We’ve been lucky enough to have a few visitors at church in recent months (not a common occurrence at most small country churches), and so I’ve been in the position of needing to share with new folks just what our church is all about. It’s good to have visitors for many reasons, but this is one of the best: because it forces our “regulars” to articulate who we are, what we believe, or, at the very least, why we come to church. And though the answer “it’s a habit” may have some truth to it, it turns out that isn’t a very satisfactory explanation for why our motley crew gives up an hour or more each Sunday to be together in God’s presence.
You might think that, as a pastor, it wouldn’t be difficult for me to come up with what church is about for me. Certainly I have training and experience in such conversations to help me get through interactions where I have to explain myself. Then again, the people I interact with are pretty sure they know what my beliefs are and why I do what I do on Sunday mornings. (Depending on their own beliefs and experiences with organized religion, they either assume I believe the exact same things they do, or that my faith is completely foreign to the way they experience life.) Often enough, because they’re sure they know what I believe, they never actually ask.
That’s okay, though. I’ve taken to talking about it more freely. Maybe it’s because as I age (slowly, right?), I’m more comfortable with who I am and worry less about offending people. Maybe it’s because, due to my hospice work, I have a greater understanding of how short our time may be here on earth. Either way, I’ve become bolder in owning who and whose I am.
So here’s a short answer to why I spend time at church: I believe the world needs more love. Whatever the question is, the answer is always more love. My faith tells me that following Jesus is the best way for me to learn about love in all its complexities. (There are, I hasten to add, other ways. Jesus is the Way that speaks most to me.)
Why love? This quotation gives a good answer to that question:
I believe that I must love you because my life depends on it. Not only the life of my body, but the life of my soul. Indeed, we seem to have no guarantee that the body won’t be destroyed in the process of learning to love. But until I learn to love you, I am likely to remain in the squalor of my own self-righteous judgments, protecting my own point of view, condemning and cutting off some who may be the very strangers sent to give me a chance to offer the cup of cold water. I need to remember that the needy come clad in everything from rags to turbans to miniskirts to Armani suits. I need to remember that need sometimes looks like evil, and that it is perilous to judge too quickly which is which.
~ (from “How do I Love Thee?: A Letter to my Enemies” by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. In Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, volume 21, number 2; March/April 2006, pages 6-10.)
And why our church? Because in truth, I have never met a church family more open to love, more willing to wrestle past differences to get to a place of loving understanding, more committed to living love in spite of all of the the things in the world that try to close us off to love.
Come visit us some Sunday. You might find new ways of living love!