope was the place evangelicals perceived themselves to be, above it all. By then I knew that “narrow road” they strived to stay on was an apex of judgment. The artificial peak they curated for themselves was where they tsk-tsked and farewelled and whispered, “there but for the grace of God…”
But there was no grace there. They could not see grace and compassion and love slipping away from them.
I gave up going to church for Lent in 2012.
I don’t remember if I ever set foot in that church building again. I do remember finding a new congregation sometime in 2012, the online followers of Rachel Held Evans.
This isn’t a very good tribute to her. So many others have written and are writing wonderfully poignant tributes this weekend. She was a truly remarkable person in so many ways, and her death knocked the wind out of me yesterday.
The year of 2019 has been a year of death in my circle of life. Maybe I’ll write more on that another time. But this death, the death of RHE, has reminded me of the community of wanderers I wandered away from several years ago.
My sweet and devout Jewish wife has been gently nudging me to reclaim a church community. I wasn’t ready for many many months. But last fall I finally started warming to the idea that sent a chill through me.
Since Christmas, we’ve been going to a UCC church about once a month. It is undeniably welcoming and affirming. My wife said it’s more welcoming than the synagogue she’s been attending for 16 years.
The trauma of “church” still lingers in my body. Tears roll down my cheeks at every hymn, and my singing voice frequently fails me. But I’m healing.
I haven’t thought much about the online community I let go of several years ago. Then yesterday, May the fourth. I was browsing the Washington Post and saw the headline: Rachel Held Evans… dies at 37.
I gasped and clicked to read the story. Induced coma. Two young children. My God. I didn’t know she had two kids.
I’ve been off Twitter since 2016, but I quickly logged on and began to read the mournful and heartfelt posts. Hundreds. Thousands. More and more every second. One said it beautifully, all these posts reveal the vastness of RHE’s legacy, tributes from POC, from LGBTQ+ and so so many raising their voices together.
This woman from a small town in Tennessee rocked and changed the evangelical world. She led the way out of it, or in it, or straddling between. It didn’t matter.
She mattered. And she made sure we mattered.
What do we do now?