Don't you just love this picture? Reckon all the heathen will rush into the parking lot, stamp out the green grass getting in and look around to see a whole congregation standing, smiling and welcoming them with open arms. Hmm.
Just who are these heathen? Could they be people on food stamps. Maybe a seventeen year old girl alone and scared with a baby on her hip. (Not somebody there's daughter--but a total stranger from Lord knows where.) Maybe a kid on drugs, trying desperately to dry out, flunking rehab again and again. Would he be in this welcoming category? What about the girl who walked down the aisle in this very church four months ago and her marriage is a disaster--and everybody there knows it--what about her? What about the family who have been coming to this church for years and their oldest got caught stealing something and is in the pen with a felony charge? Wonder if their Sunday School class will open their arms and whisper behind their backs. That homeless man that left his shopping cart around back, hoping nobody will steal his treasures--what kind of a reception will he get? There is this transgendered kid--a boy who just wants to dress like a girl. His parents don't know what to do with him. When he/she walks into a Sunday School class--will the sign still stand. What about that banker living less than a mile from the church--whose picture was plastered all over the paper and is being charged with bank theft. Or his wife. Or his kids. There is a woman with a sari on, scarf over her head that drives by the church every day--wondering what would happen if she opened that wide
front door and walked in. Would some usher look away as he handed her a bulletin?
We love labels in this culture. Democrat, Republican, Gay, Straight, Christian, Muslim, Sinner, Outsider, Insider, Independent, Foreigner, Racist, Illegals. Us and them. Saved and the Unsaved. Churched and the Unchurched.
Let's dispense with the labels--not only on our signs--but even more important--the labels in our heads that we all use every day to categorize and mark and include or exclude. We don't know their stories anymore than they know ours.
There is a Catholic church I used wander into in Oxford, England. About two blocks from the campus. Sitting in the pew, hardly anyone else there--I looked up, up above the altar and there was the golden Jesus with his arms outstretched. He took me in that day, far from home, wondering about my kids, freshly retired and wondering about my future. Somehow we've got to do better than putting up these off-putting signs.
One of my early mentors was Gordon Cosby who said it for me: "We moderate and polish the world's thinking, and name it Christian. The church embodies the upside-down kingdom. Whatever the world admires is probably not good, according to kingdom values. The church is always anti-empire...What the church does is provide a place where pain can be touched and where the vision for a new world can be lifted up and held before people."
Dear God, let it be so. We've got a whole lot of work to do.
|This figure of the outstretched Jesus hangs above the altar in St. Giles |
Catholic Church in Oxford, England.
--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com