Have you ever thought about the stories that we don't allow in church?
The story of the abused child who becomes an adult and now cannot figure out how to feel God's presence in his life. The story of the homeless man who has no access to a shower and can't figure out how to get his life together enough to be presentable. The story of the homosexual person who has been told by the church that she doesn't fit, that she isn't right, but she has accepted her sexuality as part of who she is--so now she has to choose between God and her whole identity. Or what about the story about the person who is sick day after day after day... with no hope of healing in this lifetime?
We don't want to hear the stories that have no answers. We don't want to hear the stories that don't have redemption in the here and now. We don't want to be confronted with the stories that push up against our carefully constructed boundaries around truth and right and wrong. We don't want to have to look at the humanity that is encompassed in these stories and admit that life may not be as simple as we want it to be. We don't want to acknowledge that sometimes, while we're here, the stories that we live don't end with a fairy tale ending.
We insulate ourselves from pain. Our middle-to-upper-class culture does this too. We pay for the best medical care, we pay to put our kids in the best schools, we pay to live in nice neighborhoods with the goal of preventing any of the pain and hardship that is normal in the rest of the world. We sanitize our lives. And when we fail to do that, we are not welcome in church. Well... we can show up if we're willing and able to present a sanitized version of our lives that presents our complete and utter faith in the goodness of God.
There is no space for lament--for the acknowledgement that life is not what it ought to be, that life is not what we want it to be. There is no room to rail against God asking questions about where he is and what he is doing and why he has left us alone in this agony. There is no room to cry out. It makes people uncomfortable. So they answer with pat answers and simplify and spiritualize the agony so that it once again reflects the sanitized and controllable boundaries that we're comfortable with. If we can understand and contain it, then we can predict it. And if we can predict it, then maybe we can prevent it in our own lives.
We do such a disservice to ourselves and our communities by ignoring the real stories of people's lives. Sooner or later, every person is confronted with pain, agony, abandonment, frustration, disappointment, tragedy, or grief. By and large, the church is not safe for these people. So people are left with the option of presenting a facade or actually beginning to spiritualize and contain their own pain. Either that, or they leave the church.
What if instead we accepted people right where they are? What if the message was that we would sit with people in their pain? What if we didn't allow agony to disgust, embarrass, or frighten us? What if we were willing to just love and walk alongside and cry out in agony along with our brothers and sisters? What if we could make church a safe place to share any story? What if there was no judgment and no expectation for the person to have a perfect life? What if we were all actually vulnerable about the things that were going wrong in our own lives, so that it would be safe for others to share too?