Hello, my name is Shari Strong. Two years ago, I was attending a small evangelical church in Portland. It was, I believe, the fourteenth evangelical church I had attended with some regularly in my lifetime. Sometimes I had left a church because I'd moved, or for some other logistical reason. But most often I left because I had become disillusioned. I was tired of the power trips from those in charge, of the need for doctrinal conformity, of the nearly universal lack of concern regarding social issues. I was tired of being devalued as a woman. I was also very tired of being made to feel that there was something wrong with me when I asked questions. And I had a lot of questions.
This frustration is what I was feeling two years ago, when I was sitting in a small discussion group at the evangelical church. I remember that the discussion had something to do with God's wrath. And I piped up that I had a teeny, tiny problem with the whole idea of God being a wrathful, war-mongering God. A man in my group leaned forward and told me, "I know just what you mean. I really struggle with that, too. BUT-"
I just knew what was coming: "But we're not supposed to ask questions. We're supposed to have the faith of a child," he told me.
I just looked at him. "The faith of a child." Had this guy ever actually met a child? Because all my then-four-year-old daughter ever said was, "Why, Mama, why, why, why?"
I had questions, too. But it seemed I wasn't supposed to ask. That morning, something inside me snapped. Now, I've heard a lot of Christians give their testimonies, saying that they never really felt the need to go to church until they had children - and that having kids is what brought them back to church. For me, it was the opposite. I didn't want my children to learn not to ask questions - about God or anything else. Heck, I didn't want to not be able to ask questions. So I stopped going to church, and my kids did, too. I thought, perhaps for good.
A year later, a Quaker named Stan Thornburg suggested that I come and visit West Hills Friends. Inexplicably, I did: for the first time on Mother's Day, last year. It was a day when Pat Timberlake spoke about her spiritual journey and her relationship with her mother. There were inclusive language hymns - something I'd never heard before - that honored motherhood and womanhood. And somehow, I felt that this is a place where the questions matter not just as much as, but possibly even more than, the answers.
I felt, as a mother, that I could bring my children here. I felt, as the woman who nurtures the child within myself, that I could bring myself here. So I decided to come back one more time the next week. And that next week, I decided to come back yet one more time. It has continued that way for a year. A year ago, I would not have expected to be able to say this: but I now feel that this is my church home. I love that if you ask me why, I can give you a number of answers. But I love even more that having answers - those or any others - is not required here.