|Photo by Wally Gobetz via Flickr|
I did not love the church for a long time. I grew up in it, nurtured on services both Sunday morning and evening, scared into belief and a life-long fear of bear traps at the children's service of a crusade. I lived a small-town life of Vacation Bible School, youth group every Wednesday, Bible quizzing and daily chapel at the Christian school. I ate my fill of church, stuffed and gorged on the Word of God and the fear of the fires of hell if I stepped out of line. Life was black and white, no room for questioning, no room for differing. I was a quiet, introverted misfit with a quietly rebellious heart. I played the good girl well.
I ran from the church as soon as I could. Ran from the requirements, ran from the rules, ran from all of the ways I didn't fit in. Because I didn't love it. God wasn't as simple as I'd been led to believe in those early Sunday School years, and no one told me it was ok to have questions and struggle and not always be certain. No one told me it was ok to disagree with the current stance on Halloween or to like music that wasn't Christian or classical. (I have a woefully underdeveloped knowledge of the music of my generation.) No one told me that good people, Christian people, come in all denominations and shapes and colors and attitudes. The spectrum of people who love God, really deeply love him, is broader and deeper than I ever knew.
But God is the shepherd who looks for the sheep, and in those in-between years when I didn't know where I fit, he found me. And he took me on a journey of slowly building something new. We started with Sunday evening worship every week in that little round building on top of the hill where I learned to gather with the body because I wanted to, not because anyone said that I had to. Slowly, over the course of several years, he brought me back to church through the messiest of circumstances. There's something special about a church that holds you in the midst of your mess, lets you cry on their shoulders, takes you in when you are alone.
It's this church that so many are leaving now, the Evangelical church of culture wars, a comingled politics and religion, the assumption of certainty about so many things. And it is true that it's not a church I would choose to attend again. But they loved, and loved well when I needed it most. And yes, it was messy and imperfect and there came a time when we knew that leaving was the best choice. But my faith was nurtured and grown in that place, and when the word 'Evangelical' leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, I remember the people who loved me there.
I can't always condone this Evangelical church culture that we've built. There are a great many things I don't love about the machine. But the people...the people are my people, my family even when we disagree. Even when we fling hurtful words at each other and kick and stomp to get our own way. Truth is, if we are doing our best to follow Jesus, even if we disagree on what that looks like, we are family. We don't have to agree with each other, but we ARE called to love each other. It's time for us to learn the language of family.