If you are a longtime reader of this blog you will know that I have an aversion to public toilets for the usual reasons. They are gross, they smell, and they harbor millions of germs. So I avoid them if at all possible, and if I have to go I squat, I wrap my hands in toilet paper before touching any levers or doorknobs, and I try to keep the whole process under a minute. Keeping it under a minute is crucial, any longer than that, you contract airborne germs that fly out of the toilets when they are flushed. Trust me on this. Under a minute and a strict policy to avoid direct contact with the toilet seat are a must.
This past weekend I had two unfortunate events with some rebellious public toilets and it brought the issue to the forefront of my mind again. The first incident: One of those hands free toilets I have in the past bragged about (the Chicago O'Hare airport blog) flushed on me, you know, mid stream. I screamed. It sprayed me. I screamed again. It flushed again. I'm trying to run away from it, not fully clothed, and not getting very far. The lady next to me asked if I was alright. I am not alright. I still have to pee, I have stopped mid stream, and this thing is trying to eat me and is splashing me. I gagged out loud. I left traumatized.
Use public toilets enough and you are bound to be traumatized a time or two. But my second incident happened at church and church bathrooms are different.
You know, they have the potpourri. The women's calendar of events that includes scrap booking and prayer warrior sessions and weekend retreats all of which make you smile while you are sitting down to do your business. Some sort of crocheted prayer hanging up somewhere or a sign and scripture verse about how we are all beautiful women. There are usually some bibles that people have forgotten, and most of these bathrooms have long foregone the nasty pink soap for something more beautiful smelling like lavender and they even have an ample supply of Kleenex and sometimes even lotion available. Church bathrooms smell like old ladies. A barrage of perfume and lipstick and you always get a smile from someone as you are walking in and walking out. And if you are very lucky there are big mirrors and couches and little sitting areas in the bathroom with candles going and some lovely worship music in the background.
It's the mecca of bathrooms. Sparkling. White. No doubt, very clean. A pleasant smell with pleasant people in a pleasant building.
So when I sat down this weekend, yes sat, on a toilet in my church, I did not think twice about it. This is no public restroom. This is basically God's restroom. Germ free. Beautiful. Clean. Old ladies and scripture verses. Not even in the same category as a public bathroom that just anyone can use. This toilet is a Christian. It is a Christian bathroom. For Christian people. It is not public. It is in it's own genre of bathrooms. It's like using the bathroom at my grandma's or my Sunday school teacher's house. I do not inspect it for dirt and grime or squat and run, in fact, I don't think twice about it, I treat it as my own house and get comfy and cozy and take my time. It's all in the family, right?
Imagine my sheer horror this weekend as I sat down on the church toilet and my rear end was greeted by a warm liquid that I will assume was not toilet water. I felt it crawl up the back of my legs and go places it should definitely not be. I felt the germs and cooties invade my body as they seeped in through my very pores. And in an unexpected moment I had a new reality to face. Suddenly, swiftly, and painfully I realized church toilets are not safe. I was crushed.
I was disillusioned. So much for the one sacred bathroom in the world. What a rude awakening. It had never dawned on me that I was treating church toilets any different than other public toilets, but I was! I never realized how comfortable I'd become with church toilets. I guess over a life time of going to church, somewhere along the way I started to associate church toilets with a perfect model of cleanliness, purity, and safety. In my mind church toilets were safe and I could let my guard down in this super holy environment. I had internalized church bathrooms to reflect my idea of the church: clean, safe, and pure. Cootie free.
Church toilets are, in fact, theoretically more dirty than the average public restroom. The church I attend has thousands of members. Let's say half of those are women and that they each go to the bathroom once every Sunday. That means a good 1500 women shuffling in and out of the stalls minimum. Who knows where they have just come from and if they are carrying germs? Hello! The sheer volume of women and the amount of activity that happens in a church bathroom beats out almost any public restroom because of sheer traffic alone! I was calculating all of this in my mind and having vivid flashbacks of all the careless years I had used a church bathroom; the toilet was doing bad things to me; I was experiencing my incredibly rude awakening; the pastor was finally preaching; my mind was racing; my life flashing before my eyes. Church toilets: unholy.
Many of us have had a rude awakening with the church. The problem is, it hasn't been in the form of a toilet seat and an unusually warm liquid on the back of our legs. Our rude awakenings have come in different shapes, sizes, and colors and they have been brought on by church scandals, unethical and unmoral clergy, angry and bitter church members, mean Christians, church budgets, policies, politics, and a number of other events. They have been compounded by the fact that we have subconsciously grown to believe that the church is set apart from the world; a safe, clean, and pure environment. In much the same way I had convinced myself without even realizing it that church bathrooms were free from anything dirty, many of us have convinced ourselves that the church itself is free from anything dirty.
Then we have some sort of rude awakening, like I did, and we are completely shaken. Disillusioned. Hurt. Angry. Skeptical. And shocked. My church is like the world! My pastor really hurt people. These Christians are causing more pain and more harm than good. It is a rude awakening.
So what do we do with that? How do we respond? Do we quit organized religion all together? Do we stand by and let it happen? Can the church be relevant and real if it is just as susceptible to sin as any other thing in the world? Why is church even important? What do I do when I have been hurt by the church? Do I even need to go to church? WHY CHURCH???
This is the issue I desire to delve into this week. It has profoundly shaped my life. The church. Its beauty and its pain. It has effected every part of my childhood and shaped the deepest parts of me. And it is the one timeless institution that can bring authenticity, joy, community and deep spirituality into the world and at the same time it is the one institution that can destroy, tear down, and allow injustice to reign in the name of God.
I hope that you will engage with me on this journey this week. That you will invite your friends, co-workers, believers, and non-believers to read. That you will leave feedback. Questions. Offer your opinions, your disagreements, your own experiences up to us. At the end of the week we will hear from some pretty cool guest bloggers. Until then...
Let's explore the church.
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