Testimony by Maddie Loss
‘Listening & Witnessing in Washington DC’ Mission Trip, January 19-21 2017.
I’ve been coming to a United Church of Christ congregation for as long as I can remember. It’s what I know. I’ve gone through confirmation and other activities within the church. This church drew me to the General Synod in Cleveland, Ohio. This trip was where I became so enthralled with the United Church of Christ’s mission. The constant call for social justice. The daily grind to ensure that the world is a more just and loving world for all people. I was able to witness these moments of faith. The excitement when the supreme court ruled on the right for LGBTQ couples to marry, the sorrow filled moments in remembering the Charleston shooting, and the calls to action found on the plenary floor. I fell in love with the message. The message of extravagant acceptance and widespread love. Where no single person is left behind or forgotten or devalued. The message of loving all people regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or religion.
I grew up hearing messages from the church that have shaped who I am as a person. That all were created in God’s image. That whoever you are and wherever you are on God’s journey, you are welcome. That all are blessed to be a blessing. And that ALL are welcome at God’s table. These messages. These messages pack all that this Church is about. These are all ideas that I witnessed as I was growing up that became such a constant part of my life. These are the messages that I heard in a setting that was loving and accepting. I desperately wish that all people can hear these messages for if the words are heard they can make the world a little softer and little more loving. It is a type of love that continues to lead my life today. And in these past few months I have formed my concept of the church leaving the building and heading to college.
College is complex. Because while it is believed that one pursues a degree, it is for yourself. But it is actually all about Him. You go to college to learn how to love God and His children better. Love His children regardless of their race, age, gender expression, sexual orientation, religion, or gender.
I went to college expecting that the majority of people that I met would believe the same and be aspiring to the same knowledge. That love and acceptance lived loudly. I was devastated to discover that this approach that I saw in the actions United Church of Christ and represented to myself was not widely accepted. I found myself participating in a campus ministry where other students rejected this idea just as firmly as the UCC embraces it. I felt like I had to transform my identity as a Christian to be viewed as a Christian among my peers in this group. Do I continue down the path that I belong on, a path of love and acceptance that my life has been shaped by? Or do I turn away from my prior identity to conform with this new group that I stumbled upon? Thankful for my decision to read “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker J Palmer I came across this paragraph. It was my involvement in this group that “made me feel inadequate to the tasks of living my own life, creating guilt about the distance between who I was and who I felt I was supposed to be.” And living these two lives left me exhausted and frustrated. But after I faced myself with this question the decision was an easy one. I made a choice that reflected who I had been, am, and always will be. But I was disappointed that I was even presented with this type of decision. I was hurt. Because as I moved through this process my country was moving through an election where some feel that they had not been the offered love and acceptance that they deserved.
After the election I listened to other new friends that I have met that are Jewish and Muslim. Friends that are sent flyers from Christian organizations on campus that preach about how the only way of saving the world is have everyone convert to Christianity. How this generation was going to fix the world by leading everyone to the one true savior. A belief that frightens my friends that are not Christian. My dear friend would question, trying to figure out where these actions come from. She would ask me, “But aren't you a Christian too?”. And I would respond with, “Yes, I am, but … I don’t believe that stuff. I believe all are equal, and that all can coexist, and that all are welcome in the world”. And this “but” made me even more confused. For the frustration of having to defend my own beliefs in response to other beliefs of Christians wasn’t something that I had exactly experienced before. And this reasoning wasn't enough and will never be a enough for members of the Islamic or Jewish faith. The faiths that believe in the same God, come from the same father, Abraham. And after a few weeks of school these excuses were not enough. Because I saw daily fear and knew I had to do something more. For my beliefs, the beliefs of love and acceptance have constructed who I am. And to see others so comfortable with rejecting this one core belief of my own God was brought out feelings that I cannot put into words.
After the election I witnessed the fear of females who are survivors of sexual assault. Women that attend school at a university where one in four of the undergraduates experience sexual assault. Women that live in a country where the general populace elected a man who brags of sexual assault. Terrified that the rhetoric of the election will come to normalize what they have survived. I watched as my friend moved through the process of receiving the justice for what she had gone through. The process of fighting the uphill battle and the heartbreaking realities in her life that she struggled to comprehend. And as things continued to stack up against her, she asked me if she could go to church with me. The hope that my religion of love and acceptance was prevailing over all of the voices that were shogun at her. She heard the calm beckoning of love and acceptance. Love and acceptance where even the most fragile could find solace in a vesper service on a cold, Sunday afternoon.
These experiences are just scratching the surface. And I am forever grateful that I followed the life that I was meant to live. I felt that I finally found my true being in these moments of tenderness and hurting and joy by striving to live through all that I was taught as a young girl. And now this is a continued version of the church leaving the building and heading to the streets. It first started by leaving to go to high school, then to college, and now to Washington DC.