I Am The Church

written on 12 March 2021 by Erin Iwata

Art by Nat Iwata

“The Church” is a rather loose term for a lot of people. To my non-religious neighbors, it conjures up images of cryptic rituals, large stone buildings, and steeples that punctuate the skyline. Maybe some see images of happy-clappy people singing, or a goateed guitar player belting out three holy chords, while others might conjure up images of sweating preachers, wooden pews, or people dressed in their finest. Maybe you see long robes, or flashing lights, stale crackers, or mediocre coffee. Still others smell incense, or hot bodies crammed into cement buildings, visualize iconography, or stained glass, or white flags with red crosses. All these images of “church” would be right. And none of these images are what we at Our Church Too are talking about.

We are talking about ourselves.

There is an old adage that when you point a finger at someone else, three are pointing back at you. I take that quite literally when I talk about the Church. It’s no secret that Our Church Too is a place where we encourage discussion about the Church. We aren’t talking about any one church, denomination, or practice. We aren’t talking about the buildings or traditions. Although many of our contributors come from evangelical backgrounds, not all of us do, and we aren’t even exclusively talking about the protestant movement. When we are talking about the Church, we are talking about anyone who is compelled by Jesus. We are talking about ourselves.

When we are talking about the Church, we are talking about anyone who is compelled by Jesus. We are talking about ourselves.

When I talk about the word “church,” I have a mix of feelings. I have fond memories of cold basements filled with plastic tables and the smells of everyone's favorite dishes mixing over the echo and babble of a potluck. I see living rooms crammed on weeknights with people stumbling through chapters only half the group has read. I see pastors in flip-flops pacing as they preach, their noses turning red as they fight back tears when especially moved. Children are key to my images of church, chasing each other up and down isles and babies being passed around. My church memories smell like styrofoam cups and coffee, an aunties’ perfume, and lots of hugs. Hardworking people, doing amazingly loving things together and sometimes hurting one another. Definitely not always agreeing, but being a family. That image of church will always be a part of me, a part of what I want out of church.

My image of church has widened. In college I visited underground churches that met in secret, reading their Bibles like an act of revolution. I participated in churches that had no lead pastor but rather the whole community made decisions by a voteless process of collective discernment. I also came to appreciate monastic communities that deferred to an ultimate earthly authority. I learned of episcopal dioceses that support every person in the area as their parishioner (regardless of what they believe). I saw denominational conventions that determined Biblical interpretations for a global audience and living room Sunday services that revolutionized a neighborhood. I felt less of an allegiance to my particular West Coast, White American way of doing church, and a deeper appreciation for the rich and varied expression of the Body of Jesus in many diverse times and spaces. As a follower of Jesus, I get to own and enjoy all of that.

I also saw that the way the church did things was not always good. This is an ancient story. It’s the story of the tower of Babel, it’s the story of the Kingdom of Israel, it’s the story of the Pharisees, every “Christian” empire, the story of Christian nationalism, and it’s the story of me. When people gather under a banner of “we have the answers” they usually lose the plot. Humility gets swapped for power, walking with God gets swapped for representing God for our own gain. We inevitably become a conquering empire instead of an expansive shared kingdom where we are all equal coheirs. The Church is guilty of this, and so am I.

When people gather under a banner of “we have the answers” they usually lose the plot.

Why? Because the Church is not a building on the corner- the church is me. I am a living breathing representation of the Church wherever I go. Some might say we are the church, wherever two or more are gathered, but since most of the things I do (good or bad) are so rarely in a vacuum, that pretty much means I’m the Church all the time. With it, I take all of history, from the Crusades to Westboro, Inquisitions to the Salem Witch Trials to the abuse scandals that pop up in the new daily, AND abolitionists, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, a whopping 60% of US foreign aid, the flow of global literacy and education, the expression of unique worship in every culture and tongue, the protection of the immigrant, widow, the uplifting of the downtrodden, the elevation of women and children. I am capable of all these things, and together, We the Church, are capable of upholding and hurting each other in profound ways.

When I critique the Church, I point to myself, I point to all of us. As a friend said “we critique things that are important to us and we deeply identify with. I spend zero time critiquing mosques or synagogues or a landscaper’s hedging or the practicality of a Hemi V-8 engine. Critique and reflection come out of a place of deep care and concern.” I stand in the belief that God has called us (the Church) into something better than the collective harm we have caused. I could, as many have, just give up on the Church and leave her. But I love the Church and I believe in redemption. Jesus’s whole life was a work of redemption, (making right, restoring, making whole). Also, Christianity is a team sport, meaning we were not meant to work out our faith alone. Even if it was possible, would I really want to work my faith out in solitude? Could we grow without each other?

Also, Christianity is a team sport, meaning we were not meant to work out our faith alone.

We were meant to do life together, to work out our faith in relationships. So I’m not going anywhere -I am a part of this collective community who endeavors to walk with God like Jesus. Therefore, I listen and share freely about the hurt that happens, because I am listening and sharing about a part of myself. I believe in redemption, but I cannot participate in that redemption and grow if I don’t know and admit where we have caused harm. This is a practice called confession. We’ve got to get better at this practice- not be so caught up in our own pride or shame that we cannot admit where we can grow.

I believe in redemption, but I cannot participate in that redemption and grow if I don’t know and admit where we have caused harm. This is a practice called confession.

In these articles we have published on Our Church Too, I see a call to confession. I see a call to participate in a conversation that leads to greater understanding, that leads to changed hearts, that leads to new actions, that leads to redemption. This starts in my heart and spills across the pages. By the authors making it public, we invite everyone who reads it to join us under the tent, in the pews, as we talk about how we can love and live more like Jesus. Guess what? We are going to get it wrong. We will continue hurting one another, the Church will blunder her way forward. Redemption is a process, an unfolding of who we are in Christ together.

We call out the Church because we are calling ourselves out and into a better space. We critique out of a heart of confession, love, and belief that the Church is part of God’s plan for the redemption of all things; we believe we are better together. This is us, we are the Church.