Words are a Weight (On Loving the Church When it Hurts.)

“The Church is a whore, but she is my mother.”

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Several years ago while I was in college, I wrote those words on my Facebook page under the “Religious Views” section. The quote is often attributed to Augustine, but is rumored to have been said by Martin Luther and a host of other church fathers. I was a frustrated young millennial, seeing the overwhelming hypocrisy of the body that nurtured me and raised me into the man I was. I saw political jargon shouted from pulpits, taken as Gospel by racists and adulterers, one and all. I saw small huddles of men in the parking lots, filling their bodies with smoke and decrying those who spent their weekends at the bar, claiming that the world was going to hell in a handbasket and there was nothing we could do about it but curse the filthy sinners that filled it.  I heard the women gossiping in their Sunday School rooms about why so-and-so wasn’t here this week and did you hear that Pam was cheating on Jim with Ron Swanson?

I’d seen the faces of disgruntled youth, trying to fit into the world of religion like a kid’s piece into an adult’s special edition Thomas Kinkade puzzle, larger than life and filled with loud primary colors clashing with the tiny diminished hues of a portrait where they didn’t belong. Begrudgingly nodding, but not convinced that the Gospel could be summed up in these words: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?”

My understanding of the mercy and goodness of God was skewered by the inconsistencies I saw all around me, and I was pissed. So, when my mother called me in my dorm room and said we needed to talk, my heart momentarily stopped. Had someone died? Had I been caught in some elaborate lie? All of my sins were called up before my swirling head. What could it be?

“The preacher and one of the deacons showed up at our house today to talk about you.”

Oh, God. This is it. I’m going to be excommunicated. Can Baptists even excommunicate people?

Apparently, someone had seen that section of my Facebook. They went so far as to print it out and hand deliver it to the pastor with feigned concern. The concern, you ask? That i’d used the word whore.

Not that they wondered if I was losing my faith.

Not that I came across as angry or missed the point.

That I had used a word.

I saw red.

My blood boiled at the thought of all that work done to expose me as a pottymouth. Forget context, forget the state of the thing I loved with all of my heart. But I said a dirty word.

And far be it from them, adults, to come to me, an adult, to talk about this indiscretion. They brought it to my parents, because obviously I wasn’t old enough to answer their fears or questions. Maybe my mind had been polluted by the big, bad Christian university I was attending.

For the first time in my life, whether real or perceived, I felt like an apostate.


I sat across from a room full of students, all of them looking to me for answers. What did I know? I was just a volunteer chaperone at summer camp.

The church gives us no respect, they don’t see us as people.

How can we carry on the work of the church when we are adults if we’re never allowed to have a say now? Where do we fit in?

Why do they treat us like we’re little kids?

I listened to their fears and their desire to be part of the Body, to really take part and contribute. To some, it would no doubt sound like blind idealism of youth. But as they spoke, I felt that weight pressing on me as well. The adults may have many excuses: they are too broken, too sinful, too young, they don’t understand doctrine or the Baptist Faith and Message. They don’t get it.

But did they themselves even understand the particulars?

Do I? Do any of us really have what it takes to live beyond reproach and advance the Gospel? (How glorious a gift God gave us, entrusting us with a task for which he makes us able to carry out!)

I encouraged those students. I prayed with them. I cried with them. And I held out hope that someday, things would change. Someday, they would feel valued. And maybe so would I.


Apostasy.

The word rang in my ears. As the quiet hum grew deafening, I pondered the implications. What would happen if I just left it all behind? Is it worth it? If there is no place for me in the community in which I was raised, is there any place for me at all?

I spoke to my pastor later that day over the phone. It was a strange conversation, full of awkward silences and unruly dissonance. I tried to explain to him the manner in which I used the quote, tried to outline my frustrations, but overall hope that I held. The church is a whore in every sense of the word. She has sold herself to politicians and to the world. She has shouted in outrage at the sins of a broken world while waiting for night to fall, so she can join the debauchery. She has traded gossip for prayer, and has been the Pharisee, blind to the log bursting from her eye while trying to excise the splinter from another’s.

But she is my mother. She birthed me, raised me, loved me, taught me who Jesus is and baptized me in his name. I am grateful for her witness, stained though it may be. I love her with all of my heart though she vexes me so.

The conversation stalled, but picked back up as he continually brought up that word. I had committed what seemed to be an unpardonable sin. These were the dregs of legalism if I’d ever saw them. To dismiss the words of a church father because you don’t understand them? In my soul, my frustration raged. I tried to remain calm, but as a college freshman, I was full of knowledge but wisdom and a healthy temperament had yet to show up on my course list.

We ended our conversation, still on opposing sides. This man was my pastor. I felt bad because I felt I owed him respect, but didn’t feel like the best way to show it was to give in and apologize. At that point in my life, I didn’t understand the value in picking your battles and if my time in the religion department had taught me anything, it’s that any topic could be a hill to die on.


In hindsight, I forgave those who didn’t understand and learned to be a little more discerning in the words I choose to say. I realized that in choosing love over bitterness, the quote I had been so adamant about was playing itself out in my life.

Sometimes the Church will choose legalism, even if you know better.

Sometimes the Church will misunderstand, even if you have the best intentions.

Sometimes she will harbor secret (or not so secret) sins and run after idols that vie for her affections, even as you call for her to repent.

But we do not exist as islands, we are not some distant relative of the beaten and beraggled Bride of Christ. We are her. We exist as one Church to proclaim the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light. We exist as deeply flawed, inexcusable sinners who do so much damage to the name of Jesus with our various failures and broken intentions.

But we choose to forgive the inexcusable in others because Christ forgave the inexcusable in us, as Lewis says.

Because though the Bride sometimes feels like she is barely hanging on, torn apart and stitched together again and again, she is loved by a Groom who will do anything, who paid everything to buy her back from the idols that have wrapped their tendrils around her heart. And as she gasps for breath amid the broken reality she chose, she finally sighs in freedom because her lover has rescued her and made her whole.

I love the Church, I am the Church.

And if you claim the name and mission of Jesus, so are you.

Screaming from the Sidelines

The characteristic of holiness, which is the outcome of the indwelling of God, is blazing truthfulness with regard to God’s word and an amazing tenderness in personal dealings. –Oswald Chambers

It happened yesterday. I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping against my better judgment. Amidst the clinging and clanging of the Santas with their bells and the singing of carols as I pulled out of the parking lot, I heard a semi-robotic voice screaming at the top of his lungs through a huge megaphone. I looked to my right and saw sandwich boards graffitied with apocalyptic proclamations like “The End is Near, the Day of Judgment is now, women shouldn’t wear pants, etc.”

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The young man (who couldn’t have been a lot older than me) was shouting in the best angry preacher voice he could muster. He spit out doctrinal statements faster and with more gusto than even Eminem could attempt. Most of his statements, at their core, I agreed with. But the whole mess just sat wrong with me. I sat at the red light for a good while listening to him as he ran up and down the street like a wild man, screeching as if he were an animal. He claimed that nothing could save you except Jesus. Agreed. That we as humans are inherently flawed and sinful. Agreed. That church tradition is not the final authority on Jesus. Agreed. But for all of his systematic theology, he was missing something. And I pulled into a nearby parking lot to listen and see if he would say it.

Not once was the love of God mentioned. In his eyes, God was a raging beast, poised to strike and throw whatever was left of you into the furnace as a punishment for looking at him the wrong way. Jesus was the only way to tame the beast.

This is not the God I serve.

This is not the God that scripture declares is the only true God.

No, the Bible portrays God as something much better and much more than we can perceive through our darkened glasses. It was love that compelled the Father to send his Son to us to die in our place and bear all of our sin away. It was in love that God turned away while Jesus died. It was in love that Jesus, who knew all of the wars we would wage and the death we would bathe ourselves in said “Father, not my will, but yours.”

See, I hate seeing this picture of God presented on the street corners to people who are just going to shut it out or get angry. I hate that the Church has reduced the Gospel to a list of doctrinal statements and propositions. I hate that instead of seeing the love of God patiently displayed through the lives of the people closest to them, unbelievers are faced with people who couldn’t care less about them and don’t love them unconditionally. People who will say, Jesus is the only way to God, but…you may want to try agreeing with my legalistic list of do’s and don’ts that have nothing to do with the Gospel.

Christians are truly in a culture war, but we will not win it this way. We will not win the culture war by waving signs and screaming through megaphones and compromising the glorious Gospel that God, in his love, sent his son to die for the sins of the world and trading it for the lie that God hates you.

Even if your message is, “Jesus loves you,” it’s not going to be received well if the person is shouting at you (unless of course, you’re at a For Today concert.)

Culture isn’t changed by legislation or a million angry street preachers with fists raised in defiance. Culture is changed by the tough work of discipleship, Christian people loving the non-Christians many segments of Christendom have long neglected. Building relationships and trust and speaking truth in love in the context of that relationship. Witnessing is not a proposition and it is not a screaming match. It is a patient love and an honest life. People respect honesty, and they respect you if you respect them, no matter what.

As the Church, we must be better. We must love people enough that when we present them with the Gospel, there can be no denying that we are doing it out of love. No more screaming from the sidelines in a culture war we cannot win. Show God’s love like Jesus did, by personal connections and by sacrifice. Do not shy away from speaking the truth, but be assured that the truth is a person, not a thing. And let that realization color how you see everything. That is the Gospel.

I pray that the men on the street corner know that. Most importantly, I pray that they show it. I pray that we will not fight to win the culture war by sweeping generalizations and ugly caricatures of God, wholly devoid of any scriptural truth. God’s love is not a condemning love, but a patient one. Surely, he’s been so patient with me, and his kindness leads me to repentance for sin, not his rage.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:19-24)

An Open Letter To Anyone Who’s Ever Looked in a Mirror (or, Cages)

Rubber grates on wood, removing the blemishes left by empty words in grayscale. Renovate these empty tombs we’ve built  in our transgression, rewrite the words of obsession that escaped our lips, sang in unholy dissonance, resistance from the truth that we won’t get this (without a struggle, anyway.)

Rephrase. 

                          Replace.

                                                           Rearrange.

Hues, shades of grey without the high class/low class publication, obscuring vision and igniting our useless fascination with our humiliation. As the dim glow of the screen sucks you into its grasp and sends you writing like the bodies you watched so selfishly or as the green haze pacifies and emptiness that will only return in full force, reinforce, FULL SPEED AHEAD to the days when you already feel dead, haunted by memories of the accusation, detonation of a situation which you had no control over. Sacrificing purity because of memories of it stolen, claiming necessity because of “injuries.” Gone to the bottle too quickly, feigning the feeling of being sickly so you can sacrifice the gifts you’ve been given. Or what about the sadness that manifests as scars all over your wrist?  Summon an insolent wish, drink away the pain only to wake up feeling the full brunt of the helpless depravity you’re grasping for a way out of. Squandering your talents and punishing reality with your pipe dream, (and yes we can hear you scream) rewriting promises made in favor of a more self indulgent script while the choirs of old scream for you to get a grip. Those voices that never made sense, and did you expect them to?

Apathy is a crypt. 

But true carelessness is a myth.

If your words mean nothing, please don’t take the time to say them. If your memories are too painful, know its better not to fade them with so much smoke or (God forbid) any more coke. Put down the bottle, rip the cord out of the monitor and understand that you are better than all the lies that have been told to you, all the betrayal that’s been sold to you. If rage fills your bones, just understand that it won’t be long and those memories will be obscured by better ones. After all, if you claim to be sons and daughters of the risen king, there’s more than enough of a reason to sing, and I know these words sting but trust me. There is a King whose voice sends ripples through the stars! There is healing in his scars.

They say you smoke, click, drink, shake with anger and fear, to become the full expression of what humanity has to offer. Well, I’ve seen what humanity offers and I’m afraid to say that it just feeds you to a coffer, don’t listen to the scoffers but grasp hold of the life that glides in front of your eyes. If I’m bathed in bloodshed, reset, recoup and understand that the blood shed once on that battleground hill was the sacrifice to end it all.

Ugly dissonance, dancing the dance of death before an Audience of One. You’ve got the match, but I’ve got the trigger and the gun. Its you against me, us against them, grasping, pleading, begging for an end to this uselss, reckless sin. Denial is a curse, emptiness a consequence. Repent.

Dear God, erase everything we’ve done.

Dear God, erase everything I’ve done.

King Jesus, replace this same old song with a melody that shrieks redemption from the swirling skies of a sinner who’s finally learned his place before the feet of a holy God, a sinner who finally hears the voice of his King, saying “Good and faithful servant, come home.”

Jesus, yo quiero que este mundo te conosca.