We romanticize church, communion, and all things ‘Christian’ as hinging on a holiness born of perfection,
But it is the unrefined love of the Broken Christ, poured in messy spills, like wine from a broken bottle,
Flowing into and through broken vessels, and splashing reckless love into the world around
That ultimately spreads His grace to the world around.
Christianity is a messy encounter between sinful humanity and Divine Love.
There is this thought that troubles me, and one that has tumbled around in my mind, for years in a way that can’t be ignored… Like the annoying sound of mindless, repetitious tapping that carries on until someone bursts out an exasperated ‘stop it!’ … or the faucet dripping water until you are forced to abandon what you’re doing and get up to tighten it…
My first awareness that some people are ‘different’ came when I was about four or five years old. A girl in our community, or possibly a neighbouring colony–I cannot recall which–probably in her twenties, brought this revelation into my life. Or, more accurately, what people said brought the revelation. To me she was simply a more fun adult, than most. One I could connect with. Really connect with.
I don’t recall her name, but her image is burned on my memory, most clearly. When we visited her home, which I recall doing at least twice, she and I played together. This friend loved to play dolls, and sat with me, holding and rocking them with the same childish delight that I felt. Though I certainly didn’t recognize it as childish then. I did, however, observe that she did what other adults didn’t do. She entered into my world, and I into hers. We sat in our chairs pretending to nurse our babies, then rocking and burping them, just the way mothers in our world did. She didn’t talk much. I don’t recall, but it would be a safe guess that I chattered. I did that from time to time.
After one visit to their home my mother explained that this girl isn’t ‘normal’ or, the German wording, ‘not as she should be’. This bewildered me. To me she was as everyone should be. It isn’t that my mother was rude, or condescending. It was the normal wording used for mentally handicapped or delayed people. Another expression used was the equivalent of retarded–something I found offensive, even as a child.
But the thoughts tumbling in my head are not exactly about the mentally delayed or handicapped, though this ‘learning’ of our differences does tie in, for me, emotionally, to my thoughts…
I don’t know when I first learned that there are people at church who are ‘different’. People who don’t fit the mold. The ones who are not ‘as they should be’. Those who dance to a different rhythm. (God bless them, at least they dance!) These are the broken souls who don’t have it together, hold it together, or present a ‘church image’. They don’t wear a ‘suit and tie’ in a ‘suit and tie church’. And if they do, the pants are too short and the sleeves fall shy of reaching the wrist with an obvious deficit. Their shoes have no shine, if they wear shoes at all, and their socks probably don’t match. Not each other, and not the suit. The tie, if worn at all, is a tacky mis-matched accessory, and the hair slicked to the side, haphazardly, with Brylcream and smeared flat.
When they talk, they stutter. When they laugh, it is a geeky laugh that incorporates a few snorts and maybe a cross-eyed glance, as they push their ‘taped-together’ glasses up their nose. When they look into your eyes it’s that awkward ‘look deep into the soul’ gaze that creeps the average Joe out, especially in church where everything is meant to be nice and peaceful, and no one is supposed to know anything below the nice exterior. And everyone is perpetually happy. Because God is good. And when they do that–the awkward ones–and look deep into our souls, they look past the ‘nice’ and see the dark spots on our souls and it makes us uncomfortable. I know. I’ve experienced it.
These people don’t fit into Western church culture. More accurately, they don’t fit in anywhere.
My descriptions are figurative. It isn’t the external differences that make people ‘unfit’, but it is that way of thinking and living, of refusing to conform to expected norms, or maybe oblivious to these norms, that make them misfits. They are no more welcome in much of church culture than Jesus was welcomed into the religious community of His day.
And whether it is because of a mental handicap or just ‘being different’, and being ‘broken’ and scarred by life, we don’t really know what to do with these people. The mentally handicapped most of us accept. They can’t help how they were born. But the broken. Them we try to fix. Surely with a bit more effort, or offering another earnest prayer, or a bit more counsel, surely then they will pull themselves together and fit in. But they try–some of them, at least–and we pray, and we advise–or send them to the more qualified for help–and still they sing off tune and dance out of time… And slowly we pull away, or push them out, and leave them on the discard pile…
The broken ones who don’t fit…
While housecleaning my basement I came across an envelope. A fat, homemade envelope. Crooked and mis-measured, with holes where the corners should meet–gaps because she didn’t align it right. A few scribbles decorated the front. Inside a handful of papers with unintelligible notes, made of up wordless words, with letters randomly slapped together. Tall letters. Short letters. Fat ones and skinny ones.
i studied them, trying to recall where they had come from. A memory played at the fringes of my mind, teasing, but refusing to reveal itself. I flipped to another note, unfolded the uneven folds. There, written in clear English were the words, “I Love You! Janet Kuepfer”
I smiled. And a tear fell. And I remembered why I kept the note. She worked hard to write that, many years ago when we attended the same church. It was one of a few such notes I received from friends there, who were mentally delayed, handicapped or had special needs of some sort. I found others as I rooted through my boxes. And while hundreds of beautiful cards landed on the discard pile, each of these notes returned to my keepsake box, where I will likely stumble upon them in a decade or so, the next time I go through my memory box, sorting what is worthy of storage, and what should be tossed.
And in the meantime the question will continue to tumble through my head, like an empty tin can, blowing about in the wind, demanding to be acknowledged. What should the church do with the broken ones?
I believe I saw a glimpse of this on Sunday. We attended the Meeting House in Waterloo, and it was communion Sunday. At the very front, sat two gentlemen in wheelchairs. I don’t know them. I don’t know their stories…
A man went forward for communion but, rather than taking the bread, dipping it in the wine and helping himself, he walked past the cup and the bread to these men. He leaned forward and whispered something to them, then turned, took some bread and dipped it in the cup, and placed it in the first gentleman’s mouth. He followed suit with the second man.
“He’s a true gentleman,” I whispered to Tim, pointing out what I observed. And something connected deep in my spirit with the broken Jesus–the One from whom many in today’s Christian culture would likely withhold communion, or walk the long way around Him, if the way we treat our broken is any indication.
In the background the worship team played ‘Jesus Messiah’, and I came unglued as the tears began to fall so that I couldn’t hold them back if I wanted to. And I wanted to. Because I don’t like to cry in church anymore. I’ve learned that people don’t cry in church, and mostly I prefer not to be so vulnerable in front of them. With Tim I don’t mind, and some of my trusted friends. But in church I have learned it is best to close down my heart and emotions, and blend in with the accepted norms.
Every now and then, however, the raw, real, broken truth, about love being poured from a broken glass without pretense of apology, grips me with such force that all walls crumble and all defenses dissipate. And then I weep. And in those moments I feel alive, as if Jesus has slipped again among us. And my soul reaches out with open hands and longing heart….
… for a place of vulnerability where it is safe to be broken… A place where Jesus is lifted up and human effort is not glorified… and the ‘least of these’ is valued as if they were Jesus in the flesh…
© Trudy Metzger
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