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“The church is a whore, but she’s my mother” – Saint Augustine

The church has an image problem today. I talk regularly with folks who respect Jesus, show genuine interest in following him, yet want nothing to do with his church. And you know what? I don’t blame them. I find myself cynical of the church more than I’d care to admit. Scandal, greed, hypocrisy, self-righteousness and retreat from a hurting world are flaws that cannot be easily overlooked. At a time when authenticity is supremely valued, the church strikes many as being very inauthentic.

So down with the church right? Not so quick! I really don’t think it’s wise to give up on the church. No doubt, it’s inexcusable for God’s people to come up short in so many ways, but we’re kidding ourselves if we expect people in the church to have it all together. As I’ve heard it said many times, “The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints.” The church is not made up of people who have it all together, but precisely the opposite. Those in the church rally around the One who does have it all together in our place. That’s what Christianity is all about, coming to terms with our lack of togetherness and relying on the togetherness of Jesus.

Further, if we condemn the church and think we’re better than those people, we’re just perpetuating the hypocrisy and self-righteous mentality we despise. We need to see ourselves included among those who don’t have it all together. We have much to learn. It’s easy to point the finger and condemn from the outside. What we really need is for those who feel jaded to step up and say, “You know what? The church is a mess. But I’m a mess too. I’m going to follow Jesus in his church and try to make a difference by living authentically for him in and through his church.”

Finally, in the biblical story there is no such thing as following Jesus apart from his church. When we commit to following him we commit to following him in community with others. The church is really important to Jesus so it should be important to us. The idea of following him apart from others is really an American notion driven by indvidualism. We need Jesus and we need each other. What do you think? I’d like to know.

The conversation continues…

For those of you in the Wilmington area, join us this Saturday evening for a discussion on the film Stranger Than Fiction. We’ll start the movie at approximately 7:15 PM and discuss it afterwards. This will all take place at my friend Bethany’s apartment in Wilmington. Email me if you’re interested and I’ll get you directions. Our rationale behind doing film discussions is to look deeply into the movies that impact us and and investigate both the statements they make and the influences that make them effective.

The conversation continues…

I have a friend who is battling breast cancer. She recently underwent her last round of chemo. The anxiety, doubt, and sickness she feels is a constant reminder that life on this planet is not operating the way it was intended. Something deep inside her insists that this is not the way it’s supposed to be.

Each of us from time to time wonders what is wrong with the world. Why is this place such a mess? Why all the pain and suffering? Why all the brokenness inside me? Questions like these arise because we instinctively know that something has gone wrong. We just can’t accept that this is the way it was meant to be. Our gut tells us that we’ve fallen away from some better time in the past, wherever and whenever that was. C.S. Lewis called this the knowledge of the far-off country that we all have. The why questions we ask are subtle hints of this knowledge. They reveal our deep-seeded belief that brokenness is abnormal. We ask why because the brokenness of life is not the way it’s supposed to be. We know this deep down in our hearts.

This is why the story of the Fall in the Bible is so important. It helps locate for us that better time in the past that we’re presently separated from. Paradise lost in Genesis 3 gives us a reference point for making sense of the brokenness of life. It puts our brokenness into perspective by helping us understand why we feel the way we do. Donald Miller gets at this in Searching For God Knows What:

“I could feel in my soul that all this was true, that these were the wounds of Chernobyl, of the Fall, and I began to realize how ugly and desperate the situation actually was.”

Each of us carries around the wounds of the Fall. The Fall makes us feel broken. It’s not just out there in the world, but it cuts down the middle of every one of us. We feel this brokeness in the depths of who we are. We’re all cracked and in need of mending. This is why I think two of the most important questions people wrestle with are what is wrong with me, and how am I made right? Whether we’re aware of it or not, much of our lives are spent answering these questions, especially the second. Blaise Pascal, a philospher in the 17th Century, declared that every person has a God shaped vacuum in their heart. This is the root of our brokenness: separation from the living God. We’re always trying to fill this vacuum with something. Our lives are absolutely obesessed with it. We must find a way to be right, to feel good. The main question then is how do we relate to our brokenness? What do we do about it? Pascal suggested that people usually respond to their brokenness in one of three ways.

First, we divert ourselves from it. This means we find all kinds of ways to distract ourselves. Maybe we watch TV instead of dealing with the fact that we’re broken, or maybe we buy something new to make ourselves feel good. Maybe we enter into a new relationship to help ourselves cope. They’re all ways we distract ourselves. We’ve tried just about all of them. Second, we grow indifferent toward our brokenness. We conclude that it’s just too much to handle so we resign ourselves to not caring anymore. This doesn’t work too well though because we eventually feel guilty about not caring. And even though we act like we don’t care, the brokenness is still there nagging at us. It won’t go away. Third, we practice self-deception. We pretend that we’re not as bad off as we initially thought. Maybe we compare ourselves to someone who struggles with something we don’t to make ourselves feel good. Over time we actually begin to believe our own lies and think our brokenness is really not all that bad.

It seems to me that Pascal was on to something here. Maybe you can think of other ways you deal with brokeness, but I think these three are broad enough to cover just about everything. What they all share in common is that they are strategies of self-salvation. They’re ways we try to make the brokenness right ourselves. I do this quite often, and it makes me ask why. It never works. My brokenness is beyond my ability to fix. What should this tell me?

How do you cope with your brokenness?

The conversation continues…

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