[A/N: I began writing this post a while ago . . . seven months ago . . . that's a little over half a year. I've been afraid of making this public because it started from a place of hurt--like a half rant, half vent thing--and I hate writing controversial posts that may be offensive. Just as a warning: I'm not a scholar in religious studies or anything. This is just me, releasing some insight and some personal thoughts/opinions. In these 700-1000 words, I probably haven't captured the entire gospel, but I do hope somewhere inserted into this post is not just a Debbie Downer, but Hope.]
I’ve grown up in “The Church.” “The Church.” What does that even mean?
Some people will read the title of this blog post, then read that first sentence, and then smash their computers against a brick wall because they hate me so much now. I probably just turned 6.9 billion readers away, which would be totally impressive because I hardly think 6.0 people even read this blog. Just kidding . . . I hope.
But seriously, when someone says they grew up in “The Church,” apparently all of us Christians know that’s code for my parents are Christians and took me to church while I was in the womb. I basically grew out of Bible verses, worship music, communion wafers, and grape juice. (The second half is my own loose translation). And to non-Christians it’s code for goody-two-shoe freak.
For me, it meant that my parents took me to church on Sunday ever since I was a baby. There was a nursery that I’m sure I played in while my parents sat in service. There was Sunday School, which is exactly what it sounds like–school with one subject (hint: it’s the Bible/Jesus/God) that you only go to on (you guessed it!) Sunday. There was Children’s Church, which is the toddler’s version of Church but watered down to “Jesus loves you.” And so on, and so forth until I moved my way up to claim my space on a pew.
Every Sunday was full of singing songs and learning about how God loves me and wants me to love him and everybody.
Those are the two greatest commandments: Love God. Love his people.
It was easy when I was a kid. Love God. Love everybody else. There were no hard rules to follow or any instructions on how to love, just as long as you were being nice and trying to be loving. You know, like not throwing beans in Sarah’s hair, letting even your little brother David use some of the sequins for arts and crafts and sharing crayons with your arch nemesis Scotty Hamburger Head, remember him? Simple things like that.
Are you still following, or have you already thrown up in your mouth because religious talk upsets your stomach so much?
Anyway, even though I grew up “churched,” it doesn’t mean I’m perfect. It also doesn’t mean I know everything there is to know about God or the Bible (though I’m sure there are some Christians who would stone me and shame me by telling me good Christian should know it all, just to imply that I’m not a good Christian–whatever that even means to them. And I’m sure there are non-Christians who would pass the exact same judgment on me. See, not so different after all).
But even though I’ve spent my entire life in a church, I’m beginning to see why people aren’t smashing through chapels to grab a seat.
Church isn’t this super holy place full of super holy people that are all nice and happy and perfect together. No. Church is like any other school, company, establishment, what have you. There are politics. There are clicks. There are flawed people who interact with other flawed people. Christians aren’t this sub-species of human that are above reproach or sin or hurt or malice or spite . . .
Sometimes that’s the image people think of though. And sometimes churches buy into that image too, I think. Maybe I’m wrong. It’s very likely that I may be wrong–I’m not a doctor or a scientist or anything.
I think it’s so easy to sit in our little spaces on the pew and act like everything is fine because everybody else around looks as if they’ve got it all together. But the reality of the situation may just be that you’re not fine and neither is the brainy looking girl with glasses who’s meticulously taking notes–hanging on the pastor’s every breath.
The reality may be that there is a lot of hurt and worry and weariness shuttered inside that shell of a person. She may be diligent in her notes because she’s desperate for some answer, some insight to whatever hell she’s living through right now.
We [Christians] go to church to embed ourselves in a community where we can find support, encouragement. But so few of us are readily vulnerable–willing to take off the shields that we’ve built for ourselves over the years and expose the tattered flesh and gaping wounds we’re desperately trying to hide for fear of being too ugly. We fear rejection. We fear how these people, who are supposedly dependable, will hurt us with their judgments and their misunderstanding and their apathy toward us.
And we forget–oh, we always forget–we are, all of us, flawed. We have all been tempted; we have all been lonely; we have all been trapped in shadows; we have all hidden bits and pieces of ourselves because we only want to let the best be seen; we have lain in the devil’s bed, caught in his sheets.
We forget that we’ve been given such grace that makes our pasts null and void. We forget those things don’t control us any more. We forget that it’s ok to fall, and that the amount of times we fall will never surpass the grace we’ve been given.
Maybe if we remembered that this word “Christian” doesn’t equate “perfect”–that these people who call themselves Christians are really just awful people who’ve been changed by some saving grace and are now striving to be like Christ even though they’ll never reach that level, but they strive because life isn’t about them and their own–and we view them through a filter of empathy . . . maybe then we would be able let down our guards, our fake Sunday voices, our prejudices.
Maybe then we can remember that, yeah, I may not agree with them–I may not even like their personality–but God already forgave them, God already loves this person, so I should too.
And for non-Christians, you may not understand that. You may think this is all baloney–it’s dumb, it’s a farce, Christians are crazies. But here’s a secret: Christians are just normal people. That’s it. We are not God. We are not aliens. We will make mistakes and we will end up apologizing for these mistakes. You will probably look at us and want to hold us to a higher standard, so will we. But I hope–I really hope–that both of us are able to realize the power in humility and sincerity and grace and forgiveness.