Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Tutorial for the Church

This weekend my husband went to church. I try to be a good and supporting wife and I don’t begrudge my husband his faith, even though mine seems to have gone AWOL at the moment. I’ll get him up in the morning and send him off to church if that’s what he wants to do. I don’t belittle his faith; I don’t imply there’s anything wrong with him or that he is stupid if he believes what the church is telling him. I try to respect that when he goes to church he learns things and he thinks it benefits him. If that grows him, fine. Doesn’t mean it has to grow me – but it does mean I have to respect his desire to go.

Last night my husband told me what he had learned at church on Sunday. Apparently there’s a series going on that addresses the problem of pain – though I’m not sure they’re wording it that way. I think they’re talking about adversity and persecution and some other stuff. I’m not there so I’m hearing it second hand through my husband who – while I love him dearly – will always be more of an accountant than a storyteller. Thus, I don’t think I always get the entire story but rather the basic outline.

In the words of my husband, they’re talking about ‘when we go through stuff’, which I take to mean the problem of pain. What my husband learned this week, among other things, is that when we ‘go through stuff’ we must surround ourselves with Christians and believers. The rationale for this? If we surround ourselves with people who aren’t Christians, they will be a bad influence on us and turn us into cynical, angry people.

The vast irony of this is that being around a lot of Christian people is what tends to make me cynical and angry.

Throughout the course of my life, I have consistently failed to find true solace or support in the church and have consistently had better luck with people outside of the church.

Example: Someone in my life dies, which is a fairly big deal. The Pastor of the church I attended scolded someone I love on being sad about the death – after all, we should be happy we’ve got Jesus. Meanwhile, my pagan friend Rhea held me while I cried.

Example: I am repeated sexually assaulted as a teenager. My Christian friend says its going to be okay because Jesus was there with me the whole time (apparently Jesus is a stalker, and great for healing but not so good at preventative care – my insurance company would not like him). Again, it is Rhea who carries the brunt of the load, telling me that it sucks and she’s angry for me and I have every right to hurt and she loves me.

Example: I don’t take too well to marriage at first and I spend the first 7-8 months depressed. My Christian friend observes that I’m obviously not putting my husband first and submitting to him – that must be the problem. If I could only be more biblically perfect, things would be fine. Cuthbert and Lisey (ex-Christian homo and agnostic; respectively) tell me it is hard to adjust to big stuff like marriage and its going to take some time and they’ll be there while I grow.

Example: Two babies die in my womb less than four months apart. My Christian boss tells me its okay because God has a plan (plans apparently negate pain) and I can always have more kids (can I? Or will those die too?). Another Christian in my life tells me it could be worse and I should read the book of Job (obviously reading about somebody else’s shitty circumstances makes mine less shitty). Another tells me to have faith and the next time things will turn out alright (oh, faith makes babies live? Wish I’d known that 6 months ago!) But it’s my non Christian friends who do most of the hard work of pulling me through. It is Lisey who has checked up on me almost daily for the last six months. It is her mom who holds me while I cry. It is Cuthbert who gives me permission to grieve and tells me he has no idea why this is happening but he knows that I am beautiful and he loves me and he wants to see what beautiful thing I make out of this mess – because he knows my heart enough to know that I must make something beautiful out of it. It is Cuthbert who tells me he refuses to give up on me and he is going to be here, no matter how dark and shitty it gets.

Gee, the church looks so attractive right now.

Here’s the problem, plain and simple: The modern church does a shitty job of dealing with the problem of pain and an even shittier job of teaching its followers how to love the people who are in pain.

Just once I’d like to go to a church and have someone say to me:

“Wow. This really sucks. I’m so, so sorry you’re going through this and my heart is breaking for you. Its okay if you feel sad and I can see why you might be angry and that’s okay too. Just know that I love you and while that doesn’t make it okay, I hope it helps some.”

And then I’d like to see them follow up on that and actually LOVE me (as in the verb) rather than pretend things are okay so they don’t have to deal with the uncomfortable feeling they get when they see me in pain.

Just once I’d like to go to a church and have somebody do something other than minimize my pain or invalidate my experiences or pretend that I should be okay because there is a god who loves me and nothing else matters.

Just once.

But I can’t go to church and even try to get that because experience has taught me that if I lean on the church or her followers, what I will get is this:

* uncomfortable silence.
* “At least” statements – as in “At least they didn’t remove your tube,” “At least you still have each other”. You know, the kind of statements where people subconsciously tell you to quit hurting because it could be worse and – dammit! – you’re making them uncomfortable. As though I can just stop hurting because I can think of worse things that could happen.
* “God has a plan” – Fair enough. But even if god does have a plan, that plan FUCKING HURTS and I still need you to love me, okay?
* “Jesus is with you though this” – And we’re back to the stalker Jesus with no preventative care coverage.
* “Have faith” – does faith negate pain, too?

And the list goes on…

I just can’t bear the thought of having to deal with that. The last thing a hurting person should have to do is defend themselves and their pain against the church or her followers. A hurting person should never have to justify her pain or fight to see it validated: the church should accept it as real the moment she presents it and treat it as real until it is resolved. A hurting person should never have to hunt down love*: the church should practically smother her with it the moment her pain is presented.

*by love I do not mean warm fuzzy feelings. By love I mean physical action – love a hurting person by calling them once a week and checking up on them, sitting with them if they need it, holding them while they cry, making them a meal, doing their dishes, praying with them if they’re they praying type… By love I mean whatever physical action the hurting person needs you to take – and its okay to ask what that action is if you don’t know.

And yet…

All these things people say… all these things church people say that they actually seem to think are helpful… they all imply that the reality of god cancels out the reality of pain. And that is not okay. Pain is real. Maybe god is too. But if he is, that doesn’t negate the reality of the pain.

And yet…

The people who hunt me down and smother me with love are rarely the people of the church, with a few notable exceptions: my sister Velma and 2 or3 others whom I’ve never really even seen in a church setting. Of the time I’ve spent as a hurting person and the sheer volume of people in the church who’ve known me though these things, this seems like a poor result for the church.

I don’t really know where I’m going with this. It started out feeling like a rant, but my heart is softer now that it was an hour ago. I hate that things are this way… I want to bitch and moan – I want my complaint to be heard and validated. But more than that, I want the church to love hurting people better. So, if you can, try to think of this as a tutorial for the church – a lesson in loving the hurting and broken. Look at Cuthbert and Lisey and Rhea and Velma – and imitate them. Look at the things I wish the church would say and then get up the guts to say them and mean them. Look at the things the church says that hurt me and resist the temptation to spout off these simple answers. Be willing to love the hurting – and be willing to define love as a verb.

Otherwise, stop telling my husband that the church is where I need to be.

1 comment:

Rhea said...

Always AND forever LOVES!!!!!!!