Church and I Are on a Break. But Here Are 10 Reasons I’m Back for Advent.

I’m back at church this month because it’s Advent, and of all the seasons in the liturgical calendar, Advent is my favorite. Also, church is a tough place for me at the moment, so this is a very Both/And time for me. It’s both light and heavy to make space for church. Both a relief and a burden. Both a joy and a sorrow. I suspect that’s true for a kaleidoscope of reasons, so I keep twisting the glass ‘round and ‘round, looking at it from all the angles I can find, watching pieces slip into place only to move and rearrange themselves as soon as I shift the perspective. 

I don’t know how to adequately describe the mixture of Shy Hope and Profound Grief I feel at church these days.  In an era of American evangelicalism more defined by Donald Trump and conservative nationalism than by the life and example of Jesus Christ — and in an era when our evangelical church denomination simultaneously booted us from the fold for championing the full acceptance and inclusion of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters — I’ve been taking a prolonged break as I try to puzzle out where Love abides and whether the universal Church really plays a necessary role as I seek to live by the Greatest Commandment, that we Love our neighbors as ourselves.

Does the Church as we know it matter? Is the Church as we know it what Christ intended it to be? I’m not talking about whether Christ is viable. Or whether the complexity and tenderness and truths and horrors of Scripture are viable. I’m talking about the Church and the ways it’s twisted and deformed Christ’s message and example. Is the Church as we know it viable? Is it the very best vehicle for loving our neighbors? Are there real ways to mitigate harm and maximize good inside the structures of the Church? Are we capable of doing the kind of fearless inventory we need to do to suss out how we’ve hurt others and make substantive change? What if substantive change means opposing authority? What if substantive change means opposing denominational tradition? Are we prepared to confront that? Do we even know what repentance means?

I don’t know.

But I suspect the Church as we know it is dying. I suspect we’re feeling its death throes. And I’m far enough in the deconstruction of my theology and the reconstruction of my faith to feel like the droves of young folks leaving the Church is a good thing. An authentic thing. A longing after truth and integrity and righteousness thing. A running toward Love thing. A tired of the bullshit thing. A recognition that Love is at work in bigger and broader and more magnificent ways than the rigid and restrictive and exclusive models in which we were raised. 

And because I suspect that the Church writ large is dying — because I suspect we’re in the fiery-furnace, breaking-down-to-ash part of the Phoenix cycle — I’ve been content, mostly, to meander into my own (little “c”) church (writ small ;)) only occasionally, and I’m working, instead, on the stages of grief and the careful art of breathing through loss.  

I love the humans at my little church. In every real sense, they were and continue to be my community, made up of my dearest friends and family. They are earnest. They are honest. They are working hard together to love people well, and they are meeting real needs in our community every day. So I enter in when I can be authentic about engaging. And I trust them to be gentle with me as I come and go. At the same time, I’m trying to be gentle with myself, to acknowledge that the universal (big “C”) Church has committed atrocities in our own time, to recognize the ways the universal Church and, specifically, our former denomination has abused its power and the vulnerable among us, and not to rush myself to some sort of conclusion about the viability of the Church as I once knew it. 

I need time, is what I’m saying. And I’m taking it. But, also, it’s Advent, and Advent is a thin space for me. Advent is a time when the veil between our tangible world and the spiritual one seems to become especially ethereal. Translucent. Like a spider web with its gossamer thread, sticky enough to catch the light and the dew at the same time and hold them suspended so we can really see

I love Advent because it marries my own childhood memories to those I’m creating for my kids.

I love Advent because, in the winter, as darkness waxes and light wanes, and I’m overcome with the usual fears of children in the night — what’s in the closet? what’s under the bed? what dangers wait for me in the future that I can neither see nor adequately prevent? —  Advent reminds me that darkness doesn’t last forever. Light is on the way. Dawn is inevitable. And we’re not alone while we wait.

I love Advent for its story, set during the political occupation of an oppressed people, and for its reminder that Love belongs to the vulnerable and upsets the powerful, and that even the tiniest human, suffused with Light and saturated with Compassion and focused utterly on the Expansion of Love instead of the restriction of it, carries the potential to transform the world. 

I love Advent for its relentless hope.

I love Advent for its quiet longing for peace and forgiveness and kindness and grace.

I love Advent because it upends the neat, modern Christian narrative of a prescribed faith and a tidy set of rules that govern morality, ethics, and which of a binary set of political parties one must idolize, and instead weaves a mystical tale that elevates astrologists, and monsters from heaven (angels so frightening they open, always, with “fear not”), and fleeing refugees, and both painfully young and old, barren women as the harbingers of Divinity and agents for religious subversion and radical change. 

I love Advent even while my relationship with the universal Church remains fraught.

I love Advent because it’s like Narnia, bigger and wilder and more complex on the inside than the box that contains it. All of God — all of Divinity — all of Love and Wisdom and their unlimited potential — wrapped in the fragile package of a human infant. Phenomenal cosmic power; itty bitty living space.

I love Advent because it reminds me we’re all bigger on the inside than the bags of flesh that contain us. We’re all inhabited by Love and can choose whether or not to access and acknowledge it. Feed it and champion it. Expand it and unleash it. 

I love Advent because it embodies Mystery and Magic and Madness and Mess. Which is what this life is about, after all, and what we’re all made of. 

I love Advent because it can bear the burden of all my Hopes and all my Doubts. Advent can handle the juxtaposition of Light and Dark. Advent can embrace all my Angst and all my Strength. And Advent doesn’t balk. It just keeps coming, steady and sure despite the anxious anticipation walking alongside. It knows dawn is coming. It knows Love is on the move. And it holds my hand while we wait.

Waving in the dark to you, friends,

 

 

 

P.S. One of my very, very favorite things to do is hang out with members of our incredible, worldwide community and offer rest and respite from our regular lives. I would LOVE to have you join me. 

{HINT: A retreat is an excellent thing to ask for for Christmas! If you need more info, always feel free to contact our retreat registrar, Maggie Peterson, at petersonm1@spu.edu.}

Click here for general retreat information

Or, if you want to head straight to the registration pages, you can register via my farm website, CAIRNS FARM:

ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
4 comments
  1. You are such an amazing writer, your words are always so directly truth-filled, I love it!

  2. So beautifully articulated! Thank you for sharing. May the peace and both/and of Advent fill you up!

  3. Beth, thank you for sharing. There’s so much in your story that’s congruent with my journey, both sad & hopeful. Thank you for the reminder that Advent is holding both together. It can be overwhelming to realize the damage of destructive theology & feel as though the community of refuge (church) will never confront. It’s also hopeful knowing church exists outside of denomination, pretense, & performance and actually more authentic in the absence of such. But that it grows new & deep roots in living as our very human selves, loving & accepting the very pieces of our humanness.

    Waiving backin the dark , in hope & anticipation of a new dawn.

  4. I love you. I’ve recently stepped away from my lifelong Big C Church as well, in an effort to more closely align with the actual Christlike love I feel in my heart. I wish the Big C Church got it right more often, and their efforts used to be enough for me…I’m not sure exactly when that shifted, but I’m fully awake to it now and I find myself peaceful with the decision to step away and find my own way. Except for the times I’m not okay and this space is agonizing. Both/And. Waving back at you in the literal dark of my pre-dawn bedroom while my husband snores next to me. ❤️

Leave a Reply to Beth Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.