In my office the last week or so there have been a small parade of people bringing tidings of woe. They come in, sit down, and then struggle not knowing where to start their story. Then they find somewhere and off they go, the words either tumbling out of their mouths because they have so longed to tell someone what’s going on, or for some the words come more slowly, carefully, to get it right, to not cry to much. What has caught my attention is the number of people who tell me that the loved ones they are worried about have fallen away from church. Some have simply wandered away but others have left emphatically, making a statement by their absence.
Silence can scream.
The parents and grandparents I speak with assure me that no amount of prodding would get their loved ones into my office, and no I wouldn’t be welcome should I venture out of it to meet them either in neutral territory (coffee shops or whatever) or their own homes and apartments. I’ve noticed that often people come to my office when they have nowhere else to go, when they are out of resources. I desperately wish they would come sooner, though I’m not sure how much that would really help.
It’s the folks for whom the church is out of the question that I have been thinking about and that my heart has been breaking for. For them the church really would be the absolutely last stop, the final resort, the Hail Mary. The men with egos so big they find it hard to get along with others, the adulterers, so ashamed of their actions they have trouble looking me in the eye, and the gamblers who spill tears over what they have made of their lives, all have a safe and love-filled place in my office, in the church of Jesus who reigns supreme and offers forgiveness to all who repent. None of them should have to feel alone; none are as singular or as singularly “bad” as they think they are.
It all makes me think back to the story of the woman in Mark 5 who has tried everything over (Twelve!!!) years to stop the discharge of blood that was ruining her life and causing her to be on the fringes of society. I wonder if she allowed herself to be defined by the blood. I wonder if the church had shunned her or been the cause of other people shunning her. I can certainly believe it. Blood being understood as it was back then I can only imagine how marginalizing her problem would have been, marginalizing on biblical grounds no less! I wonder if she held back from Jesus and all things religious until she couldn’t hold onto her fear or her hatred any longer
Is she like the folks who have become so fed up and irritated with the church and organized religion? Was she like them (or someone they know) burned by the church? I hope so because it would suggest that even these seemingly unreachable people, wracked with guilt, shame, fear, and anger, could be brought back into the comforting fold of the church since with God all things are possible, and the church could repent and redeem itself as the religious community did when Jesus healed the woman.
I can’t give up hope for the people who are seemingly beyond the church because I know what that feels like and I know that no matter how far away they feel they are, they are being lied to. They belong here among us sinners, each of us fallen, each of us bleeding in some way, all needing the healing touch of Christ in our lives. We must find ways to tell them.