There aren’t enough stars in the sky, oxygen molecules on earth, or freckles on my shoulders to come close to describing my love for God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I crave connection with the holy. It feeds me. It is my faith in God’s love, my knowledge of Christ’s presence in my life, and my awareness of the Holy Spirit that has gotten me through so many deaths in my life at a young age, that got me though the illness and death of my father, that kept me going when I could barely get out of bed and keeps me going today. God’s transformative work in my heart, Christ’s example and the pull of the Holy Spirit compel me to be concerned about social justice, to work towards a world in which all of God’s children are nourished in body, heart and mind — a world without bullying (on an individual or global scale), a world where love and concern for brother and sister are the law of the day. Everything about me is formed, informed and fed by my Christian faith.
I don’t even need all of the fingers on one had to count the times I have felt this way in a church worship service. This leads me to wonder what is wrong with me. Why is it that someone who loves God so much can’t stand church? WTF? Am I broken (this is not a theological question about the nature of sin)? I go to church hoping to hear a word that convicts or uplifts me, to feel the Holy Spirit in song, to be filled with Christ during eucharist. It happens so rarely that I have a clear memory of each time it has happened. I usually leave church annoyed with the service for not “working” for me (I know this isn’t useful, particularly when I start to nitpick), and with myself for not getting the connection.
In my former congregation, there was a woman who always just said that it wasn’t about us. It was about God. Our needs didn’t matter. We were there to worship God. But isn’t worship a two-way street? Isn’t it about us worshiping God and God’s grace breaking into our lives in word and sacrament (and community)? What does it mean when that doesn’t happen? Over and over and over again?
Where did I get this faith if church has rarely done much for me? Some of it I think I was just born with. I’ve always had a kind of weird desire to connect with God, and a strong awareness of God’s presence in my life. A lot of it comes from my experiences at camp. It was in those worship services that I felt God most clearly. One of my most transformative life moments was when God’s word broke through to my heart in the words of someone I, at the time, kind of hated. That is where I experienced what real Christian community could look like. There I was, an awkward 12-year-old with a ton of friends who let me be me. Later on, it was my friends from camp that prayed for and with me when life seemed to be falling apart. I saw Christ every day for five summers. He was just there, in the midst of us. He was us. And now, I search and search and am often left wanting.
And I’m studying to be a pastor. A lot of what drives me is that I know there are a lot of people like me out there who, as Dan Kimball says, love Jesus but not the church. For me it’s less about “the” church than church worship services. I am one of them — the people who don’t feel at home in church, who have never really fit in. People who don’t jive with traditional worship, people who want to live their faith outside of the church walls. But I keep feeling like this might not be possible within the confines of a denomination. The impression I get from those around me, those teaching me, is that this will not fit into the denomination I love. I get discouraged. A lot. Yet, God must have called me to this for a reason. So I keep going, keep walking this strange path through a dark wood. Because I want to love Jesus and church. I have experienced this few times, but I have experienced. I know it is possible. I just have to figure out how.
A song that says so much to me right now: God is in the House, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.