About 2 months ago, I found myself sitting in a community center in a meeting room, at a table with about 10 other people, talking about my faith story and some of my experiences. As I came to a particular part of my story, I found my throat closing up, my eyes becoming blurred, and I began to feel hot tears fighting their way out from my eyes. I turned my head to keep from showing my face and the room grew silent except for the sound of my sobs as I tried to fight back more and more tears. At some point, I just let them happen. I let the tears of hurt come out of me because they were part of me. And it hurt so much more to try and hold them in.
Point of clarification: they are still a part of me. And I still hurt, but a little less than I did that morning. Each morning it hurts a little less.
Let me back up just a little. That morning I went to meet with the session of the church in Chicago that I transferred my membership to. They graciously agreed to allow my membership into their beautiful community, and to take me under care as I finish my ordination process. They sat around the table with smiles and looks of eagerness to hear what I had to say. They sat there with so much love for someone who they barely knew. That’s why the hurt was able to come through. Because they instantly loved me as a fellow child of God, and I was able to let the hurt out instead of trying to hide it because I knew that there would be no shame for the hurt. Instead, I there was comfort in the midst of such hurt.
As I spoke of my love for the church and for the work that I had done, I recalled a recent time where I was truly hurt but the church. Not hurt by the institution or by an individual church community, but by the people of the wider church. Not because they hated me or because they were malicious, but because they were hurt. They were so deeply hurt already when I showed up on the scene, and there was nothing that could prepare me for such hurt. You see, if it’s not addressed with love and kindness, hurt will spread like wildfire.
I know hurt, and sorrow, and sadness, and remorse, and fear. But I was unprepared for this. Nothing could have prepared me for the hurt that these people were feeling. As a completely new seminary graduate, I expected to be challenged, and I put on my church cape and went in, head first, to do my job. I was ready for whatever came my way.
No. No, I was not.
I was not ready for these people I came to love so much to take out their hurt on me. I was not ready to see people who were so hurt, turn malicious towards myself and my spouse. I was not ready to be left to defend myself in a sea of people with nothing to catch me when I fell. I was not ready for the church to hurt me.
But that’s the reality of the church. Sometimes, the church hurts those of us who love it most. They say that those you love the most hurt you the most. And its true. The church can treat you like you are not a person, but a disposable thing. The church has re-victimized the victims; the church has failed to support those who need it most; the church has been critical of others when they fail to look in the mirror; the church has failed to welcome like Christ welcomed. The church has done a lot of hurt and has the potential to do more.
But the church has also done a lot of good and has the potential to do more. This is the balance that hangs like the scales of lady justice. If one side should become overweighted, then the other flails at the sudden change in weight. The balance is crucial for the scales to remain in place.
But when the scales are tipped the other way, when the scale of justice and good and God’s love are overweighted, then the scale of injustice and hurt are thrown off, they become less heavy, and they struggle to become heavy again.
But as the church, that is our task. Our task is to make those scales of justice and injustice so thrown off that they are no longer plural. Our job is to have one scale that hangs so low with the weight of love and justice and peace that we have to keep expanding it and making it bigger to include all the peace and love and justice that we could imagine and some we could never imagine.
But, there is always injustice, and because we are not perfect, there will always be hurt. And thank goodness, there will always be those who hold us in our hurt and love us, so that when others are hurt we can do the same for them. There will always be those who try to tip the scales so that justice wins out and weighs a little heavier than the hurt and injustice that the world so often experiences. We should try so hard to be those people.