A Letter to Anne Rice

Blog, Essays, Featured — By on August 3, 2010 at 2:00 pm

Dear Ms. Anne:

You don’t know me, so please excuse the intrusion. I hope you won’t think this too forward but I read about your recent remarks about quitting Christianity:

“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten …years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

I respect your decision.  I can’t even count the number of times I’ve felt the exact same way, but I lacked the gumption to declare it as boldly as you have done. I simply went about muttering, wishing for everything that I belonged to a different clan. A more perfect community.

I thought about all that during this morning’s church service. I don’t attend a very large church, but it’s large enough that I don’t know everyone by name or by story. Take that lady passing out the programs at the door. I don’t know her at all. I don’t know if she’s married or lost the love of her life to a fiery plane crash during World War II. I don’t know what sufferings life has brought her way. For all I know, hers could be one of the dozens of names listed weekly in the Prayer for those diagnosed with Cancer.

Sometimes, it’s a relief to not know people. It keeps a person from the obligation of sharing their sorrows or from the  disappointment of discovering their failings.

That’s the thing about being in relationship with others. I don’t know about you Ms. Anne, but I’ve found that to be true whether you are in relationship with people who belong to the clan of Christianity or if they are the friends you made at the local Farmers’ Market. Hang with people long enough, and you’re going to be disgusted by them. They’ll do something that hurts so badly you’ll wonder why in the world you ever considered them a friend to begin with.

You’ll feel as betrayed as Jesus. On some level you’ll know that’s ludicrous — there’s no way you can know the betrayal of the Cross. But you’ll  still feel that you understand His pain the way He understands yours.

That’s how God designed us.

Desmond Tutu says we’re created for goodness. He says that’s why we feel so good when we do good things — because we are designed for it.

I believe that.

I also believe that God created us so that we are able to identify with each other. He created us to feel what others feel. That’s why when a person lacks the ability to be empathetic,  we consider them a sociopath or narcissistic.

We are designed for relationship, created for community. The good and bad of it all.

I was thinking about all that today as the man three rows in front of me raised his hands in worship. You see, for the past four weeks he’s been confined to a hospital bed at Oregon’s Health Science Center University Hospital. His poor body has withstood about all the suffering a person can withstand. I don’t know if it it’s the cancer that will take him finally or the treatment he receives for it.

And today I didn’t care about that. What I cared about was that he was on his feet, arms extended, praising the Christ whose blood has cleansed us all from the inside out. The Christ whose mercies are new every morning.

I stood next to a woman whose husband has been deployed so many times to Afghanistan and Iraq that he has missed his daughter’s entire high school career. Now that he’s home from those wars, he no longer has any fight left in him. He’s walked out on them. I hurt for that girl. I know what it’s like to lose a daddy to war — whether you do it through death or through trauma matters not. She’s going to have wrangle some demons for her faith one day. I pray that when that day comes, she’ll come to understand as I have, that God is faithful in ways that people never can be.

I hope she’ll find that he will never leave nor forsake her — no matter what.  He’s not like us that way.

I have a friend in Alabama who found an orphaned dog. She named the dog Sticks because he never leaves her side. He sticks right beside her all the day long.

We serve the God Sticks.

Two rows in front of that young girl sat a woman who has endured a lung transplant. To be honest, when we were praying for her as a community, I figured they’d be wheeling her out of the hospital in a body bag.  That’s how small my faith is sometimes. I’m a skeptic. A cynic. I’m ashamed of it, but that’s the truth of it.

God proves me wrong all the time. I’m glad for that. I know people, Believers and Unbelievers, who care more about being right than they do about being redeemed.

Down the pew directly in front of me sat a young woman. Another single mom with another infant child to raise alone. I watched as a white-haired lady walked across the aisle during the singing and took that young mother’s face into her withered hands and spoke words of encouragement and love to her.

I stood there, weeping, because I belong to a flawed but courageous community. They have discovered ways to share in the sufferings and joys of one another, despite the disappointments.

The Polish have a blessing: May your soul be as strong as your people.

My soul is stronger because I’m able to witness the remarkable redeeming power of Christ through the community of Believers and Unbelievers, alike.

The thing about opting out of the clan of Christians, Ms. Anne, is that when we do that, we run the risk of missing the blessing God created us for.

I just wanted to share that with you.

Humbly,

Karen

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    12 Comments

  • Lisa says:

    Karen,
    This was absolutely beautiful. You captured the flawed community called the church and put faces on to those people. In essence each of us are those people. People in need of the grace of our Father. None of us can say, Ms. Anne included, that we have what it means to follow Christ all mapped out and that we can do it all on our own. We try, we fail, we persevere, we trust, we help each other, we hurt each other, it’s a messy life and we GET to live out our days with the people around us. Thank you for your thoughts. They were the most honest and humble that I have read in response to Anne’s statements. Thanks.

  • Melody says:

    That is a most Beautiful letter! I am not sure if my own letter would have had so much truth and Love. I pray the Lord blesses you for being godly in your response.

  • Sara Sterley says:

    So well said/written, Karen.

  • Karen says:

    Lisa: Or as the old song goes — We fall down. We get up again.

  • Rachel Pater says:

    I am not sure that there is a consistent tone of respect about Ms. Rice’s decision in this article.

    I believe that Ms. Rice understands that communities are flawed and that can be ok. I’m sure she has slogged through many scenarios like the ones you presented and gets what community is. But she has made a conscious (again, probably with some of the same facts and experiences as you’ve presented) and come out the other side saying NO. No, it’s not just some people are broken and can be shitty to one another. She believes that there is something inherent, something institutionally wrong with this thing we call Christianity.

    And the things that she names – being anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-democrat, etc., etc., is true for much of mainstream Western Christianity.

    I have chosen to remain within these patriarchal, homophobic, yadda yadda sorts of structures to do my work. It feels right for me. It feels like I, within these broken communities, am making real progress.

    However, I will not, out of my experience or prerogative, call someone else out on what they feel like is an honest, true-to-themselves decision.

    Why don’t we spend our time calling out those who have not taken such an honest self-inventory? Those who remain “within the fold” but are not taking action to support the marginalized – a.k.a. carrying out the message of Christ?

  • Karen says:

    Rachel:

    I relate to much of what you’ve expressed here but I disagree that the piece is in anyway pejorative or dismissive of AR’s decision.

    And if you familiarize yourself with my work, I think you’ll find that I hardly shy away from calling people out for the very things you’ve highlighted here.

    One word of caution, however, I think marginalizing people is something that happens on both side of the political and Christ-conscious spectrum.

    We are all guilty.

  • Rachel Pater says:

    Karen,

    Thanks for your reply.

    I am only familiar with the portion of your work on this link, and my comments are reflective of only that. I’m glad that you address people who are inactive or cast stones without trying to be part of a solution.

    What I was speaking to is idea that Anne Rice doesn’t get it. She doesn’t get that the Christian community, though broken and messy, is still worth her time simply because I or any number of other people think it is. If she got it, like us, she’d stay.

    For her, it is not worth it, and with her convictions, she cannot be a part of it. Be it a political statement or whatever else, it is her well-thought-out decision. From my understanding, it was not made hastily or because of a couple people who crossed her. And like Barbara Brown Taylor’s story in “Leaving Church,” I believe that I can still call her story beautiful even if it doesn’t mirror mine.

    As for the “marginalized” on the other end of the spectrum: until Republican white heterosexual males find themselves in a state that threatens their livelihood or existence within the church, they will not be my focus.

    • Jordan Green says:

      @Rachel:

      “As for the “marginalized” on the other end of the spectrum: until Republican white heterosexual males find themselves in a state that threatens their livelihood or existence within the church, they will not be my focus.”

      I think most of the demographic you’re talking about would refer to that as “having my taxes raised .3%”.

  • jo says:

    I see some wonderful things shared Karen, thank you. I only know of what I read here regarding Anne’s statement. With that noted I think she may just be in a stage, like when we have a loss and / or are grieving.

    The first stage can be ridden with disillusionment, disappointment, anger, etc.

    The next stage may be acceptance, not as in complacency but in accepting others as they are, a work in progress.

    The final stage may be becoming advocates of Christ, and even others in their humanity.

    Yet I myself speak up regarding these things because I want others to come to a brighter place in Christ so hope my words are used by Him to help them there, while also allotting them the time and space for the stages they may be in. I don’t always know how successful I am there but I trust the Lord to continue to guide and grow me.

    Thanks again. Wonderful things shared here.

    Love in Him,
    Jo

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