Wednesday, September 08, 2010

An Open Letter to Red Mountain Church

Dear Red Mountain Church,

I first attended Red Mountain Church in January of 2002 when I was nineteen years old. I had converted to Christianity two years earlier and found myself, simply out of social coincidence, attending a rather large, rich Southern Baptist church in Pelham, Alabama. For two years that was my spiritual home and community. It was the beginning of my Christian education and my only tangible source for learning how to apply what I believed about the world to my young and wonderfully complicated life. Like any stage of infancy, I was dependent on the wisdom and goodness of the caretakers around me. I’ve always had a skeptic’s heart but never dreamed of needing its benefits in my Christian experience and in that believing community in particular. Such was my seventeen year old naiveté! A few years into my journey, and through pure self-education, I stumbled upon the tenets of Reformed Theology. I didn’t know what reformed theology was or even who John Calvin was for that matter. To me a tulip was simply one of a million unidentifiable flowers and held absolutely no doctrinal meaning. But as I continued reading, it became clear to me at the time that if Christianity was true then there was a crucial emphasis on God’s sovereignty and the bigness of his grace. To my great surprise (again with the naiveté), these new ideas put me at odds with my Southern Baptist church leadership. At that point, because I played music, I was heavily involved with this church. I was playing in praise bands, leading worship, leading Bible studies, helping organize mission trips, etc. I was a fairly typical, young Christian poster boy. As the leadership became more afraid of the ideas my friends and I were exploring they began to strip us of any leadership or influential roles. Ultimately we were asked to leave the church altogether.

I feel a lot and so this was devastating. I didn’t have much hope of finding another place to grow and learn or a body of people to enter into a dialogue with. My great friend, Brad Willis (an old friend of Red Mountain and, ironically, the former youth pastor at the aforementioned Baptist church), told me about Red Mountain. He said it was this humble place that met downtown in a hotel conference room. He talked about how there was so much space to sit and be quiet and how the pastor preached in his normal speaking voice and how the musicians played songs from hundreds of years ago that he’d never heard before. But he also said it was a place that was not afraid of ideas and a safe haven to rest and to process. To my great fortune I decided to go. Before long I had met Brian T. Murphy and began playing on Sundays. I had met and connected with Steve. I had joined my first of five community groups and had met so many people that I still have meaningful relationships with today. In many ways Red Mountain not only spoke to my previous disillusionment, but also undid for my heart what I thought had been bound. This is something that I continue to hold dear and think fondly of. Red Mountain has been the cultivated ground for the most important and special friendships I will likely ever have. People who have carried me in times of darkness and who have been kind enough to allow me to return the favor, however insufficiently. A lot of my core ideas about community, waiting, long-suffering with people, process and beauty I have learned while sifting through life at this church.

A few years ago I began to question the validity of Christianity. To be honest I’ve never been very good at believing things without evidence, but there seemed (and seems) to be a lot of space carved out for that sort of struggle in the teachings of Jesus. As I’ve come to more fully understand the Universe we inhabit and as I’ve learned more about human evolution and the historical progress of religion, I no longer personally find it reasonable to continue believing in Christianity, or any religion for that matter. While I don’t feel any anger or hatred for the belief systems themselves, I am still searching for a way to constructively criticize what I believe to be harmful elements of the faith. Most of my dear friends hold to some variation of Christianity and so I maintain sensitivity to that process to the best of my ability.

I have been beyond fortunate to participate in the music and know the musicians at Red Mountain. I realize the incompatibility between my current worldview and the body of work I have created at the church. I believe that the contradictions are surmountable and that with a united belief that the work has its own voice and a determination to make a way where there seems to be none, we can move forward together as I continue to make music within communities close to the people of Red Mountain.

I say all of this because I want you to see that my story is, well, a story. With arcs and with conflict. With toil and with joy. The story of Red Mountain has always been its people and I am thankful to have been wrapped up in the folding and unfolding of such a beautiful place. In light of these things and out of my respect for and admiration of this institution I have officially revoked my membership. I have revisited the five vows I took when I became a member and can conclusively say that I no longer believe in them as I once sincerely did. Red Mountain has changed a lot. In some ways it has become unrecognizable to me. In others I can see that it has evolved naturally and that perhaps some of what it has given up has made a way for it to gain other beautiful things. I take heart that my value at Red Mountain is to be counted amongst the people that I love and are loved by and not solely by my lack of doctrinal subscription or the petty babble of cowards.

Perhaps my story with you, anonymous reader, has ended. I’ve had enough bittersweet goodbyes this past year to last a lifetime. If you are still with me, I am thankful for your kindness and for your care. I hope this finds you all well.

In reason and the continuing spirit of détente,

Clint Wells


David said...

What a beautiful story Clint. This really resonates with my own story. Thanks for sharing.

Brody Bond said...

Clearly, tastefully written.

Patrick said...

"I say all of this because I want you to see that my story is, well, a story."

Sometimes it's too easy to forget this. Thanks for reminding. And thanks for this letter. Here's hoping our stories aren't departing.

Brian T. Murphy said...


so many bittersweet goodbyes this past year, so many indeed.

playing the new record as I read what you wrote and type this comment. its our best work yet, and I think also our most appropriate. can't wait to hear what comes next.

as for red mountain, its something I've shed a lot of tears about. its surprising how disconnected I now feel from a place that once seemed so inseparable.

maybe that's not so surprising.

thanks for staying with me, clint.

Robert said...

Clint, thanks for helping me appreciate your story. What is it with SB churches kicking new Calvinists musicians out? I must know a half dozen like this.

Anonymous said...

In some ways, you are the story of that place.


joe said...

You will be missed, though never forgotten. Thank you for all that you have invested into RMC.

Dan Wallis said...

OK, so I'm late to the discussion here. But this post has cleared up a lot for me. I've just found out about you, Clint, through the "Songs for Lent" project (which I love). I'm a Pastor, serving in a Wesleyan Church in Canada (I'm originally from Wales). That's not so important except to give you a sense of who is listening to your music.
When I read your "Abraham + Child Sacrifice" blog, I thought it was a different Clint Wells from the Hymn-retuner. However, I backtracked and realized you are the same guy. I'm not sure how much this means to you, but thanks for your gift to the Christian community. Your music (and I'm thinking especially the Songs for Lent) is helping me connect with God in a real way during this Lenten season. It's rare to hear such deep and sober songs of worship.
I'm intrigued, I guess, about in what spirit you sing these songs, since you no longer subscribe to the Christian Faith (I hope I'm OK in saying that). You write: "I realize the incompatibility between my current worldview and the body of work I have created at the church". The only thing I can imagine is if I, as a Christian, were to create an album of ancient Hindu songs.
Anyways, I appreciate your honesty, I appreciate your explanatory post and, most of all, I appreciate your gift to the Christian Church because your music enables me to worship my God.

ST said...

I've just read your blog up until this point. I was with you when you were 17, I think I was even there that night you gave your life over to Jesus... Back when life really started getting heavy for everyone. Those times, and especially that summer hold so many fond memories for me, a few of which you play a starring role in.. Long conversations. IMs. Secrets that were absolutely delicious.

I havent heard from you in years, though I've kept in contact with people who have heard from you, who are
close to you- so in a sense I've "kept up" with you.

No matter what changes your life goes through, you still
(obviously) are a deep thinker, awesome musician, and beautiful writer, just like you were back then.

I cherish all my memories of you.