Lately I've been reading a book I never thought I would like. Sometimes it's part of the job. I have a review copy of Simple Compassion by Keri Wyatt Kent, a weekly devotional by Christian publisher Zondervan. A book that first shows women that God loves them specially — despite the patriarchal tone typical of church upbringings — and second how to reflect that love to family, neighborhood, and further outward. Essentially, how to build your own community. Now, devotionals aren't my thing, generally speaking, but 'community' has been one of my buzzwords for a few years (right, Jeff?). Welcoming, that sense of community, is one of the foundation garments a church should always be wearing yet consistently goes without. How progressive. Maybe we burned them. Who knows? Whatever the reason, the lack of community has been my chief complaint about churchgoing for more than a decade.
I'll spare you a review of the book itself and simply say that several points snagged on bitter strings in my head, working them free and loose despite my original apathy. They're old, marbled complaints, some of them, and blurring my vision when it comes to organized religion. I'm always telling myself that the church is made up of fragile, messy individuals and couldn't ever be a perfect place. A coverall for the behaviors I've witnessed as a minister's daughter. The truth is that I've not found a church rich in love, since leaving the church of my childhood. Did I receive special treatment there as a pastor's daughter? Tell me that's not all it was. I've too many friends in similar circumstance, waiting outside the church's established circle for an invitation of friendship. Where is the genuine, welcoming spirit? Beyond the handshake. Where is the compassion that powered Jesus? Perhaps beneath your polished outfit, or a few dog-eared pages back in that Bible you're carrying. Perhaps there's not enough love to cover my jeans.
Welcome, with love as its core, seems to be the one thing nobody is toting to church these days, like it singularly belongs to the holiday spirit special sessions or back at the soup kitchen. The thing is, nobody sees how lonely we all are. How separate and sad.
I've spent too much time wishing someone would reach out to me. See me. Too much time dressing and doing my hair so anyone might notice. I've been going for the wrong things. You see, I notice. I see you. And it's time I do something about it.
Not sure how to forgive churches of people or if they will ever know, but I do. I forgive those who were unwelcoming, who didn't remember me from week to week though we talked in the hallway, who in passing only looked at my dress. While I'm at it, I forgive you, Mrs. Williams, for your terrible Christian example to a teenager that looks, in hindsight, a lot like regular human frailty. I'm tired of carrying this bitterness around, parlaying it into excuses.
I don't need a church to teach me about love. My parents did that, my siblings, now my husband and his family, my friends. I have love. But mine is also mostly inside, where I wish it would start to radiate. I need to stop judging everyone else by standards I can't live up to myself. I forgive me. Yes, me. Now maybe I am free to get started building another community, full of freaks and weirdos like me who know how important it is to belong.