There is an old country song whose refrain repeats the line “looking for love in all the wrong places, looking for love in all the wrong faces.” That seems to be the story of my life personally and spiritually. We can leave my love life out of this for now. But the place where I, and like-minded individuals, have a reasonable expectation that we would find love is often the last place we encounter it.
When I think about how going to church has made me feel, loved is one of the last words to come to mind. My early years were spent crashing the party, so to speak. Bourgeois families came from around the DC metropolitan area to gather in the edifice where parents in my neighborhood sent their children for a few hours of free childcare. Not only were we not under the watchful eyes of our mothers and fathers, we were free from decorum and theological commitments.
Much to the chagrin of our Sunday School teachers, we came more often than we did not. It did not take long for hostilities and rivalries to arise. By the grace of God, some of my peers there are among my most cherished friends today and the teachers are too senile to recollect the ruckus when they see me.
Several churches later, I can say I still have not found that deep, benevolent, abiding love that characterizes God. It’s not an unreasonable expectation to find love in God’s house. I John 4:7 says: Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.
This begs the question of whether most church people really know God or just like dropping His name. Faking it is easy and often expedient to fill the pews and separate you from your money. The following verse presents the converse: He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love (I John 4:8). It’s as simple as that. Jesus said himself: So then, you will know them by their fruits (Mark 7:20).
My absolutely most disastrous romantic relationship was at the hands of a lying, cheating, psychotic minister. One of my female seminary classmates rebuked me upon hearing the story. “You know we’re not supposed to date them!” she exclaimed. I knew such to be true, but was in a weak place at the time. If you can’t trust your heart with a so-called servant of the Lord, them with whom can you? Like the Jews and the Holocaust, I invoked the mantra “Never Again.” Church is many a player’s playground.
Ironically, I have experienced some of the most loving encounters with strangers and those who are not outwardly religious. That is not unlike Jesus’ experience with the religious establishment of his day. The Samaritan woman at the well, who was victimized and marginalized, was very receptive and accommodating to him. By no coincidence, she became a great evangelist—even ahead of the twelve disciples.
In the same manner, I have experienced prolonged periods of unemployment while my fellow believers peered voyeuristicly without offering so much as a sandwich. No hard feelings because God always provides. I have also heard stories of church members departing after not receiving more than perfunctory niceties following the loss of a family member. Even in my challenges with pursuing ministry, church folks could not care any less. Meanwhile, my friends whose church attendance is as spotty as mine remain the ones who breathe new life in me to pursue God.
It’s a good thing that God is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent. He knows what we need, has ordered the universe to manifest His will, and is fully-capable to deliver. When the white-washed tombs fail, angels in disguise appear. Go into the world and plant your altar. Your sacrifices will not be in vain and may be better-placed than in the halls sanctuaries of indulgence and indifference. Just when you stop looking, love appears.