Oh, the humanity of Christian leaders

I was in early middle school the first time that I was terribly disappointed in a Christian leader’s behavior. I didn’t fully understand what was going on at church, but I knew that my parents were embroiled in some sort of issue with the pastor, and many other people at the church were, too. We ended up leaving that church it got so bad, and since we lived on an island — Orcas Island, Washington — where the only other church available was Episcopal, my parents and others started a new church which met in homes for a while and then in the local high school. Quite a few years later — maybe 20 — the two churches reunited, which was a lovely ending to the old hurts.

Though I saw the hurt that my parents’ suffered in that situation, it didn’t impact me a whole lot personally. I didn’t have strong feelings about the pastor either way other than I disliked him for hurting my mom and dad. A few years later, however, when I was in college, I experienced two separate hurts from Christian leaders who were closer to me. These weren’t moral failings, or even theological failings, as the situation with our pastor had been, these were personal hurts. I was hurt because, with one of them, she left the church — as in the extended, universal Christian church — entirely. I couldn’t believe it. How could she? The other hurt was because I expected too much from a person and was horribly saddened by what I saw as a personal rejection of me as a disciple of this person’s teaching. I wanted more of their attention but I was given less.

I learned several things through these three situations. I learned that my expectations of people were often wrong and possibly even ill-advised. But more importantly, I learned that Christian leaders fail us. They don’t meet our expectations of who they should be. They prove, over and over, that they are human. Whether through moral failure, rejection of the church, or failing to meet our expectations, they make their own choices and those choices don’t always line up with what we think they ought to be.

But the core truth that I learned is far deeper: people will fail us, but Jesus never will.

In all of those years when I felt disappointed in God’s people, never once did God himself fail me. In all of those times when I compared people to God’s son, felt cynical over human behavior and wept metaphorically or truly over my hurt feelings, never, ever, did Jesus fail to live up to what he promised to be.

Never.

It was good to learn at a young age that Christian leaders are fallible, because it has kept my eyes open and my heart more attuned to the infallible Jesus. A church — or a nation — should not be filled with people who are there only for the leader. That becomes a “cult of the personality”, a group there not for a higher purpose (that of serving God) but there because they think the leader is such a great guy (or gal).

Christians are called Christians because we are named after Christ. Not after any human being. Jesus is the only sinless one, the only perfect one, the only one worth following. He will not disappoint. He will not morally fail. He will not change like shifting sands.

The hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” came to mind this morning as I saw the headlines in the news. “My hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness: I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand: all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.”

If your faith is built on people, it will sink.

When my faith was in people, even my very world seemed to crumble, but Jesus was solid. That was a good lesson to learn given that today, when the world truly is in massive upheaval, I know and have seen through 50 years of living, that Jesus is unshakable.

Set your mind on Jesus, friends. Build your hope, your faith, your life on His unchangeable love.

“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Such a high priest truly meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever” Hebrews 7:23-28

Barn Blessing

 

The Apple Barn

I’m a sucker for old barns. The kind that are barely standing, just waiting for a massive gust of wind to smack them down. The kind where the wood is gray with age and the last re-roofing took place in the Carter Administration. The kind where skunks are more liable to live than horses or cows.

I’m fairly sure that I know the origin of my love of barns. My dad, a semi-professional photographer when I was growing up, had the same obsession. If a barn on Orcas Island was picturesque, screaming for a photo shoot, he was there to oblige.

Several of those barns remain in my mind and, thankfully, in his files. There is one – most people called it the Apple Barn – which sits (yes, it’s still standing) in a small, often misty valley, not too far from my sister’s house.

We pass the Apple Barn on the way to and from the ferry landing whenever we visit. When we pass it upon arrival, I feel like I’m really there, back in Washington State. Home. When we pass it upon leaving, I feel like it waves goodbye. Like the benevolent apple-scented spirt of the barn ushers me off of the island and wishes me farewell wherever I fare.

We round the corner, and the barn disappears, and always, always, the loss that settled down upon me like a cloak as we braked down the hill from my sister’s house, releases like a wheezing balloon and for the rest of the drive to the ferry dock the tears I fight back are tears of joy. Joy that I grew up in this place. Joy that I have sisters and parents and family to love. Joy that God has given me this visit, this moment, this island to come home to.

 “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” Colossians 2:6,7 NIV

“Let the little children…”

Yep. That’s me. Age about 4. I’m in the empty field next door to the house I grew up in. Dad told me to pick some daisies and so I did but there was a bee on one that I reached for and that is the shot that Dad liked best. Me, a little tentative, holding my Bouquet for Mommy.

That’s what Dad titled the photo: Bouquet for Mommy. He enlarged it in his mysterious and malodorous darkroom and it lived on our living room wall for so many years that it faded to a pale shadow of its former self, leaving a rectangular mark on the wall the day we moved away.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said. Let them pick flowers from my fields. Let them enjoy bugs. Let them find the wild strawberries just over to the left, close by the gate — just out of the shot of the camera — where blackberry brambles grow fiercely along the edge of the cliff and the eagles rest in the old fir tree.

Let them come. Let them learn to know me as they learn to know my creation. Let them fall in love with my world and let them fall in love with me. Do not hinder them. Do not call them in too soon.

Let them make mud pies and walk along the beach and skin their knees and wade in the water. Let them climb the rocks and climb into my lap and reach up to touch my face, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Let them come, and they will keep coming when they grow older. When they question who I am and when they need reassurance. And when, after they run away and rebel and call out to me in the reaches of the night, they will remember. They will see that I am the same God they found in the fields, the same God of the mountains and the daisies and the bumblebees, and they will climb again, into my lap. They will reach their hands, tentatively, needfully, desperately, to touch my face, and they will remember.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first of the occasional photo-centered posts. I have hundreds and hundreds of photos of my dad’s that I am excited to share with you. I have a few decent ones of my own, too! So, from time to time, I’ll focus on a photo!

Enjoy your week, my friends.