I Can’t Seem To Find An Ideal Church

I’ve had this angst now for a while.

It’s just… this unsettled feeling when it came to church.

I knew I wanted something, or was looking for something, but I wasn’t really sure what it was.

To give you a little transparent background, I have to admit I had become pretty disenchanted with church, observing a lack of the intentional and humble pursuit of unity, diversity, and act-what-you-preach living.

The more I learned of God through the church, the more I learned his heart for all peoples and cultures and genders and races. And so I slowly began changing. While it was a very real and organic change, it was also intentional.

Yet that’s when I started observing something. The kind of life I was starting to live began to stand out.

As… exceptional.

But I thought this was normal? I thought this is what the church stood for, preached and worshipped about? Why would moving into a life that reflected that outside of the church walls be so abnormal?

Why did we gush about how amazing the sermon was about welcoming all people with open arms, no barriers, just as Christ has welcomed us, and then debate about withholding mission support from a Gospel-focused agency due to their different style of worship music? Or have a church gathering that was all the same color, intellect level, economic state and activities when the surrounding community and city did not reflect that ratio? Or preach and condemn sensual clothing and porn but then pass by the prostitute and doing nothing to care for her state of exploitation?

It had all been very confusing to me. I was learning one thing about the heart of God, and seeing another.

So I was trying to figure out this alignment of what I say and how I live

But even more than that, I was learning of God’s heart for his people to be unified, that we’d be known for love not fractions. 

So deep down I wanted that: a gathering of people that was unified and diverse; a place where the unity makes us attractive, but the diversity makes us beautiful.

But I just couldn’t find it. Why wasn’t there one group where all that was present?

Where was the unified, diverse, faith-in-action church?

And I thought the problem was that somewhere there was this ideal church where all these great, amazing beliefs collided together.

I thought it was hidden somewhere, out of sight, that perhaps every other church needed to find this one church and start acting like that one.

I wandered for a while, moving from church to church, staying long enough to partake, but not long enough to commit.

I kept searching for that one.

Praying, considering, waiting, Repeat.

Then tonight happened.

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The Pray Chicago gathering and movement. Where churches from all over Chicago came to pray for the peace and hope and Gospel-advance in the city.

It was some of the most normal, extra-ordinary moments I’ve ever had.

The guy next to me was an immigrant from Morocco. The couple in front of me was from South Side. We sang worships songs in several different languages. Leaders from the city read Scripture reading through John 17 in their native tongue: Romanian, Arabic, Spanish, Hindi, Mandarin, Tagalog, Hausa, to name a few.

Worship was extravagant and awe-some.

And I looked around me and literally saw the world.

Nations. Cultures. Races. Together and one. 

And we were not fragmenting. And we were real. Really caring and really acting and really believing.

And that’s when I realized it.

That I found it.

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 This is what I always wanted.

And this?

This is The Church.

This beautiful, mis-matched, imperfect, oh-so-glorious group.

Nothing matched, but we blended.

The unfamiliar languages were stark, but at the same time harmonious.

What typically are known as cultural barriers were points of celebration.

And it wasn’t just about the individuals. It was the collective parts of the city coming together as one to intercede to The One.

As the service ended, I sighed.

I just had a taste of heaven. 

And that’s what we’re here to do: pursue on earth as it is in heaven.

In Chicago as it is in heaven.

Yes. Yes I found it here.

But if it’s here in Chicago, then it’s in Greenville South Carolina. And it’s in Fort Wayne Indiana. And it’s in Madrid Spain. And it’s in Venice Italy.

So, I had some things to deal with personally.

You see, here’s what I realized that night:

There is no ideal local church.

There is only a Church.

It’s diverse. And it’s unified. And it’s full of good works.

And maybe when I commit to be a part of a really imperfect, un-ideal local church, that I’m committing to the worldwide Church of Jesus and participating in the Big Team’s wholeness.

I used to think that committing to one was saying no to others.

Now I know that saying yes to one is saying yes to all.

To make the macro-Church more unified and diverse, I must participate and struggle forward in the micro-church, no matter how un-unified and un-diverse it is.

And that’s winning.

Because if I don’t show up in this church relationship, then I’m creating a fraction and there’s a diverse spot missing. Just because I didn’t show up.

And when I say “show up,” I mean “give my heart into and commit.”

I don’t think I’m the first person in the world to ever seriously struggle through this. For those of you wanderers out there, I get it. You’ve seen some very real concerns and have probably faced some serious hurt from inside the church.

Yeah, me too.

So hear me out: I don’t think there’s an ideal church out there. Wherever you land, you’ll probably get hurt by someone, you won’t agree with the pastor at some point, you will be dumbfounded by some decisions, you’ll meet some hypocrites, you’ll get disheartened by your own hypocrisies, you’ll be lonely at some point, and you will begin to wonder if, geez, is this even worth it?

Yeah, sounds like work. Committing to anything is ridiculous hard work.

Let me just say that I’m learning it’s not about which building you commit to going to on Sunday morning and having the absolute ideal setting and people around you.

It’s how you interact with them every day. It’s how you serve. It’s how you lay down your life so that another may advance. It’s how you decide to show up. And keep showing up, rain or shine.

If we all did that, even in different, un-ideal settings, wouldn’t we be creating an ideal, unified, diverse Church individually together?

Here’s the thing: one day, our imperfect, struggling churches who flounder in unity and diversity and good works will come together at a really cool celebration in heaven that will look like a super-charged version of Pray Chicago.

And that’s when we will realize that what we always wanted we already had all along.

An Open Letter Of Apology To Black America

Dear Black America,

IMG_8300One week ago I had already decided to go to South Side Chicago on Friday night and attend the Peace Rally and March at St. Sabina Church, as well as attending Progressive Baptist Church, a historical black church in south Chicago, the following Sunday morning. Little did I know that the massacre in Charleston South Carolina would set the stage for me as I would awaken into a new reality and inner brokenness.

For myself, I was born in Joliet, a suburb of Chicago, yet moved to several different states with my family. Many of these places had opportunities of diversity: Virginia, St. Louis, and Orlando, to name a few. I also lived almost 9 years in South Carolina before moving to Chicago exactly a year ago.

I know Charleston very well. It was one of my favorite cities. I knew it so well that I would often act as tour guide when I took my friends there.

Yet at the same time, I didn’t know– didn’t know the hate.

But even so, as I’ve come to realize…

I could have known.

I just didn’t think it was as important as my comfort.

At the Peace Rally Friday night I entered into a world that was far from my own, but ironically only next door. A door I and many others in white America have never walked through, but had access to.

I saw a loving, heart-full people that are literally dying for peace.

They read the names of 100 Chicago youth who have been killed during the last school year. They had 23-year old guys talk about their lives being changed from guns and violence to faith and freedom, but also the realities that many of their friends were now dead or in prison. They talked of doing everything they could to make their neighborhood a safe place for their children to play.

IMG_8306When asked for a show of hands of how many people have had a loved one killed as a result of violence, I looked around and saw most people in the large crowd raising their hands.

But not me.

I didn’t live in that life. Sure, I was born just a city away, in a town that had the 2nd highest crime rate in America while I was growing up. But I didn’t know anyone injured or killed through violence.

“How did that happen?” I wondered.

One older black man put his hand on my shoulder during the march and said, “I’m glad you came.” We talked. We held hands and prayed. And afterwards we all hugged everyone else around us and verbally affirmed, “I love you.”

IMG_8310In the face of terrible violence and poverty in their neighborhood, this was their expression.

Love was their rally cry.

My white friends, or privileged class, never rallied like this together to overcome impossible odds.

We never had to be uncomfortable like this.

We never had to be strong like this.

Another man struck up a conversation with me and joked about how hot it was in the unusually chilly 50 degree summer evening. I laughed back, “This is hot?? I know heat. I just moved here recently from South Carolina…”

And I nearly choked. I almost apologized, “And– and I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

And that almost-apology hasn’t left me.

Look at us. We are all applauding the open, public demonstration of forgiveness from the families of the Charleston massacre towards Dylann.

“How strong. How forgiving. How beautiful,” we admire.

We’re so happy to see a spirit of forgiveness in a racist situation.

God help us.

We are so blind.

We should not be expecting your forgiveness to offenders.

We should be asking for yours.

Where were we when your families were bought and sold like cattle? Where were we when your basic human rights were intentionally denied? Where were we in 1822 when multiple church leaders of Emanuel Methodist Episcopal Church were executed by the governing authorities? Where were we when our politicians and businesses and families decided that you were less than worthy of the kind of life we lived? Where were we during Selma and L.A. and Baltimore and Ferguson?

Where were we?

Sitting on our privileges, that we knew wouldn’t change whether we acted or not.

You have never had that luxury.

As a young white educated privileged American, on the behalf of those like me who have lived a brutally insensitive life,

I am so sorry.

Like Nehemiah when he learned of the corrupt deeds of his people and nation and came to God and said, “We have sinned against you,” even so I now realize that the sin of Dylann is the reflection of a culture that turns a blind eye to racial hate and next-door poverty. The weight of the harm is heavy. My heart is broken. I am hurting to reconcile.

His sin is our sin.

Is my sin.

And so, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for not listening.

I’m sorry for claiming the colorblind Gospel of Jesus but not seeking community in faith with you.

I’m sorry thinking that I wasn’t prejudice because I had several token black friends.

I’m sorry for not laying down my rights so that I could advance yours.

I’m sorry for not being a voice for your injustices to the ones in power that I had access to.

I’m sorry for being afraid of what other people would think of me.

I’m sorry that we avoid poverty and violence like the plague, that we warn each other about going to the South Side, or the West Side, or whatever side of the city is the impoverished side, thinking that somehow it would make us dirty.

I’m sorry for discriminating, for judging you by what you say or what you wear or how you look or what music you listen to or how you live because it looks different from me.

I’m sorry for using my privileges to make myself more privileged.

I’m sorry that we viewed Ferguson and Baltimore as a boy crying wolf, and that it took 9 innocent black lives being murdered to realize that there is a race problem, and that it is black and white.

I’m sorry that it’s taken an event like this to make us care about you, that makes us come together and unify.

I’m sorry for arrogantly saying things like, “The Civil War is over. Slavery is in the past. Get over it.”

I’m sorry for dismissing our nation’s historical past acceptance of slavery as “It was just the culture then,” instead of saying, “It was an evil culture.”

I’m sorry that when you reached out to us in your most desperate hour that we said, “Keep calm and carry on” when there was in fact everything to be enraged about.

I’m sorry for my brutal insensitivity.

I’m sorry for avoiding you.

I’m sorry for Facebook posts and tweets and conversations that made assumptions without having actual real relationships and experiences with you.

I’m sorry that our public, private and Christian educators don’t talk about civil rights or the civil rights movement as something that is important to our culture and identity as a nation.

I’m sorry for South Carolina specifically, that we could produce a generation of activists against blacks, that it did not happen on accident and was bred with a twisted value system that of course nobody claims but doesn’t really question.

I’m sorry that our churches use the words, “Us” and “Them” and not “We.”

I’m sorry that our churches don’t actively seek reconciliation with you.

I’m sorry that I have waited for you to come to me first.

I’m sorry that I would weep about the vast need of the unreached nations and how I wished I could go, but then the next moment watch the news get annoyed about another black protest to violence.

I’m sorry for our white flight and shamelessly running in retreat from the inner cities.

I’m sorry that our churches would bring in organizations to fight poverty in West Africa but never went to the “bad” impoverished parts of town to feed the hungry children.

I’m sorry for the death of your children, your fathers, your mothers, and your friends through violence that could have been prevented.

I’m sorry for those nights you sobbed yourself to sleep, wishing someone would believe you, praying that someone in a place of power would fight for your cause, but we saw it and ignored.

I’m sorry for being part of the reason for many days and nights of rejection and hopeless feelings.

I’m sorry for the name calling we have done, denigrating your value.

I’m sorry that this has gone on for generations.

I’m sorry for assuming everything was a political move.

I’m sorry for my injustice against you.

I’m sorry for my faith without works.

I’m sorry for thinking of myself more highly than I ought to think.

Before everyone I want to make a stand and declare that you are valuable, you are beautiful, your spirit is strong, your voice is heard, your cause is real, your mission is just, your people are our people, your dreams are our dreams, your struggle is our struggle, and your victories are our victories.

Since I was silent, ignorant and insensitive for so long, I want to honor you and humble myself by making this public.

Will you forgive me?

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This is very personal to me. It’s an overflow of my heart that somehow made it’s way to an open letter and blog post. You may understand me, but you also may not. That’s ok, because it’s been a long process for me. However, if this is your confession and you want to express your sorrow over any of our ignorance and insensitivity, please leave a comment and then share. Let’s do this together and take a real step towards reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.

#letsreconcile

**Read more about our country’s historical injustice in an article by Lecrae