I find myself weeping during the worship time when I visit visit most churches, especially larger ones in the U.S. I cannot help it. It’s only sadness, not anger or resentment. Everything is so nice: a beautifully decorated hall filled with good-looking people happily singing praise to God along with a tight band, a sweet sound system and mood lighting. But my mind flashes to pictures of women dancing exposed to gawking sex addicts, or waiting on the streets; to men sitting on the ground sharing a bottle, or to children wondering if they are about to get hit or go hungry. Most people in the room look so healthy and capable. I think about how much they could help work like ours. Or I imagine how excited some folks I know would be to visit such a pleasant environment.
These churches are doing great things. They are not being hypocritical. They care for hurting people. But this model of church does not resemble Jesus’ life in the slightest. And as a result, people are left out.
According to John, the New Testament gives us only get a tiny snippet of what Jesus did. So if the goal was to have the Son of Man hang out long enough so a few people could write about him, so then we could get together and listen to someone talk about it, a few weeks would have been enough. But clearly God was after something much more with this incarnation thing. This was not a hit-and-run mission trip.
Currently we are working out how to help a family of 5 kids whose parents abandon them for gambling binges, sometimes for 2 to 3 days. The oldest is 11, the youngest less than one year. We met them through Su, the pimp-turned-preacher that I have been writing so much about. She and has been watching out for the kids when parents are gone, having them sleep in her single-room storefront, along with her husband and 3 kids.
Tonight we went to the family’s one-room apartment, and found the kids more-or-less huddled in a corner. The room was cluttered with clothes, about 2/3 hanging on rails and 1/3 strewn along one wall. A broken riding toy stood on its end. They were trying to console the baby who looked to be having teething discomfort. The oldest, a boy, was sitting/lying against a wall, looking depressed.
I have met the parents but because of their absence have not yet had an opportunity to talk with them at length. I asked Su if she thought this was gambling addiction or foolish thinking, i.e. did they believe they could actually have an income this way. She said she thought it was more foolish thinking. But she said she asked the mom how she felt about leaving her kids like this. “I don’t feel anything,” the mom had said. Later Su said that the dad has at least a couple of beers every night when home. Obviously it’s addiction, plain and simple.
I had given Su some money for their needs, so we left them with Su having them promise to come sleep with her tonight.
It is problems like this that cause problems for big beautiful churches. People like these don’t fit well. They may be too unmanageable to even show up, or when they do they are likely to feel too inferior to return. They will drain far more resources than they bring. They also complicate the message. They don’t cleanly move from a salvation commitment into growth, but instead struggle with repeated relapse and compounding shame. They may be dangerous, pulling others into their hurt.
People have been talking about “church without walls” for decades, and a lot of folks are doing some things to make it happen. In this context with so much hurt and addiction it really is the only way–we just have to keep working on how. But in talking with many in the U.S. it appears that it is needed more and more there as well.
The parents of these kids are supposed to come home on Wednesday. I’ve asked for Su to please arrange for me to talk with them.