George, yes, I do understand that although I found freedom by leaving church, you and others find freedom through your involvement with church. You could have decided, “This means Helen simply went to the ‘wrong’ church. She needs to switch to mine.” I very much appreciate that you didn’t go there. At the same time, I appreciate your kind invitation to me, one Sunday last year, to attend your church. An invitation is very different from putting pressure on me by implying “there is something wrong with you unless you like the church I like.”

Mary, I see you have questions and haven’t read the whole dialog. You can find it by going to the Wednesday Journal’s website and searching on Rev. Lueking’s and my last names. The dialog began July 5 last year.

In particular, if you read more, I hope you will see nature is not my God any more than ice cream is. I enjoy nature and ice cream, but that’s very different from worshiping them!

Admittedly, I may be intentionally avoiding the certainty you seek from me. I used to want it. I thought I was on an intellectual quest for truth, not realizing I was as least as much on an emotional quest to feel safe and secure. The emotional quest pulled me towards an overly simplistic way of looking at humanity: my group is good, yours is bad!

My sense is, you want me to tell you my label, what group I am in, but these days I would rather be groupless. I don’t like the typical group dynamics I’ve encountered in all groups, Christian or otherwise, such as:

– take pride in being part of the group, hence more enlightened than people outside it

– love one another (people in the group) more than you love your neighbor (people outside the group)

– spend a lot more time with group members than people outside the group

– reinforce unfair stereotypes about people outside the group (by talking about people outside the group on the frequent occasions when none of them are present to correct misconceptions).

The Bible stories about Jesus – whether true or not – indicate he hated these group dynamics as much as I do. Each time he found a situation where a group had formed and left people outside, he annoyed the group members by favoring the outsiders. That’s why he went to Zaccheus’ house instead of joining the crowd in hating Zaccheus.

It’s been very disappointing to me that what Jesus hated, many Christians love.

Being groupless is more complicated than being part of a group. I find myself drawn to defend atheists one day and Christians another, depending who I am interacting with and who is being mischaracterized. In fact I’m often defending Christians to Christians since I run into a lot of acrimony and misunderstanding between “progressive” and “conservative” Christians.

I believe the group dynamics I dislike are driven by fear. One New Testament author wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.” That’s where I hope I’m headed. I’m looking for people who can point the way. I know them when I find them, and I’m already in their group. It’s the group-that-isn’t-a-group because it has no outsiders.

Helen Mildenhall
Oak Park

Join the discussion on social media!