I get this question all the time:
From a friend who is a community organizer and getting shit done to bless and change lives and systems without a worshipping community: Why church?
From a friend who was a part of a church start recently and feels the weight of the world lifted as he is able to open his calendar to neighbors and the neighborhood with that blessed void of abandoned church activities: Why church?
From friends who have found the face of Jesus in friends, neighbors, people in poverty, and various online communities: Why church?
When I tell a friend - and cite thorough research - that a new church start takes about 10 years to be financially sustainable: Why church? (I mean, I'm an intelligent, educated, articulate woman who just committed to a potentially unstable job that about half the population doesn't think should even exist - probably more than half in the PNW - for the next 10 years, when I could probably work my way into a more stable trade. Am I insane?)
And sometimes I struggle for an answer.
The church has been the single most harmful presence in my life. (Often - though far from always - the most redemptive as well.) The church consistently misses the point of Christianity. (I can't count the hours I've spent with pastors and lay people dreaming about hip Sunday services when there are people living in the streets.) Often I have to fight the church to welcome gay and lesbian friends, to fight global slavery, and to see people who happen to live outside or in deep poverty as actual people, or even to allow me - as a woman - a voice. It is exhausting.
Doing good work is exhausting enough. Living a Jesus life is exhausting enough. Why add church on top like a mythic straw that breaks my laden back? Better yet: why ask others to carry that epic last straw?
Because I have a picture in my head - but really in my gut (which I think is smarter than my head. There's this whole other brain there that didn't pay attention in seminary but has paid attention in life: watch this) ...I have an unshakeable picture in my gut of something different.
I have a picture in my gut of a gathering of people who welcome all people into their hearts with no caveats, litmus tests, or limitations.
I have a picture in my gut of a family of friends attempting to live this Jesus story out on the streets.
I have this picture in my gut of a support group for those who are giving everything they have to see their neighborhood flourish. To bridge gaps between rich and poor. To offer physical and spiritual space for those without homes. To offer metaphorical space for those without a sense of home. To extend recovery to the epidemic of people dying from heroin. To extend recovery to the epidemic of people dying inwardly from independence and isolation. To welcome the unwelcomed. To feed the hungry. To be with and for prisoners, orhpans, widows, and foreigners. To make Luke 4:18-19 an exquisite and obvious reality. And to live as though Mary's song was our anthem.
I have this picture in my gut of a community of people asking "what does love look like?" in their daily lives then supporting each other to experiment with an active love to neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.
I have this picture in my gut of a community of people who see, join, and celebrate redemption where they see it at work and experiment toward redemption where don't yet see it.
I have a picture in my gut of all of us together anchoring all this work in the Jesus story of undying (literally) hope for love, justice, and redemption.
I have this picture of all these people - simultaneously weary and joyous - coming to a common table around things as common as bread and wine to share in their work toward love and justice and tie that work to a hope greater than any of us has on our own: the hope that - if Jesus died and rose - all things are possible. If Jesus is present (in some wacky way) in bread and wine that we give thanks for and serve to one another as both physical and spiritual nourishment, all redemption is possible.
And after we gather and share our war stories of seeking God's love and justice in big and microscopic ways, we send each other out with blessing, courage, support, and a hope unlike any other that all our toiling is neither in vain nor in isolation.
And I suspect others also have this picture of hope rumbling restlessly in their guts, like too much curry.
Now, how do I get there from here - working alongside my husband with no other real partners in our neighborhood just yet? Gosh. I don't know. I'm supposed to know. That's my job. But I don't know. So, we'll experiment. We'll try things. We'll listen. We'll befriend. We'll partner. We'll attempt. We'll fail. But we won't fail. A friend (Dan Steigerwald) recently reminded me: "The metrics of success if faithfulness." So, we'll be doggedly faithful and creatively resilient.
And maybe it won't materialize. But there's an unshakeable picture in my gut that tells me it will. And it will be beautiful.
Why church? Because I have an unshakeable hope rumbling about in my gut and I suspect others do too.