Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Megachurches and Valleys

Those of you who go to our church (new church/old church, or anywhere in-between) will recognize that I wrote this post a few months ago (Christmas-time actually). But somehow I still find myself floundering in the middle place, between justice conferences and megachurches. I never quite find my footing in either place, and in-between is a lonely place to live. Not quite justice-y enough for one crowd: after all, I don’t exactly make my own clothes, and there are few things I like better than a good Target run. But not quite ingenuous or upbeat enough for the other crowd: it’s hard not to let cynicism and righteous indignation creep in. Because I’m not sure we can fully understand hope rising until we have seen the valleys, experienced the darker places of our streets and lives. 

And so I share only to expose my ongoing confusion and hope, inextricably bound. 

Feeling a bit like spiritual nomads, we slip into the back of the mega-church where we have improbably landed these past few months.

On the way in, I snap a picture of the beautiful display where people can buy a book for $5 for an APS student. How cool, I exclaim to Ashton, explaining how they’re buying a book for every Atlanta Public School student this Christmas.

Ashton scrunches his face in his particular way, asking why would they do that?

Well, I tell him, they want to be a church for the city of Atlanta.

Humph, he scoffs, looking around: these folks don't care nothing about APS.

I want him to be wrong. And I sit in the back of church turning his words over and over. I study backs of heads, looking for evidence of lives not just shored up and encouraged here, but ready to be poured out. For people who understand the ways they are buying books for a whole lot of kids who cant read.

Visiting our local elementary school just the day before, in fact, the guidance counselor said to us: ask me how many of our fifth grade boys can read. We oblige, and she answers: not even one.

Surely that’s an exaggeration, I tell myself, trying not to think about all the prison beds being funded and built based on third-grade reading levels, let alone fifth.

Sometimes I long to un-know the things I know. Ignorance must be bliss I mourn with rose-colored nostalgia. I want to go to big conferences without thinking about anything except the pulsing beat to the latest worship songs. Instead, I glance obsessively over at the teenage boys we brought, worrying over the ways they see themselves reflected more often in the faces of the conference center employees than in the conference leaders, or even other attendees.
At a housewarming party in the neighborhood last week (the demographics of which are a whole other post for another day), I found myself huddled over the cheese platter (always), chatting with a few friends about church. The conversation ping-pongs around until someone asks: do you think there’s any hope for the church?

Of course there is. I say it with more conviction than I feel. But really, I do. I still hope in all the earnest believers who come in droves to fill conference halls and megachurch seats in cold loading docks labeled overflow. Because we were them. And in many ways, we still are. Naive and earnest, doing our best to live out the whole Jesus-following thing even when we aren’t certain what that looks like. And hearts come alive to Him in all sorts of ways and places. Who I am to say how and where lives might look poured out?

A few days after the conference, I take the familiar long way home, the one that takes me past his corner. And this time he’s there. He flags me down with a grin, and I pull my car over next to a boarded-over corner store, cinderblock painted garish yellow with red hand-lettered EBT. He opens his flip phone to show me pictures of his baby, and peers through the open window to meet mine. He grins with a cigarette in his teeth, grasping Isaiah’s tiny fist. It’s me, he says, your big brother Sabo. I smile and hope he doesn't notice the way sadness lingers behind my eyes. We hug, and he puts my number in his phone. I hope he will call, but expect he probably wont. Pulling away with a wave, I navigate streets riddled with potholes and ignore the waves from the boys I don't know on other corners. The music from the conference plays: down in the valley, where waters rise. I’m still believing, hope is alive.

Glittering glass shards littering the streets and boarded-up windows line what is surely a valley of the shadow of death if I’ve ever seen one. It feels like the very place where waters rise, choking out life.

And yet hope lives, stubborn and relentless. In the church and in the valley. I trip over my cynicism, stumbling into hope each time I fear it’s lost. Because hope, ultimately, does not depend on the depth of the valley or the height of the mountain, but on the character of Christ. And He never disappoints.

3 comments:

  1. oh becca, these words. such balm to a my weary soul that struggles with the not quite fitting and battling for hope-hope for the church and hope for the recovering addict gracing our couch for a couple weeks awaiting a bed to open up. we've walked this road before, the not seeing her for months and years and then the encounters where we re-exchange numbers.

    "yet hope lives, stubborn and relentless....He never disappoints."

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  2. Tonight one of my boys said to me, "Ms. Colleen people don't get it, they just don't understand." Much like you wanted to believe it's not true what Ashton said about APS, it how I wanted to feel with my boy, but instead I just said I know... I know... and tried to flinch back tears. There is hope for the hopeless I believe it and pray that others will believe it too.

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  3. Oh, friend. No words. Just a big big hug.

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