Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Smoke Break



I don't remember much about our search to find the first "official" church home of our marriage. I don't remember exactly how many churches we visited or how many Sundays it took for us to realize the one we had found was "it".

All I know is, someone roped us into getting up an hour earlier in order to sit in the cold metal folding chairs of a Sunday school classroom.

Everyone was wonderful, so kind, quite funny.

But I didn't know we were home until the guy across from me cleared his throat and said out loud to the rest of the circle that he had trouble with his mouth. He cussed when he things didn't go well at his factory job. He cussed like a sailor.

I couldn't believe he was admitting this to the rest of us. I had never seen anything like it. It wasn't the discovery that I was circled up among cussers that almost knocked me out of my seat, it was the fact that he admitted to it. Without any unnecessary emotional fanfare. This was one of his struggles. He didn't feel super great about it. He needed help. And he seemed to profoundly, yet simply, understand this is why he had Jesus, and this is why he had the rest of us.

Last week, ten years and two towns away from that old Sunday School circle, I dashed out of church to run home and grab my side-dish for the post-service carry-in.

When I pulled back into the lot ten minutes later, I noticed an intriguing congregation of fellas on the North side of the building. There was the youngish guy who often wears a Cubs t-shirt under his choir robe, a couple of guys who have become like kin to us, the worship leader, and a quiet guy I don't know well at all. Loyal servants and leaders of our church. All of them were smoking.

This phenomenon wasn't a revelation to me. But I'd never received the gift of this sheepish collective.

From my van, I raised my eyebrows and grinned so hard.

"What's going on over there?"

"Oh, nothing good," he grinned back, snuffing out his cigarette and walking my way. "Need a hand?"

I loaded him up with pickles and beans.

And I knew for the hundredth time that I was home.

Not because this church is perfect, not because it's everything I always dreamed a church home should be, not because everyone gets along and behaves graciously, or because it meets every one of my piddly needs.

It's home because there are people - at least some - who straight-up wear their humanity, even on Sundays. The men I saw love Jesus and recognize their need for him. They have habits they'd probably rather break, and I'm guessing they also sin, every day.

They could wait until they got home.
They could take pains to relocate to a more obscure location.

All that would accomplish among the rest of us is the mounting dread that everyone is better at this holiness gig and the looming despair that what's required of us is either to get our crap together or to pull up our pantyhose and at least act the part.

I'm so exhausted by our filters. I'm worn bare by our refusal to live authentically, as actual humans.

As believers called into community, we are set apart, tasked with wearing the shine of a love we could never manufacture. Our job is to relent daily to Christ's molding, to wear our plasticity like a badge - "I'm In Need of Changing". Our job is not to be plastic, wearing our mask of perfection like a smug iron gate - "Come Back When You're Better".

Call me crazy, it's okay. But only in a place marked by visible imperfection and authenticity can I fully own my personal brokenness. And only in fully owning my brokenness am I compelled to chase heart-pounding after my Redeemer.

Let's honor the honest.
Let's be them, too.