Are We the Church?

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Every time I sat down to write a blog this week, it came out…mean. Some weeks my passion spills into something edifying. Not this week. I have been extremely frustrated so, as I did not want my blog to be a cesspool of negative emotion, I took the extra time to contemplate. Even now, I am not sure I censored enough…so read at the risk of any delicate sensibilities you may possess.

One of my thorns—I use “thorn” because I am not sure if it is something in need of removal or it is a vexing blessing—is the ease with which my indignant button can be pushed. On rare occasions I can detach, but not in a healthy way, in an apathetic and unhealthy way. At the other end of the spectrum, I experience such a sense of passionate indignation, over one thing or another, I feel as though if I am assailed by another ounce of it my heart may just stop beating. I imagine myself as a wrecking ball—a very large, very passionate, wrecking ball of indignation with a life-goal of demolishing the injustice of the world. True to form, my idealistic and highly motivated self thinks it can just take on the world. Ridiculous.

So you might be thinking: Okay, Brittani…I am not getting why this is all that bad. What you feel sounds noble, over zealous perhaps, but not terrible.

You’re right, you. It is not terrible, but the source of my indignation is not primarily starving children or homeless mothers. Unfortunately, the starving and homeless do not occupy as much of my brainpower as they ought to. I do not like for it to be so, but I am just being honest. The main source of my indignation is with the Church, more specifically Christians. (I am using the terms, Church and Christians, interchangeably.)

What is the deal with church? What is the point? Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to walk away than to continue to be where God has placed me. Walking away means a change, something different, and no known baggage because the investment level is low. It also means not having to deal with the petty, childish garbage or the really big, actually important stuff. Honestly, I often feel like leaving is a pretty gosh darn good idea.

But I never do. Why? Because I truly believe God has called me. I believe God has called me, and this body of people, the Church, to be where we are for a specific purpose. It is relatively unclear as to what that purpose is outside of remaining faithful. But really, that is all we are called to do. Be faithful. Giving up may be what I feel like doing, but giving up is not being faithful to who God has called us to be.

In another blog, I talk about how God is a god of re-creation, of new beginnings. My pastor’s sermon today addressed God’s call to Abram/Abraham; for him to leave everything familiar, everything telling Abram who he was, and follow God into an unknown future. “New beginnings occur when we are willing to get serious with God.” That is a succinct characterization of my indignation. I am indignant regarding my personal unwillingness to get serious with God, and I am indignant when I see signs of others’ unwillingness to get serious with God.

Becoming a hermit, church hopping, or pulling out of church altogether offer temporary reprieve from a triggered indignation, but none of those options are helpful or healthy. Church, being in community with fellow Christians, is critical. M. Robert Mulholland Jr., in his book Invitation to a Journey, says this:

“Our wholeness depends upon the creative and nurturing interplay of our individual gifts. It is said that one cold and gloomy day, Dwight L. Moody visited a man who had expressed some interest at one of Moody’s meetings. Moody was ushered into a comfortable room with a fire blazing on the hearth. After some gracious preliminary conversation, the man began to argue that it was possible for a person to be a Christian without participating in the life of the church. As he made his elaborate and detailed arguments, Moody leaned forward in his chair, took the poker and pulled a flaming coal from the fire out onto the stone hearth. Moody watched as the coal slowly dimmed and went out. He then turned and looked at the man, without saying anything. After a long pause, the man said, ‘Mr. Moody, you have made your point!’”

The last few chapters of his book are dedicated to how corporate spirituality and individual spirituality are connected. They are interdependent, and I think he is absolutely right. Being the musical nerd that I am, it makes me think about choir. Having been in a number of small groups and choirs, the group can only perform as well as the individual members allow. Ideally, the individual is responsible to hone his/her musical gift and put it together with the other individuals who are, supposedly doing the same. And, if you have been in any kind of performance group, you surely know how seldom the ideal pans out. In severe cases, the choir gets up and the entire set is embarrassing because few people took the performance seriously.

Unfortunately, sometimes being the Church feels more like an embarrassment than Mulholland’s “creative and nurturing interplay of spiritual gifts.” Great, Mulholland. Excellent imagery. A coal can no more burn outside the fire than a Christian can burn outside of the church, but, to use his imagery, the fire can also be an inhospitable and scorching place.

If you stay at any church long enough, work in ministry long enough, you will find yourself at some point thinking it would be easier to leave. Here’s why: ministry is damn hard! And faithful ministry is even harder.

It is hard to love people who say they are committed but their behavior in no way indicates real commitment (I am beginning to wonder if we have forgotten what real commitment looks like…). It is hard to love people when they cannot, will not, or do not love you back. It is hard to love people when they are fickle and seek only the good of themselves. It is hard to love yourself when you do some of the very same things you get irritated with other people for. It is hard to love and do the right thing when it is not accepted as being enough. It is hard to love people who speak the language of the Gospel, but it does not seem to penetrate their being.

If we can call church “easy” we are not really being the Church. Responding in love is hard, but we are called to faithfulness, not feeling. It is especially crucial I remember this because I fail to understand how the same message of love, the same call, can spark something in me while others appear zombie-like, staring into the chaos of self and the world, untouched; not compelled in the slightest to drastically alter behavior. I struggle with this and I don’t get it. I have to constantly remind myself to meet people where they are. I do not have to get it. I just have to love them and be compassionate. We are on spiritual journey together and, if we cannot fully extend love and compassion like we are called to do, we must exert tolerance at the very least.

Mulholland calls spiritual journey allowing God to conform us to His image for the sake of others. Being on spiritual journey is not a tea party with your five-year-old niece. You cannot offer your tea and cake made of air, play the role of Dowager empress, and expect God to be fooled. He demands authentic love and relationship with Him—and with others.

Authentic love and relationship means being honest about our differences, the disagreements. Authenticity is the admission of our own triggers; our shortcomings; our insecurities. Authentic love and relationship means sharing our stories. Our full stories. Confessing the reality of who we really are—the bits we like and the bits we loathe—to God and to others is part of how we grow in relationship. “As soon as we take control of our relationship with God, we begin to isolate ourselves from the other cells and become a cancerous, destructive presence in the body.”

Somewhere in there, is the difference between an embarrassing choral performance and a creative and nurturing interplay of our spiritual gifts. The manifestation of this difference in our relationships is my prayer.

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