I've been sad at the church a lot recently.
I’m sad about how deeply churches are segregated along ethnic and racial lines. Much of the New Testament is spent encouraging new Christian communities to break down the walls of hostility and truly come together, making special effort to lift up those who are excluded or demeaned by society, and I’m sad that we rarely seem to take those calls seriously. And that’s not just my dear Christian Reformed Church – on a street near me, the Polish Catholic church is right next to the Ukrainian Catholic church, which is right near the Italian Catholic church. Sigh.
I’m sad knowing that Christians, despite the constant biblical theme of blessing the stranger, still want limits on welcoming refugees and immigrants. Cultural misconceptions about refugees in particular are just as common among Christ-followers in Canada as they are in wider society. This at a time of unprecedented need for churches to open their arms to refugees, both those who are sponsored overseas and those who walk across our border and ask for protection.
I’m sad because I see us clinging to cultural power. As someone who has communicated with churches for the past five years, I can tell you that nothing mobilizes church people faster than a threat to our cultural power. Some of these perceived threats have been genuine causes for concern, and some . . . less so. But regardless, I lament that it’s not usually self-denying love of “the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger” that stirs us to rapid action, but threats to our own freedom.
I could spin this in a hopeful way, but today I’m not going to try. It makes me sad. A deep-down-in-my-bones kind of sadness, not a passing, “Isn’t that too bad” sadness.
We’re called to a wall-defying faith. A risky, hopeful, sell-everything-you’ve-got-for-the-pearl-buried-in-a-field kind of faith.
As I write this, I’m headed to meet with churches in western Canada: campus ministers planting seeds of Christ-following among students; a refugee committee at a rural church that has faithfully welcomed refugees for more than 40 years; Christians gathered around issues of justice and love for neighbours. The sparks of love and justice are there. I just want these sparks to whip into a fire. I want us to be known for this risky love, not for holding on to cultural power.
Some days I practice the discipline of gratitude. I look for the bright red tree against the crayon blue sky, my dog’s full-body wag when she greets me, the undying love of my parents, the people choosing love over fear in their own faithful, if human, ways. In those moments, I feel the adrenalin drain through my toes into the pavement, and a joy that doesn’t make sense takes root, yet again.
But some days I’m mourning. Some days I feel like Elijah, running off into the wilderness. And rather than chastise Elijah for his lament, God cares for him, appearing to him in a personal, gentle way.
If Elijah could lament, if our Bibles include so many psalms of lament (more than half, by some estimates!) why is it so hard to be honest with myself and write this piece about my sadness?
Maybe only those who have processed their pain can be more awake to joy, as I heard someone say recently. Or maybe this is so painful not because we’re hopeless, as another friend has said, but because we’re hopeful for the Church.
I still love the Church. And yet, because I love it, I’m giving myself new permission to mourn current iterations of the Church. It hurts.
I’m on the lookout for those Christians who are putting up signposts of hope, hope that we could be better, that our identity could be formed around radical, wall-defying love.
I have a stubborn hope that we can be better, a tenacious weed of hope.
We can be better, because of the Spirit within us.
We can be better. And perhaps this dying will lead us to a resurrection.
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