So You’ve Had Your Heart Broken By the Church
If you’ve ever felt lost walking into a church, this is for you. If you’ve ever been a part of the Church and left it, this is for you. If…
If you’ve ever felt lost walking into a church, this is for you. If you’ve ever been a part of the Church and left it, this is for you. If you hate the Church, this is for you. If you love the church, this is for you. If you’re indifferent, this is for you. And if you’re like me, finding yourself passionate about helping others find a place in the church, this is for us.
It’s happening. I am falling in love again.
I remember when I was young, growing up in the Church as a pastor’s kid. To some that means you are born spiritual and every act or thought you express is a reflection of your upbringing, and therefore a reflection of your father’s shepherding capabilities. But of course, when I was a kid I didn’t think that way, in fact, one of my most vivid memories was going to Sunday school and being scolded for not having a Bible. The logic was so simple then: how can you not have a Bible? Your father’s a pastor!
Something in me was equally shamed and indignant. It was just a piece of the story, one that was already drifting down the path of feeling isolated and unloved by people who claimed to be filled with the love of God. (If I’m honest, I can’t remember anyone preaching on the love of God in a way I could understand before I was eleven.)
God knew if I were to fall in love with “The Church” and feel a call to live like Jesus it would have to happen in a place where I did not live under constant scrutiny because of my last name. So it happened that my parents journeyed out of the Haitian church into a service held in an English-speaking, multicultural church. I started off the way I normally do when it comes to church, I look for “the signs.”
I look for the person who’s not paying attention. The person who’s probably judging everyone not-so-secretly from the front row. I look for the rambunctious kids who cannot sit still during the prayer time. I look for mistakes made in the worship set. I found everything I was looking for, every reason not to believe that this was real and that people can sing and pray to a common imaginary friend…I scan so deeply and thoroughly for imperfections that by the time it came for the altar call, I was completely and totally satisfied to reject all of it.
The Altar Call
Except I had never heard an altar call before. It was my first time hearing this strange Christian message of hope and love. I felt that typical tug on the heart, when you know-that-you-know-that-you-know it’s not from you. So I left my seat and went to the altar, did the whole crying thing. I don’t think I’d ever seen my mother so proud, proud but still a Haitian mother while she told me in the parking lot, “This means you have to be a better person now.” Or something like that. There was an air of warning there, as if I had bought a new car and hadn’t purchased insurance yet. I’m sure that there was a piece of her that hoped my faith would look like hers, that I would be there for all the prayer meetings and revival services. Only I guess I grew up into the kind of Christian that wasn’t really there for all that.
There was a constant push and pull in my life of faith that seemed so different from my parents. It was always more obvious when we were in the same church, but it really didn’t matter in the end where I was. No matter where I was, whether it was a personality difference, theological difference, skin-tone difference, cultural difference, I was just different. In some places my uniqueness led me to be pushed out, in some places it was placed on a pedestal.
Longings for the Church
I’ve been “saved” for 13 years, and all of those 13 years I’ve longed to feel at home somewhere. I’ve longed to feel like I was part of a church that aligned with my passions and hopes to see Jesus’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. I’ve longed to feel like the worship climate matched my emotional climate at all times. I’ve longed to feel like I could be friendly and friends with everyone in the congregation, but not overwhelmed by a sense of extroverted and systematic welcoming methods with the end-goal of making sure I’m “plugged in.” I’ve longed to be fully black, Haitian and awkward in the midst of a vibrant multicultural and socially conscious community that struggles for deeper diversity and inclusion. I’ve longed for outreach, spiritual formation and discipleship. I’ve longed to use my gifts in practical ways to further the mission of God without feeling like a burnt out commodity. I’ve longed to see mission done in a way that creates agency and equality. I’ve longed for fellowship that includes every kind of other. I’ve longed to the point of exhaustion for good preaching that doesn’t leech of my emotions, that can convict me to my bones and spur me into action but also draw me nearer to hope in Christ.
I got tired of longing. I got tired of Church. I got tired of the way I roll my eyes, and the millennial sigh of disappointment when I talk about Church and when I feel like “we’re not doing enough.”
Searching for Sunday
I just recently finished a book called “Searching for Sunday” by Rachel Held Evans. She describes Sundays I went through in particular seasons where I didn’t go to church, sleeping in and not feeling bad about it. I will not include every single highlight or marked up page where I wrote “YAS!” and “THIS.” as if I was retweeting a meme.
But I will simply tell you that I still yearn for a deeper and fuller sense of “church,” and I think the hope is in that yearning. I think my desires for authentic and (I hate to say it but) intentional community is deeply reassuring so long as I stay in the body of Christ. Rachel includes a quote from a friend who says “choosing a church is choosing which hot mess you want to be a part of.”
I’ve wrestled alongside Rachel, cried with her when she described her losses, rejoiced with the moments she’s won. I’ve listened and processed her places of doubt and I am just as much in tension with the struggles that have no real conclusion even after the epilogue. And after all of that, here’s what I have to say:
When I was eleven and I wasn’t part of the Church in any real way, I had critical eyes and a closed, cold heart. My altar call experience led me into the Church, but it didn’t necessarily heal me of my critiques, but it called me into the body with that same scrutiny. I can be cynical, to the point of neurosis, but it is always with an aim towards seeing this bride come to Jesus with the same love he showed us. My tendency is always towards moralistic unforgiveness and long grudges. But I have to fight against that and learn to see the fragility and the humanity in the body of Christ, which has had too many years of self-inflicted wounds and societal images of beauty and success to uphold. And seeing the ways in which Rachel talked about the Church using feminine imagery, I’ve come to see that the Church has had her fair share of slut-shaming to add onto the baggage of self-loathing and body dysmorphia.
Church, you are a mess. But you are a beautiful mess.
I’ve come to see that the Church is just as different as I am, just as longing to find her place in the world. Just as worthy of praise as she is of critique. Just as worthy of redemption, just as worthy of resurrection and hope. Just as.
I’ve freed myself, and the Church from my expectations. I am still hungry for community but I’ll no longer remain passive aggressive and silent, with arms crossed and indignant while waiting for a place at the table. I’ve come to the place where I am ready to reach out my hands and say I am hungry and searching. I feel liberated in letting go of my indignation and I would hope to be able to use this story to help others reconcile with the bride of Christ.
Together, We Will Rise Again
I would hope that as we welcome our Chreaster friends to church this Sunday, we can come alongside the brokenhearted as we break bread. I hope to see us celebrate the resurrected Jesus, but also celebrate the grace that helped us rise to that day. The grace I am falling more and more in love with as I confront our inward conflict. I hope we can find ourselves falling in love with our falling and dying as much as our rising. I hope that we can be reminded that when the resurrected Jesus proved himself to Doubting Thomas, he showed him his scars. I hope that we can similarly rise on Sunday and show the world who we are, with hands raised and unashamed of the scars that remain.