room to breathe

I began reading a new book last night… two, actually. I don’t often start 2 different books in one sitting, but the circumstance/context of my reading is new-ish. Prior to starting I had 3 other books “in process.” One for educational/professional edification, one for spiritual edification, and one for all of the above and then some. Now, I don’t really have much time to read these days, and I grieve the loss of sitting and reading until my brain, heart, and eyes are full. But this week I made a committment to read and discuss a book with other people. Okay. Here I go.

I am a Christian, although at times I present with a vague or ambiguous spirituality that may be hard for a stranger to pinpoint. This may come as a surprise to some of my readers, as I write more freely here about my faith than I speak of  in my daily life with the community at large. I love Jesus and am aware that the Bible and Christian tradition hugely affect my thoughts and perspectives on what is wrong with the world and and what could help. I take great delight when others who are not deeply spiritual discover my faith and with blinking eyes and head-shaking say, “You’re a Christian?” Recently, I got a “Like how Christian are you? Like you go to church and pray and stuff? How into it are you?” (giggle.)

Over the last 7 years or so, I am aware of God calling me back into a loving relationship with the Church. Yes, I am a reluctant lover. There’s some hurt in my past, some confusion, and a lot of feeling surrounded by people but deeply alone. I’ve had longings for monastic life, where I imagine escaping the trappings of surface-talk and presumption. I did run for a few different periods of time, to a different area of the country (and world) where local culture didn’t carry the presumptions of certain ideologies. I look back on Seattle as one of those places where I felt in my relationship with the Church and Christianity in general, I had room to breathe.

So last night, in beginning to read these two texts, I had two distinctly different reactions. One I read, as I often do religious texts, with my internal feelers on hypervigilant status. This, I recognize is a consequence of past hurt, but also as discernment. I did not find the first text to be overtly offensive (although I find the title itself unfortunate), but I was aware of feeling bored and also tired as a result of my own efforts at vigilance related to “What are they really saying for me? What are they really saying for women in general? What assumptions does this text make about the way I think about the world / God / my family / my self?” Whew. That was a chore! And I felt stifled. Already. One chapter in. I am suffocating in a small box.

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I sat for a moment thinking about this reading experience. Then almost on impulse, opened up yet another book on my Kindle and began reading. This book is Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey. Within moments, and mere lines of text, I felt disarmed, centered–as if I had just stepped into a place full of beauty and inviting rest. Here was a text I could rest into. There was space for me here, and permission to belong.

Why is this such a rarity for me in so much of Christianity? Why the need for hermeneutical awareness? I am saddened by the distinct differences between my experiences of these texts. Why is there not more space in Southern Church culture for folks like me, who identify with the description that Sarah Bessey writes of herself:

 I’m an uneasy pacifist, a Kingdom of God focused woman, postmodern, liberal to the conservative and conservative to the liberal in matters of both religion and politics (not an easy task, I assure you), a social justice wanna-be trying to do some good, and a nondenominational charismatic recovering know-it-all slowly falling back in love with the Church.

Dear Church… Dear Southern Church… Dear Evangelical Church…. Can we seek to become a place that demonstrates the inviting love of Jesus? Can we grow to welcome, in love, those who feel perpetually other? Can we begin to become aware of the assumptions we make about those who grace our thresholds? Can we be honest about ourselves and our questions? Can we admit the harm that we have done, and our complicity with oppressive political movements in the past? Can we stop, and consciously make space for others in our midst? I do hope so.