Just one year before “The Facebook” came to TCU, many students used an online service called “Xanga,” (pronounced Zayn-gah with an inflection of irony and a hint of regret). Xanga was an “open journal” blogging site, a place where millennial angst could spill out for all to see. As a Freshman living in Clark Hall, I used Xanga for two reasons: first, so that my mom and sister could have print evidence that I was still alive and, second, so that I did not have to confront social anxiety and make new friends.
Xanga became the space where new ideas related to my major, Religion, played out. Just a month into school, I wrote: “How do we know that we’re Christian?” Mid-semester, the words were different: “What if God is fallible?” Then, at the start of my second semester, it was just flat out: “I don’t believe in Jesus. Got no issues with God. Just Jesus.”
That last one sent my sister, Kate, into a tailspin. She lashed back with comments about how she didn’t know me and that Jesus believed in me even if I didn’t believe in him. Back home, the church that I had grown up in, the same one in which Kate was still growing, had descended into terrible conflict. What had been a source of faithful strength in my youth became, in Kate’s youth, a place where followers of Jesus acted as embittered hypocrites. For her brother to move from “church camp all-star” to “deserter of the faith,” was betrayal to Kate. When I stopped attending church at the end of my first semester, that betrayal became real to both of us.
After that, my sister and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on much about Jesus. As our home church disintegrated, Kate became involved in Young Life. The Jesus she came to know became vastly different than the Jesus, historical, theological and ethical, that I was coming to know through my coursework.
Slowly, Jesus and I found each other again, for the first time. In my Junior year, I returned to a church because there was a hole in my heart that nothing else could fill. I heard sermons from a minister who used both her bible and her brain, and she helped me to know an intimately personal Jesus who had intellectual integrity. I sang in a church choir that was forgiving of my angst and gentle with my spirit. My coursework in Religion encouraged me to be less critical and more generous, both to the material and myself.
In the summer after graduating from TCU, Jesus brought Kate and me back together. She and I began to talk about this man who we had come to know separately. She practiced the hospitality of Jesus that her Young Life groups instilled in her, and I found the vulnerability of Jesus I’d learned through doubt and grace.
Together we discovered that we believed in each other’s Jesus. We still do.
Rev. Ryan Motter, ’07, is a minister at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Smithville, Missouri. After his time at TCU, Ryan earned his Master of Divinity degree at Vanderbilt University Divinity School and was ordained to Christian Ministry. He and his wife Rev. Suzanne Kerr Motter, ’00, MDIV ‘04, are expecting their first child, a baby girl, in November. They can’t wait for her to meet their fur child Jeff, a female Yellow Lab Mix named in honor of two of Ryan’s TCU roommates.