A dirty, little gospel.


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The palm of my hand stopped sweating somewhere around the 13-minute mark.

Finally. I was feeling comfortable and my shoulders were loosening up. He’d taken my hand at the start of the story saying, “Here,” as he stretched it out to me. I’d only known him for two hours but his hand reaching out to me, like a crutch to lean upon as I spoke, was a sense of home in those Northern Georgia hills that night.

I bobbed and weaved and the led the dinner table through a story I’d told to people dozens and dozens of times before about my losing and finding of faith. I know every crook and dark corner of that story, every time a person will let their jaw drop or bury their face in their hands. That story is a clearly marked and weathered roadmap to me, speckled with all the landmarks of other people’s reactions to hearing it for the first time.

When the story ended, our conversation fanned out into people.

People who fall beneath this umbrella word “Christian” and how offensively that one word rings out to the world we live in today. Saying, “I am a Christian” is taking a risk. It’s giving you an open door to not like me because of what other people have told you about me. You’ve read of me in the papers. You’ve seen me on the news. It’s relying on what you’ve heard about me to make a judgement that I am girl who thinks the world is full of this “dirty/clean” dichotomy and that I can’t roam with sinners because I am much too holy for that. That’s what the world will tell you about me and I don’t even blame you when you make the judgement because I, myself, am still trying how to not be offended by some Christians.

But the word “Christian” still stops me. Every time I hear the word “Christian,” my mind can’t shake the image of a massive warehouse filled to the ceiling with tiny glass slippers. I picture them everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Delicate. Beautiful. Chipped. Scarred. And throngs of people coming in and out of that warehouse, trying to wedge glass slippers onto their feet, being so careful to find the one that doesn’t blister them or break when they put it on. And it’s this fragile, scared process of wanting to find the “perfect” fit and the “good” fit and the “beautiful” fit so that they can just be clean & right & dancing with this God who looks more to them like a judge than a father. And all I want to say to that image of perfectly constructed Christianity that breaks open in a world that is messy, messy, messy, is that my gospel is a barefoot one. I don’t wear shoes when it comes to my gospel. And I have no interest, no interest at all, in being perfect or right or blameless. Most days, I just want to feel like I’ve done something right.

I grew up hating the hymns that sat in the pews of my childhood church.

That’s where the hurt started to roar because the lines of those songs always made me feel worthless. Dirty, dirty, dirty. Needing to be clean. Needing to be fit. Needing to be reprimanded. And after years of rejecting those words, I get to tell you with my own lips that I am dirty. I am dirty and it has nothing to do with my worthlessness. I am dirty because I believe in a God who tells me dirt beneath my fingernails, and trudging through the muds of this messy life, is the most beautiful thing I will ever get to do. I believe in a God who tells me getting dirty is my job description. And there is always more work to be done that has nothing to do with condemning and judging and making other people feel worthless for what they walked into this day holding. My God calls me to dirt beneath my fingernails and conversations that crawl into the 3am hour and loving people hard, even when my own heart feels mangled. My God calls me to finger-painting with the messiness of grace and trash-picking in toulle-filled dresses and resting in the assurance that I am a child of God. I am a child of God. I find that title to be earth-shattering as I stand in the thick of a culture that never gives me enough value to hold me past dinnertime.

And despite what you believe, I am not afraid to sit in my corner of the internet and tell you that I think you are a child of God. And please don’t get offended by me because there is nothing offensive about the idea of someone making us perfectly. And there is nothing offensive about believing, if only for a half second, that we were made for victory and better things before we learned to give our little lives away to weaknesses and lies.

I believe in that.

I believe in love. I believe in a religion that never sat pretty in the church the way it raged beautifully when it was out on the sidewalks. In the hands of people who knew how to love on others right. I believe in people who use every shred of their composure to go out of their way to tell someone else how very striking they are. No matter where you’ve been or what you’ve done, someone should have told you that before. And if you’ve never heard that… well. let. me. be. the. first.

I don’t care that I don’t know you. I don’t care that I cannot list off all your bruises and battles like the backs of my own hands. Because if it took me knowing all of that about you then we would never get to the point where I apologize to you…And tell you that I am sorry that others have judged you. Or misread you. Or hurt you. Or screwed you over.

I am sorry for all of that and I beg you accept my apology for all the harm of humanity if it means you’ll think about moving forward today… because you have bigger work to do than feel the bitterness. You have much bigger work to do. That work is so big, so wide, so far, that it laughs at all those weaknesses and offenses that try to hold you back.

To me, it’s not about damnation.

It’s not about the “dirty sinner.” It’s this heartbreaking, simple, and yet stunningly complex story about a girl in a manger who probably looked up to the sky and asked, “Really? This is your plan for a king?” And she birthed a baby beside cow dung for the weary world to call him royalty. And that little boy grows into a man who illustrates to a broken world how to love people and treat grace like manna falling from the sky and have pretty decent friends and never waste your emotions on jealousy and gossip. And then he dies this horrendous death at a young, young age and he comes out of the tomb three days later and basically says to all the people who killed him, “I died for you. Yes, you. I don’t care what you did. I can’t love you any less. You didn’t know how to come to me. You didn’t have a map. You didn’t know the way. And so I solved all the issues– all your faulty GPS excuses–and just came to you.”

I mean, that’s pretty radical, even if you can’t believe in it. I think that even if I didn’t believe in anything, I’d have a really hard time finding anything more beautiful than thinking that the same guy who created beauty out of dirt is the one who gets all choked up crying over all his children and all the empty things we do, thinking as we watches, “I just love you so much that I will endure anything. Anything to prove it. And I’m going to let you make mistake after mistake after mistake and I’m still going to take you back. Even when you leave me, I will wait.” Because that is love eternal– waiting and staying when the rest of the world walks away. Half of the time, I don’t know what I want to believe in. But that? I want to believe in something as beautiful as that always.

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36 Comments

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36 responses to “A dirty, little gospel.

  1. AshleyLyn

    Well said Hannah, I too consider myself a Christian and I find myself rarely saying that out loud because of what people will think. Like you, I don’t believe Christianity is a mold in which you fit or you don’t, you don’t need to sit in a pew every Sunday to be a true follower and I have always believed that my fate lies in the hands of a higher power. I wish others weren’t so easily offended when it comes to religion because its roots are tangled in love and anything that derives from love is beautiful.

    • Juliet

      Well, well, well. I knew there was a catch to all those “love letters.” I should have been surprised but I am not. Disappointed? yes. I am disappointed that all you created, a fan world, a book, love letters had to do with being CHRISTIAN and a JESUS LOVER.
      Why did you have to include in these posts who are about love only love for humanity of all kind of beliefs and creeds, your private religion? Because religion is private, you know.
      Why now? You have fame, reputation, followers, several books in the make….that is why.
      I am really dissappointed in you, Hannah. If you could just go back to being to what you were. You still can sign to write Christian books if you like, branch out. But to use the love letters to be about YOUR christianity and to throw dirt into other religions is not fair.
      I don’t know who has been advising you, but believe it, you and your love letters are in jeopardy.
      Just think about what I am telling you and please change your tune or better yet, forget about mentioning religion here. Love people for what they are, be Jewish, Hindu, Islamics, Catholics. The minute you put a label on “Christian” everything changes.
      Good luck with your change of topic.

      • Kristen

        I believe “Love people for what they are” is good advice. I’ve taken it. I think you should too.

      • jen

        Actually, I disagree with you. She never once threw “dirt” at any religion. All religions you listed are about fearlessly loving people and standing up for what is right. And I truly hope that her love letters and career take off. Her authenticity deserves to be rewarded.

      • Chen

        I think whats incredible is that Hannah knew she would get responses like this but she chose to write this piece anyway. She chose to expose herself and bare her heart anyway.

      • Ouch. I dont think she said anything at all about throwing dirt in the face of other religions. What she said she feared is exactly what you just posted. That people would judge her for using the word Christian. I guess you didn’t disappoint. If you can sift through the rest of the post and find the parts about love and non judgment…those parts are beautiful. And to ask her not to be true to herself…people love her because of that. That is truth.

      • Karly

        Oh Juliet.

        Open your eyes for a second.

      • Mika

        Dear Juliet,
        I think it’s important to remember who’s blog you keep reading. Hannah is an authentic writer who says what she feels when she feels it. This is not the first time she’s said anything about a higher power and just because she’s a Christian does not make her any more or less of a genuine writer. She has not discounted any “Religion” and if you read the post properly you would understand that it’s the very stereotypes that come with any type of religion that she’s against as am I. If you do have a faith I’d expect that judgement of others and discounting of their words would be disapproved aswell and surely that’s not “loving everybody”. If her faith annoys you then stop reading and probably think twice before writing a hurtful comment. Sure you like it when she talks about love but if Jesus is who she chooses to believe in as you called her a “Jesus Lover” then you must understand that this is where her love comes from. She didn’t write about any other religion because she has her own. Please open your mind and think before you type.
        Thanks

      • SJH

        It is no accident, no cooincidence, that the Hannah who dreamed up love letters and the Hannah who loves Jesus are one and the same. Where else would all that love come from?
        Rock on, Hannah B. The world is an ocean of sorrow and tears. Keep following Him boldly and wading into the tide. :) <3

      • Natasha

        Its okay to be Jewish and identify with it, call your self Jewish, Hindu Islamics Catholics, it is all the same in that regard. Christian, the word means follower of God, is it the mere word or the definition, that angers you?, Hannah is inspired by God, she never boasted about her self, she made her self small in comparison. Hannah isn’t going to listen and change her tune, she expects this reaction, that is why she wrote it in the first place. Thanks for fulfilling what it means to follow God, because like Jesus, followers of Jesus will suffer harsh remarks.

      • Dear Juliet, Everyone can do good deeds and share what motivates them to love humanity deeply. My motivation does not diminish your motivation. We can all keep searching for limit-less love and grace and when we find it we can clamp on for dear life. If we will check out every source of love that comes our way, we will find authentic love that inspire selfless service. There is so much abuse, heart ache and broken dreams in our world when someone finds an authentic source of that for which the world is crying, it is hard to keep it to your self. If we are sure of our own anchor we need not be disappointed in Hannah’s journey.

      • Adam Erickson

        Juliet had a point. I think everyone out to check their privilege and status real quick here.

        Christians are not “persecuted” in America, a nation where 77% identify as Christians (http://www.gallup.com/poll/159548/identify-christian.aspx). Sure, it is brave to say something you believe in strongly on the internet. But it is not PARTICULARLY brave to come out and say that you are a part of an overwhelming majority. The number of supportive comments on this thread just go to show the immense amount of support she should have expected to receive, in a nation where Christian faith is seen as an immense virtue.

        Those other groups Juliet mentioned are ones that are actually marginalized in society. Jews, Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Hindus, the LGBTQ community – those are the kind of people that need to be brave when declaring who they are or what they believe. They are the ones who don’t have the outpouring support of the majority when they write things like this, or make similar declarations.

        Of course there are people who criticize Christians in public and the media – I would hope that there would be people out there criticizing the majority. And sure, it is important to make sure people are respected for their religion. But don’t pretend that persecution of Christians (again, the self-identifying majority) is a huge problem in our society or even the FIRST problem. If you really care about persecution and people standing up for who they are and what they believe in, look at actual oppressed groups first. Then make your way to Christian persecution. Or at least admit that you care about the “Christian persecution” because you are yourself a Christian, and you want to protect people like you. That’s fine to say too, as long as you are honest.

      • Terry Ann

        You cannot write love letters or about love without being honest about who you love and who loves you and with that said, the ultimate love was, is and ever shall be the love our Creator has for us. We are to love HIM and OTHERS. That is a true Christian and I too do not like that word. A true Christian cannot speak of love and NEVER bring up the creator of it. I commend Hannah for this. It is something all “christians” need to read. I am currently living in the South and I think people here often think they are born a Christian. Anyone you ask will always way they are, yet have NO idea what one is. It’s just the right thing to say. I understand completely what this blogs meaning is and who needs to read it. I did not see any condemnation to any “religion”, another word I hate. Anything we do, eat, sleep, continue a habit, can be considered a religion. A belief system such as Christianity, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Messianic Jew, Orthodox this and that etc. is just that. A belief system. Those that truly follow a belief system, no matter what it is are better than those that claim one and never even know on thing about it.

  2. Wow. This is just so beautifully and honestly put. It’s such an authentic portrayal of faith and Christianity, a word that has been so tarnished over time. It blasts the lies of perfection and holds true to the root of who Jesus is- love.

  3. Kat

    I love this so much. I find myself saying “I just love and trust that God is who he says he is” when people ask me if I’m a Christian. The label comes with so much baggage and I hate having to apologize for a large percentage of that population for the hurt they’ve caused others. It’s not about religion, it’s about relationship…and when the love created in that relationship spills over, we can’t help but share the goodness and joy it’s brought us. So glad I stumbled across this today. :)

  4. Young woman, you are bold and brave and I love that you love Jesus. I have greater hope for this generation because of you. Bless you, Dear One, for loving hard in such a tender way. Keep your sweet, dirty-nailed hands on the cheeks of the faces of others, and keep pointing them back to Jesus. All is grace.

  5. Kelsi Guinn

    Miss Hannah Brencher you always know exactly what to say. Every time I read your posts it’s exactly what I need to hear or what I’m feeling. This IS a messy world, and it’s a wonderful feeling knowing someone sees it the way you do.

    I don’t care if you blog, write a novel or whatever else. Just promise me this..never stop writing. Your words go farther than you will ever know.

  6. Shelbey

    It is sooo good to see you put this out there in this way. I am with you, girl. I agree, I agree, I agree.
    To those who are offended: it’s not this is better than that…it’s this is what I am and it’s my truth. No matter what you hold to be your truth, let it be spoken. It is powerful!!!

  7. I couldn’t agree more with your views on Christianity. Sure, some may be offended or make assumptions, but you were courageous enough to open that door, let your voice be heard, and allowing others to relate. I love how each time I read your posts, I notice how perfectly worded they are. Finding the right words to say are difficult, but you do it and make it look easy. Kudos! Keep writing! Can’t wait to check out your book. :) Always inspiring to read your work.

  8. I LOVE these words. And, because people frequently say that and it doesn’t always feel meaningful, let me say it again: I LOVE these words. These, most of all: “I believe in a religion that never sat pretty in the church the way it raged beautifully when it was out on the sidewalks. In the hands of people who knew how to love on others right.”

    Thank you.

  9. This post really moved me. I did not read this post because of my religion. I myself do believe in God, but the words you say that really had an effect was that God, or whatever you may believe in, has a bigger plan for you. He doesn’t want you to endure a painful journey on your own. He has bigger plans for us that we may not even know, and you realize that you are so much more to this world than a name, You are meant to love and give love. Such a wonderful post and really what I needed today, thank you!

  10. Hannah, you are beautiful and brave. Take the mudslingers’ dirt and sculpt it into jars of clay. Love you.

  11. Molly (a Boomer)

    Dearest Hannah, I am a “grandma person” who ” found Jesus ” three times: once as a SAVIOR (age 10) when I needed someone to give me a reason not to kill myself. Then again at 22 He showed up as LORD -an authority figure- to keep my life from being taken in a crazy marriage. (and I’m now an expert at crazy…my own and other people’s crazy too :-s.) And lastly he came for my 50th birthday bringing LIFE wrapped up in the the beautiful ribbons of grace and hope. Finally, everything made sense.

    Miss Hannah, it’s a joy and a gift of grace to follow YOUR LIFE as it unfolds tremulously before us. Your blog words and Ted words and MLL words have made my mouth smile, my eyes to tear and my heart to soar. Everything you wrote in today’s blog piece is what I have taken more than 50 years to learn. And you were ready to say ‘Yes’ to Him while at such a young age!

    I am so proud of you. You say the words I feel and believe and am not skilled at sharing. Thank you for being real and brave and generous–just like Jesus.

  12. You write so beautifully, it’s so poetic…

  13. Here’s to hoping you never stop writing. Curious how I can join Monday mornings. Thank you!

    Alaina Muckell http://www.believerinfood.com

  14. Hannah, I knew we shared the same sandbox. It already shone through every word you wrote, labeled or not. If I may say, you do make amazing mud pies :)

  15. This. Thisthisthis. I needed this is to be okay. Beautiful and necessary and soooo true. Bah.

  16. Wonderful!

    It (the gospel) is not about moving from being ‘bad’…to being ‘better’, or ‘good’.

    It’s about moving from being ‘good’…to God’s grace.

    (or, as Gerhard Forde put it…”moving from virtue, to grace.”)

    Thanks.

  17. Ellen Kenny

    Hannah,
    Your Love Spoke For You. YoU Are Not Telling Me Anything Your Actions Haven’t Already Stated LOud And Clear. You Have Been Made Known By Your Mercy And Love.

  18. This is so beautiful. I love your writing and how you can acknowledge the struggles that come along with this Christian label. I love how you talk about beauty in the messiness. Because truly, what could be more beautiful that this God we serve?
    I quoted your words on my latest post:
    http://themessybits.me/

  19. Oh Hannah, you have such an amazing gift for finding the combination of words that so exquisitely, so perfectly, so powerfully say what others want to say but don’t have the gift. Thank you for speaking out for us all. I believe in you too.

  20. Passionately Christian. This is what we love. :-D

  21. Amen sista! This is… beautiful.
    “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” — 1 Corinthians 13:13 :)

  22. Morgan

    Dannnnnng, girl. You just blew my heart wide open with this post. I want to send this to all my Christian, non-believer and even my athiest friends. wooooooo! I say it every time I ‘reply’, but I’ll say it again–you’re amazing. The way you can take all those words out of MY head and heart and splatter them on a piece of paper so eloquently, just slays me.

  23. Teresa

    Oh Hannah dear girl. You blew me out of the ball park with this one. I started out Catholic, never feeling like I was one of them but now attend a Christian bible based church that rocks me to my core. Did I change? No, same heart but now I can express how I feel and rock with my (Jewish) husband and listen to a message that I heard before but now my heart is open. Bless you Hannah for being a voice that speaks to the heart of what is real and what churns the soul. Let us all love and respect one another which ever way we know how. A smile, a love letter, or better yet, understanding without needing answers.

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