I recently read Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, “Holy Envy.” As always, she has a masterful way of crafting stories and words to create a picture with amazing theological content. In her chapter entitled, “Failing Christianity” Taylor writes about when we hit our spiritual wastelands how how so many of us, in our wildernesses are looking for the church to join us to walk along side in that journey and yet so many mainline churches are too busy pretending that we are all happy and excited that it feels as though we show up and are crazy and embarrassed to be who we are. “This lonely, heart starving passage in the spiritual life is not any church’s fault, but it is so downplayed by a majority of white Protestant churches…..when going to church makes you feel crazy and embarrassed, of course you stay home.”
When I read this page about how we all will hit passages in our lives when we don’t feel God, when we are in the wilderness, and when we all hit the place of feeling dry it hit me that perhaps this was what I keep finding in my search for Christian community. I am finding a show when I really am searching for companions (highs and low times) in the wilderness.
There have been some heartbreaking things lately in my family and some hard things to deal with. I yearned for church one Sunday and yearned for more prayer time so I went to a service that promised both. In this service there was quite a bit of music but it was all upbeat, happy, God saves all and what I call Jesus is my boyfriend. I wasn’t it. When the pastor jumped up and told everyone to stand…it was the last thing I wanted to do. When I looked at the singers with their individual microphones, I saw a group of people performing. Of course it was meaningful to them but I couldn’t connect. This didn’t feel like we were doing anything important or even real. I showed up heartbroken and was told to just be happy.
I compare this to last weekend when I took a friend to the outdoor museum for the Wall at Bernauer Strasse. This is one of the most powerful sites in Berlin in my opinion. And in the middle of the four blocks of exhibit lies a Chapel of Reconciliation, meant to be an ecumenical place of peace. It stands where a church once stood, torn down for wall construction and fittingly was named way before Wall time the Church of Reconciliation. The chapel is simple and quiet. There are pieces saved from the old church up and there are candles lit. Because of its openness, acknowledgement of history, and looking forward to constant reconciliation, this is way more church anytime I sit than almost anything else I experience here. While my friend read through the exhibit I sat and prayed and lit candles in that place that held me. That is a true space for accompaniment in the midst of wilderness and spiritual wastelands.
The United Methodist Church right now is going through its own crisis and frankly it is probably about time. Last week two groups of leaders met to talk about what to do now. There was a group of people wanting to put queer folk and people of color at the center of the conversation and a larger group that wants more inclusivity but also a more centrist movement. I have been watching leaders talk and put forth ideas from over here and I keep thinking. I will join up with the group that is willing to companion people in the wilderness. To me this means leadership that hasn’t been leadership before….aka non straight white male voices only. To me this means acknowledging death. To me this means acknowledging pain and oppression. To me this means putting aside the show to really be authentic and present to one another and putting the holy spirit in the center rather than money and/or our egos.
It is time we stop with the show and connect human to human with our realness.