The great social activist and founder of The Catholic Worker Movement Dorothy Day once posited, “Have we even begun to be Christians?”
It’s a great question. When we consider questions about what we see in our world, our country , our neighbourhoods etc, we should be asking, have we begun to be Christian? When we consider the fact that we can get so wrapped up in political turmoil over issues that are remote to the teachings of Jesus while poverty, war and lack of community run rampant, we should be asking, ‘have we begun to be Christians?’ When we consider how we respond to our fear of those who are different, those who are considered the enemy even, we really ought to be asking ‘have we begun to be Christians?’ It’s a great question.
The question is really born out of the difference between what we profess and what we practice. We are a people who follow ‘the way’ of Jesus. We are a people who have a manuscript which tells a story whose truth is far greater than the words on its pages. We are a people called to love, to forgive, to heal, to embrace, to feed, to clothe, to console, to repent, to challenge unjust structures, to bear witness to Jesus and the way of nonviolence. Dorothy Day’s question is powerful because in its direct simplicity it convicts the church it’s hypo cry with respect to what we profess and what we practice.
I have been reading Scott Evans Book Closer Still . Noting the disparity between what is taught by church and what is implied, he writes;
“I was told that God celebrated my creativity and exuberance… But I was supposed to be quiet during the service. I was told that God accepted me just the way I am… But I needed to dress smart to come to church. I was taught that God forgave all my sins… but God’s followers seemed to have the memory of a herd of elephants.”
Those words really lept off the page/screen at me. Mostly because I could not help but think about my own church community. I know that we work hard to let the world know that Children are valued members of our congregation. That said, I am also keenly aware of the complaints of a small number of people in recent weeks because of the joyful sounds of children during worship. I know that we would tell anyone and everyone – come as you are! Yet, I have been questioned about my own choice of attire for worship. We want people to be welcomed at our church, yet I have witnessed people being asked to move from a pew because it is ‘my seat.’ I know that we espouse that we are a forgiving people. That said, I am keenly aware that there are times we struggle with moving past some transgressions that may go back a long way.
All of this leaves me asking ~ ‘Have we begun to be Christians?’
I hasten to add here that this reflection is no more an indictment of my church community than it is of the Church in general. I am pretty sure that if we are honest, we can all tell similar tales about our church communities. We have work to do. The Church has work to do! Scott Evans, rightly identifies that there is a need for us to examine the messages that we send by what we imply as well as what we communicate by how we actually practice.
This puts us in an exciting place. We have opportunity before us as a people of God. We have before us a call to examination. We have opportunity to discern what we imply about who we are and how it jives with what we are actually practicing? I am excited by the fact that so many of our members respect the contributions of children, could care less about attire, actively offer their seat to the newcomer, have the maturity of faith to forgive and are actively living out their baptismal ministry. The church has wasted far too much time with a small few whose membership at church is less about faith in practice as much as it is about status and control.
As the Church struggles with declining membership and declining relevance in the world around us, we have this golden opportunity to let the Spirit speak. The People of God are ready to bring together the inclusive and loving message of Jesus and the faith practice of our communities. We have the opportunity of a lifetime. People will want to belong to community that love authentically. I pray that the Church will engage in a process of radical discernment. My prayer is that as we discern who were are that we may ask that all important question ~ ‘have we begun to be Christians.’
We will make a big difference by beginning with intentional and small efforts. Dorothy Day also wrote;
“People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.”
Let’s get to work…