Issue 20: Church search Pt. 1 | March Madness | Pesto tomato pizza View in browser
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Issue 20: February 26, 2020
Church search Pt. 1 | March Madness | Pesto tomato pizza


[6-minute read]

Without further ado, here is part 1 of 3 that will chronicle our church search experience! Part 1 is all about context, just so you know the "why" behind our little experiment!


Dear Sisters,

Church has been a huge part of both my husband’s and my life from infancy. We were raised in the same faith tradition—Southern Baptist—and met through Auburn’s Baptist Campus Ministries. Being Southern Baptist in the South is not uncommon, as it is the largest evangelical Protestant group in the United States, and 81 percent of its members live in the South.

It never really occurred to me that there were other denominations and other theological views out there until college, when I visited a Presbyterian church and fell in love with it. I dove headfirst into all Calvinism/Reformed theology had to offer (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, I tried to find a *brief* overview and one just doesn't exist, which is so fitting.  Here is the Wikipedia page 🤣) and learned so much about a more intellectual side of Christianity, in addition to responsive readings, infant baptism and expository teaching (teaching through books of the Bible in their entirety and not skipping anything. Some of these churches will be in the book of Romans for four years—not an exaggeration. The other end of this spectrum is topical teaching, where pastors choose a theme or a topic and use Scripture as kind of a proof text for the point they’re making. And of course, there are hybrid styles).

Otherwise, being Presbyterian was pretty much the same as being Southern Baptist. The churches of my youth and young adulthood generally put a high value on the study of Scripture, had very black-and-white views on the interpretation of the text, held a complementarian view on gender (no ordained women pastors, men are leaders of the home), attracted people who are politically conservative, emphasized evangelism and were skeptical of religious rituals as well as the opposite end of the spectrum, woo-woo/spiritual/Charismatic experiences. In a lot of ways, it was a very “don’t be a weirdo” kind of message.

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So that was our faith/church experience before moving to Georgia. It was honestly mostly positive. I don’t have any stories of being burned by the church or experiencing rejection or abuse at the hands of church leaders, although I know these stories exist and they grieve me deeply. In my experience, however, pretty much everyone I ever encountered in a church setting was exceedingly kind to me (admittedly, this is probably in part because I am a straight, white, bubbly girl who is a natural rule follower). Church always felt like extended family, like an anchor. I truly don’t have anything juicy or bad to say.

But a couple years ago, I began to feel increasingly disconnected from God. My social media feed was basically a PR campaign for my church—I loved the mission. I loved serving. I loved the community around us. Our music was off the chain! The teaching was so applicable to your daily life! We were reaching our community! But I was so focused on all those things, I kind of lost touch with… God. It was ALL about him, but was it really? Was it about knowing God, or was it about meeting friends? Was it about knowing God, or was it about feeling smart at a Bible study? Was it about knowing God, or was it about making a difference? Was it about knowing God, or was it about having a healthy marriage? For me, being a Christian became less and less about knowing and experiencing God and more and more about elevating myself culturally, relationally, morally and professionally. I was really, really good at being “good,” y’all.

Gradually, I found myself craving a faith that was deeper and less performative. Something simple, intimate, real and truly centered on God, not culture or morality or even evangelism. Something… dare I say... holy? Church and faith had become so familiar and comfortable for me that I had forgotten what it felt like to dwell in the presence of God, to encounter Him and experience his Spirit. I knew so much about God. I knew so much about Scripture. But there was an entire person of God—the Holy Spirit—that I felt was a complete stranger even though he supposedly indwelled me. In addition, I found myself becoming increasingly unsettled about a lot of the black-and-white doctrine I grew up with. Church was becoming a source of anxiety rather than rest and connection with God. I knew something had to change.

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Right as we moved, my spiritual burnout peaked and I began to question everything. You can read more about that in a previous essay. It was a scary time for me as the thing my life had revolved around for decades seemed so fragile and weak.

What I feel God did for me through our church search was open my heart and mind to the diversity within the body of Christ and the myriad expressions of faith that exist. Each has a different flavor, and we need not fear or compete with each other. 

Of course, I’m not saying “whatever goes, forget doctrine!” We did not visit churches that don't espouse the foundational tenants of Christianity. There are some straight up cults out there, and I would never want to lead someone in that direction. 

I’m simply learning that Scripture lacks crystal clarity on a good number of non-foundational issues, and I think that’s by design. Just because the faith tradition I came from wasn’t working for me anymore did not mean I had to leave the faith altogether. 

After this experience, I would argue that we NEED different denominations and different expressions of faith. Diversity within the body of Christ should keep us humble and curious rather than skeptical and self-righteous. God has also used this diversity to welcome people of different cultures, socio-economic statuses, personalities, political beliefs and intellectual abilities into his family for centuries. 

We cannot fit God into any one box, because he cannot be contained by human understanding.

We also must remember that Scripture contains different genres of text, was written to an ancient audience in a language we do not speak and contains countless verses we must view through the lens of context, culture and history to fully understand. We all bring our own biases and baggage to the table when reading Scripture, as well. It is possible—even inevitable—that we could disagree on many doctrinal points, yet share the same faith.

The danger is when we sequester ourselves into different camps so deeply we forget the others exist, or worse—begin to vilify them. We need not believe exactly like every other member of the body of Christ, but we must respect each other, learn from each other and, ideally, interact with each other.

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That’s why our church search was so incredibly powerful for us—on the other side of it, I’m subscribed to a podcast from a Reformed congregation, had Lutheran friends over for dinner the other night, know where to go if I’m craving some incredible choral music, plan on visiting the Episcopal church next door around Easter to go through the stations of the Cross, and frequently listen to sermons online from a pastor who is a person of color and shares a perspective white teachers simply cannot. 

The congregation and denomination we landed in (sorry, not telling you this week—suspense!) is the right place for us, but it’s not the only church we respect in the area. It’s our home, but it’s not our fortress. It provides the bulk of our spiritual instruction, but isn’t the only source of wisdom available. It’s where we’ll serve, but it’s not the only church doing amazing work in the community. I love the ecumenical view this experience developed within us, and I'm deeply grateful to finally feel at peace about my relationship with God and the church. 🙌

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I write this week’s essay in hopes of giving someone permission to explore outside the confines of a denomination or expression that isn’t working for them anymore. Sometimes, we need something different. Like me, you might be burned out and need to land somewhere that embraces practices of quiet and stillness and rest. Or you may have tried so hard for years to fit into the box certain denominations have created for your gender or your sexuality or your political views, and you’re at a breaking point. I write this to tell you there’s no need to abandon faith altogether. There is a place for you in the family of God if you want to be part of it, friend. Keep searching and keep trusting him to lead you to where he'd have you meet him. 

Next week, I’ll tell you a little more about the specific churches we visited and what we learned from each of them! Part 3 will be about the church we found and why we love it. I really hope this is interesting to you guys??? If not, we'll return to our regularly scheduled randomness in a couple weeks. 😉

Love, Jill 

Podcast recommendation: The Dual Citizen

My friend Anna Claire Noblitt, who is a sophomore at Samford University in Birmingham, created this podcast, and I am so impressed that I had to share! She is starting a conversation for young American Christians (although I'd argue this is relevant for older generations as well) surrounding the intersection of faith and politics. 

Knowing Anna Claire and hearing the tone and content of the first two episodes, this isn't going to be a sneaky attempt to endorse one side or the other—it's going to be a genuine look at how to be a dual citizen of God's kingdom and the United States of America during this election year and beyond. I think people from both sides of the aisle and from various differing denominations will dig it and be challenged by it. 

Here's what AC says about it: "Ever wonder how faith and public policy could or should interact? My name is Anna Claire Noblitt, and I am here to be a go-between for you and your questions and the people who have answers. I launched The Dual Citizen, a podcast that can equip you to engage in community-changing conversation and action. Podcast episodes are released monthly, featuring interviews that only last about 20 minutes but are packed full of thought-provoking perspectives. Whether you are a student like me or not, I hope you'll join in and be part of the conversation!"

Find The Dual Citizen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and subscribe for email updates

A beginner's guide to March Madness

I usually am not interested in basketball, but our alma mater, Auburn University, is suddenly pretty good at it. We had so much fun watching them reach the Final Four last year that we're all in for March Madness 2020. 

I became an NFL "fan," meaning I learned to tolerate/appreciate it, when Julia was born in December 2017. Something about watching sports on TV while in the early weeks of caring for a baby is just perfect—no plot lines to follow, interruptions are fine. 

I guess this baby's arrival in mid-March is perfect timing for some basketball bingeing. I've never made a bracket before, but I'm thinking this is my year. 

I found this article helpful in understanding how March Madness works. Check it out if you want to join in the fun. 

Auburn's coach, Bruce Pearl, might be the most intense human being on the planet. He stresses me a little, but he's also so intriguing. I don't think I've been as passionate for one minute of my life as he is CONSTANTLY. 

Guest Happy: Don't fall for these three automotive myths!

Thanks to Scott, my gear head husband (who also loves the Muppets), for providing these tips for us! ☺️

Myth #1: I need to buy a new car because my car is nearing 100,000 miles. I NEED to buy a brand new car to make sure it's reliable. 

Reality: Any car built in the last 10 years, when maintained properly, can run for at least 200,000 miles. When buying a used car, look for complete service records. Proper maintenance includes regular oil changes, fluid changes, filter changes and whatever other ongoing maintenance is recommended by the manufacturer. Check the owner's manual for maintenance scheduling. 

Another good idea when buying a used car is to pay a third party mechanic (not at the dealer) to perform a PPI (pre-purchase inspection) to expose any potential issues with the vehicle as well as any repairs the car will need. A PPI can help you in the negotiating process as well. It costs about $75. 

Myth #2: In order to maintain the warranty on a car, I have to get it serviced at a dealership. 

Reality: There are many very good independent shops and specialist shops that can do all proper maintenance without violating your warranty. Keep all records to prove maintenance was performed. This will also help you get top dollar for the car should you decide to sell it. 

Myth #3: You have to be a professional mechanic to do any kind of car maintenance. 

Reality: YouTube is super helpful for teaching you how to perform basic maintenance tasks, such as: changing engine air filter, changing cabin air filter (did you know your car has one of these, just like your house?), checking your oil, replacing headlights (always change them in pairs!), checking tire pressure, etc. 

Recipe: Pesto Tomato Pizza

This is the only homemade pizza recipe I will ever need forever and ever. It is different and delicious. And so easy. The original recipe from Once Upon a Chef has you make your own pesto and your own dough, but sisters, we do not have time fo that, so I present to you my easy version.

Pesto and Tomato Pizza 

Serves 2-4 depending on appetite and sides

Start-to-finish: 

  • 1 ball of pizza dough (I prefer the actual refrigerated dough to the ones that are already precooked and available on the pasta aisle, but that's fine, too)
  • 1/2 cup good quality store-bought pesto (or homemade if you wanna be extra)
  • 8 ounces whole milk mozzarella cheese (not Buffalo mozzarella), thinly sliced or grated
  • 2 vine-ripened tomatoes (heirloom ones are so pretty on this)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup gently packed fresh basil leaves, torn (optional, don't spend $4 on basil just for this)

Heat oven to 500 F. If you have a pizza stone, make sure it's heating with the oven so your crust gets a nice, crispy bottom! 

Roll out your dough however that works for you. Cornmeal is helpful in making sure the dough doesn't stick to a cookie sheet or cutting board. We use a cookie sheet that doesn't have a lip and slide the dough onto the hot pizza stone. Do what you gotta do. 

Spread pesto on your pizza. Cook for 4-5 minutes to get that crust cooking (we leave ours on the cookie sheet for this step). Top with mozzarella, tomato slices and Parmesan. Place back in the oven on your pizza stone until crust is golden brown (will differ for different crusts). Drizzle with more pesto if you have it and garnish with basil. 

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    830 Sycamore St. Apt. A, Decatur
    GA 30030 United States

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