While I am a married clergy person, I’m sure that many of the people in my congregation think of me as a single person. You see, my husband isn't involved at all in church life. This whole church and religion thing just isn't what makes him comfortable and he's definitely not sure that he wants to swallow the church's "truth" hook, line and sinker. And that's probably putting it nicely.
Our faith journey together started way back in high school when we started dating. At the time, we were all giddy about this new love and would pass notes back and forth to one another. I remember vividly this one note we passed that talked about all of our “favorites.” When asked what his favorite book of the Bible was, he answered that ALL of the Bible is inspiring. Now it is strange to think back and realize that at the time, he was probably more religious than I was. Our relationship continued to develop and I grew in new directions in my faith, but experiences in the real world caused him to question the rigid roots to his.
When I answered my calling first to go to seminary, and then later to come back to our home state and be a pastor…well, let’s just say that it wasn’t exactly the future he had planned for us. It amazes me every single day that he has stuck with me throughout this journey that was not of his choosing. We even reached the point of calling off our engagement for a grand total of about six hours before we realized that there had to be some way that we could move beyond our differences in faith.
In the past month, there have been moments when I could truly appreciate the strange blessing our relationship has brought to my ministry. Even though I'm a pastor and he's…well, if he were to call himself anything it would be Buddhist.
First, on a Tuesday morning, a lovely woman in our small group came up and said that she and her husband had been talking about me. Her husband isn’t a very churchy person, either. He also doesn't get the whole religion thing. And he was intrigued by the idea that if my husband and I can figure it out—then he and his wife should be able to figure it out too. Her face glowed as we bonded over our common yearning to be able to share our faith with our spouses, but also our amazement at their willingness to support us, even if they don’t fully understand us.
Then, a friend gave me an amazing CD. It was Susan Werner's "The Gospel Truth," and it is a treasure chest of musical genres and prophetic witness and faith and doubt all rolled into one. She describes it as "agnostic gospel" and I think in many ways that is true.
In her song, “Lost My Religion,” she talks about being told that girls were more trouble than they are worth by her preacher. And then comes the line: “lost my religion…or my religion lost me.”
I think far too many people, like my husband, don't lose their faith, but their traditions lose them. Church people can be too brash, they can be too forceful and judgmental; they can be too close-minded and far too empty of grace.
And some people just can't stand the hypocrisy. Some people just can't stand being constantly judged for something they can't control. Some people have too many questions and don't think they can ask them. So they leave. Or rather, they are left behind.
As I listened to Werner's album, and thought about my husband, and that woman's husband, I started thinking about all of the other people in my town that wrestle with deep questions of faith and life but don't feel they belong in our churches. I want so much to have a cup of coffee with them and talk. I want to sit down over a beer and ask them what their questions are, and promise them that I don't have cut and dry answers—but that we can wrestle with the questions together. I want to spend time with my youth group parents and assure them that I know their lives are busy, and that Sunday mornings don't always work for them, but that we as the church can make room in our lives for them if they let us.
My heart is for people whom religion has lost. And that’s probably why my heart is also always and forever for my husband.