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…
What do you think the Martins did in the next part of that cartoon, Kevin?
Hard to say… i have borne witness to ‘the martins’ asking the newcomers to move …. and I have watched ‘the martins’ kindly say good morning and find another seat.
Our prayer is to be a people who less need to use the word ‘mine.’
‘All things come of Thee OLord,
and of thine own have we given Thee.’
True story: At a parish fundraising dinner held at a restaurant in which both church members and visitors were invited, a parish member was heard commenting “I thought this was a church event, I don’t know half the people here.” Many of us in the church miss the entire reason we exist. What would have happened if this person (and others) made a point of going table to table to introduce themselves to the people they didn’t recognize? Difficult and Uncomfortable? Maybe. But perhaps the real work that needs to be done is on our own need to feel safe and secure in our private little clubs we call “My parish”. Take a risk! God did on us.
Awesome example. That’s exactly what i’m getting at. One of the first words we learned as a child is “mine” … a challenge we have to overcome
When Victoria Matthews was Bishop of the Credit Valley and I was Rector of one of her parishes, she used to, on parish visits, ask people how they knew they were at a church, rather than a country club. Inevitably stained glass and organ music would be listed. And then she’d go on to explain that you needed to look at all the people there with you, and if you saw people you didn’t like, or that you disagreed with, or that you wished weren’t there, then you were at a church. If everyone you saw were people you liked, agreed with, people just like you, people you approved of, then you were at a country club no matter how much stained glass and organ music there was!
After that experience, I worry that most of us go to country clubs on Sunday.
Those are great questions for a bishop to be asking! And I agree with her insight that churches are communities of people who are diverse, who are different, who are difficult, and who challenge us. The church community is about more than stained-glass and organ music. Thank you for your feedback
Wow Kevin, what an awesome synopsis. In the past 30 years I have grown weary in the struggle against the “status and control” mongers in our society. They are rampant in our culture and yes they do exist in the church community ( but nothing compared to our work and children’s activity environments). BUT it seems that just when I am ready to “throw in the towel” God reminds me that the “small efforts”, “the one brick at a time” progressions WILL eventually turn the tide. Read a WONDERFUL article in Sports Xpress today about a young boy with cerebral palsy whose parents “took the risk” (comment by Rob Henderson) and enrolled their son in special needs hockey. A life changing, positive experience
for their whole family. The article choked me up. It was God talking out loud to me and others. Is the situation good? Absolutely not! Can we ever give up? ABSOLUTELY NOT !!! Thanks for the inspiration.
Thank you for your feedback Jim. Standing up to the status quo is never easy. Bill Easum writes a book about controllers in the church. It’s title is SACRED COWS MAKE GOURMET BURGERS. He identifies several sacred cows, chief among them is the controller. It is incumbent upon those of us who care about our institutions to not throw in the towel. Small efforts, one brick at a time, risk-taking, are things that we are all called to do – keep up your good work which is changing lives.
Whether they be large echoey halls of parish, or a smaller more intimate parish settings, I have personally had and had witnessed others experience a certain sense of “non-acceptance” into church communities. So much so, that I actually prefer to listen to church service on the radio. I do long for community, friendship and participation in a church community, but my present overall health encourages me to forego another rejection of my personhood based on my mental health disability. Seasonal Affective Disorder is no joke; it is as real an illness as any other physical illness like cancer, with equally debilitating effects; such as the experience of being ejected from a church choir and eventually asked to “sit in the pew” which felt like an invisible hand pushing me out the door, and subsequently away from a parish community I served in for over 7 years. During times of difficult trial as a result of a bitter marital dissolution, people were much less forgiving overall. People who thought they were being helpful to me actually made events proceed in a different direction; sharing my struggles with the parish community brought an unexpected response; a lack of acceptance for my need for friendship when I moved to a new city . I was unprepared for that response, especially the unexpected responses from the rectors as time progressed, both positive and otherwise. As a teenager at 16 who is “kicked out of the house for unfavourable behaviour” I left that parish; for a little time afterward, I tried to make an effort to join another parish community. However, I chose instead not to, for the painful ejection was just too much to bear given my overall health. Instead, I have found alternate ways to continue my relationship with God and our advocate, Jesus Christ. I just cannot go through another experience of painful rejection from being part of a group that chooses to keep me outside of their so-called cliques and much too familiar country club attitudes of mingling with each other, where the quality of music, the manner of dress and how well perfect timed and faultless presentation of the service is more important than the ministering to children and teaching them the ways of Jesus the same way my father in heaven taught me; or ministering to the adults with real life issues for which compassion, understanding and acceptance are the only responses that one expects. I don’t want to belong to a community where children participate and serve their church communities and made to cry because “she didn’t do it right” or “that’s not the way it’s supposed to be”. That’s not what I was taught about Jesus;
Then were there brought unto him little children, that he should put his hands on them, and pray: and the disciples rebuked them.
But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
And he laid his hands on them, and departed thence.
St Matthew 19. 13, 14, 15.
Hear what comfortable words our Saviour Christ saith unto all that truly turn to him.
COME unto me all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.
St Matthew 11. 28.
God so loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
St John 3. 16.
Hear also what Saint Paul saith.
This is a true saying, and worthy of all men (AND WOMEN) to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
1 Timothy 1. 15.
Hear also what Saint John saith.
If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins.
1 St John 2. 1, 2.
And our responses to Christ’s invitation to the Lord’s table:
WE do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, Trusting in our own righteousness, But in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy So much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, Whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, So to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, And to drink his Blood, That our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, And our souls washed through his most precious Blood, And that we may evermore dwell in him, And he in us. Amen.
This is the continual prayer I have for the whole Church. We have much work to do!
as an opening aside, I have to nod to the digital age. I first read ‘posited’ as ‘posted’!
Kevin, I once expressed my apologies to Geoff Dibbs because it had been a particularly rowdy service. The choir were all laughing and poking each other which flowed wave-like into the pews. I told Geoff that I felt uneasy about laughing in church. He said something to me that I thought very profound. Simply, he said “How can you spread the good news if you aren’t feeling it yourself?” Well said, eh! LOL