I’m thinking about giving up Church for Lent. Not that I want to really give up Church, I’m just thinking about it, in the sense that it’s been on my mind.
Here’s why: I think that sometimes, we who are heavily involved in the Church become “pathological Christians.” “Pathology” in reference to the practice of the Christian faith seems to be a harsh word, but at its root, it means “the study of suffering” (pathos=Greek for suffering, logos=Greek for “word” or “study”).
So, can the Church make us as Christians suffer? You bet it can!
It happens when we let ourselves, our sense of identity and vision, get so wrapped up in the Church, or in our particular practice of the faith, that we exclude others, or even God, in order to protect it.
It happens when we become rigid or narrow-minded about others, because we can’t imagine that their practice of following Christ could be as holy or valid as our own.
Yesterday, in a conversation I had with a community leader, I was struck by one comment she made. She observed that sometimes churches can become like high school football teams. People ask, “What church do you go to?” and when they get an answer, they automatically judge the other person based on what church they attend, and automatically assume that their church is “better.” What does that mean? How can one church be “better” than another? I could sense her frustration with Church as she shared this with me, and I grieve, not because she said this, but because it’s so true, and strikes at the heart of what can happen when we become pathological about our particular way of experiencing God.
What can really hurt, though, is when we idolize our Church so much that when the Church doesn’t live up to our expectations, we’re devastated. The Church, after all, is made up of human beings. Its not God. So, there are bound to be imperfections, and even sins, that will creep in from time to time. What we need is to be forgiving of one another’s faults, and find ways to move forward together, rather than become disillusioned when the Church falters or fails because of our very humanness.
So, in order to help heal the suffering that our attachments (even to Church) can have, I encourage others to think about “giving up Church” for Lent–or at least, your attachment to it–and cling to God alone for salvation and comfort. In the end, when the Church is no more, and we’re all gathered into God’s kingdom, that’s all that will matter.