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When Christian is a Dirty Word

On a recent vacation, a family member asked about my new book and, noting the title (Downstairs Church), commented that it’s a tough time for Christians.

“Most people don’t like Christians these days.”

I had to agree. There have been times when I don't like most Christians, either.

This family member also brought it to my attention that my book may be a hard sell because of the world we are living in. People might see the word “church” on the cover and run the other way.

This family member has seen the news, felt the tremor of protests in the streets, and wondered about the divisive issues that are held up like torches against a backdrop of even more unrest and confusion and hurt: war and plague and famine and inflation and fires. And they’ve questioned where a religion like Christianity fits into it all.

I’ve been there.

You Follow Who?

Today, Christianity (in some circles) is not associated with a way of being, it’s attached to an agenda, one as polarizing as the arctic. Either you are in the camp or living outside of it. The “cool kids club” sounds different, depending on what side of the cafeteria you are sitting on. How you wear your hair or contour your makeup (or don’t). What news you watch or what the algorithm shoots your way on a Saturday morning.

When I say the word, Christian, what comes to mind for many, according to a recent Facebook post I shared, is this:




I can feel the hurt in these simple words. I've felt it, too, friends. And I've heard stories of incomprehensible harm being done by those who claim to be religious. Words can carry with them so much damage and instead of freedom, spread captivity.

Words like: forgiving, loving, kind, encouraging, helpful, selfless—these rarely make the cut. In some circles, at least.


I Don’t Have to Live in That Box

Being a Christian woman in addiction and mental health recovery, I know what it feels like to live inside a box. Sometimes, the walls are scratchy, staticky, suffocating like a card board coffin. I’ve been put into the “uneducated” “conservative” “judgmental” “out-of-touch” “illiterate” and even been labeled the “liberal” variety (like writers Anne Lamott without the dreadlocks and crusty allusions or Nadia Bolz Weber without all the swearing). I’ve been accused of harboring secret, self-ambition, of self-aggrandizement, of quoting scripture without being to seminary, of heresy because I don’t eat at Chick Fil A. I’ve lost friends, some family don’t call as much, and I’ve been treated as less than by employers in academia. Internet trolls have messaged me pictures of their genitals, followed by a Hail Mary.

People like to categorize and define and put into boxes because it’s safe. It’s safe to feel like we can organize everyone and put them into an old Tupperware container with a masking tape label that’s faded by frost. When we can keep each other separate and at a distance, our own worldviews can’t be threatened—when sometimes, they should be.

Now, I say all of this recognizing that as a woman of faith in a Western nation, my experience of being placed in a box is a figurative one. I have never been persecuted, jailed, or worse because of my faith. In my small town in Tennessee and the surrounding ridges, there are 52 churches and counting (yes, you read that right). My current world is saturated by the faith I profess.

Even my saying all of this (I am listening) might bring up some pretty intense emotions and responses. How could I, a privileged white woman, say anything about it "being tough to be a Christian in recovery?"

Why I Hope You Don’t Run

What I am saying, is that it's not tough to be a Christian (compared to others' experiences). It's confusing.

I want to follow Jesus, but I don't want to be lumped together with others' ideas of what it means to be a Christ follower.

What I’m hoping is that you don’t run from my book or from the idea that maybe Jesus is on to something, despite what you think of Christianity.

That inclusive, forgiving, loving ideal that you might hold dear (and I hope you do), why not give it a try?

Maybe there is some common ground that we can all stand on. A love of life—all life—that we can share.

Maybe Jesus does have something to say and maybe that something isn’t what you are hearing every night on the news or seeing in tasty soundbites on your news feed. Maybe this Jesus says something about loving the broken, saving the wayward, and eating with outcasts.

Maybe you just might meet Him in a recovery space, downstairs in a church basement where the coffee is cold and the laughter has that note of joy that only folks who have suffered can sing.

Maybe Jesus shows up in downstairs spaces because that’s where the honesty is—the real, the gaping, the soul-light. Maybe the recovery community, too, can be a place of genuine faith and transformation and holy fire.

Maybe instead of being a tough time for Christians, this time in history, this moment, can be a time when Christians step into the call to share our faith in a true way. Giving a message of hope that’s not cloaked in the worldly, but grounded in scripture with the forward movement of the holy spirit.

Maybe Christian doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Maybe it can be a freeing name that brings life.

I'd love to hear from you about your own faith and recovery journey. Drop me a message today.

Feel called to share your #brightrecovery story? Check out my submission guidelines.

Connect with this blog post? Pre-order my new book Downstairs Church: Finding Hope in the Grit of Addiction and Trauma Recovery today.


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