It’s been two weeks since our little girl was born and I have checked out of normal life as we know it. Tons of text messages have piled up, emails galore, and I would have no clue as to what is going on in society expect that I did a quick glance at the news over the weekend, and oh my gosh, it feels like it’s gone to hell in a hand basket.
This is why we can’t have nice things, people.
I didn’t look long as I much prefer the world of newborn snuggles, random sleep schedules, and being a family of four. But I know this isn’t realistic, and that some of us may need a bit of direction in this mess. I’m not here to tell you what to think about the refugees (although you know I have something to say about that) or anything else, but this post, this is about find those that are like you so you not longer feel like the crazy one.
It’s about how to navigate this new look of Evangelical Christianity that you may is no longer home. It’s about how to find those that are thinking like you, but still need the voice of those that aren’t. It’s about how to start something that matters, with people whose hearts beats the same as yours. And it all boils down to one thing:
look for the Canaries.
When I was doing my undergrad work, a big bunch of us got together and started this Bible study on campus that soon exploded and boomed and it was amazing to watch. We went from 10 people to over a hundred, met at ten at night, and we discussed Scripture, worshiped together, and formed a real, tight-knit community. All on a secular campus.
We were a bunch of like-minded individuals that wanted to see God move on our campus and in our lives, and we wanted to know more about what it meant to follow Jesus. All of this was good until we were introduced to the ever messy and present challenge in Christianity: doctrines, interpretations, and the like. As our knowledge began to grow, so did our curiosities and like all true introspection, it led to a different path for each of us.
For me, personally, I began to look at Jesus within the context of the world religions, different cultures, and people. I was a Religious Studies major, so this was a natural progression for me. I loved researching other religions, their practices and cultures and finding the beauty in them, while holding their theology up to Christianity and dissecting the differences. It was the comparing and contrasting of these different theologies that made Christianity make sense to me. For the first time in my life, I felt like I understood Christianity and believed it and wanted to live it out not just because it was my family background, but because I was able to see it in a new light. For me, dissecting Scripture and exposing my fears, doubts, and places that I (still) don’t understand, made my faith stronger.
My husband’s experience was much different. As a Business and Finance major, plus a talented musician, he found meaning and purpose in his faith through exploring music as a form of worship, and how one can use their skills and ideas to create things for good. Social entrepreneurship had become his jam, while exploring what it means to tune our hearts to what the Spirit is doing through sounds, silence, and listening to the voices of culture and tradition. Another friend’s experience stemmed from her love for media, and another film. While still another in video-gaming, political policy, and even dance.
We each dug deeper into the naturally progressing grooves that our brains were wired for. Which, of course, brought a new richness to our discussions and the way we viewed specific passages of Scripture, teaching dynamics and the like. We would stay up late and discuss different doctrines, opinions, thoughts, experiences, and we never anded much on anything. Except that we all cared enough to discuss and at times, when needed, get passionate.
Yet we remained friends.
In the wee hours of the night, we learned the graceful art of listening, of self examination, and of the uncomfortable place of sitting in the tension of not knowing the answers. I hold this memory dearly because now aways it seems like we all must have an answer for everything. There is a certain pressure to have it all worked out, and worked out so that it’s pleasing to the masses. While there may be room for different opinions and questions, within Evangelical Christianity, there doesn’t seem to be acceptance.
We are all Digging for Something
To this end, I have been on a decade long journey to find acceptance. It started because I wanted to mega church to hire me, then the church staff to recognize my gifts, and finally, a few select people whom I looked up to to stamp their approval rating on me. But ten years later, I can honestly tell you that was a dead end. Seeking my Scriptures for the approval of men won me nothing except a wad of messed up theology in which I switched my views according to the guest list, and ended up not being able to explain or think about anything logically.
I began to shy away from the type of discussions and friendships that were so life-giving in college and exchanged them instead for a cheap form of conversation and discussion; the type that looks a lot like friendship and growth but actually is just there to kill time and fill in the gaps. It was easier for me to pretend than to face the voice inside me alone.
But this wasn’t sustainable or nourishing, and I needed more; so I began digging. I began really quietly, all by myself and then I slowly opened up these questions to my husband. I was nervous and afraid that my questions would expose some sort of flaw, but he welcomed them openly. The first few months of this was a bit like walking on shifting ground. How open could I be? Does he have the same thoughts? What if we don’t agree? (I’ll write a follow-up post on this topic next because navigating these waters with you spouse can be tricky, it can be life-giving and full of growth, but tricky).
I was digging. And then he joined me. And we dug together. We used all the ways that we normally did to find answers we were looking for: we sought books, Scripture, prayer, and asked trusted friends. But the whole thing, for me, was riddled with anxiety and fear. I knew the formula to find answers so well, but it was working. The answers I needed were not found within the normal step by step process, because they weren’t answers that I could find alone. Or even with just my husband.
The questions we were asking were so much more than thoughts or a fill in the bubble on a multiple choice test. The answers that we were seeking involved our whole selves,they involved our hearts, our experiences, they begged for the experience of others, and for a genuine “working out”. These questions and thoughts needed much more than just digging; they needed community and oh boy, they needed wrestling.
What we were missing was a group of people that we were safe enough to wrestle with, yet remain in community.
Look for the Canaries
Back in the old days, when miners would go down underground for a day full of digging, they would do so knowing they were entering dangerous territory. One of the biggest issues down in the mine was the air quality. If too many chemicals were released, then those miners were in trouble, as they would not survive for a long time in these conditions. So, they would bring a canary in a cage down in the mine with them. Canaries are known for their songs, and down in the mine, while the miners were digging and digging, the canaries would be in their cages, singing. Non-stop singing. If the air quality did get poor, the canaries were the first to feel the effects, and would stop singing.
When their songs were silenced, the miners knew it was time to high tail it out of there in order to save their own lives.
My life and faith that was built on digging for answers, alone, in the dark of the cave, surrounded by others merely getting the job done. And then when the air quality got too bad, and the climate of my life was no longer livable, I had to abandon these methods and find something new. I began looking for the canaries. I began searching for the people that were having these discussions, but were singing all the while. I looked for the bright yellow bird admit the miners covered in coal.
Instinctively, I knew there was something different about these people: they found a song in the midst of their questions, their faith, and their journey. They were singing above the surface of the deep, and were the first to know and recognize theology that was riddle with people pleasing and doctrines that were wrapped up in limitations.
I realized very quickly that the biggest part of my struggle was not that I couldn’t find answers, it was that I was approaching it the completely wrong way. I realized that I felt like a misfit among the miners because I was. God did not wire my brain and heart to simply dig, looking down and never up, in silence as if to get a job done. No ma’am. He has wired me differently; to stick out, sing a song, and be vigilant when it feels like things are going the wrong way. He wired me to search differently, to find peace in the midst of the unknown, and to go about searching in a way that was marked by freedom not by merely finding answers.
And I suspect many of you are like this, too.
The very reason we were given the gift of the Holy Spirit is for active discernment and understanding of the climate around us. We were given joy and freedom to sing in the midst of questions, but to warn others when the lives of others are at stake; effectively to bring about justice and peace where people can’t breathe. This can be literally and figuratively: people’s souls and hearts are often dead even though their bodies are alive. We were designed to warn the masses when things are going hay-wire, and find discussion and community and solutions as we bring about wrestling, discussion, and self examination.
Don’t get me wrong, we have been designed to do this thing together. We can not ditch the miners for their digging has valuable information. But as you find your place, look for the canaries. They will be like you: signing a quiet yet steady song designed to bring about justice and peace to hurting people. Find them. Go to them. Plan a meeting, a lunch, a…anything. You all need each other. I need you. We need each other.
When you find yourself asking questions that no one else seems to be asking, or when your thoughts on a subject are the exact opposite than those in your circle, or you find a deep burden for a group of people who need a voice, know this: You are not alone. You are not crazy. You, my friend, are a canary. You are not a messy person in a world that has it together. You are in a messed up world, and you are paying attention. You are listening to cues, and you are sensitive to the air quality. You care enough to rescue your brothers and sisters when their lives are at stake.
And all the while, you are singing.