Skeptics go to Church
This blog series is entitled Lent For Skeptics and I’m wondering if my previous posts haven’t come off as skeptical enough. I’ve stated traditional Christian beliefs with a tone of certainty and if that has alienated my fellow skeptics I apologize.
I write about Jesus. I also go to church every Sunday, but I don’t always like it. As previously mentioned, I drink all afternoon on Sundays. Church is where a bunch of hurt and hurting people gather to pray together and to receive Communion.
Let me tell you why I haven’t given up on the Church, and why I don’t think Jesus has either.
“Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” This part of the Lord’s prayer assumes we’re all busy hurting people and being hurt by people. If you’re in a room full of people saying those words you know that there are no innocent or undamaged people there.
Lent is one of the best times to go to church. So many of what churchy people might call “marginal Christians” choose Lent as a good time to “get serious” about their faith. The season when we focus on our woeful inadequacy is a good time to join a screwed up institution filled with screwed up people.
When I left the comfortable Christianity of my youth I sought out churches that fit my personality, fleeting tastes, and musical preferences. Now I just go somewhere in whatever neighbourhood I end up in.
I come from a background where it was bad to be ‘religious’ but good to ‘have a personal relationship with Jesus.’ Being called ‘religious’ doesn’t bother me anymore. It brings me relief. My religion is Christianity. I pray for my enemies, I believe in the holy mystery of Christ’s body and blood, broken and shed for me. I strive to recognize God’s never-ending love for everyone and when I fail to see it I get to return to God and discover the love again.
Our friend Charlie got ordained into the priesthood a couple weeks ago. In the homily, the priest reflected on some bad advice he’d received in seminary: “The best gift you can give to your congregation is your personal holiness.” He said to Charlie, “You are not the good shepherd. You’re just another sheep, set aside to care for the other sheep.” We don’t need holy, perfect leaders. We need leaders who are willing to acknowledge their own pain out loud then care for the hurting folks in the world. Rachel Held Evans recently mused that “the role of the clergy in this age…. is to go first, to volunteer the truth about their sins, their dreams, their failures, and their fears in order to free others to do the same.”
I keep on holding on to the church, to its teachings, and to the Scriptures because they keep holding onto me. Church is not a place to go draw near to God. It is a place where God draws near to skeptics and doubters. I once sought to express myself through church attendance, like I was a gift that God really needed. Now I see that instead of revealing myself to God, church is a place where God is revealed to me through broken people and broken bread. The body of Christ is broken for you. The blood of Christ is shed for you.
So dear skeptics, especially those of you who can’t bring yourselves to believe in this Jesus, just hear this: Jesus believes in you. If Christ keeps on showing up to our little congregation, as embedded as we are in our sexism, racism, elitism, patriotism, interpersonal aggression, and countless other sins, then he can certainly understand those who have trouble finding him there. Jesus doesn’t like you any less than all the confident people. Confident people crucified him. After the resurrection he showed up to a bunch of people who had given up on everything and didn’t believe in him anyone. I’m confident of this: Jesus is crazy about skeptics.
Naomi Wildflower is a coffee snob, an urban cyclist, and an Episcopalian. While once a Torontonian, she currently lives in the beautiful neighbourhood of Kensington in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
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