I Can’t Shake the Church

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Photo by James Baldwin on Unsplash

Today’s post comes from a dear friend and divinity student, Kirsten Trambley. Kirsten surprises me always with her creative thinking and passion. I can’t wait to see what she does with her degree and her wonderful heart. Here are her words, in answer to my questions about the next generation and faith.

Disclaimer: I have chosen to interview young people of several traditions for this series. Their beliefs may not be the same as my beliefs. That’s okay. Dialogue is the best way to understanding one another and living in the peace and unity that Jesus spoke about. Yay for not all thinking the same.

 

If you could tell us one thing about your generation, what would it be?

Millennials are not ignorant, uninformed airheads. We are pushing 40, we are past college, we are not only entering the workforce but becoming established in our careers. As a middle millennial born in the early 90s, I can attest we are not a pack to be defined as one but an evolving mystery of knowledge with care for justice and change that is already being employed. We are not “leaders of the future”; we are people who have been leading for over a decade, many even longer. We love to learn from older generations, yet we have much to learn from the generation below us. GenZ’ers are fantastic, phenomenal, witty, quick-thinking, problem-solving, fun, amazing children of God.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

What do you need from older generations?

We need openness. One does not necessarily need to be open-minded because I’m not one to say that I’m always right. But, with open listening and open dialogue (I think we used to simply call this conversation), we can see each other – not as sides, parties, progressive vs. traditional – but as humans alongside each other on the journey. We are in this together for life and for meaning-making while searching together for faith, beliefs, and sacred texts. We need to hear the positions of reason, scripture, tradition, and experience from older generations in order to balance our understanding of the world and the ways in which we work to move forward.

As a youth leader, we need intergenerational work. To bring life into a dying church, we can’t cluster into age segregation. Rather, it must be intergeneration to engage youth with a reason to find their sense of purpose within a religious community. I need different age groups working together to make my work with youth be productive, and I need friends of different ages in my life to share their perspectives of experiences and interpretations of my experiences to help guide my path.

What are your dreams for the church / faith?

One of the Drew Theological School professors, Mark A. Miller, who is the director of Craig Chapel and the composer-in-residence has a song that I love, “I Dream of a Church.” The modern hymn opens with, “I dream of a church where everyone is welcome. I dream of a place we all can call home.”

In a service at Drew, Miller recently said that everyone is welcome “as we are all pilgrims on the journey.” Sometimes, I see this welcoming as an act of inclusion via the work of Jen Hatmaker (whom I have read and followed online for a few years, my link to Jill), but sometimes inclusion feels too much like “us” having power. I agree with those who say the church needs a divide so we know where / with whom / on what we align, though I also think we have a place for great hope of a church that radically works together despite its differences as I have learned from Bishop Karen Oliveto, the first openly-gay bishop of the United Methodist Church.

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We could divide over racial desegregation, women in leadership, human sexuality, etc., but we are already divided on ableism that literally keeps people out of our buildings or on issues of migration that separate our families. While I dream of a church where everyone is welcome, my current contexts are very left-leaning. We won’t deny people based on physical or identity factors, but our views on social factors are well-defined and dividing. There is conflict among moderates and conservatives in my liberal progressive spaces, and it’s not always handled with respect toward all. The ideal would be for all to come together under a common good. I am determining the reality of where I sustain hope for this shared well-being or if I lean toward the divide.

What’s your greatest fear for the church?

We are cutting off people because they are not the majority, the privileged, the people with social capital. When we limit and say Christianity can only look like / be like / enacted like / live like one certain understanding to experience God, we cut off the marginalized.

We lose the voices and experiences of women when we deny their callings or do not intentionally include gender-balanced leadership.

We ignore the faith of those identifying as LGBTQIA+ when we discount their Christianity for being in the queer community, even if they display the training and skills needed in their positions.

We exploit people of color when we lead all-white churches, have tokenized people of color on church staff, and / or we say we “don’t see race.”

We harm children and reject their faith when we don’t allow them to participate and lead in worship because of their age.

I can continue to give examples for days, but it concludes with the fear that leads to exclusion. We cannot be an ecumenical body of Christ if we are not communally affirmed in our faith and in living with the divine Spirit in each person simply on the basis of humanity.

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If you could contribute one thing, what would it be?

I desire to contribute many things as a theological student with some skill in a lot of places.

I hope I’m funny. I hope I’m relatable and honest with myself and with others. I hope I’m contributing to engaged thought through writing. I hope I’m creating change through social action in “big” things like rallies or marches and in “small” things like adapting worship service liturgy on art and justice or providing resources for engagement in immigration rights.

Even with all of this, my greatest contribution in my current context and in the past seven years of my work is to mentor youth. I work to provide hope, a place for creativity, space to explore faith, somewhere to ask questions without always coming to an answer, and opportunity to be involved in the local church and in demanding justice. I’m analyzing my work every day for its potential long-term effects and for finding resources for meaning in life to connect that with the quest of our youth. Engaging with the younger generation is beautiful, overwhelmingly-pressured, and an honor.

What do you love about the Bible?

I love that the library of books of the Bible that I’m reading through my current lens as a progressive theological student are entirely different than the one cohesive book that I read as a young person who was given a conservative story from the same text. I think the books really have space for that varied interpretation, and that honors each of us in our place with God.

Some pieces of the story are too cool to not recognize. I love discovering that Genesis has two creation stories and finding the references to early cultures’ origin texts. I love that the canon includes four different readings of the life of Jesus the Christ. I love that the books include divine representations as feminine and gender-neutral and masculine, warrior and lover, crucified and resurrected, Creator and Sustainer, and encompassing ideas of what God can be.

I love how the books that I’ve read have real-life locations that I have visited in Turkey. I love that I don’t understand or believe all of the writings to be historically true because that contains an unexplainably holy mystery. I love that I don’t have to purposefully engage with the text every day for it to make an impact on who I am and how I live my life. I love that I can read the Bible entirely differently than I did one, five, eleven years ago, and I still find a sacred nature within the text.

Other thoughts?

I have great hope and hurt for the church. I don’t know what exactly it means in my life right now, but – as hard as I’ve tried – I can’t shake it away or abandon its purpose. It’s a messy bunch of weirdos, but it’s our mess.

Kirsten Trambley close up

Kirsten E. M. Trambley is a second year Master of Divinity: Social Justice Advocacy student at Drew Theological School. She is originally from southernmost Illinois where she worked with youth in a public high school, an ecumenical biannual camp, and various churches and small groups. Kirsten puts her faith into ministerial action by working with youth, engaging with social change, and expressing herself creatively through visual and performance arts as well as through writing. Through her leadership, she persists in encouraging courage, creating community alongside storytelling and partnership, and working toward God’s call for liberation, justice, freedom, peace, and love for all.

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