Some follow up thoughts from yesterday’s sermon. In evaluating the spiritual health and vitality of a church, here is something to consider: Is it a place where honesty in personal truth-telling is encouraged or discouraged? Are people wearing masks, afraid to let their real selves be known? Is some version of “The Emperor’s New Clothes” being played out, where everyone is upholding a pretense for fear of appearing the fool? Does sharing one’s personal truth at those times when one’s personal truth isn’t pretty get the sort of reaction you would expect when someone passes gas in public? Are people inclined to stop coming to church at the very point where they most need support, because of a common perception that church is a place for people whose lives are running smoothly — people free from the onslaught of fear, doubt, sadness and despair? Is it okay to cry in church?
In short, is the church a safe place — a place of trust?
In what I’ve written here it may seem like undue emphasis is being given to the darker emotions of life. What about joy and laughter? I am convinced, however, that permission to share the darker emotions also creates the atmosphere necessary to experience real joy (as opposed to some cardboard cutout version of joy.)
Many people will tell you that you don’t have to be a part of a church to be a Christian. I think this can mean a couple of things:
They have bought into the cultural lie that says that it is possible to be truly self-sufficient. “I can make it on my own. I don’t really need other people.” As such it expresses a kind of arrogance.
On the other hand, however, when someone says you don’t need a church to be a Christian, what they are expressing could be a very real indictment of the church. The person has never found much grace in church. Church, for the person, was not a place of trust; it was not a safe place to be human. It was a place for mask-wearing — a hangout for the sort of person portrayed in the Gospels as “Pharisees” who resisted Jesus’ graciousness tooth and nail.
If I ask myself personally, “Do I feel safe in church?” and the answer I come up with is a strong “Yes!” then there is a responsibility placed upon me to help make it a safe place for others.
If the answer I come up with is “No”, then perhaps what is required on my part is some risk taking. Reach out to others and give them an opportunity to practice being trustworthy with your personal truth. Spiritual power is unleashed in a context a deep, soulful sharing, and if you don’t have opportunity to experience this, you are robbing yourself of this power. You can’t learn to swim if you never let go of the side of the pool.
“Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church to pray over them… Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:14, 16)