As anyone knows who’s been around Church for more than twelve minutes, the whole thing is a seriously mixed bag. I’ve been a pastor for twenty-seven years and every week I have two alternating thoughts:
This is the best life imaginable!
Could I make it as a barista?
This I know for sure: Every church on the planet includes some of the pettiest, crabbiest, gossipiest people who ever drew a breath. And every church on the planet includes people whose faith and generosity and down-to-the-bone kindness make God, I’m sure, want to go galloping Gangnam style up and down the golden streets.
So in honor of this crazy duality and in acknowledgment of my ongoing, simultaneous desire to chuck the church off the top of Sears Tower and plant a big, sloppy kiss on its beautiful, pimply forehead—I offer today the first installment in the Chuck It/Love It series.
Entries are from my journal and span twenty years and three churches in California, Texas and Georgia. Names and identifying details have been tweaked.
Today somebody slipped a copy of Sunday’s worship guide under my office door, covered in notes made with a red pen:
You need to tell the teenagers not to talk during the offertory.
Too many announcements today.
The chandeliers need dusting.
The benediction was four minutes late.
No signature. Just, “A concerned church member.”
The next sound you hear will be me banging my head against the nearest tree.
On the other hand . . .
Last night a woman in our congregation, Lydia, graduated from Hope House after completing her residential treatment program for alcohol addiction. I was thrilled and honored to be invited to the celebration, which basically consisted of an A. A. meeting followed by cake and punch.
There were maybe twenty people there. No one was smoking but there was a thick smell of smoke in the air. The woman in front of me clutched a package of Pall Malls as if it were a life preserver. She’s been at Hope House two weeks.
As the honored graduate, Lydia got to lead the meeting.
Hi, I’m Lydia and I’m an addict.
So this is an A. A. meeting, she said. But mostly I want it to be a gratitude meeting. Would anyone like to share some things they’re grateful for?
A young woman named Moira described what a calming presence Lydia’s been in her life. I told Lydia how grateful I am that she’s part of our church and that she’s a gift to all of us. D’Shauna, who has a gazillion piercings, including a pencil-size spike through her chin, announced that Lydia’s pep talks have pulled her back from the brink more than once.
Then Kari stood up, who’s also at our church and one of my favorite people on earth.
Hi, I’m Kari and I’m an addict.
She said how much she loves Lydia’s courage and kindness and amazing hugs. Then Kari, an avid runner, said: “I was jogging over the freeway overpass this morning. And as I did I thought of how, not that long ago, I used to want to jump off that overpass. And now, thanks to my Higher Power and my church family, that’s the farthest thing from my mind.”
I love Church.
And here in dust and dirt, O here
The lilies of His love appear.
~ Henry Vaughan