if you’ve been reading the carnival for a while most of you know that i’m a little on the passionate side when it comes to “the church.” i have had many a critic say “you are so anti-church” because i sometimes call out the inconsistencies & injustices in the system. and at the same time, i have a lot of friends who wish i wouldn’t care so darn much about the church, that i could just let sleeping dogs lie & let the whole church thing go & be happy. the reality for me is that i can’t. i am a dreamer. i believe in what could be. and i feel deeply committed to trying to reclaim the word “church” in some little small way in my teeny weeny corner of the kingdom.
to me, the church has absolutely nothing to do with a building, a sermon, worship songs, a kids program, places to sit, and a person to look to. it is about people. eye to eye, face to face, heart to heart. life to life. people knit together on the journey, somehow committed to living, growing, learning, eating, trying, and loving together. i often say that the refuge is a place to “learn to love Jesus and others and to learn to receive love from Jesus and others.” i know pretty much every church mission statement somehow includes loving God and others, but i do think that very rarely is the focus put on receiving love from God and others. and even further, very little focus is put on loving ourselves even though Jesus inextrictably ties these two together, telling us to love our neighbor as ourselves. no wonder this world is so messed up! self-hatred, self-doubt, insecurity, depression, disconnectedness, and loneliness fill so many “churches.”
this past week i went to the denver premiere of the movie precious. what a movie! i think it’s a must-see, but i do want to issue a warning in advance–it is not for those who have been victims of severe sexual, emotional & physical abuse. certain scenes could be very traumatizing. there are too many things to process about the film, but if i were to sum it all up i’d say that it is a story about a lost, hurting, broken, used, abused, unvalued girl who finally has someone who believes in her, who sees beyond the surface and calls out her beauty and strength in more than just words. the teacher is the catalyst and invites precious into “a little pocket of love”— a place where she can receive love and begin to find hope & purpose despite the worst possible circumstances. i call that “the church” even though most others would just call it a classroom in an alternative school with 5-6 other girls who were just as hurting, broken, used and abused as her.
i believe that:
little pockets of love have the power to heal deep and dark and painful places in other people’s lives and story.
little pockets of love have the power to heal deep and dark and painful places in our own lives and story.
precious’ story is so painful and unfortunately, a little close to home in terms of the trenches we sometimes live in. at the same time, it would be very easy to think that because we are in our cushy houses on our nice laptops reading this blog post that we can’t identify. but i’ve been around the block long enough to know that precious is part of so many of us. sure, on the outside many look better & have not experienced some of her intense trauma, but our insides are still filled with the same feelings of self-hatred, loneliness & fear. there is one scene in the movie where the teacher asks each student to share one thing that they were good at. precious said she didn’t have anything. i immediately remembered a few years ago when i was facilitating an ex-good-christian-women’s gathering i asked everyone to write down 5 good things about themselves. you should have heard the hemming and hawing and how painfully difficult it was to articulate something good. this is a sign to me that “the church” has failed us. it should be creating strong confident people who are in touch with God’s image inside, not insecure, devalued, disconnected-from-our-true-hearts people who can’t see anything good. “church” should be calling out what’s good, not just highlighting what’s bad. i still think it’s totally bizarre that it seems like the longer people have been in “church” the less they seem to think of themselves.
it took a lot of work and i won’t give anything in the movie away but i will just say that the “little pocket of love” precious submitted herself to strengthened her to tap into what was always there but she just couldn’t see.
i think the real church is supposed to be a crazy, diverse scattering of little pockets of love, places where the beauty and strength and goodness that is within each person has a chance to come out. where God and man somehow intersect in mysterious, magical ways. where Jesus-in-the-flesh is alive and well, calling out hope, forgiveness, purpose, passion, and love.
oh, but to get there with each other will require so much intention, grace, and endurance:
it will require us getting out of our comfort zones and dedicating ourselves to live and love and learn from people who aren’t like us.
it will require humility and sacrifice, confession and forgiveness.
it will require coming face to face with just how much we’d rather keep our hands clean and our hearts protected.
it will mean letting go of our need to just “get fed” and also start feeding.
it will mean smashing down all kinds of idols that keep us safe and sure of ourselves and far away from the living God.
i am thankful that throughout the years i have been transformed by little pockets of love. very little happened for me in the big venue or the places where everyone was just like or me or where i could easily hide. but places that called out what was deep within, that forced me to reckon with the really broken and screwed up parts of me, that stuck with me even when i wanted to run away, that pointed me toward God’s real heart for me & challenged me to pass it on–those are the places where i seem to learn the most.
to me, the refuge is a glorious little pocket of love. it’s not for everyone, i know that for sure. people who want “powerful teaching and amazing worship” will not be happy here, and that’s an understatement. i like to call it “Jesus school”, and i realized just in this moment that maybe in some weird ways it is closer to precious’ alternative classroom than i’ve even thought about. some feel more loved than others. some pass on more love than others. for some, it’s easy to be there. for others, it’s harder. the thing that i feel most deeply dedicated to, though, is somehow doing what i can to cultivate a place where the beauty that’s inside each person has a place to come out. where people have a chance to know and be known. to love and be loved. to grow in hope, in faith, and love.
i know that our little pocket of love is only one expression. there are many people out there who are finding it in other ways–in houses, in pubs, on the streets, in AA meetings, in homeless shelters, in prisons, in schools, in some regular churches, and in a lot less likely of places. all’s i really care about is people finding it. and i do believe that many of us out here reading this are supposed to be part of creating it, nurturing it, cultivating it, whatever that looks like.
pockets of love are places where the gospel can be lived out through hearts in action. where Christ’s light can shine into the darkest of places. where truth can be spoken. where hope can be borrowed. where food can be shared, the kind that fills our stomachs and the kind that fills our spirits.
yep, the more i think about it, the more i like this phrase. the church = little pockets of love.