Church

(This was written many moons ago, with a few updates We are trying to figure out how to post blogs as well as podcasts, so using this as a test run)

It used to be so clear. Life revolved around her. We grew up with a tightly knit bond, our families woven together in an intimate friendship. I learned everything about her as I grew into a man, exploring her intricacies and idiosyncrasies with fascination turning into love. While I misunderstood her often, she forgave and was a patient teacher. I studied her every move like an attentive toddler learning how the world worked, trusting completely. I visited every Sunday and often throughout the week when I had the chance. I felt alive when I pulled up to her home, and disappointed when the time came to say goodbye. She seemed strange to people who didn’t know her. They just didn’t understand us, so the judgmental comments about our oddities didn’t threaten me. I was secure in what we had. In fact, I tried to show them that she wasn’t who they imagined her to be. Who some misrepresented her as. It was those closest to our relationship that scared me. The ones misrepresenting her. They claimed to know her like I did, yet treated her like a possession to wield power or a status symbol to let people know they were in the club. These people simply used her. They didn’t truly see her. They tried to make her into something she wasn’t. Looking back now, maybe I was guilty of this as well. I just couldn’t see it. Treating her as an object to get me ahead. Looking back now, I know that to be the case. But regardless of hidden motivations, shewas my rock, and I held on for dear life. 

I’m not sure when things changed for us. Even while things looked good on the surface, I questioned our relationship on the inside. I tried to hold the relationship together, but we understood each other less each day. She was who she had always been, yet I was drifting and seeing things differently. Defending our oddities didn’t feel worthwhile anymore. I felt I was simply a caricature in some story, following a script someone else gave to me. I couldn’t follow the script anymore. What do you do when you start to doubt everything you thought you knew about someone? The questions flooded in one after the other. Was what we had even real? Was it worth the effort? Did she really love me? Did I really love her? Was I just going through the motions? All the knowledge, intimacy and friendship we had shared throughout the years crumbled like a house built on sand. That metaphor feels a little too familiar for some reason. 

Everything I thought I knew became a question asked with no answer. I had been content to trust her in the past. The questions were okay then because it was okay leaving them with her to deal with. Living in the grey area became exhausting, though. So I just stopped asking questions and moved on. My thirst to know her faded into a fake jaded apathy; where I pretended not to care, and the more I pretended, the more real it felt. Deep down, no matter how far away I go, I’ll never stop missing her embrace. 

I don’t know her well anymore. Years have passed and we’ve drifted apart. We see each other occasionally, but it’s uncomfortable. That’s not just her fault. People close to us are trying to convince me to hold on and fight for her. According to them, she never stopped loving me. If she is who they say she is, that must be true. But it feels too late to go back. At the same time, I can’t let go. Being stuck in this wasteland feels debilitating. I wish I could just let go or go back to what was home; get on with my life and move on without her or go back to the life I once knew where she was my everything. Maybe that’s the point. There may still be a place for me in her arms. She’s made that much clear to me. I just can’t go back and fake it anymore. Things can’t be what they used to be. It has to be real, or it’s nothing. I have to believe life can be more than it was and more than this emptiness without her. There isn’t a going back or staying where you are. There’s only something new.

I can’t stay. But I can’t let go. I’m unsure where this path is going to end and whether we will ever end up together again. Unsure where my brokenness and shame is leading me. Unsure if I can trust her. Unsure if I’m ready for the commitment. Unsure if my unfaithfulness will be forgiven. Unsure if we can re-grow a stronger foundation. So many questions. Too few answers. 

A tragic love story with no fairy tale ending, but hope is alive.

——————————————————————–

Why bother? It’s the question I come back to again and again. Growing up, I attended church 3 times a week. 5 more times, I went to mandatory chapel at my Christian school. Then there was 3 years of Bible College. Not to mention 6 years working as a youth pastor. I’m not an outsider questioning that which I don’t know. If church attendance was a section on a resume, I’d be a top-tier candidate. At least until recently, that is. I’ve had the inside track on church since the day I was born. I know the lingo and the reasons it’s important on paper. I’ve heard variations of every kind of sermon about every different bible verse. I’ve given lots of them myself. I’ve believed in and participated in meaningful worship at various points in my life. Despite all this, for the past few years, I come back to the same question. Why bother?

Why is this so difficult now? It’s a longer, more personal story than this, but I’ll give you the cliff notes version. The Nashville Statement, a sorry excuse to put hatred and bigotry on display and mask it as holiness. Need more of a reason? Spiritual abuse and manipulation for power: see Mark Driscoll as Exhibit A. The list goes on and on. Sexual abuse and church cover-ups. Pat Robertson and the Religious Right. Joel Osteen and the “gospel” of more money. The 81% white evangelical support for The Donald. Franklin Graham and the tarnishing of his father’s legacy, which is complicated to begin with. Hell, mine will be, too. Islamophobia. Gay Conversion Therapy and the immense damage its done, costing people their lives. Corruption and the love of power more than truth. Hypocrisy. Worship of the flag rather than Jesus…

It gets harder and harder to bother with church when the church you see looks nothing like the church it should be.

The question that rolls around in my head is, “How could we possibly be part of the same family?” I’ve read 1 Corinthians 12 many times, and I know what Paul says. But I don’t know what to do with that. If refusing to sign onto some ignorant, exclusionary and hateful statement means I’m not a part of this body, then good riddance. The same people I’m calling out would likely feel the same way about me, that I’m a damage to the goodness of the church. I’ll admit that I’m no saint. They are probably right. I wonder how we are all part of the same body, let alone even following the same Jesus. I know there is good there. I see the beauty in the church and have experienced it firsthand, but I am struggling to hold the two in tension. In the same way one negative comment can erase the good words from kind people during daily interactions, so it is with church. I see the beauty. The voices who speak out against the Nashville Statement in support of LGBTQ people as God’s beloved. Pastors who join the protests in standing against racial hatred and intolerance. On a more personal level, the way I’ve been cared for by many in the church is very beautiful. I never want to belittle those moments and experiences. Sadly, the negativity too easily outweighs the beauty. But just because I’ve experienced the good doesn’t mean I can discount the evil.

I’ll confess. I’m in a dark place. A place where my faith hangs by a thread. Where I question things that were so basic in my childhood. Is God real? I don’t know. Can I trust the Bible? Not if it means reading it as an exclusionary rulebook. This faith I’ve held my entire life, is it real or just an illusion I’ve held due to growing up here? I need to take ownership for my own steps away from God. I can’t blame it all on missteps in the church. I’ve taken a step back from Jesus. That’s on me. The church is just not exactly the safest place to have these conversations. How do you be a youth pastor and question the very faith you’re charged with instilling in the youth? How do you find your faith when prayer feels like a one way conversation with no one listening? I’m afraid to voice these questions. I feel like it will give the church a reason not to trust me or to write me off. When I challenge the church for its mistreatment of LGBTQ people, people think it must be a sign I’m on the wrong path. I’m not known for being very orthodox in the first place. This kind of honesty puts me in heretic territory. While that’s not totally fair, as many haven’t judged me as I’ve opened up to them. I’ve just seen it happen too many times to count. 

Things can’t stay here. They have to move. I could walk away. Take my doubt and let it slowly eat away at me until it deadens the bit of faith I have left. Or I can find a new expression of faith and church. I don’t claim to know what this means or even looks like. Something that is broken and honest. That is okay with doubts and darkness. Hopeful and sincere. I’ve seen glimpses of this. I’m still a cynical pessimist who isn’t sure where his faith stands. But something keeps me close. The knowledge of what it could be is enough to keep me searching for now. What I do know is the church has to be more than Sunday mornings and standing against things, making ridiculous authoritative statements where you have no authority. It has to be a place where you can be real. A place that stands for something more. For justice and integrity. Honesty and compassion. For healing and gentleness and for those standing on the margins. It has to be a place which centres voices of the oppressed and hurting. It’s hard to see all that happen in a building on a Sunday morning. And maybe the problem is in expecting that, because that’s not possible for a 2 hour meeting at a building to do. Pieces can happen there, but church is less about Sunday morning and more about the movement of God. God isn’t confined to a building, and neither are we. But it can still do better.

We can make the choice to fight culture wars from the pews. If that’s all that church is, then I’m happy to let it burn. I believe it was meant to be more. But it’s also unfair of me to expect the church to be something that I’m not willing to make it. My journey of faith has reached a breaking point. Church has played a significant role, both in good times and now in the bad. In the immortal words of Bono, I still haven’t found what I’m searching for. Maybe I just haven’t gone to the depths I need to go to find her again. Or maybe it’s ok to quit looking.

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