• Nathaniel G. Sands

For the Love of God

Above is a picture I took of a chestnut growing. I observed it growing underneath a tree I used to visit often as a small boy. My dad would take me to this tree, where we would take apart the spikey-green shells in order to remove fresh chestnuts to throw at each other and for me to collect. I remember a specific day, being about five-years-old, filling up my red wagon with these chestnuts and being really excited to bring them home, only to be told by mom (or perhaps my older sister) I had way too many of them to keep. I stashed something like 20 chestnuts in my dresser, and took the rest back.

This past Saturday I visited this same spot with my dog Bradley. I currently live close to two of the houses I grew up in, which are both near the high-school I went to. It's fun for me to walk down memory lane, which I find to be quite funny! I remember struggling a lot in youth with depression and a lack of self-worth and understanding; I often felt that I just didn't fit in, that I couldn't express myself honestly, and that life was just a constant fight between acceptance, rejection and not caring for it at all. Yet, whenever I look back, without fail, my attention captures the good times.

It seems to me that many of us live our present lives in continual agony. Life is certainly a challenge, and it often gets the better of us. Especially factoring in relationships, which is no-doubt the better source of our anguish. Many of us live in a very real state of heartbreak. But time has a funny way of realigning our psyches - and our relationships.

I say all this because this past week has been particularly hard for me. For almost five years I have been a dedicated member and active volunteer at a local church. This past Sunday, at the annual general meeting, I decided to resign as a member. I had been struggling this past year trying to belong, and it seems to me I fit in no longer. With a heavy heart I stood in front of the membership, amongst friends and people I respect and love very much, and said that I could no longer attend because of the hurt I had endured, and that I needed space to heal and to forgive.

When I first became a Christian, I used to visit a meadow about a five minute walk away, and sit under this tree I found to be particularly beautiful. I would spend between 10 minutes to an hour under its shade and in its branches, contemplating my life, the world around me and continually attempt to align my spirit with the one overseeing it. After moving, there was a day I was really struggling spiritually, and I decided to revisit this tree, only to find it cut down, and the surrounding area filled with new townhomes.

The tree that is no longer

I would never generalize, blaming a church itself for my pain. I do believe church serves a real need in our communities. Often people who are struggling with the things aforementioned find solace in a church. It is a great place for hurting people to find community, guidance, and hope. I was brought to the Christian faith through intense emotional suffering and have received many benefits to my well being from the Christian church. But there is a problem...

Many people have been abused, betrayed or abandoned by their church. Why is this? I would argue for two reasons: Each church is operated as an institution and it is filled with human beings.

Churches (in general) are organized in a hierarchical structure, as are all functioning institutions. Someone needs to be in charge, right? Someone needs to be responsible for making decisions and maintaining order when dealing with a group, especially when that group's vision is somewhat ambiguous. This means that some people are given various responsibilities over others, and various amounts of power and influence are distributed. Some receive (or take) lots, and some are given little (or none).

We know power tends to corrupt, and we also know money certainly expediates corruption.

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money."

- Matthew 6:24

There is a famous scene found in the gospel of John... Jesus is travelling, and he stops at a well, where he has a conversation with a woman fetching water. She asks him, "...where one ought to worship." Jesus responds, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth; for the father is seeking such to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

To me a church should be where one can gather to worship in spirit and in truth as a community. Where one can come to try to understand what that means practically, and how to live a life accordingly. And it's sad to see so often that instead of this, people feel judged, demeaned, confused, neglected and even unwanted. If we could only break down the walls - the power, the money and the hypocrisy that is found too often at church, and return to what the father is seeking - for those who worship in spirit and in truth. I definitely don't need a building to do that. Just give me a tree to sit under.

From the Gospel of Thomas, not found in the Bible:

"Jesus said, 'I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all has come forth, and to me all has reached. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up a stone, and you will find me there.'"

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