on church hatin’

Posted: January 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

“The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”  (quote attributed to St. Augustine of Hippo, though some debate the source)

“When we criticize the church for failing, we indict ourselves.”  ~Lee Bezotte, Mercy Vineyard Church, Moline IL

Unlike an increasingly large portion of today’s population, I grew up in church.  It was just something we did – an expected and ordinary part of life.  True, a lot of Sundays I laid still in bed, hoping that my parents would decide to skip it and I’d be able to watch awesome Sunday morning cartoons like “Underdog” and “Rocky and Bullwinkle” and “Tennessee Tuxedo.”  Still, it was part of our culture.  While there were plenty of denominations to choose from, we were all essentially the same – mainstream Protestant Christians.  It was a set of expectations, a language.  I didn’t spend time evaluating whether we were doing it right or wrongly.  I just got up on Sunday mornings, put on my church clothes, went and did the thing.  And then got on with my week, mostly not integrating any of that couple of hours on Sunday morning into the rest of my life. 

College and the ensuing decade or so was a time away from church, most of the time.  This wasn’t any kind of statement about the church – I really had no value judgment about whether it was being done right or wrongly.  My distance from God had nothing to do with church and everything to do with how I thought He felt about me, and everything to do with how I felt about my own journey. 

It wasn’t until later, during my first encounter with extreme behind-the-scenes ickiness in church, that I started to be mad at “the church.”  Things happened that I didn’t understand, that didn’t hold up to the standards of the Word we professed to believe, and I was irritated.  Then frustrated.  Then bitter.  Critical.  Angry.  Filled with opinions, with lectures and speechifying that were filling me up to overflowing, threatening to burst forth. 

That was just the first of a number of awful things to happen in church.  Just one in a long series of bad encounters with church folks, some of whom were leaders on a number of levels.  I became an expert on the shortcomings of the church, examining words, actions, interactions, and programs to look for faults.  I did and said some very ungracious things along the way.  I spent too much energy measuring the journeys of others, while assuming that mine was right on target. 

But unlike that passage in my 20s, this time I did not abandon church.  It had been easy to abandon earlier, since it was more just something to do.  Now, though I was arrogant and full of myself, I did understand that I am the church.  That getting up and leaving , would mean being part of the problem, not part of the solution.  Leaving would be abandoning my family, to whom and with whom I was called to serve and belong.  So although often it was ugly, uncomfortable, and the last place I wanted to be, I stuck around.  I served as best I was able and I tried not to be part of the further dividing of God’s people.  I did it imperfectly – those who knew me best knew my many grievances.  But I was growing.  Changing.  Less and less likely to bash the church with my words. 

Living at JPUSA did a massive healing work in me on that front.  JPUSA is an intentional community.  Our home was our church was our workplace was our social life.  There was no separation.  It was the most honest way of living I have known, not all divided up and compartmentalized.  My neighbor was my coworker was my fellow church member was my friend.  Without any great effort or contemplation, the simple act of living that way shifted my understanding, and I no longer needed to be mad at the church.  Church is just people.  Ordinary people.  Messed up, carrying baggage, believing lies, trying our best and probably getting it wrong more than we get it right.  Just as I can forgive my friends, my natural family, my coworkers, my neighbors, and myself for imperfections and shortcomings, I can forgive “the church” as well.  Not to do so is to presume – to give myself permission to be a much bigger judge than I have any right to ever be. 

These days, I am excited about my church.  It is a people quick to love, ready to welcome, eager to serve, excited to worship, willing to be real.  Highly imperfect and beautiful in endless ways.  Our pastor (that guy I quoted up there at the top) reminds us that trash-talking the church is “bride bashing” (cuz, ya know, the church IS the “bride of Christ” – says so in the Word)…and who wants to be a bride basher?  I am much quicker these days to catch myself when I want to “have an opinion” about what someone’s church is doing.  Much quicker to remember that I am the church, and I can be a part of the problem, or a part of the solution. 

Still mad at the church?  I get it.  Still, I challenge you – ask God to show you how HE sees the church in 2014. 

Bet He’ll knock your socks off.

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