When the Church Fails

Matthew 11:28-30 The Message (MSG)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest.

Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

* * *

Hurts from the church go deep.

Wounds from an enemy may also scar,

but wounds from neighbors, family, friends –

from those baptized in Holy Waters, sanctified to serve the needy –

these wounds are unexpected and internal

and leave an impact more lasting than merely toughened tissue.

 

The number of those who share these wounds should be few,

though I suspect they are many.

Churches and entire denominations have been exposed, after all, laid bare on the news for scandal and pain.

Maybe some of us know this specific wound.

 

But maybe the wounds aren’t so public or “newsworthy.”

Maybe, like me, you grew up in the church.

Maybe, like me, you were even the pastor’s child.

And the church you knew wasn’t a cult or a scandal,

But it wasn’t always the community described in Acts, either.

Maybe there were expectations and judgment persistently forced upon you, near-constant intrusions into your home and your life which served to feed the judgmental cycle of expectations

again

and again

and again…

 

And all of a sudden you understand the beginning of this verse all too well:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?  

 

For so many,

Pastor’s child or no,

Regular church attendee or no,

Outsider looking in or no,

This is where the verse’s truth stops.

 

They have looked inside the church,

past the doors, to its people,

And their actions and lack thereof,

And their words and lack thereof,

And they have walked away.

 

I walked away.

And to best explain that experience I’m going to rabbit trail to the movie “The Giver.” I watched this movie last week, and despite expecting to hate it because it couldn’t possibly live up to the book, I found myself immersed in memories of my childhood and teenage years in the church.
Of being told that open minds were dangerous and “different” was to be feared.

I’ve always been anxious, so basically I grew up always afraid.

Like Jonas in “The Giver,” as I began to get more in touch with reality here on earth, with the bits of history my schools had glossed over, with people more diverse than those my sheltered life had allowed me to encounter, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of things I’d been told to fear and broken by the systems I’d been taught were the answer.

There was a lot going on in my life during my “Jonas/Giver” years; a nasty battle with anorexia, my parents’ divorce, finally going to college after time off and choosing a Catholic one, full of mandatory courses on theology and church history, at that.

In “The Giver,” Jonas questions the system he knew and confronts reality. My version was turning from my system – the church – and questioning everything. And the more I questioned, the more I began to know, see, and love Jesus. And after years of receiving truth, I was finally able to go back to church. I was able to find the difference between religion and relationship and celebrate it. To turn to Christ when any system or person failed, and to experience the too-often-overlooked second part of the verse where we can learn to live freely and lightly.

 

I wish I could say that this verse applied only in past tense,

That I just had a tough time of it in childhood,

That I was just…”overly churched.”

But I’m not that unique

And my youth wasn’t that special

And I think every one of us has both

been failed by the church

And failed as the church.

 

And it’s not okay,

but it is okay.

 

Because we can always go back to Jesus.

We can always trade in our burdens of too-high expectations

of those on either side of the pulpit,

Of expecting perfection by our personal standards

Instead of listening to

And living like

Jesus.

 

Hurts from the church go deep.

And we’re probably not done receiving them.

We can live fixated on our scars.

Or we can live fixated elsewhere,

Intentional to keep from scarring one another,

As we learn to live freely and lightly.

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