It was September 13, 2001 when the truth began to tickle in the back of my mind. Two days after the worst terrorist attack on American soil, when we all still thought it was a rescue operation, not recovery, and we gathered for our first Sunday service after the tragedy.
I remember feeling overwhelmed, completely burdened for the thousands of people we hoped were still alive, yet trapped in the rubble. Heartbroken for the loved ones waiting for news. I had become a news junkie since the first tower was hit, absorbing every story, every first hand account, every detail, trying to understand, to make some sense out of the madness and fear.
In church that day, with all my big feelings, I was bereft to discover we were continuing on as normal, as if that were a thing any of us would ever experience again. There may have been a brief acknowledgment and prayer, but then it was singing and sermon as usual.
I was shocked to my core. How can it be that people were likely struggling for breath, being crushed by the concrete upon them, hoping for escape and we were…singing? I remember sobbing in the ladies room. I was never one to keep my thoughts to myself in the face of injustice. I honestly don’t remember what was said in attempts to placate me. I just know it was not enough.
We were continuing on because it was not personal. It was not our tragedy. We didn’t know any of the victims all the way in New York City. We were Midwestern folks, after all. It was a bummer what happened to them, but we need to carry on and focus on our neighbors, to keep doing the work of the gospel.
In that moment, I first understood the cost of maintaining the status quo, of pretending holy, of keeping our lives wrapped in a pretty bow, and it was a price I was unwilling to pay. It was years of similar experiences, doubts, and observations before I could voice out loud what I now know to be true.
For too many years, my life was a dichotomy of religion and relationship. On the one hand, my church taught me how to behave, that God’s word (from the American perspective) is unfailing, appearance is everything, and questioning is divisive. On the other hand, I always had a deep empathy for people. Their stories and pain moved me. The more I understood people, the more gray I saw. Very few actually fit in the box, although many could pretend better than me.
Years of religiosity has taught me that I will never be enough. My behavior and my attitude will never cut the mustard in American evangelicalism. Never has that been more clear than now, with the ostentatious marriage of the church and the republican party, and with her obscene loyalty to its current administration.
I’ve spent the last few years sifting through the rubble of my faith, hoping to find something of value, of truth. I’ve “deconstructed” as is the common term. I’ve met so many who’ve experienced the same, but have chosen to walk away entirely. To be honest, I tried that on for size, but found faith kept pulling at me, unwilling to let me go.
I still believe. Not in the religion from which I walked away, but in Jesus and in red letters in my Bible. I believe in the One who said, “I have not come to call respectable people, but outcasts.” (Matthew 9:13b GNT) He’s my guy because I know I’m not respectable by religion’s standards. I will never come close to Pinterest perfect. I’m team outcast all the way.
I refuse to let behavior be my focus. I will no longer acknowledge impossible standards. People are what matter to me. Who they are and what they’ve experienced. Life is messy. I joke that it’s my role to make other people feel better about their own lives…which is usually accomplished if they just watch mine for more than a minute.
It’s my goal to be authentic in all things, even things that don’t follow the script. No. Especially those things. I’m learning that even in the rubble, there is grace for that.