“You’ve got to keep it moving while healing,” the doctor said to me as he cut the hastily made emergency room splint off my arm. I had broken my elbow in a bicycling accident a couple days earlier, and had been waiting for the prognosis. It was a good prognosis for recovery, but the result was that I had to keep moving through the pain while it healed so that my elbow would not heal hard and stiff.
Many young people have been hurt by the church, and sometimes we want to keep ourselves wrapped up in our disappointments, hurts and tragedies so that we can hold everything in place and relieve the pain. At a certain point, if we want to be whole though, we have got to start moving while healing.
Yesterday, I was sitting listening while some friends talked about Christians, forgetting I was sitting there. “It is amazing that half our nation’s population believes this stuff,” one of them said. Yet, as I turned around and they remembered I am a clergywoman, I saw first panic and then relief wash over their faces as they realized I identified with their struggle with the church rather than judging them. I told them that the same things that bother them about Christians or about the Scriptures or the mainline churches bother me and many of my clergy peers as well. Yet, I live in that tension and mystery as a person of faith who has been liberated by the Spirit and Scriptures and has submitted my life to serve God and God’s church as an Elder.
I have read unChristian and seen the blogs and YouTubes out there, but I do not need to look any further than the end of my own nose to know that young people are struggling to find their place in the church today.
One place where my friends who were critical of the Christian movement yesterday said they could see themselves in the church was in its potential to be a place of refuge, a sanctuary, a place of peace where people might be more likely to be kind to you than somewhere else. On September 11, 2001, many people experienced the church as such a place.
While people my age sat glued to their televisions at home or in dorm rooms during those first hours of September 11, the clergy of many churches began moving while healing. They went to their churches and they opened the doors. They did not have the words to make everything better – because on that day there were no answers – on that day anything was possible, and nothing was possible all at once. But even as they were without the answers, they kept moving – they still opened the doors of the church and people came who may have never come before. Because somehow in those kinds of moments, God ceases to be funny even to the most cynical among us.
As young Christians, many of us watched in awe as our elders showed us what it means to keep moving while you are healing. Now, more than a decade later, many of us are in roles of leadership in the church, whether lay or ordained, and we are trying to figure out how to help the church keep moving.
We are a movement that has continued to move through all manner of struggles over the past two thousand years. Many times that movement has messed up and we bear with us the scars of having promoted the Crusades, the oppression of women, and the enslavement of Native Americans, Africans and Latin Americans (to name a few). Yet, the irony of it is that we are a movement that has also held people within its membership that have fought to end all of those same injustices that we have had a hand in creating. There is a struggle within us, and even as we wound, there are many faithful people who step up to heal. We continue to fail in many ways, just as we continue to be a force for good and change in many other ways. Through all the crimes committed against members of our own movement and outside of it, we kept moving and we kept healing as we moved.
I talk to so many young people who find challenges in the church and outside of it. People who are gifted and passionate and who feel boxed in as if they are hitting the ageism glass ceiling that people like Jeremiah, Timothy and even Jesus hit before them. To you I appeal, keep moving while healing. Do not let your faith become hard and stiff. Whether in good times or hard times, keep moving. Whether you are being treated fairly or unjustly, keep moving. Whether your call is being celebrated or ignored, keep moving. You may feel that the church does not understand you, that the church has hurt you or failed to empower you in some way – but even as you heal, keep moving to change things for those that come after.
I would not be standing here today as an ordained female Elder if the women who came before me did not keep moving while healing and broke through to prepare the way for myself and other young women to be ordained today. I cannot begin to understand the pain they endured and the way they kept moving through it to find a new way.
There are many others who would not be in the church today if the clergy on September 11th had not gotten up and gone and opened the doors of their churches to welcome without question a people without answers. My generation has a calling of its own to carry out, and we owe it to those who came before us and those who will come after us to carry it out. Despite any struggles or set backs that come our way, whose future will we change as we keep moving while healing?