You Asked, I'm Answering
Are you sinning if you're not attending church?
Here’s another installment of You Asked, I’m Answering. Lots of questions about the local church in here so take a deep breath before you dive in:
Am I sinning by not attending church?
I find it interesting that often the people who would say that you are sinning for not attending church are often the same people who would also say “The church is the people, not the building or institution or [fill in the blank].”
The truth is that church is both a community made up of imperfect people, some of whom are trying their best to follow Jesus as best as they can with the information they have. And also, throughout history, church has also been an institution, often a powerful one in the world at large, and in these days, often a powerful one in a local community (I’m thinking especially of mega-churches that are run like businesses or churches that are built out from one individual family’s influence in a community).
Now that that’s out of the way, I would encourage you to spend some time reading some church history, even just an overview, a flyover of the last 2000+ years. Read about martyrs and saints, puritans and kings, popes and monks, pastors and mothers. Consider all the different people who have imperfectly made up this great cloud of witness. Consider how much information they had or how little. Consider the sacrifices they made to honor the God they believed asked it of them. Consider those who died because of their beliefs about baptism or communion or piety or confession or domination or service.
I cannot tell you whether you are sinning by not attending the local church, but I can tell you that you are not sinning if you are, with all the faith you have within you, trying to honor God with the life you actually have.
Here’s how this looks for me right now (it will look different for you): If I lived in a community with a church on every corner and endless options for where to attend, I would find it easier to find a place I could worship at with a full heart and faith. But I don’t. I live in a community with few churches, many of which (they or their denomination) are known more for what politics they support or how they handle sexual abuse or how beautiful their buildings are or their worship performances over how they build their lives and culture around the person of Christ. That’s not to say those who do build their lives and culture around the person of Christ don’t exist here (they do!), but we’ve struggled to find a place that exudes that. Are we sinning? I don’t think so. I think God knows our desire and our desire is good, and I think that those who would say “You should just settle somewhere and be content,” are probably more steeped in their institutional culture than we want to be.
Which leads to another question that was asked: Are you still doing a home-church?
We’re not. We were and we liked it a lot. But it always felt more like a stop-gap than an actual plan. It was during the height of Covid and we were meeting mostly outdoors and it was wild and lovely and felt like a balm to most of us. But some folks wanted to meet in a building and some folks wanted a shepherd with a seminary degree or at least a denomination and some folks wanted a priest administered bread and wine and some just needed something else for their family at the time. No one is at fault. It was lovely while it lasted and we’d be delighted to do it again if there was interest.
Let’s stay on the church roll, shall we? Another question that came in was, “What would you prioritize in looking for a church?”
I think I kind of answered this above but to be specific. We’re looking for a church that holds to a credal statement of faith, meaning, the Creeds are the immoveable doctrines, everything else is open-handed. Therefore it’s a space where conversations about second and third tier doctrines are common without marginalizing or bullying or gossiping about those who disagree. We’re looking for a place that not only welcomes both conservatives and progressives, but where conservatives and progressives themselves are welcoming to one another because they understand their personal preferences are not Jesus and therefore emulate Jesus imperfectly. We’re looking for a people (including, and maybe especially, the pastors) who lead with their weaknesses and not a performance of perfection or a sense of superiority.
The mat outside our front door says, “Come as you are,” and I would say that’s probably the kind of culture we want to be a part. I wish there was a mat that said “Come as you actually are,” because the actually part matters too.
Okay, last question on the local church and then we’ll move on. How to deal with feeling crazy for having issues with my local church?
Remember how I said above there are those who say “The church is the people…”? Well, in a sense that’s true. It’s not a good excuse though to hurt people or let hurt people go on hurting, calling them crazy for feeling that way. People sometimes hurt people. And when that happens, when we’re the one who hurt someone, we should say, “I’m sorry.” But if they’re the ones who hurt you and they’re unwilling to take ownership for that, you’re not crazy for having an issue with that. If I know a person who keeps telling me they’re sorry for telling a lie about me, but then they also keep telling lies about me or trying to turn others against me, what do I believe? I believe their actions.
So, no, you’re not crazy for believing the actions. I don’t know what issues you have with your local church, but if it’s with a single person who wants to make it right and follows through on making it right, you can work with that. But if it’s a corporate way of being, part of the DNA of their ethos, written in their bylaws or beliefs, you should believe them when they are unapologetic for being who and what they say they are. In other words, you can change your beliefs about women in ministry, for example, but don’t take issue and feel hurt when the church you belong to is complementarian in culture, beliefs, and practice. Go to another church. You’re not crazy for changing. But they’re not crazy for believing something and then doing it too.
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How about a light one? What percent wool do you look for when buying wool socks?
I only buy Darn Tough socks. Why? Because they’re the best and they have a lifetime guarantee and they’re warm and don’t shrink or stretch. So whatever percent wool they are, that’s what I buy. I also am 100% sold on merino wool undies and am slowly replacing all my old undies with new merino wool ones (they’re expensive).
What are you most/least looking forward to about Greece?
Hmmm, good question. I’m looking forward to seeing it because I never have, that’s for starters. But I’m also really looking forward to being in a place rich with philosophical and poetic history. I was a little disappointed when I knew we’d be pivoting to Greece but the more I’ve thought about it, the more excited I am about experiencing a new place with people who are excited to be there too. We’ve planned a really spacious trip with lots of room for exploration and contemplation, and I’m really excited about traveling like that. Least excited? Probably jet lag, but thems the breaks.
Books you loved in 2023?
Girl, I gotchu. A whole whopping list of books right here.
How do you deal with self-doubt as a writer?
There’s all kinds of self-doubts that could crop up. Someone might feel a sense of imposter syndrome (like they don’t deserve to be in the room), or a sense that their words don’t matter, or a deeply rooted belief that they’re not a good writer at all, or that no one cares. And to some degree, we all have to work through those feelings, no matter what our vocation or calling. They’re just things we have to learn to overcome and grow through. They’re not unique to writing.
The self-doubt that crops up for me most regularly is a sense that I’m getting it cosmically wrong somehow, that I’m saying something that is categorically untrue or wildly misunderstood or deeply improper. And the ONLY thing that has helped me continue moving through those beliefs is saying to myself, “I might be wrong here,” and actually believing it instead of just pretending I believe it. Saying that while I write or right after I’ve written helps me to prepare myself for the inevitable reality that I might have gotten it wrong. I’m prepared for the worst, I learn to say, “I got this wrong,” or “I’m learning something different now,” and sometimes even, “I wish I hadn’t said this, but I did, and now I think this.”
Say the greatest doubt you have out loud. Convince yourself it’s actually true (your words don’t matter, no one will ever read you, you don’t belong here, you’re getting it wrong), and write yourself through and eventually out of that place.
Thoughts on becoming your truer self in longtime friendships?
This is probably the source of my greatest grief over the past five or six years, so forgive me for being vague. Two of the most important values to me in relationships are intimacy and integrity, and you don’t have integrity if you’re lying to yourself or lying to another, and therefore you cannot have intimacy. So when you decide to stop lying to yourself or lying to others in your relationships, that’s going to break the false sense of intimacy you had with someone. It just is. There is no way around this. A verse I’ve held onto in the past several years is from Jeremiah, “Woe to those who say, ‘Peace, peace’ where there is no peace.” I’m an enneagram 9 so saying “Peace, peace” when there is no peace is something I’ve perfected in my life. But I only grow and mature and become more like Jesus when I start telling the truth, which means sometimes I bring peace and sometimes I bring a sword—and some friendships can’t withstand that.
Hence the grief.
I don’t know if I have a lot of thoughts for the public beyond that right now. It’s not that my thoughts on it are private or I don’t want to share them, it’s that I haven’t formed them yet. I’m still working on it.
How are your eyes doing?
That is very sweet of you to ask. Sadly, they’re not doing great. I go in for an appointment this afternoon and I’m hoping and praying (feel free to pray along with me!) that I can get either a corrective second surgery on them or that we can just screw it all and stick some contacts back in my eyes. Right now I see two completely different things out of either eye and have a low grade headache pretty constantly from trying to focus.
How can I support my divorcing mom even when I don’t support the divorce? My dad is contrite and working on it.
That’s such a great question, thank you for asking it. The best way you can probably support your mom is by asking her how you can support her. If she says, “Be on my side and support this divorce 100%,” you can be honest and say, “I am for you and I’m for Dad and I disagree with the reasons for this divorce.” She might not understand that because we prefer binary choices, but it is possible to take that position, it just takes a lot of listening and asking questions.
Secondly, though, I would strongly encourage you to assume you do not know the ins and outs of their marriage. Assuming they’ve been married as long as you’ve lived, that’s a long time and a lot of space for tiny (and major) fractures to build up. Your dad may be attempting to make amends, but a few weeks or months doesn’t undo years of damage and broken trust and destructive habits, and your mom would be right to be cautious about these baby amends. Forgiveness is like an onion and there can be a lot of layers to peel back and she deserves your patience while she peels them back.
How are you?
Thank you for asking. I mean it.
I told a far-away friend recently that I’m okay but not great. I feel a lot of sadness over the past few years in my family and community and friendships. I worked through a lot of that in The Understory but the sadness remains and I don’t know how to shake it. The truth is that I’m lonely, but I’m not lonely for superficial or wishy-washy relationships. I want the deep down stuff or nothing at all. And maybe that’s a space I need to grow in, be willing to weather the superficial stuff to get to the deep down stuff, but I just feel weary of it in a way I haven’t before.
I’m feeling sad about the state of the world right now, the horrors in Gaza and Israel, the political circus 2024 is certain to be, the absolute carnage of the church over the past few years, the climate changes, and more. I find hope outside my windows and in the face of my pup and in my quiet moments alone with God and when I listen to Nate talk about what he’s reading or writing, but other than that, I’m feeling sad about the future in a way I haven’t before.
I turn 43 tomorrow and I think a childless future (thinking more about grandchildren and older children here) makes me more sad than I felt about a babyless future. It’s hard to sometimes say stuff like that aloud, but I’m trusting you asked and you want to know. So thank you for asking, really.
Welp, this was a long one! Congrats if you made it to the end =)
Have you preordered my latest book? The Understory: An Invitation to Rootedness and Resilience from the Forest Floor?
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S A Y A B L E is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.