Family Matters and the Frustrating Church

famfightFamily reunions are a funny thing.  They create this bizarre mix of emotions that only occur in a family setting.  It is this tumultuous emotional churning of happiness and frustration, anger and joy that induces both laughter and temple rubbing.  Families make us feel the full spectrum of emotions, and they do so for one simple reason.

They matter to us.

The things we feel the deepest are felt so deeply because they matter.  The things that cause us the most joy and the things that cause us the most sorrow matter.  The things that cause us to soar to the heights of happiness and the things that make our bodies vibrate with anger do so because they are important to us.  If they did not matter, we would never – we could never – feel them on this same level.

For me that perfectly describes my feelings about my church at this moment.

I write this for those of you who go to church with me and for those of you may feel the same way about your own church at this very moment.  The single greatest source of concern, stress, and frustration in my life at this very moment is my church.  To be honest, there are moments that it is so frustrating and stress inducing to think about, that I wish I could just give it up and walk away from it all.

But I never could – it matters too much to me.

In the past couple of years our church has hemorrhaged people – going from a church pushing 150 to a church that struggles to break 60-70 each week.  It has cost me my career and changed the direction of my life.  It has affected me greatly, and I feel it deeply.  As our church dies, I feel like I die along with it.  The reasons people give for leaving have covered not liking the music, not liking the children’s ministry, not liking the preaching, personal conflicts, and wide variety of others.  The issues are hard to specify, making them hard to address – and it eats my lunch every time I think about it.  It stresses me, depresses me, frustrates me, and, at times, enrages me. But here is the funny thing, when I think of all of those negative things that the state of my own church makes me feel – it makes me think of one thing:

Family reunions and the turbulent landslide of emotions that can accompany them.

Do you know why what is happening in my church makes me feel that way?  I think it is because it matters so much to me.  It has to be, because only things that matter so deeply can make us feel so deeply.  What is the church if it is not family?  What is a family if it is not willing to stick it out in the toughest of times?  How can either survive if we so easily forsake them, so quickly give up on them, so rarely practice forgiveness, so often shy away from reconciliation, and so rarely pitch in?

I have to ask myself this question about my relationship with my own church – If it truly matters to me, then what kind of commitment am I willing to make to help this relationship work?  If I am truly being honest, I have to admit that there are definitely times when I have allowed those emotions to hinder my ability to lead and to worship.  I have utilized them as excuses for not serving.  In doing those things, I have become a part of the problem.

To my church, I say I am sorry; but I also say – you matter to me.  Even in the midst of the dizzying array of things I feel about you right now – you matter so immensely to me. You are my family even when I feel distant from you. You are kin to me.  It seems strange to say, but I am grateful for the frustration, the heartache, and the fear.  Those are all evidences of this strangely deep and beautiful connection I have with you.

I think it is a tragedy that so many people experience these feelings and so easily leave a church.  It is, I think a horrible precedent and so far from what the church is meant to be.If only we could open our eyes to the reality that these things we feel – good and bad combined – are all normal things for a family.  They are, in fact, symptoms of the reality that we matter to one another. We should not fear or flee these feelings.  We should embrace them, face them, and let them serve as a reminder of the deep deep connection we share with one another.

You are all my family – crazy aunts, obnoxious uncles, boisterous brothers, and all the rest.  It is a bond that I could not break if I tried, and I wouldn’t want to.

You matter to me.

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Field of Dreams

Personal spiritual stuff or baseball? I’m thinking baseball for now and a deeper spiritual post later this week.  I still plan on dissecting Rob Bell’s controversial book, “Love Wins” – but in order to do it justice, I want to re-read it, make some notes, and spread it out over multiple posts.  Until then you get my struggles or baseball – trust me, you want baseball.

I thought about writing about the problems I see with my team – the St. Louis Cardinals – but I’m not going to panic, and will reserve judgement for another week or so.  Bad team or not, I love the game.  This time of year my spirits are lifted for no other reason than baseball begins.  It is a love that is deeply rooted in my childhood.

Insert Our Faces Here

I grew up in a “undesireable” neighborhood where all the kids went to one of the “worst” schools in the Granite City school system. (That is HIGHLY debatable if you ask me)  For a child growing up in the 1980’s though – I couldn’t have had it any better.  Within a 6-10 block radius were 12-15 boys all within a  4-year age span.  Geographically, our neighborhood was centered between two school yards, the public school most of us attended, and a private one that most of our families couldn’t afford.  Combine demographics with geography – and it was a nirvana for young boys. We would play together every chance we could – from early in the morning until the street lights came on.  The only rule for most of us was to stay within dad’s whistling distance.  Rain, shine, sleet or snow – we played.  Scorching heat or bitter cold – we played. It really was like “The Sandlot”  – I even have my own version of the Wedney Peffercorn lifeguard story (I was a playa).

We played street hockey, basketball, war, tag, hide and seek, and football – but 9 times out of 10 – we played some form of baseball.  If we were lucky enough to have an actual ball and bat, we would fashion bases out of whatever was handy, be it trash, t-shirts, shoes, rocks, or dirt piles.  If supplies were limited, stick ball against the school wall with a tennis ball and broom stick sufficed – or maybe wiffle ball in the street (cars be damned!).  We played with a passion that would put most major leaguers to shame.  We argued balls and strikes, out and safe, fair and foul.  We spit, scratched, adjusted cups that weren’t there, and knocked the dirt from our Trax tennis shoes like we saw our heroes do on our console TV’s.  Lunch was often the only interruption – and rain RARELY stopped us (the mud just made it all the better).

Blue-Light Specials

Most of us were average at best – a couple of us had some real skill – but in the games we played, everyone had their shot.  When we stepped up to the plate – we became our heroes.  I was Tommy Herr one day and Doc Gooden the next.  I don’t remember if we kept score – I’m sure we did – but we played all day long so the score was irrelevant – it was all about the game, our love for it, and its ability to give us hope for something greater as irrational as that may sound.  I think just about every one of us at some point counted “being a St. Louis Cardinal” as what we wanted to be when we grow up.  Sure, I could go on and on about the greed and ill repute that has befallen the game – but even through that, my passion remains.  At 35, it’s still near the top of my list of things to be when I grow up

That’s why every year at this time – whether my Cards are expected to tank or win it all – my spirits are lifted.  It reminds me of my childhood and the foolish passionate dreams I had as a kid.  It takes me back to a time when life was simple, cares were gone, and dreams were realized in the middle of a weed covered field.  It’s the place I go now when I play catch with my daughter or watch her smack a softball up the middle.  I’ve always ridiculed parents who live vicariously through their kids – and I don’t want to be that parent – but in some way now I get it.  I want her to experience what I experienced.  When I watch and cheer, I also reminisce about Matt, Nick, Chris, Jeff and the rest of the gang – what I wouldn’t give for one more game in the school yard with those guys.  I could take ’em…

It is baseball season – and while I have traded my Trax for my Lazy-Boy – the irrational dreams aren’t up for barter.  Oh, and my daughter is already three times the ball player I was – just much cuter.