I know a lot of people who have had a bad experience with the church. I am one of them. Complaints can range anywhere from boredom and irrelevancy to abusive authority and embezzlement. It is not a pretty picture. We, as Christians, do not have a proud history in many ways. I am not sure how to respond to the growing number of friends who have chosen to avoid much of the organised church.
At the very least, I still want to be their friend, but some of them find even that difficult since I serve as a leader in a local faith community. Understandable. I also want to be a good listener. This means that when people tell me their stories, I realise that it is an honour, a privilege, and a gift to be trusted with their pain. I cannot discount their experience, explain it away, or trivialise it. I can attempt to put it into context and try to understand the larger picture, but I can never dismiss its impact.
Today, while I was doing some stretches after my workout, I watched Extreme Makeover on TLC. It featured a family living in North Dakota who have a 14-year-old son named Aaron with cerebral palsy. The mother serves as the primary caregiver. She looks after his physical needs, bathes him, dresses him, and sleeps with him every night just in case he has a seizure (which can be life-threatening). In fact, she has not slept in the same bed as her husband for 14 years. To add to the strain, her husband suffered a heart attack recently and is now unable to assist her with any lifting, and Aaron has to be carried anywhere that his chair cannot go.
The house the family lived in was not built with cerebral palsy in mind and made many tasks difficult. The Extreme Makeover crew showed up, along with several hundred volunteers, and moved the old house off the lot and gave it to another family. Then they built a new house with large, open spaces, wide hallways and doorways, and a custom room for Aaron which included a shower with a lift and a sensor which will alert anyone if he is having a seizure. The father was rendered speechless when their new house was unveiled, and the mother laughed through her tears, the relief obvious.
The mother has always desired as normal a life as possible for her son, so several years ago she signed him up for baseball along with his younger brother. Due to safety concerns, the league was not willing to have him play with the rest of the kids. She then decided to begin a baseball league especially for kids with disabilities, a place where everyone could participate regardless of their physical limitations. It is called Dream Catchers. Every child has a buddy to help them play the game, and the rules have been adjusted so that everyone gets to bat, hit the ball, run the bases, and be in the field. After a week of hard work, the EM design team served as buddies while the kids played a game. It was not surprising to see the men on the crew tear up when they talked about the experience.
Despite the incredible strain on this family, none of them could be called complainers. They have willingly adjusted their lives to incorporate the weakest member of the family. They do what needs to be done and find joy in the delighted screeches that come from Aaron's mouth. The host of the show remarked that this family had something special that had seen them through a lot of hard times, and that is unconditional love.
The show ended and I was wiping away my own tears of emotion when the intro for the next program came on. It was another design show and featured a woman of impeccable taste selecting fabrics and ohhing and ahhhing over the exquisite patterns. The shallowness of the premise struck me hard. Not that I want to pass judgment on anyone with fine taste, but it seemed self-indulgent. I love beauty, but it is not found in the expensive things. It is alive in a field of upturned sunflowers. It is inexplicably present in the smile of a child and the wag of a dog's tail. It is ever-present in the loving dedication and painstaking attention to detail that an artist brings to his craft. And it runs at full speed in a mother's love.
And what does all this have to do with the the sad state of the church? I believe we have forgotten how to live lovingly and sacrificially with the weakest among us. We have become self-indulgent in many ways, shopping for fine spiritual atmospheres, and developing expensive and discriminating religious tastes that are not easily satisfied. This applies both to the leaders who harness the power of the church for their own ends and to those who would rather walk away from the whole mess. I am not talking about staying in a toxic environment, but about learning to love and have patience with those in our family who are not on the same page as we are. We as Church have a responsibility to be buddies to those who are unable to help themselves, those who have been disabled by the challenges of life, and those who have fallen victim to the bad choices they and those around them have made. The world is an unforgiving place; the church should not be. I am not excusing the horrible behaviour of church leaders, but are we any less horrible when we curse them and disown them? It is easy to walk away. It is really, really hard to have the courage to stay and fight for the beauty of unconditional love. Everybody needs a buddy.
Check out the website: Dream Catchers
This is Dean and my nephew hitting some balls a few summers ago. One of them is a good baseball player, the other...not so much.