I went to church last weekend. I gathered in a circle with twenty-some people and we shared our stories. We laughed together, encouraging one another, but we also made sure to point out where each person could grow better, stronger, bolder.
It was a time to hear and be heard. To grow and help grow. A time when everyone was excited and accepting and eager for more. A time to let down our walls, exposing pieces of our souls to strangers. A time to fall in love with those strangers because of it.
“This is the way church is supposed to be,” I thought.
But, of course, I can’t remember the last time church has looked like this for me. Because this experience I had last weekend didn’t take place in a sanctuary; it took place in a Student Center at Ball State University. We weren’t talking about Jesus; we were talking about writing.
And before you ask, yes, that is a spiritual experience for me.
I carried it with me—this definition of church—through the remainder of the weekend. You might think it would be hard to even consider a word so sacred and spiritual while playing Cards Against Humanity, but that’s where it hit me the hardest. As the owner of this filthy game struggled to remain somewhat respectful for the sake of her good little Catholic companion, it was hard to imagine anything but the Holy Spirit at work.
Because that’s what blew my mind. That we were so very different at our cores and yet… Our experiences didn’t matter. Our worldview didn’t matter. Our politics and religion and culture didn’t matter. We were all storytellers, and that bound us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.
I wish I knew of an actual church that worked like that. Maybe then I’d make an effort on Sunday mornings. Maybe then I wouldn’t find myself wishing for excuses on Wednesday nights. Maybe then church would actually make a difference in my life, rather than be that mandatory thing on my schedule.
I’m sorry to say that is what church has become in my life—an obligation.
In the movie Evil Roy Slade, the protagonist is a villain who falls in love with a pretty girl and decides to abandon his lifetime of crime. Only he has a hard time leaving the past in the past. One day, Roy has a relapse and confesses to his beloved Betsy, “My idea of a 9 to 5 job is 9 men robbing 5 men.”
I think my idea of church is comparable. Not because I believe in robbing people, but because my idea in itself is so drastically different than the cultural norm and, frankly, a lot more exciting than a church built on tradition.
Because if church looked anything like that circle of writers clutching pages of their stories within their trembling hands, I would feel differently about it. I would crave it like I crave waking up to Jacqueline Faber’s manuscript in my inbox. (Let’s make that a reality, Jacqueline.)
I do crave it. Not church as it is, but church as it should be. Church like my writing community. Because, I swear, if someone would talk to me about Jesus the way my coworker talked to me about Anita Blake the other night, I would be on a spiritual high for a month, hallelujah.
I just want a church that pushes past the fluff and the tradition and the agenda, and gets straight to the heart of it. I want a church where people ask their questions and share their stories and dare to risk rejection only to find acceptance instead.
I want a church that isn’t divided over experience and worldview, politics and culture. I want a church where we can overlook and even accept these things. Where we can learn and even grow from these things. Because no matter what our other loves, we are all lovers of Jesus.
And that binds us together in a way that would be impossible in any natural realm.