I recently visited my parents in Albuquerque and desperately needed some time away from civilization. Without going too deeply into my own demons can I just say that sometimes being a part of "Church" sucks? Every few years it seems someone else I love is fired from a church in such a demeaning and hurtful way that they and their families are terribly wounded; division between the people left over in the rubble is inevitable; and once again, being a part of a church feels like a cruel joke. I catch my self asking God, "Really? This was really what you had in mind? There's not a better way?"
Of course the answer is, "No, there is no better way." People are people; prone to make bad mistakes, prone to wound each other, prone to leave rubble in our wake. For better or worse, we grieve this fact, ask tough questions, require fairness and dignity from those who make such decisions in churches, and then we decide, "Do I take off and go no where at all? Do I go somewhere new and wait for the new people to fail. Or do I do the hard work of staying put and working through this with my current faith community?" At the end of the day I believe the answer for each person- in different seasons of their lives- is different.
One of my favorite memories from childhood is going to Six Flags on Easter Sunday morning. My mom had just been fired from her first church out of seminary. I was in fourth grade. I didn't really understand everything, but I knew mom and dad were hurt. And I knew, for a season, we weren't going to go to church. Instead, I remember dad telling us why Easter was important that morning and reading something from the Bible and then loading us up in our green Aerostar minivan and driving us to Six Flags. I have to admit, at first, I was slightly traumatized. I was sure there were secret, undercover, Baptist press writers that would show up and take pictures of us like religious papparazzi and we'd show up on the front page of our local Baptist paper, "Blasphemy: Southwestern Seminary Graduates take their daughters to Six Flags on Easter Sunday." I was sure they would never find jobs again and even more sure that I would be written up in a religious newspaper with a mugshot of me riding a batman roller coaster ride. I tried to be holy that day at Six Flags. Not too much smiling or joy in my turkey leg on the day that Jesus stopped being dead and started being a ghost that popped up all over the countryside. I was convinced that this sin might be unforgivable. But then, as the day went on, the park stayed nearly empty, and I rode some roller coasters two and three times without ever even getting out of my seat! Between cotton candy and Batman and the ride that just drops you in a free-fall, I forgot about the sin and realized that going to Six Flags in the Bible Belt on Easter Sunday was one of the greatest ideas my parents had ever had in their whole entire lives.
I realize now that it was a season. For a season- my parents needed to be away from church. For a season, sometimes that's the best answer. Turkey legs and roller coaster rides.
Ultimately though, whether you hide, run, or stay put in the wake of being hurt by a church I think it's important to remember what makes us rather human is that we are rather human together. Eventually the goal is to get back in the game, get back in community with people, get back into the painfully-beautiful mess of doing spiritual life with others. To experience church is to experience the community that Jesus himself modeled. It's the heartbeat of being human.
Still, I will be the first to go there kicking and screaming. Because the truth is, sometimes the ugliness of the church sucks. And it sucks the life out of us. And just a few weeks ago I was ready to quit church all over again. There is much to be said about the under belly of the church, the hurt souls it has left in its wake, and the responsibility of sane, integritous Christians to step up and stop this cycle of spiritual violence from happening. Perhaps that will be my second book. (My first book has way too many references to cupcakes and road trips gone bad to really qualify as a road map for a call to integrity in our churches). So for now, I just want to say that my friend Lauri said something that helped me a lot. She said, "Sometimes we need to mourn a person in the church. The loss of a relationship or the likes." Like a leader who embezzles money or has a slew of affairs, or some other tragic event. "Sometimes we need to mourn the loss of a specific church." The childhood church. The one where you first heard Jesus whisper to you as an adult. The one you have to let go of.
And sometimes, she said, "We just got to mourn the whole d*mn thing."
I went to Albuquerque to mourn the whole darn thing. Past, present, future. All the pain it has caused my family and so many others. All the pain it has caused in the past and all the pain the church will cause in the future. That is not to say the church is all bad. It isn't. I would also be the first to say that my communities of faith- both now and in the past have been life-giving, beautiful expressions of Christ in this world. Still, every few years I find myself slightly over whelmed with the current religious state of the union. I feel the desire to quit it all and go work at a surf shop and raise my daughter in a tiny cottage near the ocean somewhere and spend the rest of my days retreating by the water.
I have vowed not to quit church. Not a particular church. But church church. The idea of existing with others in love and unity. Drawing close to Jesus Christ and living for something beyond myself and family. Quitting is easy. Staying in is hard. And sometimes... mourning the whole darn thing is the only thing to do.
So I went to Albuquerque. Snuck away to Santa Fe. Checked into a hotel room. And began to write about the climate of the church and the things I have experienced this year in churches across the country that make me want to pluck my eyeballs out and then I wrote about my friends who were just hurt by the church and then I started thinking about my family and our own painful experiences, the negative comments I get from Christians on a regular basis as they judge and sum me up on stage, and by the time I was done I had worked back to the Salem Witch trials and the crusades and I mourned the whole darn thing. I needed to. I needed to grieve what I have seen these past years traveling from church to church. I needed to grieve the people that have been hurt. I needed to grieve my own hurts. I literally just went to Santa Fe to grieve what I have seen while being in the trenches. I cried for hours. Uncontrollable streams of tears.
I fell asleep in a puddle of tears...
and I woke up the next morning to an earth covered in a beautiful, thick, white blanket of snow.
I hadn't done a lot of listening to God the night before. But I think He had. He listened to me. And the next morning he answered. Sometimes our tears cover the earth and then God covers the tears with snow. He lays them to rest under something beautiful and cleansing and pure and new.
I laid in that hotel bed. Opened up the two little doors. Cranked the heater up. Turned on Sufjan's Christmas album. Brewed coffee. And sat on the bed, under a pile of blankets, watching snow fall to the ground for three straight hours.
I caught myself smiling at the beauty of it all. At the impeccable timing. That snow covers a multitude of ugly things and gives us a new reason to esteem them is a miracle.
A miracle I needed.
I headed out later that day and drove up and down little roads to explore.
These are a few of my favorite pictures from the day the snow fell.
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