I've spent a lifetime in the church. Literally. My father pastored UCC churches around Michigan and Ohio for 20 years before his career path took a turn. So I was born into the church and grew up on all its trappings from the time of my earliest memories, and even before that.
As a PK ("preacher's kid"), I had a bit of a different perspective on the church than many others did. I was privy to many joyful and uplifting moments that came during times of worship, Sunday School, and other activities, but also saw some of the "behind-the-scenes" times that were less joyful, where arguments over small things take hurtful turns, where people who believe they're following Jesus inflict actions on one another that are not Jesus-like, where those who are lifted up as the church's most faithful believers express their uncertainty in hushed tones.
I'd eventually come to experience these things in more personal terms, where the church's dark side would engulf me or those closest to me, or where the biggest questions related to faith and existence would keep me tossing and turning half the night.
Perhaps I'll share specific stories later. In the meantime, I'll only say that, when attempting to reconcile these experiences and doubts with what I'd previously learned about who God is, how the church should be faithful, and who I am meant to be as a follower of Jesus, there were places where I could do this openly and places where it didn't seem like I really had permission to express my deepest concerns. Some walked with me as I wrestled and wondered, and I am grateful for those who have done so. But others have implied or outright stated that it would be better if I kept my thoughts to myself; that it was unfaithful or blasphemous or disobedient to even think such things, let alone share them out loud.
I think that too many Christians have been told, or led to believe, similar things. I think that many who sit in our church pews or in Bible study classrooms operate under the assumption that they don't have permission to ask questions, to wonder out loud about why we say we believe what we do, why the Bible says what it does, why the church acts the way it acts.
Where are the spaces to share openly what is churning within us? Do we really have permission to name what disturbs us about our faith; what keeps us up late at night?
If you've never heard this before, I want to be sure that you know the answer is yes. Yes, you do have permission to ask questions. Yes, you do have permission to express doubts. Yes, you do have permission to share concerns about fellow Christians' behavior. Yes, you do have permission to dream new ways of how the church can pursue its calling to love God and neighbor as Jesus commands us.
You have permission. Knowing that helps free us to ask, ponder, discern, and wonder. And that permission and freedom makes for a vibrant and alive faith.