taking the words of Jesus seriously

The church, as I’ve known it, has broken my heart.  I think that’s what the fury and anguish were all about.  I’m beginning to come out on the other side and see it for what it was.

The story is long and complicated.  How can I explain the course and trajectory of a 30+ year relationship in a few paragraphs?  Let’s start in 2020.

I live with chronic illness.  Some of it diagnosed, some of it not.  The part that is diagnosed (Ulcerative Colitis) involves injections that affect my immune processes.  If I were to contract COVID-19, I would need to suspend my injection therapy in order to ensure recovery, thereby opening the gate for my overactive immune system to potentially come unglued.  It took me over 10 years and 3 hospitalizations to get said immune system under control, so I’m not anxious to take any chances.  

I’m one of the lucky ones.  My disease is currently in remission, meaning I’m not taking prednisone or other medications that would put me at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.  I don’t have other conditions that automatically place me at high risk including sickle cell disease, Down Syndrome, major organ transplant, or cancer treated with chemotherapy.  I’ve always had access to good healthcare to manage my condition and advise me of risks and necessary precautions.

When the pandemic hit, I was in for a rude awakening.  High-risk people need their communities to care about them enough to adhere to distancing, masks, and other precautions.  My community, and our churches, in particular, went the other direction.  With Trump flags flown high, and “Jesus > COVID” signs littering yards, they insisted our duty as good Christians was to proceed as normal and not let fear rule our lives.  For the most part, the churches I know either spoke this or said nothing.  

It is awfully convenient to believe the right thing to do is whatever you want, at anyone else’s expense.

It felt like the lives of the sick and vulnerable didn’t matter.  Then George Floyd was murdered.  At that point, disregard for lives like mine in the pandemic was actually a gift because it allowed me to see Black Lives Matter and other cries for justice and equality with more empathy and more urgency.    Regrettably, it took something personal for me to actually feel harm from the lust for power in our churches and reach a point of no return.  It hurts.  It stirs up doubt.  I am heartbroken over it.  

If a good God moves in and through God’s churches, shouldn’t those churches be primarily a force for good?  Not a force for the proliferation of suffering and harm?  Those on the wrong side of power will tell you this is a centuries-old reality when it comes to white religious institutions.

Obviously, there is a continuum along which various actions and beliefs of both groups and individuals lie.  Just because someone disagrees with me doesn’t mean they don’t have worth, don’t do any good, and aren’t worthy of love.  However, if a person or a system is inflicting harm, standing by and saying nothing is not loving the inflictors of that harm any more than the recipients of it.

When I voice these things to the people in my church circles, I hear a lot about how “all have sinned,” about specks and planks, and above all, the importance of unity.  I acknowledge the truth and importance of these teachings.  I also read in the gospels what Jesus had to say to the power-hungry religious leaders of his day, and it doesn’t sound very unifying.  

The way we’ve been doing unity in white churches isn’t stopping the ebullience for Trumpism (and all its accompanying -isms) that is rooted and growing among us.  I may be wrong about a lot of things, but I’m just not ok with that.    

I don’t know what to do with all of this, honestly.  I continue to pray for guidance, direction, and forgiveness.  I try to speak up when appropriate or necessary.  I look for the ones in my circles of interaction who are pushed to the outside and stand with them.  I continue to read and seek wisdom. (I just finished Brian McLaren’s Faith After Doubt.  I’m currently in the middle of Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne.  Up next is Jemar Tisby’s How to Fight Racism.  In case you’re looking for recommendations.)  

One thing I know: My love for God leads me to love others. If I truly love them, I listen to them.  If they are suffering, I care, and I do what I can to help.  This involves the hard work of removing the blinders of power and privilege because my love for Jesus stirs me to love especially those cast aside and trampled down by power the way that he did.  

It is important to state specifically what this means: As a follower of Christ, it is imperative for me to listen to and stand with siblings in marginalized groups, including people of color, the LGBTQ community, the poor, immigrants, and people from different religious backgrounds.  To tell the truth about the white church’s ugly history of oppression and its modern manifestations.  To speak for the dignity and worth of all people as God’s people and take care of all creation as God’s creation.  To believe in science and medicine because to reject them is to reject reality.  To call out and refute the destructive force of Christian Nationalism that has destroyed so many lives.  To do all I can to spread God’s marvelous, boundless love as displayed in Jesus to all.     

The following two poems came out of all this…

Reality – A Song

There is music 

when there aren’t words.

Heartbroken phrases and surges

that end in soft discord.

No resolution, but a way

to release hearts to say,

“That turmoil is inside me too.”

Here is the pandemic truth:

When lives stand in power’s way,

power steps on the gas.

I mean even and especially 

the hoarded power stored up 

in America’s White Evangelical Church.

Where so many desperate prayers

dissolve into its resounding silence.

I finally learned this song

and played it for that church.  

It told me to play the familiar songs 

of unity instead.  But suffering 

roars its savage head.  Willful ignorance 

breeds hate disguised as righteousness.

And unity, as it’s meant here,

enables all of it.  

READ: A Viral Prayer in the Age of COVID-19

Reality – The Song I Play Anyway

There is a way.

It is all colors

and infinite space.

It is narrow and difficult

but teeming with grace.

Many will try to replace it

with power gussied up

in all sorts 

of righteous-sounding names,

with a wide gate

and easy access.

But nothing will replace it.

Nothing will stop it.

Not power, not death,

not suffering from circumstance

or the two-fisted slaughter

of free will.


It is love.

Always and for all creation – 


It is not in the churches.

It is in the churches.

It comes out of the churches

and gets bigger.

It is empty of fear

but full of questions

with no easy answers.

Full of seekers and finders.

Full of freedom and truth.

Full of justice

for the smothered,

the overlooked, the mown down.

Justice for the poor, the sick,

and the dismissed.

Justice for the extinguished,

the anguished,

the crying, the dying,

the dead.

To a single drop of water,

it is the ocean.

To one particle of light,

the Aurora Borealis.

To one grain of earth,

the Rocky Mountains.

To time, space, and matter,

…something unimaginably more.

It is for the last and the first,

but the last will be first,

and the first live like that’s true

now. Underway now

for each one.

Love for each one

from each one

courtesy of

The One who is Love.

About The Author


Jenna Wysong Filbrun isn’t really sure what she is. These days, she spends a lot of time reading, thinking, realizing how much she doesn’t know, and writing some of it down. She is the author of The Unsaid Words (Finishing Line Press 2020), a poetry chapbook about living with chronic illness. She was fortunate to resign from full-time employment in 2014 for health reasons and currently volunteers as an online math tutor. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband and their dog.

Related Posts

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
    Check which Newsletter(s) you'd like to receive:    

You have Successfully Subscribed!