Dear Church,

Where do I even begin?

Maybe my anger? Let’s start with my anger.

It started out with discomfort when I was younger. I was irritated but most days I didn’t know why. I just knew sometimes I didn’t like what you did. Sometimes it was just a feeling in the pit of my stomach. Soon it became a hurt that was a burden to me. It was confusing. It felt like betrayal. I guess I just thought that maybe you would be the one who would never hurt me or never let me down. I thought it would be different with you. Because, well, because you’re the Church. I guess I thought you were above that.

Turns out I was wrong.

So yeah. I was angry. I had a right to be. I was angry at what I heard on the news about pastor’s sexual assault allegations. I was angry at how you use fear as a coercive method to obtain converts. I was angry at your obsession with purity culture and how much it hurts young women. Angry at your reputation for shunning LGBTQ individuals. I was angry at how you made me feel; sometimes I felt like I wasn’t allowed to disagree with you. You made me feel so small. And when I got angry, you took my anger and threw it back in my face. You questioned my loyalty to you. You made me think that God was angry. Or at the very least, that God’s anger was like mine. No mercy, only judgement. Fierce. Brutal. A hurricane tearing down everything in its path.

I used to think that when God asked me to forgive, it would be towards “sinners.” I thought it would be easy because I would only need to say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But you did know, didn’t you? What was your excuse? Defending tradition? Theology? Were you afraid of the proverbial slippery slope that beckoned every time you dropped the bar for grace a little bit lower?

I never thought I would need to extend grace to you; I thought Christ had covered you enough. I thought that if you understood who you were then maybe you wouldn’t behave this way.  I thought you would meet me where I was. I expected you to turn away the Pharisees not pick up stones against me. I thought you would see that I’m trying my best. I’m struggling; does my struggle mean nothing to you? Does my pain not matter? Are you listening? Sometimes I don’t think you’re listening. I think you’re forming your counterargument.

So I continued to hold onto my anger through clenched fists.

But every day, more anger spilled out through the cracks between my fingers. I found when I held on tighter, it only leaked out faster.

I have to forgive you because I know I’m not the only one who’s hurting. You’re hurting too, aren’t you? You’re trying your best too, aren’t you? You’re interpreting the Bible to the best of your ability, right? You are this way because of your culture. Your family. Your history. Your fears. But at the end of the day, I know you’re struggling too. We just don’t show it the same way. I find comfort in my rebellion and you find comfort in the routine. We are both afraid to be wrong. We are both grappling with life and theology and we’re trying to make it meaningful.

I know. You’re trying your hardest.

I know we hurt each other. I know I acted out when I shouldn’t have. I understand that sometimes I’m a handful. Sometimes my questions frighten you. They once frightened me. You stay with your routines because you are afraid to be wrong; you are afraid that I am lost. Believe me, sometimes I worry about that too. I have accused you and blamed you for my suffering. I held onto my rage longer than I should have. I made this all out to be your fault when I know we both threw punches. 

I’m trying to let go of our history of pain. I’m trying to remember that you are not perfect. You are flawed. When imperfect people gather, things get messy. I’m trying to remember that it wasn’t all bad either. No, of course not.

You know, people ask me why I keep coming back even after all that’s happened. People question why I even care at all. And the truth is that you made me who I am. And for all the times you hurt me, I know there were twice as many times where you comforted me. You were the one to give me a home when I was a wanderer. You taught me the meaning of compassion and unconditional love. I know you couldn’t love me flawlessly but you tried tirelessly. You were there for every time I was in the hospital and every time I needed food or money or a friend. You showed me how to dig deep and to think.

And lately, I’ve been thinking about how Church is not a place. It is not what happens on Sunday mornings. Church is not just sermons and hymns. Church is study dates with other Christians. Its late night therapy sessions with friends and too much wine. It’s homemade lasagna when money is tight. It’s going rock climbing and cheering each other on with every step. It’s all the group chats that are more a place to share internet memes. It’s the lunch dates. It’s crying together over hamburgers. Its pole classes with my best friend. It’s knowing that people have my back no matter where I go. It’s all the people I can have healthy debates with; people who challenge me to think. It is those people who encourage me to grow. Knowing that no matter where in the world I am, there is the Church.

Some Sunday’s I don’t even know what was preached. I don’t have a take home lesson but I still feel so full. I know that by Saturday when I am worn down and exhausted, I can’t wait for the morning. Never have I been able to find a place, an idea, as beautiful as Church. 

We are broken people with broken hearts. We ache together. We suffer together. I think I need to let go of the idea that Church is full of healthy people. 

It’s like that quote from Silver Linings Playbook. “The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday. That’s guaranteed. I can’t begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But you know what? Sunday’s my favorite day again.”

I guess I’m learning to forgive you. I hope you’ll forgive me too.