I was beginning my nightly preparations for bed recently, worn out by another productive, yet hectic day. Exhausted, I splashed water on my face and gently rubbed cleanser across it to remove all traces of makeup and anything else clogging the pores of my skin. My thoughts wandered as I rinsed it away and reached for a clean towel. Finishing up, I looked down at the small puddle surrounding the sink’s base. And, suddenly, I remembered.
I remembered my first night away from home. Over 2,000 miles away, to be more exact. It was in the bathroom of a tiny, closet-sized, college dorm room. A much younger me was fighting back the loneliness and tears and a giant lump in my throat as I got ready in the bathroom. I had just dried my face, but my eyes were still glistening when I heard the first loud voice in my ear.
I don’t remember their names and barely recall their faces or stories, but, to this day, I remember how they made fun of me whenever I washed my face. Two roommates out of four. Crammed into double metal bunkbeds in a place that called itself Christian, but whose occupants–male and female–acted more like Lord of the Flies. Those roommates teased me mercilessly about the water that splashed over the edge of the sink when I washed my face for bed, no matter how quickly I cleaned it up; no matter how quickly it dried. Of course, that wasn’t all. I was tormented about everything, from how I ate, talked, walked, everything. It was all fair game. They tried repeatedly not only to steal my joy; but whatever else they could find in my closet or purse. Most other details have been lost to time, but, for some reason, I still vividly remember that sink.
I was too young and naive at the time to ask myself why they never splashed water across the small sink. But now I can see why. Often, they would haphazardly swipe a cleaning pad across their face or simply not even remove their makeup at all. The resulting blemishes, marks, and impurities of their skin were just caked over with a new layer of makeup the next day. And I started to wonder…
How often do we do that in our own lives? How often do we torment those who are striving to expose and remove the impurities and toxicity they’ve come across in their lives because it makes us feel guilty about the ones we’ve left festering in ours? It makes us feel guilty that we don’t bother to remove them because it might get a little messy. Because it’s easier sometimes to gloss over problems like systemic sexism, racism, and classism in the church than it is to deal with them head-on, before they’ve become an inflamed zit on the face of the Body of Christ.
Sometimes it seems easier to gloss over problems in the church than it is to deal with them head-on, before they’ve become an inflamed zit on the face of the Body of Christ.
We cake on more cover-ups, hoping the world doesn’t notice the flaming infection on our very foreheads. Maybe they won’t notice that behind our boiler-plate Christianese and pretty Sunday dresses is hatred and gossip and jealousy and back-stabbing. Perhaps the “ungodly” can’t tell that our bloated bank accounts and self-satisfied (all male) pastors are filled with greed and envy and lust for power, money, and control. Maybe they’ll ignore the oozing rape-culture pimple that is just about ready to pop. Filled with disgusting stories about how victims are blamed for their own assault. How women are shamed because of their clothing choices. How men are told they are animals, incapable of controlling their own sexual thought-life, but somehow still destined by god to control the lives, choices, and spiritual journeys of the adult women around them. How Bible verses are cherry-picked and certain interpretations worshiped. Denominational and religious leader’s opinions are held in higher esteem than the greatest commandments to simply love God and love others.
But so many are starting to wake up and see this and much more. We will not ignore the stain of things like racism marring the face of the people of God any longer. No matter how much the church tries to wish it away. When the church cares more about nationalism and playing politics than it does about real people’s lives, feelings, and experiences: it’s a horrible, terrible blemish. And it’s starting to rear its ugly head for all to see.
When the church cares more about nationalism and playing politics than it does about real people’s lives, feelings, and experiences: it’s a horrible, terrible blemish.
Somehow, the church has started to make fun of the puddle of tears surrounding the lives of those who are striving to scrub off the dirt and working to expose the pure beauty of the church as God means it to be. Somehow that puddle has become more shameful than the dirt itself. Somehow it has become a badge of honor to forget how to clean our faces and truly cleanse ourselves of sin. At least our Sunday service sinks are clean and tidy. At least those nasty victims of spiritual abuse are quieted and nothing around here will get messy and require clean-up. For abusers and oppressors, this is the perfect situation. Because the moment the church admits it needs to wash its face, is the moment you admit there’s dirt there to begin with.
Somehow the puddle has become more shameful than the dirt itself.
But you see, the problem with never washing the dirt off your face is the build-up can only be hidden for so long. It becomes unsightly. Dirty. Filthy. Unacceptable. It may be difficult to stare at ourselves in the mirror and realize that we need to expose and wash away some very nasty things. But the longer we refuse to deal with the problem, the harder it will be to solve it in the end.
How much better would it be to have messy church services with repentant pastors and parishioners weeping and righting wrongs, than to walk around with shit on our faces for all to see. Because they can see, you know. Everyone else. And that’s why they’re leaving you, church. It’s a problem. Because you claim to speak for this man called Jesus, but you’re nothing like Him anymore. You’ve become unrecognizable behind this hardened, filthy mask of religiosity and pride.
Church, let’s stop hoping we can hide the fact that the reason there’s no puddle around our sinks is because we refuse to clean the dirt off our faces. Let’s pick up the cleanser, take a long, hard look in the mirror and get to work.