There's a man in my small group who is older than me and is one of those sunny, happy, jolly, slightly oblivious people very much like good-natured, adolescent puppies. When some of us begin talking honestly about the flaws in our church, it makes him sad. His wife says that before he met us, he was unaware that our church had any warts. And that is okay. I think it is just fine for him to see and praise the positive things in the church, to be so focused on what he can do to help that he doesn't notice that things aren't even close to perfect. People that see the church like he does are necessary to keep the church body from exploding under the forces of cynicism and discontent (or continue to splinter until every building was its own denomination). Frankly, I sort of envy him his way of looking at the church. I wish I could go back to the time when I was that positive about the church. I liked myself and the church better back then.
I want to go back before I thought that my church was too big to be a family, too wealthy and suburban to give a crap and organize to help hurting and broken people in need inside the body and in the surrounding community.
I want to go back to the time before I tried to make a difference and got involved and became a member and tried to fit into the communion of the saints even though it was more like the brunch at the country club, before I tried to improve things and got stonewalled or tried to participate but couldn't stand the crappy Baptist choir CCM after all that glorious Latin in the mini-cathedral at my previous doctrinally unsound church, before I joined a small group of very nice young ladies who were single and very nice and as bland as a Scandinavian casserole and so shy and slow about saying anything real or honest that I just couldn't take it anymore, before I gave up on attending Sunday services at all, before I despaired of ever being able to minister in any biblical way in my local body and accepted that "leading" a small group of quirky, interesting people was all I was going to get from this fellowship.
I want to go back to the time before I picked my current church because the doctrine they preached was acceptable to me and would pass muster with my alma mater in case I got the chance to try to teach there and because it was so big that no one would bother me when I snuck into the back always late and dressed shabbily and no one even noticed me because there were just so many people who attended and because it didn't demand anything of me when I had absolutely nothing left to give from the bottom of my well of chronic pain, exhaustion, and discouragement.
I want to go back to before I had to leave the beautiful neo-Gothic church with the amazing organ and the outstanding chancel choir, before the organist got booted even though she was incredibly talented and passionate because she was "too high-church" for the powers-that-be, too invested in beauty and the meaning of rituals to let things slide, before I realized that I couldn't stay in a place where they preached doctrine that just didn't jive with the Bible as I interpreted it.
I want to go back to before college, where the church choices were limited and terrible for shy folks without vehicles, before it became somewhere I went because I didn't want demerits, before it became a soul-sucking experience you survived, so you could go to Sunday lunch in the cafeteria, which was always excellent.
I want to go back to how I saw my church before all those crazy, passionate, Jesus freak college kids got older, before they took down all the lovely and rough art created by congregation members, before they redecorated so things looked expensive and fancy (including the chairs), before everyone grew up and moved away, and there were only strangers there.
I want to go back to the time before I had to avoid my best friend because she didn't want anyone else to know we hung around a lot outside of school and church, before our pastor committed adultery, before I realized that the other churches in our town treated ours with derision because it was founded by a bunch of fumbling college kids who got saved in the Jesus movement and tried to follow the Bible by making a church, man, because they were so in love with Jesus and His people.
I wish I were back in that time before I knew too much, back when church was just a good and safe place full of adopted, extended family who loved to sing and praise the Lord for hours and pray for my mom for years while she was dying and make terrible pasta dishes for us when she was in the hospital and just generally generously help each other.
I want to go back.
But the only way out is forward and through.
And I was not called to be successful, just to try, to keep trying, to keep going and never completely lose hope in this beautiful, messy, too-human, flawed, filthy, in-the-process-of-redemption body of which I am part whether I really like them or not. (Family is always like that.) Sometimes, it's just really hard.
Maybe it's a good thing that I am pathologically incapable of quitting forever. Maybe that just means I grind myself down faster against the rough edges of the folks around me.
Maybe it means I long for heaven, for future perfection, for complete redemption that much more. Some day. Hope. Keep walking forward, one foot in front of the other. Be glad when when people walk beside me. Be gracious when they fall and trip me and send me sprawling (and pray they do the same when Ifall). Don't spend too much time looking back. Walk on.