Divine Caroline, a website devoted to women, recently posted a story on church signs with intriguing messages. While many are humorous, others focus on the commonplace fear element, the eternal damnation visible to motorists who drive by. I wonder from time to time whether these statements continue to hold the impact for change. Meditating on the images, the text, the mind of the observer, I’m coming to the conclusion the simple answer is no. When I study the United States, I detect cynicism rising through the disposition of society; furthermore, I find it difficult to unravel this feeling succinctly. Turning to headlines, however, snapshots validate this state of mind: corruption, molestation, exclusivity, arrogance, indifference. In terms of psychology, people are creatures of habit. Accordingly, they size one another up quickly by group. And the exceptions are unfortunately singled out as a representation of the whole. And churches do not escape this tendency.
With this in mind, why does the church exist? If the answer to this supposedly simple question is experiencing God, I have no reason for visiting the church. In fact, I find it sporadically distracting in the quest to rest in the silence and meditate on circumstances, accomplishments, failures, others. Focus is continually breached in the building by lighting, noise, children and movement. And when these stimuli occur, concentration on deeper truths is broken, concentration difficult to reacquire. I know the discipline of stillness is always challenging, but disconnecting from the “noise” of life liberates my mind, my spirit, my body in numerous ways. The psalmist captures the words of God in 46:10—“Be still and know that I am God.” The stillness becomes my “church” when I strike the keys and outline my thoughts, crack open the next book and lose myself in the story, reflect on the day and the accomplishments or failures. Neglecting the noise becomes my ally. Knowing God exists outside brick walls, the question concerning church existence remains.
I find myself telling people I’m a “maven”, a term Malcom Gladwell outlines in his amazing book The Tipping Point (Back Bay Books, 2002). When I use this word, I define it by the way I continually look for knowledge, wisdom in society, news, BLOGS, articles, conversations, victories, failures, disagreements with others. I wholeheartedly believe in the value of education and the impact it creates during one’s life. Millions darken the church doors for education, teaching on the Scriptures and the crossover they reveal in life. But do I need the church, a minister for wisdom regarding the Scriptures? No. I can study the texts by myself and reference other materials as needed. I meet people from time to time who are consumed with hearing a “word” from God every Sunday, disappointed when they don’t. Do they think it only comes through the mouth of one minister? Do they find clarity in personal study, meditation?
Have you noticed the egotism in this reflection yet? While it is not readily visible, the aforementioned thoughts focus on the personal relationship with God. The church is devoid. But this personal relationship is the reason I’m continuing to discover why I choose to step through church doors. The reason is very simple: I love people. I love the members of my family, more now than ever. I love my friends, the ones I know now and the ones I have not yet met. I love the people I wholeheartedly disagree with. Why? They give me reason to think deeper; they criticize that which needs reform, revision. The world is ugly, and much exists to hate. It is always easier to hate the person, but should the action not be the focus of scorn? When people are pushed or deeply hurt, irrational actions take over the mind. Every one is wounded in one way or another. And this is the recognition which leadings to healing, reconciliation.
The church (or mosque or synagogue or cathedral) is not comprised of bricks, mortar; it is the collection of people who share similar outlooks (beliefs) concerning life. Why do denominations exist? Variety is the spice of life. Extremes exist, but if one is willing to hold conversations and come to middle ground, hope undoubtedly lingers. In the words of John Lennon, “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” I’m inclined to think I’m not the only one. I hope others think on this sporadically. In the Scriptures, the word “church” does not exist until Jesus shares it with his students. The Greek word for church is ekklesia and is defined this way: “a gathering of citizens”. And this gathering is the reason I step through church doors to reconnect with others. Oddly enough, this is the irony–music and teaching, elements many define “church” by, take away from this opportunity. Availability for conversation is contingent on the arrival of people too. When I step back, however, I recognize the books I read are written by people. I recognize the Scriptures are documented by people. I recognize music cannot exist without energy or wind moving through it.
If one outlines church by the gathering of citizens, numerous possibilities open. Accordingly, this is the way I’m coming to redefine the church: it is not a building, but a movement, people joining together for the purpose of common good, uplifting others who are in need. Consider Google, the search engine juggernaut. MSNBC reported yesterday the company is giving a free phone number and voicemail to the entire base of homeless citizens in San Francisco. This project will help people list phone numbers on job applications (which require callback numbers) and return to the workforce quickly. I discover wisdom and God inside church walls, but it is no longer the primary reason for my attendance. I know my solo efforts can only go so far, but the collective willingness of people to unite for the sake of helping others is truly the way goodness moves through the world.