True all the way through

by Micha

My husband and I sit in their living room; four hands each with a glass of scotch. We raise them up and my pastor toasts. “To your new life in San Francisco: your relationships there, your marriage, the hope of God’s goodness.”

Christine is sitting on the floor folding her kids’ clothes. Her husband Cliff has been asking us questions: “Who do you want to be in fifteen years? What are your dreams for your marriage, for your ministry, your life?”

Chris and I take turns answering. I tell a story. My husband speaks in theory. In the end we reach the same space, the same dream.

We have to hurry. The babysitter has plans for 10:30 and it’s 10:10. They want to pray for us. Cliff finds a vial of oil, marks our foreheads with the sign of the cross.

And we run to our car. “This will be your last Sunday?” Christine calls from the driveway.

“Yes, our last Sunday,” we say.

* * *

I want to write this for you. You, the one who sits with your face in your hands and begs yourself out the door into the church on Sundays. You, who questions hierarchy and recognizes the broken tendencies of leaders. You who wonders how the church can ever be its true self, how Jesus’ dream for God’s people could end up so flimsy. I want to write a story for you about what is possible.

I want to tell a story of the pastors I believed, then feared, those whose real lives seemed fraught with empty relationships, those who spoke words from the pulpit that felt closer to manipulation than truth. I want to tell how my hope cracked under the pressure of my dreams for them. My world told me they were super heroes. Under their capes, it turned out they were broken like me.

I want to write a story about those years I scoffed and rolled my eyes, longing for answers, assuring myself I was alone in the struggle. I want to write about the conversations my husband and I had back then, the tears: “What is church supposed to even be? Is it hopeless?”

We’d sit in the cold house in Syracuse, the space we could hardly heat and wonder, “Is there a way back to the book of Acts? Is there a way to Church as it was always meant to be?”

Around and around we went in our heads. Back to the scripture we went. Back to my doubt and distrust I plunged.

And yet, in the middle of all the questioning, we were offered grace. We sat under teachers who taught words like Shalom. Teachers who took us with them into shattered lives and places and showed us the Church in all its beauty, in all its possibility.

I want to tell you a story about those teachers and every move we’ve made. Through Syracuse and Philadelphia. Through Young Life and the Episcopal Church. Through the affluent suburbs of the East coast to the urban intellectualism of Northern California. I want to tell you the pastors are there.

They are in small churches and growing churches. Some raise their arms in worship. Some cross themselves. Some do both, one right after the other.  The pastors I’ve found don’t dress like hippies to impress us and they don’t dress like yuppies to impress us. In fact, the ones I’ve found distrust their own longing for impressing any one. So they dress like priests instead.

* * *

Christine and Cliff’s four children are asleep. We sit in the kitchen, the space where their kids run and read and slouch in chairs. There are long strips of brown butcher paper taped like scrolls to the walls, holding marker-scratched poetry: WH Auden and Walt Whitman. There are quoted hymns and verses written beside the toilet.

Cliff makes us cappuccinos and spreads before us fresh fruit and dark chocolate and cupcakes. They are normal and they are humble and they don’t have an agenda. We have nothing to give them: one year in Cliff’s congregation and we leave on Sunday. They are intentional tonight. When they ask us what we dream for our family when we’re fifty, they care about our answer.

That’s what I want to tell you. I want you to know that they exist. There have been four of them in our lives. Pastors who loved us, who welcomed us. Pastors who distrusted programs and neon signs declaring the latest church fad. Pastors who sat in living rooms with us and asked us hard, good questions and listened. Pastors who weren’t striving to reach fame or bigger numbers, but who held out the bread and wine to the congregation and said: “Come, all you who are weary.”

Christine says, “If it’s real, it has to be real all the way through.” She points her finger through the air. “If it breaks down, if Jesus is not who he says he is, none of this is worth it.”

I’d just said how grateful I was for the space they had created within our church community: humility, genuine compassion, kindness. I’d said I’d never forget how she followed me out of the sanctuary our first morning at Christ Church, my embarrassing exit with crying six month old. She’d found me and sat beside me, said, “We love crying babies here…”

And she had meant it.

“True all the way through,” she says in her living room, t-shirts crumpled on her lap.

And they bless us and send us out into night.

 

Photo Credit: suwatch via Flickr

 

21 Responses to “True all the way through”

  1. Gianna September 17, 2012 at 5:29 am #

    Yes! This post was so real. I love the phrase, “True all the way through” Sometimes I get upset with people who deject the church because it is full of sinners.
    Well, yes it is.
    And then I get all defensive like, “Aren’t you one, too?”
    Then, my good friend who is a pastor’s wife talks to me and says, “Gianna, you’ve never been hurt by the church. It’s terrible. It’s some of the worst pain ever. I can understand….But I still choose the church because that’s where God has planned good things to be.

  2. Tanya Marlow September 17, 2012 at 6:12 am #

    This was a deep encouragement to me today – both from the viewpoint of a congregant and leader. Thank you, wise lady.

  3. Addie Zierman September 17, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    I so appreciate your voice of hope, Micha. It’s like you wrote this just for me.

  4. Lore Ferguson (@loreferguson) September 17, 2012 at 6:44 am #

    Micha. I love this. I love love love it.

    I’ve moved so many times I think I forget that I love the church, but I never feel absolutely fully connected to her. I feel the hopelessness that comes with surface relationships and theology that rubs me the wrong way when it’s walked out practically. I feel all that so much sometimes. Even in my love for her, I feel it.

    But this. This I love. “If it’s real, it has to be real all the way through.” She points her finger through the air. “If it breaks down, if Jesus is not who he says he is, none of this is worth it.”

  5. Mattie Chatham September 17, 2012 at 7:02 am #

    Gah, this makes me want to cry. After 20 years in the church, I’ve been found by two real pastors in just the last couple of years, for the first time. It’s such a beautiful miracle that they do exist.

  6. Ed September 17, 2012 at 7:51 am #

    This has been my experience at many churches over the past few years. Even when I thought the pastors were a little too into programs and numbers, there was a genuine love for the people around them, a patience and grace that always floored me.

    I’ve also had to learn that so many of my struggles with churchy stuff has more to do with what I expect or want. That is tough to admit! Just the other week I was really struggling with the changes my church made to communion. It feels rushed and irreverent to me, and yet, I know there were good reasons for the change. I have to trust my pastors even in something small like that.

  7. Agnes September 17, 2012 at 8:33 am #

    My mom was hurt enough by church when I was 16 that she left and never went back. Now I am ‘church people’ to her, and get flack when I treat her less than perfectly – ‘where’s Jesus now?’ The church is PEOPLE. Just people. And if I walk in those doors or call myself a Christian, I’m ‘the church’ too. Thank God for pastors and people who LOVE, both in word and action.. because that’s what it’s REALLY all about :)

  8. Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams September 17, 2012 at 8:36 am #

    So lovely, Micha. I’ve been lucky to know some pastors who were true all the way through – and also to have some friends who don’t go by that name, but who are equally humble and kind and intentional. Thank God for all of them.

  9. Jen September 17, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    We are like you, wanderers, transients, moving from one place to another. And like you, we dug our roots down deep quickly because we never knew how much time we had in one place. We still don’t. We would love to call the Bay Area our forever home but we know that title is reserved for one place – with God.

    Thank you for sharing Christine’s words. “If it’s real, it has to be real all the way through. If it breaks down, if Jesus is not who he says he is, none of this is worth it.”

    Sweet truth this grey Monday morning.

  10. John Blase September 17, 2012 at 11:23 am #

    Micha, these are good words, words that remind us of what is most true. Thank you – I mean that.

  11. Lindsay September 17, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    I love this. Thank you for offering hope today.

  12. Diana Trautwein September 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Ohmygoodnessgracioussakesalive – YES. Thank you for speaking hope about church, about pastors. Too many – far too many – people have been singed by the stealthy flames of egocentric, unhealthy people in leadership. But, BUT… there are places of refuge, of honesty, of welcome, where all your brokenness is okay to admit. Thanks so much for this beautiful reminder of this truth. Not one of us in the pastoral role is perfect – not one. We’re all messes in one way or another. Those that can admit that and then fold others in, ugly bits and all – well that’s the church as it’s meant to be. That’s Jesus shining through the cracks. Grateful with you that you’ve found that; praying you’ll find it again.

  13. Micha September 17, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Thank you all for the words and the kindredness today. So good to see you all here.

  14. kim September 17, 2012 at 8:37 pm #

    Thank you, Micha, for sharing this goodness. It helps. It really does.

  15. Cheryl Smith September 18, 2012 at 11:46 am #

    Oh, how the we are in desperate need of these words lived out in the Body. How many times have we, my husband and I and our friends, had the same conversations? Asked the same questions?

    When we get this…oh, when we get this…

  16. kelliwoodford September 18, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    This resonates deeply with me.
    Like when God puts hope back in your heart.

    I guess my hope is less to *find* the kind of people you have described, and more to *become* this kind of person.

    A kind that brings wholeness in spite of her brokenness.

    (p.s. we know syracuse well, did some church planting north of there. you mentioning it was like a reminder of home. :))

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