Falling Back in Love with the Church
April 10, 2013
I’ve fallen back in love with the church in the last few years, and I wanted to let you know why.
If you’re not a Christ-follower, you’ll get it. Even if you are a Christ-follower, you might get it. The church nauseated me for many years. I hated that it was known more for what it was against than what it was for. It wasn’t always a safe place to engage my intellect and doubts. It stunk to be a woman. Indeed, there was a dearth of female leadership. There was little support for women working outside the household after children came along. The great moral debates were centered around gay marriage and abortion. There was little discussion about other pro-life issues like the environment, healthcare and entitlement spending. The Republican party had somehow become synonymous with Evangelical Christianity. I wanted to run as soon as I entered a church. It was that bad- that visceral. It was hard to breathe. I tell you that not to shock you, but to let you know that if you want to run as soon as you go in, I get it. I understand.
It started when we went to L’Abri. Charlie and I spent three weeks at L’Abri when I was pregnant with my 10-year-old. We went back four years ago and stayed for two months. The first time I went, I worked mainly on if the Bible is good news for women. The second time, I was looking at the core issues of the reliability of the Bible. How was the canon formed? Why didn’t it contain books from the gnostic gospels? Was there really any compelling evidence that Jesus resurrected from the dead? As I said, my love of the church probably started the first time that we went to L’Abri. I remember sitting down with L’Abri Worker Sue Morrell and telling her that I didn’t know if I believed the Christian message or not. She was unfazed. Somehow, that made me feel safe. She didn’t freak out. She didn’t move onto the edge of her chair. I started studying. Slowly, I became convinced that Jesus actually did bring good news for women. He elevated women much more highly than the culture at the time did. The first witnesses of the resurrection were also women. During my second visit to L’Abri, I spent a lot of time reading church history. I also learned a great deal about how the canon was formed. Toward the end of those two months, I became convinced that Christianity was true. He actually resurrected from the dead. He cares about us and loves us. What’s more, He is calling into a huge story of redemption. We get to be a part of that.
Between our two visits at L’Abri, we started going to our home church here in Menlo Park (Menlo Park Presbyterian Church or MPPC). I have to say that it has been a very healing experience. It’s also one of the things that roots us here in the Bay Area. From the get-go, the teaching has been deeply respectful of the human soul. I’ve never once felt compelled to “be happy” when I’m not. More often, I hear acceptance from the pastoral staff that life is hard. People are hurting. Evidence of the Fall is all around us. Disease. Divorce. Fractured relationships. Homelessness. Poverty. Human Trafficking. But, it is also deeply hopeful. Truly, the church should be a hospital for sinners instead of a museum for saints. You shouldn’t have to get cleaned up in order to go there. A lot of what’s changed has been my expectations. At L’Abri, the Fall is a big deal. The church is God-ordained, but it is a fallen institution. It’s made up of individuals. Any human institution, even if it’s God-ordained, is going to be tragically and hurtfully flawed. My church is no different. If you go to church, your church is like that, too. If you haven’t seen it yet, stick around. The church is made up of people. People have wonderfully redemptive parts and parts that are broken and wounded. That’s what we should expect in church. That it will be made up of people who have wonderful qualities as well as areas where God needs to move in and change and heal them. We’re all in the same boat. We’re doing the best that we can. But, we’re flawed. So, we shouldn’t be surprised when we see political jockeying or power plays or pride or posturing in church. Because it’s made up of people. What I’ve seen in my church is an acceptance of our human foibles. Our senior pastor readily admits his faults. I’ve seen this quality in all of our teaching pastors. They don’t have it all together. I don’t expect them to. Because goodness knows I don’t.
I think there’s a lot to our expectations of the church. When we put down the ideal that you have to have it all together before you set foot in the door because everyone there already has it together, we can start to heal. We can admit our faults. Our insecurities and areas of pride. We can admit that maybe our theology isn’t perfect. I love that there is no clear political party at our church. People actually don’t talk a lot about politics because we sort of assume that everyone doesn’t agree. From the pulpit, during election time, we often hear that MPPC is a “Jesus church” and that redemption won’t come through one political party or the other. I like that. I can sit with that.
I can also tell you that my church spends way more time thinking about what it’s for instead of what it’s against. It’s for the fight against human trafficking. It’s for those living in poverty. It’s for working toward education equity. I love rolling up my sleeves and working for these goals. I love learning to slog it out with my friends who don’t have it all together. I love being inspired by others who are giving their lives away. Not pretending that we have it wired, because we don’t. It’s wonderful not to have to have it all figured out. Honestly, I have enough to keep me busy with what I do know I should be doing. I don’t really feel bothered by all those other things that many church-goers are against. I don’t even love my neighbor like I want to yet. I’m often not patient. The log in my own eye is too huge to worry about a speck in someone else’s. I have enough areas that I’m sure of to keep me busy without being against anything. Like that Jesus wants me to reflect the qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. I’m sure that Jesus wants me to care for the poor. I’m sure that Jesus wants me to advocate for the oppressed. That’s more than enough to keep me busy for now. So, does MPPC have it all together? No. But, I don’t expect it to. I’m not surprised by it. And, the closer I get, the more I see souls who are willing to own their own stuff so that we can live our lives walking side by side. Disciples of a homeless carpenter who showed us what it looks like to give our lives away.