We want to figure out life together. We have always wanted to figure out life together. Our species never took off until we moved from the level of nuclear family to the level of community and tribe. What brought us together? It was not the need for safety, but man’s search for meaning. Think Stonehenge, the carved figures in Rapa Nui, the pyramids of Egypt, or the burial mounds of indigenous Americans. All around us are countless examples of people coming together to figure out why we are here, and for what purpose.
We are also a spiritual species, and we best work out our spirituality in community. Yes, religious communities are messy, because they are one of the few places in which we learn to be human together. Yes, they are often toxic, because there are six different stages of faith, and those who never get beyond stage three remain within toxic fundamentalist religions. They work from a binary “us versus them” perspective, convinced that only those who believe as they believe are “in” and everyone else is “out.” And, make no mistake, they can be pretty cruel to those who are out.
One of the defining religious issues of our time is LGBTQ+ acceptance. The 2020 American Values Survey indicated that 70 percent of Americans are supportive of marriage equality. A surprising finding is that well over 50 percent of Christians are supportive of marriage equality, including 79 percent of mainline Protestants, 76 percent of Hispanic Catholics, 67 percent of White Catholics, and 57 percent of Black Protestants. Only one Christian group is opposed to marriage equality – White evangelicals, who oppose it 63 percent to 34 percent. That is the “us” versus” “them” dynamic.
While the fundamentalist forms of the desert religions remain binary and toxic, the majority of Christians in America are supportive of marriage equality and transgender rights. A lot of those people are in vibrant, dynamic churches like the church I serve as a pastor – Left Hand Church in Longmont, Colorado.
Last weekend we held the third annual winter retreat of Left Hand Church at Castle Mountain Lodge in Estes Park, Colorado. Kristie Sykes has coordinated each of our retreats. Kristie and Nicole Vickey worked hard all weekend to keep the food and fellowship (yep, I said fellowship) flowing. Shannon Fletcher led a sharing circle in which every single attendee shared a meaningful moment from their lives. Mara Vernon, CEO of Ripp Leadership, led a delightfully insightful session on the DiSC Personality Profile. Heatherlyn, Bryan, and Cairn led us in great worship. Heatherlyn and Bryan jammed late into the night, and Kristie Sykes led us in fun games Friday night, then took us through a helpful spiritual gifts assessment Sunday morning.
I’m older than dirt, which means I have attended a lot of retreats. I can’t remember any I enjoyed as much as this one. Yes, the programming was amazing, and the food was wonderful, but it was the fellowship that filled me to the brim.
Fellowship is such an evangelically tainted term that most progressive Christians avoid it. But there is nothing wrong with the word. It is a friendly association, especially with people who share the same interests. At our retreat, the primary shared interest was a desire to live authentically in community, trying to love God, neighbor, and self. The weekend was messy because the church is messy. But grace prevailed, because if a group is trying to follow the example of Jesus, grace will always prevail.
I saw healing there. People surrounded hurting souls, bathing them in prayer. There were deep, abiding conversations, as well as raucous laughter. (No one ever did tell me the meaning of that one word I had to read aloud while we were playing that one game. I had to look it up when I got home. I will not mention the word here!)
When I returned to my home in Lyons, the house may have been empty, but my soul was full. Left Hand Church is broken. Most churches are. We are also a pretty remarkable church. We are resilient and hopeful and honest and not afraid of the dark places, or the roads filled with fallen branches and stones. We know there is no way but forward, through the desert, and we stay true to that journey.
Whenever I do interviews for radio shows, television shows, or podcasts, I am always asked why I remain in the church when I was treated so horribly by it. I always say that religion at its worst may be toxic, but religion at its best is transformative. The retreat this past weekend was transformative. I am pleased I am still a member of a Christian church. If you’ve given up on the church, you might think about giving it another try. We meet every Saturday at 5:00 pm. Just sayin…