reclaiming church: how to love the church when you don't want to


So we made it official with our church this weekend. I would be lying if I said the commitment doesn't make me squirm a little. 

I spent most of my childhood in the same church. And then Jesus wrecked my comfortable life and asked me step away from all that was familiar. I dug my heels in and fought hard against him; I was worried about what people would say, what they would think. Leaving a church is perceived as betrayal of the worst kind around here. I knew some relationships would end if we stopped attending this church. People leave churches for a lot of reasons: the preacher hurt my feelings, someone forgot my birthday, no one visited me when I was sick last week, I don't like the music, the teaching is lacking, the youth group isn't incredible, or "I just want something more." I left because I was so deeply burdened for the people outside the walls of that building that I couldn't bear to sit in comfortable solidarity with the people inside of it anymore.

It was perhaps the hardest thing I've done in the name of Jesus in my whole life. I suppose it was naive to think that my friends and family would be so impressed by my sudden conviction that they, too, would understand the importance of moving into the religious margin to stand with the oppressed. I suppose that's prophecy. And so I left that place nursing wounds; I was stung by misunderstanding, bleeding from rejection, and limping with a burden for the least in my community.

Scared and tired and with walls up all around my tender heart, I found refuge in a ragamuffin little church tucked into a shopping center between a Sears department store and a Chinese buffet. I slipped quietly into the back row of chairs one Wednesday night, a tiny toddler hand wrapped sweetly around my fingers and a sleeping baby carried on my chest. I pretended to be brave for them, but really I was like a child myself looking for someone to pat my hand and reassure me that all would be okay. I was wary, a tad jaded by people who only love the version of Jesus they dreamed up in their own image. I hoped desperately that my children didn't feel the anguish written into my soul in that season; I prayed that my confusion would never mark their own faith.

I went back, a Sunday here and a Wednesday there, then again and again until it wasn't a question of if anymore. I attended services then like a deer picks its way through the woods: every step calculated and eyes wide open to trouble, ready to run at the first glimpse of danger. I was propelled by an un-explainable certainty that this Church was holding space for me, a space that Jesus himself carved out. And so I found my people, ragamuffin disciples just like me, with stories and questions and a whole lot of weirdness. I discovered that true faith is like a toddler's artwork, messy in its execution but vibrant and without pretense; I found the courage to unveil my own art. I found Church, and its a wonderfully weird thing to be a part of. 

I got married and moved out of my parents' home six years ago. I packed up my clothes of course, my jewelry, a few treasured books, my laptop; just the things that were really vital. I left behind the box of pictures from elementary school, the old purses in the back of the closet, the trophies, the toys, the notebooks full of scribbles. I thought they were silly and unimportant, worthless except for nostalgia, and I was only concerned with creating a new grown-up life with new grown-up things. I've since gone back to look for those old treasures; not because they hold real value but because there is a completeness in revisiting your old self; a sort of closing of the circle. 

I left behind some old religious stuff when God moved me; traditions and theology and habits that don't hold much value in the Kingdom anyway. But as my soul-wounds began to heal over, I found myself looking to revisit those old things just for memory's sake. So I went into my spiritual attic and started sorting. Hey, I used to love these hymns. Remember dinners-on-the-ground? Oh, Vacation Bible School was the highlight of the summer. I wonder if I still remember the doxology. It was then that I found it, a treasure covered in dust. In my hurt and my haste, I had shoved Church in that box, too, right alongside all the silly bobbles. What a gift to find it again.

I'm learning that I will always carry some tension over the Church, because the kingdom of God is already and not yet. People will continue to disappoint and no one will ever have all the answers I need and loving on people who aren't like me will always be hard. But also? The Church is hope, and I believe we should always be stubborn about hope. We are who Jesus is coming back for; if not for the Church there wouldn't be hope at all for this hurting world. So I'm reclaiming church; I'm dusting it off and placing it right up on my mantle like my most prized possession. Maybe it's weird and kind of gaudy, painfully old-fashioned and falling apart, but when I look at it, all I see is hope.