church

Google Search: Hipster Church, Louisville, College Kids

I can’t pinpoint the day when church made me want to run screaming, but it did. For many years. There are reasons that I won’t elaborate on, but it has to do growing up in a performance-based church with a legalistic upbringing and little experience of God’s grace, as well as some deep church wounds that were difficult to heal.

And even though for a time I couldn’t walk into a church, or stand to listen to people talk ‘Christianese’ at me, or sometimes even listen to others pray,

I still longed for community, I longed to be a part of the body of Christ that loved one another.

I just didn’t see a lot of it. And I became very cynical, so that even the genuine and grace-filled people in my life became tainted in my mind with the pain from my church wounds. My faith, at least in terms of ‘organized religion’, had been deconstructed. I wanted no part of any of it. And I know that countless others feel that way, too. I hear others talk about it all the time. Believers are disillusioned, and non-believers feel that their judgements of believers are confirmed as they see some of them behave in ways that are anything but loving. (A post I wrote a year ago, “Why Church Breaks My Heart“, was my most popular blog post to date.)

But my heart still clung to Jesus, even though my face was turned from his people.

I was (and still am) so disgusted by the beliefs and actions of many who claim to love Jesus. But I slowly learned that the church is messy, and that it’s just not going to always be beautiful messy as I had hoped. Sometimes it is even ugly messy. And what was I going to do about that? Stay away forever, or jump in and get my hands dirty?

To be honest, I still don’t know that answer to that question. But my wounds are healing to the point that I can talk about my God once again. I can listen to people pray without cringing. I can listen to people talk about their faith without judging them and doubting their sincerity.

It was quite the ugly place to be.

I feel like I can once again have hope for God’s people, for his Church. I have found other people of faith who are open and exploring social justice issues and are trying to  truly discern what it means to Love One Another as opposed to just towing a certain political line. We don’t always agree, but we can agree to disagree and listen to each other. And once again I can believe that Love Wins.

We had found a church in Portland, Or that we thought would be our church home – they were involved in helping the homeless, improving race relations, serving refugees.

And then we moved from the Pacific NW to Louisville, Kentucky –

the middle of the Bible belt, the heart of Southern Baptists, which sometimes represents the very type of ‘Christian’ that I had been trying to distance myself from. How could we ever find a church home? Did we even want to? We weren’t even sure that we were going to stay in Louisville, so was it even worth trying to find a place?

I talked to people about their churches, at work and in my neighborhood. We live in Clifton, a close-knit neighborhood, and I really hoped to find a church close to home. Like within walking distance. We tried a few, but they didn’t seem like a good fit. I attended a book study with women from a local mega-church, which was okay for a small group, but I really wanted to steer away from the mega-church mentality. I started googling the terms that were important to me: missional, social justice, homeless ministry, addiction support. One thing I was also hoping for was a church that was integrated – not just a bunch of white people. This is a very diverse city, but the churches we had attended were not diverse.

It is fortunate that most churches now have their services online, so you can ‘try out’ a church by listening to their podcast before attending. That won’t tell you everything, but it’s a start. My husband and I really have a heart for college kids, and I liked the Portland church’s vibe, so I googled

“Hipster church, Louisville, college kids”

Yes, seriously.

I scrolled past the extra-large churches and came up with a couple of names. (Honestly, I’m not sure how I found the names, because if I google it again, I don’t come up with the same results). I listened to their sermons, and one of the pastors, Matt Ness, did not make me want to run screaming. So we decided to try that church.

The Avenue Church started about five years ago as a ministry to University of Louisville students. They hold services in space in the middle of an office building/small business center. We walked into the small room with less than 100 people, where we saw a stage with a background of pallets, blue lights, and a pole in the center of the room. I was intimidated at the small size of the group, and I might have left, but Craig said “Let’s stay”. During the welcome time (and can I just say – WHY do churches still do that? but I digress) the pastor introduced himself and told us a little about the church. They recently decided to merge with the church that meets in the same space directly after them – a church called The Soul Center. This church is predominantly black, and the two pastors and congregations had decided to combine the two and become an integrated faith community.

How cool is that?

The two churches are forming a new church together, which will be called One Church. And it is just in the beginning stages – the first official combined service was to be in a few weeks (which will be this coming Sunday, December 6). AND they are involved in helping the community. They support an organization called the Family Scholar House, which helps single parents attending college. The Family Scholar House states their mission is “to end the cycle of poverty and transform our community by empowering families and youth to succeed in education and achieve life-long self-sufficiency”. AND they are involved in an organization called Eyes That See, which works with women in Ethiopia who desire to leave the sex industry.

From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of college kids and families. Not a lot of us ‘mature’ couples (yikes) but maybe we can offer something to this newly formed church. For the first time in a long while, I am excited about attending a church, being part of a church body, and finding a church community.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes . . .

 

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Why Church Breaks My Heart

October 5, 2014 by Kristin Meador
 
Day 5: For the month of October, I’ve joined over 1600 other writers in a 31 Day writing challenge. You can read more about it and see the participating blogs at write31days.com  Here is the starting page for 31 Days of My Search for Balance: Body, Mind, and Soul. From there you can find all of my October posts. 
 

Craig and I visited a church this morning, and we just couldn’t stay.

It breaks my heart, because I really want to find a church. Not a ‘church’ but a community of believers.

I am pondering what the ‘church’ is and how it has come to be the way it is. I am so uncomfortable with the programming aspect and business model of today’s American church, with the pedestal of one man leading the masses (we have seen recently how dangerous that can be and how many people can be damaged), and the ‘put on a show’ mentality. I can’t hear another 3 Steps to Improve Your Relationship With God (week after week after week). I am not saying that if this is what your church home is like that it’s wrong, I don’t know what is wrong in this picture, I just know that it’s not right for me.

It’s not that I don’t need words from wise teachers about how to grow as a follower of Christ. It just feels so formulated. It does not reach my heart. I know that church isn’t all about me and what I can gain from it. But I also believe that it should be a place that furthers your relationship with God? I love worship music and singing and even hymns, but why does every week have to be a concert? It so often feels like a showcase for musical talent rather than a group of people lifting their voices to worship God together. I would much rather go to Beer and Hymns at the pub. (I know many people who are feeling this way right now, and I hope we can find an answer. But I’d like to speak to those of you who are Christians and are reading this and cannot understand how I could feel this way. If you feel led to tell me about your wonderful church and how it’s different, or how I need to change my attitude because it’s not all about me, I ask you to have grace. Maybe before you give me advice or quote a scripture at me, please try to just listen to what I have to say, and maybe sit with it for a while.)

In my search for balance, one of the areas that troubles me the most is my longing for a spiritual community. The longing doesn’t trouble me, but the inability to find one is heartbreaking.

This has always been a challenge for my husband and me. But whenever we have moved to a new area, we have always seemed to find a place to land where we can grow and serve and learn and raise our kids. In last few years, that has all changed. I don’t know if it’s our station in life or just where our spiritual journey has taken us, but nothing seems to be a good fit. It took my husband a little longer to get to that realization than I did, because he is a very disciplined and routine type of man. But that is his story.

So I sat in this sweet little church, with lovely people, with talented musicians leading worship, and

I WANTED to want to be there. I wanted to find a safe place, a safe community. I tried to sit with my unsettled heart. Give it time. Don’t judge.

But I couldn’t stay. My eyes filled with tears, and my heart ached. I want a home, a safe place, a church family. And this was not it.  So we left and I sat in the car and cried all the way home.  The tears are streaming down my face as I write this. (The service started at 10, we left at 10:30, and I am just finishing this post at 11:30).

SO – what now? We’ve been asking ourselves this question for months, years. Here is the picture that makes my heart sing:

Maybe church looks like having a meal together around a large table, and breaking bread together. Maybe church looks like welcoming everyone to the table.

When I say everyone, I mean everyone (young, old, rich, poor, black, white, purple, straight, gay, transgender, religious or not religious). In my heart I see these people gathering together, sharing life, and talking about what God is doing in our lives. That might mean looking at the Bible, listening to a wise teacher, hearing from the couple whose marraige was broken but has been restored, or having the ten-year old who just learned how to not be a bully share her story.

It would look like a small community who meets regularly (whatever that means) looking at our community, our neighborhoods, our circles of influence, and helping where help is needed. Skin in the game, real helping. Not just talking, but doing. Feet on the ground, and hand dirty.

It would might looking beyond ourselves and being Jesus in our community.

Maybe it looks like buying groceries for the single mom, or taking her kids for the night so she can have a break. Or supporting families with foster kids. Or working at the soup kitchen, or homeless shelter, or volunteering with hospice to sit with dying patients. Or mowing your neighbors lawn. Or having a neighborhood breakfast in a low income neighborhood who may not get a hot breakfast unless it’s supplied by their school.

It might look like having Beer and Bible study with college kids. It might look like turning my home into a boarding house with a large community room and creating a safe place for people to land.

I really don’t know what it would look like. I’m just dreaming. I wish I knew what it should look like, and more than that, I wish I knew where to find it in my little community of Vancouver, Washington.

Until then, maybe I will head to Portland and try Beer and Hymns.

Disclaimer:  I have gone to church all my life, every Sunday (morning and evening) and midweek and weekend activities. I have been a Sunday school teacher, a youth group leader, a small group leader, and was a leader in women’s ministries for years. My husband was raised in the church. My kids were raised in the church. There is a lot I loved about those years, and they helped shape who I am today (good and bad). But my heart longs for something more, something different. I don’t even know what that means, and I don’t want to say that those still participating in church as it is are wrong. It’s just not the right fit for me. I have hesitated to write about this are because it makes me feel especially vulnerable, but I think today is the day.

My Briar Patch of Cynicism

Photo credit: Creative Commons

Photo credit: Creative Commons

I can’t trace the exact path that led me into the briar patch, but I can certainly remember some of the stepping-stones. Weariness of a broken world, wounds inflicted by loved ones, and although my heart is always bent toward Jesus, I wanted  to distance myself from a group of people who had become more defined by hateful words than the acts of love and acceptance that should define the word “Christian”.

Photo cred: Ricardo Gutierrez

Photo cred: Ricardo Gutierrez

It was uncomfortable at first, trying to manuever my way through the thorny vines so as not to get stuck. The vines slowly became tangled branches and formed a dense thicket where I could hide. As the branches surrounded around me, I felt protected, safe from predators. And after a while, I began to see a

tragic beauty in my discontentment,

Photo credit: Luis Soares

Photo credit: Luis Soares

and although the dense vegetation blocked out the sun, it also provided shade. I found that it was easier to bed down and rest in the coolness than to try and claw my way out of the thicket. My hard began to harden without the warmth of the sun. My friends who tried to pull me out were sometimes injured by the barbs. Other friends were happy I was in the briar patch, because they were living there, too, and they were glad to have company. A few unfortunate friends were injured by just brushing by, as they got stung by the surrounding nettles – a sting that does not fade quickly. The briar patch became a lonely, cold, isolated place, and I longed for the sun on my face.

So now I am now trying to make my way out of the briar patch – 

I am lifting my head out of the shadows and into the sunlight. I am trying to blaze a trail out of the tangled vines, but the thorns are sharp, and I can assure you, I am not getting out unscathed.

image

 

One of the tools that is helping me to clear the path is an author named Sarah Bessey. She paints a beautiful word picture of playing the music of cynicism like practicing on a piano, and the struggle to learn a new song of  goodness and truth, gentleness and beauty, faithfulness and kindness.  She proclaims, “I won’t desecrate beauty with cynicism any more. I won’t confuse critical thinking with a critical spirit, and I will practice, painfully, over and over, patience and peace until my gentle answers turn away even my own wrath. We’ll practice the ways of Jesus over and over, until the scales fall from our eyes and our ears begin to hear.”  You can read her whole post here. (It is part of my new favorite book, Jesus Feminist, of which she is the author.)

photo credit: Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons

photo credit: Michael Coghlan / Creative Commons

So if you feel stuck in the briars of cynicism – if have been wounded, if you are disillusioned, if you have lost hope, you are not alone. But it’s time to break free – wash off your scrapes, bind your wounds, and cut yourself loose from the tangles. Step out of the dark thicket and into the sunshine. Share your story. Look for rays of hope – women who are telling their stories of love and change, people of faith who are working for social justice, wounded warriors who are ready to walk with you, and help you blaze a new trail.

It’s time, sisters and brothers, it’s time.