Y’all I’m struggling.
Not with my career, though it certainly keeps me busy. Not with my personal life, though again, because of the career busyness, it has certainly taken the back burner. Not with my goals or plans, I’ve still got those. Not with my relationship with Jesus.
But with the church.
This thing that helped to shape me, to mold and make me who I am today. I spent the better part of two decades very firmly on the inside of the “us”. I checked off all of the boxes, I served in every area that one could serve in. I loved it. I fought for it. And as I got older, and I started to have to sit in a lot of these ideologies for myself, I still sided so often with the church. She was old, yes. She was full of historical scandal and damage to the marginalized, yes. She was often obsessed with herself, yes. But she was also so beautiful. So precious. So lovely, once you wiped away the grime.
But I also began to be more and more frustrated with the stances I saw taking precedence. With the allocation of resources to fancy new light set-ups to stay relevant, but not to other, arguably more important needs. With the trend to invite and confine women into roles that weren’t preaching or teaching to mixed crowds of adults. With the consistent calls for unity that felt a lot like calls for silence if one planned to deviate from the party line. With the continued treatment of the marginalized. But I knew she could course correct. I asked better of her. I dug in, biting my tongue in favor of not rocking the boat, and tempered the anger I felt at the injustice we weren’t addressing, translating it to palatable questions that I hoped would spark conversation.
And I sat through messages about the end times, tithing, not judging others, modesty, going into missions, being in the world but not of it, unity, unity and more unity. None of which were bad topics in and of themselves, but they came at the expense of messages on justice for people who died at the hands of those sworn to protect them, the refugee crisis and our response as the church, the DAPL and the natives trying to protect their lands, politicians claiming christianity but mocking disabled people and veterans, the blind eye to those that were harassing and assaulting women and on and on. These things matter, and the stance we are willing to take on them matters.
And though I understand that there is no easy way to talk about these things, that the discussion is sure to be rife with hard truths, hard conversations and missteps, I think we have missed the mark by choosing to keep them out of pulpits. I grew up Pentecostal. I have heard more end time messages than I can begin to count. I don’t need any more messages on the rapture. Especially not more than I need honest, open, thoughtful and well-researched conversations about racism and systemic injustice in this country. Not more than I need to be reminded that I am called to follow the two greatest commandments: To love my God with all my heart, soul and strength and to love my neighbor as myself. Even when that neighbor is brown. Or gay. Or Puerto Rican. Or Muslim. Or fleeing from Syria. Certainly not more than I need to be reminded that my tree is known by its fruit, and that if the fruit of my life is vitriolic, hateful or insulting – the tree is known, even if I call it something different.
And I accept that pastors, even after doing thoughtful research into the Word, history, current scientific and sociological research (when applicable), and the stories of people who have lived it, are likely going to still be able to preach a message that I don’t completely agree with. That’s just life. I am one of many in a congregation, and at the end of the day, they are accountable to the congregation as a whole and to God. Even in the face of the most timely and appropriate messages, there will still be work for the rest of us to do to help the church, and society at large, love in a way that looks more and more like Jesus.
Stances on hard things have hard answers. They require answers that must be tempered with grace, truth and love. But we cannot keep ignoring the hard things, the convicting things, in favor of preaching again on Proverbs 31, or not overusing grace, or the persecution of the American Church, or yet another message about hazy, future dates to signify the end of the world. We cannot choose to pick out those things that are relatively easier for us to call out, and ignore the giant, bloody beam that we’ve allowed to remain in our collective eye.
Our pride is rampant. Our self-obsession is rampant. Our determination to be first, to be loudest, to be the most vindicated – even in the face of scripture that says that the first will be last – is rampant. Our dismissal of things that we don’t like or agree with is so, so, so rampant. And it’s heartbreaking. It creates an us and them, and moves people between the two based on the quantifiable characteristics we can see. It’s so human, and still so full of the Divine – the Father, Son and Spirit most certainly still dwell there – but it’s also got a closet bursting with skeletons that we can’t contain.
The longer we try and pretend like that closet doesn’t exist, like we aren’t spending far too much time trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus with those feet stuck firmly in our mouths, the more people we hurt. The longer we pretend that the cries of those we’ve overlooked and cast out aren’t deafening, the more deaf we become to the call to be passionate about justice. The more disconnected we become from those who have always had a seat at Jesus’s table. The more we forget that Jesus makes space for all of us, but his bid to come is also an invitation to die to the parts of us that are selfish, prideful and looking for praise and a pedestal. The more we grieve the heart of the Father.
And god – I can’t bear the thought of that being our legacy. Of the mark we leave on the world. A people who meant well, but got distracted and ended up hurting the heart of the One who brought us here in the first place.
May we be refined by our encounters with the marginalized that we see the way God sees. May the pride and self-obsession be purified out of our bodies. May we be broken-hearted by the injustice we’ve looked at without seeing. May we be moved to be passionate, zealous defenders of justice. May we address the damage we have done and continue to do. May we be the first in line to make amends and change that within us that is hurting the very people God loves. May we always be ready to set another place at the table. May we, in all things, live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.