Almost 7 years ago, after leaving a church experience drenched in narcissism, I wrote a post about church anxiety disorder:
“It’s kind of like hydrophobia. Say someone was out swimming in the ocean and encountered a shark… Now they find themselves unable to go near large bodies of water, even if previously they loved nothing more than to swim… They can no longer participate in these activities, much less enjoy them, because they have no idea what’s ‘in there’.”
Occasionally, I still have sightings of shark fins, accompanied by the theme song from Jaws. A post or announcement from the church I left years ago shows up in my news timeline. It’s inevitable. I have friends who are still there, and Facebook thinks it knows what you want to see.
This time, it was an announcement related to a building project they had started when I was still an early member of the church plant. (Followed, naturally, by a request for more faithful pledges of money.)
According to the announcement, the church acknowledges they “have lost some along the way.” How and why those people are gone is not addressed. They are simply collateral damage. They weren’t patient enough. They weren’t persistent enough.
“You, on the other hand, have stayed the course by exercising tremendous faith, courage, and sacrifice that will soon be rewarded. Indeed, it is you who will soon share in the joy and for the rest of your life have a story to tell of God’s faithfulness.”
“Alpha children wear grey. They work much harder than we do, because they’re so frightfully clever. I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta, because I don’t work so hard. And then we are much better than Gammas and Deltas…”
One of those quotes is from a famous dystopian novel, and the other is from the social media post. I’ll let you decide which is which.
So there I am. Hurt, angry, betrayed all over again by a community to which I had devoted several years of my life. Once again I had to remind myself that, despite what I was led to believe, I had not caused disunity by leaving – disunity was already present, and it was the catalyst for my leaving.
Or to look at it another way, it’s not that the ones “lost along the way” failed to be persistent. They were absolutely persistent in pursuing a life of faith apart from an environment and leadership that had demonstrated an unhealthy leadership style, leaving a trail of damaged former members.
I was persistent in that I stood firm in my course of action to walk away from a toxic situation, even when it would have been easier to endure, to stick around in a familiar place with familiar people.
I was persistent in that I continued to pursue faith and community tenaciously (if somewhat timidly) despite my negative experience.
I was persistent by being insistent on my right to ask questions, on my responsibility to stand up for those who don’t have a voice.
I was persistent by pursuing a practice of faith in which I listen to the doubts and questions of others, where I am open to the diversity of experiences as people walk in the spirit of god, where the power of love is prominent and the love of power is diminished.
It is solved by walking.
Sometimes it is solved by walking together.
Sometimes it is solved by walking away.
I value rootedness. But sometimes, it is necessary to transplant into healthy soil. It can shock the roots, but eventually they will take hold and thrive in the new environment.
“And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again—till next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle