Why are you still here.
A few years ago, one of my pastors and I sat down for coffee. I was at a non-LGBTQ-affirming church that also doesn’t ordain women… and I’m a queer woman with an MDiv. It was the odd-coupling of church homes.
We shot the breeze for a little bit, and then he bushed up his eyebrows and said, “if you don’t mind me asking – why are you still here?”
It was a kind question, not an accusation. He was honestly just wondering. I think I muttered something about music, the liturgy, something-something-hearing-grace-preached, something-something-family, something-something-uh. I made some shit up, because the “why” was still a question that I didn’t completely have the answer to.
Why are you still here.
That question hung around. It lurked.
That question wasn’t really about me at this individual particular church (even though finding that answer was important). It was the big Church Why, that sometimes trickles down into our souls as Religion Why.
You’ve read the articles. You’ve seen the think-pieces. You know millennials are leaving the church in record numbers. You know that not only that, but evangelicals are fleeing evangelicalism in droves, confused and hurt by the Church’s hypocrisy post-election – by the evangelical church’s discomfort and downright hostility with issues of race, poverty, war, sexuality, sexual abuse, violence.
A lot of millennials stay in their evangelical churches and sing the songs and sit in Bible studies and go to prayer group and then in the car on the way home wonder why am I still here.
And a lot of evangelicals leave the Church – not just the evangelical church, but the broader Church, Christianity, everything. They take their toys and go home – done being wounded, done being shamed for their sexuality or gender, done feeling like what they’d been taught about justice and truth are being shit on by a religious community that continues to condone an unjust and dishonest government in the name of Jesus. But so many keep fiddling with Scripture, with books by Thomas Merton and the mystics, staying on the edges of religion, not sure why we can’t shake it.
Why am I still here.
I’m here because somehow, through all the gunky windows and sputtering candles and barred doors of the church tradition that raised me, through all that foolishness and sin and recklessness and legalism – I caught a glimpse of the covenant God.
I am still here because the Gospel sneaks through the cracks of our legalism. I’m here because when God cut a covenant with Abram thousands of years ago, God was the one who pledged Godself to us, and that story of a Covenant God chasing us through time is the best story that I’ve ever heard. I’m still here because of what my pastor reminded me last Sunday: “the Christian life is not about our devotion to Christ, but about Christ’s devotion to us.” I’m here because the grace of a covenant God who keeps cutting new covenants with us is too big, too rich, too unbelievable to absorb in one sitting, and I want to spend my life learning more about a God that can’t get enough of us.
I’m still here because I just can’t really believe that God would be so committed to God’s covenant that God would die before He walked away from us.
I’m still here because I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and like Mary, I want to fly down the road yelling at whoever will listen that “I have seen the Lord!”
But God help us, it’s always too easy to forget our first love.
It’s the easiest thing in the world to lose sight of Jesus. Ironically, for the Good Church Kids among us, it’s usually religion that pulls us away from Jesus. When I was in high school and college, I “called my rigidity religion” (Charles Dickens) and thought that my dramatic pursuit of holiness was the same as a dramatic pursuit of God. Pursuing holiness is good – but it’s not the same as falling in love with God.
And now I’m still obsessed with religion. I’m obsessed with the brokenness, the woundedness, the carnage that my religious tradition is causing at home and across the world. I’m fascinated by the evangelical church, brokenhearted by what she’s done to me and to people that I love, angry at how she’s pledged herself to a corrupt political world order and will trade her integrity for power without batting an eye. And to be clear: I sure as hell am not going to stop being obsessed with religion. Religion matters – the structures of religion help us maintain tradition and community and the rhythms of sacred life. And naming the sin in religious traditions is a prophetic work that also matters, and defending the Gospel when religion itself is fighting against it is essential prophetic work. I don’t ever want to stop engaging with religion, just like, by God’s grace, I will never stop pursuing holiness.
But my pursuit of holiness wasn’t turning my eyes to Jesus.
And my pursuit of Justice in the church isn’t turning my eyes to Jesus, either.
And when I lose sight of Jesus, I start to forget why I’m still here.
I’m still here because the covenant God called me, and when I heard His voice, it felt like coming home.
I’m here because Jesus called my name, and because something, Someone, caught my heart and hasn’t ever let it go, even in the WorldVision heartbreak and Mark Driscoll rage and the Jen Hatmaker frustration, even while racism and sexism and homophobia and greed and lust and cruelty swirl in and out and around our religious structure – nothing, nothing, can separate me from the Love of God that is found in Christ Jesus – neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth...
And not even church itself.
So this summer, on my blog, I’m going to be writing a lot about Jesus. I’m going to spending the summer soaking in the Gospels, and in particular the Gospel of Mark, for my Monday Meditations. I hope you’ll join me.
I won’t stop writing about evangelicals and culture and how our faith in Christ changes how we see and interact with the least of these. That matters. Religion matters, and our religious traditions matter. Speaking truth to power matters, especially in the church. But like the pursuit of holiness – it’s a good pursuit, but it’s not why I’m still here.
It’s a good pursuit, but it’s not Jesus.
Jesus is why I’m still here.