Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Just beneath the surface...

I'm not the only one.

Apparently, fewer and fewer men are attending Christian churches, especially in the UK today.
All manner of reasons are given... poor leadership, the 'feminisation' of services, lack of male definition or activities, even changes in millennial views have all been listed as pragmatic causes, and perhaps these all play some part, but for me it was something much deeper which finally ended my church attendance.

The loss of my wife.
It wasn't just the impact of facing her death head on. It was the way in which others (and by others, I'm sad to say I mean Christians) responded to that. It was as though I'd gained some stigma or become unclean... the responses (lack of them) has been all too palpable.

In the six years since Kay's death, virtually no 'saint' has crossed my door, called me, or sought to check on my well-being. It's almost as though we were both buried on that day.
I've not become an island - I've pursued all manner of connection and made sure I've kept in touch with what's what, in the church and the world, but why the cold shoulder?

I know I can be pretty difficult to love, but was I really meant to be left in such a void - one that would have been malignantly crippling for so many, and pretty staggering for me when I reflect upon the reality of not only having lost my wife, but, in practical terms, any 'normal' support structure (the community of Christians) during such a trial.

James tells us that true religion is marked by a care for the widow and the orphan, so what's really going on, when non-believing friends and family prove much, much closer to you than Christians? Why in these times of crisis do we find ourselves left so adrift?

It's not the first time by any means this has happened to me or my late wife, and it's pretty clear that many, many others find themselves in the same situation, especially when facing crises of this magnitude, so is it any wonder that the church finds itself diminished by the vital need not only to care for such people, but to learn from them in that work - how much richer a Christian community becomes when its faith and testimony includes the voices of those often broken by life, but remaining kept by God's faithfulness.

It's because of that mercy that I'm here, asking, and hopefully stirring someone to notice those in need in their own neighborhood.

5 comments:

sma9231961 said...

Howard,

This is really quite terrible. I think I may know some of the reason for it, although there is no good excuse for Christians abandoning their brothers and sisters in time of need.
I think it has something to do with modern man's inability to cope with pain and suffering. So many of us just figure out a way not to go there, even if it means casting a loved one adrift. We take any and all measures to avoid pain, or that might expose our own mortality.

I have also seen this at work in my own congrgation, and I have been guilty of it myself.

I don't have any answers. But that you would shed light on this is a painful reminder of how selfish man can be in securing his own survival.

L.R.E. Larkin said...

Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I do agree with the post above mine. Christianity (and specifically the church) can often be a place where those who are suffering and in desperate need are not welcome. 'Being sad' or 'grieving' is akin, for much of modern Christianity, to having little to no faith. In reality, death, sorrow, suffering, pain, are all things that grieve the father's heart (it's not supposed to be like this). While the verdict has been delivered to such things (that verdict being: no), we still suffer them. I think your post is a great challenge to christians and the church (and to me) to create an environment for grief and pain; a place where the real is messy and that's okay.

Howard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard said...

Thank you so much for your responses to what was one of the hardest entries I have ever written. It has taken a long time to make these words public because I know we can all be equally guilty of neglect of this kind, but I finally decided I needed to express this concern because only then can there be a measure of 'breaking' to bring, I hope and pray, a measure of healing. I am so thankful that God hears our cries, and that there have been those who have been there, via means (like the internet) to encourage and refresh, but the divide is still as palpable from many now as it was in 2005. Let's ask that our amazing Saviour would truly cause His love to be as equally tangible in our fellowship in His great mercy.

Frank Sonnek said...

Wow Howard,

I read your most recent post and was very blest by it. You know, the one about those azalias... So I kept reading backwards and I came, finally to this post.

First I think I should tell you how very sorry I am that you have stopped going to Church. I hope that somehow you will find a way to return. Where else is it, but in the company of other sinners, that you can receive the Body and Blood of your dear Lord Jesus that was given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins? Christ himself has commanded you to go and remember Him in that way. Our gentle Lord does not command us so for anything less than urgent and loving reasons. So I would urge you please dear beautiful brother to please reflect on both the command and the Promise our Lord is aiming at you.

Howard, I need to share something else as well. I will never, ever, be able to experience the blessings you enjoyed with your dear wife. So I have had to learn to live perpetually without that feeling of "home" that now you do not have.

And, interestingly, this condition had resulted too in my separation from the Church. I stopped going to Church for many years I think for much the same reasons you have stopped.

You see, I am a gay man. So where do I fit in? How welcome could I feel even if I chose to keep that a secret in shame as many do. For many, dishonesty is the price to pay to feel welcomed. But there is some incredible pain that comes always with being dishonest and dissembling.

Then there was a point that living apart from Jesus was far more painful than the alternative of going back and , at least with the pastor, being honest.

I was willing to be the dog that ate the crumbs from the Master's table and even to be refused the Holy Supper. I was resolved to go, sit in the back pew, and slinker out immediately after the Liturgy. But the Pastor would know all. And if he refused me because of that, well, I was certain that my dear Lord Jesus would never do that. So that was that.

But it was no longer an option to avoid church. There is only one place where Christ has told us to seek him out. That one place is church.

And I was wrong. I learned to attend to the needs of others where they were lacking the love I was lacking. In fact the people in my little church who had that need sort of sensed something different and sought me out demanding that love and attention and they didnt really give me the option of ignoring them as you were ignored. Imagine that. I came to know more about the sin and brokeness of others in my little church sometimes more than my pastor. Honesty, only with Christ, works that way I suspect.

So Howard, I would urge you to give the Body of Christ another chance. You are in my prayers now.