I carry a couple of suitcases around with me.
They're full of experiences.
It's contents have shaped who I am.
Some say you should let your baggage go.
I say you should learn from it.
Carry it with you, tucked away in a deep and redeemed place
Lean into it.
Hurt from it.
Grow from it.
One of my suitcases is the church.
This suitcase can be heavy.
The church is a beautiful and broken place.
This place can heal and restore.
It can hurt and turn away.
It's done both for me and those I love.
I've been under the influence of the church my entire life. I was raised in it, I attended it, I volunteered in it, and I now work in it. It's been great, hard, numb, honest and petty.
With church, comes church culture. I think for a long time I struggled to find the difference. If I was influenced in any way, good or bad, by the church, I assumed it was the actual institution of the church that hurt me. Possibly even God that hurt me. But no, it's the people that fill the walls of the building. But we're supposed to love them right?
I'm opening up my suitcase to give you some backstory. To help me remember where I got today. Why the church, locally and as an institution is a deeply rooted passion in my heart.
First item in my suitcase: my childhood church. I grew up Dutch Christian Reformed. It still don't know what that means, or what rules were in place for any number of reasons, but I remember it well. Wooden pews, joys and concerns, whilemena peppermints to help my 10 year old attention span to stay focused on the preacher. I think if I went back to that place, it'd be beautiful. My knowledge of Jesus has grown, so I know that there is beauty to be experienced, even in the darkest of places. But for a while, my old church was associated with half my family wanting nothing to do Jesus or His Church. I think in some ways, it's still responsible. But I also understand that there is never really one starting point for people leaving the church, just a series of events that add up. Heck, I doubt and question and I'm surrounded by beautiful representations of Christ and I work at a church I love. I can't imagine encountering the latter, and still wanting to be a part of the Church, let alone follow this Jesus that apparently dwells there.
Second item: The church and singles. Man, man oh man. The pressure that is on those of us who are single to find a sole-mate, the perfect one at that, is very present. It takes a lot of different forms, an underlying tradition, your family christmas parties, weird pressure between singles who work together. I thought for a long time that I had to wait to be complete, empowered, and be fully alive as a human being until I met a man who could help make me all of those things. Now listen carefully, I think marriage is an amazing gift. I think it's absolutely beautiful, and I do hope to experience it one day. My point here is that there should never be a pressure on anyone who finds themselves single to wait to start living and growing themselves until marriage. On that note, there should never be pressure to move on the the next stage of life, wherever it may be (marriage, kids, promotions...). If I had kept believing that lie, I would find myself thinking "well, this is good for now, until I get married". Seriously, that's what I would have thought. I'm still trying to figure out why this item is in my "baggage with the church" suitcase. Maybe it's because I've experienced it the most frequently in Christian environments? Or maybe I've been taught since a young age that marriage is what I should strive for. Everything else falls to the wayside. So imagine my distraught when it was marriage that fell to the wayside, and I found myself single.
Third Item: The church and hot button issues. You name it: politics, gay marriage, transgender bathrooms, gender roles within the church and society. And maybe I'll clarify here, it's more people who are Christ-followers and how they respond to these topics. First, you better know someone personally who struggles with these issues before you have an opinion. Because let me tell you, it's a lot harder to just swallow what scripture says when there's a face on the other side of an "issue". And I wonder if that's the point. Jesus saw people, not their struggles when He looked at them. Yes, He called them out of it, but FIRST it was love. Jesus can call people out because He's Jesus. You, however, should pray a whole lot before following that lead.
So why wrestle and struggle with the church? Why stay if it's been a place and sometime source of baggage in my day to day? In scripture, Jesus calls out Simon, and changes his name to Peter. He said on the front end, that it was on Peter He would build His church. If you've read any scripture at all in the gospels, Peter was a disciple that doubted, had arrogant tendencies, denied Jesus, and grappled hard with the concept of total faith and trust in Jesus. THAT is who Jesus builds his church upon. People who do not have their "stuff" together. And yes, He builds it on those people who live and look differently than you too.
My unending challenge to myself is to fight for the church. I think it's my challenge from Jesus too. And that plays out in many ways: not just reading scripture that makes me feel good inside, but reading the verses that challenge me. The ones that are twisted to prove a point. The ones that are used to disqualify people. Once those people are identified, seek them out. SEE. LISTEN, and LOVE those people first, no matter our differences. It means being uncomfortable. It means letting my baggage be redeemed, and using it for good. It means assuming the best in people. It means being kind to those that destroy you with their words and criticisms. It means supporting the church I serve and work in. It means supporting the local churches in our community instead of buying into the ins and outs of church culture and gossip.
“I don't want to be swallowed by the darkness. Nor do I want to be blinded by the beautiful facade. No, I want to be part of a people who see the darkness, know it's real, and then, then, then, light a candle anyway. And hold that candle up against the wind and pass along our light wherever it's needed from our own homes to the halls of legislation to the church pulpit to the kitchens of the world.”
― Sarah Bessey