Still True, All the Way Through
The other night I sat in a meeting with five other church elders and my head pastor, listening to him share the hard realities of leading our church. As he spoke to us, I recognized (again) the gift of being lead by a person who is attentively listening to God’s spirit. Thirty years in ministry, and he is still willing to change his mind, submit to God’s movement in his life, even when it’s painful, even when it hurts. For what felt like the hundredth time, I came home to my husband and said, Being a pastor is hard.
I said, I’m so grateful he is the one who leads us.
I know all about the other kinds of pastors, the ones who do not love deeply, or grieve, or take risks. I know about the ways leaders can hurt their followers, especially when those leaders have the job of representing the great, mysterious God.
I wrote about it here once, the very first piece I published in this space.
I want to write this for you. You, the one who sits with your face in your hands and begs yourself out the door into the church on Sundays. You, who questions hierarchy and recognizes the broken tendencies of leaders. You who wonders how the church can ever be its true self, how Jesus’ dream for God’s people could end up so flimsy. I want to write a story for you about what is possible.
I want to tell a story of the pastors I believed, then feared, those whose real lives seemed fraught with empty relationships, those who spoke words from the pulpit that felt closer to manipulation than truth. I want to tell how my hope cracked under the pressure of my dreams for them. My world told me they were super heroes. Under their capes, it turned out they were broken like me.
I want to write a story about those years I scoffed and rolled my eyes, longing for answers, assuring myself I was alone in the struggle. I want to write about the conversations my husband and I had back then, the tears: “What is church supposed to even be? Is it hopeless?”
When I found out my beloved Deeper Story was closing its doors, I went back to the archives to remind myself of all I’d published here. And it was sweet to find I’d told a wide-spaced story, one with a long view. It was sweet to be reminded that these past two years, month by month, my posts have told a story of faith, one I’m honored I was allowed to tell.
That first post was about pastors, the hope of good ones. I’ve also written about pastors who fail. I’ve written about half-hearted faith and half-hearted thanks. I’ve written about how there is not a trophy for strong faith, a God-medal for the most perfect life. I’ve written here about the hope of failure and the grace of learning to become a priest-mama, believing that we will be made whole, despite our ashes.
I wrote here that, “beyond the fog our God holds us: Our theology, our fear, our broken burnt up lies, our needy bits of heart. Our healing.”
And today, in my last Deeper Story post, it feels right to end with the first words I shared here in this good space, where I’ve been asked to tell my stories, to walk through my past two and a half years of holding faith with open, grateful hands, where I feel that in some ways, I’ve written my way toward a new space of hope and faith in the story of Jesus and his Church.
I’m still writing the story of how church is hard and complicated and good, how following Jesus is always dangerous because it’s the realest thing. It’s true, all the way through.
Christine says, “If it’s real, it has to be real all the way through.” She points her finger through the air. “If it breaks down, if Jesus is not who he says he is, none of this is worth it.”
I’d just said how grateful I was for the space they had created within our church community: humility, genuine compassion, kindness. I’d said I’d never forget how she followed me out of the sanctuary our first morning at Christ Church, my embarrassing exit with crying six month old. She’d found me and sat beside me, said, “We love crying babies here…”
And she had meant it.
“True all the way through,” she says in her living room, t-shirts crumpled on her lap.
And they bless us and send us out into night.
The good, hard things always end with blessing, don’t they? They always end with hope.