Sunday, June 27, 2010


So our sanctuary is undergoing 6 weeks of renovations - and I could only laugh out loud when I noticed all the warning signs posted at the entryways: "Danger: Hard Hat Area." Naturally I thought of Annie Dillard's often-quoted thought from Teaching a Stone to Talk: "I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, to be sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have any idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers... and lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense..."

We had to bring in scaffolding, circular saws, and scarily heavy . equipment to render our beautiful sanctuary risky. "Oh, it's dangerous now? How long before it's safe to go back in?" I noticed the subheading on the Danger: Hard Hat Area sign - which adds Authorized Personnel Only. "Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?" Psalm 24 inquires - and the reply, if authoritative for us today, would keep us all out permanently: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart."

And yet, at our denominational annual conference, we had a motion tabled - one about inclusivity. Nobody wants to talk about it: we are weary of the debate on how much inclusiveness is too much. Bizarre to me: it is precisely the necessity of clean hands and a pure heart that requires us to be utterly and uncompromisingly inclusive. Mine aren't clean or pure, and neither are yours - or anybody else's. Inside the building, the chemicals that catalyze the explosion are grace and mercy, which you never find outside a Church. So we realize what God requires, we realize we've whiffed embarrassingly - and that is precisely why we enter, trembling, hoping for mercy, needing nothing less than a transformative explosion of unseen power.

How inclusive then should we be? My small wisdom is this: if any one of us isn't welcome in Church, ever, for any reason, then none of us is ever welcome. God may wake up one day and be grossly offended we ever thought otherwise; God has already noticed, and is grieved - and wishes to strip the place, and us, down to the foundations and start over with us. Danger: Hard Hat Area.

1 comment:

  1. Fabulous post. We stumbled over a small piece of this in Sunday school this week, when concluding our series on the will of God (from your book). Mark, who was teaching, had been unable to grab the copy floating around between the teachers, so the series was wrapped up as, "The will of God, as I'm guessing James Howell would see it." Anyway, he took us directly to Micah, and said he thought the will of God could be summed up in the instruction to "Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with the Lord."

    The thing that tripped many of us up was that those instructions, when taken in modern context, can seem so inherently contradictory. We got into a discussion of judgment, something which seems to be a personal challenge for many of us.

    I've always thought it must be such a struggle for the church to simultaneously invite everyone in to worship, while maintaining a sense of what is right and what is wrong. Not that any of us have clean hands and a pure heart, but if we have some definite ideas of what might make us unclean, and if we speak about those things from the pulpit or in classrooms, we risk making those who need the church most feel the most unwelcome in it. It's not a task I envy you, trying to fill the pews while preaching anything other than a prosperity gospel.

    But what you've said here makes so much sense, and if we can remember that we're all sinners and that we all need grace, maybe the sign on the door will look a little more welcoming.