You ever see this phrase on the "relationship status" of people you know? Rather than "married," "single," or "in a relationship", they have chosen to describe their relationship status as "It's complicated."
It does make you wonder what could possibly be going on in that person's life. There are things they can't talk about. There are things they probably feel like they can't explain to outsiders. So they just say, "It's complicated" and leave it at that.
Sometimes I think, "It's complicated" could sum up my relationship with the church.
I just read a little article by Lillian Daniel about people who are spiritual, but not religious. She seems to sit next to a lot of people like that on airplanes. As a pastor and a life-long church church member, someone who was both raised in the church and intentionally decided to keep belonging to this community, I resonated with her critique. How much easier it is to have deeply spiritual thoughts and never have to sing next to someone whose deeply spiritual thoughts are very much different than yours.
In faith communities, it happens. There are people in my community who are probably relieved that we might have a believer back in the White House in 2012. And others who are pretty sure we have a believer in the White House now. And still others might be tempted to remind us that Martin Luther once said that he'd rather be ruled by a "smart Turk" than by a "stupid Christian."
In my church, though we are all Lutheran, I'd bet we have some pretty firm believers in Christian Universalism, as well as some who would perish the thought. We also have some people who think that the pipe organ alone is God's instrument, as well as others who think a jazz piano, or an electric guitar, or even an accordian would be nice.
So, I resonate with Lillian Daniel, at least at first. I mean, I get tired of the people who think things have to be perfect, and they won't ever be. The music won't be perfect. The preaching won't be perfect. The people won't be perfect.
But then, on the other hand....
I actually know people who won't step inside a church, and not for all of the usual reasons, like, "it interferes with my football games." They won't go any more because they have been deeply wounded by people who claimed to be representatives of Jesus. They won't go because they were abused. They won't go because they were driven out. They won't go because they didn't experience much, or any, of the grace we talk about, and that some of us can't live without. They won't go because they've been at a church that everyone said was so "friendly," and no one talked to them.
Sometimes, it is true about the church, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
The thing is, if the church isn't perfect, neither am I. And if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that sometimes I have been the one who has said the wrong thing, I have been the one who has sung off-key, I've been the one who didn't welcome the stranger. I've been hurt sometimes by the things people say and do, and I've been the hurt-er too. It's tempting to go someplace where my flaws and vulnerabilities don't stick out so much. Maybe a cave. Or a beach. Or something.
But then, like Peter, I end up saying, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."
Like I said, "It's complicated."