An open letter to a campus church. Names have been changed and protected.
I’m lying awake tonight thinking of a particular moment, standing in front of a line of judges, speaking my truth. My poem has been workshopped to death, encouraged by Pastor S. and breathed life into, through chewed up pens and hope welling up like ink…I have worked on it through depressive episodes, wanting to talk about God and life and possibility…all to be laid asunder by M__, a sneer and a scoff at the ready. M__ is not a poetry expert. He has only watched Spoken Word on Youtube. M__ considers himself to be a purveyor of fine words. He is all crossed arms and peering over hipster frames. “Let me stop you right there.” M___ says, “Your poetry has no soul. It has no heart.”
I drove back to my apartment on the outskirts of campus in tears that night, followed by more sleepless nights filtered only by deepening sadness. He attacked the one identity I felt confident as, a writer, one that I was trying to merge with my relationship to God. I was not confident, but I trusted that pastor and those judges with what I valued the most–my heart on my sleeve, an offering of words. M__basically said, your offerings aren’t good enough here.
Sad to say, I never felt worthy in the confines of that place. I knew that the church was not a building, but a people…but how the church crumbled from the Cornerstone. We lied, gossiped, and cheated. One year, I was so fed up with feeling more like a stepping stone than part of the church, I slept my life away. Entire days and hours spent staring at popcorn ceilings, an internal scream bursting in my brain. What type of Christians were we all? I had “friends” who promised to be there all the time, only to blame the collapse of other friendships on me. I had leaders who preached one thing, only to exhibit another in their lives. How weary the heart grows, how inconstant people can be.
“Train your eyes on God. Fixate not on people, because people will always fail.” It’s true. In a church system divvied up by Harry Potter-esque houses, when even leaders exhibited bias and indifference based on house unity, it was difficult to want to be a part of ministry. Even more so when leaders thrust work on you they didn’t have time for, when people don’t even bother to call you…except to ask for a ride. Bitterness, a rancid, seeping stain, soaked through my faith. Nothing mattered.
Train your eyes upon the Lord. “This table is for pimps, prostitutes, sinners, and saints. God came not for the healthy, but for the sick.” I was so sick as an undergraduate. I was so sick, yet I kept ingesting poison. Avoid the other Christians that lead you astray, that gossip and say horrible things about each other. Keep accountable with God.
In church, I was called awkward and ungraceful. In church, I was called uncreative. Clumsy. Stupid. Untalented. I was led to believe I was a failure by freshman year. I was unclean. I didn’t belong. In church.
This is an open letter to super churches, the ones who motivate and inspire but also have a hidden layer of malice through their members. Take care of your flock, the marginalized and maimed. The ones spit on and stoned. The ones others call horrible names. The ones who are talked about. I am working on forgiving. I know God is just. I know He sees all. I believe He knows my pain. I do not need to react, but I do want to share. I have been wounded trying to make my way to prayers. I have been struck down in lock-ins and walking down hallways of prying eyes. I wanted so much to belong, only to feel completely left out. “Weirdo.” “Awkward.” “Sensitive.” “What’s wrong with you?” “Stop stumbling people.” Stop. Just stop. Stop treating people you are supposed to love like crap.
There is too much world in this bitter cup. I still carry the dregs of memory with me, M__. I have held onto them for so long. You were awful. You did not speak the truth in love, nor were you acting on behalf of a Christian organization. What you wanted to do was to protect a popular image at the expense of a young voice. You wanted me to be silent, to keep quiet, to just shut up already. But let me tell you. I have found my voice again. As God is my witness, I am not done speaking my heart.
8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; 9 persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed. 10 We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. -2 Corinthians 4:8-10 ESV