Oh my soul aches in a cruel world where children are shot while learning ABC’s, blood splattered across the chalkboard, soaking their beautiful wide-ruled blue lined pages, their little feet barely reaching the floor, so much light this world lost when their innocent souls left, so much work their brilliant minds could have done, so much ache left in the aftermath.
My heart is crushed in a backwards reality where gays are shunned as yesterday’s trash, and pastors who seek fame and distort truth are glorified. But Jesus drew a line in the sand for a harlot, no better than trash to those religious leaders, and dared them to cast the first stone. And the truth distorters? He called them vipers.
I’m weary because when I was not a girl, not yet a woman, I stood in the church foyer of my daddy’s church and was called a whore by a woman I loved because I attended the one party I was invited to, in a friendless town, and a boy tried to take advantage of me that night, called to me in whispers from the hallway in the dark, luring me like a sex predator lures an innocent child. Rumors flew and what’s a preacher’s daughter to do? We’re supposed to be perfect.
I quake with loneliness because I feel the isolation of those who are not welcome in my southern white churches. I’d like to stand on top of the podium and declare that Jesus wants all the sick, all the hurting, every color, all of his brothers and sisters, all of God’s children and the same breath that’s in me, God breathed into them.
A cold wind blows through my soul because when I was 19 years old, a woman secretly recorded a conversation she and her husband had with my parents in her home, and she worked hard against them, carrying her banner of what she perceived as justice until she turned everyone away from the church, calling all the members away unto herself, and my dad had no one to support him, and the last member left in the pews–one sweet, but very feisty old widow woman–she brought us cans from the food pantry. I was paranoid and convinced there were cameras in my bedroom and the nightmares came every night. We were literally starved out–physically and spiritually–and we left the church and left the town, our hearts in our stomachs, our spirits grieved and hearts hard and for me the hellish dreams continued for years, every. single. night.
I shudder at witnessing the guts and gore of pastors leaving even now. I squinch my eyes up because I do not want to watch as respected leaders whom we loved and whom loved us hate their pastor in their hearts as they hand out food to the poor, and teach sweet, impressionable children as they spew words of malice out behind their shepherd’s back, toil and sweat toward his demise, and ultimately the devastation of his household. I do not want to know about their schemes in the dark, their hellish pranks and private meetings, do not want to behold such horrors, all vivid bloody gore to me.
I grieve for the dark-skinned women who came to my door, those sweet women, donned in their Sunday best. They are so dignified and humble, and loving, and they stand in the cold to talk to me. I grieve not because maybe they’re a cult as I was taught growing up–it’s just the opposite. I grieve because I have this painful, wonderful, awful revelation that my whole life I’ve been wrong and I’ve missed it. The church has missed it. These women stood on my stoop, the numbing cold not bothering their warm hearts as they continued to encourage me, long after I’d told them I felt we had found a church home. They told me it was commendable, what I was doing with my girls, teaching them at home, teaching them the scriptures, instilling values in them. I felt admiration from these women. They commended me. ME. It had been such a hard, questioning week and I told them that, how I was glad they came because I needed to hear that, and their beautiful eyes lit up. They told of how they visit some people who tell them if they hadn’t come that day, they would’ve committed suicide. “I admire you,” I said, “for doing what you do. It’s a brave thing, to get out and reach out the way you do.” They offered me books for the girls and I gave them some money for the ink, even though I knew that I wouldn’t agree with the theology in the pages and we might not read it. That didn’t matter. It would have been like saying no to a hot plate a a sweet ‘lil ‘ole widow neighbor cooked as a gift because stroganoff isn’t my favorite. And Jesus shocked them all when he said that the first shall be last and the last shall be first and no one ever expected that the despised and foolish things of the world would confound the wise and sometimes I find that my doubt is turned right inside out and I am on the other end, the “wise” one being schooled by these “foolish” ‘lil ‘ole women the world has looked down upon.
I shiver as arctic gales sweep right through me, and it’s sweeping right through the church. Do you feel it? And I weep and I dry my tears and tell myself to be strong, to not let my heart get smashed again. I take a good long look at the world, through red-brimmed eyes and with tears that won’t even fall anymore, my hard heart sees all the missed opportunities the church has had, that I have had. I see the poor that Mother Theresa consecrated her life to, I see the millions of children starving and dying in the dumps. I see the millions of babies that have been killed in America in the past thirty years by abortion, I see a gay community that feels hated by the church, I see depressed women wasting away in beds, never stepping outside their doors, afraid and quaking, from a life of abuse and they make it known that no one is welcome and I have been all of these and then some because I’m a sinner and I’m in need too.
And I’ve come to despise change because of what change did to my family when I was young and what it still does to those who give their lives. I don’t know how to continue believing, when I, being a thirty-something, in a deep depression, reached out to women in the church, and shared my secret in hopes they’d gather ’round and shore me up, and I was shunned instead, my leper sores glaringly ugly in the church lights.
Shunned like the gays, shunned like the druggies, shunned like my black sisters and brothers, shunned like Jesus.
Oh, for all that is holy, grace is not just for me, the me who grew up in church, the preacher’s daughter, it’s not just for the straights, the whites, the upper class, the lovable ones, the ones who do life the “right” way. Oh can you see it, friend? Can I?
Jesus came for the sick. Let’s be about our Father’s business.
And when my dark-skinned friend comes back to drop off that church invitation as she promised, I’m going to invite her into my heated living room, and with a glory hallelujah in my heart, have hot tea with her on my couch and talk with her like I would any of the other women in my circle, and I will tell her I’m a Christian, and do not intend to convert, but that I hope we can still be sisters in this kingdom work.
Only God knows her heart.
Only God knows mine. He wants all of us, friends, all of us sinners.
There’s no need to fear.
Let’s open our hearts, you and I.
And be about His work.