In my last year of undergrad, I came home for probably the last Easter for a while. I had already decided in my mind that I would go to my home church, and everything would be fine, and it would be lovely, and a great production, and a meaningful message, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Easter is a family holiday. I wasn't going to let my selfishness get in the way of family time at my family's church.
But I haven't been since Christmas.
And during the car ride, there was much discussion about people who only attend church on Christmas and Easter, while those participating were clearly unaware that I am among such people.
Admittedly, I've been traveling on my weekends lately, and I did attend another church (just once), and I've also been sleeping in and catching up on the week's chaos. Laundry, groceries, chores, thesis, St. Patrick's Day, etcetera. I'm not overtly rebelling, I'm just not going.
I won't name my home church because I believe that it is a wonderful establishment that is overflowing with success and potential, and I wouldn't tarnish that reputation. But I do not exist to be silent. I exist to tell the truth. But it is my truth; my side of the story. Proceed with a large grain of salt, if necessary.
Several months ago, the leadership at my church began receiving anonymous and accusatory phone calls about me from people who, clearly, do not know me at all. Long story short, I went under investigation for living an inappropriate and unconventional life, and was told that even though I was probably being judged unfairly, I would have to essentially plead my case in front of one of the church's elders if I wanted to continue leading vocal worship at church.
At first, I didn't really take it seriously. The accusations were mostly so far-fetched and far-right that I figured that anybody with an ounce of perspective could see that my methods of outreach and evangelism and living, though unorthodox, are effective and genuine. I cannot apologize for being human, and I won't apologize for the relationships that I have formed with people who wouldn't fit into the typical "church crowd." It has been in these relationships that I have found the most perspective and enormous amounts of grace.
But it didn't stop. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get the target off of my back. Arrows kept flying, and I couldn't block them. I didn't have time for this. I'm teaching two classes, taking classes myself, and writing a thesis. I'm trying to graduate. Didn't these people also have other things to do? To make matters more confusing, some of the leadership at church seemed to act as if their hands were tied, as if they couldn't really advocate for me, as if I were guilty to a degree...or at least until I had been proven innocent. On the other hand, others at church encouraged and affirmed my life, professing that I was an example of somebody who is willing to extend her comfort zone for the greater good.
My paranoia grew, as did the feeling that I was unwelcome; a criminal in the house of God.
I refused to meet with the elders. I felt uneasy and prematurely condemned. I, as graciously as I could, backed out and backed down.
After nights of tossing and turning and pulling over to the side of the road and crying harder than my heart had ever cried before, I began the grieving process. I was, and still am, heartbroken over the loss. I loved that place. It was home, and it is God's home, and if I felt unwelcome and unfit in the house of God, then where...? Fortunately, nothing about this experience has altered my faith in God. At all. There is no way that it possibly could, because I've walked through more fierce refining fires and I've been rescued from deeper depths. He is doing this for a reason, even if I can't quite sort it out yet.
Unfortunately though, this has deeply shaken my faith in church communities and corporate worship in general, and has essentially erased my willingness to share my love for Jesus with others. I just...don't anymore. I don't have the support system at my home church, so what's the point? I remember, just a few short months before this happened, living nearly penniless in Boulder, CO with only faith and physics to get through. There, I met a woman who would soon become my dear big-sister figure, and one of the first things I can remember sharing with her was that my default is love. I try to love with Christ's love, and I love not just because we're commanded to love but because I want to love, and because I want to invest in the lives of others because Christ has invested in mine. And I could tell already that I recognized her heart, and that she would be one of those people that you meet and just know that the friendship had been there all along. And that woman, this dyed-in-the-wool atheist, loves me back tenfold. She loves me and she respects my beliefs, preposterous as she believes they may be, and she has walked through this whole ordeal by my side, patiently listening, offering advice and perspective, and telling me that I have the right to be here, and that she loves me exactly as I am.
That is the love that we are supposed to have for everybody, as a church family, as a church, as a community, as God's children. But, we're too busy fixating on other things. Like the Chreasters. Why do they get to only come to church on Christmas and Easter and call themselves "Christians?" What phonies. What pretenders. So we shout louder, we add more lights, we add more electric guitar, we make a bigger production in order to hide our bigger judgments.
But Jesus commanded us to go to church, right? So people that don't go are sinners, right? Sure. That's biblically-based. But I think that the context is bigger, here. What if we read between the lines and dug a little deeper? I think that we'd find that what Jesus wanted was a community, a support system. Things weren't too great for the early Christians. They needed to have each other's backs. And when two or three are gathered, well. We can pray for each other, fight for each other, intercede for each other, account for each other, rejoice with each other, celebrate with each other, give thanks together, worship together, be together.
That is church.
But we're open-armed, to an extent. We have open doors, if you fit. We love you, if you're in the crowd. We'll keep in touch, if you keep coming back to church. What kind of love is that?
It's conditional. It's the kind of love that lets fear drive, and that isn't love at all.
Who are we to judge people for not coming to church each Sunday, or for doing anything else, for that matter? Judgment is the fruit of fear, and the moment you allow fear to drive is the moment your church becomes irrelevant.
Please. Don't become irrelevant in this broken and seeking world. The stakes are too high to be blind. Open your eyes. Wake up. Wake up!
Now, I remain optimistic for my home church. As unenthused as I was to be there this morning, it's irrelevant. There are worshippers there. It's going to be awesome. It is awesome, but I believe that it will be more so. So much potential there. So many hearts on fire. So much work to do, so many workers. I remain optimistic for myself, as well. I'm moving away next month, and I couldn't possibly be happier. Perhaps I will find a new church family, and even if I don't for a while, I will, with the help of the Big Man, begin to talk again about how much I love Jesus. I am excited to begin building new, genuine, deep relationships. I am excited for this depth. I am hungry, willing, and ready. I am ready for community.
Let's challenge ourselves to be the community, and keep our eyes open. Let's love without abandon. Let's love like Jesus does. Let's love.