From the Archives….
A couple of years ago during finals week I heard the heavy faded blue doors of the Lutheran Center abruptly swing open as a student stepped into the lounge area of the center that’s adjacent to my office. What I heard next was an EXPLETIVE! in full voice reverberating throughout the building. (Use your imagination.)
The student had just finished a final, and it had not gone well. Remarkably, she had straightjacketed her anger until she reached the threshold of our building and then had turned all her pent-up frustration loose in one potent vocalization. It was raw. And it was real.
I had an instant paradoxical reaction. I was split. The pious part of me—a rather small part these days—that was formed in an American Holiness seminary was shocked. You shouldn’t yell something like that in a church! The other part was…well…elated—elated that this particular student experienced this place as a community honest enough with one another about their pain and suffering that she felt the freedom to express her anger and frustration.
I think that too often we get this idea that the church is about holding it in. Faking it. Keeping up appearances. Too often we perceive the church as the place that we’re suppose to hide our crap, acting like we don’t need help. And, I think this misses the point of being the church entirely. As author Rachel Held Evans put it:
Why do we mumble through rote confessions and then conjure plastic Barbie and Ken smiles as we turn to one another to pass the peace? What makes us exchange pleasantries—“I’m fine! How are you?—while mingling beneath a cross upon which hangs a beaten, nearly naked man, suffering publicly on our behalf?
What if instead of the church being a place where you are expected to fake it, if the church was the most truthful, authentic place in the world? What if it was the place where you could honestly and openly confess your brokenness and your frustration? What if it was the people with whom you could safely shed all your masks and tell the truth?
If I can be honest, I yearn for such a community of truth-telling, and sometimes I catch glimpses right here. Yeah, the manner of truth-telling still shocks sometimes. Nevertheless, I’m convinced that genuine confession is only possible where really honesty, unsettling though it can be, is allowed. Calling a thing what it is is difficult enough in a community that admits the truth of the brokenness of the human condition. It’s all but impossible without one.
The truth is I’d rather have a community where a little coarseness of language is allowed than one that is so pious that frustrations and brokenness are left outside the door.