Churchless but not Faithless

I haven’t gone to church in over 2 years. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I was in a church building. COVID hit, and everything shut down, and when buildings opened up again, my little church hadn’t survived. We were renting a space in a strip mall, and it wasn’t worth paying rent when we weren’t using it. Then our pastor got a job at a different church in a different city, which was so good. He and his family need to eat and pay rent themselves, so none of us begrudge him that. So I was churchless. And my hobbity self who would like to snuggle down in a hole in the ground with some good food and drink didn’t mind all that much.

Most Sundays, my mum and I would livestream the service from my old home church in LA until they stopped livestreaming. And when it was safe enough to start meeting with other humans again, my family and close friend’s family formed a little home church where we meet outside or, if the weather is bad, inside masked, and study the Bible, pray together, and let the kids run wild together. Sometimes, we take communion together, and we did some advent together near the holidays. I also meet once a month with my women’s global prayer group, on our back patio or masked indoors.

So fellowship and Bible study and communal prayer and communion are happening – just not in the traditional sense. I’ve thought about going back to a church in person – like with a building and ordained pastors and formal small groups and all that – but the local churches where I live are not welcoming spaces for non-Republicans who are fed up with the current state of the white evangelical church and believe COVID was/is real. Even the churches of people of color tend to lean right here.

I must be honest, I don’t miss traditional church as much as I thought I would. My mum misses it a lot more than I do, which makes sense as she’s gone for over 70 years to my over 40. I’ve also never or rarely fit in to the church environment, so have always felt on the fringes anyway. I’ve also been struggling with the politics/ethics of the white evangelical church a lot longer. But it breaks my heart to see her grieve the loss of church. I’ve been there, I’ve felt the betrayal and pain, and I hate to see her going through it too.

I’m not deconstructing my faith – my faith is the same as it ever was. I love God and try to love people. I am a sinner, saved by the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus, who loved me and gave himself up for me. This is why I try to love others – because I am so loved in a way I do not deserve and I want others to experience that too. My faith is unshaken and permanent. But the churches I see around me do not reflect what the Bible says about God and humanity.

I am not naïve – I do not seek a “perfect” church. I know the church is for sinners, and therefore will never be perfect. I do, however, seek churches that are trying to love God and love others well. Which are willing to admit when they’re wrong, and do everything in their power to grow and change. Which are not willing to bow to the right wing worship found in these spaces, but which seek to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).

I’m no longer willing to bend to religious spaces which actively harm women and vulnerable minorities, which pull the “both sides are equally wrong” crap or go further and believe you have to be right wing to be a Christian, which prioritize the tastes of the more powerful or favored congregants over what is right, which pick and choose which sins to rebuke while holding tightly onto sins like greed, lust for power, and violence.

For me, the biggest struggle in this leaving of the traditional church is also leaving behind my calling as a Biblical Counselor. I never quite fit into that world well, and in fact got into many debates with my professors in my years of study. I also purposefully never turned in my completed NANC (now ACBC) exam to get certified by the Biblical Counseling big wigs because I could never 100% sign off on their statements of belief and didn’t want my name to be associated with them. Still, I paid tons of money (loans which I’m still paying off), gave a lot of my time and effort, to get my Master’s degree and be trained in that discipline. I also have 16 years of experience in Biblical Counseling. I’ve attended many conferences and classes over the years, continued in research and reading, and have given a huge amount of my adult life to that particular field of counseling. Giving that up is the hardest part.

I am a good counselor, sometimes I am even excellent. I am a good speaker and teacher, sometimes even excellent. I am a good writer, sometimes even excellent. And giving up that call and gift and skill is like giving up a huge part of who I am. I currently only have 3 counselees left, 2 paid and one pro-bono. And after them, I do not plan on taking any new counselees for the foreseeable future. The tradition in which I was taught and trained is so wrapped up in the white evangelical culture that I do not think it can be separated. And I do not have the time, energy, and money to go back to school and start over again to get trained in a different kind of counseling. So I must let it go. This breaks my heart the most.

I’m still working through a lot of this stuff, so things may change, but this is where I’m at right now. And, for those of you who know me well, this will not be a surprise. It’s actually been a very very long time coming. But I appreciate your love, support, prayer, encouragement, and listening ears these past few years as I’ve weighed these decisions. Feel free to message me if you have any questions about any of this, as I know I’m not the only one out there going through this.

The one thing I know for certain is that pursuing God and faith in Christ is still worth it, still beautiful and good and true, and that forming relationships with his children is still worth it. It just might look a little different for a lot of us.

Getting a Little Messy

It’s springtime, which means things get a little messy. Mum and I have done some backyard gardening, with Dandelion as our “helper.” And with all this new life, my allergies go crazy, so my head is frequently a stuffed mess. Being a permanently single 40-something Christian dealing with other Christians’ strongly held views of singleness? Also messy.

A couple months ago, I was able to have 1½ hour long conversation with my friend, pastor and writer Scott Mehl, about “The Mess of Singleness” for his podcast, “The Messy Podcast.” The episode aired at the end of March, but I didn’t think to mention it here at the time. If you haven’t had the chance to listen to it, I strongly encourage you to check it out. It holds truths, challenges, and encouragements for both singles and marrieds. 

You can find it on Apple or Spotify:

Just when I think I’ve said everything there is to say on this topic, someone like Scott comes along with great questions, and I realize there is so much more that needs to be expressed about living the life of a single adult in today’s Christian church environments. 

One of the main things I wanted to express is that singleness is vast and varied. From the young 20-something who has just started dating, to the 75 year old man who recently lost his wife of 50 years, from the divorced single parent, to the never-married person in middle age, singleness is not one-size-fits-all. 

If the Christian community wants to serve its single people well, it needs to expand its perspective and be ready to truly get to know each individual and what their specific needs are rather than treating singles ministry like a monolithic entity, usually geared toward young adults with the goal of marrying off as many of us as possible.

I’d love to hear what you think of the topics touched on in this interview, so feel free to comment or message me back once you’ve listened! What would you like me to discuss next time? What needs to be repeated, delved into more deeply here on my blog, or what have I missed thus far?

A Sudden Ambush of Grief

On my way to work this morning, I drove past the long-defunct Hometown Buffet. It closed down ages ago, but this time it was in the midst of being gutted. Walls were smashed by large machinery, insides exposed in the process of being laid to ruin. I’m sure the no-longer-with-us Toys “R” Us next to it will be next.

Glancing out my window and seeing the red and green sign still hanging on, declaring “Hometown Buffet” over wreckage hit me out of nowhere. I went from benign coffee drinking and podcast listening to brushing tears out of my eyes. My heart did that little skip, that almost-hurt. It came as a surprise.

In that second, memories of my long deceased grandpa flooded in. Birthdays and Father’s Days spent heaping plates full of meatloaf and limp salad, looking forward to soft serve ice cream with sprinkles on top were brought to mind. Thoughts came of joking with my brother and sister about how only old people ate here, about how mediocre the food was, about the birthday song played over speakers.

And my grandfather? Man, he loved that place. A typical WWII Veteran of “The Greatest Generation,” he desired the most food for the money. Even though he didn’t actually eat much, and barely ate meat after a stint working in an abattoir in his younger days. But as one who lived through the Great Depression, he couldn’t bare to see food go to waste – thus his love of a buffet.

My grandpa (my mom’s dad) was my last living grandparent, and the one to whom I was closest. He told me I was like him, that I had inherited his wanderlust which led him to enlist in the Navy, then to move around Southern California from place to place in his RV when my mom was a little girl until retirement.

He passed away about one year after my dad. That was a tough year as he was in heart failure for much of it and couldn’t get around much. He fell a lot. We sold our old house and bought a new one, moving him in with us (mom and I, and Josh on the couch during summer break from university). Lavender got married to one of my best friends and grandpa got to be there. Greg had my first nephew, Graden, a gift from God, my father’s first grandson he never got to meet. And grandpa died.

All of these memories flood back just from one building in the midst of being gutted. Grief is a funny thing. 16 years later, and it can still ambush me. But I don’t mind, not really, because these memories make me smile through the tears. I’m reminded of my grandpa’s deep and eternal love for me and all his grand-kids. Grief has somehow softly transformed over the years, and by the grace of God, into an old friend who comes to visit, bringing all the memories with them, but not staying for long.

To my friends experiencing grief that is much more fresh and raw, know that God is with you in it. Our God is a God who can lift up the downcast, he is the God of steadfast love (Psalm 42). Hope in him, and know that someday the ambushes of grief will be softer, bringing joy instead of pain.