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On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and Fear  | Provoketive Magazine
18 Jan 2012

The Author

I'm a writer who desires to use stories to reveal the truth and beauty in life--even when that life is messy. I've written one novel and am working on a second. I'm married, with two daughters.


On Wobbly Wheels, Split Churches and Fear
old bicycle

My church is going through a difficult time. Changes have been in the air for months and not everyone is happy.

At times, it’s felt like riding a bicycle with a bad wheel. With each revolution forward, the frame wobbles, and another piece falls off, bouncing away. Other pieces stay put, and for that God-given stubborn resolve to hang on, the bike hasn’t collapsed. Each week brings a change: another missing face in the pew, or another announcement of a change intended to help the situation.

Right now, I’m caught between desire to flee and knowing this won’t help. As a pre-teen, I watched from afar as my childhood church split. My faith was shaken to the core. How could these grownups, who claim to know a God of love and peace, treat each other so horribly? I wondered.

As a sophomore at a Christian college, I contemplated rejecting my faith and becoming an atheist. How much of that mental and emotional turmoil was my undiagnosed bipolar issues and how much was a genuine dark night of the soul, I don’t know. But that church split was a factor.

So I know running won’t help anything. Not being at the epicenter of an earthquake doesn’t mean I’m not still impacted by the waves, and I can’t escape the quaking ground under my feet. Each time I hear about another person leaving or hear about an argument, I’m reminded of the two church splits I’ve watched, and I grow increasingly fearful.

I long for the past. I fear the future. This middle part, the here and now, is all about change. It’s a giant question mark. And with each change, I’m tugged between past and future, longing and fear.

Yet the One who defines himself as I Am, present tense, outside this tug of war between past and  future, is the only constant. I should find my hope in him.

I know this intellectually. But in reality, I want my church to be the same place it was when I came there eight years ago. I want to shake the change-makers and the change-haters and tell them that their arguments are making me fearful, unsettled, even though the fear is my issue, not theirs. “Don’t you know what you’re doing to my faith?” I want to say.

And the question stops me. Who is my faith in: the unchanging, perfect God or a church of changing, imperfect people? Where do I place my hope?

I’m reminded of some lines from the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser. At the end of his famous Mutabilitie Cantos, where he writes about change and chaos and constancy, he muses about the future time when change will cease:

But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
O that great Sabbaoth God, graunt me that Sabaoths sight.

Roughly paraphrased: Then all shall rest with the Lord of Hosts . . . God, grant me the sight of that day of eternal rest.

I fell in love with these lines the same semester I contemplated atheism. Somehow, even with their formal syntax and strange spelling, they spoke to me about hope. I won’t say that they saved my faith; I didn’t truly understand Spenser’s intent or his wordplay when he combines sabbath (rest)/sabaoth (hosts) to write “Sabbaoth God.” I doubt my nineteen-year-old self could’ve written a paper on these cantos. But the lines sank deep in my troubled heart.

And I’m reminded of them now, as I watch my fellow churchgoers. At times, we can be a fractious, cranky bunch who quarrel over buildings, music and theology. Yet we’re covered by the same grace. Loved by the same God. Given the same hope of rest, comfort, and peace. Rolling down the narrow road on wheels that wobble and yet never break, for they are sustained by a God who cannot be shaken.

[This post is part of the Synchroblog on Hope.  For a full list of participants and posts, go here.]

  1. I’m terribly curious as to whether either of the church splits you’ve seen were over teaching or egos. In general I’ve found it’s always the latter, sometimes dressed up as though it were something more objective.

    In any case, it isn’t fun. I once served a church that had gone through several splits and was assured that the fighting was over, that everyone remaining was on the same page. This was true, but it was a deeply dysfunctional bunch, and it was that church that got me out of full-time ministry and nearly broke my faith in the process.

    • Adam,
      In this case, I’m not sure. The situation is getting better, though; the leadership is dedicated to bringing unity and peace to the situation. The first split I saw, when I was a preteen, involved moral issues about deception (over finances) and sexual immorality. I’m sorry you had such a horrible time serving at that church; being affected by a split is heartbreaking. Thank you for reading.

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