One of my main areas of reading is historical fiction. In particular, stories that happened through the dark and middle ages. Why then? Well, I love to hear of how the generations of people who went before me did life and faith. I’m no expert in history, but I definitely enjoy discovering things in history.
It’s in this reading that I found myself growing more and more uneasy with the way that the church did faith. Recorded history is merely a snapshot of what actually went on. There are many stories that will never be heard. So everything we imagine is done so through the stories that we have recorded. Most of these are of the rich and famous, which makes trying to understand the lives of the people who weren’t rich and famous somewhat challenging. A lot is assumed, a lot is still being discovered and a lot we will never really know…
Faith and religion have always attempted to share the same platform. But should they really? In my opinion, religions are formed from people trying to put a grid around God. We’ve sought ways of living our lives that are aligned with the scriptures. These ways have become formative in the way we interact with him. For me, some of these ways of living have superseded the ways that we were designed to live. Jesus addressed this head-on when he gave the people a bible study of what God actually gave the Sabbath Day for. The way of doing it became the law, while the meaning of the Sabbath faded into the background.
I’ve watched our own churches do the same with our Sundays. We preach how important it is to have a day for just rest and God, while at the same time we demand people support and serve the church to the point of exhaustion on that very same day… We mask it by telling people that they are “serving” God and it is their way of giving back to the Kingdom… to me, it’s just abuse that we’ve put pretty words around. If people complain, then they are speaking against God’s elect and should be cast out… let’s call it for what it is… it’s abuse and we’ve been enabling this behaviour for generations. We may not be burning people at the stake for criticizing our beliefs anymore, but metaphorically we are doing the same thing when we use our beliefs to determine who is welcomed in and who is rejected.
People in churches burn out all the time. So often when this happens the person will make a mistake, be shown up for the imperfect person they are, get angry, and walk away. I’ve not found a church yet that doesn’t have stories like this in it. As a reader of history, this is so repeatable and discoverable in the generations that you’d think we would have worked this out and looked for a better way.
When a person walks away from a church it doesn’t mean that they’ve walked away from faith or backslidden (as we would so easily speak over people’s lives). It’s often that they are just looking for a safe community to heal in and haven’t found it in many of our churches.
As I stepped out of my own lifelong church experience I found that there are many people out there that have done the same. They haven’t even given up on church or faith, they’ve just grown tired of the repetitive and, at times, abusive "normal" that seems to manifest in church environments. They're looking for connection and not another religion.
But the question that is burning within me is “what then could church look like”? Well, I think part of the answer is very easy… we learn to love ourselves and each other. This is not just a bible verse that we quote, it’s a way of living that starts with the discovery of self. Asking and answering the question, “Who am I”? When I ask myself that one question I don’t always land in healthy places… I often land in self-loathing places where past choices have led me into very dark places. I have even hated myself… At times, I often think that I’m just acting like a 14-year-old boy! Which then fills me with shame and the belief that I should be much better than this… But to love me well, I have discovered that I need to press past the shame and all of the poor choices of my life and discover the man within that is just trying to keep his head above water, food on the family table and do the very best that I can. It’s there, sitting with that part of me, that I invite Jesus to sit with me and ask him “Who is this that you see”? I hear a conversation that is nowhere near my wrongdoings or failures. I hear a conversation from one who has done all that is necessary to show me how much he loves me, the one he has created to love and be loved.
It’s there that I discovered there were reasons I made the choices and the mistakes. Some were generational and some were circumstantial, but they all pointed out a greater narrative of my life. It wasn’t about ignoring or forgetting what I’ve done, it was about understanding why I did those things. It is amazing how much my life started changing when I started understanding who I was. It was there that I started to learn to love myself…
The beauty that followed this was that in learning to love me well I could love others well. I began to no longer just look at their behaviour, but at the very person they were created to be. I wasn’t looking at what they could do for me, but rather who that person actually was.
And this has got me thinking about church again… what would it look like if we stopped every program and gathering to just be with people? What would it look like to look for and see people for who they are and not how they can serve someone’s vision? What would it look like if we taught and modeled what it is to love ourselves? This is simply Jesus’ commandments. Maybe we teach our kids this before we teach them the ten commandments?... Or even, that Jesus loves me this I know for the bible tells me so?...
What do you think?
Grace and peace,
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