I wrote this blog a few weeks back. Once I heard the news of the heinous hate crime that occurred in a church Charleston, I really began to rethink the timing of my post. That said, I find the words relevant…and still worth sharing. Ironic to be sure, but I write this with sensitivity, respect and heartfelt sympathy for those whose lives were lost last week.
Walking through the doors of your local church could be one of the riskiest things you do all week. In a place where healing, health, and love should flow from every interaction…we often times are met with fear, failure, and brokenness instead.
Don’t know your history…whether you have been attending church since birth, having never missed a Sunday morning, Sunday night or Wednesday evening service. You may be one who has never (and has no intention to ever step foot in church) and you have your reasons and I respect them. But more likely you are somewhere in between…you have gone, used to go, or attend occasionally.
Have you ever walked in to church and then did a 180 degree about-face pretending you left something in the car? Have you sat in a service and something the pastor said caused you to feel so very uncomfortable, you felt you might come out of your skin if you had to sit there a moment longer? And so you left? Have you felt judged by the eyes of those around you? Lonely in the midst of hundreds of people?
No? Guess it’s just me then.
What I hear often from those who have been brave enough to go to church is: I feel exposed. Maybe you are a single mom seeing hundreds of happy couples sitting together. Maybe all you have ever wanted was a little one to hold and call your own and you pass teems of young mothers with their little chicks in tow…with color coordinating clothing…beaming smiles matching their shiny shoes. Maybe your career has not taken off and the cars in the parking lot and the snappy dressed dudes you pass on the way to your pew remind you of your building financial concerns. Maybe the children you pass are ridiculously well behaved and say, “Yes, Ma’am,” and “of course mommy dearest.” You had to endure WWIII to get your munchkin out of the car this morning and he is giving you, grunts and “I hate you” glances as you wait in line at registration. Our most exposed selves seem highlighted placing our inadequacies and longings on display. We are captured in a “perfect” place feeling so very imperfect.
We might go to the other extreme. We shift and we accuse. We defend our brokenness…we walk through the doors with different eyes. We see what appears to be hundreds of happy “holy” faces…but we know better. We think, “I know what you did last night…I was at the bar and watched you walk out with her–she who is not his wife.” We see how our neighbors treat our neighbors…and it is not neighborly. We see the contrast, the brokenness and their public profession…and it REALLY messes us up spiritually-speaking. If you have been wounded by the church or more specifically church folks…there are so few words I can say to tell you how sorry I am. I likely am one of them. From my core…forgive me.
Here’s the deal…us church folk…we are just as messed up as the non-church folk.
I am busted. Broken. Most days I don’t begin to get it right. If you think we church folk have the perfect marriage, family, or life you are gravely mistaken. My thought life made public would make you blush.
Let’s take a moment and check out the church on a global scale…
My church experience in Uganda was intoxicating. From the parking lot you could feel something different…something unique…something bigger than yourself. The music would swallow you whole. The people…dancing…hands to the heavens…tears. I couldn’t wait to go to church on Sundays…without Chris I would gather my five little people. Sometimes we would walk through garbage filled streets with goats and stray dogs chasing us. One solid mile…we would make a way to be in that place. But my international church experience was not perfect. I stuck out like a sore thumb, a white dot in the midst of a dark sea of Ugandans. I honestly did not always feel fully welcome. I received side ways looks and reluctant holding of hands when the pastor said, “take the hand of the person next to you”. One of the child care workers said something offensive and hurtful during Sunday school to my kids about our transracial family.
But here’s what I discovered: God was in that place…His presence was thick. His people were also in that place. And man, do we miss the mark. We are so flawed and human and broken and busted and we are not always a representation of His best. So our brokenness crosses cultures. Whether we are in Africa or America…we the church…miss it. Every Sunday.
Please don’t tell me you have the perfect church. I.don’t.believe.you. Eternity is marked for perfection. Don’t tell me there is something super special about the people that attend your church. Eternity is where we see holiness at Her best.
Our church (the church proper) is filled with all kinds of imperfect people assembling…(most of us) recognize we are in desperate need of something larger than ourselves.
Serendipitously, our globe trotting adventures for the past 2 years drew my attention to the very obvious broken church. Those same adventures pointed me to some of the most beautiful humans beings on the planet, both stateside and abroad. We brushed shoulders with some warriors of the faith; men and women who endured torture by the LRA, lost everything and still found the courage to call God their Father. Their prayers were powerful and their kindness contagious. I found church folks stateside, people who have been prostrate before the Lord praying on our behalf. Friends cheering us at every disturbing turn. Did we all attend the same “church”? No…it was the messed up church proper. Those very fragile folks who are spread across the map…who most Sundays show up in their imperfection looking for hope, healing, and something larger than themselves.
The church is broken because Her people are broken. We bump in to others and sometimes our jagged edges do more harm than good.
“It is no wonder I identify so deeply with the sea glass I collect. I am full of jagged edges, yet, God is softening me, making me lovely, and making me more loveable. Through my life, I have endured hardship and have been tossed by the waves of despair. The sea glass I find has also endured much to become the beautiful gem it is today.” (excerpt from my ebook Oceans Between Us, pg. 15)
God uses circumstances, His Word, and His church to soften me.
I am taking Fredrick Buechner’s words a bit out of context…as I believe he was speaking about a more personal and less cooperate context…
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
But I realize church can also represent this junction. Or should.
Whether you are bringing your gladness or hunger…when we are glad we should find and welcome the hungry. When we are hungry we should be embraced by the glad.
The church is broken because we are broken. Miraculously the more we tumble through the spiritual waters of life we find a refining process powered by God’s love and grace. Our jagged edges become a bit more refined. We see the church less for what it is not and more for who He is. We feel less exposed because we grow smoother and softer and more gracious toward ourselves and others.
Today I invite you to consider if you might find the courage to make the riskiest move you have made all week. And step foot through the doors of a local church…
When you go, be gentle with yourself and others…cause I have let you in on our secret…we are broken.
May You Be a Blessing and May You Blessed,