Sunday, June 12, 2011

Pentecost 2011

It's the birthday of the Christian church.

What do I say about it? Today, I think I say something vulnerable and honest and hope we all find some grace along the way.

I have a love/hate relationship with the church. This was not always so. There are people who used to joke about how much Neil loves church. And it was true and on some days it still is. But it's not like it used to be.

Sometimes you start to notice things you wish weren't true, and you wish it so much that you think denying it will keep you from noticing it. But the funny thing about noticing is that once something is noticed, it's terribly hard to un-notice it.

It's hard to un-notice all the ways that the church is often racist, sexist, homophobic, and self-preservationist. (Is the last a real term? Spell check allows it. I hope it communicates.) There are privileged people, for whom the church has never been anything but great. I think I was one of those people until about 10 or 15 years ago.

I should have an actual narrative to go along with this shift. I don't have one. The narrative thread is thin, or else it's presented in anecdotes, disjointed scenes that don't connect so much as stack up. I can say that I tried leaving the church. Gave it a go. I'm a failed ex-Christian, but I have sympathy for the successful ones.

This is not the post about the church I've been thinking about writing. I hope I get to that soon.

But on this Pentecost, I'm really thinking about this: I do love the church and all the great things it accomplishes---disaster relief, building hospitals, things like that. And I hate the church when it becomes a bloodless institution bent on preserving itself while letting bloody people suffer. I love the church and all the ways that it lifts up the lowly and offers possibilities to traditionally trampled people and I'm appalled when I see it tramples those people still.

But what are you going to do? The church can only be made up of the people available in any society. As much as we might have flashes of transcending and unwinding the sinful systems of racism, sexism, homophobia, and self-preservation at the expense of others---we'll be made up of people who are caught of in those systems, people who are, to varying degrees of consciousness and will, racist, sexist, homophobic and out for no one but themselves.

People like me. And, I suspect, like you.

So ultimately, I stay because as a gathered people, there's hope (often thwarted but never defeated) that we might sometimes step outside those sinful systems and be---however briefly---better.

We might hear the call to turn around, change our hearts and minds, and look. The Reign of God is at hand. Sometimes the church still reminds us of this. Sometimes the church is this.

As you might suspect, I'm in a period when I'm not entirely enamored of the church. The temptation is to walk away. I'm not doing that. Instead I'm praying with the ancient Hebrews and the early church, and the generations since:

Come Holy Spirit! Renew the face of the earth!


  1. One thing I noticed; the Church didn't suddenly get better (i.e. holier) when I became part of it. Hmmm...

  2. annoying, isn't it? but here we are and it's good to be together. most of the time. sometimes. :)

  3. The Church, even at its best, is filled with people who admit that they are broken and need salvation. At its worst, we find ourselves surrounded by individuals who forget that they don't deserve salvation, who think that God favors them because of their own merits.

    It's hard to be a sick person around lots of other sick people.