God, Church, Frustration and Awe

As someone who writes, I try to consume as much of others’ writing as I can – books, articles and of course blogs. I enjoy the style of other writers and consuming all the information and opinion. Honestly, though, most of what I read runs together. Few pieces actually stick with me for very long.

But some of them do.

On Monday, Rachel Held Evans posted some thoughts on her Sunday morning struggle not feeling that there is a church where she fits in. Her words broke my heart:

Have I fallen into sin?

Who will bring casseroles when I have a baby?

What I feel these days is not guilt, but something far more nefarious:  dull resignation. There are nearly 200 churches near my small, Southern town, and hundreds more if we make the long drive to Chattanooga, so the fact that I can’t seem to make it through a single service without questioning the existence of God says a lot more about me than it does about church, now doesn’t it?

Do I want a church that fits me, or a me that fits the church?

I work for a church. While I am not ashamed of this fact, there are times when I am hesitant to share it with those who don’t know me well. There are few words in our language that elicit stronger reactions than the word “church.” And those reactions color people’s opinion of God, Jesus and even me.

Rachel goes on to describe feelings that I believe many in their 20s & 30s have about God & church:

God makes sense to me under the trees, and God makes sense to me in poetry and prayer, and God makes sense to me in Eucharist and Baptism and community and even creeds…but not in the offering plate, not in the building campaign, not in the pastor-who-shall-not-be-questioned, not in the politics, not in the assumptions about what a good Christian girl ought to be.

Gentle, quiet.

Am I selfish for wanting more?

And who will bring casseroles when I have a baby?

My simple reaction is: no, Rachel, you’re not selfish for wanting more. The church is the body of Christ in this world. If God makes sense to us anywhere, it should be in the church. And yet so many people – especially those in younger generations – feel like Rachel.

Most of my days are lived in the tension between my frustration with the flaws & shortcomings I see in the institutional church and the awe I feel by the beauty I see in what the church can be.

And there are many days that I doubt whether I fit in.

But I continue to come & work because it’s the only thing that helps me face that frustration and find that awe.

Have you ever lived in this tension? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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3 thoughts on “God, Church, Frustration and Awe

  1. This is a huge struggle for me personally.

    I have struggled most of my life with not fitting in, always (as I remember) being on the outer edges of the social circles. Whether in sports, or theatre, or even family at times I have always felt out of the center.

    This happens with church as well for me. Growing up I felt strange in church, then angry, then obstinate. Now as a payed minister, I wrestle with this feeling not only for me, but also for others.

    I wonder if the church is lacking in what we offer because others are habitually late to everything, or just absent. I wonder if others commitment is lacking because of a struggle in their lives, or sin, or just because they feel like a recognized outsider.

    You and I have spoken on this topic a few times, so you know that I deal with the tension by having the mindset that I need to be here even on days I don’t want to be, so that I can fight for others who are struggling as well. What this leads to at times for me is a frustration (okay, anger) that I’m the only one fighting.

    I am not a 20, or 30 something, having passed into my 40’s; however, I have these inner conversations much like Rachel and you have. The taught, tense feelings of fear that I am missing something. That I ma not being changed by the Holy Spirit, and therefore do not “get” church. Or the doubt that the church has nothing to offer me besides what it is offering…

    I am stirred though when I see those moments of clarity. Those moments when the song rises and swells and the building we are meeting in feels like it might be moving. Those moments of witnessing one person stepping in and praying with and for another person. The moment it seems when the circles collapse, and we all function together like birds in migration helping, and loving, and spurring one another on.

    Sorry, it’s kinda cluttered in my thought space.

  2. I sometimes think I preach so that I can have some control over this feeling. There are still moments where I am jarred by the trite, triumphalistic, and self-serving aspects of much of what we do, but at least I don’t have to listen to someone else preach.
    All that to say: it’s a struggle I recognize.

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