We either love or loathe Marmite. When it comes to taste, smell, sounds, we have very clear ideas of what we like and what we don’t.
Just like we either love or loathe Church. When it comes to what man does to God and God does to man, we know what we like and what we don’t.
And just as with Marmite, we don’t actually need to have experienced either to have a view. We just know we will love it or loathe it. We can wax lyrical about Marmite and Church. It will cut no ice if I disagree with you – because I know.
Have I been damaged by Church? No. But …
Have I tried Marmite? No. But …
The “but” is a bolt. The “I know” is a door locked tight.
That certainty we carry with us. The “I know” we rely on in the face of information onslaught. The “I know” which weaves through so much choice, which both keeps us safe and stops us trying stuff (we may actually like).
Just like Church. I am bored with Church. That isn’t being damaged (nor is it true of every Church). BUT …
All the “stuff”: the news headlines, the trauma testimonies of those who have been damaged, the personal experiences that make my hair curl. And so “I know” that Church is dangerous. Is populated by scheming selfish manipulators, career climbing clergy, and congregations of automatons. I know. And I act accordingly. Write accordingly. Distance myself accordingly.
It is too time consuming to face every fact, every person, every instance and look behind the headlines.
That would take over my life. That would require too much energy. That would mean I spent my life doing little else. It would mean having an open mind. And that is confusing.
Which is why I am able to have a personal relationship with God, and an impersonal relationship with Church. Which is why I am able to be forgiven time and time again by my God, and yet never reflect His forgiveness to others just like me. Which means that I can quite happily live the life of a double agent for God (never once wondering whether God needs double agents working for Him).
We are taught to avoid saying “I don’t know”. We are taught it is weak to admit “I need help”. We are programmed to like and loathe on very little evidence. To be decisive. We are brought up in a society where someone is always to blame. And it is never us.
And we take all that with us to Church. Because “we” go to Church. We are Church. The gathering together is Church. The buildings are not. Just like our own homes, they may be places of love or places of loneliness. It is the real us which walks through the doors, gathers together, is the us “where two or three are gathered together in My Name”. We take our way of living and thinking with us because we are “us”. And just like so many gatherings …
We fake it.
The job interview, the first date, the stereotypes we adopt in long-term relationships (I am the strong one, you are the delicate flower). The depression we hide. The grief we hide. The selfish glee at someone getting their come-uppance. The inner-relief when the neighbour from hell moves out of our street. The party we go to because we must. The conversation we have when all we want to do is zone-out. The drink we have when we want to blot out the rest.
We hide so much of our lives and accept that is the way it must be – that is how we get through life. And we protect our inner self – hide it away – deep inside. And it gets a little tarnished – a little shredded – a little cynical. And then another headline of abuse in the church. And “power” and “privilege” – those people we trusted – they let us down – they damaged us.
That is “Church”. That is why.
I have never been abused. But I can take it as personally as anyone else. I can bay for blood as well as anyone else. I can be as righteously indignant as anyone else. Because “I know” that is what Church is. And if someone challenges me to think differently … I know. So I don’t have to listen.
God Soft Hands Jesus listened to everybody. One at a time. He connected. Because every label simply hides just one more unique person. A person like you and me.
Which label am I? Which label are you? And do we really want to hear everyone – or do we say “NO” because “we know”.
And if we don’t want to listen – just what are we saying to the God we Love?
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“I would not like Church – Sam I Am!”
Eight minutes and thirty four seconds. It’s not a lot of anyone’s life … but it’s packed full of I Am.
Dr Seuss: Green Eggs And Ham –