My virtual brother-of-the-heart, Rick Luoni, has a great post over at a new life emerging about Joel Osteen. In Rick's typical, gentle way, he doesn't slam Osteen - but he points out how sugary-sweet, "life is GOOD!" stuff may sell books and draw folks, but it just ain't real life. Not to him, and not to me. His post led to my comment, and I couldn't help but post it here as well.
Joel Osteen, and folks like him, always call Gene Lowry's quote to mind. People who are just full of honey and vanilla simply creep me out...even though there are people who are good, kind, and seemingly loving folks who are that way. They may be honest, open, caring folks - but they sure as hell don't live in my world.
The first pastor I ever really listened to was the first person in a collar who I ever, ever remembered admitting doubt from the pulpit. (That story is back here, if you're interested...) The folks whose spiritual journey speak the loudest are the ones whose scars show the clearest. I'm so glad that I found life in the church and life in the community of recovery at the same time - because I needed both of them to find God.
Interestingly, Pastor Tom's wife was one of those sunshiney folks to me, for quite a while. It just seemed that nothing could faze her. Later, as I got closer to her, I learned that nothing could be less true - it was just her faith kept dragging her back to the sunshine side of the street. But she struggled with Tom's illness, with her mother's dementia, and with her church's stumbling toward faith. (To be honest, though, her faith witness looked a lot more real to me once I saw her struggles.)
My buddy Dave G. is one of the very few co-workers I have shared this blog with (because I understand the term Dooced). Though he is less than half my age, and I've only met him a few times in person, we've found a neat "virtual" bond across the miles, it seems. He sent me an instant message yesterday, saying he had gone back and read some of my older posts, which touched me (though I told him he really needed to get a life...). His comment made me smile: "You've had a hell of a life."
It's true - and yet I hope that even through the "hell of a life," he also saw signs of heaven, for there has been much of that. It is that balance that Gene Lowry talked about, between pain and grace...a balance I don't always maintain, but always strive toward. Even as I struggle with work, and what direction to take (and the willingness to take it) I have to admit that there is sunshine in the midst of all the mudslinging and sewage. If I'd not been at this job, I'd not have touched a whole bunch of folks - and I've had that reinforced time and time again since my hospital stay. So it seems I'm still very much "in the bonus round."
I am very much the doubting Thomas - even though Jesus is not here for me to touch his wounds. But when I see my sisters and brothers in Christ, and find just enough of them who are willing to show their scars, I can find my way back to the One whose wounds saved me.
Perhaps, that is an answer I have been searching for to the question I have struggled with mightily of late: "Why even go to church at all?" Perhaps it is simply to go and be a part of something... to sift through the flawed humanity, the politics, struggle, hypocrisy and rituals in order to find those folks who can show their wounds, and through their wounds find Christ in them. (That's something to think about a lot more, later...)
Fact is, the world is painful. The world hurts. If you are unhurt, then I'd guess you are probably unengaged with the world. Jesus came to earth - even though he knew in the end it would kill him.
You won't hear it from Joel Osteen, but you will here it from Jesus:
I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.Now that will preach.
(John 16:33, NIV)