Someone recently asked me what my ideal church looked like. For years I have been discussing with a close friend the inadequacy of the Christian Church to meet our needs and the needs of the people we love. I have been scalded by the Big Business that the Church has become. And I hope for a real manifestation of church that I can experience in my lifetime.
Henri Nouwen said it perfectly: “More and more, the desire grows in me simply to walk around, greet people, enter their homes, sit on their doorsteps, play ball, throw water, and be known as someone who wants to live with them. It is a privilege to have the time to practice this simple ministry of presence. Still, it is not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong that soon my time is taken up by meetings, conferences, study groups, and workshops that prevent me from walking the streets. It is difficult not to have plans, not to organize people around an urgent cause, and not to feel that you are working directly for social progress. But I wonder more and more if the first thing shouldn’t be to know people by name, to eat and drink with them, to listen to their stories and tell your own, and to let them know with words, handshakes, and hugs that you do not simply like them, but truly love them.”
Henri Nouwen articulated the basic idea of church perfectly: living together and loving each other. But I think he only scratched the surface. I find that most people need more specific direction because it is so easy to get off track and lose focus. Jesus emphasized ideas that seem unnatural and unwise in popular culture; strip naked to clothe whomever asks you for clothes, give generously until it doesn’t make sense, value the persons in your community who are most invaluable, lose your life to save it, oh yeah- and you will probably be homeless. These notions frighten most people who are willing to admit that this is, indeed, the call of Jesus. So instead of people being taught to live a life that is this passionate and severe, we have people that want to hear the Gospel of Comfort, and they want to reserve their pew in heaven next to the people that look like them and make them feel numb. Well, if the Bible tells us anything, it is that Jesus just doesn’t work that way.
My good friend once said, “This is not ‘fluffy’ Jesus.” This isn’t the squishy little lamb that we get in our Easter basket with Peeps and Reece’s Peanut Butter Eggs. Those candies serve as good Communion in a pinch, but they would melt into goow in the mere presence of the fire and passion of Jesus. He told his disciples- some who smelled of fish, some who were women (the modern day equivalent of being gay in ministry), some who would have belonged to the NRA, and some who probably wanted to smoke pot and sleep on the beach- that they should take only the clothes on their backs and go out there and get to it.
He said: “Take your butts out there and love people, touch ‘em, heal ‘em. Touch blood, touch lepers, touch skin infections and boils, touch people with debilitating mental illnesses (depression, DID, psychosis), touch women, touch gentiles, touch Samaritans (comparable to modern day Muslims), tell children that I want to see them and hear them, eat with them, go in their homes and tell them I love them and that I came here for them. Tell them and show them that you love them. Tell them that this life sucks, but with me and each other we can live a slice of Heaven on Earth, and it is freakin’ free, and no one can steal it away from us once we own it. Oh and, FYI, I love the least, the last, and the lost. The first will be last. The last will be first. Lose your life if you want to save it. Got it? Go.”
Jesus was unimaginable. I know for a fact that if he showed up today, we would kill him all over again, because he would jack with our notions of faith. He would send us in to a furious rage. In his day women did not show their hair unless they were prostitutes. And some lady washed his feet with her hair. That is almost Biblical Erotica. Some married women never showed their husbands their hair, and they were proud of that. Some rabbis didn’t even look at women. Jesus let women be his disciples and learn from him so they could be rabbis too. I try to imagine what that would translate to in our society. It is something like Muslims, anyone from the LGBT community, and folks with disabilities all having a BBQ with Jesus and learning to be his ambassadors. Jesus made people uncomfortable. And he reached into the horrid despair of the lost of society and he made them whole, hopeful, and they left their jobs and families to follow him; to get a glimpse of him. I get the idea that Jesus and his ideas should upset me and make me feel uncomfortable, and if they don’t, I’m doing it wrong.
People living simply. Taking what they need, so that everyone can have some. Everyone is welcome: gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities, disabilities, illness, age, race, language- you need not apply. The door is open and you have a place at our really large picnic table. Each person has gifts and values and we help each other find our places and our gifts, kinda like L’Arche. What the world says is important: stuff money, selfishness; we fight against. We advocate for generosity that borders insanity and love that heals wounds.
I once heard people complaining about church: too boring, I don’t want to get up and hug people, too much scripture reading, the music is bad and slow. Is that what church has become?
Maybe church isn’t about what you get, but about what you can give. Yeah, so maybe sometimes going to church on Sundays sucks a little. But that is missing the point entirely. Going to church on Sunday is a small piece of what Church is. I go to the building to see my friends, hear some good ideas that someone studied over all week, have a snack. But church doesn’t start or end there. It started a long time ago. I have church in the park reading, while my friend naps in the shade, while on the phone with friend, while listening to music, or at the beach with my dogs. Church is a lifestyle; a purposeful choice to hear and do what Jesus talked about. Getting together with other people to figure it all out and going out there and helping each other do it. Church is looking into the face of people that society discards and inviting them in to your home and life, permanently.
Oh, and it is not easy. You are going to hear things you don’t want to about yourself, about sacrifice, about your lifestyle. This is hard. What part of, “You have to lose your life to save it” didn’t you understand? You may not have a place to lay your head. Sometimes Lazarus dies. You may have to leave your job and your family. Jesus didn’t promise material or physical comfort. He said, “Love your enemy, don’t hate anybody.”
In a Bible Study someone once said to me that they were not sure this Jesus stuff was worth it. All I could think of was Jesus saying that only the sick need physicians. He came for the people that line up outside his door and break through his roof to be with him and see him and be healed by him. If you don’t feel ill, you don’t go to the doctor. If you don’t see the need for Jesus, you don’t need him. Leave him alone then. Because those of us who know we need it, who know our very real illnesses, need treatment; those of us who have touched despair, death, poverty, loneliness, and rejection find that Jesus is very worth it.