I am what you might call a “church-goer”. I look back on my life and cannot remember a time that I was not connected to a church somewhere. I’ve attended chapel at school, chapel at camp, Presbyterian church, Alliance church, Foursquare church, home church, Pentecostal church, Evangelical Free church, Salvation Army church, Baptist church, and back to Pentecostal church. Morning worship, communion, Vacation Bible School, Sunday school, children’s church, youth group – sometimes attending, sometimes leading. I’ve done it all.
What can I say, sometimes they have snacks. And always really good juice. I know it wasn’t koolaid because I’m still alive. (Really, Carly? Too soon.)
It’s not hard to picture going to church like going to a family reunion. There are people you know, some you love, some that you’re just like “ehh.” And if you go to church alone like I have for most of my life, then sometimes you actually *do* get adopted by some parents or grandparents that take you home for lunch after the service since you are probably wasting away.
A church has always been my place of refuge, confession, re-confirmation of faith. Where I could find God the easiest.
And now, I find myself being called away. Maybe not from church completely, but from what I think I know and believe about church.
Like any family, church assemblies occasionally go through rough patches. Fighting, gossip, disagreement over how things should be done, taking sides, misunderstandings, financial stress; sometimes, people walk out and don’t come back. Bridges are burned, hearts smoldering in the ashes.
Unfortunately, in these situations, the rest of the world looks at people like us and points vigorously, “See! I knew they were hypocrites! That’s why *I* don’t go to church.”
And unfortunately, some of us are not humble enough to admit that it might be true. So, once again, the reputation of God gets dragged through the mud.
I have recently discovered that I am very passionate about the integrity of God’s reputation. And that because of this, I need to be equally as passionate about the possibility that I may not be right about everything.
“Anyone who gets to the end of their life with the exact same beliefs and opinions as they had in the beginning is doing it wrong.” – Sarah Bessey
Some people might call this instability; a flaky standpoint. I call it maturity.
When I first started out, no matter which of those many churches I attended, my core beliefs were always the same.
God is watching my every move angrily so I better toe the line. God hates gay people. God hates women who have had abortions. Poverty and homelessness is God’s way of saying they should have worked harder. People that aren’t white or Christian are kind of scary; I should avoid them. Women should be seen and not heard in church. Men are always right, especially pastors because God speaks directly to them always. I am a bastard child, but God might still have room for me somewhere, if I try hard enough.
I don’t remember actually hearing any of those words being spoken to me personally or from the pulpit. (Especially considering my 2 year experience at the Salvation Army church, where they are all about women serving equally in whatever capacity!)
They were just…there. Maybe they were the lies I was born with, and no one bothered to set me straight. These lies would tangle around my heart like poison ivy.
But as the years have passed, a garden scissor has slowly been cutting through – a painful act of being set free.
They aren’t done yet. For the truth to continue, for the pruning to yield more fruit, I need to step out of the comfort of the church building for awhile. It’s far too easy to arrive at a church every week, dressed in your Sunday best, to stand and sing a few songs, sit and listen to a few words, learn a few lessons, greet a few well-known strangers, and then run out the door to beat the brunch crowd.
I’m not saying that everyone does this. I’m just saying that unless I’m living in a country that forces me to sneak-read my Bible, or whisper Jesus’ name for threat of death, I am the laziest Christian ever.
Turns out I’m not alone. I have friends who suspect there is more to this Jesus person and his way of life, and they want in.
“So you moved me, out of myself and into the fire… I can’t go with you and stay where I am, so you moved me…” – Susan Ashton, You Move Me
And so we’re going on a journey together. We don’t know where it will go, or what it will look like yet. But we do know that there will be no politics. Separation of church and state is still a thing.
We do know that it won’t always be on a Sunday.
We do know that we won’t be meeting in a building, and that there won’t be any programs designed to draw people in to the latest spiritual attraction.
We do know that it will be hard as hell, like someone’s pulled the plug on our Matrix-induced slumber and now we can see things as they really are.
Because that’s what we’re asking for: the real, warm, hard truth. To meet anyone and everyone in that truth, in
their story, and walk it out together.
For example, next week, the town is offering a bike course to teach kids how to ride bikes if they don’t know how. The course needs volunteers. So, next week, we’re going to show up, and help out. Because we know that if we can teach even one child how to ride a bike, we’ve changed their world. We don’t have a building with a kids program to invite them to, but we have our hands and hearts, ready to meet a need in the here and now. We didn’t have a board meeting, we didn’t take a vote, we’re just going.
Last week, we hosted a party where an entire pig was roasted on a spit, and many people I’d never met before showed up. And I talked to some of them. And I tried goat meat for the first time. And I helped a friend through 5 contractions in her long labour. It was all terrifying and exhilarating.
Maybe sometime, we’ll collect some of our own money to help a single mom without any strings attached. Meals For Moms is still going strong, and I’m thankful for that open door.
Maybe the week after that, one of our D.J. friends will book a wedding reception, and he’ll take a few of us over to start a celebration without asking anyone what their religious affiliation is.
Because love and building relationship and challenging any hidden prejudices is the name of our non-game.
Who knows what could happen?
And when we do get together to study the word of God, we’re going to ask the scary questions. We’re going to wrestle the angels until we find a crown worth keeping.
Maybe a woman will preach without feeling like she has to ask permission. Maybe a child will hear God speak and share it for our knowledge and benefit. Maybe we’ll see a body or soul be healed in front of our eyes.
Maybe we’ll fall on our faces, failing miserably.
Maybe we’ll get back up again.
Maybe we’ll wash out the bitter taste of God’s name in others’ mouths with pure water, free of hypocrisy and hidden agendas.
Maybe I’ll finally learn who I’m meant to be, and cut the last tangle of poison ivy from the soil of my soul.
That’s what I’m asking for.
[To be continued…hopefully]