7. What kind of church?
The saddest words I’ve heard regarding church were from a woman I saw in a store. I told her I’d missed seeing her in worship – and she replied, “Oh, I’ve been having a horrible time in my life; I’ll be back when I’m better.” Church isn’t supposed to be a place for grinning, together people to hobnob with each other; church is a hospital for broken people. We may be polite and say to one another “I’m fine!” – but church should welcome and expect struggle, confusion, and hurt. “It’s harder to feel accepted by Christ and covered by his grace when you’re hiding in the church” (Amy Simpson).
AA meetings include humble, hopeful introductions: “I’m James, I’m an alcoholic.” Church should mimic this, even if only in our minds as we converse: I’m John, I’m Susan, I’m broken, I’m a sinner, I’ve struggled this week. We need each other; we need fellow travelers on the journey; we need honesty. Too often in church we ask What are your strengths and abilities? – and that is how we will put you to serving. Maybe we can learn to ask What are your wounds? Jesus never asked In what ways do you have it all together? Show me your resume! Paul portrayed the ideal church as “If one suffers, we all suffer” (1 Corinthians 12:24) – and the truth is, we really do.
What kind of church will we be in the face of mental illness? If someone has cancer we deliver casseroles and join prayer chains. But if someone is bipolar? or borderline personality disorder? or deeply depressed? We avert our gaze, and wonder if the troubled person might be happier elsewhere. Yes, the mentally ill need medical treatment. But they also need God, and a loving church. If we cannot reach out tenderly to those suffering the most daunting emotional difficulties, we will not be able to help anybody at all, even those who smile a lot and don’t really report much difficulty.
My dream, for all of us, for all of the churches, is that we will abandon ideas that we’re the people who are doing great – but will create a climate of caring, compassion, openness, a safe haven for everything from the most profound afflictions to barely detectable anxiety. Our mantra is Grace – and grace is unconditional love, felt, enacted, a commitment to be a church that mirrors Jesus’ healing compassion.
8. Jesus the Healer
Since Jesus healed (and frankly, many of his miracles were of emotional maladies, like schizophrenia and personality disorders), we see it as God’s primary job to heal us – although healing was only a small fraction of what Jesus was about. And dreams of healing have been the ruin of prayer. The vast majority of prayer requests we receive are health related – when there are a bevy of other things (praise, gratitude, confession, wisdom, holiness) to pray about.
Jesus did heal a few people – apparently to declare something about his identity, and to make larger points; he healed the blind, not evidently just so the blind could see, but so the spiritually blind Pharisees would realize their piety was bogus. Jesus’ healings were “signs” of a new way of life with God; the majority of sick people Jesus encountered remained sick.
We might think of Jesus’ best healing, not in his miracles, but in his habits. Over and over, the Gospels tell us Jesus withdrew from the bustle of the crowd to pray; Jesus knew how to say No to increasing demands on his energy. Jesus gathered people together into a loving community that accepted everybody. Jesus was intimate with God, and embraced hurting people where they were. Jesus’ spirituality was emotionally healthy. Jesus displayed that “saving grace of repetition.”
Jesus Christ heals the emotions today through formation, new habits, and others in what really can be the Body of Christ. Jesus Christ also heals us by exposing the false gods that beleaguer us. He doesn’t scold, but he tenderly reminds us that things, money, diversions, being cool, climbing the ladder simply can’t deliver, and are perilous to the soul.
Jesus cast out demons – and there certainly are destructive spiritual presences out there, and in our own heads. We can trust that this happens for us now – and ours isn’t to pinpoint evil presences, but to keep our focus on what is good, whole, beautiful, healthy. Thomas Merton was right: the devil attention above all else – and the one who is close to Christ increasingly notices only what is good and hopeful.
In this short YouTube I try to explain the Miracles of Jesus.