I was the ugliest kid you can imagine. The first three years of my life I was bald. The next three years of my life, when I finally grew hair on my weird little bald head, my mom chopped my bangs off just a little too short and made me look like a shaggy monkey. The orange kind of monkeys that you see on Animal Channel that live in some weird monkey village in Africa and actually look like they have human bangs and are supposed to be smarter than us. During that time I had bruises over most of my body and was diagnosed, literally, as being spastic. Is that a real diagnosis? My doctor watched me walk and talk and determined I was scatter brained and spastic and that I was getting bruises because I simply had the attention span of that orange monkey from Africa and would look anywhere but where I was going. He made me wear leg braces to try and help me focus (again, another warning sign that it might have been good to test me for ADD). Bald. Bangs. Bruises. Leg Braces.
The next three years of my life something strange started growing in my mouth, I am still unsure of what exactly happened in there but I obviously didn’t have the favor of the tooth fairy because my teeth were scary, Dracula meets Bugs Bunny kind of scary. I had rabbit teeth. And before I knew it, I looked more like a rabbit, with shaggy monkey bangs than I did a pretty little girl.
I’d like to say it got better as I got older, but I must sadly report that the situation became more precarious with years. In the 5th grade I got braces. But I didn’t get normal braces, I got the ugly kid braces for special people who had rabbit teeth. 5 million rubber bands and a horrible looking contraption called head gear. My head gear was yellow. The cloth was dabbed with green and white sunflowers and padded around the back of my neck to try and alleviate some of the pain when it was strapped on. The head gear had two giant spears that stuck out in the front and they were supposed to slip into the two giant silver holsters cemented onto the back of my teeth effortlessly…yeah right. I hated head gear. I was supposed to wear it to school for an entire year. Was my doctor serious? That was an invitation to commit social suicide. Those were traumatic years. Not only did it hurt, but it threatened to end my social life.
I was an ugly kid, but I turned out ok. Physically, I have had plenty of days where I resembled a beast, a rabbit-monkey-beast. Other days I have possessed a glowing, radiant, beauty where I am sure, I was the most beautiful creature in the world. Like on my wedding day.
A thing can possess both beauty and beast. Good and bad. Glory and defamation. The Bible calls it a double-edged sword.
The church is a perfect example of that double-edged sword. I want to spend the rest of the week focusing on the beauty of the church. It’s potential. It’s purpose. And our ultimate call by Jesus to join this community.
But can we just be honest before we go there and say that the church is a messy place? One of our female pastors said last week, “ladies the ministry isn’t for sissy’s; the church is a messy, sinful, place and it's going to hurt.”
We know that. We know that the church is run by humans and like two people have already commented, it would be hypocritical to presume the church is above reproach or not susceptible to sin. It is. We have seen it. We know it is there. But have you experienced it first hand? Knowing it exists and experiencing it personally are two different things.
Today I talk to those of you who have experienced it first hand. Who have been deeply hurt by something or someone at a church…you have seen the beast, not the beauty.
I have been in your shoes. My parents are both ordained ministers. I was raised in the church watching what goes on behind the scenes. Once, my mom was fired from a church without cause, she was asked to cover it up by saying that “God had called her elsewhere” and was paid extra money to leave quietly. In order to protect me and my sisters from additional pain, she met their demands, and we left our childhood church of ten years.
Devastated does not begin to convey what we felt. I lost my church family. But worse, I became a cynic. I did not trust pastors or deacons or elders. I was full of anger, rage, and hurt. I was angry at God for allowing his House to be full of manipulation, jealousy, and hate. And I left for college not wanting to have anything to do with “church.”
I am one of many who share a similar story of deep pain found within the walls of the church. The more people I meet as I travel, the more I realize there are a lot of us who have been deeply wounded by the church. What now? What do you do then? Never go back?
I could attempt to answer this in my own words and with my own story, but I think Rob Bell, Pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, does a much better job. Here’s what he says in his profound book, Velvet Elvis:
It was strange to think that the church, she, has been abused and manipulated in the same ways that I have been…only worse and longer. She has survived such pain…but she continues to thrive. If not one place, than the other. And without going in to what it takes to recover from experiencing some sort of deep wound within a church, and you must recover (i.e. 'The cycle.' Denial. Betrayal. Anger. Hurting. Healing. Ultimately forgiving. Coming back home) I’d like to advocate that you do recover, and like the church, you keep going. You have seen the bad side of the double-edged sword, now endure, and wait to see the good. The beautiful. The body of Christ as Jesus himself envisioned. Because it is out there. Because she will keep going…and she invites you to do the same. Persevere. Keep going.
Find the beauty in what can sometimes be a beast.