Walking through a field one evening I spotted an apricot tree a few yards away from me. The apricots looked ripe enough to eat, so I picked one from the tree and took a juicy bite. As I began to chew and looked down at the apricot, I noticed only half a grub embedded close to the pit. Screaming in disgust, I threw the apricot down and spit the bite out of my mouth. If you were to tell me the rest of the apricot was tasty, sweet, full of wonderful, satisfying flavor and I just need to eat around the worm, I would refuse. I know that the worm didn’t ruin the whole apricot, but it ruined it for me. And I was fearful, for years, to bite into any fresh fruit I picked off a tree.
I think the same goes for church. It doesn’t matter how many times I or others try to convince you that church is great or to look at all the positives about church or to check out how many hospitals are built by churches and religious institutions, most people will always see the bad. We will only see the wars, the inquisition, the pedophiles, the embezzlement, the hypocrisy. No matter how many times you hear that it was only one little worm, the whole apricot and all tree fruit in general gets tainted. It’s really hard to see the large amount of good when there has been such significant bad.
I understand. When I look at church history over the past 2,000 years I cringe from her peppered story. I look at many well known past church leaders, leaders who have done wonderful works of justice for the poor, and I am disheartened by how quickly they accused others of heresy or put people to death because others didn’t believe in their “God” like they did. I get queasy when I ponder the countless evils which have been done in the name of God. Which are being done in the name of God.
But even beyond church history – or the current never-ending, brutal, religious wars that many of us feel helpless about or disconnected from – so many of us have experienced first-hand hurts from people within the church. We have been disappointed, damaged, frustrated, lied to, manipulated, and it’s difficult to even want to trust again.
Or perhaps you have never set foot inside a faith community before and no matter how much good you have heard spoken about it, you can’t see yourself associating with a church. No matter how your heart desires to connect with some sort of organized spirituality, there is no way you would ever step foot into a church building.
It’s okay not to go. It’s okay never to go. But it’s not okay to walk this life alone. I believe all people — you — are a reflection of the Divine, of God or whatever name you give to God. You have the image of the Divine imprinted upon you. Maybe you have sensed this. Maybe you have experienced such spirituality opening your eyes to how we humans are intimately connected. Perhaps you have sensed our connectedness through stories of racism, bigotry, poverty, the oppressed, violence and how your heart aches for those you have never met. I believe this is the image of God within you crying out for the image of God in others. We are intimately bound and connected.
Therefore, we are meant for community. For authentic, raw, uncomfortable at times community. Church is one vehicle for that. Within that vehicle we discover more about who we are based upon who God is, revealed through Jesus Christ. We discover and are reminded about God’s love for all creation and that all people are valuable, worthy, equal of God’s love. We are reminded of God’s heart for justice and that we are meant to do something about it; that there’s room for everyone. And that how we live now will translate into what’s to come.
Humans are not meant to walk this path alone or journey life alone. This life we live is meant to be lived together, caring for those we love and those who may be harder to love.
Perhaps you will never step foot into a church. I believe when you lay down your own agenda for the sake of another and when you love regardless of what you will get in return, you are living out God’s heart for the world. Even if you don’t think so.
I love the church, in all her brokenness and beauty, because it is there I find acceptance, grace, truth spoken in love, and a new kind of living within death and resurrection. I also try not to wear rose-colored glasses about church, knowing that people hurt each other. I’m sure I will be offended, gossiped about, abandoned or left again, but I believe the church still matters. Not in the sense of institutions or religiosity, but because we are created for community and for relationships even with all the ups and downs which come from both.
The worms may have ruined any chance with church for you. Or maybe you just need more time. So, may you take the time needed to heal, grow, and pursue what it means to journey with others. And, may you seek to cultivate authentic, true community which allows you to tap into the Divine imprint within you and see the Divine imprint in others.