Oh, how I love Jesus...
When I was a girl, I loved Jesus.
As a teenager, I loved Jesus.
As an adult, I still love Jesus.
I have three older brothers. My two oldest brothers took formal piano lessons. My "piano lessons" consisted of one simple moment of instruction: My father took me to the white upright piano in our living room, pointed out middle C, showed me middle C on the treble and bass clefs in the piano book, and left me to figure out the rest on my own. I had to practice the piano for 30 minutes per day. I started out with the Thompson piano books and graduated to the hymnbook. I never moved beyond hymns. On the rare occasions that I sit at our keyboard these days, I still play hymns and sing along at the top of my lungs. My favorite hymns to play are: To God be the Glory, It is Well With My Soul, and O, Come All Ye Faithful.
Another one of my favorite hymns was and has always been, "Oh, how I love Jesus."
Here's the thing - over the past few years, I've realized that as much as I love Jesus,
I fell out of love with church.
With all the rules, the restrictions, the limitations, and the abuse of power.
With the regulations, the expectations, the allegations, and all the complications.
A little over two years ago, I stopped attending the megachurch I had been attending
and serving in to "take the summer off."
Then fall came. Then winter. But I didn't go back.
Feeling guilty for my repeated absences, I visited other churches.
I knew I had to go to church, so I went.
But in every single one, I writhed and moaned, bristled and groaned.
In one church, every Sunday, the pastor - whether it was a man or a woman, on staff at the church or visiting from another church - yelled, screamed, and shouted at the congregation. We visited that church as a family a few times. On the third visit, my son looked at me at one point and said, "Here he goes." And sure enough, the next statement out of the Pastor's mouth was loud enough to wake the dead or at least those who had fallen asleep earlier in the service. The screaming and yelling continued until the end of the sermon.
The music was so loud in another church that I couldn't hear myself think or sing. In that same church, it seemed that all the stories, the jokes, the parts of the sermon that were supposed to help us understand the preacher's points were about sports, war or men. One Sunday, every sermon illustration focused exclusively on men. Except for one - and the woman in that story was dead. It was in her noble, quiet, neat death, of course, that her story became an example worth relating. I didn't even wait until the service was over. I whispered to my daughter that I had to leave and would meet her in the lobby. When she came out, I told her, with tears running down my cheeks, that I couldn't do it anymore. I could not and would not ever attend that church again. I haven't. And I won't.
Following that decision, every time I thought about attending church, I got itchy and nervous. I couldn't come up with anyplace else I wanted to visit. I had to stop. So I did. I stopped going to church altogether - for a while.
A strange thing happened soon thereafter: I fell more deeply in love with Jesus.
My prayer grew deeper. My heart grew bigger. My faith grew wider and stronger.
I wasn't sure why. I'm still not entirely sure why.
But I'm beginning to understand. I'm beginning to see why stepping away from church was the best thing that has happened to my faith in a long time.
It's kind of a long story - one that I am planning to tell here on the blog.
In small pieces.
Trying to protect the innocent.
Oh, wait - none of us is innocent.
We all participated in the drama and in the trauma: pastors, attendees, leaders, and bystanders.
I still love Jesus.
Oh, how I love Jesus.
But church, not nearly as much.
This beautiful, thoughtful, gifted woman, Kathy Escobar, expresses what I have been going through far better than I can. I had the honor of meeting her and hearing her speak this past Tuesday. I look forward to reading her book, Down We Go: Living into the Wild Ways of Jesus.