I read Sara Miles’ beautiful book, “Take This Bread” and she wrote: “You don’t get to be a Christian by yourself.” Me? I tried. I really tried to be a Christian by myself. And, in my deepest hurts from the Body of Christ, it helped to cocoon away in the in-between-space. It helped to step away from the institutions of Church for a while, from the programs, from the self-perpetuating machine, from the politics, the religion, the expectations, the behaviour modification focused easy spirituality, I packed up all of my baggage in steamer trunks and headed out. I had my doubts, I had my hurts, I had my questions, I had my battle scars, and they mattered then, they matter still.
I shed a lot of the performance anxiety in those years. I reconciled what I believed and why. I embraced the glorious kaleidoscope of experience. I loosened my grip on my opinions. I entered recovery for being a Know It All. I stopped caring what people thought. I stopped expecting every one to experience God or church or life like I thought it should be done. I stopped using the word “should” about God or church. I sought God and he was faithful to answer me. I look at those years now, those years far from church membership, from steady weekly attendance, far from performance-driven faith, far from an Official Church, and I know that God was there in the wandering. God set me free from crippling approval addiction, from my evangelical hero complex, from the fear of man, he bathed my feet, bound my wounds, gave rest to my soul. I learned the difference between critical thinking and being just plain critical And I found out that He is more than enough, always was more than enough, always would be more than enough.
Water in the desert came from cups fashioned by the hands of those that loved the Gospel. I found community. I found friends. I found family. I discovered that the hand of God was strong and firm, gentle and loving, in the hands, breath, and voices of the people of God. There are more of us that love God and love people, that leave the scent of grace wherever we walk, that forgive and serve without fanfare or book deals, that work for justice and mercy than I could have ever dreamed. They loved the unlovable, the marginalised, the hopeless, because of their great love for God. They believed the Jesus actually meant all that stuff he spoke while here on earth. They were on mission, they were peacemakers, they were everything I wanted to be when I grew up, you gorgeous people of God.
It turned out the Bride of Christ was broken, yes, but she was so beautiful to me when I found her out here in the desert, in the world and in the Anglican church and the emerging church and the house church and the organic church and the Vineyard church and online and in coffee shops and in the woods and even/especially in the people I still think are wrong wrong wrong about stuff.
Can you be whole and full in Christ without spilling over? Can you be loved without yearning to love in return? Can you be healed without wanting to heal? Can you receive goodness without wanting to point every other fellow beggar on the road to the source of that goodness? Can you deconstruct without wanting to rebuild someday?
Can you be restored to God without being restored to the people of God, too?
Despite my best efforts, I couldn’t. Loving Jesus meant learning to love and celebrate His Church.
But the Church isn’t a non-profit status anyway, it’s not four-walls-and-a-baptismal-font. Church isn’t a club and it isn’t a membership and it isn’t a set of beliefs and it isn’t one doctrine. It isn’t Sunday morning liturgy or performance. It’s bigger and more. The people of God gather in ways so different, all that matters is that we gather together somehow, to love, to live out the mission of God and the Gospel, to eat together and feed each other.
Church is the family of God.
And I found my family everywhere.
I could care less about labels. I could care less about demarcations and boundaries. I know where I find God and community, and that’s okay. I know you might find both God and true community elsewhere, and that’s okay, too. And we’ll both probably shift and change and switch places now and then. The only lyrics for the song in my heart are Love and Freedom, yes, life in Christ is a life of LOVE and a life of FREEDOM.
A love for the Church has blossomed like a garden in that wilderness, free and wild and hopeful and unexpected.
I still feel rather protective about my desert-self, just like I feel protective of every one still there, I never want to forget how it feels to be there. I want to remember, to honour your journey, your in-between-space, I want to grab your hand and tell you to lean into it. I want to remember that it looks different for all of us, and that no one is more surprised than me that my journey has lead me here, back again.
And, when I realised that God was restoring church to me, giving me back my joy in intentional community, in Sunday mornings and Bible studies and tithe cheque numbers, in the gathering of the Body to worship and learn and support and eat and scatter back out to our world, even in the calling of my husband to pastor, I laughed at the irony and I laughed gently at myself and I laughed because I was happy.
I only came back to church when I didn’t care if I ever went back.
I only came back to church when I found Church everywhere.