Monday, March 13, 2006

I Love Jesus But Hate The Church: It Hurt(s) So Bad

The following was written on January 1st by a woman in her mid-twenties...

I heard a pastor talking about how he believes that modern-day Christians have a lot of head knowledge about what to do and what not to do but not a whole lot of application. I've been on the edge of a realization these last few months. Every time I teeter close to it, something draws me back, usually my own reluctance to know the truth. But last night, New Year's Eve night - the truth hit me so hard in the face, I had no other choice than to hear it.

And the truth is this: I felt less lonely and more loved as a drunk, drugged-up lesbian than I do as a Christian.

Horrific. Sad. Miserable. True.

I could walk alone into a bar, a stranger, and in an hour, be on first-name friendly terms with half the bar. I would no longer be paying for any of my drinks. I would have played a round or two of pool with two or three people. Jokes would have been made on how poorly I played. I would have had phone numbers from men and women - and not just the people who wanted to get laid, but lonely people who wanted to go grab some coffee that week or even just get a phone call. Friendships developed.

Now, cue all the people reading who want to tell me some version of this: "But, Kat, those people don't know true love. The love they offer is superficial, not God's love."

Well, you know what - it was LOVE - the best they could do it. It was their meek, lame attempt at offering something they had to me free of charge. It was their Christless version of acceptance and camaraderie.

As I left the New Year's Eve get-together last night, I felt completely empty. I'd just spent 4 hours watching some old lady chew her food and talk at the same time. We talked of doctor's visits, the weather, where we spent Thanksgiving. You know, safe subjects.But then they got into a conversation about where they'd spent New Years' gone by. I politely nodded out at that point. Why? Because compared to this year - my first as a believer - there hasn't been another December 31st in my life that hasn't sucked worse.

As I drove home last night at 12:30, I reluctantly embraced the truth. I wouldn't be happier with a bottle of wine on a bear-skinned rug in front of a fireplace. I wouldn't be happier in a karaoke bar with a bottle of Mich Ultra. I wouldn't be happier in a Jacuzzi with my girlfriend, guzzling Tequila shots. I wouldn't be happier in the honeymoon suite of the Zum Ritter, littered with rose petals and discarded clothing. I wouldn't be happier standing on the streets of Vegas
with my husbands arms wrapped tightly around me inside my jacket.

I wouldn't be happier - I'm not happy - and all I'm sure of is that I may or may not be happier in the future. What a thing to "know."

If you feel the urgent need to preach to me, join the queue. I'm not saying I'm reverting back to my old lifestyle. Don't be thick. I'm saying that there's something hugely wrong when I can feel more loved in the world and in a lifestyle like that than I can when I'm around people who profess Christ - people who are supposed to be plugged into the true source for joy and love. I'm saying that there's something really wrong here when I could call anyone up on the phone any night of the week to go out and have a beer, but I can't think of one person to call when I want to talk (and be understood, yes - there's a catch) about Jesus. I'm saying that there's something insanely awry when women and men who want so badly to find like-minded people in Christ will sit around and get fat and miserable because they don't think it's possible - while promiscuous men and women will spend hours at the gym, being "good stewards of their bodies" because they've tasted a form of glory that we as Christians aren't allowed to taste (anymore).

There's something wrong, and I felt, last night and for the last 6 months, like I'm sitting in the center of it. And all around me, there's doors slamming, people hugging, laughing, TV's blaring, Starbucks, water bottles, cute little lamps and dogs... barking. And not matter how much coffee I drink, TV I watch, hugs I give or get, laughs I force, or bottles of water I drink, I feel alone, isolated, discontent and frustrated.

And the point, I think, is that I could feel all this and feel just fine if I felt like someone really got it. Kat

Matthew 9:36
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

In today's world it's difficult to identify with a shepherd, but Jesus is really talking about the sense of compassion we feel when we witness a teenager living on the street, or worse yet a child.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable. Brennan Manning

“Relatively few unchurched people are atheists. Most of them call themselves Christian and have had a serious dose of church life in the past.” George Barna

Danny's brother-in-law Glen wants to write a book called "We've All Been Hurt By The Church". A lot of people have had a serious dose of the church in the past and it hasn't gone down too well.

Those of us who have never experienced a deep wound, however, should be extremely careful not to judge others who have. If we have been spared pain at the hands of those in the church, it is by the grace of God alone. I have stumbled many times; only God has saved me from a fall. I have recovered from the wounds I have received, but I don't want to have any pride, only thankful realization. Those of us who are still standing shouldn’t feel spiritually superior to those who are not.

The feeling of spiritual superiority is often what starts and escalates church conflicts. Often in a church fight the idea is "the last one standing wins". WRONG! Usually the last one standing is the loser because they've hung onto their pride the longest.

Ezekiel 34:11-16
"For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places to which they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in lush mountain pastures. I myself will tend my sheep and cause them to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. I will search for my lost ones who strayed away, and I will bring them safely home again. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. But I will destroy those who are fat and powerful. I will feed them, yes--feed them justice!

Author Flannery O’Connor once noted, "Sometimes you have to suffer as much from the church as you do for it."

Dave Burchett tells the following account of his church experience,

"My wife, Joni, gave birth to our daughter in 1985. But our happiness dissolved into grief when we learned Katie had a terminal neural tube birth defect called anencephaly, which had prevented her brain from developing. She basically had just the brain stem. Katie was not expected to live more than a few hours or days. The doctor in the delivery room described Katie’s situation in physicianspeak that I will never forget. "Her condition is not compatible with life," he said.

Our shock and grief were immediate because Katie obviously had no chance for a normal life. There would be no cure, no hope for even modest improvement. I went through the painful process of calling family and friends and telling our two sons about their sister.

But Kathryn Alice Burchett confounded the doctors and lived. She was never able to open her eyes. She couldn’t smile. Katie lacked the ability to regulate her body temperature so her room temperature had to be monitored. Part of Katie’s deformity was an opening with exposed tissue at the back of her skull that had to be covered and dressed regularly. Joni loved and cared for Katie in a way I will always respect and never forget. She insisted that Katie come home with us. I worried about the affect that caring for Katie at home might have on the boys. Truthfully, I was probably more concerned about the effect bringing her home would have on me. But Joni would not have it any other way, and when she sets her mind she is scrappy. So I showed my spiritual wisdom by agreeing with her.

Katie found her place in our family’s routines. She could drink from a bottle. Katie responded to her mother’s touch and even grew a little. We took her on a camping trip with us, and she was a regular at the boy’s ballgames and events.

Sometimes people would make hurtful or mean remarks. A kid at school taunted our oldest son because his sister didn’t have a brain. (That was something that the classmate had no doubt heard at home, and it reminds me that we should always be cautious about what we say in front of our children.) Once, when we wanted a family photo, we dressed up the troops and went to the photography studio of a major national chain. The photographer insisted that Katie needed to open her eyes. We explained patiently (for a while) that she physically could not open her eyes. He informed us that we couldn’t get our picture taken because their lab would not develop a picture if any person in the group didn’t have their eyes open. Katie totally upset their system, and they would not be flexible. We finally left without the photos and ended up going to a private photographer. Still, all things considered, our life with Katie went about as well as it could.

Then the church entered in.

One Sunday morning before church, a friend called to tell us that Katie would no longer be welcome in the nursery. The moms had met and decided (without any input from us) that Katie might die in their care and traumatize some volunteer worker. They worried that the opening at the back of Katie’s skull could generate a staph infection. Actually, the nursery workers did not have to deal with infection; the opening was covered with a sterile dressing and a bonnet, and it required no special attention during the brief time she was in the nursery each Sunday. Besides, Katie did not interact with the other babies. Clearly, a little caution would have eliminated any possible risk. And we knew she was going to die. No one would have been to blame. Since we were in a church of only 150 people, I think they could have found us fairly quickly if necessary. Given the opportunity, we might have been able to put the workers’ fears to rest. But the decision had already been made. Katie was no longer welcome, and our church had done what I would not have thought possible: They made our pain worse.

Joni was devastated, more hurt than I have ever seen her before or since. I am sure our friends didn’t intend to wound as they did, but the hurt lingered for years. And the pain was multiplied by the method. We had no warning that there were concerns. We received no invitation to address those concerns. Instead, a secret meeting was followed by a phone call to tell us what had already been decided. And I’m not the only one with this kind of story."

A pastor in the Midwest USA suffered the loss of his wife to leukemia. Within a matter of weeks, the board asked him to resign because they did not want to be led by an unmarried pastor! This grieving man had to change denominations in order to continue his ministry. It is a miracle and tribute to God’s grace that he kept going at all.

People like this start to wear a mask if they stay in church. Many of them leave the church and never come back.

There are the people who wear a 'D' on their forehead - they have been through a divorce.

There are those with an 'A' on their forehead - they suffer from alcoholism.

They have a 'B' on their forehead - someone they love has betrayed them.

They have an 'H' on their forehead - they are dealing with HIV or AIDS.

They have a 'G' or an 'L' or a 'T' on their forehead - they are gay or lesbian or transgendered.

And they hide….many times from the one place in which they should be able to find peace…the Church.

Many of the unchurched base their rejection of Christ on a bad experience with a Christ follower.

Reggie McNeal has said that more & more people are leaving the church, not to abandon their faith but to preserve it!

A high percentage of Christians leave the church and even their faith because of a bad experience with a Christian, a Christian leader or group of Christians.

These are the victims of emotional drive-by shootings in the church. Most of us have been wounded by friendly fire over the years.

Pat Tillman, former NFL’er was killed in Afghanistan. What adds to the pain is any sense of cover-up. Too bad the US government didn't come clean with the true events until forced to.

So I guess our response should be as good Christians ..let us take up our evangelistic battering ram, knock down the door of their hearts, beat them over the head with the Bible, and drag them to the foot of the cross! NO!

Christians are a group of people who routinely shoot their wounded.
? True
? False

The real question that we need to wrestle with is,

"What should a real relationship with Jesus Christ mean and what should our lives and church look like as a result of that relationship?"

We will explore this idea over the next several weeks. The first step is to,

Give voice to the pain.

One of the reasons that the Emerging Church is so attractive is that people are allowed to tell their stories of pain and hurt. Moreover someone wants to listen to these stories! This is the first step, and sometimes the only step needed for healing.

Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander. Inscription at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Often the biggest pain a person experiences is after the initial event shock is over when you begin to wonder, “Why didn’t anyone do something about this? Why am I treated like a leper? Where are all the good people?”

That deep sense of betrayal and abandonment often outweighs the original wound. If we embark on the healing journey we can begin to realize the depth of Christ’s pain on the way to the cross.

The betrayal of Judas. The denial of Peter. The pain on the cross. Where are my friends?

Look at how Jesus allows Mary and Martha to give voice to their pain. Notice, too, how Jesus allows himself to voice his own pain.

John 11:31-35
When the people who were at the house trying to console Mary saw her leave so hastily, they assumed she was going to Lazarus's grave to weep. So they followed her there. When Mary arrived and saw Jesus, she fell down at his feet and said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died." When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, he was moved with indignation and was deeply troubled. "Where have you put him?" he asked them. They told him, "Lord, come and see." Then Jesus wept.

Jesus was saddened by the death of Lazarus but also by Mary’s words, too. We all usually find a way to blame God for our hurts, don’t we?

This series and today's message is not about victimology, pity parties or an endless cycle of complaining. It's about reflecting, healing, and moving forward with our lives and our relationship with God, captured best by John Burke,

"We don't need more deconstruction, more theories, and more statistics; rather, we need tangible evidence that God is still doing what God has always done in every generation, constructing his church out of the most hopeless situation. It's not tearing-down time anymore—it's construction time."

“Most people probably know how bad they are, but they need to hear how good they can become.” Rick Warren

Have you ever said, “I’m okay; you’re on you own.”?

Don't be afraid to give voice to your pain. Or to listen so that another can give voice to their pain. In doing so you absorb their pain, much the way Jesus absorbed out pain on the cross.

Matthew 5:7
God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Luke 15:1-6
Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such despicable people--even eating with them!

So Jesus used this illustration: "If you had one hundred sheep, and one of them strayed away and was lost in the wilderness, wouldn't you leave the ninety-nine others to go and search for the lost one until you found it? And then you would joyfully carry it home on your shoulders. When you arrived, you would call together your friends and neighbors to rejoice with you because your lost sheep was found. In the same way, heaven will be happier over one lost sinner who returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven't strayed away!

The hearers of these words would have full well understood the connection to Ezekiel 34. Jesus was claiming to be God and telling people that the time was now here for the shepherd to seek His scattered flock. No longer would you need a priest or someone else to mediate between you and God. It was time to come face-to-face with Him on your own. He would rescue you.

1. What responsibility do you have as a Christ follower to seek and attempt to restore people wounded by the church?

2. Think of someone that you know who has left the church. Make a commitment to pray for that person. Ask God to show you how you might be instrumental in bringing him or her back to church, any church not just Community of Hope, as we proceed through this series.

3. What is God saying to you this morning? What pain do you need to give voice to? What pain do you need to let go of?

Few people come to Christ for pure doctrine, and few leave the church over theological abstractions. Our place is usually guided by the way people around us live their lives & by the way that they help, or hinder us in our journey. Stefan Ulstein

Let go of the pain. Meet Jesus at the Table. Communion. The Eucharist.

Coming ‘Face-to-face’ with Jesus. In the Ten Commandments "You shall have no other Gods before me", ‘in front of my face’ so to speak.

God is saying that He wants us to join with his love for Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit. We'll all be face-to-face. No one in between us. Come and experience love today.


Blogger MacK said...

It's funny how in many ways, a whyte ave pub typifies what the church should be, but isn't. As Kahil Gibran says in "The Prophet", "...who among you does not feel his power to love is boundless?" People today need love, grace, hope, truth. Everyone needs and longs to love and be loved, and yet for some reason our society has built walls to prevent this interaction.

Thanks for your post, it inspires me that someone likeminded is thinking about these things, and it reminds me how graceless of a creature I am to my Father and Brothers.

11:28 PM  

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