gradient blue graphic with cutout picture of Bekah McNeel, the book cover of Bringing Up Kids When the Church Lets You Down, and text that says Love Is Stronger Than Fear.

S6 E8 | Christmas, When Church Lets You Down with Bekah McNeel


It’s Christmastime! But how do we celebrate Christmas when consumerism and church hurt bring complicated feelings to this season? Journalist Bekah McNeel talks with Amy Julia Becker about divisions within the American church and her book Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down. If you are someone who is wrestling with questions of faith and doubt and how to raise kids with faith without force-feeding them answers, this conversation is for you.

Guest Bio:

“Bekah McNeel is a journalist, wife, and mother of two. She is the author of Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down, and her work has appeared in Christianity Today, Sojourners, Relevant, The Texas Tribune, ESPN’s The Undefeated, The Christian Science Monitor, Texas Public Radio, and elsewhere. In addition to pieces about parenting, she writes about education, immigration, and faith communities-as well as the occasional op-ed calling the American evangelical church to lay down its idols of White supremacy and patriarchy.”

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Interview Quotes

“The going to church is the relationship with God rather than this being a vehicle to like help you cultivate a relationship with God…performance is the thing that we’re shooting for…knowing God equals going to church rather than going to church being a way that we have the experiences, meet the people, have the communion, have the worship.”

“It’s the difference between giving [a child] something and cramming it down their throat…it’s the importance of the kid having agency…inviting them to be active participants, whose voice matters and whose input matters and whose relationship with the Spirit matters and who do bring insight, and their little desires and their hearts are important in this.”

“I think that being able to endure…and reconcile and forgive and repair is beautiful. And I think something that we should celebrate. And I don’t think that every time you get your feelings hurt, you should pack up your toys and leave…I think most of the people I talked to and my own experience—the church hurt happened when the institution of the church, the authority, the official functions were the ones doing the wounding.”

“When I think about scripture and tradition and religion and all of that, a lot of my questions [were] “What do I have to believe here?” “What do I have to do?” “What is my obligation?”… “What does religion require of me?”…Instead asking “Where am I and where is God?”

“God is always going to set you free…and so when I’m reading the Bible, the question is, as I’m reading something, is what about this is setting me free? Free from what? What’s actually weighing on me?…Is ambition really what’s weighing on me? Or is it shame and anxiety?”

“If God’s not meeting me and my loneliness through the Bible, if I’m not being moved to feel more connected to God and loving of other people…if reading the Bible is not filling my heart to love others, I’m not doing it right.”

“I find healing now when I go looking for healing instead of for black and white answers and rights and wrongs and intellectual reassurance that what I already believe is correct.”

“Sometimes we cause harm and need to be about the healing, and sometimes we are harmed and need to be healed. And a lot of times those two are really mixed up.”

*A transcript of this episode will be available here within one business day, as well as a video with closed captions on my YouTube Channel.

Note: This transcript is autogenerated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Bekah (5s):
What’s the difference between giving them something and cramming it down their throat? It’s, and that’s something that child development people, experts, scientists, doctors, will tell you the, the importance of the kid having agency, inviting them to be active participants whose voice matters and whose input matters and whose relationship with the spirit matters and who, who do bring insight And like their little desires and their hearts are important in this. I think that changes the whole thing.

Amy Julia (42s):
Hi Friends. I’m Amy Julia. Becker and This is, Love is Stronger than Fear A podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of personal pain and social division. Today I’m talking with Bekah McNeel about the divisions that have happened within the American church, which of course actually means the divisions that have happened within American families and American communities and even within individuals there are divisions between parents and children, between evangelicals and ex evangelicals and people who are deconstructing their faith and those who are hoping to clinging to faith while also trying really hard to not pass along the harm of rigid systems of behavior management.

Amy Julia (1m 22s):
And it is Christmastime and what do we do? And it is Christmas and we have what I call both American Christmas and Christian Christmas to celebrate or not with our families. So If, you are someone who is wrestling with questions of faith and doubt and how to raise kids with faith without force feeding them answers. this conversation is for you. Well I am here today with Bekah McNeel, the author of Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down. What a title. Bekah. Welcome.

Bekah (1m 55s):
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Amy Julia (1m 58s):
Well I have been waiting to have you on this podcast until we got to this time of the year because you’ve written a book that’s about your own thinking about faith and kids and church and God and Christianity and all these things. But I thought that it would be nice to be able to talk at this time of year about Christmas specifically. That said, before we go there, I wanna do a little bit of introducing just so that people know You know who you are and what we’re talking about. And I wondered if you could begin just by telling us a little bit about your own childhood experiences of faith.

Bekah (2m 30s):
Sure. So I grew up in a really, really conservative in the P C A and so the conservative Presbyterians and okay, but it didn’t have the, we had all of the evangelical stuff that people talk about with like the emphasis on behavior and purity and that, but the bigger emphasis was on like theological certainty and on okay having good doctrine. And so from a really early age they were kind of serving up big meaty doctrinal issues that maybe weren’t as developmentally appropriate in retrospect.

Bekah (3m 15s):
Like teaching total depravity to a Ford five year old is sets you up for some issues later on. We have, and

Amy Julia (3m 25s):
Just for listeners who might not know what total depravity is like, can you just give us a little You know we go on a little rabbit trail there?

Bekah (3m 30s):
Sure, sure. So like you hear, it’s pretty common in in Christian, Protestant, Christian or evangelical vernacular to hear somebody say I’m a sinner saved by grace. Well total depravity takes that into like, there was nothing good about you. God put his spirit in you and that’s what brought you to life. You were dead in your sins. And like in the PCA you, you take that and you just like run with it like gotcha.

Amy Julia (3m 58s):

Bekah (3m 59s):
Would call it worm Theology where it was just like, you can’t think, you can’t be obsessed enough with how unworthy you are

Amy Julia (4m 7s):
And kind of like sin all the way down to your core. Like

Bekah (4m 12s):

Amy Julia (4m 12s):
Is what defines who you are, period. Yes,

Bekah (4m 16s):
Yes. And it’s like, and it can get very, I think it can go to this just extreme where you have people kind of, Martin Luther famously said, I think, I think it was him, even my repenting needs repenting of and like, but when I, and then I feel prideful because I repented and so I have to repent again. And you’re just like, you spend all of your time thinking about how gross and unworthy you are and in theory that’s supposed to lead you to be like even more thankful that God loved you. Like the more sinful I am, the more amazing grace looks in reality your sin is very concrete and God’s love is very abstract and the concrete ends up dominating

Amy Julia (5m 6s):
The conversation. Well and it’s also ironic even as you talk because there is a, if sin is a one definition I’ve heard of sin is to turn inward on yourself. And if you’re supposed to like keep repenting or You, know what I mean? Yeah. Like there is a turning inward that is almost embedded in paying so much attention to your own sin, which again is I’m sure not the point, but it might be the result. So I agree for you like how did that, how did that kind of form and shape you You know as a child, as a teenager, You know in through those early years

Bekah (5m 43s):
It, I mean, shame just plays a huge role then once you set up a kid with like inherent unworthiness, like the be I’m the perfectionist who’s trying to earn my way out of it and who’s hearing I can never be good enough, but at the same time being told a bunch of things I should be doing that might You know and I’m not, you can’t really live consistently with, you’ll never be good enough to earn grace, but we’re gonna treat you with grace. Cuz it’s like, no, you still have rules and if I break them, I get in trouble and if I keep them I get rewarded. So you’re not, you can’t consistently parent from there. So I was parented according to the usual, like, you break the rules, you get in trouble, you keep the rules, you’re in the happy place.

Bekah (6m 30s):
Yeah. Theologically, hearing that all of this had much bigger eternal echoes that You know when I screwed up, it was because of my deep unworthiness. And I basically like shame spiraling became a pretty common part of my life just getting into this like, oh no, I’m, and that means that I’m even worse and, and now I see it and I feel good. So that means I’m worse. And I mean at 17, that’s a weird thing to be crying about, but that’s what I was doing.

Amy Julia (7m 3s):
Yeah. You know. Yeah. Well, and so for anyone listening here, it would not be surprising to, for them in light of what you’ve already said as well as the title of your book, to know that you are not in the same place theologically as you were. Right. In terms of your childhood and yet One of the things I think you really kind of almost insist on in the book is like, and I’m still following Jesus, right? Like that’s still, that’s still who I am and what I’m doing and I can you like, how did that happen? Like why not just say enough of this and off I go? Yeah.

Bekah (7m 36s):
And I know a lot of people who did. Sure. There’s a lot of people who were just like, I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this. Yeah. And the, and some people have different back. I mean people and I as a, I’m a Journalist by training and so for the book I interviewed a lot of different people and people’s wounds were really different and specific to their context, You know and your parents what whichever doctrine your parents latch on to, to use to like make their family motto. Ours was total depravity. And so I, I think a lot of people are wounded in different ways.

Bekah (8m 20s):
My particular wounds were around this shame and perfectionism and constantly trying to please an unpleasable God and just being really anxious about that and about am I really safe? Like I believed theologically I was safe, but I didn’t feel that warmth and that belonging because that felt, I felt like I was in on a technicality all the time. You know. And so what happened, I believe that behind the scenes like that was all going on intellectually and behind the scenes the spirit really was rooted in my life, really was doing good work.

Bekah (9m 15s):
And yeah. And, and so at a certain point when the, when I could, what we would say now, like deconstruct, when I could kind of start taking things apart in my mind there was this thing underneath that was just a experiential knowledge of Jesus as love and as someone loving and as someone who conquered death. And that was what the cross was about. Not about, look how gross you are that Jesus had to climb up on this cross. But instead it was this like beautiful thing and it was a, it was this feeling that my spirit affirming and, and feeling like Jesus was kind of with me in looking at a lot of this stuff, a lot of the toxicity, a lot of the, the way that power had come and corrupted some things in the church and the way that there were cultural elements that were becoming really difficult for me to reconcile with a loving God and then my own struggle with shame.

Bekah (10m 25s):
And I just felt like Jesus was with me, with my spirit in looking at that and being like, that is not, that’s, I don’t like that either. Let’s go do something different. Yeah. Let’s, let’s focus on the life giving aspects of Christianity and where we can find that in, in a church and in a community that’s great. Where we can find it in theo theologians. That’s great. Like don’t just try to go it alone, but let’s, let’s let the spirit have a little more say in what we accept and in what we reject rather than just saying like, well if I’m gonna be Presbyterian then I have to believe everything that the Presbyterians believe and I have to fully concur with everything and I can’t disagree.

Bekah (11m 14s):
I think I entered into a period that was a little more of like you’re a mature adult cuz this did happen more in adulthood. You’re a mature adult who has studied the Bible her entire life, who has prayed to God her entire life, who does have a relationship with You, know who has a spirit, who ha, who understands Jesus. Like let’s go ahead and take some steps toward maturity and like being discerning about what we believe and don’t believe and what how we live.

Amy Julia (11m 46s):
Yeah. Thank you so much just for giving us that background because I do think it’s really helpful and I I, and I think there are a lot of people, I mean as You know in that position and as we, I’m You know, I’m glad you brought up the just the person of Jesus and the spirit of God, right? You’ve got this Christian idea of a triune God. And so there are these different ways to know God who has You know kind of been expressed in spirit and in flesh. And I’m thinking specifically because we’re talking about Christmas right now, about Christmas, about this moment in the life of the church, of saying that the word became flesh, that God came to live among us.

Amy Julia (12m 28s):
And so I wanted to just hear a bit like about your own, again, childhood experiences of Christmas, like what, and, and that You know again, however, wherever you wanna take that, and then about how you are parenting your own kids when it comes to this season.

Bekah (12m 43s):
Yeah. So it’s funny, a lot of my initial as I was starting to push back on, hold on, is this Christianity or is this capitalism or is this nationalism or is this, what are we actually celebrating here? Christmas was my kind of my first flashpoint as I’m sure it is for a lot of thinking people who look at like the consumerism and the stress and the kind of the, the sentimentality that comes along with more obligations than it does like warmth and and closeness.

Bekah (13m 29s):
but it comes along with more of a like need to perform certain traditions for reasons that we don’t really understand. Yeah. I think that probably for a lot of people is the first place that they just go, what? This is all so convoluted and doesn’t look like what I think of when I think of something sacred and holy and humble and everything that the birth of Jesus was.

Amy Julia (13m 59s):

Bekah (13m 59s):
So I grew up celebrating it the same way. I mean we have this giant sprawling all-American family that does all of the things like, okay, so we had the big Thanksgivings, we had the big Christmases, my parents both, I live in San Antonio, my parents grew up here, their parents grew up here. Like wow. And so I just grew up with all of the, like every Norman Rockwell tradition but without snow. And so we’re, because we’re in San Antonio, so it was like 85 degrees in our Christmas sweaters and we would just be sweaty and but like hustling back to church for Christmas Eve service and then going to You know the other side of the family to do presents and it just ended up being kind of this chaotic free for all, but very happy.

Bekah (14m 53s):
But also Jesus was like one of many parts of it.

Amy Julia (14m 60s):

Bekah (15m 0s):
You know. Right? And I think my, I know that that bothered my mom and she was always trying to find a way to like kind of take hold of Christmas and make it something a little more meaningful and less just chaotic. Yeah. And I watched her struggle with that. It was, she was outmatched because Right, right. There was just so much. But when I went away to graduate, I went to graduate school in the UK and that was where I first started to pull apart like the nationalism and the Christianity and like the western culture and the, the things that I was, that had all been rolled up into one.

Bekah (15m 43s):
And I started to kind of parse out and be like, oh actually that’s just American exceptionalism and that’s actually just, and so as I was pulling that apart, I came back for Christmas Hmm. And was like, oh, there’s a lot of that all that’s all present in these celebrations as well. Like what we call Christmas is not, and so it’s not what the birth of Christ, those two events are very separate.

Amy Julia (16m 20s):
Yeah. I just, I want you to keep talking, but just a couple thoughts along the way. One is of some friends of mine who were living in China for a while and were like, there’s actually something beautiful about celebrating Christmas when no one else knows that that’s what’s happening today. Because you have to ask, what do I mean by this? Yes. Like what do I You know the, the everything is not shutting down and telling me through music and You know twinkly lights, like what I’m supposed to be doing right now. I just have to decide and we have to decide as a family what it means. So that, that’s kind of my first response in terms of obviously the UK is more of a like You know historically Christian culture than China is. But nevertheless that sense of getting some distance and being able to ask some of those, those questions.

Amy Julia (17m 5s):
But then I also as a parent have felt like I’ve almost needed to toggle between American Christmas and Christian Christmas and decide are we gonna celebrate both? They’re not the same. Right. And it’s okay. I mean it might be okay, it might not. Yeah. To celebrate American Christmas in the sense of just your question You know your point about the consumerism and just the various, the stress and these various things that are like honestly somewhat antithetical to the following the way of Jesus. So, but that for me has been at least a way to kind of guide myself through the season. And I feel like I’ve pretty much succumbed like, well if we’re gonna do Christian Christmas then I will just like also succumb to American Christmas.

Amy Julia (17m 48s):
Right? Like I have not found a way to do Christian Christmas without doing American Christmas, but at least yeah. It helps me like differentiate a bit. So I’m Yeah, I’m curious. I wanna hear more about where you have kind of landed in all

Bekah (18m 0s):
Of that. Yeah, well it’s, it ended up very similar. So a pastor, when I was going through my whole thing, my, where I landed was I’m not gonna celebrate Christmas at all because there’s like trying to squeeze the Jesus part into this seems just disrespectful and weird. Yeah. Yeah. And so I’m just like, I’m, I’m giving up on Christmas. It is not a real thing. And a pastor said, he was like, well you have to figure out a way to celebrate the fact that God became flesh. Like, like as a Christian

Amy Julia (18m 34s):
You’re amazing. One important thinker as

Bekah (18m 36s):
A Christian, he said, you don’t have to put up a Christmas tree, you don’t have to. He was like, but as a Christian it is important for you to acknowledge and find a way to celebrate the You know the, the central part of the Christian, the central part of the Christian story. And I was like, fair enough. So I kind of did it. My in wait for years, my family would get donations made in their name to like, as I was a, before I had children and we did, my husband and I never did any of the like celebratory stuff. Like we never did Christmas trees, we never did lights, we never did traditions.

Bekah (19m 18s):
We just like showed up where we were expected with our families and then went to church. And then when I had kids, they are super into Christmas all on their own. Sure. Of course. My, my at two years old, my daughter was like, we’re getting a tree. And to this day she’s the tree czar in the house. Like she picks out the tree, she decorates it, we don’t touch it. And that’s her thing. My son’s deal is lights and like decorations on the house and he takes care of it. So we have let them do, it’s like you live exactly like you said, you live in America, you’re going to be doing stuff at school.

Bekah (20m 1s):
You’re right You know all of that. Get in, get as into that as you want. Yep. And so what I brought to that, like I had You know some, a family heirloom nativity and an advent wreath. Yeah. And so I was like very, it’s very similar to where you’ve landed. I have. I was like this is my, what I’m bringing to Christmas and you, you guys can do all that and You know where you got it, you saw it at school, you saw it on a movie, whatever. Here’s what mommy is gonna teach you. And like, so we did, we do Advent as a family on You know the evenings of Christmas, the evenings of the Sundays of, of Advent.

Bekah (20m 48s):
Okay. And we keep a nativity You know somewhere to just talk about like here’s the story, here’s You know. Yeah. Why we do this, here’s why we do this. The funny part is that as I’ve, my relationship with the church has kind of waxed and waned and so like church traditions feel odd at signs, but my kids are very into the advent part of it and they have really taken that up as well and like want will want to lead a prayer or like do a Christmas song or something. And so I feel like they, I don’t wanna withhold the fun the American Christmas part.

Bekah (21m 40s):
Yeah. Cause I don’t want them to resent Christian Christmas, but I do feel like I let them kind of lead the charge on that. Yeah. And then keep my focus very firmly on this is what’s important for us to remember in this season. And, and it’s been amazing because they’ve caught onto that too so that they’re building something in their heads. But I’m hoping that it balances out in a way for them that is not as convoluted and stressful as it seems to be for for many of us.

Amy Julia (22m 23s):
Yeah. And it’s interesting just even when you’re talking, you, one of the other authors that you mentioned in your book is Lisa Miller and she, I happened to be reading her book, which I think was from 2015, the spiritual child like right now. So I was like, oh, I know what you’re talking about. Yeah. So just to give listeners a little bit of an overview, she’s saying that it’s all of us are born with like an innate spirituality. And by that she does not mean any particular religious path, but actually a sense of a world that is transcendent and the possibility of having a relationship with a loving presence, which I think You know goes back to what you were saying about your own understanding of Jesus and the spirit of God as a kid.

Amy Julia (23m 6s):
But she also is saying that the way we typically pass that a, that like generational passing is really important that like from mother to child, from father to child, like that’s a really important way to pass along and to, and really nurture spirituality. And then secondly that religion is often usually the kind of vehicle for that passing, right? Like so there’s a sense in which we make a gift to one another through the vehicle of religion, but we’re, what we’re gifting is that transcendent connection to a loving You know God in the case of people like you and I who are still using that language and others would use different language.

Amy Julia (23m 51s):
But, so I’m just curious for you personally, whether when you look back on your own childhood, do you feel like, I mean it sounds like you were being whether intentionally or not given spirituality in addition to religion and it also sounds like you’re kind of giving your kids both together You know in the sense of like have these rituals that are around a religious experience of who Jesus is. Yeah. I’m just, I guess what I’m wondering about is how you think that happens that giving spirituality through the shape of or through the vessel of religion. Yeah.

Bekah (24m 31s):
So it’s interesting. I think a lot of it, the spirituality, I mean whatever vessel you’re passing on spirituality through would be kind of your religion. It’s because it is Yeah. Religion being like the, the way you express communication and and your path to a transcendent reality. And so even if it’s walking in the woods and having conversations like the ritual of that, the presence of that, the reliability of that kids, kids really do great with consistency and routine.

Bekah (25m 15s):
And I think that religion, going to church on Sundays helps with that. Like yes, this is when we see these people and talk about God and like we stopped going to church during the pandemic and didn’t really start up once even once churches opened up again. And we just had a hard time going back. And my kids were the finally the ones who were like, we need to be in a church mom. Huh? We need to be learning about God. Wow. And they like that, they like structure, they You know. But I think that like so many things there can be too much of it. For one, you can overdo it and make that like legalistic.

Amy Julia (25m 58s):

Bekah (26m 0s):
And then the message becomes this is the religion, the form, the going to church is the relationship with God rather than this being like a vehicle to like help you cultivate a relationship with God and an understanding it becomes like this performance is the thing that we’re shooting for. You need to do this because this in itself is the virtue or the this is knowing God equals going to church rather than going to church, being a way that we have the experiences meet the people, have the communion, have the ex the worship.

Bekah (26m 46s):
Yeah. That helps us know God. Right. And so I think passing on even Christmas traditions is similar in that like we use the advent wreath to communicate to the kids and give them something that they look forward to every year. And they can look at it and they can remember what it means and they can ha it is a tool for us to have a conversation. It’s a a focal point that’s a, it’s novel to them and we wanna talk about it, but the thing itself is not any more sacred.

Bekah (27m 27s):
Like I, if we didn’t do it, if one year in some years we have You know haven’t been as consistent or we’ve You know one year we didn’t do it all together, I don’t think that that means our Christmas wasn’t Christian. Right. Because all of it is is form you’re, you’re forming something and that is a, a sense of connection and belonging in the, in the people of God and to God. Yeah. Yeah. And so it’s kind of like a rambling, sprawling answer to that question. But I, I think that the forms and the religion and the rituals and the objects are important and they’ve been important to everyone I’ve talked to who’s been through deconstruction, like so many people still will hold onto some practice or some prayer or some liturgical element or something that for them was a, an honest pathway or an honest communicator, an honest picture of God.

Bekah (28m 45s):
Yeah. And they tend to shed the parts that got distorted and, and misused to hurt them or overemphasized in a way that wasn’t healthy. You know there’s people who love the liturgy of the Catholic church and there’s people who can’t like, who hear the Latin and just completely can’t with it. Right. Right. So I think a lot of it is what, how it was used if like my family prayed together every night, but it was this extremely rigid, you had to come downstairs, like my parents would hang up the phone if I was on the phone with a friend, they would hang up the phone, you stopped what you were doing, you dropped everything, you came to the table and you prayed.

Bekah (29m 40s):
And so for us praying together as a family for like me and my siblings is kind of this like, it, it does not make us feel connected or secure. It makes us feel have this like it carries a very legalistic, a very controlling, a very obedience oriented just do as you’re told.

Amy Julia (30m 12s):

Bekah (30m 13s):
Whereas when I pray with our kids, I’m hoping that they, I mean we do pray with them, but I’m hoping that it has a more, like, this was a time when we felt close and we felt like we had agency in our family because we could pray, but we didn’t have to You know. You know. I’m hoping that they get something different and that for them praying together is something that is pointing them to God.

Amy Julia (30m 35s):
Yeah. I I hear you. I think it’s a hard, we’re at a stage in, our kids I think are older than yours. We’ve got 16, 14, 11. And so we’re at the stage where they are like, why do I have to go to church? Like I don’t wanna get up. And I don’t really, I mean, and they’re kinda like, it’s fine. I mean they, but they’re just, it’s not what You know and they’re not like kids who are You know doing personal devotions or something like that. You know. And, and so how I, on the one hand I really wanna give them, I wrote an essay a long time ago about like wanting church to be a net so that when they are falling they know that there are, there’s like a community of people who will catch them and not just even a community of people, but like the liturgy, the prayers, the hymns, the, and the people like the whole thing of it.

Amy Julia (31m 22s):
You know. So it’s like I want them to be exposed and invited and introduced enough that they can at some point in their life, which could be 20, 50 years from now, You know say, oh yeah. Like, and yet I also don’t want them to Associate it with like that thing my mom made me do Right. Sunday morning when I desperately wanted You know not to, but

Bekah (31m 45s):
Yeah. Oh, it’s the difference between giving them something and cramming it down their throat. It’s yeah. Yeah. And that’s something that child development people, experts, scientists, doctors will tell you like the importance of of the kid having agency Yeah. In all of this. And that’s something that when I think about my own spiritual journey, I’m like, oh, the difference between Jesus as I came to know him and Jesus as I was introduced Hmm. Was really all about. And when you think about like going back to the total depravity, if you were someone who was completely depraved and unworthy and like constantly being reminded that your heart was wicked, like you couldn’t trust yourself, you couldn’t trust your decisions, all of your decisions would be bad.

Bekah (32m 38s):
You just were supposed to obey authority and that was what was gonna keep you safe. And so everything felt kind of coercive. Everything felt like I was doing it because I had to because I was gonna get dinged if I didn’t. And when I look at other people, like other wise people who talk about raising children, they talk a lot about the importance of working with kids to where they can make choices themselves and own things. And there was this phrase in like middle school evangelical world that was like making your faith your own when you go from it being your kid, your parents’ faith to being your faith.

Bekah (33m 23s):
And I think that that was trying to tap into that like, this isn’t gonna stick for these kids if they don’t own it themselves. But even that carried with it kind of a like, we’re gonna trade your parents for your youth group leader as the person telling you like this is what you have to be and monitoring you. And

Amy Julia (33m 45s):

Bekah (33m 47s):
I think that inviting them to be active participants whose voice matters and whose input matters and whose relationship with the spirit matters and who does, like people who do bring insight and like their little desires and their hearts are important in this. I think that changes the whole thing. Like we’re not telling our daughter no Christmas tree because we only do this, but we are saying, great, if that’s important to you, how do you wanna do it?

Bekah (34m 28s):
And that’s something that you have brought to our family and we’re gonna celebrate it with you, but we’re not going to either forbid you from doing it or say fine if you want that, here’s my version of it.

Amy Julia (34m 41s):
Yeah. Yeah.

Bekah (34m 42s):
We’re like truly inviting her to build her own tradition knowing that her active participation is what’s gonna mature her and and kind of solidify this feeling of acceptance and like, yes, I do belong here and this relationship with God is something that is, is truly true of me.

Amy Julia (35m 7s):
I’m thinking just based on what you’ve been talking about in terms of your own experience and the people you’ve talked to about the idea of like church hurt and people who, and and I’m actually, I don’t know that I’m totally clear on what people mean when they say church hurt because I feel like I’m like, I’ve had experiences that have been hurtful within churches. I don’t mean by that that the church has hurt me like You know. I don’t think those are necessarily the same things. So I guess that’s my first question is just like what you’ve heard or kind of how you understand that idea of like church hurt, but then also for parents who have experienced that but they, I mean I think similar to what you and I have been talking about, want to pass on at least an invitation to faith in Christ to their children, right?

Amy Julia (35m 53s):
Because it’s like the church obviously is meant to be the body of Christ. It’s not always functioning that way. You know. So how, how do we do that? So how do you for someone, what is church hurt? And also if you’ve been hurt in that way, how do you give the the gift of that relationship specifically within Christian terms like with Jesus?

Bekah (36m 12s):
That’s such a good question and I do, I do think it’s important to differentiate between interpersonal conflict with people in a church context. You know. And I think that being able to endure through that and reconcile and forgive and repair is beautiful. And I think something that we should celebrate. And I don’t think that every time you get your feelings hurt, you should like pack up your toys and leave when people, I think most of the people I talked to and my own experience, the church hurt happened when the institution of the church, like the authority, the the official functions Were the ones doing the wounding.

Bekah (37m 3s):
So you were people who were disciplined officially for things that they shouldn’t have been disciplined for either having a doubt or leaving an abusive spouse, Questioning leadership, that kind of thing. So I think that’s the distinction is when either the church takes aside in an interpersonal conflict. Yeah. Or in a really unhealthy church, you could have a situation where a social conflict plays out where the more like popular or, or the person who’s closer to the church and more involved has a You know more social clout is the one that everyone rallies around and kind of socially exiles someone that can feel, I mean I think that could be church hurt, but more often than not, what people are talking about is when they are treated as an outsider by the official structures of the church because of something that they felt like should have been handled in a more conciliatory way.

Amy Julia (38m 10s):
Yeah, that makes so much sense. That’s really helpful to me. And thankfully that has never been my experience, so that’s why I’m, I’ve been a little bit like, I’m sure there’s something here, but I just am wondering, I live in Connecticut so it’s not like a big churchy place.

Bekah (38m 25s):
It is. The north south thing is very real here.

Amy Julia (38m 29s):
So I think that’s part of it. And then well, well, so I mean I could talk to you for hours, but I have one other other question that I’d really love to just hear about. One of the things I’ve just been really focused on in the past couple of years has been healing both like personal healing, spiritual healing, communal healing. And I was really struck in reading your book you used Eugene Peterson’s translation of Hebrews four 12. So it’s a verse about kind of the power of the bible. Yeah. I guess as we would might call it. Right? Like the, and that has always, at least in my knowing of it been translated as the sword of the spirit, right. Which obviously is a somewhat violent image and he translated it as a surgeon’s scalpel, meaning something that is intended to cut, but in order to bring healing.

Amy Julia (39m 18s):
Right. And so I just wanted to hear a little more from you on that as we talk about church hurt, as we talk about this kind of inner conflict as parents about like how do we pass this along and whatever. Just what are the, what are the things, whether it’s like scripture or even practices that have been a healing power in your life around all, all of these issues?

Bekah (39m 40s):
Yeah. Oh, such a good question. I’m so, I’m so glad that you recognized just that important translational thing because for me that was so helpful because when you think of a scalpel, you’re thinking about something that’s cutting away the, the thing that’s keeping you sick. Yeah. And so when I think about scripture and tradition and religion and all of that, a lot of my question has been, it’s changing the way I’m thinking about it. Less of a, what do I have to believe here?

Bekah (40m 22s):
What do I have to do? What is my obligation? You know what does religion require of me both from how I wanted to, how I was reading and interpreting scripture to how I was spending my week and filling my calendar and instead asking like where am I and where is God? And going ahead and stepping away from a very rigid, very much like, this is where you need to be, you need to get there. And and owning where I am and asking God to meet me and then looking and knowing that like God is always going to set you free.

Bekah (41m 9s):
Like the scalpel, the scalpel is always going to free you from the cancer or the You know is gonna cut away the gangrene, whatever the scalpel is there to cut away the bad stuff. And so when I’m reading the Bible, the question is as I’m reading something is what about this is setting me free, free from what, what’s actually weighing on me? Yeah. Is You know ambition really what’s weighing on me? Or is it shame and anxiety? Like let’s look at what’s actually wrong and hurting me because it is, we’re full, like we live in a world full of hurt.

Bekah (41m 57s):
What actually hurts? And what is the Bible actually saying? Rather than saying like, well my sins are probably pride and blah blah blah blah. So how is the Bible gonna speak to my pride and like convict me of my sins and more say I’m feeling lonely. Like where is God there? What is God saying? And when I read the Bible, if it’s not speaking to like if, if I’m not, if God’s not meeting in me and my loneliness through the Bible, if I’m not being moved to feel more connected to God and and loving of other people, like if the reading the Bible is not right, filling my heart to love others, I’m not doing it right.

Bekah (42m 42s):
I’m not You know. Like I haven’t understood it and I need to dig deeper and, and seeing it as more of a quest and more of a like a journey toward connecting with God. And I think that’s actually more of how scripture has been used in history. Less is like a manual for proof, texting and finding the right answer and more of a, this is how we communicate more and find ourselves living more in in touch with God. And so I, that’s where I find healing now is when I go looking for healing instead of for black and white answers and rights and wrongs and reas intellectual reassurance that what I already believe is correct.

Amy Julia (43m 36s):
Yeah, it does seem like, to your point earlier, if you go into it, You know kind of looking for, as you said, black and white answers to fix me of my sin essentially, right? As opposed to looking for God to be a loving healer who has come in order to be in loving relationship with us. Those are very different ways to read the same texts. And I even think about, I think it’s in Matthew’s gospel where he is kind of writing the Jesus, Jesus will be named Jesus, which is Yeshua because he will save the people from their sins.

Amy Julia (44m 17s):
And One of the things I learned is, I was working on my last book, was that that word UA or that name Yeshua in Aramaic, the nickname for it is yasha. And yasha is basically means heal. It’s a long longer story than that. But that sense of like sal, salvation, healing, because that same word in Greek, the so so word that’s used so much to describe what Jesus is doing can be about like spiritual salvation and it also can be about healing. And that for me really changed things to think about salvation as something that was much bigger than forgiveness from sin.

Amy Julia (44m 58s):
And I think knowing that we are forgiven for the things that we do wrong, which I certainly do like, and I’m, that’s a really good news, right? Yes. But at the same time, to think that that’s just like almost a means to the end of being in that like full loving embrace of God. Like right, that’s part of the deal. But there’s so much more to it. So I just, even as we, yeah, think about who Jesus is as the one who comes to show us what God is like, we see so much of that. Let me show you what it’s like to live in the presence of God with freedom and love and healing, not with very rigid rules that if you screw up, you’re gonna be in trouble for

Bekah (45m 42s):
Well, I think that’s, that’s such a better understanding of the incarnation, right? God came to where we are. And I think that in our personal experience of that, it’s saying again like I can, I can expect over and over for God to come to where I am, not for God to say, Hey, here’s where you need to get to. Like I gave you a bunch of instruction, a Bible full of instructions about how to get to a place where you’re free of sin and you’re, you’re perfect. Instead, it’s the continual, continual like where are you? Like it’s the question to Adam, it’s Jesus coming. Yeah. It’s this constant movement toward us and recognizing that sometimes we cause harm and need to be about the healing and sometimes we are harmed and need to be healed.

Bekah (46m 30s):
Yeah. And a lot of times those two are really mixed up because hurt people hurt people and that healing is healing and redemption. And I think it’s a lot more of the same thing than we’ve made it.

Amy Julia (46m 44s):
I really love that. And I think this is actually a really beautiful place to land, especially in this season. That idea that the Bible and the Christian faith and all that we’ve been talking about is not a roadmap so that we can behave ourselves to where we’re supposed to go. Right? But actually an amazing reality of God coming to exactly where we are, whether that is You know, be dragged and weary or celebratory and You know loving or whatever and everything in between. So thank you so much for that thought. It’s really beautiful and hopefully will help me and lots of us to celebrate Christian Christmas in the weeks

Bekah (47m 23s):
Ahead. Yes. Yes. Because God did become flesh. So we do have to, we have to find some way to celebrate that. That

Amy Julia (47m 30s):
That’s right. That’s right. Amen. Yeah. Thank you Bekah, it’s so nice to talk with you and I’m really glad, nice

Bekah (47m 35s):
To get to talk with you. This is great. Thank you. Merry Christmas everyone.

Amy Julia (47m 39s):
That’s right. Merry Christmas. Thanks as always for listening to this episode of Love is Stronger Than Fear. And I would love to hear from you in response to this episode and honestly to this podcast in general. I haven’t asked this before, but I wish I had and I hope you’ll respond to just, I don’t know, what are some of the questions or thoughts that this conversation prompted for you? Are there people that you would like to hear as guests on this podcast in the future? As we look ahead to 2023? Please email me. My email is Amy Julia Becker writer, and I truly would love to hear from you.

Amy Julia (48m 20s):
I also wanna give thanks to Jake Hanson for editing the podcast today and every week. And to Amber Beery my social media coordinator who makes everything happen with integrity and curiosity and all the other good adjectives that I could use or adverbs. I don’t know which one it was, but which either one of those I’m thankful to. Amber. And finally, as you go into your day today, I hope and pray you’ll carry with you the peace that comes from believing that love is stronger than fear.

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