Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Blog Carnival: Church
Growing up a grandchild of a preacher has similar benefits of the pastor's kids, basically the run of the joint, but without as much pressure to be good. Sure, Mommaw cracked our fingers if we yawned too loudly, but Nanny Eves always had lots of mints in case Pops got a little "long winded" as seems to be the tradition of Southern Baptists.
The first church I remember is in Lititz where today it sadly is an empty shell of its former self. Mostly I remember my Sunday school classroom in the basement where the paint was flaking on the concrete walls and the choir loft when Pops let me see that the church really did have bats in its belfry! Later, my grandfather ended up in a double wide trailer of a rural church. The memories I have of that church is more the building of it. Clearly I can see the shape changing as some pews were brought in (and thank heavens some women made cushions!) and then a baptistry and even new classrooms. Those memories smell like fruit punch, animal crackers and dirty diapers. Somehow, my childhood God was always more associated with the building than with my life, and this was somewhat reinforced in the Catholic traditions of my stepfamily.
For those of you who aren't Catholic, they have this neat system. If the candle, usually one that is encased in red glass, is lit, Jesus is home. In the front of the church, or typically at the main altar, there is a special case, the tabernacle, and that is where the consecrated hosts (communion bread after it is made into the body of Christ) is kept. That is where Jesus lived, in a child's mind anyway. Working in the church as a teenager, I again had the run of the place, privy to those often not noticed places...the choir loft, the closets, the back steps, the back of the altar. Those memories always smell of incense and early mornings.
As I grew up, I still felt this pull toward church, toward that holy building in times of difficulty. When things were tough, when there were questions only He knew the answers to, when everything felt so wrong, sitting in church, in God's presence, was soothing. It made sense to me. I remembered a passage in Isaiah (I think) that spoke about God descending into the sanctuary and I imagined Him there, filling it, no room left for the despair and pain that clings to the human condition. Within those walls, all is God. All is good. All is right.
In time, however, I became aware that God was also to be found in the church basement with colorful people who drink coffee from styrofoam cups while baring their wounds in hopes of healing them. These people rarely enter the front door of the church, instead preferring the anonymity of the rear entrance with the spattering of cigarrette butts beside a coffee can that could be just as much an indicator of God within as the candle in the Catholic church. Within these hours, encouraged by these people, I found God in my life, outside of the building. He was active, just waiting for me to understand this. He had filled the sanctuary, but His Spirit had spilled out, into the basement, into the streets, into our homes.
When I did go back to entering the front door of the church, almost from the beginning I noticed the building was empty of Spirit-without the people. With the Spirit within us, where we go, we take church. This church, Christ's body, is us and we are to be out there, in the world, not trapped in a gold gilded box on an altar. No matter how beautiful, it is still a cage that renders us ineffective in Jesus' mission.
Read other bloggers perspectives on "church" here.