Here is a great article written by Tara Shuster called The Contemptible Body
that was written for this weeks BWC
Tell me, what do you think of when you hear the word “church”? Is it those TV Evangelists, protestors at veteran’s funerals, bombers of abortion clinics? Old women and Sunday clothes? A priest and a confession booth? Huge glorious steeples? What about the smell of old wood in ancient cathedrals? Billy Graham? How about pain and gossip and segregation? I’m just wondering, because I’ve been doing some pondering on the word myself…
Before 2004, I had attended church only for funerals and on one occasion, went to a Christmas play with my neighbors. Ah, the memories… But prior to that, I guess the only spiritual notions that crossed my brain where my grandmother’s haunted house, my extreme fear of death (at the time), and that my sister was in heaven with God. Nothing to theological. With four years of church-going under my belt I’m a bit more informed than I used to be, but informed in ways that I never thought.
As I’m sitting here, writing this and ignoring the huge amount of finance homework that needs to be done, a rush of my past collides with my own self and it causes my brain to be filled with so many emotions. You see, nowadays, when I ruminate about church and what it means to me, a swarm of pain, joy, confusion, and fleeting happiness comes and hovers over me.
About a year ago, I was involved in a somewhat nasty conflict at my previous church. It turned out to be one of the most painful and bitter experiences I’ve ever endured. But it opened my eyes to the fact that while churches should be Christ-like, they are still full of humans and thus have the ability to create pain.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but we Christians haven’t been the prettiest thing in America lately. I’ve read stories about a church that goes to veteran’s funerals protesting and holding up signs that say “God hates you.” At my college, there’s a Christian extremist group who like to terrorize everyone on campus with their signs that say “Islam is not a peaceful religion” and “Halloween is from the devil.” After seeing these things, it was like my eyes were opened and God whispered one simple, but powerful concept into my heart: God is love. Period. He always has been and always will be, no matter what the crazies at my school or the extremists protesting with their “God hates you” signs say. I had never understood this before (it seems a little ridiculous because that’s what the whole bible is about!). But I do now, and the concept goes even further: this love should always be present in our own lives, as well as the church.
Oh what an epiphany it was, but it’s nothing new. God, the one who created Earth and all its inhabitants, has always done nothing but love creation, despite what creation thinks. What we, especially as Christians, considered detestable, untouchable, sinful, and unlovable, God has not. He does not let color, ethnic background, political beliefs, money, sexual orientation, or whatever gets in the way of relationships, get in the way of His love for HIS creation. He’s even done something so drastic as to sacrifice his own son, his own self, so that there would no longer be the barrier of guilt or fright standing between Him and people. In a way, God’s love for humanity is like the ultimate love story. The Creator, so in love with his creation, took so many measures to make sure that his creation new of his love, and then, he gave his creation the choice to choose for themselves whether they believe in the Creator and his love, or not. Because love isn’t love at all if it is forced.
Speaking of choices, I make horrible ones daily. Everyone does, even churches do (big gasp here). Making sure to keep this in mind I’m still pondering the meaning… what does church mean to me? In the dictionary it’s defined as “the whole body of Christian believers; Christendom.” But I think it’s deeper than this. Just because we go to church, doesn’t mean that that’s all we need to do, and then just live our lives as we please. But we tend to skip right on over this. Churches become institutions instead of sanctuaries. God moves with or without steeples and preachers, because that is who he is. Yet, he has commanded us to be a body, a family. And this family of ours is commanded to bless others (remember Abraham, anybody? “I’m going to bless you so that you may bless others”). Isn’t this what it’s all about? God is love; so naturally, one would assume that’s what a church should represent. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of churches that do such, and then there are plenty that don’t. There are plenty that point a finger at those not considered Christians, while saving all their love for themselves (I got sucked into this thought, too)
Yet in all this, I begin to understand what Jesus was doing while he was here on this earth. He took special care to show love to the “outsiders,” the “sinners” and what the Jews considered at the time, the “unclean.” There are so many who need to be loved outside of our Christian circle.
In the end, it goes as Jesus said, “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” If we have any condemning to do, then it should be right in the mirror, pulling that plank out of our own eye, because no one is without sin. However, because we are saved doesn’t give us the right to use the “holy finger” on those who aren’t.
Let’s face it, Americans don’t really like the church. And let’s face it one more time: American churches are starting to become a big, detestable eyesore. We need to be very careful in the direction we’re going. We are not out to please anybody, but God. But we should be out to love everybody created by God. Let us not be considered detestable and unloving, but benevolent and loving. I want to be out chasing the world like God chased his own creation: with a feverish, fanatic love that does the most extreme to reach far and wide across uncrossable barriers. For this is what love is, and this is what love does.