Somewhere etched into the permanent part of my memory that is the scenes of my childhood, I have an impossibly clear recollection of my CCD teacher—Catholic for Sunday School—asking our class why we hunted for eggs on Easter. I gave it a shot and said that it had something to do with Christ’s resurrection and eggs being a symbol of life or something like that. I don’t know where I got the idea. But apparently I was close enough. She gave me a dollar.
I was seven. My parents had gotten divorced the year before after a long separation. And somehow I’d gotten it in my head that we weren’t allowed to be religious any more. And I remember feeling, in that moment, dollar in hand, that I still belonged. So it kind of stuck there where it still is. A thought that pops in and out from time to time when I reflect on my faith.
Over the years, what was left of my family drifted away from the church. And I lived most of my life without it. For thirty years I was gone. Until the life that I thought I controlled was in tatters, wrapped in anxiety and sadness from family tragedy and autism and war and a million other things that make life hard to carry alone. I came back to faith with a silent prayer of surrender that turned to forgiveness. And in time to thanks. And since, my faith has been the foundation of my life.
I’m a Christian. And my faith is really good at redemption. Forgiveness and salvation are the center of our message. Which is good because I needed plenty of both. The people of my faith are pretty good at something else too. And that’s making people feel like they don’t belong. It’s the great contradiction of us.
Scripture has a lot of rules. And over the last two thousand years or so some of those rules have stuck around. And others, well, not so much. Men who’ve lost their sex organs aren’t allowed in church. Out of wedlock children aren’t allowed either. Women who give birth to a daughter are “unclean” longer than if they give birth to a male. 66 days to be exact. Women must cover their hair when they pray.
You get the point.
I’m not belittling the Good Book. I’m simply pointing out that there’s plenty of things most of us have felt just fine about getting over. It’s usually with the hand wave of some notion of cultural differences through time and space that no longer make things relevant. Somehow, we manage to hold fast to other things not central or even in direct contradiction to the message of forgiveness and inclusion. And those things tend to be the things that help us exclude others from our faith. Because we are people. And we exclude. It’s what we do. And it’s actually one of the reasons we need our faith. So that we don’t. But the exclusion part runs right along the fault line of where faith ends, and the broken folly of us people begin. So it’s stuck around.
As a biblical scholar, I run out of depth pretty quickly. I’m a hack. And I don’t really have any interest in debating what is or isn’t a sin. If that’s your thing, you will win an argument with me every time. Even more so, I have no interest at all in telling any congregation how to run itself. If you close your doors to gays or women who’ve had an abortion or people who marry outside their faith or get a divorce or have a bunch of kids out of wedlock, you’re allowed to do that. It may even be why people come come to your church. And I’ll never ask you to change. Or wag my finger about how far your interpretation of your faith is from mine. I won’t do any of those things. In fact, you could have saved yourself 10 minutes and skipped this message all together. It’s not for you.
It’s for someone else.
One of the great cosmic contradictions of the history of man is that we tell people that the path to salvation and healing is through a relationship with faith. And then we lock them out unless they change things they can’t change. Like the past. You may as well tell your kids they have to eat their vegetables. And then take away their vegetables until they eat them. The math doesn’t work.
It’s tough love. Without the love.
So today, the Monday morning hangover after the holiest day in my faith, I’ve got a message for all of you we locked out this weekend. For everyone that was in pain the way I once was. Who thought that they were too broken to ever wander back into a place where they were unconditionally loved and accepted. It’s this:
You are welcome.
Maybe not everywhere. And maybe not where you once were. But there are places to come and connect. If there’s not one near you, then check out an online congregation. It’s 2017. And the world is very different than you remember if you were hurt and wandered away long ago. The first messages I listened to were sent to me in Iraq on CD from my church here in Southern California. If you need a place to start, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Chances are, I was way more jacked up than you are. And probably still am. And I found a place. So maybe I can help.
If the Christian faith isn’t for you, there’s plenty others out there. And if you don’t need any at all, then you’re stronger than me. And I congratulate you. But we’ll leave the light on. Because I had it all figured out once too. Until I didn’t.
Now consider the door opened.