That poem was spawned out of a (very sad) personal anecdote I wrote to the Poet, one day. A year before I drove out of my little Oregon hometown to move to Big Texas, the community church in which I was raised went through a nasty split. I say nasty because, in a town of population 2,000, is there any other way for a church split to go? I wish I could say yes.
The Split was confusing to me. Church had always been so stable--everyone I knew, the entire Village that raised me, met in the same building, at the same time, every Sunday, for 18 years of my life. And then all of a sudden there were TWO meeting places and TWO different pastors and half the People I Loved were in one place and the other half were in the other place and it was all just really sad and frustrating. I will say that both churches are now thriving and healing (from what I hear), and for that we are all very thankful. But there were many years of pain and confusion and bitterness before the Healing ever came to be.
At Baylor, I did the normal college-freshman "church hopping" for a good few weeks before I settled on one. It was a church unlike anything I'd ever experienced. Held in an old warehouse, in a less-than-wonderful part of town (with a policeman at the door). Concrete floors; black plastic chairs; dimly lit rooms; abstracty hipstery murals (obviously painted by church goers) on the walls. The sanctuary walls were black, and there was a massive mural of The Last Supper on the front of the high-up sound booth. The only light during worship was provided by (literally) dozens of candles of all shapes and sizes on the stage, which was obviously made of black-painted plywood. The worship band stood on an old raggedy persian rug, and the pastor sat on a stool off-center a bit. This place is so cool, I remember thinking. And it was. It was also, to the credit of the community and leadership there, an incredible church with a heart for Jesus and His Truth. I was moved to tears during the first song the first day I attended, and because of that I stayed. This place feels like home, I told the friend who'd come with me. During communion the pastor made it clear that everyone was welcome at the table because even Jesus allowed a traitor to partake in The Last Supper, so who are we to decide who can come and who can't? The message of Jesus' saving work and the Gospel was explicitly presented--they weren't being wishy-washy, they were simply saying: COME. All of you. Come.
I spent a semester or so at that church. I often went alone and for some reason (aka: my lack of effort) didn't really find community there. It is true that you get out what you put in, and I honestly wasn't putting in much more than Sunday Morning Listening, so the whole no-community thing was totally on me.
Then I started dating a guy who went to "The" pentacostaly church in town. So I left my tears-during-worship church and headed over to the happy-clappy one down the street. It was just as Happy Clappy as I'd imagined it to be, and I sat through every service wanting to stand up on my chair and shout "IS ANYONE ELSE SAD LIKE ME OR IS EVERYONE JUST SO FILLED WITH THE GOSH DARN SPIRIT OF GOD THAT THEY HAVE NO PROBLEMS?!" I did not stand up and shout that, so you can give me a gold sticker.
After a couple months,we broke up, and I went back to the church-with-black-walls for a while.
Spring of my sophomore year I moved into a professor's house while he and his family were abroad for the semester. It was a beautiful little house nestled deep in the lush green woods. It had an expansive back porch and a big wooden dining room table in front of a wall of windows. I was taking 21 hours during that time, and it was (supposed to be) my last semester at Baylor. I decided that, with school being so taxing and my leaving-Baylor-soon emotions running high (and also because of my incredible surroundings which I never wanted to leave ever) I needed to take a "season away from church proper." I was desperate to make the Sabbath day an ACTUAL Sabbath, and putting on pretty clothes and driving all the way into town just wasn't it. I needed Real Rest. I needed Sundays that looked like digging deep into God's word; writing out my thoughts and prayers; being still and quiet.
And so, I quit church.
I knew it was only a season, and I explained that to all my Very Concerned Friends, but they remained very concerned.
"Sometimes you just have to do things (like go to church) because they're right, no matter how you're feeling."
"You know, I think if you just GO you'll find that it is what your soul is craving; You NEED church."
"Taking a season off usually looks like never coming back--I'm not sure you want to risk that."
"I'm not sure anyone *always loves* church. Just because you're not feeling it doesn't mean you shouldn't go."
"Church is what God wants. Being by yourself with your Bible and your thoughts is not a replacement for The Body, gathered."
You get it.
I heard it all.
In my defense, I had an absolutely incredible group of Jesus-loving, Bible-reading, God-fearing friends who I considered "my church." Thing is: there were (are) only 8 of us. And we didn't meet on Sunday mornings. We usually met around dinner tables and atop parking garages and in trees. Places of that nature. So They didn't think "my 8 friends" excused me from Real Church. I disagree(d).
I got to do an "extra half lap" at Baylor, which is to say I had the good fortune of being able to spend Fall semester (i.e. football season) of my junior year back in one of the best small cities on earth. My best friend did not return, as she was off to nursing school, but she implored me to "fill her space" in the church where she'd invested countless hours of love and leadership.
(Her being Good at Church will get her more jewels in her crown than me, no doubt, but JOKE'S ON HER because we all throw our crowns at Jesus' feet anyway!) *wink*
I was actually sort of excited at the prospect, so I decided to give it a shot.
It was a wonderful church. College Pastor Guy preached the Gospel (and pretty much only the Gospel) every Sunday, and boy oh boy did I need to hear it. Plus, my best friend's boyfriend led worship most weeks in his flannel, so there was that too.
Tough part is that it was my last semester--which meant I only got to be a part of that community for three months. Not much time to "build community," really.
I moved to the New Big City for nursing school that spring, and I immediately started attending (what I thought was) AN AWESOME CHURCH near my house. I was enthralled. A friend from school who wanted to "try the church thing out" joined me, and we attended faithfully for a couple months. I was just starting to really Invest when a bunch of things started happening in the spiritual/church life of my family back on the West Coast.
I won't go into long and boring details, but it looked like HOURS for DAYS on the phone with my (distraught/frustrated/confused/concerned) mama and a heck of a lot of research into some mega-churches on the west coast, where some of our friends had started attending. In light of all that was happening, I thought "hm. I think the church I'm attending here is kinda big and it seems like the sort of church about which people might have Things to Say" and so I googled it. Bad (good?) idea.
I was suddenly B O M B A R D E D with all sorts of opinions/ideas/writings by (well-known) people about my church! For days and weeks I read and prayed and sent emails to half a dozen mentors/second parents in my life asking for HELP and WHAT SHOULD I DO and WHO SHOULD I BELIEVE and AM I LISTENING TO HERETICAL TEACHING and WHY ARE THERE SO MANY DIFFERENT SORTS OF CHURCHES?
In the meantime, I read an article in our local newspaper that described the church as the "cool, hip, new, progressive Christian...." and I just couldn't. New? Progressive? Why does Christianity have to progress? I am confused.
Now, let me be clear. I am not casting hard-and-fast aspersions on that church. But here's what happened. Because of all the hooplah surrounding the place and because of all that was going on with my family/friends back home, I'd sit there every Sunday analyzing and critiquing EVERY SINGLE WORD that came from the pulpit.
"What is his motivation, here?"
"What version of the Bible is he using--was that intentional?"
"Where is this sermon coming from; what kind of a heart does he have?"
And on, and on, and on.
It was unhealthy. And it was certainly no way to learn about God's Word.
I realized that I needed to be in a place where I TRUSTED the people behind the pulpit. Where I (for the most part) didn't question the heart from which sermons were preached. I don't know whether or not this pastor's heart was in the wrong place. In fact, I'd bet pretty high money it WASN'T (isn't). BUT for me, all the hooplah was not conducive to learning and growing.
I also decided that this whole "cool, hipster, progressive" movement is not something I want to be a part of. We don't need church to be cool. Or hipster. Or progressive. We need church to teach us what God's Word has to say. That doesn't need Americanese labels. We need church that's not watered-down; not wishy-washy. Church that stands on principles and church that believes in the Power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts; not church that relies on the Power of Being Cool and Approachable and Culturally Relevant to change behaviors.
And so I left and went to a church down the street, which I now attend every Sunday (unless I'm here with this family of 11, and then I go with them to my parents' old church).
If you've gotten this far, you're probably saying JORDAN, GET TO THE POINT ALREADY. But I wanted you to have the background--all the background--before I did that.
Here's the point: church disillusions me. I don't understand it. I'm constantly disappointed/frustrated with it and its people and leaders. I very often am prideful enough to say certain churches/ways of doing things are WRONG and misinterpreted.
I am chief of sinners. And I'm chief of being disillusioned with the church.
The story at the beginning of this piece was my first experience with church splits, and I can assure you it won't be my last. I struggle enormously with The Church, as a whole. I don't think there's a way to NOT struggle with The Church. It's made up of a bunch of HUMANS all trying to take our various life experiences/things that have shaped us and use those things (along with our literacy, or lack thereof) to understand a book that is very long and deep and a God who we cannot see. There will inevitably be disagreements and problems. I just don't see a way around it.
My struggle is not that.
My struggle is trying (desperately) to love the church enough to STICK IT OUT. Jesus very clearly gave us The Church and expects us to use it and incorporate ourselves into The Body as a whole. Jesus loves His church because His Church is made of His people, and He loves His people--arguments and preferences and decibel level of worship music and all.
So, I haven't yet found a way "out of church," in good conscience. Time and again I go back to Scripture and see the same overarching message:
"THEY ARE HUMAN JUST LIKE YOU. THEY GET AS MUCH GRACE AS YOU DO. STICK IT OUT.
And so, I stick it out. I try to do what Jennie said in her post: become friends with people and really listen to what they say. I don't listen in order to have my convictions changed (they usually don't). I listen so that when I speak, MY WORDS WILL BE LOVING. Because if I actually KNOW and LOVE people on the "other side," I will be better at speaking my convictions KINDLY and not seethingly. I will be less venomous. The reason we speak with vitriol and venom is because we have dehumanized the "Others". Once we re-humanize them, we RE-MEMBER ourselves (Ourselves, collectively) and we can disagree kindly and with a gracious spirit.
I don't think my job is to be right, though I wish it were. I like being right. More and more I'm realizing that Jesus will do the "being right," in the end, and I'm guessing when it comes down to it we'll all be just a little wrong. I don't really have to worry about that. What I do have to worry about is BEING LOVE. Because there ain't no way people are going to love "my Jesus" if I don't first love them. *I* am the hands and feet and mouthpiece of Christ. Literally.
WE ARE the hands and feet and mouthpieces of Christ. This means that in speaking to and discussing with one another, we must learn to say our piece (the way we "see it") and at the same time listen closely and try desperately to understand the way our brother or sister (and they are that, you know) "sees it." In this model of interacting, of friendship, there is neither room nor need for vitriol, for slander. There isn't room for outrage or violence or mean and nasty words. There may be room for an amicable "going separate ways," but the key word there is amicable. I think there are times when we can be most effective (in life and for The Kingdom) when monkeys are gathered with monkeys. There are other times when those monkeys need a few elephants in the mix, to keep things real and grounded and...interesting. In any case, if the "going separate ways" seems to be the best thing to do, it can be done in friendship! In love! It can be done by saying, "I truly wish you and yours the very best. I am confident you will be effective for Christ. I support your ministry and all you are doing. It is simply not practical for us to be under the same roof anymore."
What if the Body of Christ could look a little more like that? What if first, we listen more closely to one another, try to understand, and really make a concerted effort to stay under the same roof, even when the going gets tough? And then, if different roofs seem necessary, what if we do that with love and gentleness? What if we still recognize that, really, we're all under the Same Roof when it comes to eternity so uniting for the sake of Christ (even if our roofs are different colors) on issues of eternity is The Best Way?
Right now, the world looks at us and thinks "man, those Christians just can't seem to get it together. They're always disagreeing and fighting and splitting and dividing. We've got enough of that in the world, so why would I want to join them and add more of that Stuff to my life?"
Here's the thing. Yeah, we split. Yeah, we disagree. WE ARE HUMAN, AND THAT IS INEVITABLE. Where we have a choice is this: in being human without being vitriolic; without the slander; without the hate; without the secret meetings and horrible words and character defamation.
It is crucial to NOT disregard/throw out our deeply held convictions. Those convictions govern how we live. But there has GOT to be a way to have strong opinions and still be kind. And I'll spend my whole life figuring out how to do JUST THAT.
I'm asking you to join me.
hey, i'm jordan.
i write here because i think our words are worth sharing.