Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
As I write this, our family is about to begin a journey into the Unknown. We’re stepping off the dock into our boat, setting sail in a sea of options. It’s a voyage we’ve never undertaken together. In fact, it’s one I’ve never taken at all.
We’re in process of finding a new church.
Churches have always found me. A friend brought me as her guest to the first church in which I held membership. My second church was one of convenience. As a college student without a car, I simply attended church with a carload of friends. My third church was a happy accident. I wanted to volunteer with middle schoolers, I had met the youth director when I worked as a summer camp counselor, and he had a place for me there. For ten years, it was home. Our last church was a refuge, a place in a spiritual storm where we sought shelter until we were ready to move on.
I’ve never had to enter a search cold.
Being without a church has felt like a foray into a strange country all by itself. It reminds me of the story of the elementary children on the playground. When there were fences, the children used all the available space to play. When the fences were removed, however, the children clustered toward the middle, uncertain where the boundaries lay.
I happen to like boundaries. They feel safe, comfortable. I know where the lines are. Sure, I might like to push at them a little, see if there’s any give. I might even fantasize about what it’s like beyond them—would I be free of the things that make me feel angry or confined? But I don’t really like the idea of all that open space. It’s frightening.
Isn’t that what happens so often in our churches? We erect fences around our theology to protect ourselves from what some might call “the world.” We mustn’t have any error in our interpretation of the Bible, and we must be clear on the things we stand against. But instead of protecting ourselves, we end up continually moving the lines inward, shutting out not only that which we believe is wrong, but people as well. We’ve locked the gate to the fence and stationed guards, only allowing in those who are willing to play by our narrow set of rules.
Yet the opposite end of the spectrum is just as scary.
For the last several weeks, while we caught our collective breath and gathered our bearings, we’ve stayed huddled in the middle of the playground. We’ve remained safe, pretending there’s a fence holding us in and keeping us from chasing a stray ball into traffic. We’ve said prayers and read Scripture and sung songs. We’ve tried to pretend that we’re “having church.”
I wonder if that means that we’ve stifled ourselves in some way. We haven’t given ourselves permission to explore freely, to think about what we want, what we need, even what we believe. We no longer have a fence against which to push. In these last hours on our own, I feel panic rising. The desperate planner in me wants graphs, charts, and spreadsheets so we can measure the outcomes and perform statistical analysis on our church hunt. I’m grasping for anything that will let me build my fence again.
That’s not how life works, is it? We don’t get a matrix for every decision-making process. There’s no road map, no answer key, no Cliffs Notes. Sometimes, there isn’t even a fence we can trust to protect us. We can only keep our hearts, minds, eyes, and ears open. And we can trust: Each other, those who have gone before us, and God. The wide unknown may feel terrifying at first, but in the end, we may be better off on the outside of the fence.
As our time to board the ship draws near, we still have very little idea where the compass is pointing. All we can hope is that we land safely on the shore, trusting our Captain to steer us.
What journey are you on today?