“He walked away from the the obvious system to build a non-obvious life.” Seth Godin
Sometimes I miss church. When it was sitting in chairs every Sunday to listen to a sermon with friends, attending prayer meetings in the basement, teaching classes in room off the hallway, playing piano in the practice room in my spare time, working in the office folding flyers, preparing for the weekend, and talking to everyone who wandered through the doors.
I have years of cherished memories stashed away of those times. In some ways, my relationship with church felt simpler back then. I knew what to expect, where to go, how to act. Everything was obvious. Although I didn’t have the language for it then, now I see- church was a building and an event, an organization moving towards measurable growth.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a smooth system but I often wondered if church might be more wild than anyone was willing to admit.
Vienna is where I put in years of my life to the church and I sent out monthly newsletters to prove it. I wanted people back home to see the need in Europe, this sea of busy, interesting people I felt called to love.
The headlines of my newsletters always bothered me though. Sure, there was university students gathering every week in our apartment complex to study the Bible and worship together. And yes, there were monthly retreats where people encountered Jesus and heard His voice. Traveling around Europe was a regular part of my life too and I didn’t mind sharing that part with friends back home either. I mean how often does one have the luxury of being in another country and culture and language in an hour? Only in Europe.
Church felt glamorous back then and I was famous. My coming to relieve weary staff at the church was an answer to prayer. I received admiration for sharing my gifts and contributing anywhere I could. Giving myself to a country and culture other than my own felt brave and heroic, I flourished in this narrative of being sent and needed and special.
But something happened when I left that bustling little building in Vienna and moved on from all its organized events and gatherings and worship nights and leadership seminars. Of course, it had been happening all along, I’d just failed to realize it during those four and half years...real life.
For much of my life I elevated the church and the people inside. You had to be ordained or at the very least a dedicated and good human being to work there. In that regard, church wasn’t for everyone. If you felt uncomfortable or not as committed as some, it was because God was convicting you of sin, or so I was told. Church made me spiritual.
I miss the certainty back then of feeling like I was making a difference and blessing others and building the kingdom, as we Christians like to say to one another. I miss the ease of how I experienced Him in the corners of the walled sanctuary and the surge of delight I felt when playing keyboard up on stage or praying with someone as they cried in the front of the church after a moving sermon.
Things feel more complicated now. Church isn’t so black and white obvious. I have a suitcase full of questions, instead of bag full of ambitious hopes to win hearts for Jesus. I can’t seem to squeeze church inside a building, or a brave mission to another country, or onto a calendar anymore. I don’t write newsletters about spectacular spiritual experiences, instead I quietly participate in the mystery of suffering and celebration of what it means to be human everyday, to eat, to love, to birth, to cry, and to create. The non-obvious is taking precedence and making the headlines.
Church has come down off the pedestal for me. It’s now in the grocery line and my living room and in my garden, it’s in faces of my sweet babies, the cracks in my growing marriage, and stories shared among friends.
Church isn’t the holding space of the priests or the popes or the pastors, an anointed building for special, called people, or an organization trying to win the world.
Rather, church is you, me, fleshy, wrinkly bodies and complex, messy souls attempting again and again every day to find our way through this mystery called life together.
This is church. It is happening here, it is holy, human, and more wild than I could ever imagine.