The church is the body of Christ, not as a metaphor, but in reality. –Dietrich Bonhoeffer
I used to have high hopes for the church. Idealistic even. But a curious thing happened to me on the way to idealizing the church. I spent some time in it. And I became jaded. I suspect in this I am not alone.
The picture that is forming of my two-and-a-half decades of time spent with the people of God spread throughout Northern California, Southern California, the Deep South and the Great Northwest looks more like twisted burning wreckage than anything else. The wreckage has been largely relational in nature. The logical center of my soul has been pleading with me for years now to give up the ghost.
Who has the emotional reserves to stay invested in a community with so much capacity for harm? Who in their right mind would give themselves to a community who can never seem to get it right? Who could keep caring for a people who can never stay focused on something so simple as loving their neighbor- let alone their enemy?
As the season of Lent draws near, the ancient governor Pontius Pilate will once again get drug through the mud in cathedrals and churches, large and small. Yet I am tempted to join him in washing my hands of this madness. Who will stand with Jesus at trial? Who will join him on the road to the cross?
I would feel like an imposter for my own intermittent starts and stops of faith if I were not able to see the same dramatic swings of faith and doubt lived out by those more public figures whose more public sins have ranged from embezzlement to adultery to spiritual abuse. Faithlessness seems to run in our family’s blood.
Although we have so many conversations in the church addressing our differences, in the end, what we hold in common is what is most disturbing- our capacity to harm.
This must have been why the Apostle Paul compared the church to clay pots, which served as toilets in his day. The church holds the treasure of Christ- the God who entered humanity- in common, at times even disgusting containers.
So to say the least, my time in the church has relieved me of my idealism. We may do our best to love each other, to help each other, to care for each other, but we remain human. We remain capable of harming one another, and the deeper we go in relationship with one another, the deeper that hurt can reach.
Stripped of our idealism, perhaps we can begin to see the story that is being written.
God is the one who calls worlds and realities into being. This we believe. The church is one of these worlds, one of these realities. The church is not called into achieving some pinnacle of success, of love, of virtue, of salvation. The church is called into being the body of Christ. When God speaks in Christ, the reality of who we are is forever changed.
The idealism that becomes jaded skepticism has a chance at finally embracing the reality of what God names. If the God who calls forth realities into being names the church the body of Christ, then a new reality exists, even apart from what can be seen. The church- this collection of prideful, sinful, faithless people- also holds an identity of being the place where Christ can be found.
That Christ makes his home in the church is the one reason that I still believe in the people of God. And this belief makes me see things I would never see otherwise. This belief makes me see sinners as saints, the faithless as faithful, the proud as humble and the silent as prophets.
Believing that God calls things into being ex nihilo even gives me reason to believe that faith remains in the midsts of my doubts.