In the Church, but not of it

Lady Justice

My favorite presentation while I was at Wild Goose was hosted by Jared Byas with Levi Weaver. They spoke on spiritual creativity, and as someone who fancies herself a bit of a creative, I was interested to hear their thoughts on that issue.

Jared’s talk and Levi’s performance were amazing, but one of the things that really struck me about them was that they both said that we had to get beyond cynicism if we wanted to create. They did not suggest that we could not experience seasons as a critic, but cautioned against setting up camp there because it is nearly impossible to create from that space because it can be just as limiting as the things that we’re cynical about. If we constantly put ourselves in the position of critic, the ability to see beauty diminishes and with it, the ability to project beauty with our art.

I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear this message.

I didn’t realize how much I need to have hope affirmed.

While my real life circles are primarily conservative, online I run with a fairly progressive crowd. The people who I interact with grew up in a Church culture that emphasized to they be in the world but not of it, but mostly meant not to really be in the world either. But we discovered that we related to God more through Alanis Morrissette than Darlene Zschech, more Kurt Cobain than Stephen Curtis Chapman. We joined AOL chat rooms and found out that the world was much bigger than our local church and that the scary people we were warned against weren’t all that different from us. We realized that the alternative to black and white wasn’t grey, but rather a stunning array of color.

As a result, we found ourselves in the role of critic. The status quo could no longer satisfy, the old answers no longer accepted at face value.

And our mantra changed. We became in the Church, but not of it.

But in the same way that they didn’t mean in the world, we didn’t really mean in the Church either.

Instead, we positioned ourselves as the new arbiters of what it meant to be Christian. We traded one form of judgment for another that fit us a bit more comfortably.

I have to be honest, though. Any kind of judgment starts to chafe after a while. This seat became hard, this robe confining. Being on the outside is lonely, even if there are others there, because really, everyone is suspect.

Last week, Tina and I were talking about how we need to absorb the shock waves that result from the loss of power. How do we take something that is hurtful and potentially harmful and lessen the impact? She asked how we become Antoinette Tuffs in those situations.

As I listened again to the 911 tape of a woman talking down a shooter at a Georgia school, what struck me about her was that rather that placing herself as the shooter’s critic, Tuff came alongside him and found commonalities between them. She acknowledged her own hurts and disappointments. She showed compassion, even when it was a risky.

This is what I want. Not to be on the outside, but to be in the midst. I want to be one who sees the humanity of people, even when we disagree; even when there could be some cost. I want to surround myself with people who acknowledge pain, but search for beauty, and when they can’t find it, create it themselves.

I don’t simply want to say that I’m in the Church, I actually want to be in the Church.

  • Preston Yancey

    Get. It.

    *snaps snaps snaps*

    • Alise Wright

      Based in part on a conversation yesterday. In case you missed that. ;)

  • bekka

    Yes, to all of this. The whole “in the world, not of it, but not really in it either” and the slippery slope to the other extreme are common pitfalls.

    More and more and more I find myself seeking that moderation between everything. And I think what you have shared here is pretty darn close.

  • Monika Jankun-Kelly

    So much to think about here. Nurturing hope. Embracing those who are different, while remaining different ourselves. Finding commonality. Reaching out to those who hurt us. Alise, your writing has broad reach. You can write about faith and experiences in church, and it resonates with me, a secular person, because you discuss matters that are so broadly applicable to many parts of life. Visiting this blog is like… a pleasant and filling meal for the mind.

  • Benjamin Craig

    Wow… so much to think about. The part that hit home for me the most was how being a critic can make you lose your sense of beauty. Everything in life seems to call for and need an opinion on whether it is good or bad, pretty or ugly, right or wrong… why can’t we just enjoy life as it is and find true beauty in the events, people, and places around us instead of judging everything all the time? Just a question I had to ask myself after reading this.

  • idelette


    Love this, Alise.

  • Arman Sheffey

    First time reader. LOVED IT!!!

  • pastordt

    Alise. This is just terrific. I’m seeing real transformation in you, most especially in your writing in this space. And I am impressed and grateful. Thanks for this.

  • Karen

    This really resonates with me. As I was reading Henri Nouwen last week, the thought kept popping into my head- “there is no “them,” only “us.”

  • David Rupert

    I cling to truth — and the fuzzy edges are dangerous. Yet, our culture and many elements of the modern church mock definitive lines, letting each man/woman decide for themselves. The “church” needs to stand for truth — and we need to be in it AND of it.

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  • Bill

    Great post. I understand exactly what you’re saying and am struggling with the same or similar issues. I found what Eric Elnes had to say about “covergence Christianty” to be interesting and hopeful.

  • Heather King

    Yes. Thank you so much for this, A. I needed it too.

  • Grayson Pope

    Great stuff Alise. I find it exhausting to read post after post about what’s wrong with the church when there is so much beauty to behold about what’s right. I love this because it reminds me that it’s much easier to criticize something than to take part in building it.

  • Rob Grayson

    Thank you for capturing the tension so well and giving voice to something many are no doubt struggling to express.

  • Nancy

    Thank you for this – a lot of what you said resonated with me, both as an artist and a bit of a critic.

  • Cindy

    Could it work the other way around as well? Instead of getting beyond cynicism to create, we create our way through the cynicism. The best works of art always has bits of hope and critique scattered through, yeah?

    Thanks so much for this, I really resonated!

  • Katherine Blute

    These guys have fantastic points!