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Passion Reflections From a (Non) Ambivalent Christian

04/16/2014 12:12 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2014

Two distinct ways of being with the teachings of Christianity showed up when I went to church this past Sunday. One joyfully spoke of an execution as the way we know God loves humanity. One somberly reflected the recognition that the divine enters our experience through weakness and suffering, in pain and brokenness. One of these cuts me off from my actual experience. The other beckons and compels me.

Despite my being an ordained minister, some might describe me an as ambivalent Christian. This wouldn't quite be accurate because I'm really ambivalent about only two things. The first is the way church institutions often actually function. The second is the tendency for Christians to over-assume the degree to which we "get it" -- the extent to which we can quantify, capture and contain what is best described as the utter mystery of this sacred story.

I may look like an ambivalent Christian, but I'm not. I'm an actual Christian. I'm this kind: Show me irrefutable proof tomorrow that the body of a non-resurrected Jesus has been found, and a Christian I will remain. My experience that this story is true simply doesn't stand or fall on the literal facts of the resurrection.

To say "truth" stands without "facts" is not the same thing as saying faith has nothing to do with mind or intellect. Quite the contrary, my faith does fall in the face of any kind of Christianity that requires me to turn off intellect and deny my actual experience.

This reality has mattered to me a lot this week because of how much I've struggled in my adult life to find a regular worshipping community (precisely because of the two things I'm so ambivalent about). Not unlike many families, my family is imperfectly navigating the terrain of institutional religion right now: My partner, not religious and wary of institutional religion; I, Christian and wary of institutional religion. Both of us having some sense not that our young children should be religious (let alone Christian) but that spiritual development in children is not so different from emotional, physical or intellectual development. You don't nurture it into mature, healthy growth by ignoring it. Both of us trying to figure out what that means for us when it comes to "church."

As parents we need to offer it some sort of supportive scaffolding in which spirituality -- whatever it ends up looking like -- can grow. Telling our kids, "You choose something when you're old enough to decide," just doesn't provide many of them enough of a forum within which to engage their own questions of meaning deeply. (And, as an aside, its precisely these kids who end up most susceptible on my college campus to the ease and clarity offered fundamentalist religious groups.)

So amidst this much more vexed journey, and with our competing needs and hopes constantly in view, my partner and I took out children to a Christian church last Sunday.

And there I found myself nearly weeping when the youth choir sang hauntingly about the hour of darkness. They sang about the divine entering the world and being present with humanity in frailty, brokenness, grief, evil and death. They sang about vulnerable and devastating places.

I nearly wept because what they evoked was true. I've had more contact with grief this past year than in any time prior time in my life. It's been less my own grief, and more witness to the devastating experiences of people I am or have been close too. But in it I have touched brokenness that I can barely describe. I know how deeply brokenness is our human experience.

And I also know how often we rush each other out of grief, offering cheap mantra's like: "There's a reason for all of this," "This is all part of a plan," "You need to stop dwelling and start looking on the bright side." The worst (to a grieving mom): "I know this is hard, but he's with Jesus now." It's like we have a compulsion to force our way through pain and skim quickly past the hard stuff, as if dwelling in it too long means it will consume us. It's as if acting like we're not devastated will actually heal us. It doesn't. Our only hope for renewed life is to bear witness to it, relentlessly.

For a liturgical moment, then, last Sunday I was invited to be present to and not try to rush through the most devastating of place's in grief's landscape.

What could be more devastating than knowing that even God can die?

Where and when do we ever sit in the hour of darkness? Name it as the place we are supposed to be and simply keep watch there with each other?

It turns out it is unspeakably life-giving and healing when we allow one another simply to be present to our grief. Don't try to rush it. Don't force feed it empty mantras. Turns out when we do, sometimes we end up finding on a random morning that we wake up and witness resurrection -- see and feel life bubbling up even through and despite the most devastating kinds of brokenness.

We sat in the hour of darkness at church. We didn't stay there long. Too quickly (to my theological mind) we moved to interpretations like: "God showing love by giving his son to die" (that's the execution-as-evidence-of-love account that does not move me). This interpretation felt like a quick move to interpret and explain something that is mystery, too much like those cheerful mantras intended to explain that which is better simply acknowledged.

But naming the brokenness, frailty and uncertainty of living life in these mortal bodies -- admitting that too many die young too often, that too many main and kill others too frequently, that violence interrupts our normalcy too regularly, that we hurt and get hurt endlessly? Naming it and keeping watch with that experience?

For me, it was amazing how deeply a liturgical moment like that reminded me how deeply I do believe in resurrection.