Phantom Church Syndrome

“So you DO understand!”

I exclaimed (over email, which is the equivalent of shouting into the wind).

I have been emailing back and forth with a pastor I am getting to know who actually works around the corner from my house.  Beth and I have been discussing a return to church in a very limited capacity.  We actually went one Sunday, and it happened to have helped make a huge turn in the conversation between “The Pastor” and myself.

While explaining my lack of attention during the Sunday I was there and contributing it to bad lessons learned from my father, The Pastor shared with me how he is a 3rd generation pastor and knows all the tricks and the bad habits a child of the cloth could experience.

I shared with The Pastor an article from my dear friend John Pavlovitz and also shared the URL to this blog.  A couple days had passed and I received a rather lengthy response.  Here, The Pastor summed up his Childhood experiences and what led him to be a pastor today.  There were a few times where I yelled out loud “Holy Shit!! Get out of my head”.  Some of the experiences shared were almost identical to what I experienced growing up. The Pastor shared of times spent at camp during Revival Meetings and the various activities that transpired.

I summed it up by saying Music Camp and Labor Day camp meetings were my ‘high holy days of horniness™’. If you were going to make out with someone, Camp was the place to do it.  As my dad would say, “No booth, in the back, in the corner, in the dark”.  Camp had all of those things and more.

Then I broke down in tears. Through my anger and hurt, these words filled my head.

Pastor, I’ll be honest with you…

I hate the church.

I hate the church for years of inflicted pain. I hate knowing things should have been different.

But I also love the church. I am where I am because of the church. As much as I despise my parents, I see where they came from and where I am today. They are two different places. I have travelled the world and played in grand places like The Royal Albert hall in London, in Central Park, NYC during the 1991 Billy Graham Crusade (yes, his son is an asshole..that’s another story for another day). I have also had the opportunity to visit barrios in Argentina…all because of the church. My gifts were developed in the church. I am this way, for better or worse because of the church.  I am extremely fortunate to have experienced the things I have.  The opportunities given.  The leadership skills acquired.

Today, I see the church differently.   I see the church as a missed opportunity.   I want to see the church as a refuge, a community of differing thoughts and opinions.   A group just trying to get through their day the best they can and be some love to their world.   Gender or race or orientation.  Doesn’t matter.   They didn’t matter to Jesus.  We place our focuses in the wrong places.  

The church misses the point.   The church is good at rules and regulations and mandatory adherence to a set line of being.  There is no ‘come as you are, we’ll all figure it out together’.   There is no Grace.  There is no “With Christ all things are possible.”  

One big missed opportunity.   

At this point, I had a hard time keeping myself together. I continued…

What pisses me off is the fact I know fully well there is a calling.   Me.  A foul mouthed, dirty minded eternal optimist who holds onto Romans 8:38-39 like a kid does a security blanket.  I have always felt His calling in my life.  Unfortunately, I do not see the “church life” as real and authentic.   It’s a butterscotch dipped ice cream cone at Dairy Queen.   A thin coating of beauty, but nothing of depth and structure.  I been on the bad side of it and it isn’t pretty.   I am odd.  

I honestly don’t know where I am at right now.  I stopped calling myself a Christian because all the hurt and pain I see around me being caused by people who claimed to have the same title.   It was once an insulting term and it slowly is becoming one again.   I am vocal about my disdain.   I am not alone either.  We have never fully walked away.   We can’t.

“A phantom limb is the sensation that an amputated or missing limb is still attached. … Phantom sensations may also occur after the removal of body parts other than the limbs, e.g. after amputation of the breast, extraction of a tooth (phantom tooth pain) or removal of an eye (phantom eye syndrome).”

When something is such a huge part of you and it has been removed, you still feel it. You still think it’s there. That’s what I am experiencing.

Phantom Church Syndrome.

“All that I am, all I can be, all that I have, all that is me, accept and use, Lord, as you would choose, Lord, right now, today.
Take every passion, every skill, take all my dreams and bend them to your will.
My all I give, Lord, for you I’ll live, Lord, come what may.”
-William Himes

My cold bitter, profanity laced heart still has a longing for the church. Being away has allowed me to learn, not only about the church, but myself. My absence has taught me more about my spiritual self then all the Sunday School lessons and Old Testament historical classes ever could.

I am me. I am His. He is mine. Paul said that NOTHING can separate us. It’s the best woobie ever made.

Oh, the part that made me cry? The Pastor concluded his message…

“This does not mean that I am totally free of all the things that afflicted me while the child of a conservative/fundamentalistic father and mother; I’m sure I never will be. But God’s grace allows me to function as at least a half-way “normal” human being (whatever that is) and hopefully as a “capable” Christian person and pastor. I covet your prayers for my ministry.

I have had the privilege of meeting all kinds of people, in all stages of their lives, and I will count it a privilege to get to know you, your wife and your whole family. I find God’s grace in the variety of the people He has created and that each and every one of us has something unique to provide the totality which is called humanity. Looking forward to getting to know you better.”

We’re still figuring out the whole meeting thing. Until then.

Keep Loving.