Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Conservative Christian's Guide to Not Sucking: Love

My first memory is of a little boy in a red shirt. My second and third and fourth memories are of church.

A lot of people are leaving the church these days, especially people my age. And honestly, I’m more likely to sleep in most Sundays.

It’s not about God. It has nothing to do with my faith.

I think it’s worse if your parents are pastors. I think it’s worse if you’re from a small church.

See, my early memories aren’t of sitting in a pew while adults drone on. I remember being in basements for Bible study, playing with doll on the floor. When I get bored they set aside their Bibles to hold me. A prayer meeting turns into a birthday party, with a Barbie princess themed cake. The people at church often babysit me. I love them. They’re my friends. They’re my family.

And then they’re not.

That’s the problem with being the pastor’s family. You’re born into it, and you don’t realize what it means. Not until it’s much too late.

There will always come a time when you are set apart. Something in the church goes wrong. Your family has to move on. You have to leave. And they never call, and on the streets when you see them they don’t smile, and everything is over. Everything is gone.

You grow up, and you move far away, and you go to a church where you’ve never been what you always are—the pastor’s daughter.

And you stay there for months, and no one even learns your name, and you realize things will never be the same.

These people don’t love you. These people are not your family.

And even if they were, what then? What’s the use in loving, when the people who love you always leave?

I have plenty of good church memories, but they always end when people ditch me, and everything is tainted by the sting of abandonment and betrayal. And it’s been eight years but I still don’t quite know how to forgive. And I’m so afraid to let a church be my home again, because it hurt so much when I ended up alone.

So. A word of advice for those concerned about young people leaving the church: if you remembered how to love us every day, maybe we wouldn’t have to leave.

You cast us aside so easily.

The second church family I lost, it was because some people were mad at my dad. It was nothing even to do with me. But they vanished from my life like I was nothing.

I wasn’t allowed to go to a movie theater until I was eleven, because someone at church disapproved, which is unimportant in the long run, but it’s always troubled me.

I thought you loved me. You thought the big screen was sinful.

I never expected any of you to be perfect, but eight years later I’m still stumbling beneath the weight of the pressure that was the unspoken center of my childhood. Be good. Be better. Be perfect. Be the kid that all the other kids can look up to like their parents look up to your dad, and the moment either of you fails to be flawless enough all bets are off.

Here is the thing you have to understand: you drive us away.

Your response to mistakes and disagreements is rejection. Every time.

Here is what the church becomes to me, on a Sunday morning as I think of getting up and dressed and going. Church is about being turned away at the door because your skirt is too short. It is walking in with tattoos and shoddy clothes, walking right out again to escape the disapproving, judgmental, even frightened stares. It is your baby left undedicated because you are an unwed teenage mother. It is a pastor refusing to perform a marriage because it will never last. (Forty years later they prove him wrong.)

What we learn from our mistakes in church is mostly that Christians cannot be trusted. It has little to do with God.

How can you honestly say you want to reach new people  when you actively drive away the young and confused ones you already have? We were born in the church. You never even had to reach us. You only had to keep us. And you failed.

I used to take unconditional love for granted. Now, it mostly makes me laugh, since it’s either that or cry.

I would love to be in church on Sunday. Give me a reason. Give me love. Give me trust. Make me feel safe, and maybe I’ll come back.

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