I started to send an email to my pastors but decided to make it an open letter instead. I mostly only communicate with them regarding business, meeting times and content, ministry issues. I feel compelled though to communicate regarding their messages from the Christmas Eve service last night. A critique maybe, a little feedback. Probably not what pastors hope to see pop up in there inbox. Still, I can’t stay quiet.
My church is not a mega church with millions of dollars in sound system, lighting, production equipment. We don’t have bands worthy of The Voice chair turns. Still, we are bigger than little country churches so maybe somewhere in the middle. We have a dedicated praise band who meet once a week after their day jobs to prepare for Sunday worship. They sing with passion and beauty and count on us to fill in as well. We may never throw a concert but we join together with all of our imperfect voices and I am sure God still smiles. This is not to fault those big churches with professional musicians and full on concert arenas, I enjoy the music there. But somehow my church just feels like home to me, I know there is room for my brokenness, there is space for my humanity.
I was recently invited by sweet sweet friends to attend one such concert that was really a church service in my home town. Given that I already came into that with baggage more full than Santa’s sleigh, it is no wonder I felt prickly, I got edgy about the church. Still the music was amazing. The gifts these people were sharing with all of us were truly from God. All was good until a video during a song that showed old home movies of families at Christmas. Image after image of small children and parents, grandparents together, all loving and enjoying each other. My soul was washed in an overwhelming sadness because I could only see my own home movies of my children who would not be present this Christmas, a grandchild I would not see. Parents missing, family fractured. This video was my old life, hurts I have to move away from to rouse from bed each day. To be confronted with this video coupled with Christmas music was not charming or uplifting or heartening, it broke my soul and left me with nothing. I wasn’t supposed to feel that, I am sure. I was supposed to accept the positive theme and keep singing.
Then the pastor began to preach. The subtle message I received that night was that I didn’t belong, there was no room for me. “Is your marriage one that needs the Light? Are you considering leaving it? God wants you to stay.” I am a divorced woman, remarried for longer than the first union. He spoke about being afraid of the dark and grabbing a huge knife to take with him when checking out a noise in the basement, slashing with each opening of the door. I felt afraid of this pastor, one who was going about such a serious subject. I didn’t think he would understand events surrounding fear and helplessness, he bragged about protecting his wife with this knife. He discussed adultery on this night when the seats were filled with children, the young girl in front of me leaned over to ask her mom what that word meant. Was that the Christmas eve message? His point was about judging but still I felt as if there was not room for my brokenness in such a perfect setting.
Back to my home church, Christmas Eve service. I needed it, craved it. I wanted some healing, I wanted to know there was room for me there, in God’s house. Of course the welcoming of friends helps. But the prayer that Pastor Joseph spoke out, true beauty. He acknowledged the Light but also the darkness of our lives. Addiction, depression, loss of loved ones. He made room in that sanctuary for us, the real us who had assembled seeking room and a flicker of the light, hoping some warmth from a candle could ease the chill of our wounded lives. I knew my humanity was accepted there, I could hold the collection plate even though I am broke, I could greet people at the doors even though I often struggle to smile. My church finds room for me, a broken child.
Pastor Chris preached words of wisdom regarding the birth of Jesus, the story we have heard so many times. He focused on their marginalized status, their lack of resources to secure a room at any inn. He described the feed trough that held Jesus, the Bread of Life. As he imagined Joseph returning to Mary, dejectedly having to admit that he was unable to get his pregnant wife into any safe place for the night, my mind took over.
I heard her say,” Are you serious? What am I supposed to do? This baby is coming soon! Joseph, do something! Did you even try?”
Joseph in my mind, “Yes, honey, I did,” in that way husbands do when they are trying to placate their wives and know they is on the verge of a meltdown.
“Joseph, I told you we needed to make reservations, I asked you to call ahead. One simple thing, but no. You can’t even do that.”
“Now, Mary, if we had left when I told you we needed to, if you had walked a little faster, kept to my schedule, we would have gotten here in time to get a room.”
“You seriously did not just say that. You are not blaming this on me. I am PREGNANT Joseph, I couldn’t walk any faster. “
“Yes yes yes, I know you are pregnant. Everyone knows you are pregnant.” Heavy sigh. “Come on dear, we can take shelter here for the night.”
“You want me to sleep in here, in this barn? It smells like dung, it…um Joseph, my water just broke.”
“Oh Mary, it’s time!
I was overcome with their humanity, not just figurines in a nativity set, looking serene and accepting of the craziness life was handing them. I saw two people who were stretching to find room for themselves in a new marriage, finding trust in each other and their circumstances, finding room for their faith to govern over all. I saw two people who were on the verge of having a baby with no healthcare in a strange city. I saw bickering and uncertainty and I found two new friends. These are my people, the ones who show up and keep trying but are not perfect, the ones who are like many of the nativity characters I have, a bit broken in places.
So ultimately I want to say thank you to Pastor Joseph and Pastor Chris who spoke words that found their mark on my soul. I love my church, I love our focus on authenticity and seeing, really seeing those among us and those outside our doors. There is room in our church for me, also for you if you are seeking a community that gets what it means to be born in a stable. Merry Christmas, may your soul find healing, may light shine into all the hurt places and may you rejoice in knowing God loves broken people too.