I know your thoughts around God and church and organised religion are tender and bruised, angry and exhausted.
Mine, too, sometimes.
So I want us to sit around a fire pit on a beach under a dome of stars in a navy blue sky, watching the moon on the water in companionable silence.
I want us to drink red wine and dig our toes in the still-warm sand, to wrap our arms in real wool sweaters and feel the cold evening stealing across the water.
photo © 2009 Andrew Napier | more info (via: Wylio)
And then I want us to talk about this:
I wrote a post a year or so ago about how I wanted to separate myself from Christianity.
I am taking a sustained break, a separation with thoughts for divorce from the current forms of church and “Christianity.”
I have alternated between intense prayer, time pouring over Scripture, conversations with my husband, bouts of weeping, anger so white hot my hands tremble, patient resignation and rest.
The truth of the matter is that I no longer wish to identify myself with Christians or the current forms and displays of church (small “c” noted).
Most of you know that I have grappled with church and Christianity for years now. I have found solace in the emerging church and even in the rediscovery (for me, anyway) of ancient church traditions. I have found progressive and beautiful and thoughtful people among Christians. We love many of you, deeply, and always will. I have tried so hard to hang on, even in the face of great evil and oppression done in the name of Jesus, believing that I could not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
And yet, I cannot get away from the truth of my own heart. The Christianity I see and the church as I experience it, the witness that I am bearing to the primary practices of the Christian religion as it is currently, turns my stomach and wounds my soul……
…. Everything that I know about God, everything I know about my Father, can’t allow me to do this anymore. I can’t stand by anymore and align myself with this madness. I yearn to love people and often, church and “Christians” are the anti-thesis of this. I can no longer carry the baggage of this evil over the centuries.
I am taking a break from describing myself as a Christian.
I cannot darken the door of a church right now.
I am broken in my spirit, grieving.
Sure, everyone clicks on and shares the controversial or popular posts (there on the right sidebar –> ).
But the quiet emails tucked into my inbox almost always have nothing to do with some of my more out-of-the-box views whether I’m getting all soap-boxy and yell-y about spanking or gay marriage, biblical womanhood or even the whole hell thing. They aren’t about my contemplative or weird posts about marriage and motherhood, love and simple joys (which are usually my own personal favourites, to be honest).
No, people email me about that post, telling me their own heartbreak regarding their faith, their own anger, their own exhaustion.
We are tired, worn out, burned out on religion, aren’t we?
Here. Have a moment to refill your glass and toast that truth with a bit of bitterness. It’s okay. I brought a thermos of strong tea, too, for later. Would you rather that?
We hear about a good pastor who got fired by a power hungry church. Another pastor had an affair with the worship leader’s wife. We hear about charlatans fleecing old ladies out of their pension. We read Jesus Needs New PR and think that we need more than new PR, we need a revolution (or at least a ban on YouTube videos for certain members of the family). We are thrown under the bus by people we thought were our family. We are picked last. Another hero falls.
What a mess we can be.
Commercialism, materialism and consumerism, militarism, nationalism – it’s all jumbled up in our bed. We get yelled at or flippantly dismissed for our beliefs or opinions. We judge everyone else for being judgemental but feel so judged ourselves.
What a mess we can be.
And then there are those of us that think it’s our calling to criticise. We walk in a ministry of I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong, a religion of marking boundaries so that everyone is clear about who is in and who is out. We call it leadership if we’re good at noticing what’s wrong with everyone else and we can go on and on about everything that the church needs to fix. We focus on small gnat issues for womanhood instead of the big, broader needs of our sisters around the world. We build bigger churches with kick-ass sound systems to get together and watch a celebrity preacher from the screen while the world on the other side of our carefully constructed fences and edifices die of hunger and war. We meet for ladies’ teas and wonder why no one comes.
What a mess we can be.
And we fall, we fail. We are the ones that let people down, we gossip and oh, we’re such hypocrites as we judge everyone else by their worst moments but ourselves, only by our best. We fail our spouses and our kids and our friends just like “those people.”
What a mess we can be.
When people email me or talk to me about that season of my life, I find myself yearning – absolutely yearning – to reach through the screen or through years of Canadian reserve to hug them tight, to hug you tight.
And then I want to tell them, you, this:
Yes, that is true. And yes, I was hurt.
But do you know what else is true?
Love is true. And love is just as real in our Church, our broken bride swathed in redemption, as all of the mess.
And it is just as important – more important? – to tell (and hear) the good stories. We, those of us in the church that is emerging now out of the past armed with all of the ways that we will do it better and more true to the Gospel, we would do well to tell the stories of grace alongside all of the stories of disgrace. We haven’t even touched the big famous stories like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. or Tommy Douglas and so on. We haven’t talked the stories from Scripture or our heroes of the faith.
In the months and years since I wrote that post above, a quiet shift happened in my heart. You can see it and hear it in my writing, and hopefully my life, too, as I reset to notice moments of grace, to notice the abundant life, to embrace contentment and the doctrine of feasting on enough.
To see the Jesus in us all, pouring through the cracks life inflicts.
After being broken, friend, I was bound and set with good stories. My balm smelled of the saints in every walk of life, quietly living the Gospel. With just the smallest shift of my focus, I began to take in all of the picture, not just the ugly bits that burn on the way down.
For every hurt, there is a healing. For every wound, there is balm. For every betrayal, there is long faithfulness.
And someday we will wrap our arms around that guy we hated or made fun of or accused of heresy or that did you wrong and beg his forgiveness for not seeing all of the Jesus in him because now we see it and oh, he’s beautiful and just as forgiven, just as loved as you. I promise. And someone will beg for your forgiveness, too, for all of the ways that they judged you.
Maybe it’s not as sexy to tell the good stories, all of the ways that the Bride grows more beautiful every day, as it is to poke fun at everyone getting it “wrong.” (It’s the same reason why the sensational and sad and tragic stories get all of the media coverage while the quiet stories of goodness and courage sink beneath.)
You could spend a life telling these beautiful stories of ordinary radicals, normal people sitting right beside you in that folding chair int he school gym, on the itchy padded pew, in the movie theatre style-seat at the mega church and still run out of time.
We haven’t even touched the big famous stories like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr. or Tommy Douglas and so on. We haven’t talked the stories from Scripture or our heroes of the faith.
And then let’s let it all go, all of the hurt, all of the wounds sending them out to sea together.
We’ll finish this bottle though, shall we? We’ll have a bit of hot tea, we’ll tell a few bad jokes to release the tension and I’ll hand you a real handkerchief.
We’ll walk barefoot in cold sand when the fire dies down, headed back to life with our skin smelling of prayer and campfire smoke.