Yesterday, I told Kim I’ll probably die of optimism.
They’ll write on my gravestone “He didn’t think he would.”
Best laugh I’ve given her in some time.
I realized on a hike yesterday–only yesterday–that I have found my voice as a writer. It took me a mere twenty years, give or take. Believe me, this was good news. I think I found it before I understood that I had.
But in that same moment, I realized I’m now trying to discern to whom I’m speaking. I think I had confused or conflated those questions. I believe that’s why it’s taken me so long: I was trying to answer the wrong question. I thought I was still working out “how?” when really it’s “to whom?” The latter is a very different question.
I am astounded, and I hope you are too, at the widespread grieving–and concommitant cry for action–in response to Rachel Held Evans’ death. I knew we all loved her, but I had no clue how hard her death would hit me–or millions and millions of others. If you do a quick search (#becauseofRHE) and look at all the personal testimonies about her and the wide range of publications that speak of who she was, you start to get a small sense for what her voice meant to people.
I never met Rachel Held Evans. I’m seeing the photos of friends who got to meet her and in my grief I’m choosing not to feel jealous but something more like awe. This woman loved so many of us fucked up souls. Go read how many of the testimonies are from the self-identified misfits, the alienated from church, and the seekers for spiritual community. Why do you think people in the LGBTQ community loved her? Why did so many who claimed no faith at all love her blog?
Ask the women who have careers because of her championing. Ask the mothers of gay kids. Ask the queer believers who found welcome. Ask the women who are in ministry now. Ask the ones who found Jesus, who found hope, who found their voice. Literally ask ANYONE from #BecauseOfRHE.*
Anytime someone dies suddenly and too young, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Am I living well? Is this my true life or a safe, comfortable, anesthetized escape?” Quoting Mary Oliver: “Is this what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
When Rachel Held Evans died, I started to grasp the impact of her voice, of the life she lived, how she spoke to us and how that mattered to us. How we were changed by her words. That was a grand use of her one wild, precious, and all-too-brief life. I see Jesus in how Rachel Held Evans lived and loved. I have no higher praise than that.
So here I am. I’m no Rachel Held Evans. Let me just beat you to that, in case you were starting to wonder if you needed to tell me. But I’m listening and I’m watching and I’m paying attention. I swear to you, I’m paying attention. When you’re like me (long pause for snide comments) you fight a constant battle against doubt and negative self-talk. I hope no one in your life says to you what I say to me.
But then, in the midst of this slog through the puddle, here comes someone like Kate Lynne Logan, who several life chapters ago was part of my young adult Bible study. Kate Lynne is a singer/songwriter, mom, wife, and queer. She’s a superhero. In response to my thoughts on Rachel’s death, she wrote:
I can’t stop thinking about her. 37 is just too shockingly young. Her babies. Oh, her babies. Her 3 year old, who will understand that she’s gone, and not understand why.
I’ve followed accounts in the fringe, and she was always a primary voice. I knew who she was and knew what a light she was.
I stopped believing a long time ago. I was once someone who gave her whole life to church and the gospel.
I tweeted that Rachel was one of two Christians who held my respect, of all the hundreds I knew closely and the thousands I “knew of.”
You are the 2nd, Mike.
Rachel is deeply affecting me. Her loss is so deep, and I was just a fringe “acknowledge-er.”
If there is a god, he’s the god who’s you’re friend. There is no one who could convince me more than people like you and Rachel.
For the record- I know my personal opinion means nothing. It’s not like it’s some great honor for me to think the things I do. But Rachel was personal.
And you are personal. And when all we know is what’s personal….it’s all that matters.
So what is the point? (Okay, sorry, crying here. Give me a second. Damn it, Kate Lynne.) For some reason, like a coincidence that isn’t, right when I’m wrestling with this question of “to whom” a bunch of people chime in, unsolicited, to tell me how my voice has impacted them.
I love how real you are Mike. Unafraid to live and die with the emotion of the moment, and totally unwilling to let that rule you. I hope and pray to continue to learn that balance.
Dude. I love your fiction. I think it’s time for you to publish your non-fiction. You have words and truth that the world needs to hear. Seriously!
For a long time, I’ve believed I can challenge people in the church to think a little more about justice, to embrace Jesus’ love and grace for those left out and pushed away. But I don’t know if that ever got through.
I know for certain, however, that some people who don’t feel loved by Christians have felt loved by me as a Jesus follower. The way I experience God and my own flaws resonates, even though they have nothing to do with church. Some people who can’t understand how Christians can follow Trump have come to me to ask “where the hell is God in all this?” (Think I’m joking?) Others who have stuck with church but increasingly feel like outcasts and aliens where they used to be at home compare notes and share back and forth our tiny glimpses of hope.
I have this message of grace and vulnerability and compassion and justice for the poor and oppressed intertwined with “Holy Shit, this whole being a competent adult thing is hard!”
That may not be the message for you. That’s fine. You may have this competent adult thing wired. Rock on. Stay around for the laughs or go with God.
You may have no interest in a version of following Jesus that questions conservative politics or uses cuss words or suggests that we’re not entitled to live at the the maximum comfort level we can afford while billions suffer and we decimate the planet–which causes those in poverty to suffer even more.
I used to feel bad when people got offended by these things I said and wrote, like somehow I needed to be more compelling or convey my message more clearly or root it more deeply in Scripture.
I’m done feeling bad.
If I’m helping you, that’s awesome. I hope to. I want you to know that God loves you wildly and that grace is real. I believe that all the way through.
But if you’re here to argue or to debate why I think Jesus loves gays (he does, madly) or to help me to see the wisdom in trickle-down economics or arming school teachers, well, how do I say this nicely? You are not my audience.
Is that nicer than “I wasn’t talking to you?”
Will I dialogue? Absolutely.
Am I suggesting no one should disagree with me? If you think that, this may be the first thing I’ve written that you’ve ever read.
But a beloved friend pointed out, not long ago, “Part of what surprises me in your posts is that you seem to think you need to appease the right, as though they are right.” Dead on accurate, because I thought that’s who I should be speaking to. I keep hoping to be a bridge-builder and peacemaker.
But who am I kidding? I’m a pastor, and will be until the day I die, but no church wants to hire me as their pastor. People know me as someone who pastors them. I’m a “dem fine” preacher.** But turn me loose on their organization? Trust me to keep it together and say whatever seems appropriate to me? They are not lining up. See above.
I have a transgender son whom I love with all my heart and of whom I’m wildly proud. I believe materialism in the church and syncretizing US cultural values with the Gospel are our besetting sins. I think Trump is a narcissist who displays in his character, day after day, the antithesis of how a Jesus follower should act and speak.
I have known, from the time Jesus showed me he’s real and not a fairytale, that I want to spend my energy reaching the people left out, not fighting with the people already in.
Therefore, I’m not kicking anybody out, I’m not disinviting anyone, but I’m saying here that I’m done appeasing and feeling bad and holding back. As I alluded to in my last post, I’m done self-censoring. I no longer believe that doing so is honoring God and I now have a clearer idea what to do with this one wild and precious life of mine. Rachel’s death made me stop and reflect. I know my voice and I know my people.
If that all makes sense to you, guess what?
*From a tweet by Sarah Bessey, which, by the way, comes in the middle of a furious rebuke of Christianity Today for publishing someone who should not have been writing about RHE, but that is a different story and this proclaims who she was in the face of self-righteous criticism.
**Can you really get upset at me for using the language C.S. Lewis uses in a chidlren’s book?