Forward by Megan Jessop
Katy's story is one that many whom have grown up in the church can identify with, yet different. She understands the beauty of Jesus while simultaneously struggles to embrace a broken church system. She knows what being on the fringe of the Christian culture and Society looks and feels like. We hope you can identify with her story in some ways, and find hope in it as well. I know I do!
Jesus and I have always been on good terms. The church and I, it seems, have not always been so close.
I was born into a Christian family. And I mean that in the very best sense. I don’t want to brag or anything, but I do actually have the best parents in the world (seriously, Carl and Vicki Richardson, if you don’t know them, get to know them). My parents are pastors and have been involved in ministry as long as I’ve been alive.
When I was four, we moved to a ministry in Western North Carolina. The ministry was once an old inn up in the mountains, but now specialized in training up leaders. They also provided counsel for families--mostly pastors and missionaries--who needed to get away from their situation in order to get healing, usually there was some kind of trauma involved.
The plan was for us to be there about 3 months, get trained up, and then become missionaries in Eastern Europe (I vaguely recall sticky notes with German words on household objects around our home in South Florida before we moved to North Carolina). We ended up staying for 10 years. My dad became the Assistant Director of the ministry.
I should mention that I use the words “we” and “us” when I talk about my parent’s ministry because so did they. When I was little, I was empowered to speak and study the Word for myself. I had a voice at the table and the fact that I was small or female did nothing to diminish my voice. My parents believed me when I said I heard from Holy Spirit. They listened to me when I showed them some kind of revelation I received from the Word of God and asked me probing questions as if I was an adult. They fully believed that I wasn’t given a “baby Holy Spirit” when I received Christ. Do you see what I’m saying here? My parents really are the best parents. And it cultivated at very deep, very personal relationship with God. That’s a good thing. Except when it’s not. I’ll get into that later.
Like I said, a big part of what the ministry did was provide counsel for pastors, ministry leaders, missionaries, etc. Things happen when you’re in leadership: adultery, burnout, neglect of family, just to name a few. And I spent my formative years watching broken people come in and out of the ministry. I lot of people got better; a lot of people didn’t; and a lot of people really didn’t want to.
But, even with the ones who got better, I didn’t see the fruit of that. Another batch of broken people would come in. Which isn’t to say that the living at the ministry wasn’t a good experience. It really was. It gave me an incredible worldview. It helped me realize that Jesus isn’t an English speaking American--so many of the people there weren’t American. I had Saharawe dinners on the floor, celebrated Passover with a Messianic Jews, and learned Norwegian hymns. And still, there was this lingering sense of disappointment that festered.
10 years is plenty of time to shape a worldview, and mine was pretty solid. Jesus is great. The church is broken. Christians kind of suck.
And there was a bit of self-loathing associated with all of this. I called myself a Christian and I thought we sucked. That is what I like to call “effective faith.” If the sarcasm isn’t evident, reread that last sentence while rolling your eyes.
Then, we moved. You can only do that sort of job for so long. I started high school and got really involved with theater (that’s another story for another time). We were involved with a really great church in the suburbs of Atlanta. And then, because it’s not my story to tell, I will just say that the church ceased to be. It was pretty devastating for all involved.
And my theology solidified. Jesus is great. The church sucks.
At the tail end of my junior year of high school, my parents asked me if I would be open to moving to Redding, CA for my senior year of high school. My parents had been following Bethel Church for a while and, after a lot of prayer and thought, really felt that they wanted to attend their School of Ministry and get involved. But they would wait if I felt like I needed to finish out high school in Georgia. (Am I making myself clear? Best. Parents.)
I was very ready to leave (again another story for another time), so we headed out. Bethel Church is an incredible place. For the most part, I really am in love with the work they are doing there and it’s a good church. I love it as much for its imperfections as for the things that make it great because it means that it is growing. But still, I felt like they were the exception and not the rule. It’s hard to change theology.
I went to a very liberal college in Southern Oregon and studied creative writing--a very liberal degree. I fit in really well there. I made a lot of friends, all who knew I was a Christian, and I would preface it with “I love Jesus, the church sucks.” And that was enough to be acceptable.
Remember what I said about having a very personal relationship with God? Sometimes it makes me smug. Sometimes it makes me feel like I don’t need a community. Me and God. That’s all I need. In another time, in another life, I would absolutely be a hermit writing mystic teachings on vellum or something. My college years were a time in my life in which I did not have Christian community. I didn’t like the association. I still prayed. I still meditated. I still read scripture. I still felt directly connected to the entire Trinity. And, this really wasn’t God’s intention for people. The Bible is pretty clear about living together in community. I was missing an important piece.
Anyway, one day, a girl in my class said some things that many people in the class found hurtful and offensive. She said the things in the name of Jesus. I sunk in my desk, glowering, and walked home fuming, crying out to Jesus.
“Jesus I love you so much. You are so good to me. And the church sucks. Do you see what they’re doing? Do you see what they’ve done? Do you see what they’re saying in your name?”
His response wasn’t audible, but it was the closest I have ever heard to an audible response from Him.
“Katy, that’s my wife you’re talking about.”
Imagine your best friend--the person you love and confide in the most, the best friend who has been with you through your worst times and picked you up over and over again. But you hate their wife. You don’t make an effort to get to know her. You call her names to your best friend, tell him he should dump her, that she’s not worth his time or yours.
Can you still call yourself that person’s friend? Definitely not a good friend.
And that realization was my unraveling. I cried. I repented (and let me be clear, I hate repenting). I realized that it was so easy for me to love and forgive everyone except those who identify as Christian. For them, in my eyes, there is little forgiveness. They should know better.
I changed my perspective. And it’s a process. I’m still often frustrated by the organization I associate myself with. But I’m fully identifying with it too. I’m a Christian. I am part of The Body. And, in the eyes of God, she is beautiful and spotless.
If I’m being really honest, sometimes it seems like the church doesn’t like me much either. I’m a lot of things that the classic western church tries to avoid: an intellectual, science loving, environmentalist, postmodern art aficionado, democrat, feminist mystic with a smart mouth and a deep love of bourbon.
Sometimes I feel excluded from the church conversation. Sometimes I feel wrong, maybe unwanted by the church. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes I feel enormous pressure to change who I am for the church. The “world”--whatever that means--has never excluded me or made me feel the way the church has. The world likes what I’m about. Incidentally, so does Jesus. He has made that abundantly clear in the direction He points His favor.
So, that’s how I navigate my life--with one foot in and one foot out. Figuring out how to love a body that I’m a part of that doesn’t always love me back, believing that one day she will accept every aspect of herself with love. Not just the parts that are easy to love.
And we’re getting there. And we’re getting better. And I want to be a part of it.