The Church with the Boarded-Up Doors

I feel like I apologize to you every time I post now, Reader, for my erratic schedule and the lull between postings; I can tell you that I’ll post this and then be back for my usual Advent Christmas carols shtick.  This semester is taking the mickey out of me in ways I really did not see coming at all; I will be so very glad when it’s over.  To be honest, I’ll be very glad when this degree is over, which is super unfortunate.  But the upshot of being here in the Wicket Gate is that I work at a pretty amazing church.

It’s an old church, as in over a century old (which is old for Americans; I know that’s laughable for Europeans, but cut us some slack, we’re young).  Being old means that there’s a lot of repair that has to happen.  Right now our main front doors are gone because water had warped the bottoms of these thick wooden masterpieces, so there’s a beautiful Good Shepherd stained glass window hanging out over a bunch of plywood.  It looks pretty awful, and it confuses the crickets out of visitors, but I was thinking the other day about what it must look like from the street.

boarded-up-entrance-to-church-after-removal-of-doors-767x600Oh, what a shame, some driver may be thinking, another beautiful old church closed down and falling apart.  Because those boarded-up doors make it seem like we’ve thrown in the towel, for sure.  The thing of it is that they are the exact opposite—those plywood planks are the showcase of our growth, our fiscal health, our connectivity (paid for by a grant from our denomination), our stewardship of the building, our desire to make sure we are able to welcome people to this house of God.  Our boarded-up doors are symbols of our being alive, not dead, and I wonder what that looks like when speaking of the larger Church.

I have very little patience left for folks who bemoan the death of the Christian Church and even less for the people (like a classmate of mine, recently) who say that the Church should die because it’s outdated.  Nope.  The Church is not dying, not by a long shot.  Christianity is a truly global religion represented on every continent, with over two billion believers.  It is the largest organized religion on the planet.

Now I know, Christianity doesn’t necessarily equal the Church.  But the Church is its most cohesive vehicle.  The Christian Church is the community that goes out and fights for justice, that works for peace, that stands with people suffering from natural and human disasters.  The Church is the community that gathers to stay strong in faith, to challenge ourselves to live godly lives, to reach deeper into the mind-bending compassion of God to be able to see each other—and ourselves—in love.

It is also the community that is wrapped up in colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, a million different kinds of discrimination, power grabs, ageism, judgment, and oppression.  We, the Church, do not have clean hands.  But that does not mean God is done with us.  My church, my century+ church, definitely has things it needs to deal with about how we interact with each other and our community, and I pray mightily that we acknowledge those things and open ourselves to God’s ability to change us and speak through us to the hurt and the aching need for hope here in the Wicket Gate.  Yet I also pray mightily that we may continue the growth that we are doing, both the quantifiable and the completely unquantifiable.  We are a constant work in progress, thank God, as is the larger Church.

Certain parts of it must change.  That is undeniable, and unsurprising, because no living thing is ever permanently stagnant.  It would die.  So when folks talk about how the Church is dying because it’s changing, I wonder at their definition of death.  Do we have fewer people in American pews than there used to be?  Sure.  But Christians are gathering in Africa, in southeast Asia, in South America, and they can’t keep up with the amount of churches needed to house the communities.  A shift is not a death.  Do we have a different cultural relationship with Christianity than we used to in the West?  Sure.  But Christianity is becoming something that is owned with purpose and determination rather than to impress your boss or make sure the neighbors don’t think you’re a terrible person.  A shift is not a death.  Do the new generations have a wariness about Christianity that often manifests in us leaving the faith?  Sure.  But many are hungering after authentic grace and we millennials, for one, are becoming some of the strongest change agents in the Church.  A shift is not a death.

So look deeper when you see a church with plywood where the doors ought to be.  It may well be that that church has closed—but perhaps that’s to form a co-op with another church down the street, or to move into the city to be closer to the people who need this news of unconditional love, or to switch to a more accessible and less leaky building to keep on worshipping.  Or maybe it completely folded, and that’s okay too because the face of Christianity is changing and that church may have lived its purpose in that spot.  Or maybe it didn’t, maybe it wasn’t done yet, and that boarded-up church represents a workplace where God is calling someone to bring the message of hope back into that neighborhood.  Is it you?

Or, maybe, it’s just getting its doors replaced so it can come out looking beautiful once more, ready to fling those doors open come Easter and let the hymns roll out over the stone steps into the neighborhood proclaiming that Christ is risen, Christ is risen indeed.  Keep looking.  There is life here, and life abundant.

 

We know that Christ has been raised from the dead and he will never die again. Death no longer has power over him.  He died to sin once and for all with his death, but he lives for God with his life.  In the same way, you also should consider yourselves dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus.  (Romans 6:9-10, CEB)

 

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The Wallpaper of Metaphorical Significance

I have my own bathroom at the house where I’m staying.  It’s a fine place with a shower and a mirror and even a skylight.  The door doesn’t like to stay open and there’s carpet in weird places, but as bathrooms go, it’s pretty swell.

One of its many interesting features is wallpaper.  When last Interpreter and family remodeled, I guess, wallpaper was an in thing, especially two different kinds of wallpaper in the same color scheme separated by wooden chair rail molding.  Wallpaper is less an in thing these days, so Interpreter’s wife (I do hate calling her that as though that relationship is what defines her, but Interpreter in Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t have a wife and there isn’t a ready character in that list onto whom she really maps for me.  So we’ll stick with it for now and my poor feminist heart will just cringe) has decided that the wallpaper needs to go.

As with most household chores connected to redecoration, though, wallpaper doesn’t go without a fight.  It takes time to peel it off, especially if it’s not a priority and especially if you can’t be bothered to get the specific tool for removing it.  So part of the “rent” of this bathroom is taking down the wallpaper when I think of it, when I have time for it, when I feel like picking at loose edges.  It’s an exercise that’s good because it has concrete and measurable outcomes when my day job has neither, but it’s also rife with possibility for someone like me who likes to see metaphors in pretty much everything.

photo-13-e1342148421962See, the thing about wallpaper is that it doesn’t come off like a lid.  There’s no magic corner that you pull and the whole sheet of it peels with a satisfying shrrrrrrip!  At least not this wallpaper; no, this wallpaper has some large chunks that come off neatly and many other that are tiny strips, little scraps that leave other corners to pull.  And wallpaper has the decorative layer and also a second layer, and the two layers don’t always like to come together, so sometimes you peel the same area twice—and the second layer really, really likes to stay on the wall.  It’s a very interesting look in that bathroom right now, that’s what I’ll say about that.

But this is my life right now, Reader—not pulling off wallpaper but the wallpaper itself.  Like that bathroom, I will not end this summer looking the same as when I started.  There are some events—weddings, patients who die, friendship shifts—where huge chunks of the paper come off in sheets of change.  There are other events when only the top layer obliges removal, the bottom layer of who I think I should be stubbornly clinging to the ways things are.  And there are other events where nothing comes off, nothing changes, where change has to come in tiny little strips that gradually change the shape of the wall piece by piece.  Some places are hard to get to, and some you have to remove huge things like the towel rack to really get at; there are pieces of me that are getting wholesale shifted around right now, and that’s not always pleasant and is rarely easy.

Perhaps it doesn’t make sense to you, this idea of God randomly pulling off my wallpaper self with patient fingers rather than a wholesale chisel to show me what’s underneath, what He wants me to look like, to get me ready for whatever new coat of paint He has in mind that will make me even better.  But when I stand in this bathroom on the weirdly-present carpet under the long skylight and peel wallpaper, I feel like I’m scratching away at my own ready-made metaphor.

Here’s to hoping neither God nor Interpreter’s wife is really gunning for pastels next.

 

 

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.  (Isaiah 43:19, NIV)

Home Again Home Again

Having moved twice in a week and slept in several different room such that I definitely woke up several times and couldn’t place where I was, I’m now back in the Land of Pilgrims for the summer.  Thanks for your patience while I traversed the country; I didn’t totally fall off the map, just shifted my vantage point on it.

I’m staying with Interpreter while I gear up to start chaplaincy, both of which are crazy adventures I most surely could never have thought up a few years ago (even last year, really).  Being here has been lovely because I’ve been able to see (briefly) Magister and Watchful and have had a few days off to unwind and start healing some of the wounds of my time at the Wicket Gate.  But it’s also a bit awful because of the truth of Heraclitus’ saying that you can never step in the same river twice.

I’m back home!  I’m with the people I know and love who know and love me, and I have my favorite coffee chain back, and I’m staying with my best friend, and I know where the best grocery stores are.  Except I don’t know these people, not as well as I did, and they don’t know me; we have all of us changed in the past year in the small ways that matter tremendously.  I haven’t yet been to my favorite coffee chain because I don’t have a car, because I live in a different part of town.  My best friend and I are negotiating the incredibly mundane intimacy of living in the same house but having wildly different schedules.  And the grocery stores are where they used to be but feel jumbled, like old transparencies laid on top of one another, making the projection two different images fighting for the same visual space.  My head maps the Wicket Gate first now.

This continuing discovery of what “home” means and how utterly complicated that is is zero fun, actually.  A fellow blogger is having some similar (but far more in-depth) issues as she cares for her post-stroke mother in her childhood home, so I know I’m not alone in this feeling of outside-and-in.  I’ve been thinking a lot about the warning Jesus delivers to the guy who wants to follow Him, that “the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”  I wonder if He meant far more than just not having a reliable bed for the night—I wonder if this is in the same category as “the prophet is never welcome in his hometown,” as “My mother and brother are those who listen to and do God’s commandments.”

I wonder if Jesus left town because He knew He would be too changed to truly return.

I wonder if Jacob thought that when he went to meet his brother Esau; I know he also had the fear of reprisal from having totally screwed his brother over for the inheritance, a fear I don’t have being back here.  Perhaps it’s not surprising, how much the Bible thinks about what it means to go back home and how you can’t really do it—after all, it was written by and for a people who fairly regularly got kicked out of their homes by the empire of the day.  That homesickness for something that never really existed in the first place colors Christianity:  John’s Revelation talks about a city where we end up and stay, a city that last a thousand years.  Growing pains are not part of that city.  Having to re-learn each other’s stories is not part of that city.  Feeling different is not part of that city.

Is forgetting part of that city?

0b64c5f342b44bf18fd2762e6a77424bEven while I try to re-assimilate to this place that I do still very much call home, I am mindful of the friends I made back in the Wicket Gate.  I remember that they have changed me, just as the enemies I made have changed me, as the things I experienced have changed me.  It doesn’t really matter whether I am glad they changed me; that change is irrevocable.  I am not the person I was last August—I would not be the person I was last August had I stayed here in the Land of Pilgrims, and I am fooling myself mightily if I try to believe I would not have changed even here.  We are ever-changing creatures, we mortals.

I don’t have a good wrap-up for you, Reader, as I’m still navigating what it is to be back and yet not.  I will have to leave again in August, return to the Wicket Gate and change some more, re-tell my stories to the friends there of how much I changed in the chaplaincy here (boy howdy will that be a lot of change, I’m sure).  Hopefully the Land of Pilgrims will remain home as I leave again; hopefully it is still home as I sit here on Interpreter’s couch listening to the fridge hum determinedly to itself, my fingers sore from steel guitar strings as they tap on the keys to tell cyberspace that I am back, but I will never be back.

There is no back to go to.  There is no place to lay my head.  Can the unchanging God Who moves with the ever-changing me be Home enough?

 

 

“There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so.  And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.”  (John 14:2-3, GNT)