Feeling like an outsider in church

I used to go to a little Christian school. Now I go to a bigger Christian school.

But more about me has changed than just that. I think differently about alcohol and my sister and chewing on your nails than I did when I was 8. I have different opinions on John Piper and the Methodist church and the education system than I did when I was 13. My understanding of hell and grace and sin are different than they were at 16.

I don’t think this is because my convictions are weak. I think this is because I’m a better listener than I once was. I think this is because I have walked around with my eyes open and what I saw made me think differently.

In a thousand and one ways, I belong in the church. I was born into it, raised up in it, baptized, fed, confirmed. The cracked tile floors of the Fellowship Hall, the gentle curve of the alter rail, the coffee-stained scent of the outdated kitchen — this is my place.

But sometimes I don’t feel very at home. Sometimes, when I’m listening, I hear things that make me fold into myself. Sometimes I hear people talk about others who believe hell is not a place and who think the death penalty is inhumane. And the things these people are saying are about me, and they make me feel like a stranger. An unwelcomed stranger. An enemy, even.

When we treat our own family like strangers, why do we ever expect strangers to join the family? I’m an insider who knows the Apostles’ Creed and was equipped with many colored bead bracelets to convert all the non-believers over the years. This is my territory, and it feels like an enemy minefield at times.

And the hardest part is this: the solution starts with me. Because when I accuse you of doing exactly what I myself have done in the past, of being what I have personally been, the problem is perpetuated and the answer is even further out of our grasp.

As tempted as I am to draw up battle lines and stand with my dear friends who are misunderstood or never even given a chance by the church, I know this only does us all a disservice. So I will stay with the church. I’m not giving up on it. I am the church. But I am also the outsider, and I refuse to turn off the parts of my mind that fundamentally disagree with the church, even if that’s the only way to feel accepted by it.

Some (or a ton) of my opinions are different now. And next year at this time, I will probably have a different conception of God than I do currently. He is mystery and poetry, and the closest thing we have is just metaphor. So I’m learning and always changing and walking, and I’ll keep going.

I hold firmly to hope, even when I’m strung out and sick of it all, because I think that, when we are radically honest with ourselves, we all have little bits of outsider in us—dissonant beliefs, serious questions, and in this way, we have a base similarity.

Grace is that Christ would invite us in anyway.

Guy is a junior majoring in psychology and family & human services. She can be reached at guyln@jbu.edu.