To the dying church,
Sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. You are dying because you’ve been applying band aids for a far deeper problem. You are consistently doling out superficial remedies for surface wounds when the source of pain lays untreated.
Church, you have confused biblical hope for optimism. When hurting people walk through your doors, you play the positive thinking guru and dispense quick fixes with inspirational quotes. You provide cheap grace and empty promises that are driving people out your doors.
You have mistaken confidence with certitude. When people come with authentic questions, you forsake healthy dialogue in exchange for a veneer of harmony. You post your doctrinal statements at your gates and demand unsure people to come in or stay out. The resulting homogenous bubbles you’ve created are sure to burst.
You have traded in a revolution with a scripted life. Young people are looking to partner with others to embark on a hero’s journey, and you have asked them to simply change a few bad habits. You have missed the mark on addressing a deep, felt need to be meaningful.
Why do you insist on being sanitized? Why are you so afraid of the mess? Do we not preach a God who was crucified? The cross is a mess. It is an instrument of terror. It pierces the flesh and suffocates the victim. It reveals gruesome torture, exposes violence, and strips all shreds of dignity. It is not a contained, civilized doctrine. Rather, it is a canvas splashed with the darkest, bloodiest, most heinous parts of our messy humanity. If we serve a God on a cross, we must follow in the way of the cross, and enter into the pain and struggle of the people God died in order to save.
We are not looking for answers or even solutions from you. We want you to point us to that God, the One who is not afraid to enter the messiness of our humanity. Looking out we see unspeakable violence perpetrated against the weakest among us. We see mass destruction of trees, animal species driven to extinction, and waters polluted by human greed. We see nations fighting, people persecuted, and children dying of abject poverty. Looking in we find our own feelings of loneliness, isolation, powerlessness, and guilt. We are confused, afraid, and hurting.
But we do not come to you carrying that much pain, just so we can sing some feel-good songs and be sent on our way, as if we’re all patched up and new after an hour in the pews. We don’t need to hear a sermon telling us to “turn off” all the negative emotions we have, and fake it until the next Sunday. We want to speak the truth about how truly messed up we are, in your sanctuary: a safe haven. Safe to be real, safe to hurt, safe to lament. A safe place to figure it all out with other broken people.
We don’t want the band aid: we want to air out our wounds in an atmosphere inviting true healing. We need to feel the extent of our pain so we can be driven to find the root causes. We want to share our wounds with one another, because when it really, really hurts, it matters to know we are not alone.
To the dying church: we are all dying. We are all being held captive by existential anxieties of death and meaninglessness. I know you have an uphill climb to get us to confront our Void. It seems we would rather reach for our smartphones, stress-eat, couch surf, binge on our work, or turn to substances. If and when we get to you, please don’t offer just another thing to numb our pain. Help us wade through these deep, dark waters of anxiety; together in the diminishing numbers of communities which are hobbling forward by faith. It hurts to dig deeper. It’s painful to get inside of our anxieties and face them full-on. G.K. Chesteron says,
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
Let’s try this difficult thing together: expose and share our wounds, and in doing so, find the beginning of healing and life.
Cindy Brandt blogs at cindywords.com and serves on the board of One Day's Wages, an organization fighting extreme global poverty. She studied Bible/Theology at Wheaton College and holds a Masters of Arts in Theology from Fuller Seminary.