How Do We Hold Space for the Church AND Those Who Have Been Hurt by the Church?

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How do we hold space for the Church and those who have been hurt by the Church at the same time?

That question was posed to me recently. Yeah, no big deal. Simple answer. Whatever. Are you kidding me?

This question is at the core of something I have been wrestling with for months. I have felt angsty and unsettled for a very long time and I cannot adequately put into words the “what” or the “why” behind these feelings. The best I can do right now is give you a snap shot of how I got here.

I sat in a sharing circle with Chief Dr. Robert Joseph as he spoke on reconciliation and the future. As I listened to him speak, I had a flood of remembrance of all of the churchy-church phrases that admonish us to forgive and I wondered, “What about the truth? Is truth pushed aside to make room for forgiveness?”

I sat in my office, after another odd encounter with my senior pastor. I was hurt and confused and I felt belittled. It wasn’t anything in particular he said, but it was the way he said it. It was the way he often spoke to me when no one else was around. It felt gross and reeked of insecurity but yet somehow I thought it was my fault, that I had done something to deserve his patronizing words. But it was another encounter I would stay silent about because I was a nice church girl and that’s what nice church girls do. Isn’t it?

A few years ago I had a conversation with a pastor friend. I was just beginning my journey into understanding my indigenous culture and I had asked him what the church’s approach was to engaging indigenous people and making space for their stories. He sputtered and side-stepped the question at first, but when I pressed him for a clear answer he told me I was attention-seeking and I needed to submit to the vision the senior pastor had for the church, instead of pushing my will. I still feel the sting of his words.

I logged on to Twitter and read hundreds of #metoo tweets. I was heartbroken and yet somehow I celebrated the freedom these survivors were experiencing. Then I clicked on a #churchtoo thread and I was devastated and outraged and ashamed. I felt outed and exposed, yet I personally hadn’t done harm here. These weren’t my sins and yet they were, because I am the Church.

I was talking with a dear friend about my frustrations with the Church (global, big picture church) and she responded vehemently in defense of the Church. While the sentiment resonated with me, I wondered how we, the Church, can be a safe place when we are, so often, the perpetrator of so many wrongs. I wondered without voice and without answer.

I watch the news and see atrocities and passive acts of racism committed in the name of God but this isn’t a god I know. I hear Bible verses spouted off to justify cruelty and oppression but I do not recognize the faith they say they represent. I hear religious leaders claim Jesus as their own, while violating the basic human rights of the poorest, the marginalized and I want to scream, “I’m not with him!” Then I sit in the quiet and try to reconcile my faith with theirs and I can’t.

These moments, and a hundred more, have left me with far more questions than answers lately. It’s as though I have a secret room in my brain where I store all these moments. I tag all these moments with all the questions that I cannot answer. Every now and then something compels me to open this closet and suddenly I am buried in an avalanche of I-don’t-knows and I’d-sure-like-to-find-outs. So this is where I am. Sitting under a pile of questions, feeling their weight and struggling to find that One Thing that will help me to make sense of this all.

So, yeah. Nothing heavy going on here.

There are things I know. But there’s a lot more I don’t know. I know that Truth is the only way through this avalanche. I know that not all truths are the same and we need to be okay with that. I also know that Justice rarely looks like I think it should or does what I hope it will. And I need to be okay with that, too. The last thing I know for sure here is this: Jesus is the only way to navigate this mess—and because he has chosen the Church as his love, she will feature in the answer here.

So, how do we hold space for the people and the Church at the same time?

We don’t have to hold space for both. Both are the same. It’s not either or because the Church isn’t the institution and the building. It’s the people.
We are the Church.
We are the ones Jesus loves most.
We are the forgiven. We are the healed.
We are the whole. We are the hopeful.

We are also the wounded.
We are both.

So, that’s the truth I think we need to sit with. It’s the truth I am learning to wrap my head around. We are both. We can be the wounded and we can be the wounders. We can even be both in the same moment.

When I started reading The Book of Forgiving by Desmond and Mpho Tutu, I began to make some sense of my avalanche. There are a hundred beautiful truths in each chapter, but a few really stood out to me and impacted my heart and my perspective profoundly. I learned that it is vital to see the humanity in the perpetrator of our wounds and recognize that the space between us is not so great. I learned that forgiveness does not release the perpetrator of their responsibility; it releases me to live out from under my suffering.

I also learned that how we tell our truth matters, if healing and reconciliation or release is our goal. This was an a-ha moment for me. This is when the penny dropped and the weight of my avalanche shifted ever so slightly so I could breathe. The how matters almost as much as the what.

I have struggled speaking my truth when it comes to my complicated experiences with the Church. I love the Church and I would never want to cause her harm. I also know that people have suffered great injury under the banner of Church and many of these people have felt aggressively, shamefully silenced. That’s not okay.

I have also seen people share in unsafe places. I have seen people pour their hurts out on social media or in a public forum in a raw and vulnerable way only to be misunderstood or further harmed by having their experiences marginalized once more. I have also seen unsuspecting, good and decent church leaders at the receiving end of a fire hose of emotion and blame for things they had no part in. That doesn’t seem just either.

I know there must be a way to speak the truth and love the Church as we find freedom from the weight of oppression. I know that somewhere in this melee of emotion and truth and love there is firm ground on which we can build a new beginning. I know it because I can feel it and I can see it. I can only see it in glimpses and in winks but it’s there. There is a hope that is underlying all of this. The hope is for More and for Better. It is what we are capable of. It is what we were created for.

Instead of judging the Church as a whole, I think it is far more effective to celebrate the boldness of those leading the way in truth and justice. These brave ones are bushwacking a path towards a better way publically while working out the issues of the Church in the places where real change can happen: in meeting rooms, around coffee tables, in relationships with the Other and the Same. These are the voices we need to amplify. These are the Ones who are leading the way in big and small ways.

Every time we choose love over hate, forgiveness over retribution, grace and mercy over condemnation, we are creating safe places for growth and change. The Church is moving towards More and Better. Every Jesus follower who opens their arms to welcome a neighbor, stand for the oppressed and speak for the marginalized is part of the advancing force of Good.

We are the Church.
Each one of us—together.
We are agents of grace
For the love of Jesus
Bringing hope to the world.

This is how we do it.

____________________________

Reflection:

  • Whose voices can you amplify?
  • Who is doing good as the Church in your world?
  • What good things are you choosing to engage in?

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Nichole Forbes
Nichole is just a regular gal loved by an extraordinary God. She believes in community, justice, freedom, reconciliation and the sacredness of storytelling. Her journey to connect with her Metis culture and history has been her own liberation song. She tries to live bravely every day and say the kind words that need to be heard. She raises her three Not-So-Wee-Ones in the middle of the Canadian prairies with her favorite person ever—her husband, Brad. Nichole blogs, writes and speaks on the things that fill her heart and frame her world. 
Nichole Forbes
Nichole Forbes
somerandommother http://somerandommother.blogspot.ca

Comments

  1. Madeline Twooney says:

    A lovely post Nichole, it really gives me food for thought and addresses issues that l am going through in the church community myself. It’s nice to know that l am not alone! God bless!

  2. Marissa Singleton says:

    Nicole, thank you so much for your beautiful post. These are almost all the same things I have been struggling with in my life in the church, and I have felt so alone in trying to understand them because it’s complex. I tried to explain in a racism class that I am both a victim of racism and a perpetrator of racism and even my intructor didn’t get the scope of what I was trying to say. These things are not easy. I so appreciate what you have written! Grace and peace to you!

  3. Marissa Singleton says:

    Nicole, thank you so much for your beautiful post. These are all the same things I have been struggling with in my life in the church, and I have felt so alone in trying to understand them because it’s complex. I tried to explain in a racism class that I am both a victim of racism and a perpetrator of racism and even my intructor didn’t get the scope of what I was trying to say. These things are not east. I so appreciate what you have written! Grace and peace to you!

  4. This was so encouraging to read today. I am also feeling many of those feelings, and I am trying to figure out the balance of ‘how’ to say a truth without hurting others, while honouring that the truth really does still need a place to be known.

    “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:9-10 was something I kept on my door at work for a while.

    • Nichole says:

      I’m so glad you found some encouragement here. As our story unfolds in and with the church, I pray for grace for all – grace to become more like Jesus – day by day. While at times it can be exhausting to face the challenges before us, it’s also exciting to be part of this growth and change. I cannot wait to see what’s next for the church!

  5. Beautifully and bravely spoken Nichole….
    ‘We are the Church.
    Each one of us—together.
    We are agents of grace
    For the love of Jesus
    Bringing hope to the world.’

    Thank you for listening to me when I have been a fierce defender of the Church, even though I too have felt hurt and betrayed by her at times. My prayer is that we all mature and grow in His grace and love…
    ” All that He does in us is designed to make us a mature Church for His pleasure, until we become a source of praise to Him, glorious and radiant, beautiful and holy, without fault or flaw.’ Eph 5:27 TPT

    • Nichole says:

      Helen, our conversations always leave me with lots to mull over. You challenge me and encourage me and for that I am deeply grateful. I’m excited to watch the church become more of who we were created to be. These are good, good times to be living out More and Better – together.

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