That’s my church

Photo: Josh Applegate, Unsplash

It’s been a hard week, and five people are gathered on a party bus, commiserating together. They offer each other support and escape from their various troubles as they dance, drink, eat and sing. 

One of the young men leans to his friend and says, “This is church!” She throws her arms up and agrees, “This is church!” 

That’s a made-up scene, but not by me. It’s from a new TV show.

Maren Morris’ song, “My Church,” is another interpretation of church. 

In the music video, Morris is sitting on church steps smoking a cigarette. She sings that she’s cussed on a Sunday and cheated and lied. “I’ve fallen from grace one too many times.” 

She stands up and walks to her car, singing “I find holy redemption when I put this car in drive; roll the windows down and turn up the dial.”

The chorus continues: 

Can I get a hallelujah? Can I get an 


Feels like the Holy Ghost runnin’ 

through ya, 

when I play the highway FM. 

I find my soul revival, singing every 

single verse. 

Yeah, I guess that’s church.

It’s an incredibly catchy song, using gospel music sonorities to suggest a revival service atmosphere full of emotion and excitement. 

One more vignette, this one from real life.

A co-worker was venting about her church, which she felt was being judgy and critical. Another co-worker said, “Church is great if it is making you a better [happier, fulfilled] person. But if it isn’t doing that for you, then you need to move on to something that will.” 

My instinctual reaction is negative. I want church to be at church. Not on a party bus or listening to favorite tunes in the car. I want church to mean people are becoming more holy, not just happy. 

But truthfully, I know exactly what these people are talking about. 

I remember specific times and places, surrounded by people who know and accept me, where I felt like I could be my truest self. These weren’t spiritual settings, but the presence of God was palpable. 

I’ve had some of my most profound worship experiences in a car, by myself. The loud music and rhythmic motion of wheels gliding down the road came together and filled the enclosed, safe space of the car with God’s beauty and power. 

And I’ve known toxic churches. They bring God no glory. People should indeed be more happy, more content and more fulfilled in their lives because they go to church. 

Like the party bus, church should offer a safe space to be your unvarnished self. Like the jukebox car, church is a place for an emotional encounter with the divine. Like my coworker, I want church to make me a happier person. 

But life is not always any of those things. The party bus breaks down. An annoying song comes on the radio. People may not realize it, but living in the unhappy spaces is also church.

Church is kind of like my son’s baseball experience. He has had the same coach for six years. Coach Scott doesn’t just play for fun, he coaches baseball so the boys improve. He expects them to come to practice and games and work hard. He tolerates no disrespect or bad sportsmanship. He pulls them aside if they pout after a bad throw or hurl their bat after striking out. He believes they can be better ballplayers and better humans. 

At the same time, the boys know that Coach Scott loves them and values them, regardless of their performance on the ball field. 

This mixture of expectation and love is what defines hope. The boys thrive in a relationship that hopes for great things and celebrates whatever is. 

This is what the church offers, as well. Yes, there are commandments and teachings that come with being part of Jesus’ church. It is hard work to love our enemies and forgive people who don’t deserve it. No one likes to be told they struck out and need to go back to the dugout. 

But then again, we also don’t want to be told that there’s no hope for us. Jesus told us to be perfect, like God is perfect. And he also invited all the tired and weary to come to him for rest. 

Jesus says we can be better tomorrow, even while accepting every part of us today. That’s my church. 

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