You ask me how I can still be a Christian when all over the news in this country we hear stories, we see pictures, we drown in evidence that to be Christian is a blank cheque to power, infidelity, abuse and deceit.
And to be honest, there are days that I don’t even know anymore. There are days where I figure that the safest, most honest way to go forward is call myself one of the Dones. There’s so much that draws me to the conclusion that it might be time to pack it up and leave the whole thing behind.
The most maddening thing about this is that no matter how done I am with the church, God isn’t done with me yet. God keeps calling me back to the church, to community, to figuring out a way of being Christian with other people who are also seeking the way of Jesus anew.
And there are days, like today, that it drives me nuts.
I grew up in a fundamentalist/evangelical subculture in southern Ontario where right and wrong were clearly distinguished from one another. Like nearly every story I’ve ever heard from folks who’ve emerged from the same world, folks were shiny and glossy on Sundays, but God only knows what the rest of the week looked like. Blessed Assurance reigned on Sunday, but God help you if you professed doubt throughout the week. It was entirely possible that God could not save you from the social damage you’d done if you professed that self-same doubt on Sunday.
There was simply no room for doubt amongst the true believers, which clearly put me on the outs.
It didn’t help, of course, that during my high school years, our married Youth Pastor was caught up in an affair with one of the young adults who was also a youth sponsor. Long before Ashley Madison made it all so easy, it was still possible, and the scandal still rocked my little world.
I can’t say that I understood it at the time. I can’t say that I understood much more than the reality that Pastor Jim was leaving, but it was emotionally upsetting and relationally destructive for so many of us. It polarized the community. Many left. We had just moved to town and were new members of this church. I don’t know why, but we stayed. Friendships had been formed, and even though this craziness had gone done, there was hope that we might rebuild.
I was new. We stayed. This event, amongst many others, plays a vitally important role in my own discipleship journey. It had profoundly negative effects, and it had others that have positively contributed to the Christian faith that has been formed in the wake of that experience.
By and large, I’m not thankful for those days. I’m certainly not thankful for the infidelity or betrayal that tore apart a family and wounded a church. I’m not thankful for the divisions it fuelled, or for those who decided to give up on God in the wake of his followers’ hypocrisy.
I’m not thankful for the infidelity, betrayal, woundedness, division or hypocrisy, but I am thankful for the reality of human fallibility it brought to light. Because we were to be people of the light. That’s what our shiny, happy, glittery, faces told everyone on Sunday.
Too bad there’s always darkness in the shadow of whatever pure fantasy we project.
God is Good! All the Time! And God’s beloved people are pretty fucked up behind their shiny, happy, glittery faces, aren’t they?
This whole experience cracked things open for me. It has, over the years, allowed me to put my teenaged angst into some sort of context. It has, over the years, allowed me to be more real in my community. To be more vulnerable in my faith and doubt. It has, over the years, allowed me to reach out for help when I’m holding on to the last thread of faith, the last shred of belief. This experience has, over the years found voice in many ways, not least these words penned by Bruce Cockburn in the year after my birth:
Way out on the rim of the galaxy
The gifts of the Lord lie torn
Into whose charge the gifts were given
Have made it a curse for so many to be born
This is my trouble —
These were my fathers
So how am I supposed to feel?
Way out on the rim of the broken wheel
– Bruce Cockburn, Broken Wheel (Inner City Front, 1981)
Broken, messed up, the gifts of the Lord lie torn. The gifts of love, of fidelity, of home-making. The gifts of healthy, mutual relationships with all people, and with God’s good creation. The gift of God’s covenant with all of us, with all of creation.
The gifts of the Lord lie torn
Into whose charge the gifts were given.
And while I do not feel it a curse to have been born. And while I do not feel it a curse to have inherited a covenant and a call. While I do not find it a curse to be a recipient of God’s prevenient grace, I do – from time to time – find myself suffering the challenge and the curse of all that we’ve inherited.
We are inheritors of God’s kingdom, we are inheritors of brokenness. This is our trouble, and there are days when I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel.
There are days that I sing along with David Bazan:
All fallen leaves should curse their branches
For not letting them decide where they should fall
And not letting them refuse to fall at all
– David Bazan, Curse Your Branches (Curse Your Branches, 2009)
And others that I sing:
We need each other more than we need to agree
But there are many days that I ache to be able to unflinchingly and uncritically sing
Shine Jesus Shine (Never Again!)
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.
– Fanny Crosby, Blessed Assurance
But I can’t sing that song any longer. I need new songs for a new land. Because I am no longer where I was. I am no longer able to be a shiny, happy, Jesus person. And while I long for that blessed assurance, while I long for peace like a river, while I ache for the immediate and intimate presence of Jesus I once experienced so deeply, I now find myself seeking the ramshackle redemption in words wrought from the world, and the curse of its unreconciled brokenness:
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul
Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live:
If Jordan above me shall roll,
No pang shall be mine, for in death as in life
Thou wilt whisper Thy peace to my soul.
And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.
– Horatio Spafford, It Is Well With My Soul