I have never been a starry eyed idealist, least of all when it comes to the church. My first taste of a local church meeting gave me glimpse of what a battlefield might look like. It was not merely substandard, it was a denial of all the Gospel implies in terms of restored, forgiving relationships. But having said that it helped me appreciate the pain and frustration that lay behind the Apostle Paul's heartfelt cry to the Corinthian Church. Love, he said, is patient and kind. It is not self centred or rude. It keeps no record of wrongs. This is glorious stuff, and highly desirable, but sadly we have to recognise that it is more often a wishful dream rather than an inspiring reality. It was true of first century Corinth and often is now.
I have not given up on church (and hope I never will) because for all its faults I am persuaded that it should be God's "experimental garden of the new age", a foretaste of future glory.
But that does not mean I never get frustrated or disappointed – like when I stumbled across an article in the Sunday Times called "Christians offer safe houses to Muslim converts".
This was no negative coverage – far from it! Social affairs editor Nicholas Hellen produced a very positive report on Christian Concern's decision to establish a national network of safe houses for "Muslim converts who face ostracism or violent reprisals for leaving their religion".
I was delighted with what I read – at least initially. The former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali was quoted as saying it is "entirely unacceptable" that Muslim converts are not protected by the law.
But the story of the incoming chairman, a Bradford man who had been attacked and ostracised after he and his family converted from Islam to Christianity, made for chilling reading.
Nissar Hussain's car had been torched and the property next door set alight. His wife had been spat at and his daughter ostracised at her (Church of England) school. His relatives shun him, even withholding the death of his father from him some two years ago.
And yet, he is determined to follow Christ. He reckons trials and tribulations are part of the Christian life. I could not but be encouraged by his determined commitment to Jesus and the way in which Christian Concern are seeking to offer a very practical solution to a very pressing problem.
But then my heart sank as I read on. Hussain talked about how he was also upset by the reception he got from Christians. "We are broken people" he said, "I have given up on the Anglican church and independent churches. We are in a no man's land; we are completely and utterly isolated".
Is this the kind of Church Jesus envisaged when he said "A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another"?
We need to remember that Jesus views this sort of love as a key to mission too for just before he died he prayed "May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me".
Jesus will build His church, of course. And He will take care of Nissar Hussain and his family. But I do wonder how He feels when he sees a Muslim convert admit that his experience of church has left him feeling "broken" and "utterly isolated".