A provocative title, I know. However, I had an encounter that has lodged itself in the forefront of my thoughts, and I wanted to flesh out my feelings, my thoughts, my frustrations… Although my experience caused me to wrestle with some big issues, it begins with a positive heartfelt confession.I love Fridays. Since Brad took his new position at the Port campus, his days off have changed to Friday and Saturday. Once the kids are whisked across the street to school at 8:25 am, Friday officially becomes a Brad and Lalainia day. A husband and wife day. A hanging out with your best friend day. At least until 2:35 pm when the kids are finished school.
This last Friday, we decided to brave the cold and go for a walk. It was beautiful outside. Crisp, cold, but when well bundled, refreshing. We set out for a long walk on the trails beside the Coquitlam River. We get the opportunity to talk about so many things as we walk: work, our children, memories, the future, Brad’s new found passion ‘The Port’ (also known as his job), projects I’m working on, our extended family… it was a very long walk, with LOTS of talking.At one point of our walk, we cruised through a park, that was littered with benches throughout. At a particular bench that we passed, there was a group of older gentlemen, some seated some standing; they were talking, laughing, rousing each other on. As we got a bit closer, it became apparent that they each had their own stash of beer or wine, either in a paper bag, or housed deep inside their jacket. As we passed we smiled and greeted each other.As we continued on, I noticed the gaze of one particular gentleman lingering a little bit longer than the others. It was difficult to peg his age, maybe 50 or 55. He could have been younger but, like the other men who were in his company, it appeared as though life’s difficulties and hard living had worn, cracked and faded his exterior. However, in an instant, he flashed an unabashed, brilliant smile, and I realized he had recognized Brad.Brad, already moving in, extended his hand to this man for a shake, and called him by name. He gave him a quick half hug and told him that he had been missed.
The gentleman’s face was suddenly transformed to that of an six year old boy, who may have just been caught with his hand in the cookie jar. “Thanks, man.” he said self-consciously, but still looking at Brad, almost hopeful, in a way.Brad mentioned that the guys from ‘the house’ said he had dropped out. “The House” is a live-in drug and/or alcohol rehabilitation program that is supported by our church. The program also includes attending our church on Sunday’s. It’s an incredible program, that gives a lot of men new hope, and often a new life. I realize that this one has slipped through the cracks. My heart immediately aches for the weathered child-like face before me..The gentleman, still looking a little sheepish, says: “Yeah. I know… I’m gonna make it back… one of these weeks, I’ll be back…”With great tact, coloured with some humour, Brad pointed to the open wine bottle nestled in his jacket and with a hint of a smile he leaned in to say: “I don’t think this is helping you, is it?”
Half-heartedly he agreed. “No. No, definitely not…” And he added, almost to himself, but with a hint of confession, “That’s why I haven’t been at church…” he darted his eyes downward, referencing the bottled security blanket in his coat. I could see in his earnest expression, he meant it. My heart, right then and there, broke for this man.Quickly Brad replied, “No, man. That’s not the way it is. You come as you are… Come as you are…” The last sentence, so important, was repeated and lingered as an invitation.
We moved on, continuing our walk. But my heart had just been dropped and splatted on the pavement where that man was still standing. My thoughts were buzzing. I was torn between crying about this encounter, ranting about the woes of addiction, and wanting to turn around, sprint back to him, look him square in the face and tell him how much he is loved. How sorry I was that he had to struggle. I wanted to share with him what I’ve learned about my own addictions. I wanted to encourage him to come clean again… to tell him the secret is to take it one day at a time. Or one hour at a time. Or one minute at a time. And to not do it on his own…I wanted to tell him that there will always be someone there for him. Ask him to come to back to church, because there, we can support him, help him, love him…But I didn’t do any of those things. Apart from being inappropriate on so many levels, I had just met the gentleman, and didn’t know anything about his story. However, it continues to gnaw at me… What was it about this encounter that bothered me so much, apart from the helplessness I often feel when interacting with those who battle dark, fierce addictions? I realized, it was his comment about church. He had, at some point on his journey, experienced, whether real or perceived, that he needed to get himself ‘together’ – off of alcohol, or any other addictions he might be struggling with before he felt he could walk through our gym doors (our church meets out of a school gymnasium). I have heard this time and time again from others who purposefully stay away from church. What have we done wrong that broken people, ordinary people, no longer feel welcome?
As I begin to open this can of worms, please know that I am fully aware that the list of wrongs ‘the church’ has been involved in, privy to, and in many instances instigated, is a list as long, if not, longer, than the number of Christian converts themselves. I have had many conversations with friends, just like this gentleman, who haven’t felt welcomed in the church; they’ve been hurt in some way, judged… rejected… unloved… To all of that, I would say, the church itself is full of ordinary, everyday people. The same people who: cut you off while driving, annoy you at work, gossip, pick on petty grammar mistakes, snap at you when grumpy… and the list goes on and on. Now imagine the worst of those people now congregating in one building! That is kind of what the church is like. A gruesome, raw picture of brokenness that many people have experienced and can attest to.
Although looking at the church from a quick surface snapshot can be extremely unappealing, I believe, like many things in life, appearances can be deceiving; you often have to mine for the diamond amongst the coal. As I have dug deeper into the community of ‘the church’, as I have gotten to know the people, live and serve alongside of them, I have discovered, that though broken, there are many who are motivated to forge another path for ‘the church’. Jesus himself confronted the religious elite or ‘church go-ers’ of his time and said that they were like white washed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but decaying and rotting on the inside. Perhaps that is the type of church that you have encountered, and it’s left a stench that seems impossible to clear. However, I can testify that there are many in our local churches that are beginning to clear the air; they want to be authentic, loving and are committed to helping those in need rather than judging others actions and lifestyle. People who want to be instrumental in changing the world for the better because they believe what Jesus taught; that all people are created equal, and it’s not the surface that counts, but the heart.
Let me end by saying what I wish I had said to that gentleman Brad and I met while walking… if you’ve been hurt by ‘the church’, rejected, felt judged by the people in the building, please don’t let those people ruin Jesus’ reputation! The community that Jesus started with just a few friends over 2000 years ago was powerful enough to change the face of the world as we knew it. We are far from perfect, but I think that stark reality should serve to make others more comfortable, welcomed just as they are. Above all, I would like others, including this gentleman we spoke with, to gain encouragement: the community that Jesus started still exists, and seeks to love, serve and help the hurting. We WILL mess up – we are ordinary people — but we will aspire to create a community that Jesus himself would have been proud of or at the very least, been part of.
Becoming Ordinary: Day 116