Loving the church

I've never been much of a big picture person.  It is the details that engage me, that I write about, that make the bigger pictures make sense to me.

But there is one big "issue" I feel I can talk about with great love.

The church.

I know that calling the church an "issue" is odd but from the reading I do on internet blogs and articles, in books about and against Christianity, in poetry and the conversations I have and hear with neighbors, friends and family, the church (and the way it fails) has become a popular issue to discuss.

I have tried to enter this conversation.  But I find myself at a loss to speak about the church in such a general way.

But here, in my heart, I have a feeling about the smallness, the details, the minutuae of the church that I would like to give voice to.

And here is what I want to say.

Sometimes, it hurts to love this church.

It hurts when people criticize. When they are angry or in pain and my congregation becomes collateral damage.

Yes, indeed, people in this church and other churches have caused each other pain.  Sometimes while pounding their fists on the Bible.

But the words from those who have left, they hurt.  They tear at our hearts.  And when you hear their anger, even though it might be justified, there is always another side to the story.

And that doesn't mean our congregations shouldn't be criticized or that people should stay quiet when something needs to change.  But it hurts.

This Mennonite church is very small.  But that has forced me to be involved more than I ever have.

People who know me well or the tradition I grew up in would laugh or perhaps be appalled that I help lead worship.  I teach adult Bible classes.

This is not something I sought out but it has opened my eyes to the love and beauty that I was so quick to dismiss when I was younger.  Being on the other side of worship makes me realize how difficult it is to hear people verbally abuse the thing you love.

I know my parents' generation fought against the "hellfire and brimstone" theology they grew up with.  And in many ways, my generation is trying to differentiate itself from the lack of compassion and social justice we think we see in the churches we grew up in.

Each generation must do this.

But.

It hurts when it is something you cherish.  I have criticized arrogantly and I hear the same judgement from others, not just here but all over the place.

It is easy to forget that, in many ways, the churches we grew up in have benefitted from the change our parents fought for.  We forget that we are young, that we have a short past behind us, that we are not as wise as we think we are.

All of us as Christians, as members of a congregation, have failed others.  But we have also failed our churches.

My friend Angela led me to a quote recently:

"Yes, the Church is a whore; but that whore is the bride of Christ and your mother, and you have no right to abandon her."*

So please, let's yell at the church.  Let's tell about how the church has failed us.  Let's reform the hell out of her if we must (literally).

But how 'bout we keep our mouths shut a little longer before we do. And do a little less yelling and a little more loving.

Let's find the beauty in the moments the church cared for us, when she encouraged us, held us up, served us.

Forgive the church because she is Christ's church.  He knew she'd be unfaithful.  But he loves her anyway.  

Let us forgive the church because we are the church and we have needed forgiveness too. 

*I couldn't find a definite answer about the author of this quote.  Some say it was Augustine.  Regardless, I go the quote from: http://gypsyscholarship.blogspot.com/2007/05/church-is-whore.html