The Real Reason I Still Go to Church

Nov 7 2013

“If Christians say stuff like that – that you’re teaching your kids to love what is evil – why do you even go to church?”

The question came on Halloween after I posted this on Facebook:

Someone asked me recently how I can justify participating in Halloween as a Christian. “Don’t you know you’re teaching your children to love what is evil?” he said.

And I’m not opposed to Christians sitting this one out or throwing open the doors of their churches for harvest parties and inviting their neighbors in. To each their own, I say, because we parents must follow our gut, and one answer isn’t right for everyone. It’s really not, and good for you for knowing what’s best for your family.

As for me, though, I don’t want to miss out on the magic because I feel to the marrow of my bones that we find that of Love there.

You see, I want to spend my night throwing my door open to the surprises that wait beyond it. To the monsters and to the fairies and to the great heroes and heroines of our day.

I want to see the Cat in the Hat walking hand-in-hand with the Queen of Hearts, and to see whole swarms of bumblebees and butterflies tripping over their wings and each other as they buzz and flit from house to house, following exactly the erratic and ridiculous path of their namesakes.

I want to giggle as Curious George walks right into my house as though he belongs here while I tell his parents, “It’s fine. It’s fine. I promise. We love this,” and they apologize for his enthusiasm, chasing him down the hall as he moves with super-speed on chubby legs.

I want to greet overwhelming crowds of the gory undead with smiles and treats and to wave at their parents who watch with vigilance from the street while they give their precious littles a chance to know their neighborhood; the kids as the Scare-ers, for once, instead of the Ones Who Need to Learn to Be Afraid. And I want to let my own children out in the community to run from stranger’s door to stranger’s door and to know that these houses around us are filled with more friends than strangers, after all.

I want to see the mean man with the nice dog who lives down the street smile this one time per year at the kids who always walk on his damn lawn.

And I want to see what old Earl will do this year to terrify the kids in his driveway.

I want to stop for a minute at the one house that provides hot cider for cold parents so I can say thank you.

And I want to watch my teens disarm the surly candy-givers who like to hate the kids who are Too Old for This Nonsense as my kids pull out the big guns — Halloween caroling, because my kids are weird weirdos who are weird — and I want to giggle as the disapproval turns, always, into handfuls of candy with “OK, fine, you guys. That was actually really cool.” Because it’s not just the kids who get to learn not to be afraid of others.

The truth is, I love Halloween because there’s just no other community holiday like it, where neighbors celebrate with unknown neighbors. And I wouldn’t have my family miss it for the world.

Happy Halloween!

Then came the question.

“If Christians say stuff like that – that you’re teaching your kids to love what is evil – why do you even go to church?”

And, well, fair question, I think. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things when people from different faiths and philosophiesyou know, ask each other stuff, because I believed Cookie Monster when he said, “Asking questions is good way to find out about things.” 

The problem, of course, with being asked questions is figuring out how to both answer them and honor them with the truest truths we know. Because the pat answers are the easiest, and the prefabricated, processed answers are the most concise – “I go to church because… JESUS” – but sometimes the truest truths don’t fit well inside the simple boxes.

I’ve thought about the answer to the Why do you even go to church? question. I’ve thought about it a lot, actually; for, like, 20 years as I attended church and took breaks and attended church again. I’ve talked in public about my faith before. Faith and doubt and learning to breathe. Faith and the freedom to be imperfectly me. Authenticity, asshattery, faith and fear. So it’ll be no surprise to you to learn that church is an ebb-and-flow process for me, like a friendship that waxes and wanes, drawn and pushed by mysterious tides.

The truth is, I’m not an easy sell when it comes to church. I don’t go because of social pressure. I don’t go because it’s part of the Christian rule book. And, yes, I go to church because of Jesus, but blah blah blah because I’m as likely to leave a church if it’s the clearer path toward Jesus’ Way of Love as I am to attend church to follow him. Simply marking the “I Attend Church” checkbox isn’t what I’m after. I’ll go where I can learn Love and live Love, be Love and do Love. Because Love and Grace and Discovering We’re All Neighbors are what Jesus is about, after all.

Last Tuesday, my phone crapped out.

Weird segue, I know. Bear with me.

Last Tuesday, my phone crapped out. Like, packed a bag and yelled, “YOU ASK TOO MUCH OF ME. I’M LEAVING,” on its way out the door in a huff, feet stomping, door slamming, before it had to come back because it forgot its car keys. Don’t you just hate it when a good dramatic exit is ruined? But it worked out for the best because I made us both coffee and we sat down and had a nice long chat about the ways we’ve been undermining each other for a while now, spiraling into habits that harmed each other. Namely, me overloading it with thousands of pictures and it passively-aggressively dragging its feet on Every Single Task in order to punish me.

In the end, I (read: Greg) downloaded all the pictures onto my computer and asked my phone to forgive me. We’re giving our relationship another shot; after all, my phone and I have been together a LONG time by current technological standards, and, although we’re both skeptical, we need to see if there’s something left to salvage.

As I was sorting the pictures on my computer, I had the Why DO I Go To Church? question running around the back of my head. And lo and behold, there was the answer. Staring me in the face. Again and again. In the pictures right in front of me. The ones I took at church over the past year with wanton disregard for the fact that it’s socially unacceptable to be snapping photos during worship.

What I found in the pictures was this:

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Church is where the fairies come with their green glitter wings and their straight-cut bangs and their poofy tulle tutus, colored pencils in hand and butterfly wand at the ready.

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Church is where we dress up fancy in our best lipstick and finest hair-dos, and where we kiss each other on the cheek and leave stains and spit behind and smile our crooked smiles which we forgot – again – to keep inside the lines.

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Church is where we bring our rainbow hats with our zebra manes.

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 And our mismatched shoes.

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Or no shoes at all because we’re on holy ground when we’re barefoot in the mess.

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And church is where we let the little children come to dance in the aisles as though worship is something real and physical and can’t be contained.

The real reason I still go to church is the same reason we trick-or-treat on Halloween. I still go to church because I don’t want to miss out on the magic, and I feel to the marrow of my bones that we find that of Love there.

Who do we let out? Who do we let in? We ask those questions in a hundred little ways a thousand times a day. I take my kids trick-or-treating in our community for the same reason I take them to church. Because I don’t want to miss out on the ways Love finds us and teaches us and opens our hearts to let people in. I don’t want to miss Robin Hood and his Merry Men on Halloween night, giving my little boys unreasonably large handfuls of candy and confidence. And I don’t want to miss the fairies at church. To enter the magic, though, I have to choose to let go of the misconceptions and prejudices that want to keep me out of the places where God dwells. Where Love lives. Where we meet our neighbors. Where we see the good in them. Where we learn to accept their gifts. And to think the best. And to see strange joy.

On Sunday, I told my kids to get dressed for church. My 7-year-old son came downstairs in one of his favorite dresses. I wondered whether I ought to make him change because of What People Might Think or, far worse, What People Might Say to him that could hurt him. But we’ve attended our church a very long time now, and people have always treated our family with tenderness and open arms, no matter how weird and wounded we are. So off we went, the Mama Bear in me trusting my church family to love my kids as I do. Trusting my church family to even enjoy that my kids are some of the wild things, the same as Grace and Love, Faith and Hope. Wild Things, every one.

I don’t go to church because I should. I can’t; I have neither the time nor the patience for the shoulds, and so I gave them up quite some time ago.

“Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them,” Jesus said. “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”*

And so I let my child go, and I didn’t hinder him, because he is the stuff of heaven exactly how he is.

And do you know what my church family said to my son?

Not a single word different than when he shows up in his favorite jeans or in his kilt or in lipstick and a mohawk. Just, “Hi!” And, “We’re glad you’re here!” And, “Looking good, kid.”

Which was their reaction when my daughter used to go to church in her leopard costume.

“We’re glad you’re here!”

And their reaction when my son flipped off the entire congregation at the Christmas program.

“Looking good, kid.”

The truth is I don’t go to church because they have the Right Doctrine of Love. I go to church because they live it.

Church is where we let the little children come.

And where we learn that the magic is Real.

That the Mystery is all around us.

That Love has a name.

Church is where the Wild Things are.

And those are the real reasons I go to church.

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……….

Other posts on faith:

Sanctuary
My Confession About Faith
5 Quick Questions About Faith
On the Importance of Mud
3 Reasons I Quit Loving the Sinner and Hating the Sin
On Parenting, Faith and Doubt
On Resurrection and People Like Me Who Wreck Things
On the Magi and Jesus in the Mess
Were You Born in a Barn? Thoughts on Leaving Doors Open

*Matthew 19:14