Messy Religion

Christianity is an untidy faith. It’s full of grace and therefore full of the breaking of rules and the loving of people despite their breaking of rules. Our guy–God in the flesh, the Savior of all creation–gets his ass whipped, his hands and feet nailed to a freaking tree trunk and his gut sliced open like a Christmas turkey*. His cousin had his head cut off*. His best friend was crucified upside down*. According to scripture, being sawed in two was a possibility for following Jesus*.

The Psalms say that God loves a broken heart*. Jesus says its the poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of God belongs*, almost like it’s not even God’s kingdom to keep but only to give away to the most awful suffering people. Or God-by nature- can’t have a kingdom not inhabited and run by the awful and broken and forsaken.

And I think about people trudging to class meetings* down the street knowing that they have got some issues and someone’s gonna ask about those issues. And they were supposed to have prayed and gone to morning Eucharist and they were supposed to stop hitting their children and were supposed to help someone who was poor. That’s the church that caught on like wildfire across the American frontier. We had lost our sacramental nature, and have paid for it. But we kept the impetus to flee the wrath to come and to work out a legitimate faith full of fear and trembling…that’s the one that became big enough that Presidents felt it mandatory to acknowledge General Conference*. We majored in that place where flesh meets spirit. And we have noticed that flesh and spirit have a way of taking hands in times of pain, trial and loss. And we have always fought over matters of the body as if they are matters of the spirit, because they are.

And I think of my own struggles…with anger and disappointment to feelings of deep lostness and never-ending loneliness. Now I can’t sleep because I deal with pain through food. I have always loved, blamed, hated and forgiven myself in consecutive breaths. And when someone says no to my soul, I take it out on my body, but I also have a history of coming back stronger. And I tend to stick through things even if they are painful. Sometimes, I put on my stole before worship and can’t help but think of the colossal pain in the ass it represents. But it also represents all the blessing and affirmation I have received.

And that’s why I love church. I want a swarm of people all walking in with their pain and brokenness telling stories of victory. This morning, I told my kids of taking communion at seminary. There was some visiting Bishop from somewhere in Africa. I recall that his English was poor. But he wore a white robe with pastel vestments. And when I approached him for the Eucharist, my hands open to receive, my body having patiently allowed another to go first, I remember singularly the serenity and joy in his face as he gave me the bread of life. I thought, I want that…the bread for sure…but also the serenity and the grace that gives freely without fear or division. But I also know that man has been kicked before. He is dark skinned, giving the bread of reconciliation in a town where being brown was enough for police intervention. And I live in such a town again…and have always lived in such towns. But church…it’s that place where we have rules, but damn we love those who can’t abide by them. And the grace and serenity and the bread and juice and the holy water overcome all of those breakings of the rules, just as they overcome those breakings of our bodies and our minds, and our families and our communities, and our souls and God’s creation.

Church is like a child who has just spilled her milk. You can’t bless out the child. She’s your flesh and blood and you can’t break a heart over spilled milk. She may not care anyhow. You just clean it up and pour her more.

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