Today, I want to tell you a little of my faith journey; it’s interesting, wandering, and beautiful.
It started off simply enough. I attended the United Methodist Church a few blocks away from my growing up home. I often wonder, looking back now, if my journey would have looked different if the church a few blocks away was a different denomination? What if it was Lutheran or Presbyterian for example? It’s interesting for me to consider that now, church nerd that I am. However, it was simple back then. We went to the United Methodist Church probably because we could walk there. The only thing I knew is that we weren’t Roman Catholic like many of my friends because we passed their church on the way to our own. I never went to their church in my earliest years. It was off limits even if I never understood why. I did go to their dances when I got a little older though. My friends sometimes came to my church’s Vacation Bible School too. Strange isn’t it? What we allow and what we don’t.
Looking back now, there are a few other things of interest about my earliest church years.
First, my childhood pastor of my first 18 years, had polio. He walked very similar to the way I walked in those days as a young man with cerebral palsy. I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but he was the first person I knew with a visible disability who was influencing the lives of others including myself. The Word of God was being preached through him. I could be created in God’s image too; disabled body and all!
The second thing of note was similar. We are all part of God’s family. In addition to being disabled, I’m also adopted. I was never able to look across the table and see someone whose eyes looked like mine. This wouldn’t happen until years later when my own daughter was born and when I subsequently connected with biological family.
Yes, my growing up family loved me, and I recognized that love, but insecurity can creep into a young person’s mind and it certainly did for me especially as I moved into my early teenage years.
However, there was no doubt in church. We are all children of God. It was a declaration! My two biggest insecurities, disability and identity, weren’t obstacles in church. I’m grateful for that.
I drifted away from church as I moved into my later teenage years and beyond. It probably manifested in a similar way to the way teenagers push away from their families as they search for their own personal identity too. Life sure is funny that way.
I didn’t find my way back to church until my mid 20’s thanks to meeting one of my favorite people in the world, and a true saint, Bernice. We worked together at a bank. I knew she was a Christian because she had a Bible on her desk, but she never hit anyone over the head with it, as I’m fond of saying, or confronted anyone about their belief or lack thereof. She was just different. She had a presence of peace. She was kind, caring, and peaceful. I wanted to have what she had. So, I went home and read the Bible like a book from beginning to end and something clicked. This began my reentry into church.
Now, all I had to do is find a church. Where did I fit? Going back to a United Methodist Church seemed too easy. So, I wandered. I went to storefront Pentecostal churches, Baptist churches, nondenominational churches, and more.
As I think about it now it occurs to me that I think I sought out churches that seemed full of outsiders, people who didn’t quite fit in traditional churches, people most like me. It seems funny that, ultimately, I ended up back in a United Methodist Church thanks to some friends I met along the way (even if still feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole some days.)
Maybe that’s why I still seek out worship opportunities elsewhere and like spending time with people in a wide range of settings. One of my most significant mentors is the pastor at a large multi-campus church. Maybe I’m not an outsider at all. Maybe I’m just a wanderer.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that I find the book, Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost (A Story of Church) by Traci Rhoades so compelling. God works in so many more ways (and places) than our humanity can comprehend. The stories are individual and collective, broken and beautiful, human and Godly.
God is in our midst. Traci Rhoades’ book recounts this truth time and again throughout its pages. In our humanity we like to silo, and the church is no different, but there is no us versus them. There is only us. One of my earliest truths still holds true. We are all God’s children. That is apparent throughout Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost.
Again, the book does a great job of telling this through Traci’s story and the story of others told therein. It may feel subversive sometimes like when the author dips her fingers into the Holy Water at a Catholic church in the introduction or it might feel like another home as she tells of childhood experiences at a nearby Methodist church whose doors were always unlocked. Sometimes, it’s sitting in a truck with a pastor on a cold Sunday morning, (That’s my experience in Buffalo, NY too!) sometimes, it’s coming home after the loss of a loved one. God transcends all the boundaries we so often put in.
That’s another beautiful part of this book. It’s not just the story of a singular person. Rhoades does a great job of bringing together so many people’s stories across a wide variety of denominations, traditions, and practices. Certainly, more than I have ever seen before and it’s amazing.
Too often people don’t see God working in their midst. Traci Rhoades not only sees it, she brings it together in the most wonderful way. The church is messy and beautiful, broken yet complete, searching and discovering. Mostly though it’s human and Divine in all its many forms. As one of my favorite quotes from the book says, “Ultimately, no matter what tradition you call home, it’s about Christ.”
Yes, this book will challenge you and parts might even trigger you. That was my experience. However, just like church at its best, it also felt like home; a place of stories, family, and love.
That’s the story the author and her friends share in these pages. That’s absolutely my story. I hope you’ll read this book. I bet you’ll see yourself too.