The Church That is Making People Homeless

Every day I meet more and more homeless people.

It isn’t that these men and women are without a physical place to dwell, it’s that they have found themselves internally displaced. 

Presently in their spiritual journey, they’ve arrived at a spot where they realize, often with tremendous grief and a fair bit of denial—that they no longer belong where they once did. They no longer fit in American Christianity. Once fully secured there, they are now frightened refugees desperately trying to escape what their religion has become.

They may have become unwilling prodigals, forced to the periphery by the judgment and coldness of other believers.
They might have become estranged by the growing distance between themselves and those also claiming to be Christian.
Perhaps they’ve been gripped by the knowledge that they can no longer be the most authentic version of themselves in their spiritual communities.
Or maybe the election showed them a Church and a Christianity that they couldn’t recognize Jesus in any more.

Whatever the reason, these orphaned souls have lost the sense of belonging and safety they used to feel in their religious tradition or faith community—and the existential homelessness of it all is terrifying.

My Christian faith used to be home for me. For nearly twenty years, the Church was the place I felt most connected to the world and most alive in it. There in a local church and as part of the bigger global Christian community I found affinity and connection and kinship. My religion was a place of respite and shelter in the tempest, a place to pause and to breathe.

This is after all, what home is. More than merely a geographic spot on the map or a building we find ourselves in—home is an internal condition, a feeling. When we’re there, we can be exactly who we are without alteration. There in the space where we are fully seen and fully known, in the presence of those we don’t have to earn approval from or deserve proximity with—we can exhale. We can rest. Many people are exhausted right now because they no longer feel at home in the families or marriages, in their churches or faith tradition, or even in their country. Everything is laborious and tiring.

Recently, my dear friend Christy called me. Sharing the story of the last few turbulent months of her life, she echoed the hearts of so many people of faith I speak with.

“I’ve seen things I didn’t want to see, and just I can’t go back there. I have no place to go now,” she said as her voice cracked. “I don’t belong anywhere.”

This is familiar ground for millions of people right now—feeling like aliens wherever they place their feet, feeling emotionally unsettled.

It’s difficult to admit the sense of homelessness I feel regarding the faith of my childhood and the devastating loss that comes with it. It hasn’t happened in a loud, cataclysmic instant, but in a million small revelations, nagging questions, and uneasy feelings that all finally became too much to ignore. Slowly but most certainly I found myself outside.

That’s not to say I don’t still have a glowing ember of belief still tucked away somewhere in the center of my chest. That’s the problem: I do. It’s just that now I’m trying to figure out how to nurture it outside the religion of my younger days. I’m wondering if I will ever have the sense of belonging or shared purpose I had there. 

Maybe organized Christianity will never be home for me again. Given what it looks like right now, I’m more and more okay with that. It could be that from now on I am destined to be a sojourner who travels lightly and moves often. Maybe that’s how this was always supposed to be anyway. Maybe that’s the point: that this is all far too big for a building.

If you’re feeling displaced from the religion of your past, that may be a good thing.

If it feels like the Church is pushing you outside, go there.

What feels like homelessness might actually be freedom.

Maybe that wide, expansive space that cannot be contained or fenced in—is home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrie Fisher and the Dark Side of Mental Illness

AP Photo/Chris Pizzello

Carrie Fisher’s autopsy reports were released this week, revealing that at the time of her death she had a cocktail of numerous illicit and prescription drugs in her system. The news, as it always does with public figures, prompted a new wave of grief, and a fresh round of moralizing on the wastefulness of addiction and the perceived weakness of the victim; the kind of public interrogation of the dead we seem to thrive on. 

Carrie Fisher had always told us everything. She owes us nothing more than she’s already given.

In her writings and in her interactions with the press, she never denied her demons; always expressing with great candor, the pressures of celebrity and of enduring misogyny and ageism in Hollywood—all braved while carrying the massive weight and stigma of mental illness. She never shied away from letting us see her scars, even if they made us wince, even if we’d have preferred they’d stayed hidden. Mental illness is still the only kind of sickness we make people feel guilty for being afflicted with, and she was not going to apologize. She knew that it thrives in the darkness of silence and shame, and as much as she could—she let the light in.

Carrie spent her life entertaining us in her youth and trying to educate us in her later years. She is still teaching us in her passing. 

When you get to be a certain age, you realize your heroes are mortals. Watching people who inspired and entertained you as a child; people you looked up to as near-Gods, succumbing to sickness—the world loses a little of its wonder and you lose a bit of your innocence. But more than that, you recognize just how fragile each of us is; that translucent onion skin separating us from collapse, from being overtaken by the shadow parts of ourselves.

As someone who’s fought back the dark side of depression for most of my adult life, Carrie’s off-screen battles were far more awe-inspiring to me than anything she did alongside Luke Skywalker and Han Solo. She looked her illness in the eyes, then looked directly into ours and told us how much it hurts—just what kind of hell she was walking through every day. And even when she appeared to be getting the upper hand it was always a tenuous truce.

Carrie reminded us that nothing; not adulation or success or people who love you; nor any comforts found in material things or in medication, can protect you for good. Every victory you earn will be temporary, because the next day will bring new attacks and you will have to save your inner universe all over again. When you battle the demons in your own head, you can outwardly have every reason to be victorious, every advantage in the fight—and you may still eventually be overtaken. And it’s not because you were weak, and it’s not because you took an easy way out, it’s because you can’t escape you. You can never fully get out of harm’s way because you are the harm. 

People can try and parse out her life and decide what caused her death, but ultimately Carrie Fisher wasn’t an addict and she wasn’t weak. She was everything in life that she was as Princess Leia; fierce, unrelenting, and fully devoid of bullshit. She spoke truth to the demons without flinching. She took on the dark side of herself as boldly as she did Darth Vader—and she won.

With every day she lived in this place and created light for other people, she won. 

In every moment she lived unashamed of her illness, she won.

May the Force be with each of us who battle in this day.

 

 

 

Yes, I’m a Progressive and a Patriot

There’s a common assertion about of those of us who occupy some space in the political or religious Left, by our critics across the aisle or the pew: We don’t love America like they do.

The contention is that we have less respect for our Government, our troops, our national security than they have; that our religious convictions are less sincere and our spiritual journeys less valid. Everything of ours is determined by them to be counterfeit by comparison.

Because of this, our resistance to the current President,
our opposition to what we deem to be the malfeasance of his Administration,
our pushback against its apparent disregard for the civil rights of marginalized communities,
our disgust at what we see as a distortion of the message of Jesus in the Church—
are all dismissed by them as evidence of our alleged rebellion against God and country.

With stunning regularity we’re chastised: our volume is always too great, our protests always improper, our tactics always inappropriate, our timing always wrong.

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Can we do better than this, friends on the Right?

Can we stop pretending that a political party or religious tradition has the market cornered on national pride and earnest faith?

For just a minute—could you entertain the possibility that we care as much as you do?

There are few things less American, than insisting that for someone to be declared patriotic—he or she must be complementary of our leadership. That’s neither accurate, nor fair, nor acceptable. It’s also not something many of you consented to during a single second of Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure; when you continually proffered unrelenting attacks and incessant naysaying in the name of national loyalty and religious liberty. What for you then was bold opposition to tyranny—is now treated in our possession as corporate treason.

I’m sorry, but you don’t get to write our story for us.

We American Progressives, Liberals, and Left-leaning Moderates, love many of the things you do, as much as you do:

We love the Constitution—enough to demand that it be available to everyone and honored by everyone, especially those in our highest levels of leadership. No one is exempt from accountability or beyond critique. Not even a Republican President.

We love the men and women who serve our country—enough to insist that our leaders not be reckless or cavalier with their lives by irresponsibly inciting conflict in the world; by believing war should be our last resort, not our initial threat delivered in an impulsive, taunting, midnight Tweet.

We love the liberty we enjoy here—enough to be compassionate toward those who come here in fear and desperation; who brave all manner of hardship and loss to escape the kind of horrors we’ll never know—the kind that people don’t always have the luxury of waiting out.

We love the safety of our citizens—enough to ensure that all are protected from harm; regardless of skin color, religious affiliation, gender identity, sexual orientation, income level; whether these lives are threatened by terrorism—or by handguns, poverty, pollution, or even those entrusted with protecting them.

We love family—enough to fight for all of them; for those transcending traditional definitions, for every marriage defined by mutual love and commitment, for every home where children find protection and affection and belonging.

We love the freedoms forged into our nation from birth—of expression, religious affiliation, and personal autonomy, and we love them enough to demand that everyone has equal access to them without interference and without exception. 

And we who claim faith love and treasure it, because we have reached our beliefs through the same careful, prayerful journey that yielded your own. We have studied as thoroughly, listened as intently, and walked as faithful as you have. Our spirituality means as much to us as yours does to you.

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I’m over being told I don’t care about my country or that I don’t respect our Government or that I don’t love God, simply because I don’t fit comfortably within your platform or your pulpit. Having said that, protecting humanity will always supersede some ornamental national allegiance. I am primarily for people, and against bigotry, discrimination, and violence assailing them—wherever those things come from. I will oppose those injustices loudly, even if this places me in direct conflict with our President, our political leadership, or the American Church. This is what true Liberty looks like.

Friend, you can disagree with me all you want. In fact, I welcome it. You can dispute my positions and challenge my conclusions, and you can tell me you don’t like the expression of my love for this country—until Jesus comes back or FoxNews uses facts, whichever comes first.

But please don’t tell me that I don’t love this country, or that this love is somehow inferior to your own, because that simply isn’t true.

In fact, I love America—enough not to let you or anyone else decide what patriotism looks like for me.

 

My voice, as much and your own—is the sound of freedom ringing.

To My LGBTQ Friends, On Father’s Day

Dear Friend,

Father’s Day is nearly here and I was thinking about you. I was wondering what this day is like for you.

You might have a really good relationship with your father.

He might be fully present and invested in your life.
He may be supportive and encouraging and attentive.
He may be generous with his affection and effusive with his praise.
He may be your most passionate defender and your loudest cheerleader.

But I also know that he may not be all of any of those things.

There may be geographic separation or emotional distance since you’ve come out. There may have been terribly wounding words spoken to you in haste or fear or ignorance.
There may be radio silence between you two because of it.
He may have passed away before ever making peace with your truth or reassuring you of his love for you or putting words to the contents of his heart.

And so Father’s Day may bring mourning.
It may be another occasion to grieve, another reminder of the distance that exists, another day to feel the weight of the loss.
This day might exponentially amplify the hurt you feel every day.

I know I can’t erase in a few minutes the damage you may have acquired over a lifetime.
I know I can’t change your everyday reality with any magic words right now. 
And most importantly, I know that I am not your father and so there is probably only so much that I can do to renovate the broken places in your heart.

But I wanted to try.

I wanted you to hear from another father, words that if you haven’t heard from your own—you deserve to hear:

You are loved.
You are not a mistake.
You are not a disappointment.

You are original and beautiful—and just as you’re supposed to be.
You are as God intended you.
You are doing amazing things to alter this place every single day.
This world is better, kinder, more wonderful because you are here.
I wouldn’t want you to change a thing about yourself.
I am proud of you.

No matter who we are or what we become, none of us ever stop craving our parent’s approval. And no matter how old we get or what we achieve or accomplish as adults, we will always be striving, unsure little boys and girls who only want to know our daddies love us and that we’re safe.

I hope you know this assurance.
I hope you’ve heard the words.
I hope you’ve felt the embrace.
I hope this day finds you resting securely in the knowledge that in your father’s presence, you are welcomed, you are adored—you are home.

But if not, I pray that these words from another father give you a small measure of solace, a bit of hope, enough comfort to carry you through this incredibly difficult day.

And maybe a year from now, there will be reconciliation and restoration and reunion. Maybe there will be a proximity you don’t have today. Maybe a year from now you will not be hearing these words from a stranger, but from the man you most deserve to hear them from.

Love and peace to you on this Father’s Day.