For the first time, I am spending a couple of days away from my wife and 3 month old son. It wasn’t an expected thing but, as circumstances would have it, I am reverting to my bachelor self for a brief moment. That means, above all, that I am wasting as much time as possible at a coffee shop. See, I don’t like being alone all that much. I would rather sit in a coffee shop with dozens of people I don’t know than be at home by myself. Now, I know there are others who feel just the opposite, but for me, being around people is essential to my own mental and emotional health.
Perhaps that is part of the reason why I do what I do. Being a pastor means that you are always going to be around people. Take tonight as an example, the congregation will gather for a meal and then a brief service. Normally, I would have mixed feelings about such an evening, not because I don’t like my congregation, but because I like having evenings with my family. Tonight though, it can’t come soon enough.
I will admit, however, that going to church isn’t my favorite thing to do. Much like one of my professors from seminary, I feel like if I didn’t have to get up every Sunday I wouldn’t. That may not be something I should admit, but such is life. Maybe the reason I don’t like it is because of how deep into it I have become. There is a side of myself I can never shut off. Everything floats through this theological lens that I can’t see and wish I could shut off for a little bit so that I could sit back and relax. But I can’t do that when I go to church. Whenever I sit in the pews I’m constantly critiquing, constantly thinking of why this or that is wrong or how it could be communicated in a better way. Its better for me to be up there in front leading than sitting in the pews, because even though I’m still constantly critiquing, I’m critiquing myself.
Critiques can be helpful, but they can also hurt. There is no shortage of church history to show how critiques not only split congregations but led to the spilling of blood. The history of the church is not a pretty history, its a rather grotesque one. I don’t just mean because of the hurt people have caused, but because of the moment that gave birth to it, Christ on the cross. It is true that he rose again, but that knowledge can never allow us to escape the cross. Because there, the ultimate critique is made. Not by me, but by God. There is where God tells us what he thinks of sin, of pride, of selfishness, of greed, of even the best we have to offer. There God reminds us that our best will never be good enough. But it is also there that we are made one. That we are placed in a community of others throughout time and space. Which means that even when you’re alone, you’re never quite alone.
It is tough to remember that about the church. That no matter the squabbles and pain we are still united as one, not because of our ability to get it right or agree or make things interesting or fun, but because of the death and resurrection of Christ. We find ourselves there first. I am reminded of a quote a now sainted man once said of what it meant to understand ourselves as Lutherans. He wanted to remind people, remind the church, that in the end, we really are one in Christ, it is just a matter of how we understand ourselves. Never alone, always together.
We are catholic Christians first, western catholics second, Lutherans third. –Arthur Carl Piepkorn