Matthew blogs at Echoes and Stars.
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Where’d you get them scars?
How blue is your heart?
Is it sad enough to break?
She said, “It’s sad enough to break.”
- Brian Fallon
The two pastors of the church we have been attending, took me to lunch this past week. We talked about a lot of things – fantasy baseball, Presbytery meetings gone awry, bacon, and what was I thinking about the church.
I’ve known one of these pastors for 16 years. This was not an awkward conversation. I felt like I could be gut level with both of them. So, I told them what I was thinking.
We’ve been visiting since the beginning of summer. And to be honest, we’ve missed almost as many Sundays as we’ve made. It’s our first summer since Seminary where we have not “had” to be there. So, if someone in our family was feeling poorly or the Zoo beckoned, we might have skipped. And we went on vacation once.
Summer is also a time when other church members are not around and guest preachers show up. So I told them we were going to stay in visiting mode for a couple more months before pulling the trigger on anything like membership.
And then I told those two pastors some more.
On the way back from the beach a couple of weeks back, Bethany and I reckoned we had three choices in regards to church. We could stay where we are and join the church we have been visiting. We could go back to the church where we thought we would be forever and ever, amen. Or we could start visiting elsewhere.
We were not excited about any of those choices. And I told them this. Yes, those two pastors. Don’t worry, I explained. And they were nothing but understanding and gracious, modeling what they preach.
I cannot think of any scenario in which we would be excited about a church. This is no slight to any ecclesiastical body and I guess a shot across the bow of them all.
After all we’ve been through in the past few years of ministry, being excited about church is impossible. It’s not even on our radar. “Excitement” about joining, getting involved in a small group, giving money, and being expected to serve others in the context of a church might as well be a lottery for which we refuse to even buy a ticket.
And we are OK with that.
Even if we were not, we would not be able to muster the wherewithal to correct the course we are on.
I find myself not only weary but weary of the excitement people have for church. Or their church. Or THE church. (For the record, there are no advertisements for churches with congregants weeping, they all look excited. And pretty.)
So much of that excitement has the feel of those parents who project the image of a perfect family onto everyone else’s facebook page. I’m real glad your 4 year old just found out he is an Eagle Scout while y’all are on your way to your daughter’s Cheerleading (“She made head cheerleader!”) practice, after which you will take a family stroll along a bubbling brook. Our kids are fighting like drunken Nazis and we have homework up to the eaves that neither my wife or I know how to do while the kiddos watch Phineus and Ferb, OK?
That’s probably not fair. You may have very good reasons for being excited about your church. Thought I cannot imagine any longer what they could be.
But I find myself among those who are not excited about church. Number me among those. Number me among those who go because we are hoping for a just a crumb from the table. Number me among those who would feel all that they need from God and his people would be cheapened if we worked up excitement over it.
We know we need it. On another level we want church. But excitement escapes us totally. Everybody wants to sing Chris Tomlin. I just wanna sing the Blues.
I assume we are not alone. I can only assume there are many out there who have not felt anything like excitement for weeks. Or years. You keep going. You keep at it. You taste the bread, the wine, and hope against all hope it will wash away the dregs swimming around in the bottom of your soul.
The problem is excitement is now the gold standard of authentic faith. For all our generation’s longing for authenticity, we have missed like lightning in the night, our obvious neglect of the real thing. Sunday mornings and retreats and camps are now fraught with designs upon our hearts to work up excitement. It’s not real. It disappears quicker than the toys my kids cry for at the dollar store.
There is good news for all of us, though. For all the calls in the New Testament to praise God and worship him, there are no calls for excitement.
Pastors and the other excited people are always saying they are excited about what God is going to do among their people. Well, what if he pulls an Ananias and Saphira on your congregation? Would you be excited if he made your congregation like the one in Corinth? Heck, would you be “excited” if he started taking you through unreal suffering for the faith like they went through in the book of Hebrews?
Right now, there are Christians in Middle East being crucified for their faith. No really, they are literally being hung on crosses. Are their pastors excited about what God is doing among them?
I am not excited. I am terrified and worried and restless and broke. Emotionally and financially. I don’t even tell my wife the horrors stories of the church anymore because I’m afraid of pushing her over the brink.
I am not excited. I am frustrated and exhausted and just wanna lie down with Sam Adams and Billie Holiday.
I am not excited. Sometimes I want to openly weep for myself and everyone else’s dreams that have crashed like my mason jar on our driveway yesterday, into a million pieces. I’ll be finding those dashed dreams….those pieces of glass for a while now.
I am not excited.
But there is a slight hum of hope in the background. Though the din of this life rings loud and clear – and in stereo – the hope is constantly humming behind it all. I’m not excited about the church but one of those two pastors said this past Sunday, “there is a hope that is deeper than what we are seeing and feeling.”
I heard, “there is hope in Someone and that hope is far too profound for excitement.”