Evolving Faith 2018: Grief, Anger, Justice, and Hope
Last weekend, I attended the Evolving Faith conference in Montreat, North Carolina. From the conference’s website description:
Your faith is changing, and everything else seems to be changing with it—your relationships, your views on justice and social issues, your experience with the Church, your very identity.
Evolving Faith is a gathering of kindred spirits, an opportunity to learn, wrestle, worship, laugh and commiserate as we navigate this journey through the Wilderness together.
Yes, yes, and yes.
I’ve been home from the conference for a week now, and I have wanted to write about my experience there, but have been hesitant for a few reasons:
- I don’t think I’ll be able to do justice the joy, the grief, the anger, and the holiness that transpired in that room. I left that conference in some ways empowered with clarity, and in other ways even more confused about my faith.
- I’m aware of the inevitable negative reaction of those in my community who have been resistant to and disapproving of my faith shift of the past two years, and how closely it is tied to my politics and separation from the Church that was my identity for decades.
That being said, I won’t try to include all the emotions and lessons from the conference in one post. I’m still processing a lot of it, and I imagine much of what I took in will come out in more of my writing in the coming months. So today, I’ll simply write about the themes from Evolving Faith that are having the biggest impact on me today, in this moment. I’m including relevant and impactful quotes from some of the speakers at the conference.
GRIEF AND ANGER
Our grief, doubts, cynicism and anger are not a liability to Jesus- we have landed here not because of our lack of faithfulness, but because of it– Sarah Bessey
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned this year is how closely tied grief is to anger, and in a lot of instances, they are two manifestations of the same underlying emotion. I default to anger. My rage for the religious tradition that raised me is almost unbearable some days, but underneath my clenched jaw, anxiety, biting words, and disbelief is raw grief.
Grief right now is raw and real for those who grew up Evangelical. We are feeling sad, betrayed, and angry. We are still waiting for church leaders to say ‘Of course we don’t think it’s ok to separate migrant children or grab women…’ but they are not saying that. And I would rather be angry than apathetic. –Rachel Held Evans
Evolving Faith gave me the space to own my grief and anger, and not have to apologize for it or justify it in terms of a rigid interpretation of the Bible. My anger is not wrong. My grief is not wrong.
Our anger is NOT WRONG. It is not destructive, it is instructive. It is uncomfortable but not violent.- Austin Channing Brown
My anger and grief are not wrong, but I also can’t be stuck in this place with no action. And I can’t make everything about my anger, because even to sit and just be angry is a privileged position. So many POC and LGBTQ people don’t have that option.
We (POC) don’t have time for you to wallow in your anger and sit in your room and journal. You want to be sad and angry? Be sad and angry, but get off your ass and move- Sandra Maria Van Opstal
I will not follow a God who puts economic stability over the safety and inclusion of the marginalized. I will not follow a God whose main spokespeople are white, straight and male. And I won’t follow a God who tells me my anger and grief are wrong and don’t matter. Thankfully, I don’t think that’s who God is.
Grief and pain drive us to reimagine God. The Bible is story after story of people reimagining God. – Pete Enns
The main cause of my anger and grief with the church is its quest for power and nationalism over justice for marginalized people. I will never understand why so many people who love my son actively support political candidates who continue to try relentlessly to take away or cut healthcare benefits from people with pre-existing conditions and disabilities. I will also never understand those who use dehumanizing language to describe people, made in the image of God, who are fleeing violence and need asylum. And I will never understand using the Bible to demonize and condemn, rather than love, our LGBTQ neighbors.
Spiritual formation has become about our individual gain, to get us into heaven, when it is supposed to be about helping others- to be come like Jesus ‘for the sake of others’– Nish Weiseth
I have had a problem with the “personal relationship” aspect of the evangelical faith for some time now- as if my personal ticket to Heaven is what matters the most. No. the Bible is not black and white and I won’t make its words my God. I am absolutely willing to risk being wrong with details of my specific theology for the sake of justice and acceptance of the marginalized.
Western theology has been about intellect and intention, not about embodiment and action; but true worship cannot exist without justice. – Sandra Marie Van Opstal
This was convicting for me- as an introvert who loves words but not so much being out in the world with people I don’t know, I need to be intentional about putting my body (and my money) in places that promote justice.
Politics is the single largest systemic tool that we have at our disposal with which we can love our neighbor. Simply put, politics for the Christian should be institutional neighborliness– Nish Weiseth
No political party is perfect, and is made up of imperfect people. But we can’t ignore the real impact that political leadership makes, especially in today’s climate. I will vote for candidates whose policies will benefit the marginalized, not my personal bank account. And I will start paying close attention to women of color, because they are the ones leading the way.
Evolving Faith was huge, almost overwhelmingly huge. There were 1,500 attendees and at times the sheer number of those in attendance was a logistical nightmare. But, for the first time in a long time, I felt accepted, understood and at home in “church”.
Stay open to the possibility of resurrection in places you thought were dead…evolving not into someone who has better and more right answers, but evolving into someone who is more loving. -Sarah Bessey
On the first day of the conference, Jeff Chu gave us index cards to write down our hopes and fears. He collected the cards with our fears and took them back to Princeton’s The Farminary and buried them in the compost pile. His Theology of the Compost will stay with me for a long time. The fears I wrote down were “I’ll be angry forever” and “I’ll never find true community”. It’s immensely comforting to know these fears are buried and God is redeeming them as good things.
Dear Friends, here are your fears- your fears of loss, of abandonment, of being wrong, of bad parenting, of humiliation, of rejection, or failure, of not being enough, of being too much, of disappointing God, of so many other ungodly things…they are in this compost pile. I buried your fears…they are dying now, to be redeemed as good soil and new life…And you and I will keep on with the hard work of spiritual and emotional composting in our own lives, remembering that this is the story of God, who turns fear to courage, sorry to joy, death to life- Jeff Chu (on a follow up Facebook post after the conference ended)
The only thing I risk by being vulnerable and engaging in hard conversations is my ego. I won’t die. Jesus can handle my doubt, my anger, and my grief.
Your courage will be tested, but you are stronger than you think. Our faith isn’t evolving because we are contrarians, but because Jesus is changing us. Words or conflict or hard conversations won’t kill you- you can hold your conviction and not die. There is immense comfort in just doing the right thing.– Jen Hatmaker
I’m so grateful for the privilege of attending Evolving Faith and learning from such incredible leaders. I still don’t have this faith thing figured out- I don’t know exactly what I believe about God, Jesus and the Bible. I’m still angry, and I’m still grieving. I don’t know if I’m going to return to church, or if my faith practice will look like something else entirely. But I do hope to continue this process of listening, learning and evolving in the coming months. And I now am comforted to know I’m not alone.