I believe in the Holy universal church.
“I live a much more Christian lifestyle than those supposed Christians who meet at that church down the road.”
This sentence has been rolling around in my brain all weekend. I can’t seem to shake it. It was the beginning of a listening session that I was able to be on the receiving end of. The hurting woman told me about the horrible bitterness she had encountered at the church she was talking about (luckily it wasn’t the church I am pastoring), she told me that she didn’t have much respect for Christians, or for church politicking (me either). She rounded off by telling me that she would never understand why people would waste the time going to church. And finally she looked at me and asked what I was doing in New Zealand. I kind of chuckled and told her I had come over for work, and I half hoped she wouldn’t ask what sort of work I was doing.
She did ask, and I then got to tell her about how I was so serious about being a Christian I had become a professional one. Just kidding. But really I told her that I was working at a church in the area. I told her that we believe that things like shame and guilt and hatred and pain don’t have to stick with you for your whole life and that we believe there is healing from that. But at this point in the conversation I could have told her she had won the lottery and she wouldn’t have heard me. She had checked out of the conversation.
So I find myself wondering about church today as I preached the sermon, and as we prayed the prayers, and as I listened to my wife lead us in singing on her ukulele, and as we recited the creeds, and as our small congregation gathered for tea and bickies afterward.
It is of course trendy right now to say that the church is not the building, but rather it is the people inside who make up the church. I can’t help but wonder if this sentence has lost its meaning to many people. What does it mean to be the church anyway? What does the church do? Why the church? The church has always been, and I believe always will be known for her habitus; our embodied disposition. Those things that we do. When we love our God and our neighbor in actuality it is love that we become known for. Maybe try giving a listening ear or a hug if it is welcome. However if we simply meet together as a social club that is sometimes full of bitterness and church politics each week then chances are good we will become known for that disposition. If we gather and talk about all the things that Christians don’t do, then we will become known for that. If we gather and don’t talk, or don’t listen, or don’t celebrate, then I think you get the idea.
Maybe you’ve asked the same: “Why church?” It is a legitimate question. One that doesn’t always have an easy answer but I think novelist Flannery O’Connor speaks to it,
“I think that the Church is the only thing that is going to make the terrible world we are coming to endurable; the only thing that makes the Church endurable is that it is somehow the body of Christ and that on this we are fed”
Sometimes, when a person in my congregation will come to me and tell me they are frustrated and tired and about ready to give up on God, I won’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say a lot of the time, and I don’t know why frustrating, and horrible and hurtful things happen. I don’t know the answers to these things, but I do know how to hug, and I try my best to listen, and I try to be the body of Christ.
Maybe you’ve decided that you don’t need the church, and maybe you’re right. But I think its only because the church you’ve encountered isn’t the church that God has envisioned for God’s people.
Maybe you are hurting today, and frustrated, and ready to give up. If this is you, please know you’re not alone. Please let me (or someone near you) listen to you and hurt with you and be the body of Christ.
“There is a traditional saying of ancient wisdom: ‘A threshold is a sacred thing.’ . . . When I visited Japan I experienced the role of the threshold in a very simple daily experience. Before entering the house, the Japanese stand on the lintel in order to remove the shoes worn outside in the street. Upon entering the house, they put on slippers placed inside the door. This forces a very deliberate and conscious way of standing still, even if for only for a moment, in order to show respect for the difference between two spaces, the outer and the inner; the preparation for the encounter with another person, another household.
“This is very similar to the traditional monastic practice of statio, which also pays homage to the threshold moment, and shows reverence for the handling of space and time. The monk or nun enters the church for the saying of the daily offices, but always leaves him- or herself time to stand, to wait, to let go of all the demands of whatever the previous activity had been, with all its concurrent anxieties and expectations. That stillness permits each one to enter into that space kept empty in the heart for the Word of God. By rushing, whether through a sense of duty or obligation, or to save a few extra moments for the task at hand, they may gain something in terms of daily work. What is lost, however, is the attention, the awareness of crossing over into the time and place for opus Dei, the work of God.”
Many years ago when missionaries left their home countries, they were on a ship for weeks (sometimes months!) before they arrived “on the field”. I’m grateful for the relatively quick trip that airplanes provide (and that we can avoid the seasickness), but I find myself craving that “space in between”. I needed a space to exhale before I could inhale again. Esther de Waal writes about this idea from Celtic Christianity in her book, To Pause at the Threshold.
I was so excited to settle into our new home in New Zealand, but the 7 months we spent fundraising and preparing was hard work! My soul desired rest and rejuvenation for myself and for my family before jumping into this new work of growing a small church in the city of Christchurch.
We decided to visit the island of Oahu in Hawaii for a few reasons. It was the perfect threshold for us, it was a good halfway point, and my aunt/uncle/cousin’s family live there! We were able to overcome jet lag and barely experienced any once we arrived in NZ. We also had five days dedicated to connection with each other, with family, and with nature.
We slept a lot, ate some amazing food, swam in the gorgeous ocean waters, saw seals and turtles, and went on a few beautiful hikes! One fantastic part was getting to chat with my aunt, uncle, and cousin who’ve traveled and worked with the church all over Asia. I am so grateful for their wisdom and encouragement.
Ever wonder why songs have “intros”? An intro acts as a threshold; separating two experiences as the space in between, it gets you ready and prepares you, helping you anticipate what is to come. Hawaii was our threshold. And now, Welcome to New Zealand!
Do you make New Year’s resolutions? I never have, but thought this year might be a good time to start because I’m really good at adding things to my already full plate. When I was trying to come up with a resolution for 2017 I just kept thinking of things that were more fitting for a bucket list. Visit a new country and continent (New Zealand in July, check!), master a new song on the ukulele, eat leafy greens with every meal, and visit all our favorite Kansas City places before we move. These things also remind me of my to-do lists where I write down things that I’m already planning on doing so that I can check them off. I’ve already decided we’re moving to New Zealand, so does that count?! And we’ll already be visiting all our favorite KC places before moving, so that probably doesn’t count either… Another thing I thought of was inspired by a fellow Holy Yoga instructor that I follow on instagram. She is committing to doing ten sun salutations every day in 2017. Wow! “That is a great workout”, I thought. Doing ten sun salutations would tone my arms, my abs, get my heart rate up, and would be amazing!
But then I thought, “Hmm… would I actually do that?!” Or would it just be another thing on my list that I never accomplish so it gets moved to the following week? Would I forget for a whole week and then start the next Monday with the burden of completing 70 sun salutations to make up for what I missed?