This week has been awful for our country. Facebook makes it worse – we only see portions of people, and we forget that they are people. We find something they said to be absolutely horrible, or unforgivable, or we think that they aren’t the people we thought they were because they have some heinous opinion about something. This seems to be especially prevalent among my church peeps. I have seen many people this week who I respect as Christians posting things that I so strongly disagree with. And I know I ruffled a few feathers and caused some pearl clutching with my #blacklivesmatter post.
Some of these issues stream from the skewed versions of ourselves that we present on Facebook, a place where we can readily share opinions with our audience without quite as much of the accountability that takes place when you say something right to someone’s face. I always try to say things on Facebook that I would be willing to say in real life, but it’s hard to convey tone, too, so even those things can be misinterpreted.
And then I can go back in time in my mind, to the world before Facebook, or even texting for that matter, when my church, my Christian brothers and sisters, treated my family in a way that was undoubtedly anti-God. When I felt cast aside by the very people who were supposed to unconditionally love me, and I wasn’t supported even though the issue was completely unrelated to me. I was 15, and my church broke my heart. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand how Christians could be like this. And I didn’t want to be grouped with them. (Sometimes I still don’t.) But I loved my Jesus. It’s honestly a miracle to me – when I look back on sophomore year of high school – that I’m still a Christian. I’ve never denounced my God, somehow, by his grace, even though I hated his church, and his people. Clearly, this division in the church is not only related to Facebook or social media, because it was present even in 2002.
I expect division between non-Christians and Christians – we disagree on basic life things, so it makes sense that the tension there is palpable. Interestingly, though, we Christians have so much tension, too, because even though we agree on the most basic life thing, we can somehow still manage to disagree on, like, everything else. [Our sermon was about that this morning in church – finding the way of love when there are disagreements about the non-essentials of Christian life, learning how to love other Christians even when you disagree with them, and finding a place of unity with our love for Christ and for each other. It was a super good sermon, and totally applicable right now (as always, love my pastors!).]
Along this topic line, I find myself every week looking at my church family. Yes, I still go to church. I had to keep going as a high school kid since my dad was the Music Minister, and I mostly kept going in college (although I took a “finding-myself break” for a while there as most college kids do). I go to a big church now (a big, amazing, beautiful, wonderful church), and I probably know like 15% of the people who go there. I know all the people on the worship arts team, because that’s my place and home (hashtagworshiparts hashtagworshipchoir). And I know my similarly-aged pals with similarly-aged kiddos and similarly-aged lifestyles. But for the most part, I don’t really know the people. This could make it easy for them to just be “its” to me instead of people. There’s a disconnect there because there aren’t relationships. And part of me wants to fight that and try to get to know literally everyone who attends my church, but I know that’s unrealistic. I’m just not in a phase of life where that’s possible, and also you can honestly only cultivate so many meaningful relationships before everyone is just a casual acquaintance because you don’t have the time to deepen any of those friendships. The more realistic part of me knows to be loving and friendly and servant-minded, and the closer friendships will develop with the people God puts in my life over time.
It’s easier to love people when you don’t know them, I think. Once you have a chance to see how imperfect they are, it’s easier to dismiss them or find them disappointing. But when you haven’t met them yet, there’s an imaginary version of each person that you meet that you expect them to be like. I find myself looking at all the people and wondering about their stories and lives and families, and finding it so magical that we love the same Jesus and we’ll know each other someday for sure even though we’re adjacent strangers worshipping right now.
And that’s the magic of it all. That magic is so easy to forget when we get to know actual people – when we realize that the romanticized version of them that we made up in our own heads just isn’t true, or when we see how sinful they are (just like us). But the magic is still there – adjacent strangers worshipping are totally broken and messed up sinners who have recognized their all-powerful, ever-loving, wonderfully gracious God and stand together before him and worship.
Sometimes, I’m on the worship team, and I wear in-ear monitors so I can get a good mix of the band and voices. These are awesome, and a super cool piece of technology that I’m really grateful for. But with my ears in, I can’t hear the congregation. And then there are the weeks where I’m off – that was this week. And I get to sit in the congregation and look around. And again, we’re broken, sinful, adjacent strangers worshipping the same God. In the same family, brothers and sisters not even knowing each others’ names.
I love this.
I love it! I can’t get enough of this magic. There are billions of people who have lived and are living. There are billions who have known and know Jesus. Who come together across the entire globe to live for Him and worship Him and love Him. Who disagree on all kinds of theology and have different kinds of families and different problem sin areas and different strengths and different stories. And we all sing together, “The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ our Lord” or “in Christ alone, my hope is found.” And we all have the most important thing in common. It moves me to tears when I see the people around me worshipping our God. Like every week.
In our individualistic America, I think we forget that magic sometimes. There are a whole world of people who love the same Jesus I love, and have been moved by his message the same way I have. We are so different, yet so alike. He saved us all. We are broken and beautiful and we do the wrong things and we’re forgiven. We can embrace and accept and show compassion and love and tenderness and accountability because that’s what was shown to us by Christ. There is so much power in our ability to forgive, our magic to love people who we don’t even know.
So I encourage you, when you are feeling bitter and angry toward God’s church, who probably broke you in half like it did to me when I was 15, to come to church anyway and sing with them. Listen to the people next to you worshipping the same God, and know that He is doing for them what He is doing for you. Feel joyful and connected and at peace about this ugly, imperfect, broken church who is trying to figure out this whole Jesus-love magic.
This is how the world is supposed to know that we are His. We are one group, one body and we serve one King. And it seems like a whole lot of the time, in order to serve our King, we have to put aside our differences and focus on our similarity.
Bring us together, God! Help us to accept and love and forgive each other and hold each other accountable. Help us to show the world that we are yours because of how we love one another.
And all God’s people said, “Amen.”