They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. ~ Acts 2:46-47 (The Message)
I can hear unknown birds chattering in the crabapple tree outside my “church” office window. The lawn is a lush green interspersed with patches of dying brown grass. Frost was right, “Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.” The cool shade from the large cottonwood tree out front plays with the warm sunlight in an eternal dance of shadow and light. A tiger butterfly floats across the yard, letting the wind guide her path. Maybe the scene is not the Garden of Eden before the fall, but it must hold a resemblance.
As I gaze at the simple, beautiful, empty brown cross planted in our church yard, my mind drifts back to my mom’s Memorial Picnic on this sacred ground last Saturday. I don’t know how many people showed up, but my friend Mark said there were fifty dogs and two cats present. My mom loved dogs, but my dad was a cat person which always made for an interesting dynamic growing up in our household.
Last Saturday, with Pastor Jean’s help, we blessed the animals. As each dog: Sally, Yuma, Chewy, Sugar, LoLa, Tilly… came forward I placed my hands on their head or on their shoulders. Some were skittish but most of our four-legged friends became very still. “Thank you, (name of dog), for loving us and being a good friend. May God continue to bless you throughout your life. Amen.” It was a joyful and loving experience. Each dog blessed us by wagging his or her tail. Father Rohr writes, “If you don’t think dogs will be with us in heaven either you don’t know what a soul is, or you have never been loved by a dog.”
I held back the tears as our daughter Andie brought my mom’s last dog, Angel, forward for a blessing. She wagged her little tail and bowed her head. Love is a four-legged word.
We sang songs, said prayers, and shared a meal of pulled pork, potato salad, and coleslaw. Rachel brought homemade ice cream and Carl added some cookies. Paul writes of the early church, “Every meal was a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God” (Acts 2:47).
My mom shared many an ice cream cone with Rachel’s grandma, Jean Bader, who joined our church in April of 1942 and passed away a few years back. Our community reaches back well over a hundred years, lives in the present, and looks forward to the future with hope. Henri Nouwen says, “Community is where humility and glory touch.” In glorious moments we float on the wind currents much like that yellow and black butterfly. With humility, we learn to forgive and let go. Such is the life of a community of faith.
Over the past thirty something years, Jennifer and I have said countless times, “What would we do without the church? How would we process all the beauty and grace, and all the struggles and pain we face throughout our lives without our church family?” As reported on our church Facebook page, “Church is not something you go to, it’s a family you belong to.”
The church is a dynamic family. If we are honest, all of us know how beautiful and how difficult family structures can be. Family can build us up, love us, and inspire us; and family can break us down and harm us deeply.
Diane Butler Bass writes that “millions of Americans have left the church behind, probably many more have left emotionally, and countless others are wondering if they should. Christianity has failed them, wounded them, betrayed them, or maybe just bored them—and they do not want to have much to do with it any longer.”
“Let’s be honest,” says Father Rohr. “Religion (the community of faith) has probably never had such a bad name. It is seen as ‘irrelevant’ by some and ‘toxic’ by many, and often as part of the problem rather than any kind of solution. Young people especially are turned off by how judgmental, exclusionary, impractical, and ineffective Christian culture seems to be.”
A few weeks ago, a barber cut my hair. When she found out I was a minister, she said, “You know, I’ve gone to so many churches and I always fear they will judge me for how I’m dressed.” I hear this time and time again. “I fear the church will judge me.” What went astray?
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor, do not judge, and forgive one another.” What would happen if we “put on the mind of Christ”? What would happen if we lived more fully the way of grace? What would happen if we stepped out of the world of power, prestige, and possessions and lived the simple way of Jesus? Rohr says, “We need practice-based religion” that teaches us how to live.
“Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It’s the way we live, not the way we talk that counts” (James 3:13, The Message). What does the Lord require of the church? Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (see Micah 6:8). How do we walk with our neighbors, our enemies, or those who might have different views than us?
Last Saturday, my cousin gave me a warm hug before she got in her car to return to the Land of Oz. “This is a good place,” she said. I agree wholeheartedly. And, in the Spirit of God’s Grace, we need to celebrate our wholeness and recognize with gentleness our brokenness. Let us not go back to the way things used to be, let’s move forward into the Promised Land. Amen.
Blessings and peace,