Photo by Lindsay
In my previous post, What you don’t know can hurt, too, I had a little rant about how our society tends to support upholding appearances, embracing blissful ignorance and judging others. Christians seem to be especially guilty of this, even though Jesus’ life and teachings are in total opposition to such an approach.
Some of my readers said what drives them away from the faith is this rampant hypocrisy among Christians. I know that it’s widely true, and I can’t blame them one bit. I’m exposed to this hypocrisy daily—primarily through what I read on various media—and it drives me running back and forth between deep sadness and complete rage.
But yesterday morning, at my church, I was exposed once again to a very different sort of gathering of people trying to follow God. The couple of hours I spent in that space, with those people, were brimming with justice and mercy, love and forgiveness, brokenness and redemption. This is what keeps me coming back. This is the sort of Christian community I wish more people could be exposed to.
A community striving to put love first
Early in the service, we witnessed a baby dedication. At our church, infants and young children aren’t baptized; instead, the baby’s parents pledge to do their best to pray for the baby and teach him about God, and the congregation pledges to also pray for the baby, love and guide him, and support the parents.
The baby who was being dedicated yesterday is the son of my husband’s ex-wife and her lesbian partner. He’s also my step-daughter’s brother, so he’s a part of our extended family and church community on several levels. (After he was born, my girls were trying to figure out what he was to them—a step-brother-in-law?) However you try to parse that complex relationship, we love him dearly, and watching him be dedicated this morning was very moving.
You see, it was sort of a big deal (even if I wish, on some levels, that it wasn’t). Our church falls somewhere between the conservative “don’t-you-even-think-of-stepping-in-this-sanctuary-if-you’re-gay” churches and the liberal “it’s all good, all the time” approach of denominations like the Universal Church of Christ. As a community, we’ve had our fair share of struggles and conversations surrounding the issue of same sex relationships. Some people have even left the church, as a result.
But there was the sweet, babbling baby with his two moms, his sister, his grandparents and some extended family. There was a whole congregation of people, smiling on him and promising to love and pray for him. And I felt God’s blessings and joy showering down all around as dozens of us went up to surround the baby as he was prayed for. I don’t care if other people out there are so sure that God doesn’t smile on such moments. I flatly disagree.
Learning about justice and mercy by doing it
Then, after the dedication, our pastor Jim shared a teaching about our church’s history addressing issues of mercy and justice. He said (I’m paraphrasing), “We didn’t want to teach our young people about justice just by talking about it. We wanted them to learn by being immersed in it.”
For more than 20 years our church has been regularly sending groups of people, young and old, to one our nation’s poorest counties, in rural Mississippi. They work through Habitat for Humanity, building homes. Through these trips, more than 20 college aged people have returned and spent a year or more volunteering for Habitat.
Yesterday, right after the worship service, our church community put on its annual service auction to raise money for these trips. Award-worthy pies and cheesecakes are auctioned, dinner parties are hosted, hours of babysitting, yard work, salsa dance lessons, zumba classes, and artwork are all offered up.
The auction is organized in such a way that everyone gets to sign up for a dinner party of some sort, which gets different groups of people together, sharing a meal, in one another’s homes. As you probably already know, I love that.
Inching toward a better way
I’m not saying that everyone at my church always gets everything right. We come together, we talk and listen, we pray and sing, we clash and fail and, by God’s grace, sometimes we learn and get it right. Yesterday was one of those days when I really felt like we were inching closer, bit by bit, to a view that’s dead opposite of hypocrisy: God’s kingdom being “on earth, as it is in heaven.”
I’ll leave you with a comment that was left on my previous post. Lori-Lyn was writing about this blog, but I think what she says perfectly sums up how I’m feeling about my church right now:
…My relationship with Christianity is complicated, but I can always come here and feel it as love and grace that does not turn away from the difficult social issues, but meets them full on with compassion.