If Churches have tracks (and I know for a fact some do), I grew up on the wrong side of them. Church People wore new shoes with the right dress, smiled a whole lot and brought fried chicken wrapped in cloth napkins for picnics once a month. I was one of six kids surviving the chronic angers of a house in a war of alcohol-breath, heavy fists, and a rage that could devour a family whole.
Many times the police were called in the night by the neighbors either worried or sick as we were of the whole situation. The blue and red lights circled every surface on our street like a dizzy disco ball, including the small Baptist church we could see if we were peeking out our living room window.
I don’t remember why or how I eventually found myself inside that church. Maybe I was bored, maybe I wanted to run away, maybe it was God. It could have been all three.
Even at eight years old, I felt like an outsider at church. Like a neighborhood stray, kindly tolerated but not belonging. I know now it could have been the foreign customs and new language or just that lonely ache you feel when your insides don’t match up with your outsides. At any rate, I learned to get the rules down and kept going as often as I could. And the rules seemed to be very important: they helped you know right from wrong, heaven and hell, us from them.
As the years and I both grew, I picked up the language, too. I heard about how much Jesus liked bread and fish and read about his John 3:16 kind of love. I had tasted (and for sure tested) and seen just enough to know God was real and had, at sweet times, felt the weight of His arm across my shoulders.
But mostly, and without knowing it, He remained thin and flat as the pages in my Bible.
When I was sixteen, I found myself pregnant and alone and made a secret choice I didn’t feel like was one at all. Many years after and as often as we went to church, I found myself holding hands with my husband, trying so hard not to flinch as the angry pastor spat the word abortion over his flock of sheep.
A grown woman made eight-years-old again…kindly tolerated but not belonging. If Jesus was so great, why were His people so hard to please?
The disconnect between my heart and head seemed to be exactly the same distance as the mouths and hands of the ones who claimed to know Him best. For many years I was confused by this chasm but also compelled by the winds of Truth I had felt blow my hair back a time or two in bearing witness to a supernatural kind of grace within the Body of Christ. The same church I felt like a stranger learning a foreign language in was also the one who replaced our belongings after our house had burned to the ground in the middle of the night years later. My naturally rebellious spirit turned towards questioning the truth of the Church as I had experienced because the fires of hell felt less hot than a Truth that doesn’t hold water.
Was the Church God’s own House entrusted to be served by mankind…or was it man’s house and God was given invitations for His Own service as needed? Yes.
Didn't God know when He took Jesus back and left Church to us that she would bear the stains of mankind’s hand prints?
He made a way home for that too and as Grace and God work, I was healed in the same terrible, beautiful Body of Christ I had been wounded in. My paper thin version of Jesus was resurrected with skin and bones more real than my own by men and women who brought God’s Kingdom on earth to me just as He had asked them to do.
And even while we humans still make up the Church, what I’ve received from her after all these years is an actual taste of heaven.
As a Church -rebel turned -lover, there are a couple of rules I’ve taken to following in case anyone like me ever finds themselves inside a church and doesn’t know why either:
Always make room at the table. People come into Church the same way they go into everything else: tentatively and desperately desiring to belong. Chase after people like their lives depend on it…we never know which one is God’s 99th sheep.
Assume every person is carrying around Church Baggage. Whether born at Church, a Church dater, or never been inside one, Church hurt is a real fact of life because humanity. We get it wrong and we don’t always get to go back and fix it. People are watching and they’re confused, hurt, or curious. They’ve heard the stories, too, so don’t just tell them about the Jesus in the Bible: be our Jesus in the flesh (John 15:5).
Stay poor. Brennan Manning says it best: ‘The poor in spirit are the most nonjudgmental of peoples; they get along well with sinners. The poor man and woman of the gospel have made peace with their flawed existence. They are aware of their lack of wholeness, their brokenness, the simple fact that they don’t have it all together. While they do not excuse their sin, they are humbly aware that sin is precisely what has caused them to throw themselves at the mercy of the Father. They do not pretend to be anything but what they are: sinners saved by grace.'
Confessions of a Church Rebel is Entry THREE in May 2019's blog series, Grace Givers. What does grace mean to you? Share in the conversation below.
Melissa Blair is a lifelong Texan and Church Rebel, lover of salsa and people. She believes equally in the power of belly laughs and hard conversations and can be found at melissablair.net writing a little bit about both.