Wednesday, March 29, 2006

“Christians are S’posed to go to Church…”

This weekend I tried something different in worship. Usually one of the professional “clergy” does the Call to Worship, or Invocation (2 sides of a coin that invites the people and God to come together). These generally range from some really nice ones from Scripture, to some pretty informal ones that are more like… “hey, we’re here to worship and we’re gettin’ started”.

But this weekend, I decided “what the heck, we’re a whole room full of priests (1 Peter 2:9) – why don’t we have someone from the community pray the invocation. Now, this can be a bit scary if no one steps up – but thankfully, in each service, someone did. And it was really, really good. The prayers were really beautiful, unrehearsed cries for God to come and meet with us, and for us to be changed in His presence. And, I think for the most part, God really answered those prayers.

In one of the services, a young woman prayed. Her prayer was so honest, and so beautiful, and so… sacred. It was the prayer of a priest. In her honesty, she said “God, I don’t really know why I’m here tonight.” And later… “but please come here and meet with us tonight, cuz we really need you.” But in between those statements, right after the “…I don’t know why I’m here tonight.” She said “… I just know Christians are supposed to go to church.”

“Christians are supposed to go to church.” Really? I just finished a book by Eddie Gibbs on the Emerging Church. It’s a sociological study of emerging churches around the world and what we can learn from them. In it he talks about one church that made t-shirts for their members. On the front of the shirt it said “Don’t Go To Church”. On the back it said “Be The Church”. I was thinking about this after “church” on Saturday night. I’d love for us to have shirts like that. But even more, I’d love for us to put that into practice.

Many of the people who come to the Saturday night service are younger people who really identify with a lot of the emergent church language. So, when I quote Gibbs about being the church rather than just going, they are all over that like stink on a pig (I have a cowboy friend who says that). There is a growing understanding that the church must be missional, must be Christ in the community, in the world. I’m all over that like… well you know. One of my favorite (and most convicting) Scriptures is Isaiah 58 where God talks about the kind of fast he desires. It’s not a fast from food, but rather a fast from selfishness where we take care of the poor and the hungry, the orphan and the widow. If we want to please God, that kind of living is not an option. It is a mandate for the church (James hits this in his book in the New Testament too)

However, sometimes we (dang… I’m gonna step on toes here) get excited about “being the Church” out there, and forget that “being the Church” also means when we’re gathered. In fact, while the word “Church” carries a meaning of “called out ones”, its main meaning is “the gathered ones”. So, what does it mean to “be the Church” when we’re gathered? This is already getting long, so let’s let the commenting cover some of what it might involve. But I can tell you that one of the things it ISN’T. It isn’t sitting passively, watching the paid guys do “church”. All who gather for the worship service (or work) must come ready to do the work of the service. Granted, for many parts of the service, permission and freedom must be given by the paid guys so that the people can do it, but way too often I see the same devout indifference that I grew up with in my childhood tradition.

So here’s what I really wanted to say… I think Christians are supposed to be church, not just go to church. I also think that there is action involved in being the church. So, I guess I would say that not only are we to be the church, but we’re to do church too. I wonder what would happen if everyone who came to church put their best effort into being and doing church. What does that look like? Not sure… I’ve never seen it. Shall we try it?

And, by the way, Heather… I think you were being and doing church when you led us all in that wonderful invocation on Saturday. Thanks.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Norman & His Friends

Last night I went to see my son in “The Boys Next Door” – a play by Tom Griffin about a group home of mentally handicapped adult men.


I know you’d expect that response from a proud dad – but for most of the play I forgot that he was my son. I was captivated by this disturbing, yet tender story of marginalized people we’d rather not know about, yet live in all of our communities.

Norman, Lucien, Arnold, Barry, Sheila, & Clara were characters in the play with varying degrees of mental challenge that spoke truth into the lives of those watching.

I was reminded of a time that we lived next to a group home. Many times when friends came over, jokes were made about the “hockey team” living next door. This was supposed to be a funny reference to the helmets they wore when riding the bus to their “jobs” at the center.

I was reminded that we are pretty quick to make fun of things that make us uncomfortable. Laughing at those things is somehow supposed to make us feel better about ourselves.

On my flight home (the play was in LA, I live in Portland), I sat across from a mentally handicapped woman. Isn’t it interesting that I would have that as my first “public” experience after seeing this show. I watched people avoid her. I watched her trying to navigate in a world that so often doesn’t make sense. And while people were generally helpful, they became frustrated pretty quickly too.

Several months ago, I had the incredible honor of baptizing a friend of mine. Paul is a 14 year old boy with Downs Syndrome. He loves Jesus and understood His command to be baptized, so we did it. In his interview, he talked about his love for Jesus and for people. He told me that he prays for people. I asked him what kinds of things he prays for. He said that he prays that he can understand them. How odd. Here we were in a room full of “normal” people, and Paul (who we struggled to understand) nails us by letting us see that he has a better grasp of the faith than most of us… and he prays for us. Incredible.

Last night, the “boys next door” gave me a sobering reminder that what we all think of as “normal” is nothing but a pretty thin fa├žade. And none of us… none of us, is further than an accidental fall, an unexplained illness, or some quirky gene mix-up away from "abnormal" ourselves.

Thank you Norman, Lucien, Arnold, Barry, Sheila, & Clara for helping me see this in a fresh way. And thank you, Andy, for letting Norman speak through you.

In gratitude,

A proud dad