One of the hardest parts of undergoing a big shift in your beliefs is that it often means you lose your closest people overnight. You wake up one day to find that the people you saw several days a week for years on end—at your weekly Bible study, weekend soccer games, on camping trips, and shopping outings—have disappeared. You imagined they’d always be there to mark big moments in your life, and suddenly they’re saying they “just can’t walk with you” any longer.
What’s wild is that you’re still the same person you were the week before—they just know a little more about you now. They now know you were always queer or that your questions had outgrown your community’s answers. Because you’re the same person you were before they dropped out of your life, you still have many of the same hopes and longings that created your bond with them in the first place: You wonder why you’re alive in the world, and what kind of responsibility you have toward others since you happened to be born in a time and place where you have the resources to be reading this online newsletter. You want your life—your days—to mean something, to lose yourself in a sweeping story that’s moving toward healing for those who suffer, justice for those who are oppressed, and restoration for all that’s broken in our world. Those are not questions that we work out in isolation, and the expression of those longings are not lived out alone. We do it in community.
The Faith and Justice Network has been one of the most meaningful parts of my life for the last 5 years. The core program is a 9-month Fellowship for people looking for a more expansive vision of Christian spirituality and public witness. I was a participant the first year when there were roughly a dozen of us, and I’ve been a Teaching Fellow every year since—including this last year when we had well over 100 people from around the world.
Peter Choi, the Director of the program, books a power line-up of speakers every year. We have heard from extraordinary scholars and leaders like Kelly Brown Douglas, Willie James Jennings, Jeff Chu, Mihee Kim-Kort, Christena Cleveland, Danielle Mayfield, Lisa Sharon Harper, and dozens of other vibrant leaders who are expanding our imagination for what’s possible in communities that are committed to living out the teachings of Jesus. We learn about the implications of what Willie James Jennings calls our “diseased social imagination,” and how that has led to unjust systems in every sphere of society at every point in our history. And we hear from courageous people who are casting a vision for how we might begin to remake the world in a kinder, more compassionate, more equitable way—starting with our immediate contexts.
If you feel like your questions have outgrown your spiritual community, I encourage you to consider applying for the Fellowship that begins this Fall. If you are longing for a community of safe people who will hold your story with gentleness and walk with you as you begin a process of rebuilding, you should consider applying for the Fellowship. If you have a sense that you’ve got a lot to learn but you’re not sure you’ll learn it from people screaming at you and shaming you on social media, pray about applying for this program. You will be placed in a cohort with one or two dozen people who will delight in you and support you in your process of becoming more integrated and spiritually grounded.
The deadline to apply is July 15, and I’m sure financial aid is available for those of you who might need it. Also, if you’re considering seminary then know your credits will transfer over since the Faith and Justice Network is an affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.
You don’t have to lose your faith just because you lost a faith community, and you don’t have to wrestle with your questions in isolation if you long to engage them with a group of people seeking to grow in humility and generosity.
If any of you decide to do the Fellowship, I’ll look forward to seeing you there in September!
What are some other communities you’ve found that have given you a soft place to land after a sad ending with your former one?