“I heard God in the words of people who did not look like me and were not from my denomination and whose stories were very different from mine. I need their stories to understand my own.”
by Asher O’Callaghan ELM Program Director
Why Christian? In the midst of everything that might be wrong with the church, why do you still call yourself a Christian?
About a week ago, I gathered at the Why Christian? Conference with about 1,100 people to pray, sing, and hear one another’s testimonies. Because ultimately, as Christians, we believe that our stories are all bound up in one another’s. My faith can’t survive in a vacuum of individual spirituality. We need each other. As Nadia Bolz-Weber put it, “faith is a team sport, not an individual competition.”
Reconciliation, conviction, and fire
And sometimes, especially in church, that means that there has to be a whole lot of reconciliation and forgiveness. Anna Keating confessed, “Going to church is hard because it is an act of self-accusation.” I needed to be reminded by Rachel Held Evansof “God’s annoying habit of using people and methods we don’t approve of” as she recalled how a conservative youth minister showed her the love of Christ and encouraged her leadership in a congregation where women weren’t really supposed to lead.
I needed to be convicted. To hear Onleilove Alston testify to the Hebrew and African roots of her faith as she told us, “I am a Christian because God is not a white man and the white man is not God.” I needed to hear the voice of Neichelle Guidry as she talked about how Jesus got her through a divorce, how he told her to “Go on! Don’t stop here in a broken place. Go! There’s more to your story than this.” I needed to hear Jeff Chu contrast toxic masculinity with vulnerability showing us that, “The devil’s nastiest lie is that we should choose our pain and shame over God.”
I needed some fire from the Spirit. I needed to hear Jenny McBride‘s story of doing prison theology courses with death-row inmate Kelly Gissendaner who was executed while singing “Amazing Grace”. How in the midst of the spirit of fear, death, and oppression that cages people, “hope is protest.” And I needed to be reminded by Sandra J. Valdes-Lopez that, “our story of faith does not begin or end in the pain or violence of the crucifixion.” I needed to hear Rachel Kurtzsing with all the soul that’s it’s possible for a voice to carry. And I needed to be sent out with a challenge from Rozella Haydée Whiteto work for repentance and change in a church that has been awfully late to speak up, notice and name the racism that is behind the violence against people of color in our country.
Christ is in our differences
The whole conference was a reminder to me of what church is all about. Church is what happens when we gather. When each of us shows up in the fullness of who we are. When we bring all of who we are to the Table, the God we hold in common shows up in all we have to learn from one another’s differences.
I heard God in the words of people who did not look like me and were not from my denomination and whose stories were very different from mine. I need their stories to understand my own.
The whole Church is blessed by our differences. Difference, for me, is where Christ most often shows up. Not in comfortable conformity. Difference is why I can’t be a Christian all by myself. My family and friends share far too much in common with me for our own common good. I need Christ, I need the Church, to keep turning me outwards. Something is missing if everyone at the Table is the same age, or cultural background, or race as me.
For those of us who are LGBTQ, it also means that our stories and voices are needed. Our sexualities and gender identities are part of what we bring to the Table. And when we bring all of who we are to the Table, others are freed to do the same.
So bring it all.
Asher is a Christian because of you all. Your faithful fabulousness inspires his. He was a speaker at Why Christian? and while in Chicago also got to do lots of other fun things like: Hang out with Proclaim member and Director for Worship Formation and Liturgical Resources at Churchwide, Rev. Kevin Strickland; Meet Christephor Gilbert (ELM’s Communications & Development Coordinator) in-person for the first time ever; And attend his first ever ELCA Conference of Bishops. Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton complimented his shoes! Twice!