I love church, really I do. But sometimes I forget that in the business of it. Sometimes I put it on a pedestal and watch with horror as it all comes crashing down, forgetting that church is really people, and flawed people at that. Much like those biblical characters we esteem. I have my share of church scars, of being kicked hard in the heart before being completely kicked out, battered and bruised. And sometimes I walked away before they could have the opportunity to truly hurt me. Regardless, I keep coming back. Maybe it's a naive hope; maybe I just don't know any better as I was raised in the church. But truly, I think it's the Holy Spirit reminding me that the Church is a family, the family of God. Families are messy and dysfunctional, but they need each other. As Augustine famously said, "The church is a whore, but she is my mother."
My current church has been such a healing place for my husband and me, and for many families like us that have found themselves cast out of churches for whatever reason (does it surprise you that many of us are ministers?). We are not a perfect bunch; in fact, we've recently shown some of our ugliness. My adrenaline kicks in as it senses conflict, and there's a bit of a PTSD response that makes me want to run run runnnnnnnn or SCREAM at the ridiculousness of it all. But deep within, there's a calmer voice reminding me that fear can look a lot like anger, and can motivate us to do and say regrettable things because we care so very much. Our responses are an attempt at protection and come (way down deep) from a place of love.
My kids remind me on a daily basis that while we show our good sides to the world, we reserve the bad parts of ourselves for those we really love, those who have vowed to love us no matter what. We can be the angry children ranting at our parents when the fear makes us feel unloved. We can pick the same fight again and again with our husband, knowing that amends will be made. We threaten and stomp around in our full (if immature) humanity, begging to be accepted, just as we are, hurts and all.
And isn't this what the Church is all about? A place to experience God's full and redeeming love, even in our brokenness. Love can be messy, and it's not easy. It's full of a hundred choices each day to choose reconciliation over conflict, and forgiveness over grudges. It's about trusting in the mystery and having faith that it will all work out. It's about sharing our gifts for God's greater purpose and knowing that sometimes we will fail, and that's okay, too.
Church has been home for me for my entire life, and that is a gift (and a challenge) that's too valuable to surrender.
Have you been hurt by a church experience? I encourage you to check out Kathy Escobar's blog post, "Whatever you do, don't let them take your faith".