I’ve got a lot of sincere things to say about faith. They don’t all fit neatly into bullet points, so if you are up for it, this part of the conversation is going to take a minute. But…I think it’s worth our time.

For those of you who came here out of curiosity, I’ll give it to you straight. I know a lot of the words people use to describe their religious beliefs are loaded. That when some people hear the word Christian, for example, what comes to mind may be a tragic mix of judgment, rules, and abuse of power. I’ve been there too. Sometimes I’m still there.

If that’s you, I hope someone has told you they’re sorry. Human attempts to capture the divine sometimes wind up wounding those who are sincerely searching for truth. It’s a fact. So if no one has ever apologized for how religion has shown up in harmful ways in your life, please, let me take the opportunity to do that now. I am so sincerely sorry. That’s not what God intended for you to experience with his people.

In the end, if you get anything out of religion, let yourself be drawn to Jesus.

Honestly, a lot of you would love his methodology: how he welcomed those the crowd expected him to reject and loved those the crowd wanted him to shame.

I know flashy Christianity is a thing. So is mechanical Christianity. I try my best to pass on those. On my most sane days, I just want to take Jesus seriously. I want to wake up tomorrow a little more like Him than I was today.

A lot of us–myself included, in our worst moments, have really sold Jesus short. He’s better than any of us by a long shot.

I am also quite smitten with the church. My journey with her has all the makings of a love story. It’s had good, bad, and ugly days, but I love it just the same.

I think the local church was supposed to be more like a group of friends on the move…like people who live and act as church in the public sphere and not just within the four walls of a building. I’m a big fan of local churches who do both.

I stake even more of my identity in the global church–in a gathering of believers bigger than any building, theological camp, denomination, geographic location, or generation.

I get nervous when us followers of God try to function as a political empire.

I just don’t buy that the church was intended to be a cosmic police force that regulates everything and everyone in the world.

The way I read it, from the beginning of time until now, God has consistently allowed people the space to choose their own paths. His teachings, from the Ten Commandments to the Sermon on the Mount, were guidelines designed for people who opted in…not criteria for judging those who didn’t.

Why would religion seek to control people in areas where God himself honored their freedom?

Whew. Okay, let’s talk about the Bible for a second.

A. The Bible takes my breath away.

B. I won’t lie. When you page through all 66 books, it’s a beast. But there are these underlying threads–these big ideas that God wants us to be well, that he designed us for community, that there is hope–running amuck through the whole thing.

You can’t get it–like “really really get” why it’s good stuff if you just pluck out a verse here or there out of context. Could any substantial piece of literature be understood if you chopped it up that way?

I have mad respect for those Christian leaders who’ve walked before me. I know I stand on their shoulders and breeze along on their coattails from time time.

Even so, I try really hard not to filter God or His Word through any one person or group. If I fail to show up and engage God personally or if I dismiss my own gut to follow someone else’s whims, then I’ve put my people between me and God. In effect, I’ve made them idols. (And in case you missed it, idols were bad news.)

While it’s true I’ve had some good experiences with denominations, I don’t want to look at God through any one denomination or camp’s telescope. I want to see, hear, think, and experience all of what God has to show me.

A lot of time when we talk about our conversions, we describe it as one turning-point event. We maybe even get out an old dusty Bible or Baptism certificate, like our faith resides taped to the page of a decade-old scrapbook. Even though you might know which day was Day 1 of you pledging allegiance to Jesus, I think it’s critically important that the rest of life builds off day 1.

If I followed a person–Mother Theresa or Billy Graham or even my dad, for example–for 10 or 20 years, it would change me. So how could we possibly follow Jesus for 10 or 20 years and not look drastically different than when we started?

Throw in a love of God and love of neighbor, and that is the core of my faith.

I know, I know. Some people come here looking for official “creeds” or “statements of faith” to see how someone else’s beliefs match up to their own ideas. If that’s why you’re here, I get it. The wonderful news is I probably pass your “orthodoxy” test. I still believe the whole shebang–a virgin birth, a sinless life, a death, a resurrection–all of it.

I know to outsiders, especially educated ones, the miracle and resurrection threads of the story can seem fictional…but life as I experience it has plenty of room for mystery. I have a deep sense there’s more beyond us…and I’m chasing after it with no apologies.

People like to know exactly where you’re from. Well I’ll tell you.

I’m from freeze tag and imaginary lava,
Cotton ball sheep and popsicle crosses,
Kraft Mac and Cheese and whole milk with the red cap,
From Nancy Drew and He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

I’m from steep mountain roads and summer fields,
City lights and monastery chapels,
Picture windows that overlook barge-filled rivers,
From used pontoon boats with red pleather seats.

I’m from two-a-day practices and ice cold Tang,
Spiral notebooks filled with hand-scrawled stories,
Seven-versed hymns and iced tea brewed for days in the sun.
From thick creek mud all the way up to my knees.

My dad is a Southern Baptist church planter.
I graduated from a Free Methodist college and a Lutheran grad school.
I call a small, country church home.
I learn from, LOVE and listen to (but don’t always agree with) friends from the right, the left, and the in-between.

I’m not a Democrat or a Republican…and I don’t think God is either. I’ve voted for candidates from both parties. I’ve purposefully not voted for both as well.

People say that makes me a “moderate” or a “centrist.”

In reality, it’s not that fancy. I vote my conscience best I can.

I am FOR-life–in the biggest, widest way you can define that. I’m pro-human, starting pre-womb… I ooohed and ahhhed at my babies’ dimpled chins and feisty little fists when they were still turning somersaults inside of me. I’m pro things that give life, and help us experience life more fully, in all the stages that follow too. That means I’m for investing in a safe and quality education. And for providing wrap-around services to support each and every child, no matter how conventional or unconventional their needs might be. That includes intentionally de-stigmatizing mental health treatment and deliberately welcoming and including those who are differently abled.

I am for affordable health care, safe and fair housing, and the ability to earn a living wage for every human being. And I’m for safe, well-lighted neighborhoods; clean, garbage-free land; and drinkable, fishable, swimmable water.

As follows, I’m also for providing tools and resources to our most vulnerable and marginalized citizens so they can platform their own ideas about what works best for their communities. I’m for workplaces that treat each person with decency, that pay women equally, and invest in the well-being of their employees by providing generous options for parental or medical leave. For the sake of life, I am also for sensible gun reforms like waiting periods, universal background checks, and bans on assault-style weapons with high-capacity magazines. I am for treating people with decency until the end of their natural life, which means I’m not pro-death penalty.

I’m for maintaining peaceable ties with our international neighbors–for offering education and aid that helps them rise with us, rather than us rising at their expense. And for building a more efficient and timely vetting system that makes it possible to offer shelter to refugees and welcome to immigrants. I’m for treating people with love and respect regardless of any facet of their background or how they identify.

I’m here to tell you, my dear friends, that you cannot love your neighbor well unless you first know them.

And please be aware, so you’re not surprised later: Try as I do, I don’t aways get this right.

And, truly, friend…even if you disagree with these things, you’re still fully welcome to be wherever I am. I formally affiliate with (and even enjoy) just about everyone because, like an old friend once said, I think when God pulls out his old school wallet with the plastic picture insert, he’s showing off family pics of all of us.

I want the biggest family possible. All of you included. I’m in your corner; a win for you is a win for me; I’ll be anyone’s sister who’ll take me.