Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Why Christian?

I've been trying to figure out how to talk about the Why Christian? conference I attended a few weeks ago without sharing every single detail, because the details matter less than the big picture. I chose to attend the conference because I had been greatly impacted by the writing of the hosts of the conference (Rachel Held Evans and Nadia Bolz-Weber), plus WX15 was in my backyard (aka Minneapolis), so it was logistically possible to attend.

Big picture: the Holy Spirit was moving in St. Mark's Cathedral. Every woman who stood before the crowd shared her story, shared her love for Jesus. To see strong, female leaders of such diversity was something I had never seen, and it was, quite simply, a thing of beauty. To hear from women of different denominations, different ethnicities, different sexual orientations, different lives all share the one thing they had in common was so powerful. It makes me think of Paul's words in Gal 2:28, "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

So often in Christianity it feels like we are talking about how we're different. How we're different from the world, how we're different from those Christians over there who are doing it wrong, how we're not like THOSE people over there. It was so life-giving to celebrate our commonalities instead and have our differences fall to the wayside in light of truth of who Jesus is.

Jesus chose to inhabit a human body. He lived among regular, ordinary people. He was the recipient of judgment, scorn, and violence. And yet he loves us. His love is so much bigger than I can even dare to imagine. One of the most powerful moments of the weekend for me was receiving communion. At my churches we've always had a pass-the-plate or go-get-your-elements-and-then-take-it-to-your-seat-so-we-can-take-it-together sort of approach to communion. Taking communion at St. Mark's was different. I was looked in the eye and told that Jesus broke his body for me, that he shed his blood for me. For ME. It was intimate and personal in a way communion has never been for me, and so different from the shame and guilt that often leaves me not participating in communion at my own church.

I spent so much of day two (Saturday) in tears. Part of that was grieving the loss of my aunt who passed away that morning. Part of it was simply responding to the stirring in my soul. When redemption and grace showed up in the form of Amazing Grace played on the trombone, when I was told I am worth Christ's sacrifice, when my soul yearned for a kingdom where our pain and hurt will be no more and our sorrow is turned to joy, I couldn't help but weep. And let me be clear: I am not a public cryer. I think I've only cried in front of my therapist twice in the six and a half years we've worked together. It's really a testament that I felt safe enough even among strangers to let my heart flow through my eyes.

That weekend was the first time I'd ever heard gay, bi, and trans people share their stories in person from a place of wholeness. My whole life I have been told that first and foremost gay people are sinning. That's always what the emphasis was. At Why Christian? gender and sexual orientation were not the emphasis. Sure, people talked about them as they pertained to their own stories and the church in general, but the emphasis was love and passion for Jesus. How Jesus loves us as we are. How God created us and it was good. It was such a beautiful reminder to see the dignity in every human being, to call out and respect the Imago Dei in each of us. I felt so deeply in my soul the importance of loving others well, especially the people we don't understand, the people on the fringes, the people who are hurting. I felt the importance of loving myself, of recognizing God's love for me even when I feel my sin disqualifies me from being worthy of love.

Love God, love others. This is how I've been describing my faith lately. I just don't know about so many things, but I know that I believe in love. I truly believe that the love that was shown among the conference speakers and attendees was a sliver of a taste of what God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven will be like. It was such a sacred, moving, healing experience. I was reminded of why I choose to be a Christian even when I doubt, even when I face unspeakable loss, even when I am in the depths of despair and when my friends let me down. I cling to the hope of love like Christ showed, that he laid down his life for us. Love is powerful. That's what keeps me hanging on for dear life in the depths of my soul even when I feel like I'm drowning. It is an addicting, intoxicating love, and even when I can't feel it or even believe it fully, I have the hope that it's true.

I am so grateful for the stories shared, for the grace extended, for the unity displayed. I was changed at WX15 and so very encouraged. God is love, and love wins.