I had an amazing conversation with a graduate student this past week who wanted to interview me for her class on gender, sexuality and religion. We discussed a multitude of topics but her final question provoked a passionate response within me that I wanted to share with the rest of you. She asked, “What would you, a minister, say to someone who has been hurt or turned off by the church and no longer attends?”
Here’s what I would say to that person: First off, whatever you have been told, preached or taught, you need to know that God loves you more than you can imagine. That love is infinite, predetermined and non-negotiable. That love has been yours since the very moment you were conceived. I want to apologize on behalf of the church if they have ever taught you anything different from that; if they taught you that you had to earn God’s love or that life is a test to see if you will succeed or fail. You do not need to earn God’s love, ever. That love will never be taken away from you no matter how successful or unsuccessful you are. You just need to be you because God delights in your very existence.
This goes to the essence of Christianity, the immeasurable and powerful notion of grace—a gift of love that nobody deserves and isn’t doled out in correspondence to our deeds or achievements.
And if you are still looking for a spiritual community, don’t give up on us. Inclusive and radically embracing spiritual communities do indeed exist. You don’t even have to exclude your search to Christian communities. If you feel at home in a Buddhist meditation group, a Jewish synagogue or yoga class, seek those out in order to nurture your connection to God. At the very least, commit to some kind of spiritual practice until you find the right community.
Your connection to God and your deep knowledge of how loveable you are will be the catalyst for helping you do what you long to do and be who you long to become. It’s paradoxical. We do not need to prove our worth to anybody and especially not to God. At the same time, God’s infinite and predetermined love for us is precisely what helps us to be that person whom God longs for us to be—whole, happy, secure and practicing our set of gifts that, like fingerprints, are unique to every single individual.
You may now be wondering, if we do not need to prove our worth, then why are we here on this earth? Most of us have been taught by religion that our lives are a test to see how holy we can be. If we are holy enough, our names will be written in a book of life or something like that. Alternatively, we have been taught by society that our lives can only be measured by how much power, beauty, money and status we gain. If none of this is true, if our worth is predetermined and infinite, then what is the purpose of our lives?
And the purpose of our lives is this: to receive this all as a gift.
I know it sounds too good to be true.
The reason why it’s too good to be true is because of grace.