Christians in recovery aren’t like recovering alcoholics. We are more like food addicts. We can’t do without food. We just need a healthy relationship with it.
When you are a recovering alcoholic you have to learn to live your life without alcohol. But you can’t live without food. You have to relearn how to eat. The trick is to learn what is a healthy relationship with food and what isn’t. The trick is to set up boundaries.
In the same way as food addicts, people who have been hurt by mainstream church (by the current definition of what “church” means) are renegotiating this relationship. They can do without the top-down leadership, the politics, and the obsession with money that comes with church as it is currently defined.
When we have had an unhealthy relationship with church, we have to renegotiate the deal. We often try to stay away from church. Sometimes we go back but to a different denomination and we find we are welcomed. Sometimes we find that welcome is short lived and we discover the same bad processes and unhealthy ways of thinking that plagued our old churches. Sometimes we start to think that the whole idea of Christianity is wrong, and we stay away from anything associated with the idea.
The only problem is that the thing that drew us to church, and the thing that got us to leave is the same thing. It is Jesus in both cases. Those of us who leave church don’t do it because we don’t love Jesus. We do. We just weren’t finding him in church, or at least any modern definition of it.
As for me, I wasn’t finding him in the activities that the church sponsored. I wasn’t finding him in the book clubs that featured books that had nothing to do with how to be a better Christian. I wasn’t finding him in the margarita karaoke evenings. I wasn’t finding him in the Bunco gatherings that were held in the parish hall. And I certainly wasn’t finding him in a minister who told me to stop talking about how God was and is interacting with my life.
I left church, but I couldn’t leave Jesus. The only problem is in trying to figure out how to have one without the other. Just like with food addiction, I need Jesus in order to live. I just can’t handle all the extras that have been added on top of him.
So much was put on my plate when I’d go to church that Jesus became the side dish instead of the main course. There were so many garnishes and condiments and appetizers and desserts that I couldn’t see him at all. When I left church and left all of that, I missed him, and I got hungry for him all over again.
I think this is true of many people I’m meeting. We love Jesus. We just don’t love how he’s been served to us.
Just like a food addict, we need to strip it all down to the basics and start from scratch. We need to reevaluate our relationship. We need to set up healthy boundaries. We need to figure out what we need and what makes us feel ill.
For me, one of the big things is that the group not have a permanent building. Jesus didn’t build a church with bricks, but with bodies. The church is the people, not the place. The more money that is spent on a church building, the less that is spent on helping people who need it.
Another thing is there needs to be no one minister. We are all ministers, by virtue of our baptism and our acceptance of Jesus into our lives. To have only one person sharing their story, and only one person making the decisions, is to take away the God-given power, voice, and ability that we all have.
So while I really like the gatherings that I’ve been going to, I’m still missing Jesus in them. I think we’ve all gotten so afraid of how we were treated at church that we’ve just dumped everything and been feeling it out. We are reassembling the jigsaw puzzle but without the picture on the box, and we are leaving out all the bits that we are afraid of.
While I like that the meetings are in friend’s homes and we all get to share our stories openly and honestly, I feel that we are missing something really important. We forget to invite Jesus to our circle. We don’t talk about him. We don’t have communion. Well, not openly. Tea and cookies can count, but it has to be intentional for it to count.
I think we feel that because we don’t talk about Jesus, because we don’t invite him to our circle, that we aren’t going to get hurt like we did the last time we were in a place that mentioned Jesus. And we might. We might get hurt because whenever we gather with other people, we gather with other people’s problems. I also think that we still need to try. Just like renegotiating a relationship with food, I think we need to renegotiate a relationship with Jesus. I think we need to invite him in, to help heal that brokenness and that hurt. I think if we don’t, then we will start to feel more and more empty.