why i still love the church.

kathyescobar church stuff, down we go, faith shifts, incarnational 13 Comments

people God gathering

Yes, I call out unhealthy church systems all the time.

Yes, I rant and rave about equality.

Yes, I believe sometimes people need to leave church-as-they-knew-it to save their souls.

Yes, I am deeply disturbed by how power and control has hurt so many.

But I also still do love the “church.”

I believe in what it’s supposed to be.

I believe in its power.

I believe in its possibility.

I believe in its purpose.

Remember, though, I have a very loose definition of church. I say it all different ways:

The longer version: People gathered together in some way, shape or form to learn & practice the ways of Jesus and pass on love, hope, mercy, justice, and healing in a broken, weird world.

The short version: Pockets of people learning to love God, others, and ourselves & be loved by God, others, ourselves.

Church is so creative. Formal, informal, big, small, conversational, liturgical, in bars, in recovery meetings, in parks, in buildings, in houses, in sweet-space-next-to-food-banks, in coffee shops, in trailer parks, at dinner tables, at campfires.

However, there are a few constant key ingredients: people, God, and gathering.

And here’s what’s beautiful–there are all kinds of people, and all kinds of ways to intersect with God, and all kinds of ways to gather.

My sadness is that the church has become systemized and not spirit-ized. It’s supposed to be the best reflection on earth of heaven–oozing equality & justice & hope & authenticity & healing. But instead, it’s so often filled with hierarchy & control & power & hiding. It’s often stuck in the rut of certainty, conformity & affiliation instead of releasing people as they grow into a maturing faith of freedom, mystery & diversity. It’s often tame, controlled, manageable, domesticated.

That’s really never what it was supposed to be.

But, like humans from the beginning of time, we have always tried to shape things into what worked for us and kept us safe & protected.

I think Jesus turned all that upside down and like so many religious leaders and followers then, we still don’t like the message because it calls us to discomfort. It calls us to break down the walls between us & them. It calls us to clean our own cups first. It calls us to leave religion and find faith. It calls us to mercy. It calls us to practice.

Most of all, it calls us to relationship–with God, with others, with ourselves.

There are so many amazing things that happen through relationship with people when we gather in some way, shape or form to learn & practice together.

When we create little pockets of love and freedom in all kinds of unique ways.

To me, there are things that can’t happen in my life in my house all by myself. Left on my own, look out. I implode. I cave in. My eyeballs turn in and the only thing I can see is myself, myself, myself.

That’s why I still love church.

It helps me to connect with the beauty & hope of humanity. To look in eyes and share hearts. To reckon with my pride, my self-protection, my fears. To receive and not just give. To remember I’m not God even though I try to act like I am. To uncover the rubble in my own life and help remove some in my friends’ too. To practice friendship.  To participate with God to create little slivers & tastes of heaven here on earth.

Church–my life with people-who-don’t-have-to-be-with-me-but-choose-to-anyway–forces me to grow, heal, become more whole.

I don’t believe in going to church. Those days are so over for me.

But I do believe in being the church with other people who are growing, healing, becoming more whole, too.

And there are so many creative, wild, beautiful, unexpected, simple, amazing ways that is possible.

A new pastor friend in Denver shared the most soul-stirring sermon I have heard in a long time, centered on church and the state of Christianity. Please, read it. It rocks! It made me cry because sometimes I get so confused on what I feel about church and faith shifts and all of the ways I’ve changed over the years. I hear the voices of people who have criticized me along the way, telling me I was leading people astray or that the slippery slope was too dangerous.

I won’t restate everything in the sermon because it’s worth reading on your own, but the essence I gleaned is that we can trust God with the future of the church & Christianity.  He’s not proposing to take it lightly, but to hold it lightly…“to cling to it less, to let it go from the grasp of our certainties, to free it from our obsessive focus and our faithless worry that if we don’t protect it, preserve it, reinvent it, spruce it up, perpetuate it, it will somehow just disappear and we will have failed.”

That, like Moses’ mother putting him in a basket and sending him down the river not knowing where he’d end up, that we can trust the wild and crazy ways of God to supersede our biblical interpretations and our tendencies to manage and make-sense-of-things-in-a-way-that’s-comfortable. That Christ-alive is bigger and more powerful and more prevailing than our man-made constructs. That “church” will survive because the Holy Spirit isn’t going anywhere and will keep working in people’s lives instilling courage & love & hope. That the Jesus-infused call of justice & mercy will always inspire people to tangible love & care in our neighborhoods, our cities, the world.

That we’ve got a big creative God who’s with it no matter what.

Yes, I still love the “church.”

And I always love seeing it set free.