Monday, May 12, 2008

The Park Bench

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I knew if I went back to my apartment, I would just waste the day, so I went to the park after church. I ate lunch, called my mom to wish her the best and say I love her, people watched (imagining the little boy by the water alone would fall in and need rescuing... what can I say, working with troubled youth you expect the worse) and read a little. It was then that I sat on the park bench reading when Mary sat down. She was there with her daughter and son-in-law. Those who know me best understand that "outgoing" isn't the first word to use when describing the person who is Michael. But here I was yearning for something a little more real, a little more connected than what I've settled for in the past.

I asked Mary what she thought about Christianity.

She was very generous in her response, and we continued to talk for a good half hour or so. You see I've been troubled with this aspect of Christianity that demands attention. People view Christianity as harmful, self-absorbed and unappealing. The church experience became a product that people simply aren't buying. Mary hadn't bought it. I shared with Mary my views on how the Church Jesus desired to set up was more a gathering in fellowship and community, not a spectator's entertainment on a Sunday morning. There's something much more attractive about a group of people willing to sell all they had to meet any need one may have, to truly be there for one another in love. That's not the image the current church holds. The church today is more a building and a consumer's experience than it is the "out-called ones" of faith in a gracious God.

These thoughts of mine originate from greater minds. I finished The Tangible Kingdom by Halter and Smay, and I began UnChristian by Kinnaman, both dealing in their own unique ways how the current model of church isn't shaping a Christian into a very effective witness to the love of Jesus Christ.

A confession: I've been a church attender for about eleven years. And save maybe the first year in my naive zeal for Christ, I have done very little to nothing at all to witness and minister to others outside the church attending crowd. My reason is simply because I'm ashamed of the church and hold little faith in its ability to change lives. My sister, for example, would probably only step foot in a church if someone was getting married or kicked the bucket. There's not much a church service could offer her that would make her feel included and in need of their influence. And yet as a card-carrying member of the church product movement, recently-awakened to reality, I get that it's easier to shrug our shoulders at such people and continue to enjoy our worship sets and make the rounds to all our fellow follower-acquaintances.

Please don't get the impression I despise all church now and that we need to throw it all out as ineffective and irrelevant. In fact, there is a lot of powerful transformation happening in the lives of believers in churches world-wide. I have enjoyed connecting on a deeper level with others through attending house church an extra night a week, and it's led to increased fellowship and spiritual growth. My fear is that it's not enough. Until we bravely reach out and become inclusive of all people, the church cannot be what God designed. Jesus never set up shop in one town and advertised for people to experience himself for an hour and a half, and if it was your first time, make sure to visit out welcome booth in the foyer where you can pick up your welcome packet.

Mary believed in God but not in the people who claimed to know Him. It both hurts me and excited me to think I've been given the charge to help restore the image of God by living it right. It starts with an identity. And it strengthens with a courage to love, and not just those already "in."

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