The church thing came up again. You know, “Are you going to church?”.
And I’m just confused why it hurts when people ask that. Why it still annoys me. Why I get that lump in my throat and my chest gets all tight. I usually respond with, “not right now.” or “we’ve been looking, but we haven’t found anything that felt like the right fit.”. But that’s just not the truth. I continue to respond that way though because the space between me and the person asking just never seems to be enough. Enough for me to air out all my questions, discord, and devotion to the church.
I think it gets to me because I feel that through my answer I’m being defined, without being known. Faith is often defined by church attendance. I know I used to feel more faithful by just attending.
When I think about my childhood, it’s immersed in church services and Bible verses. Raised hands and elders. Church was the first place outside of my own home and family that I felt I belonged as a kid.
I would roll out of bed every Sunday morning and put on my scratchy tights. Mom would braid my hair and feed me cereal. Then we would all pile into our red minivan and somehow always manage to be a touch late as we rolled into the church parking lot. I didn’t question why we did it then. We did it because we believed and belonged. My family belonged. I belonged. The belonging was the best part.
So how did I get here? Feeling like an outcast looking into stain glass windows?
I started asking questions.
Not hard ones really, just the question I’ve been asking my whole life:
Why do we do it this way? Why do we still think this way is effective? Why do we prioritize this? Why do we only hear from those voices? Why? Why? Why?
Good ‘ole organized religion. It has to be, you know, organized.
It really got to me when I realized not everyone could come into our gathering and feel the belonging I was feeling.
It really got to me when I would look around at people falling asleep because they were bored.
It really got to me when I fell asleep because I was bored.
It really got to me when I felt like I was supposed to sacrifice honesty, so that I could be a poster-child of Jesus’ success.
It really got to me when the gathering of people were focused on funding a steeple, a salary, a trip but wasn’t focused on funding the needs of the community.
It really got to me that ministry looked like working for a church, playing guitar at a bible study, and volunteering in the nursery.
And the worst part was, things just kept getting to me.
It got really confusing. Because as I started to experience God more and more in my faith journey, I started experiencing him less and less in the walls of a service he had once been so present. The routine and rituals started making church attendance feel really small.
I started wondering if history was repeating itself. In Jesus’ first coming when he looked at the religious he was grieved and angry that his people (the Jews) had made faith about all the wrong things - the temple, the rules, making the temple a business for their own profit, the marking of who was in and who was out...to name a few.
Is it possible that somehow, over time, we got there again? Because it all feels really similar. Is it possible in Jesus’ second coming that we will realize we learned nothing from the stories of old.
Have we made it about all the wrong things again?
I’m mostly frustrated. For a long time I thought I was frustrated that we were doing it wrong. But over time I’ve come to realize I’m frustrated because I don’t know how to do it right.
I just can’t be a part of a people who are building walls. Marking who’s in and who’s out. Who needs to change their ways. Who’s right. Who gets to speak on the stage and who doesn’t. It’s not how I feel like I’m supposed to spend my time.
I want to spend my time being a part of the people who have devoted their lives to tearing down walls and building bridges. Ultimately, because I read about Jesus and see him taking every opportunity to show radical love and radical inclusion. Who didn’t spend his time by setting up a bunch of black and white rules for us other than, Love God and Love Others. Who leveled the playing field and said:
societal outcasts-you’re in,
demon possessed-you’re in
Poor, tired, broken, sick, elderly, addicted, whores, confused, intrigued, angry, messy, doubting, … You’re in.
Who does that? My Savior. That’s who.
I find peace in my crazy, radical God who in His infinite goodness uses the mess. The mess of the church. The mess of me. He’s my favorite. I don’t have to worry about what everyone else is doing, just me.