It’s undeniable that we are creatures of habit. More than that, we tend to lean into pre-scripted roles. Relationships at work, conversations with our kids, teenage angst — there are times where we say, do and faux-feel the things we are supposed to, the things books and sitcoms and our interactions have subtly told us we should be saying, doing and feeling.
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It’s true of our faith as well. Many of us feel the pressure to play the part. There are roles we feel compelled to slip into, parts we’ve been handed, and often we’ve even been told not to go off-script. But I’ll let you in on a little secret: you don’t have to play the role. Whether you are playing the role of “religious leader” with all the knowledge and none of the doubts, curiosities, or faithless moments that make up life as an actual human being, the role of “passionate evangelical” with the coolest skinny-jeans clad worship team, the bumper sticker, and the permanently tuned radio station, the role of “edgy church-plant member” who drinks the best coffee and beer and takes Jesus’ words seriously (because apparently the rest of us were just kidding around), or even the role of “bitter skeptic” who was so involved with their faith community, but then at one point you were courageous enough to be honest about the places in which the role you were handed was ill-fitting, and now the last thing in the world you could imagine is being a part of another faith community — whichever role you find yourself in (this list is far from exhaustive), it probably comes with all of these extra lines that you feel compelled to play along with, even though they don’t feel honest. But you don’t have to play the part. You can chuck the script, and instead just honestly be who you are.
I know this option is there because it’s the option I’ve found (or maybe the option that found me). I went to Bible College and learned a deep love for Jesus and the Bible, and that deep love for and study of Jesus and the Bible led me to see both in ways that were completely off-script for the communities that I began my faith journey in. I looked at the script for “Bible-college grad” and the one for “ex-evangelical questioning the beliefs I was given” and neither fit, so I decided to just be honest, and see what came. I worked in a 1500+ person per Sunday church for years, I was the guy who pushed too many amps through the subs so the building would shake and made all the lights and fog machines work for the high schoolers and middle schoolers, and I loved all that junk — I still do! And also, the idea of telling queer youth they were any less loved by God seemed not only dishonest and out of alignment with what I was understanding about Jesus and the Bible, but dangerously unkind. And the idea of spending millions of dollars on never-ending building campaigns and fancy new toys but doing next to nothing for the most vulnerable members of society seemed irresponsible and completely opposed to the call of Jesus. So I found a space where I could be honest.
Being honest is weird, and it takes you weird places. Sunday mornings I talk about Jesus in a room with stained glass windows, choir robes, and a still-played pipe organ while also singing songs by John Mark McMillan and Vertical Worship and reading quotes from Rumi. I spend time with a meditation group and a needlework group each week — and I love both! We’ve organized events to build houses, teach cooking classes, feed the hungry, and eat and drink with drag queens while talking about faith and the queer community. Every day is an adventure, and it takes me all over the map, but I never have to feel that tension anymore between the role I’m supposed to play, and what I really think, feel, or believe. So if you feel stuck, if you find yourself feeling boxed in, or forced to be dishonest about who you are, what you think, feel or believe, or how you currently understand (or don’t understand at all) Jesus, the Bible, or faith itself — know that you don’t have to read the script you’ve been handed. You don’t have to play the role. We can come together to build a new future where faith communities are in the business of encouraging spiritual exploration and growth, instead of handing out scripts to stick to.
The Rev. Buddy Gharring is pastor of the United Methodist Church, 360 Shoshone St. E., Twin Falls. For more information, email email@example.com or go to twin.church.