It was JRR Tolkien who wrote, "Not all who wander are lost."
In the 10 months since resigning from my church of a couple decades, I have met my fair share of wanderers, church nomads, refugees. People who - for one reason or another - walked out of their houses of worship for a season, or longer. Each with their own story, their own sense of disillusionment, their own questions, doubts, and frustration.
It is so interesting to ask a question or two and then listen. No judgment, no opinions, no frantic efforts to rush them back to organized religion out of fear for their mortal souls. Just curiosity borne out of kindness and a recognition of sorts; a kindred spirit.
There are so many of us out here. I still include myself as a wanderer, even though I have found my way (back) to the denomination of my childhood, to a worshipping community close to my home and close to my heart. Nonetheless, I have a wanderer's spirit ...
Many of my fellow nomads do feel lost. They feel set adrift in a stormy time -- Growing animosity amongst neighbors, rising racial hatred, codified bigotry that has made its way into our public schools and public spaces. Churches where political views seem more the source of guidance for life than the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. My friends want to go to church or something similar, they want to gather in community to learn and grow and worship, they want to find spaces to ask questions and try out new ways of thinking, but they can't find those places right now.
Church** feels unsafe.
Just as many wanderers out here do not feel lost. In fact, they feel more found than ever before, more solid in their faith, their worldview, their understanding of what it looks like to follow Jesus in spite of the cultural pressure to follow a kind of nationalistic figurehead that vaguely resembles the carpenter from Nazareth. They form community with other nomads, have formative, honest conversations about things of great depth. They share meals and childcare and resources and commitments to the greater good. They love Christ and love people and feel a growing sense of freedom. Many of them tell me they may never step foot in a church again.
Church feels unsafe.
Church feels caught up in rules.
Church feels out of touch with the needs of the community.
Church feels painful; the trauma and hurt are real and lasting.
It is too easy to simply look at folks who have walked away from church and tsk-tsk-tsk, shake our heads, assume they have left the faith, and pray for their souls.
It is far more interesting to look them in the eye, ask an open-ended question or two and then listen with respect and honor for their story, their heart, their faith ...
There are some absolutely fascinating, faith-filled folks out here, wandering, but not lost.
Not lost at all.
** When I write about "church" I am speaking of the broader church in the United States at this time, not a specific church.