I don’t really know what to make of the “wilderness.” I’m a bit discouraged by it, to be honest, worn down by all this wandering.
When I am most frustrated, I get up and glimpse back at the place I left: Evangelicalism. A culture crumbling beneath the weight of it’s own expectations, banishing throngs of people, men and women that no longer meet their code. Fighting, always fighting, and burning and breaking things and people. I look at it and then to the big empty space all around me. The open space of my wandering. And I hear that SemiSonic song:
“You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
It was only months ago when I declared myself done. My heart was badly broken by World Vision and the evangelical machine that rallied against me, nationwide, for about the hundredth time in the past few years. I was done with listening and “bridges” and at last, I stopped clawing for a seat at the “Table.” I thought: Have the fricken table! Who needs this table!? Who needs ANY OF THIS BULL SHIT?!?
It’s quite easy to invite people to the wilderness, but a bit different to prepare them for life out here. As for me, the wilderness has been a cloud of uncertainty. I have no rubric. No measure of where I am to turn, what red flags to look for, where to unearth all the objective truth. All I have gone on is a simplistic evaluation: Is it like the Faith of My Past? Then NO. But the problem is that since I am overly cynical and am predisposed to suspicion against wide-eyed Christians anyway, I hardly give anyone or any thought the time deserved. There have been many an author, a church, singers, even, that I have passed over and ridiculed and walked away from. I have gone so far as to research these Big Name People’s past statements about LGBTQ people and people of color and women. I’ve dug around in their politics and their denominational affiliation and their friendships with other mega-christian-leaders, and if I smell anything faintly reminiscent of EVANGELICAL, I render it worthless. Not for me.
And what this is mainly about, of course, is fear. I am afraid of getting caught up in the tide of good feelings and blissed out emotions and spiritual growth only to find out, when I’m already so far in, that I am standing on hostile ground, a place that didn’t know I was here, people who are now adamant that I leave. It’s a safety thing. And a good thing. But it can become an isolating and crushing thing when it directs the needle of my compass, out here in the wilderness. There is no sealed off, safe. There is only imperfect people who try to be better, and imperfect people who don’t.
The other day, I thought of that exquisite and tender How He Love Us song by John Mark McMillan and I immediately pushed the thought out of my mind because I listened to that song in that one church that one time, and it was thus corrupted. It was stamped and sealed by evangelical gatekeepers and the friend of my enemy is my en…
I listened to the song again, hesitantly. And as it played, I slowly rifled it out of the past memory, giving the words my full attention, letting them speak straight into my soul.
He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of his wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I Realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
We all know the words. They’ve been sung so much, by so many different artists, that they really ought to be clichéd out, annoying, repetitive, someone should’ve poked all the theological holes in this by now. But even so, for me, it was still as beautiful as the first time. It never went stale for me.
Then I went back and listened to one of my favorite Jars of Clay albums later, listened to their renditions of Amazing Grace and Come Thou Fount, because you know I love the hymns. And then I listened to a real Evangelical Sweetheart, Phil Wickham, because he once wrote a song called I Will Wait For You There and it was the song I used to listen to while I sat crying at the beach, praying fervently for a God I hadn’t heard from in awhile.
And what I am trying to tell you is that this is where I have been the last few weeks: Nowhere. Everywhere. Back and forth between the wilderness and evangelicalism.
I’ve been imagining and triangulating. Accepting that anytime the heart treks out into the world for faith in community, there is no drawn out map to follow. Safe Place and Healthy Place don’t always mean same thing, and sometimes they do, but other times, there are deep places of abundance that we skirt around and miss out on because they are connected to that leader and that theology and those kind of people. We see the smudge and write them all off.
And we turn to the wilderness and face… a blank horizon. An environment entirely dependent on an individual’s ability to seek out God in solitude and solid theology, with the right blogs, hopefully leading to a kind of community that proves it cares about them, that it is worthy of trust, and doesn’t make promises it can’t keep.
The wilderness looks different for all of us evangelical expats. Often, mine looks like nothing more than tumbleweeds barreling past me. Ideas I don’t even know how to filter yet. People I don’t know well enough to trust. A quiet prayer for movement.
And it’s where I am at today. I’m an evangelical expat, trying to build a home here in the wilderness while still visiting the old home every now and again. Sometimes bringing back the music, some good theology, and trying my best to make these gravel stones fertile ground, because, man, do we ever need it.