I’ve been away from my hometown in Michigan for four years now, but I’m back, for at least a year.
Only it doesn’t feel like home right now.
Parts do. I get along with my parents better than I ever did, and, now that I am no longer an angsty teenager, I can see them as humans…friends even. My siblings and I are as close as ever, and even though my best friend (since we were babies) is now all married and grown up, our relationship is the same as ever. Two of our three cats still like to sneak into my room at night and curl up on my chest so that I wake up to an allergy attack of love in the morning. The third cat still hates me and everyone else and all is right with the world.
But somehow in the past four years, I lost my home church.
I don’t know how it happened exactly.
I know I’ve changed. I feel like it’s changed. Sometimes I feel that I’ve outgrown it, and other times I feel that it’s rejected me. Maybe it’s a little of both. But it’s not home anymore, I know that.
Oh, I want it to be. So badly.
See, I knew it wasn’t home from the first summer I came back from college. I knew I didn’t fit there anymore. But I stayed…and I stayed…and I stayed. I told myself I was being too selfish or too bitter. I told myself I was nitpicking or not focusing on Jesus enough.
“Stick it out,” I told myself.
“You’re not perfect either,” I reminded myself.
“You’re not here because of ____,” I said.
But after three years, I knew that staying at this church was just killing my soul.
I want to love it. I want to love it for all the people who will empty their wallets whenever another church member needs help. I want to love it for the woman who answered my prayers and put a ten dollar bill in my hand the last time I went. I want to love it for the people who will answer their phones at 3 in the morning when a teen needs a ride home from a party or just a shoulder to cry on.
There are good people there. Some of the best people. People that I still look up to and people who put this so-called advocate for social justice to shame with how much they care about those in need.
And I will never forget that when I came to that church as a misfit in high school, they welcomed me with open arms. They made me feel like I belonged somewhere–maybe for the first time in my life.
When I go now, though, I feel like a misfit again. I don’t want to, because there is good there and I want to be a part of it, but I can’t help it. I feel like I don’t belong anymore.
I feel like I could belong, if I stopped believing this or at least stopped talking about that. If I stopped being friends with those people or stopped dating this person. If I stopped asking questions and stopped having doubts and if I took everything the church leaders said at face value…
If I ignored the hurtful words of some church leaders and teachers, and the congregational “Amens!” that usually follow. The jokes about certain people that aren’t jokes. Not really. The phrases like “over-educated” and “too smart for your own good” that pierce my academia loving soul. The hateful, degrading words used to describe people I love, just because those people believe differently or have the “wrong” kind of sex. The words condemning these people that I love to hell.
I’m not sure it’s worth it.
I’m not sure I want to give up this part of me. And I know I don’t want to ignore those words anymore.
There are people there who would never want me to give up that part of me. People who love me despite my beliefs and despite the fact that I talk back when I hear these words. Those people will always be my family.
But I can’t ignore the feeling of dread I get when I walk into that building anymore.
It’s not home.
So, I’m leaving.
Hopefully on not-too-horrible terms. I refuse to ignore the hateful words and hurtful teachings that drove me away (because those words and teachings do not exist solely within this church, nor do they effect only the people within this church, and they need to be fought against), but I hope all at the church know that I will never ever forget the good.
But I have to go. After four years of trying to pretend it was home, while knowing deep down it wasn’t, I have to go.
Consider this my farewell.
I have only well wishes for the little church that I used to call home. Any criticisms I have from here on out come from a sincere desire to see all churches become more like Jesus. I hope the good in that church continues to grow. I hope the love gets bigger and stronger and that someday there is no room for hate.
Maybe someday, the doors of that church will open wide enough for evolutionists and agnostics and trans people and gays and democrats. Maybe even stubborn, opinionated, skeptical feminists such as myself.
Until then, let us part ways.
But peace be with you.