When you find a kindred spirit, the smart thing to do is to stay in touch. Traci Rhoades stood out in the crowd of aspiring writers at a conference we both attended a decade ago. I thank God that Traci had the same gut instinct because our long-distance friendship has resulted in some rich conversations. It’s with great joy that I celebrate Traci’s first book Not All Who Wander (Spiritually) Are Lost: (A Story of Church). I’ve mentioned it here in the past (and offered a free copy), but today I’m inviting Traci to share her thoughts on “wandering.”
Leave a comment below and your name will be added to a drawing for an autographed copy of this delightful spiritual memoir.
In my hometown library, the adult book section was housed upstairs. I’d barely begun checking out books from this floor when I took home When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. It’s an age-old question. I was not the first person to inquire about such things, but could I, a young Christian woman, seek answers from a Jewish rabbi (yes, I see the irony in that question)?
To be safe, I also checked out When God Doesn’t Make Sense by Dr. James Dobson. There’s something inside all of us that longs for a faith that will keep us safe. Standing firmly on the orthodox teachings of the faith I’ve been gifted, from fellow believers and by God himself, I’m no longer seeking a safe faith. With bold acclamation, I’m standing on my particular branch of Christianity and yelling, “Lord, give me abundant life.”
About the same time I was reading these library books, a new family moved into my hometown. Greg and Donna attended my church and he became my Sunday school teacher, with Donna always by his side. We’ve developed a mentoring friendship over the years.
Greg was the one who introduced me to writer Lauren Winner, a Jewish woman who became a Christian in her 20s. I introduced him to Scott Cairns, a professor and poet who left behind his Baptist roots to walk the ways of the Eastern Orthodox. Avid readers, Greg and I have both found books that opened up Christianity to us; by that I mean, flung the kingdom gates wide open.
I left the Southern Baptist tradition by accident. A Presbyterian church in the city where I lived in my 20s had an active singles groups, and I was single at the time. Greg hasn’t left the Southern Baptist Convention yet, but he took some bold steps recently. It wasn’t the safe choice, but faith in Jesus has taught him obedience to the spirit is the way to abundant living.
His recent letter to their pastor begins this way: “Thank you for texting last Wednesday and checking on Donna and I. It was a great gift. I appreciate it very much. Unfortunately, your gift was not treated as it should have been. Instead of being truthful, I lied to you. Please forgive me. I wanted to avoid controversy, and told you we are doing well. The truth is, we are not. I have been disillusioned with American evangelicalism for quite some time.”
In a myriad of ways, much of American Christianity doesn’t feel safe these days. While the pandemic hasn’t caused this contentious atmosphere, it has put our fear on full display for the world to see. Yet, we are called to be a people of hope. We’re reminded in 1 Peter: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-4a).”
So many of us know the disillusionment my friend Greg is feeling right now. He and Donna don’t know where they’ll land. They’re praying to discern what branch of Christianity Jesus would have them serve from. Later in his email, he pointed out this paradox, “Ironically, I have never been more in awe of the beauty of the gospel and Christian faith than now.”
Our living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and our collective inheritance Peter speaks of, does not come from a particular branch of Christianity. It isn’t found exclusively in my evangelical roots. A living hope is offered to all who would call on the name of Jesus Christ and be saved (Romans 10:13). When I realized this truth, I set fear aside. I knew the Holy Spirit who lived inside of me would guide my steps in my quest for the way, the truth and the life. Studying scripture (especially the life of Jesus), learning church history and getting to know other Christian brothers and sisters, offers me more hope than I can wrap my mind around. I treasure the faith of my childhood, but the grown-up faith — the one that seeks God in all his fullness — it’s the way I will follow all of my days.
In Greg’s closing words of the letter to his former pastor, he assured his brother in Christ:
“The next time we communicate, I will treat your words as the gift that they are, with truth, not lies.”
Traci Rhoades lives with her husband and daughter in rural Michigan, a short drive from the beach and Lake Michigan, where they grow things like pigs and tomatoes and chickens. “Reading and writing are my passion,” says Traci. “I also enjoy cooking, supporting small town businesses, and all. things. Bible. study. In my down time I also enjoy watching movies, football, baseball and college basketball.”
I hope you’ll visit her at Traces of Faith and subscribe to receive her delightful weekly email Seven Things for Your Saturday.
One more thing…
One of my favorite websites is The Perennial Gen. This well-curated site features essays on topics of interest to those of us “Growing Deeper Roots in the Dirt and Light of Midlife.” That would be me. My essay Do You Have Questions About Racism? Me Too (posted on my blog) is featured at Perennial Gen beginning today. I hope you’ll swing by and check out other wise words from folks who have a few miles under their belts and are willing to share what they’ve learned.