A few days ago, maplestar and I got a wonderful and passionate comment in response to maplestar’s post about passion. There’s a lot of good stuff in this comment, and a lot of it resonates in very deep places within me, because it describes places I’ve been.
Because I’m responding publicly like this, I’m going to offer some fairly general stuff. First, I’ll say that there are several places of great stickiness when it comes to “The Church” and “the church around the corner” and even “the people of God.” The biggest problem with all of these is that they are based on, well, people! We all know people can suck. Every one of us is broken; every one of us has flaws and deficiencies; every one of us falls short of the mark; not a single one of us is perfect. Of course, that’s also the biggest strength of these. I know, that sounds bizarre, but please hear me out. See, in its best form, church is where we go to hold up our brokenness, to share our hurting places with others. We go to church to be in community with some who have the same broken places with us, and we go to church to be in community with some who have different broken places. My broken legs might not let me walk, but I can sit here and stir this pot of soup; your broken hand may not let you stir the soup, but you can walk over and fetch the things I need to put into the soup.
Of course, one of the greatest ways we can be broken is pride, and its insidiousness is why pride made the seven deadlies. There are plenty of priests and pastors and ministers out there who believe one must be whole and healed and perfect in order to minister to others. Guess what – they’re wrong, deadly wrong. There was only one person who ever walked this planet who was able to minister to others from a place of wholeness and perfection, and that person was Jesus. For the rest of us, we minister directly from our places of brokenness and vulnerability. Those are what make us humans and not God. It is our willingness to become vulnerable with others (and yes, with God) that brings us into the Body of Christ. The sticky part is, so many churches seem to be places where we must be perfect, and where any hint of imperfection finds one gently but firmly excluded from the family. These are unhealthy places. I recommend not staying in them. Without openness, without brokenness, without being willing to be vulnerable, God can’t work in our hearts. Shake the dust from your feet, and move on.
There are, however, plenty of other places, other churches, other priests and pastors and ministers who are similarly beyond the church. There are places of great health and holiness, places where it is safe to be broken, safe to be imperfect, safe to be vulnerable. There are places where compassion toward all things is taught and preached, where there is great passion poured out for those who are hurting and those who are in need. There are places where you can immediately feel welcomed, at home, part of the family.
You know how there are some people who, when you walk into their house, you are afraid to touch anything? You feel like you’re in a museum, and it makes you uncomfortable, unwelcome. And there are others who bustle to bring you into their home, who urge you to put your feet up, who include you in the family discussions – even the ones yelled down the hallway or up the stairs, even the passionate debates – and you have no doubt that you are welcome, at home, part of the family. Churches are like this, too. This is not to say that a church cannot be both beautiful and welcoming – I feel terrifically blessed to be part of a parish that is incredibly beautiful as well as incredibly welcome and embracing. More than once, I had despaired at ever fitting in within The Church. I learned later that I just hadn’t seen the parts of The Church that looked like me. But they are there.
For those who feel that they go beyond the Church, there are some wonderful writers out there. I most heartily recommend Thomas Merton, St. Frances de Sales, Abbe Henri de Tourville. If you find her accessible, Teresa of Avila is wonderful, as is Julian of Norwich. A book of sayings of the Desert Fathers – or Mothers – is very inspiring and uplifting. I also adore the Sufi mystics and ecstatics, like Hafez and Rumi; they will set your heart on fire with love for God and all of God’s creation.
Sometimes we walk apart from The Church for a time. Sometimes we need to, for any of a whole host of reasons. The only sins here are the sins of pride and of despair. We can’t afford to be too good for the church, and we can’t afford to despair that I’ll never fit in anywhere in The Church. These separate us from God, but God positively aches with love and desire for us. God loves each of us more than we could possibly imagine, and God continually invites us into relationship.
Christianity is all about relationships, not about rules. There are few rules in relationships, and they all come down to the things Paul says in the epistle reading for Sunday – act out of love, even to the people who hurt us and piss us off. Act like the people we wish we were, and we will become those people.
God loves you. God burns for your love in return, for your open heart and mind and soul. God yearns to invite you into the whirling, dizzying dance of lover and beloved, of creator and creation, of faith and faithfulness. God knows all the places you are broken and flawed and imperfect and unlovely. And yes, God still loves you.
You are a child of God, fearfully and marvelously made. Now, go in peace, to love and serve the Lord!
Thanks be to God! Alleluia, Alleluia!