An Open Letter to the Church: How to Love the Cynics

how to love the cynics

You should know, first of all, that there’s no quick-fix here. There are not ten steps. There is no program that you can implement, no “Young Adult” class you can start.

This is not about your building or your music or your PowerPoint slides.

There is not a trendy foyer in the world with the power to bring us wandering back.

After all, there’s not much you can say to us that we haven’t already learned in some Sunday School classroom somewhere. We know the Bible stories. We heard them over and over, year after year until they became part of our blood, part of our bones.

We’ve heard a thousand sermons. We recited Scripture on Wednesday nights and earned shiny little jewels for plastic crowns. We know the “right answers.” We know the Ten Commandments and the Fruits of the Spirit and how to “lead someone to Christ” with five Bible verses and a three-minute testimony.

We left quietly at age 14 when we joined the drama club, and it felt more like family than youth group ever did. We left in a huff at age 17, angry and rebellious, slamming the church door behind us. We left at 19 when we gave in to passion in some parked car somewhere – left after a dozen sermons and well-meaning Christian speakers told us that in surrendering our virginity, we had surrendered our worth. That we were broken beyond repair.

We stayed the course for a long time. We led the small groups, sang on the worship team, and you told us that we would change the world for Jesus. And then we went to Christian college, where people looked at us side-eyed and dared us to prove our faith. We turned inward, faded out, faded away.

 

We left after long hours praying for healing that never came. We left when the Christian Girls and the Mean Girls were the same girls. We disappeared into Depression. We walked out of a funeral service of someone too young, and we never stepped foot in a church again.

We left for a hundred different reasons, none less real or important than the other.

Once, we believed quickly and entirely, our faith in the church people and in God all tangled into each other. We believed that you who loved God would be different, and no one ever confessed that Christians are broken too. We felt the knife-stab of hypocrisy at some point, and it is a wound that never really healed.

So we sit, arms crossed at the edge of it, hypersensitive to your failures and your faults. We have spent the last several years honed in on our bullshit detectors, critical and cautious. We are constantly aware of the darkness: yours and ours. The whole wide world, broken and dying, hurling herself into the abyss.

We hear your bewildered conversations about how so many of us have left the church. You are head-scratching, writing books, trying to pinpoint the problem. You are feeling powerless to stop the mass exodus of a generation.

You are looking at your church bulletin, wracking your brains, trying to figure out what you could offer us to make us come home.

But this is not about a program. We will see right through that flyer you stick in our mailbox. We have been bait-and-switched before, and we’re suspicious. We were raised on a steady of diet of ads and commercials, after all – we know when you’re trying to sell us something.

We need you to fight for us.

We need to be more than a number, an attendance card in the offering plate. A statistic.

We need you to come to where we are.

Come out of the church offices and the Christian bookstores. Turn off the local Christian radio station and hear us.

(Sometimes, I think that’s all it would’ve taken for me. Some church stranger to sit down next to me and just say, How are you really doing? Not, You really ought to join the women’s ministryNot, Just get plugged inJust How are you doing? Just someone interested in just listening. Just someone to mean it.)

We can see through every trick, and we are not looking to be someone’s success story. This will not be a quick fix; you can’t just slap a little redemption on this mess and call it good.

We need you to sit with us in the mad season for as long as it takes. We need to hear your stories – the messy ones, the hard parts. We need you to tell us the pain of it without skipping ahead to the happy ending.

Maybe we can face our darkness if you are honest about yours.

We are weary and bitter and deeply broken. We can see through everything…

Except for maybe love.

cynics 2

And this probably won’t look like revival. It won’t look like much at all, and we need you to be the one group of people in this whole appearance-driven world who are okay with that.

We need you to measure your success not in results but in faithfulness. In coffee cups and late night phone calls. In glasses of wine and sharp fragments of story.

We need every single one of you. We need you brave in the face of our anger, kind in the midst of our bitterness. We need you every day. We need you here not there.

We are tired and we are cold, and we are looking for a reason to come.

Be the reason.

Light a candle. Take our hand, and walk with us.

Remind us what Jesus looks like: arms open, eyes full of love. Help us see him there, sitting with us in the anger, waiting.

Help us. Love us. Join us. And, maybe, we’ll find our way home.

  • http://www.isaacjamesbaker.blogspot.com Isaac James Baker

    Hey Addie, interesting post. You’re correct that religious institutions need to change a lot of the aspects of their approach if they’re going to: a) win back people who have left the church or b) win new converts, or both. And perhaps much of the “mass exodus of a generation” is due to the fact that individuals are struggling with the way churches get out their message (which you detail very well in this post.) As a skeptical person (yes, I’ve been called cynical, but I’m still not sure of the label), I think that much of the exodus you’re talking about may not have to do with the tone of the message, but perhaps skepticism of certain claims the messengers make about the world, their basis for morality, the afterlife, etc. I’ve been confronted by many varieties of well-meaning Christians who do a wonderful job portraying the selfless love of Jesus. They want to share his story, and I think that’s great. It’s a great story and should be shared. But that doesn’t mean I’ll be taking a seat in the pew. Studies show that young people (and I’m talking about people much younger than my old self) are increasingly moving away from identifying themselves with an organized religion. And if the diagnosis of a church’s health is based on amassing new members who actively join or sign a statement of belief or undergo some religious ceremony or ritual, then I think many churches are not going to fare well in the future. All that said, the line that stuck out to me the most was: “Maybe we can face our darkness if you are honest about yours.” You’ve made a statement about both the central importance of honesty and about the need to face harsh realities. Both individuals and institutions need this if they are going to betaken seriously. Great point.
    As always, Cheers!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for the great thoughts Isaac. I always love hearing your take on things. I understand that people leave organized religion for a variety of reasons; I guess I’m just trying to take on one of them here: I’m writing for the people who want to believe but can’t rationalize the love of Christ as taught in the Bible with the hypocrisy they see in the church. I know it’s not the whole story, but it’s the story I know best.

  • Becca Kempe

    Amen. You capture the pain and longing behind the cynicism so beautifully.

    “Maybe we can face our darkness if you are honest about yours.”

    I wish that I could find that at church right now, but for now, it’s enough that I can find that honesty and kindness here.

    Thank you for writing.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Becca. So glad that this can be a safe place for you in your search.

  • http://www.stillhatepickles.com Kirsten Oliphant

    This is really powerful, Addie. I would like to think that I am a come and sit kind of person, a person who isn’t living in a bubble. At least, that’s the person I strive to be.

    I think this made me realize how many more people maybe are out there desiring that, needing that. I had different church experiences than some of these, yet saw some of the same things in other christian groups, sometimes even in my own heart if I wasn’t paying attention to what the gospel really said. I think that this is a call that churches, within the walls and pews, need to hear. Thanks for writing it.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks Kirsten. I love how you noted that you could see these same things “sometimes even in my own heart if I wasn’t paying attention to what the gospel really said.” Beautiful take on this.

      And I feel the same way too. I feel like I’m shedding my cynicism a little bit more every day, but I don’t ever want to forget what it’s like to be exiled in your own anger. I want to be the kind of person who goes and listens and offers a way back.

  • Bethany

    All I can say is a resounding Amen.

    • Tracy

      Ditto! Just excellent.

      • Addie Zierman

        Thanks so much you guys.

  • http://thesesquarepegs.blogspot.com/ Liz Myrick

    As one who left, I see myself in so much of this. And as one who came back, it is a striking reminder of how important it is to remain vulnerable and honest and more invested in the people than the trappings of church.

    • mallory.pickering.5@facebook.com

      People vs. trappings. Damn that’s good.

      • Addie Zierman

        Agreed. Perfectly said, Liz.

  • Jen

    Amen. And while we’re at it, could you try not measuring “success” at all? Just enter a risky relationship with me, willing to see my yuck without returning aside in embarrassment. Xo

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes. “Success” is a bit of a troubling concept when it comes to faith, isn’t it? Leads down some dark roads.

  • http://Www.underconstructionpaper.com Celia

    “(Sometimes, I think that’s all it would’ve taken for me. Some church stranger to sit down next to me and just say, How are you really doing? Not, You really ought to join the women’s ministry. Not, Just get plugged in! Just How are you doing? Just someone interested in just listening. Just someone to mean it.)”
    This struck me, not just for the cynical, but also for the hurting. During the most difficult season of my life, my church friends were full of advice and to do lists for how I could fix it all. I know their intentions were good, but it was alienating and hurtful. I just needed a friend to be comfortable with my pain, to sit with it, to listen, to love. I love your posts, thanks for sharing your journey.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Celia. Yes — it was so much about hurt then for me. Amazing how quickly hurt scabs over into cynicism.

      • http://leadcharities.com David Sena

        Celia,

        “Comfortable with pain”. I appreciate this insight. Very challenging for me to be comfortable with the pain for others. I am a fixer and an encourager. I am learning sometimes the “fix” and “encouragement” is silently being there.

        • leda buller

          Right on! For us problem solvers it is hard to keep hands off the particulars; hard to learn to speak to hurt and pain without trying to give advice; hard to define “trust” in God in a way relative to the situation – especially when we aren’t convinced ourselves. “We are frail,” I pray, “and because we have tried everything else and only You are left standing, we try to leave our desparation with you as best we can.”

  • Mark

    The church needs to repent of not asking people to come and die, and instead trying to advertise itself and becoming just another thing for people to buy and consume. The fact that it did that made a church of consumers, which results in all of the things that happened on *both* sides of this atrocity.

    • Lori Pollard

      Mark,
      Wow. Direct and brutally honest. I agree. It wasn’t until I faced down (and continue to) my own demons while part of the mega-church cannon fodder, that I could hear the call to come die. Only in death of self have I found His Life.

    • Stuart

      It used to be “all about programs” but now it is “all about relationships” and very few seem to see the danger that the false god of Consumerism may not go away but simply change costumes. That god spent time selling a generation the idea that the solution to all of its problems was to fill the hole in the human soul with programs. A quick costume change may result in selling another generation the idea that the solution to all of its problems is to fill the hole in the human soul with relationships.

  • http://katieleigh.wordpress.com Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams

    So powerful, Addie. Thank you for these words. And for those of us who have struggled but never quite left, thanks for the reminder to be a certain kind of person.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes. Trying to remind myself as well. It’s so easy to forget how hard it was. What, exactly, you needed in those dark times. But so much depends on whether we remember.

  • Chelsie Crook

    You have put words to the ache in my heart. Thank you.

    • Addie Zierman

      So glad, Chelsie. Thanks.

  • http://www.thewartburgwatch.com Dee Parsons

    Awesome post. Thank you.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thank you Dee.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com HopefulLeigh

    Amen, amen, amen. You’ve captured my heart and my struggle here. I want to be the soft place for people to land, even as I wrestle with my own skittishness to attend church. I wonder if this is at the root of why I don’t always attend the church I love: a fear if they really knew me and my mess, it would all change. And here I thought my cynicism had mellowed with age.

    • Addie Zierman

      You never know when the old cynicism is going to sneak-attack you. Just when I think I’ve outgrown it, it comes back sharp and sudden. Working to live in the tension. Thanks for the words, as always.

      • leda buller

        Yes, you never know. Yesterday listening to the pastors and the announcements was disgusting, the choir nauseating, the children’s pastor insulting to any intellect (its a good thing it was just on the radio). But today I attended a funeral of one of the “faithful” whose style of taith I can never share and which helped pave the way for my leaving the Evangelism of my childhood: I felt I had to apologize to God for my really bad mood of yesterday and ask for a big enough heart to embrace “those people” instead of waiting for them to understand me.

  • http://Www.watchtheshepherd.blogspot.com Virginia Knowles

    Addie, excellent post that made me cry. I linked it on FB and at Wartburg Watch, a blog that covers the topic of abuse in churches. Dee Parsons, who commented above, moderates there.

    Right after I read the article, a lady from the YMCA called, checking in on me to see why I hadn’t been working out lately and asking if there was anything she could do for me. Take a cue, churches.

    I am very blessed at our current church. I think the warmth and genuine care have been amazing.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for the kind words and for sharing Virginia. I’ve had that exact same moment — when someone from some other (non-faith-based) community acts in a way that you’ve always needed the church to act…but that it never has managed to get. It’s so frustrating and exhausting. So glad you’ve found a genuine, beautiful place. I have too now. But it was a long road.

  • http://www.quietanthem.com Renee Ronika

    I wish you could come to my church, which really isn’t a church but people gathering together in a home to allow the Holy Spirit to make us whole, together. It’s breathtaking and brilliant and an answer to your true heart-cry here.

    • Addie Zierman

      Sounds so wonderful. I do have a great church now too, and I am desperately thankful. Especially when I remember what it was like to be in this desperate, hurting place.

  • http://tanyamarlow.com Tanya

    Every week you do it- you write me.

    Thank you.

    • Addie Zierman

      It’s because we’re kindred, naturally. :)

  • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/giving-up Jim Fisher

    I belong to a non-credal church which does a lot of things right — affirming giftedness without regard to gender, focusing on education not indoctrination, honoring the priesthood of all believers through Stephen ministers (the ones who DO ask how are you REALLY doing), etc. I am not sure what we can do beyond that because the rest, it seems to me, cannot be prepackaged. It needs to be an organic, cage-free web of relationships based on giftedness married with need.

    It means purposely sitting with singles to worship with them, and freely offering hugs and quiet blessings in your ear when everyone else is shaking hands and awkwardly pronouncing “peace”.

    It means offering to come over and cook an evening meal for a single mom who can barely find the time to survive three part-time jobs and two kids, let alone go shopping for groceries and cooking.

    It means coming over on a Saturday to team-clean your house with you and some other friends with the music cranked up loud, and fresh bread baking in the oven to be broken and shared with a glass of wine when we’re done.

    It means meeting you for lunch every Tuesday to check in and catch up.

    It means replacing your water heater, fixing your IT problems, patching the hole in the drywall caused by an angry ex-boyfriend. Not only free-of-charge, but I’ll bring the gift, thanking you for giving me the opportunity to serve you with His love.

    I could go on … but then we would ALL be weeping, not just me.

    *hugs*

    • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/giving-up Jim Fisher

      … weeping because when you allow His love to flow freely through you, you also feel His sorrow for what should, and could, be.

    • Lori Pollard

      Jim,
      I want your church! I want to be that person! Like many people here, broken by the church and finally healing, I am praying for the courage to reach out to others. Your post is so encouraging that it is possible!

    • Addie Zierman

      I love the ideas and the church you wrote here, Jim. Thanks for sharing and inspiring us all to what things could look like if we are willing to engage with one another’s pain.

      • https://sites.google.com/site/holyhugs/giving-up Jim Fisher

        “willing to engage with one another’s pain.” <– Yes! This!

        And tomorrow I drive 30 miles down to Northfield to mentor a couple pre-teen boys on how to make their own dang dinner (personal-size thin-crust pizzas made from flour tortillas and pick-your-own toppings that are WAY more fun than just pepperoni and cheese), so their single mom doesn't have to make dinner all the time.

        I wish I could figure out how to spread the word about how fulfilling … how soul-filling this "engaging" and empathic vulnerability really is.

        There aren't enough single/struggling moms around here to keep me as busy as I would prefer. If I could do this two or three times a day, it would still not be too much. *sigh*

  • Pam Polito

    “(Sometimes, I think that’s all it would’ve taken for me. Some church stranger to sit down next to me and just say, How are you really doing? Not, You really ought to join the women’s ministry. Not, Just get plugged in! Just How are you doing? Just someone interested in just listening. Just someone to mean it.)”

    Boy, you said a mouthful there, Addie! I have lost count of how many churches I visited after the missionary years where that was the advice – teach Sunday School, join the missions committee (really?), get into a home Bible Study, plug in and so on. Never, not once, did someone ask, “How are you doing now?” A broken missionary? Impossible! That was the attitude. They couldn’t even entertain the idea. Here’s what: Hurting, broken people show up at churches. Even ones who once were once the types who were involved with everything and showed up every time the doors were open. Even the former missionaries and pastors. Especially them. Especially me. My last words to the last church I tried were, “It isn’t just the lost who need to be found. Let me know when you figure that out.” So far, nobody has gotten back to me on that. Until now. You got back to me without even knowing it. I might go back to church if there were more people like you there. Meanwhile, this blog is where it’s at for me. It’s a way back to a place I have yet to find. You, Addie – you and your journey – you give me hope.

    • Addie Zierman

      This is such a haunting line to me: My last words to the last church I tried were, “It isn’t just the lost who need to be found. Let me know when you figure that out.” That’s exactly how I felt too, and I know how painful that can be. I’m so glad that this blog has been a safe place for you; I hope that eventually it does lead you back to that “place you have yet to find.” Thanks, as always, for sharing a bit of your story.

    • Rick Cruse

      Pam, I’ve been a “professional Christian” for 40 years, including 25 years outside the US. My wife and I are burned and burned out on church. I’m uncertain what and if I believe. Some tell me the answer is “go to church” without taking the time to discover what the questions really are. I just found this website and figure I’ll probably graze and rest here for a while. I’m not even certain I know what my questions are. I just know it’s not that the life of faith doesn’t speak to me as it once did. It doesn’t speak to me at all.

      Thanks for your honesty!

      • Pam

        Rick – I am glad you found this website. This is a good place to graze. You may want to read this document http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~revival/00-Out-Of-Church.html. I found a lot of answers there. Meanwhile, just rest. God knows what you are going through and loves you no matter what you do. Period. He can handle doubts and unbelief.

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  • Steve

    Addie,

    thanks…your writing says it all…i know many people young and old who can’t find the words for these thoughts…thank you so much…

    steve

    • Brenda mellor

      Pam – wounded warriors like you deserve our honour and care. We need to repent of our carelessness and neglect, our easy answers and facile words. Pray you find Christians who truly follow Jesus and offer you the support and encouragement you so richly deserve.

      • Pam

        Thank you, Brenda. I have actually found many Christians and non-Christians alike who have shown support and encouragement. They just haven’t been in church, which I guess is the sad point.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Steve. I’m so glad that people are resonating with this. (I know in my darkest cynical moments, I didn’t have the words either. Writing them now at the outer-edge of it in hopes that it will give someone else the language they need.)

  • http://www.leannepenny.com Leanne Penny

    Addie this is pure beauty born from pain and real questions. I’ve been on both sides of things, I’m jaded with the church at large, with denominations mostly, and sometimes with some part of the church I’m a part of.

    Being a Pastor’s wife and brought me into deep cynicism and sort of back out again. I guess I just go to eat spiritually, because I’ll die if I don’t and he meets me there, thank God.. thank Him…

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much, Leanne. Makes me think of that Joni Mitchell lyric: “I’ve looked at love from both sides now.” A beautiful lyric for faith as well as love.

  • http://www.upsidedowngrace.com Carol Vinson

    This is so true!! I’m 50 and find this a huge problem. All about programs and buzz words but not enough about love.

    Wrote this post about the same thing : http://www.upsidedowngrace.com/2013/02/if-i-was-jesus.html?m=1

    Well done!! And bravo for speaking up!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for the kind words and for sharing your post, Carol!

  • Ryan Steuer

    I am new to the blog as I found it via some old cynical friends on Facebook. I wonder if I might pose an alternative as the guy who stayed at the church when the cynics left.

    Might I encourage the cynic to leave his/her cynicism at the cross and come back to help fix the bride of Christ? Instead of waiting/expecting to be “fixed” by the church, why not leave the hurt and pain at the cross and come back into the pews to help us that stayed?

    “We need you to fight for us.
    We need you to come to where we are.”

    If I may for a moment turn the majority of this poetic post on its head. What if the cynics returned to the large organized church on a mission to show the church how to love in unconditional patience? What if the cynics returned to love the bride of Christ with such passion and patience that the folks in the nicely organized cafe had to take notice and wonder? What if the cynics took the time to work through some of the hypocrisy that you see until the love you shine breaks through?

    I think the answer becomes that as the cynic leaves his/her cynicism at the cross and loves the bride (with all of her issues), that the love of Christ would be magnified in all of our lives. Don’t wait for the church to leave and come and get you. Come in and get us.

    with much love to my cynical brother and sisters
    ~ryan

    • http://ecclesiaextraneus.wordpress.com Matt

      Ryan, I think you might have missed some of the points of the post here. Cynics really aren’t sitting around waiting to be fixed. They are tired of everything having an easy fix. Just leave it at the cross, for example. Nothing is ever that easy. The cross was not easy at all for Jesus. Saying things like “leave it at the cross” sounds like a two step easy fix program. Its not that way. The cynics usually took a lot of time and effort to work on the hypocrisy, and usually had their hands slapped (or worse). Nothing you suggest is easy, and it has all been tried by most cynics before leaving. Don’t judge them as not having tried.

      As someone that has not left the Church despite all of her flaws, I couldn’t disagree with this thought more: “Don’t wait for the church to leave and come and get you. Come in and get us.” In no way shape or form did Jesus ever tell us to wait for people to come to us. Our command from Jesus is always to go. People from the church should always go into the world – whether to those that have left or those that never came in the first place. We are not to build walls and ghettos for any people. I think we get that for non-believers, but that applies for those that have left, too. We go to them. Jesus was always clear on that.

      I just don’t think you understand how much effort most cynics put into doing the right thing before leaving, to lay it down at the cross, to show the way, to help people. Why would they try to come back and attempt to do something again that failed in the first place? That is insanity. No, we as the church need to get our act together, or at least in a better place. Not wait for someone on the outside to come in and help us straighten out.

      • Jazmin

        Matt,
        As one who left about 4 years ago, thank you for understanding us cynics.

        Ryan,
        It is not as easy as you think. I have also asked myself why I did not stay and become the love and the change the church needs. The truth of the matter is (please forgive my weakness) I just couldn’t. I know some, like Matt it seems, have the strength, but I could not stomach the b.s. anymore. I spent the first ten years as a Christian completely dedicated and believing in Jesus and trusting the church. Then I spent last five before I left pondering, doubting, questioning, and getting angry. You see like Addie said I, “…believed quickly and entirely, our faith in the church people and in God all tangled into each other.” I had to leave the church entirely in order to disentangle the church from my belief in God. There are times when I have felt the need to throw the baby out with the bath water. In other words, the thoughts have come to my head, that if I could not trust the church, how could I trust anything it has taught me? How could I trust the bible? How could I trust in Jesus’ deity? How could I even believe in God? Fortunately, I have not lost all my faith. I trust God, and believe he has a purpose for this road I’ve been on. I had to leave in order to try and find faith again. I still haven’t found my way back yet, but I trust Him.

        • Ryan Steuer

          Matt, Jazmin, et al,

          I feel a little bit like the guy who walked into the wrong party (but I know my friends are in here)! I know I don’t fully get it. I do at least understand two replies on a very well written blog is not going to fix great people leaving the church. I should have left my initial post as all questions. My true intent is to ask for great people who understand love to come back to the church.

          The first group that really loved me in the church and taught me to love left the church and are living this blog post. I wonder if every cynic that left could find one good connection to someone in the church (and yes we should come out and get you), but if we could connect the love and honesty of the cynic to one person in the church maybe there could be some change. We could create a pidgin language of evangelical-cynic! Mostly, I think there has to be a vision of hope for the church.

          And really I probably just miss having my cynical friends in church. We are actually getting together this Sunday night. This blog post will drive much of our conversation, and I expect it to be a love filled time of real talk. I am looking forward to it.

          Anyway, thanks for letting me crash in on this post.
          ~ryan

          • Addie Zierman

            Thanks for engaging with us Ryan even though you feel much on the other side of things yourself. I get what you’re saying, but when I was reading your response, I kept thinking about the paralytic in the book of Luke. I kept thinking about the men who took the four corners of his mat and lowered him through the tiles into the room where Jesus was so that he could be healed.

            The truth about my own cynicism (particularly in the early days) is that it debilitated me. It paralyzed me with anger and fear and pain. I desperately wanted to connect with a community of believers, but I couldn’t seem to get there, and every time I hoisted myself up the church steps for one more go at it, I felt unseen, unloved, unknown.

            Most cynics I know need to be carried for a while. They need help getting to that place where they can, as you say, “lay it down at the cross.” And this is simply what I was asking of those who work and minister and love in the Church. To treat us like you would treat any other hurting person and carry us.

            Hope this led to some great discussion with your friends. Loved hearing your take, and hope you’ll join us here again!

        • http://ecclesiaextraneus.wordpress.com Matt

          Jazmin – I don’t know if you can call what I have strength. I never stay silent about the B.S. But that speaking up has taken quite a huge toll. We do take breaks from time to time to deal with the toll, re-group, and find a new church if necessary. We always end up back in Church, but I can’t say that I really know why we do or that I would ever blame someone for not going back.

          People always say “why can’t you just keep your mouth shut” or “maybe the problem is you and you just need to learn to be nice.” People always assume cynics have this nasty, abrasive personality…. but that is often not true. Cynics are usually as cynical of themselves as they are of others, so its not like they don’t question their own take on stuff as much as others. Its not like we don’t try to stay silent. And many of us are really reflective in our personality – we’ll treat you the way you treat us (its actually the most logical result of cynical mindset if you think about it). Some cynics are even the most downright nicest people I have met. But it seems like there are people in Church that have this highly sensitive dissension-radar. They smell it out and won’t let it go until it is out in the open and “fixed” (in their opinion). I mean, the stories I could tell of complete strangers at church trying to “fix” the “problem” of me “forcing my wife to work.”

          As many commenting here know, there are some issues that you can’t necessarily hide or keep to yourself. If you are in an egalitarian marriage, there is just no way to hide that and fit in at a complementarian church. And there are people that just will not let it go… and if you push a cynic long enough, they will let their logic loose on you.

          • Jazmin

            I left quietly even though I wanted to scream from the roof tops. I left quietly precisely because I didn’t want to create division. I always felt my speaking up wasn’t going to lead anywhere positive. A while after I left I started emailing my former pastor and other friends articles by people like Addie and Rachel Held Evans. Funny that you mentioned egalitarianism. The one that broke the camel’s back for my former pastor was one I wrote about egalitarianism. He pretty angrily asked me to take him off my email list.
            It was the second time I was shunned by a pastor and I’m just not that strong. I can’t make myself vulnerable to those people again. It hurts too much.
            I’m also not wiling give audience to the “we just need to fix you” parade.

          • Lori

            “Cynics are usually as cynical of themselves as they are of others, so its not like they don’t question their own take on stuff as much as others. Its not like we don’t try to stay silent”

            Yep. We’ve attended many churches over the years because I am not silent. I make every intention of “playing the game”, but the bulls$&”@ factor keeps rearing its head and I end up alienating people with truth. I have learned diplomacy over the years and try to love in spite of it but i just get sick of the devouring and alienation. The problem is we cannot fit into tiny little boxes with pretty little bows. We are all of us human living in a fallen world crippled with sin and owned by evil. The fact that we can breathe the air of salvation is a miracle- one we can take no ownership of but cede all to His Glory.

    • Rick Cruse

      Ryan, it won’t happen for many reasons, mostly perhaps because the local church is so focused on its own “mission” that its myopic leaders are blind to (or threatened by) any other way to do church. Plus, many/most of the ones who left really don’t want to come back. They’ll need to be wooed, and your “challenge” falls on deaf (or burned) ears.

  • http://ear-sword-miracle.blogspot.com/ Miles O’Neal

    I think that so long as any subset of believers are mainly about rules and/or programs and/or or a book, this failure will continue. It’s about relationships, with God and each other. A few years back I was forced to shut down my “ministry” for the summer and work on a vision statement. My ministry was already wandering from the traditional, from programs, into relationship.
    I had a vision, all right, and it all poured out on paper, as ordered. Only it didn’t look anything like the ministry expected. There was no program, the focus was all wrong, you name it. So I resigned, and followed the visison, and discovered that for me, ministry is just living and loving.
    Which is funny, because I’d already been “preaching” that for a while, because it’s most of what Jesus did. But I wasn’t really living it.
    The apostles came up with offices and programs and whatever to respond to great needs, and it seems they were still pretty organic about it, and left things open for God to mutate them. Most modern denominations and/or congregations come up with programs and then try to fit everyone into them. The result is a lot of hurting and damaged and cynical people. Which isn’t really surprising, if you can only get outside the box for a look…
    I am sooo thankful for the people who challenged and loved me to the point I could step outside the box. And then I heard, “There is no box”. And you know what? There’s a great, big, beautiful universe out here, with no end in sight. And it’s chock full of people, who turn out to be the most beautiful bits of creation. Would I love to dive through a supernova? Sure. But I’d far rather do it with someone else.

    • Addie Zierman

      I love the idea of programs as a response to need instead of a first step — a box that you try to fit people into. A challenge for such a program-driven culture. Thanks for reminding us here that it’s always about relationship first and foremost.

  • http://kimvanbrunt.com/honestly-adoption-the-blog Kim Van Brunt

    Now that I’ve had a chance to read it, I see why everyone on earth is linking to this post. I found myself nodding at every paragraph. Thank you for seeing me (which is seeing yourself, I know), and for shining a gentle but true light on what the church can’t see of herself anymore. Love you.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thank you for such kind words, friend. Love you too.

  • http://chadthomasjohnston.com Chad Thomas Johnston

    You’re such a great writer, Addie. Glad to share the Interweb with someone so good! :)

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Chad. Back atcha.

  • http://www.sarahheroman.com Sarah

    Amen.

  • http://www.covhope.com Steve

    David was honest about his darkness. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
    In some ways the most touching part of that Psalm for me is the beginning; verse 0, that we often forget is part of the text. “For the director of music. To the tune of “The Doe of the Morning.” A psalm of David.” This was not just David pouring his heart out to God in the privacy of his own room (or cave or wherever). It was David having the choir sing his words to everyone that he felt abandoned but worshipped God anyway. He didn’t get the memo that worship songs always had to be positive.

    If we had more worship songs like Psalm 22, would that make a difference?

    • Troy

      Yes, it would.

      • themooninautumn

        Yes!

    • Addie Zierman

      Absolutely. 100%.

  • Onionhead

    Hi Addie,

    I would add to that:
    If the people of the church are sincere about wanting the cynic to return, they (the church) need to be open to having their beliefs challenged about whether the church really knows (and lives) God’s heart in relation to political, moral, and cultural issues; also to be gracious and kind in the discussion of those issues, understanding that Jesus modeled the valuing of relationship over the letter of the law.

    Great post!

    • Addie Zierman

      Absolutely. Thanks so much for this insight.

  • Mary McCauley

    Annie, Been there..walked away…longed to come back. An Alanon group was more of a “church” than the “church”. It was there I found unconditional love, which is what we all need most. It did lead me back to God and the church. I even became a licensed lay pastor who tried to change a church into what you talk about, a group of loving, real, caring people, but it did not work. Instead they turned on me.
    Thankfully I had a real brother and sister in Christ who pastor a small church and I have a place where I feel welcome and worship when I can. I still struggle with “the church”, but I do not struggle with my faith in a loving compassionate God who has walked with me wherever I strayed, loving, protecting, pulling me back to Him with gentle love and grace and forgiveness. Thank you for sharing your struggles. I pray for you and know that though we never met, we have God and that is all we need.

    • Addie Zierman

      I’ve never been to an Alanon group, but every time I read about one, I’m filled with envy and desire for the church to be more like this. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jazmin

    Awesome. Awesome. Awesome Addie.
    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
    Linking. Linking. Linking.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Jazmin.

  • http://www.lovewellblog.com Kelly @ Love Well

    I remember talking to a youth pastor in San Diego, probably 15 years ago, who said the kids he was seeing in his church, at the time, were tired of programs. Cynical of big events. “They just want relationship,” he said. “They aren’t looking for all the fun we’re programming. They just want someone to listen to them.”

    He was ahead of his time. So many churches need to catch up to this.

    • Addie Zierman

      Agreed. That’s exactly it. Thanks Kelly.

  • Barb Arends – Sojourn

    Dear Addie,

    Such a beautiful post. I often think that I can’t influence people that are cynical/doubting about faith and going back to church because I might say the wrong thing, get it all screwed up, can’t quote enough scriptures by memory blah, blah, blah. But as you said all I need to do is to care and to listen, really care and really listen.

    thanks so much,
    barb

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for adding this, Barb. I think that’s such a common thing for Christians — to feel like they don’t know enough or aren’t spiritual enough to impact the hurting. Such a lie. Yes, all we really need to do is, as you so beautifull said, “to care and to listen, really care and really listen.” Lovely.

  • http://dianatrautwein.com Diana Trautwein

    Ah, geez, Addie. How do you do this?? Such truth here, said so very, very well. I’ve sent this to my kids and my two oldest grandson, who are both stepping out of church and I think, out of faith, these days. I pray that somewhere, someone will do exactly what you describe for them. I try – but I’m old and a pastor, too, so don’t know that I’m the ideal person for this. These are actually really good words for ALL of us, though, not just the ‘younger cynics’ in our midst. Because we don’t always tell the truth at church, do we? We cover and smile and say bright, chirpy things even on a Psalm 22 day. Gotta work on that and Lent is a good time for it, seems to me. Thanks so much.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for the kind words and for sharing this. This here struck me: “Because we don’t always tell the truth at church, do we? We cover and smile and say bright, chirpy things even on a Psalm 22 day. Gotta work on that and Lent is a good time for it, seems to me. ” YES. The more honest we can get at church, I think the better things will get for all of us — cynics and “faith champions” and everyone in between.

  • http://www.charitysingleton.blogspot.com Charity Singleton Craig

    Addie – As I was reading this, I found myself as both us and them. I feel cynical at times; my experiences were much like the ones you described. But I never left. I never walked away. And now, I am “the church” and I struggle so much with my role as the welcomer, the listener, and yet the skeptic and the cynic at the same time. This blog of yours really touches a sensitive place in me. Every time I read, I feel understood and defensive at the same time. It’s a really good thing.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Charity. I never really left either…though I took short periods away. We went from one church to another in those dark days, looking for something that we couldn’t find anywhere.

      On the outer-recovering edge of cynicism now, I write this to remember. I write to remember how lonely it felt and how much I needed. I write to say to the church people now what I couldn’t articulate then. I write it to my current self, so that I can remember to be the person I needed so desperately to others.

      Thanks for the honest, beautiful comment.

  • Jessica

    I almost cried when I read this.

    Thank you. Thank you for expressing in words the hundreds of tangled emotions I haven’t been able to express.

    You are right. This is what I needed. What I still need and despair in finding.

    • Si

      Bless you Jessica

    • Addie Zierman

      So glad this spoke to you. I hope you can keep looking for it; I hope it finds you. I believe that God is there, with you in the despair. May you find him waiting there.

  • http://www.covhope.com Steve

    This resonated with me how we shouldn’t just tell the stories when God met our needs in a dramatic way, but should tell about our long struggles too. This inspired a post of my own:

    http://blog.covhope.com/2013/02/the-dangers-of-being-too-positive.html

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks for sharing. I love this line: “If we only tell the stories of God working rapid transformation, we won’t talk about hanging on and being faithful with a problem that doesn’t go away. ” Yes.

  • http://www.lindsaytweedle.com Lindsay

    Amen, amen, amen. This post resonated with me so strongly (and evidently many others as well). It speaks so much truth to an over-churched generation, who somewhere along the way became entrenched in a behaviour-based faith that seemed to miss Jesus.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Lindsay. Yes. We need to be saved from this behavior-based faith. It so misses the point.

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  • http://disciplineofthesecret.blogspot.com/ Secret Disciple

    THIS!

    Amen Addie!

  • Robert Hymnal

    Just an additional note: you’re not actually a skeptic if you believe in god(s) and the supernatural.

    • Jazmin

      I think there are all different types of skeptics. Like my father who is a moon landing skeptic. I just read in the Washington Post that a good portion of the fish sold in Japanese restaurants are not what is marketed, so now I’m a sushi skeptic.

    • Addie Zierman

      Fair enough…though I’m speaking of the cynics here, not necessarily the skeptics. The ones who can’t stop finding the faults. Can’t stop seeing the holes and the cracks and the selfishness.

  • Paul

    As evolution goes, the cynic is more likely to love the church dweller than the other way around (they’re convinced they’re already loving, so they see no need to change). If the world is to know love, it has to come from ‘me.’

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes. This is a chilling thought: if we’re convinced we’re already loving, we see no need to change. May we have the eyes to see our own failures and limitations and seek the grace of God.

  • Si

    Wow – I read through a huge number of these posts and it just left me wanting to cry; wanting to put my arms around all of you and gather you in to the raw Love of Christ, without agenda, without reward or applause, but simply to tell each and every one of you that you are loved, deeply and eternally. As someone who was anonymously accused by a leader, for that accusation to be upheld and finally told that I could not minister in that environment ever again (even though I minister in a Healing Rooms each week). I can identify with the rejection, the confusion, pain, hurt and anger. I have no answers except to say that Jesus has not changed and that what (or rather who) saved you will also keep you, daily and forever. I pray that He will come to you and make up the lost years, or at least send someone to listen to you, to hear you out, to not judge you when you rant and offload. That Christians – or rather, the unbroken religious – should bite and devour each other, is one of the saddest things possible. Please allow me to encourage you all to hang in there, keep the lines of communication open with the Lord. He is faithful, whatever man in his religious guise does. And in truth, it’s not over until it’s over – and if you’re reading this then it’s not over yet. Bless you; really bless you, Si

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for these kind and encouraging words, Si. I know there are many of us who need them.

  • Jess

    Beautiful words in a very meaningful post. Thank you for writing and sharing your heart. Grace and love trump church anyday:)

    Jess

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much, Jess. Yes, grace and love.

  • Kimberly

    I read this post. I read it again. And then I cried.

    Because this. This is where I am, where I have been. And I don’t acknowledge often enough how lonely and scary and disorienting it is to be here.

    When I can’t find the words myself, and someone else finds a way…it is a holy moment of sorts. Thank you. Really, thank you.

    • Addie Zierman

      “I don’t acknowledge often enough how lonely and scary and disorienting it is to be here.” It absolutely is. Thanks for sharing this. So glad you felt understood here; I hope you find that in your everyday life from some wonderful Church person soon.

  • Rick Cruse

    And there are those who leave at age 60, following 40 years as “professional Christians,” and who doubt the journey back to a different place is or might be worth the effort.

    • Addie Zierman

      I can relate to feeling tired. I can’t imagine the level of tired/burnt out you must be feeling after 40 years of ministry. May your heart find a soft place to land in this next stage of the journey.

      • Rick Cruse

        Thanks

  • Shannon Hunter

    I have a few friends who fit the reasons you described for leaving & who are cynical & who I’ve been trying to show Jesus & not pressure into anything. In some senses I’m still in a “Christian bubble” working in a college ministry. But I’m not involved in a church outside of that very often & I have a heart to be the listener, to be a glimpse of Jesus to those who left. But I’m wondering where I find them? I also work in a school & try to get to know people & their stories. Is there anywhere else I could look for these “cynics”?
    Addie, a friend connected me to your blog & I love love what you write & the way you write, your depth, openness & vulnerability. Thank you :)
    Shannon

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for the kind words Shannon. I think they’re everywhere. When I was working on my memoir at grad school (about my faith journey and my difficult road with the evangelical word), I found that whether or not it was exactly like mine, everyone has their church baggage. Everyone’s been burned. Look for them in the places you already are. “getting to know people and their stories” is exactly it. Beautiful.

  • Diana

    I appreciate what you’ve had to say and as someone that no longer attends a church I agree with most of it. However you must remember that church is for everyone, especially the broken, wounded and hurting. Therefore if you are keeping your eyes on the people and not Jesus you will see nothing but hypocrites, as we ALL FALL SHORT OF THE GLORY OF GOD, we are all struggling, sinning. Some days it’s 2 steps forward in our spiritual growth and 5 steps backward. Everyone at church as at a different stage of their walk with God. I would ask what are you doing to improve the “church experience” are you part of the problem or the solution? God says “come all who are weary and cast your burdens upon me” So you are going to see weary, burdened people at church are they hypocrites or just broken?
    In a society where every day we see on TV another disgraced Judge, Senator, public official, Priest etc., it’s hard not to be cynical and difficult to trust of have a faith in anyone or anything.
    We’ve elected to watch sermons on line as we’ve never been able to “connect” like you are supposed to with a church. We tried volunteering and doing all the “thing’s” you are supposed to, to get connected, get involved.
    Is it the “churches” fault, our fault, or just not right for us.
    Church is not for the perfect, it’s for the broken, for everyone, if you base your experience on the people you will be disappointed.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes, a good point. My own journey of cynicism was not redeemed inside the church but in spite of it. (I’ll write about that more this week). Part of the difficult process of God teaching me that my hope is not found in Christians or in community or in that beautiful picture of what the Church can and should be…only in him. Still…I believe in that possibility. Of a Church that is honest about her broken places; that begs forgiveness when she hurts; that is willing to take a risk and go outside herself for someone else.

    • Jazmin

      “Church is not for the perfect, it’s for the broken, for everyone, if you base your experience on the people, you will be disappointed.” If I had a dime for every time I heard that one. But seriously, how can you not base it at least to some extent on the people. On the pastor and the leadership. When day in and day out the guy just bashes everyone on what crappy Christians they are. Then you realize he’s just as f****d up as the rest of us. When you realize all these broken people have turned into a bunch of pretenders, especially the leadership. “…a church that is honest about her broken places.” That is what I long for, but feel I will never see.

  • http://Cmonfatso.com Sierra

    This made me cry. At work. I’ve been trying to put this exact thing into words for a year, but never managed to put it so well.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much, Sierra.

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  • http://www.kaywheeler.ORG Kay

    Your message did challenge people’s thinking with all the responses. Here is one more related topic from me.Since the Early Church, the tide has been going out; and we have seen the influx and results of the various denominations (that are based purely private doctrinal interpretations–whether it is the popes, the Lutherans, the Calvinists, the Grahams, etc…). The Calvinists say, “The days of miracles are over; and now the Word is all we have. The Lutheran’s came along and said, “The Pope is not God on earth and the just shall live by faith and you can’t pay to get your sins forgiven. Basically, after the protestant revolution happened and the pope was no longer the authority–everybody decided to interpret the Bible. Therefore, we have a long list of so-called “authorities” that has spawned the horrific divisions that we see in Christendom today. As Jesus counseled, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” This division has brought us to the confusion and spiritual disaster–even a “spiritual blackout” that we see today in our world. Where is the Word of the Lord? Tragically, some turn their doctrinal beliefs into religious idols to be worshipped and preserved at all costs. Most of the denominations are merely religious idols that demand allegiance and defense at all costs: Catholics against Prostestants; Baptists against Pentecostals, etc…. It is interesting that the Apostle Paul said, “Let there be no divisions among you.” How far off are we on that point? When the Jews actually witnessed Jesus restoring a withered hand in the Jewish Temple on Sunday– the miracle was rejected because it did not line up with their doctrinal idol. They immediately set about to arrest Jesus. Their idol of doctrine blinded them to the miracle of Jesus. But I’m reminded that “What is the chaff to the wheat?” You can spend your time trying to straighten out the twisted doctrines that have clearly become idols to their adherents. Bottom line, God is alive in spite of all the blunders of man; each and every one of us individually is accountable to God for the Word of God and for accepting Jesus. The Holy Spirit is real and available to all who ask. Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any person opens, I will come in and speak with him. Jesus suffered outside the camp and was rejected by the religionists of His day. It is still the same.

    • Addie Zierman

      Yes. Thanks for this take on it. The system itself is, indeed, deeply flawed. But yes, God is alive.

  • http://www.bookmeal.blogspot.ca Becky Bonham

    This is a beautiful, bittersweet post. There is so much truth here. Thank you for spelling it out with such grace and hope. I started writing a little blurb on my blog last week about how the church must welcome the broken, the cynical, the angry and the wounded. I’m so glad to have such a great (and much more thorough) post to link back to for deeper engagement! Thanks, Addie!

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much Becky.

  • Fortuna Veritas

    Maybe. Maybe.

    The problem is that people like that simply don’t exist in the church for the same reason it creates cynics.

    • Addie Zierman

      I know it feels that way. Believe me, I’ve done my fair share of angry rants about “The Church People,” and I’ve felt hopeless about the ability for change. But I also know that there are many true, loving people…but that we’ve created a culture where it’s difficult to be honest about pain. Where it’s easy to see through someone instead of into someone. I have hope that those who want to see will.

  • Chuck Jones

    Addie,

    My hope and prayer for you is that you realize that when you left the church, you finally entered the kingdom of God. There is nothing wrong with where you are. And what is right about it is the only thing that matters–you have opened the door to direct, unbrokered access to God. You’ve abandoned hypocrisy (are poor in spirit) and God can now give you God’s kingdom. You’re mourning, and God comforts you. Cut off from the (nutritionless) way you’ve been fed, you hunger and thirst, and God feeds you. Abandoned by the church for the shameful act of leaving it, you now have no power (you are meek)–now that your arms are empty, God can give you everything you need–hell, the whole world.

    I do believe that the spiritual quest is more satisfying and productive in community–and you’ll find one or create one. But it won’t look like a synagogue. It’ll look like the band of misfits gathered at Levi’s house whooping it up to the chagrin of the local elders, deacons and pastors. At least I pray it does.

    Chuck

    • Addie Zierman

      This was beautiful, Chuck. Thank you.

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  • LR

    A friend of mine passed this on to me and it really struck. I have never read your blog until today. I must confess that I am a cynical minister. I have had many great years in ministry, but I have also been burned badly twice and I know that I cannot survive another attack by Christians. I preach every Sunday, but I don’t know how much longer I can hang on. I wish I could tell my church how close I am to the edge, but my trust level is just not there. For me it is a scary thought to think deep down in my soul that I could walk away from “church” and never give it a second thought. Man, I feel like a hypocrite just writing this. I would love to give my real name, but I can’t. I am glad I found this blog. I plan to visit it again.

    • Pam Polito

      LR – I can guarantee you that you are not the only one out there who feels this way. If I were to venture a guess I would say that many pastors and missionaries are at the top of the list of the “barely-holding-on.” The expectations are impossible to meet and for the most part there is no real room for admission of struggle, sadly. I’m glad you found this site. There is some good stuff here – encouraging stuff. Poke around a bit. In the end, though, you will have to come to terms with your authentic self and not continue trying to hang on by a thread. You are setting yourself up for all kinds of physical and mental health issues if you do. I encourage you to get some help from a counselor or trusted friend. You will never be able to walk away without a second thought – you will have thousands of thoughts whether you stay or go. But know this – God loves you and he will love you regardless of what you do. Period. I wish I could tell you more, but in the end, that is the truth that will see you through.

    • Addie Zierman

      Thanks so much for your honesty here. I’m so sorry that you’ve been burned and I can absolutely understand this feeling of not knowing if you can “survive another attack by Christians.” It’s the worst of it, isn’t it, when we eat our own? But so pervasive and so discouraging.

      I love Pam’s advice here. It is so sound. I particularly love this line: “You will never be able to walk away without a second thought – you will have thousands of thoughts whether you stay or go. But know this – God loves you and he will love you regardless of what you do.”

      I know she also mentioned therapy in her comment, and I want to chime in on that. Because working with a therapist was crucial to working through my church people issues. I went for over a year (until I was through the worst of it, and a new baby made it impossible to attend with the same consistency), and it was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.

      There’s nothing like well-meaning, hurtful church people to work knots into your heart. And sometimes you need someone to help you find the end of the thread and begin untangling. For me, it was essential.

      You’re not alone. You have a safe place here.

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  • http://echoesoffire.wordpress.com Joel D.

    Hey, you may or may not remember me. I’ve commented once before (I think). It was wildly complementary, with some kind of weird formatting issues.
    You’re still my favorite blogger (though all the motherhood discussion goes miles above my head) so far. I was just going to ask if you happen to have come across this:

    http://marc5solas.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/top-10-reasons-our-kids-leave-church/

    I think someone shared that post with me originally, but I instantly turned around, shared it, and tried to get comments and analysis out of my favorite “philosophers. When I read your post here, I thought I would also throw it your way and try to get a little bit of commentary out of one of my favorite “poets.” If you have time, that is.

    The article (if carefully read with an eye toward what the author actually means) strikes me as a closely related set of observations to what you give here, but it is (obviously) coming from a completely different vantage point on the discussion.

    Thought?

    • Addie Zierman

      Just finally had a chance to sit down with that article, and I thought it was great. True. Spot on. There was a lot there, and I’ll have to go back through and read it again, but I think there’s something to this idea that we’ve tried so hard to be “relevant” that we’ve lost the most relevant, true thing about Christianity. There’s nothing quite as troubling to me as the Americanized, pursuit-of-God/pursuit-of-happiness mash-up. But that’s another post for another time. ;-)

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  • Busy Mom

    Yes, this is so true! By the grace of God, this did not happen to me but it did happen to both of my sisters. Over and over again, well-meaning people tried to ‘get them involved’ in choir, kids ministries, etc. If only someone had just truly loved them and cared about their lives. Instead, they only saw and focused on the hypocrisy and pressure to join programs.

    • Addie Zierman

      Oh my goodness, yes. That “getting involved in ministries!” business is such a hard line. It so often feels like guilt or pressure instead of an invitation to be part of something great. I think maybe it has to do with the fact that we solicit people to meet our churches’ programmatic needs instead of taking the time to figure out what their passions are and finding ways to tap into that.

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  • http://www.examiner.com/biblical-in-charlotte/vincent-eagan-III Vincent J. Eagan, III

    A couple months ago, I sat in a gathering of admittedly non-Christian folks and listened as two of those people – both young ladies – told me that they left the church because the church pushed them away because they are different. Well, so am I … and I’ve felt pushed, but God has gifted me with the tenacity to push back when that happens to me and break my way in. Not everyone has that – nor does everyone think they should have to, and they are right – they shouldn’t.

    I read that I am supposed to be like Jesus, who apparently got in a lot of trouble because he ate with tax collectors and sinner. He ATE with them – that means he was in communion with them and accepted them. He did not accept sin – in fact he told them how to stop sinning – but he accepted THEM … and because of that, they were more willing to listen to what he had to say.

    When I look at SOME church folks from the perspective of the one who has left, or never came in the first place – I can see why they don’t want any part of it! Walking around all dour-faced all the time, constantly worried, and in some cases telling others how they are all going STRAIGHT TO HELL if they don’t repent! Who wants to be like that?? I sure don’t, and I’m supposed to be one of you!

    These young ladies I talked to – were they different? Sure enough. One had … pretty extreme body modifications (and wanted more). Is the thinking that leads to that out of line with what God wants for us? Of course. Does that mean she should have been chastised, looked at oddly, made to feel like an outcast or, as this article puts it, “broken beyond repair”? Come on – you don’t need me to answer that.

    I can’t do anything about those who act like I wrote above. I can tell them they are wrong – and in most cases I’ll be ignored, unfriended, yelled at, and written off. Believe me, I know – I’ve had the pleasure – MANY times. I’ve even been “disfellowshipped” for my association with those who are “different”. But maybe if I am caring and if I listen and if I sit down with them, I can help somehow. Maybe I can lead them to people who really DO care and won’t treat them like they are unwanted. And maybe if enough people join me in that, it WILL look like “revival” – not among those who have left, but among those who stayed and need their fuses relit.

  • Louisa

    You have spoken my soul.
    I am a cynic. I am skeptical. I doubt. I am angry deep down in my bones. These are not merely side effects of a bad week or a tough month; they are woven into my being. This is partially due to a predisposition for depression—my family’s own personal thorn in the flesh, but more poignantly and precisely due to a long history of sorrow and hypocrisy in the church and among Christians.
    I cannot reconcile how a loving God can allow unspeakable tragedy to happen to His children. I do not understand why my sweet friend’s mother had to waste away in their living room while her body gradually shut down as the cancer ate its way through her brain. I do not understand why the chemo didn’t work. I don’t know why her girls had to change their mother’s diapers when she was 42. I don’t understand why God didn’t save her, and why he has made these girls go through this tragedy. Because he did make it happen. He who is all powerful and can heal the deaf and blind, He who cast out demons and calmed the sea with a single word, He who spat in the face of death itself could have saved this one woman. He could have at least left her here long enough to see her girls through college, through break-ups, through mental illness. But instead, Suzie is dead, and her daughters are alone.
    I cannot reconcile why the good shepherd would allow little children to be born into homes where their parents do not love them. I don’t know why he lets little boys witness cold blooded murder, and have nightmares of the neighborhood barber bleeding out through a fist size hole in his neck after getting his face blown off by a gang-banger.
    I do not and will not ever understand why he lets little babies get raped by their own fathers. There is no “upside” to that story, no silver lining, no happy ending. Sure, good things may happen down the road in spite of tragedy. That little girl may eventually learn to go through one day without bringing up the fact that she can’t remember being a virgin. Someday, she may be able to introduce herself without announcing the fact that her father is in prison for twenty years because he raped her for five years. Maybe someday she will get married, raise a family, and have her own little girl, but she will never forget those long nights when her daddy hurt her.
    I cannot reconcile the hypocrisy that thrives in the church. I cannot reconcile the fact that proclaiming Christians pit themselves against each other, lunging at each other’s necks, out for blood and vengeance and victory against each other. I cannot understand how the Church is at times filled with more deceit and dishonesty and greed than the entire Madoff family. The Church, which is supposed to be the bride of Christ, is a cesspool of lust, unfaithfulness, hatred, selfishness, pride, egotism, and indifference.
    I do not understand why I couldn’t be my mom’s favorite. I tried so hard to be everything she wanted. I tried to be quiet and skinny and blonde and happy. I tried to love everything that she did. I read all her favorite books, and watched every old movie I could get my hands on. I pretended to hate cheesecake and Willie Nelson and my grandmother because she did. I watched and copied and I tried so hard to be everything she wanted and it didn’t work. I starved myself and threw up every meal for 6 years so that I would look more like her. I grew bitter towards my own sister, the golden one, who has always been the favorite. Every time my mom wonders why I am so competitive, why I am bitter, why I am so hard on myself, why I can’t just relax and be happy my sister the rage is almost more than I can bear. I know that I am an adult now, and that I should “just deal with it,” or “move on,” but I cannot forget all the arguments. I cannot forget her prediction that I would die alone because I am a lazy slob and too hard to deal with—just like her father. And I don’t understand.
    I cannot reconcile why God allows his children to suffer as they do. I have heard all the sermons on perseverance and learning life lessons and leaning on God. At one point I owned a picture with the words of “Footprints” written in pretty white script on a photo of the beach. I stared at those words with hope for a time, then doubt, then anger. I have asked questions and been given neat, clean, Bible answers that sound nice in Michael W. Smith songs on the radio, but don’t do shit at 2:00 in the morning when the sorrow won’t wait anymore—when the sobs can’t be suppressed and I can’t be distracted.
    I do not mean to be excessively negative or cynical. I am broken, in heart and soul, and can no longer keep these yearnings inside.
    I want to love Jesus and the church again. I want to trust and believe, but I’m not there right now. Right now I am broken and lost and weary. So, so weary.

    • http://dianatrautwein.com Diana Trautwein

      Oh, Louisa. I am so sorry for this heavy load, this weariness. May you find peace in the waiting and may you learn to choose peace, even when the answers cannot be found. After many years of wrestling, I have come to the place where the ‘why?’ questions are pointless. There are no answers to those questions. Instead, I am learning to ask, ‘what’ – what has happened; what do I truly know; what can I do to be salt and light in this situation? And ‘how’ – how will I choose to respond to this hard thing; how can I see God, even here; how can I offer my tiny portion of grace and health to those who are hurting? So I offer that portion to you tonight, praying that all these hard, hard things can begin to broaden your own understanding of how desperately we need a Savior who loves us, and how deeply God enters into every single horror, every mysterious darkness. Yes, God ‘could’ change the outcome. But then, God would not be God, at least the God of scripture and the God we see in Jesus. Instead, he walks into the muck with us and works to redeem it in some way. . . Lamenting is invited, dear Louisa. Tears are welcome, questions are part of the process. Praying for you as you do all of those things.

    • JB

      Louisa – I have no doubt that was tough to write… I’m sure there were tears flowing at
      times. Maybe you hesitated a moment before you hit that button to instantly open your soul to all of us. I completely relate to your comments as well as to Addie’s post, which prompted them. While I have not witnessed the horrors you describe first hand, I know
      they are very, very real and I have the same questions as you. As Addie points out, “there’s no quick fix here”. The fact that you were so bold to step out like you did is hopefully a step toward some kind of reconciliation. …it will take many more steps. I am on a journey myself, to find my faith again. …a pure, authentic faith after years of putting distance between me and God for the very reasons highlighted all over this post. I didn’t want anything more to do with him or his church full of hypocrites and empty clichés. At the time when I desperately wanted to feel God’s presence and to experience authenticity with his church, I only found silence and shallowness. How can we express genuine joy over the “answered prayers” of Mr. Smith getting that promotion his family has been praying about for months, when the prayers of healing for a young mom with cancer results only in silence, pain, and desperation?!? …to try to answer that question, is to step into a realm in which I have no business being. I can tell you where I’ve found some solid footing, though. This world, this universe is too amazing for there not to be a God. And at the end of the day, I prefer to hope there is a God, no matter how utterly frustrated I get with how he operates than to have a world in which there is no God. Because in that world in which there is no God, it’s all about natural selection where only the strong survive, and where I wouldn’t really care that
      a young mom is dying of cancer because I would have no love in my heart. The fact that your story rips my heart out is evidence of the love I have for someone I don’t even know, and I believe that love that I have is evidence of a God who is love. It’s that line of reasoning, which has given me the strength to start my journey back to God. My heart and my prayers go out to you. ..hoping you are still taking some steps in your desire to “love Jesus and the church again”

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  • Chuck Jones

    Louisa,

    I resonate with every word of your letter, and it sounds like I’ve been where you are. My advice is to you is to not take advice from anyone. Don’t believe anyone when they tell you it will get better, or they stopped asking “why?” (that’s the solution? Really? Really!). For nearly a decade, only two things kept me connected to God. First were the Psalms of Lament. In these Psalms (I’m sure you can find a list on wiki), the hymn composers blast God–”Why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from the words of my groaning. I cry to you day and night and you do not answer!…” (that’s from Ps. 22). These songs don’t say, “I’m sure you’re there God, I just don’t feel it.” They don’t say, “I’m confused.” They say, YOU LET ME DOWN! and they don’t apologize for saying it.

    We’re too proper and pretentious to have hymns like this in our hymnal. (And Lord don’t look to Christian pop music for help. Turn it off!) But these psalms are the part of scripture that say what I felt, what you expressed in your letter, and for a while they were the only part of scripture I could stomach. But they are there! So don’t believe anyone who says, “You don’t mean that!” or “You shouldn’t say that!” Say whatever you want; evidently God can take it.

    The other thing that kept me hanging on by my toenails was the fact that Jesus himself used Ps 22 for comfort while he was being physically and sexually abused (he was naked) on the cross. “My god, my god, why have you forsaken me?” So even in the worst of my anger and grief, somehow I wasn’t yet ready to walk away from Jesus, when he’d been where I was. And felt about it the way I felt.

    And it ended up being enough.

    Your fellow pilgrim,

    Chuck

  • Richard

    Hi Addie, Love your take on things. The church should sit up and take notice it certanly made me sit up. Thankfully when we get to heaven we will see what God ment when he said LOVE., but sad to say down here we still seem to be too hurt and broken.
    Take care and God bless
    Richard

  • darryl brunson

    Addie, I am a pastor of a southern Baptist church. I say that because it seems like we have the worst reputation when it comes to what you are speaking of. I am sorry for the bait-and-switch tactics and the insincerity of some. I ask your, and others, forgiveness. I would also say, though, that I have come across very few “church folks” who really have it together. The battles and fights that they are engaged in within their own souls are beyond their capability. So, yeah, sometimes they slip on the mask of religiousness, like someone else may slip on the mask of alcohol, drugs, sex, and a number of other things to hide away from the real pain. I don’t think it’s a conspiracy as much as it is a human defense mechanism and a glimpse at humanity’s depravity. So, what would I suggest? The exact same thing you wished for. Except I wouldn’t wait for a church stranger to approach you and ask you those questions, I would challenge you to approach them and ask them the same questions. Now that I am aware of your blog, will be reading more. I will continue to try to lead my congregants toward authenticity. Will be praying for you.

  • Mikeee

    I am a bit confused. Is this a motion to forsake God and the Church he established here on this earth (comprised of every individual who has placed their trust in the Lord Jesus) or a plea for the local church to see the problem you have addressed, feeling disconnected when there should be a real family connection experience in the church?

    The fact that God is our maker, and we are just his created beings that he loved with such love that he became a man, and let his own creation nail him to a cross, and there suffer the penalty for our sin, so that we could have a Father/child relationship with him, this fact should overwhelm the believer with a sense of wanting to be near him, to learn more about him, and to wait for his return to take us home to be with himself.I know of no other place in the whole wide world that we can do this except the Church he created with the first believers, and every other one saved has been added since.

    There is truth in the disconnection, the “Ministries” (religious busyness) and fake smiles meant to hide the inner struggles, that we should feel free to share with our families. But leaving the only place that God has chosen for us to be in does not seem the answer.

    How about WE stand up and let our voice be heard. Speak to the leaders of your church, pray for the members by name (use the directory), sit down beside one you have prayed for, and ask, how are you doing, and listen. It is not about you, if you are a christian, it is about others. If the church you are in can’t see that, find one that does.

    I miss the Christians that have left. i miss their voice when we sing God’s praises. I sometimes feel like it was because of me that they might have been offended and left, and my heart breaks with the thought.

    • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

      Definitely not a motion to forsake God or church. Just my attempt to explain the chasm that I felt from my own cynical heart to the churches that I was so desperately trying to connect to. I wrote this post after finding my way to a beautiful, small church, where people are broken and honest about. Where I’m experiencing grace and love and — definitely not perfection — but a kind of beauty. I think it’s being part of this new body that gave me the courage to, as you say, let my voice be heard.

      When I think now about the lowest point of my cynicism, I realize that it was a wound left from shattered expectations of what church and community ought to look like. WRONG expectations that I’d somehow formed out of orphaned Scripture and Christian romance novels. I couldn’t fight for the church then; I was too hurt and angry. I needed them to fight for me. Now that I’ve found my way back to a lighter place, I hope that I can be the one to fight for others — to, as you brilliantly suggest, pray through the directory and call people. What a beautiful idea.

  • HeidiGolff

    Deeply convicting……heart breaking……..

  • Sue

    Maybe a better title would have been “How to Malign all Christians/Churches by Finding Fault with Everyone’s Motives . While there undoubtedly are many folks who are as described, it is a mistake to broad brush all churches. My mother taught me as a child that a few nasty Christians are not all Christians,or the church, or God. I have found both kinds of people everywhere, in and out of church. And the rejection cuts both ways. I can’t help but feel sorry for those who were sincerely caring and trying to help the best they knew how. I have not hidden my pain and hurt, and tried my best to be understanding and not judgmental, some appreciate it and for some it is not enough. They reject it and walk away. And it hurts. I’m sure you hurt them when you rejected them. Maybe what they offered you worked for them. Assuming all of them didn’t care is a big mistake. Assigning motives is lying; we do not really know motives unless we’re in that person’s head. We are all hypocrites in one way or another, because NOBODY’S actions match their words all the time.

    • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

      I’m so sorry this came across that way to you Sue. It wasn’t what I was trying to say, but I can see how it might have seemed like it.

      What I was trying to do here was to simply explain, from my own perspective, where my cynicism came from and to bridge the gap for church leaders who don’t know what to do with people like me. Certainly I don’t have all the answers. And you’re probably right, I’m sure that I hurt others too. We’re all broken, and I think when we, each of us, begin to be honest about that, we’ll begin to heal some of the damage that has been done on both sides of the struggle.

  • JB

    Hi Addie – Just recently discovered your site. Your writing style is fantastic and your messages resonate deeply. Thank you for this post, in particular. I especially relate to this comment: “We
    need to hear your stories – the messy ones, the hard parts. We need you
    to tell us the pain of it without skipping ahead to the happy ending.” I believe genuine healing and growth can be found in the telling of, and listening to, these “messy” stories to which you refer. I love messy! That’s when it gets real..

    • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

      Thank you so much JB. I’m so thankful for the people who’ve had the courage to be their messy selves with me. :)

  • Melissa Beaver

    i have no words. this is so so good. you nailed it friend. nailed it.

    • http://howtotalkevangelical.addiezierman.com/ Addie Zierman

      Thank you so much Melissa.