Rage, a Bike, the Wind, and Jennifer Knapp by Charis Weathers

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Rage, a Bike, the Wind, and Jennifer Knapp
By: Charis Weathers
 
My young adult years were wrapped in a smothering blanket of shame. I knew I was attracted to girls, and I knew both church and culture said that attraction was depraved. If I had gotten into a relationship with a girl in my teens or twenties I’m not sure I would’ve survived my own self-hatred. 
 
My connection with conservative evangelicalism was my only way to get in good with God. If my behavior ticked all the “good” boxes, if I shared my faith, if I just didn’t act on my attractions then I could counteract my inherent badness, the sin of my very existence. 
 
After a near break-down I was forced to get some therapy, which, thankfully, took the edge off of my shame. I made peace with my attractions, and I began to actually like the God that had been served to me as so wrathful. So much so that I felt an urgent pull toward seminary; the theology of the conservative organization I was working for just wasn’t enough anymore, but I didn’t even have the language for “why” it wasn’t working. 
 
My ordination, a year after seminary, was in a not-quite-as-conservative denomination. The next year I met a woman with whom I fell in love. She fell in love with me, too. The problem was that both of us were pastors in denominations that were not okay with our love. We struggled, we tried to hold our alignment with the moral statements of our ordaining bodies, and we spun on in a cycle of attraction/pushing away. 
 
After I left my denomination over women in ministry (women “could” be lead pastors, but it was super rare that any were), I was happy to move to Seattle, move in with my love, stew about my pastoral calling, and work at REI. On days when I had the time and it wasn’t raining I’d ride my bike the 30 miles to work. 
 
It was 2010, and Jennifer Knapp had just come out. In my world, this was a complete bomb. She had been a contemporary christian music rockstar who had fallen off the face of the earth for several years. It turned out she was in Australia with her female partner. People burned her CDs, castigated her, said she was going to hell as was anyone who continued to listen to her music. 
 
I bought her album, “Letting Go,” and I’d listen to it on my bike rides. Two hours of hearing Knapp sing about her rage with the church, her uncomfortable acceptance of herself, and her love for a wonderful woman. When no one was around I’d sing at the top of my lungs, push hard on the pedals, and scream at the church, the culture, those who wanted me to feel shame.

There are so many great songs on this album; the one that had me singing the loudest was “Inside,”
I know they’ll bury me
Before they hear the whole story
Even if they do, well I know they won’t care to
Chalk it up to one mistake
Or God forbid they give me grace
Well, who in the hell do they think they are
Oh, I’m the one who keeps it on the inside
Locked away from judgments wrong
Oh, I’m the one who keeps it on the inside
So they’ll leave me alone
Leave me alone
I know they’ll bury me
Alive
Even though I’ve got conviction
Even though I’ve got pride
I know they’ll bury me, they’ll bury my alive
 
I’d ride, breathless, waving my proverbial fist at the evangelical institution that made me hide, made me choose counseling or self harm, made me obsessed with following rules so God would like me a little more.
In “Dive In” I began to understand the spiritual limitations of anti-gay rhetoric in the church,
I’m tired of choking in
The shallow waters I’ve been in
I’m ready to baptized
By water and blood come on push me under
I’m so tired of standing on the edge of myself
You know I’m longing for it
To dive in
Dive in
 
I DID long to dive into something more free. If one explores Knapp’s pre-2010 lyrics you’ll find quite a bit of torment. From “Undo Me,” to “Refine Me,” 
Lord…
Come with your fire, burn my desires
Refine me
Lord…
My will has deceived me, please come free me
Refine me
 
Yet the deception was with what we’d been told. It wasn’t our will, we didn’t need to be refined. We needed to be released into the wider understanding of the love of God. To let go of that which hindered, of those who hindered. 
 
As the wind whipped at my face on those bike rides I could feel myself changing, beginning to push back, beginning to live.
 
 

 
 

 
 

 
Charis Weathers (she/her) is the pastor of Burlington Lutheran Church in Burlington, WA. A former mission developer who started Echoes Bellingham, she delights in experimenting with new ways of being and doing church. Partnered with Deborah, they love to explore the northwest by foot, boat, kayak, and in her mini camper, Nemo. 
 


 
 

2 Replies to “Rage, a Bike, the Wind, and Jennifer Knapp by Charis Weathers”

  1. I am a Universal Sufi who gets cringy with the “label” Christianiy so I call it The Way like first followers of Christ did. My Twitter bio says I walk The Way of Jesus’ Radical Love, Compassion, Mercy and Inclusion. I find it abhorrent that a group of Christians have shunned God’s people, sometimes pushing them away from God.

    In universal Sufism, the founder says nature is the Sacred Book. Of course bike riding with ruach and Shekhinah can heal us, God is always with us. Dont walk awy. Sin means distance so know you ate embraced by Love’s Inclusion.

  2. Charis’ story resonates, deeply.
    I grew up in an evangelical church. Be perfect and without sin and God will love you, well, that is until you screw up again. One Sunday, in my never-ending quest to find a church in which I could feel at least some semblance of comfort communing with God, I found myself in Ryan Meeks’ Eastlake Church near Bothell, WA. He began his sermon with something like, “Today we are going to talk about a difficult topic, homosexuality.” I was about to get up and leave, again, heartbroken. Then, my world was rocked- Ryan Meeks affirmed gays in the church, apologized for all the damage done, and accepted us, US. I didn’t realize that week there had been an article in Time magazine where he was mentioned as one of the first evangelical pastors affirming gays.
    I sat back in my chair and this warm peace flowed through my body. It was then I realized that this was the first time since I was 14 years old that I felt equal, accepted, the same, and as worthy and valued as any other person sitting in that congregation. I was then quickly overcome with sadness and anger
    – realizing that I had never before named that feeling I always had in the evangelical church…the feeling of, ‘less than’, ‘second rate’ ‘steerage section.’
    I had to sit back and think- is that ever how Jesus would want me to feel, would He want anyone He loves to feel that way?
    I had listen to Jennifer Knapp’s music for many years and then she disappeared. The lyrics always resonated with me and I was sad she was no longer making music. Again, my world was rocked when she came out as gay and put out her first album in some time ‘Letting Go.’ I think I probably wore out my copy of that CD!
    It was a powerful moment that someone could stand up to the evangelical church and live and be exactly who they were with strength and pride. It was a testimony. It was a confirmation. Thank you Jennifer Knapp for your strength and courage…and for making some incredible music!!

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