This is “Homecoming” season for the two churches, and at the same time there’s a revival going on with the theme “Beyond these Walls” getting at the whole “don’t just stay cooped up in your pretty brick church” bit.
I see all that working together when it comes to a good, truly healthy idea of home. The most solid home we’ve had is my grandparents’ house. It’s home for all the good reasons — there’s a twin bedroom there that my brother and I call ours, and a bed that’s mine; there are pictures and albums everywhere not just of me but my mom and other folks when they were growing up, that tell our story; and there’s a good screeching swinging door at the back of the kitchen, a reminder of my grandparents’ hospitality to always welcome everybody. That door always did a good job of swinging both ways — not just to welcome but also to usher us all back into the world when we would head home, recharged and ready.
I think that’s vital for good “home.” Comfort, familiarity, roots to our story and identity, and MOSTLY an urging to on with living deeply, back out in the world. Maybe home stops being good when it entices us to stay forever and hide from life, hunker down and cling to its comfort far longer than might be best, or share it with only a select group (or with no one). Clearly that’s also true for a church home. Especially when most, most, most of us don’t have the personal experience of a good home, and we claim to believe that wherever followers of Jesus gather should be the homiest, best fellowship we can find on earth.
So how to deal with our church walls…? I say, start with the walls of our own hearts; because it’s those, taken as a whole when a bunch of us gather, that add up to the collective walls of the church. So what kind of walls do we particularly struggle with?
Think about the different types…
One kind is the partition. For our sports fans, it’s a good thing when you go to games and there’s a divider or boundary all the way around the field, right? As in, without it sometimes a linebacker would be landing in your lap, or we wouldn’t know what to call a home run and all that. Partition walls separate space, especially for different purposes, like to create different rooms (“kitchen” versus “bedroom”). They’re important. Don’t believe me? Consider the walls of bathroom stalls in a huge public restroom. Separation of space. It’s important.
We do that with our hearts, maybe, and sometimes maybe it’s okay. We wear different hats, feel/act differently in different situations and company. I can say, “this part of me is the spouse, and this part the parent, or sibling; this part of me is for work, that part is what shows when people are around, that part is for when nobody’s watching, that part is me at church,” and so on. We partition our hearts, it’s multi-purpose space.
But we know the danger of isolating parts of our hearts, I think, or what it is to not feel whole, to put on too many different faces and not be in touch with our deepest, true heart. And the question becomes, what space do we allot to God? How big, what fraction of the whole? And the bigger joke and/or struggle is trying to keep God in that fraction. Some of us struggle most with partition walls of the heart.
Another kind of wall is the structural. As in, load-bearing, holding up floors and roof. Both churches where we worship have the sanctuary over large basement space, so thank goodness for structural walls, eh? These are what we use to build, they lean on each other to hold it all up.
And I wonder what we build in our hearts. I mean, like Ezekiel and the plumb-line a few weeks ago, we know that the slightest error in a coarse of brick can totally warp the rest of a building, so it takes good care. So we carefully build up hopes/dreams/fantasies, and our vision of who we are, who God is, and who others are. But what about the warping? What is informing what we build, and how sound is the finished structure? Like one Baltimore church with a huge sign reading in bold, “Trespassers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” signed The Sisters of Mercy. It’s easy to whack things up. According to our gospel, particularly easy without being informed by the Holy Spirit who knows us best. Do we need to wrestle with what we’re building in here?
The last kind of wall to deal with is one that’s protective. Moats and ramparts and all that, ancient cities and towns new that to survive they needed protection — to keep the bad stuff out. Or, to keep stuff in, not just in terms of prisons to protect us from others in our midst, but also for those without any sense to protect themselves — like livestock in pens, barbed wire and all.
When we erect these walls in our hearts, though, do we wall things in our out? For our country music fans, there’s a Toby Keith video for the song, “A Little Too Late” (see below). The lyrics are all about a couple’s breakup, and how it’s all over and it’s too late to reconcile, and throughout the video Keith is slowly brick-walling up the basement space that holds the lady-friend to whom he’s singing, his soon-to-be-ex. Problem for Toby is when the video wraps up, he realizes he’s walled himself into the wrong side of the basement — she has the side with the stairs to escape.
So, yes, sometimes when we think we’re walling things out, we find ourselves concreted in, eh? Really, what is it we want to keep out, or keep locked up? Certain people, kinds of people, experiences…? Our secret and shameful things, the painful things deep in there?
All told, I think all three of those walls get at one question: “What are we so afraid of?” For instance, what is it we don’t want anyone to know? What is it we don’t want to feel? What is it that we don’t want to get mixed up with God, that we want him to keep his grubby paws out of?
These are the things that keep us in and away and far from LIFE, life to the full. These are also the things that Scripture will challenge every single week we worship, or every day. Because the gospel, by nature, can consistently produce an occasion to be afraid and wall up. But it simultaneously challenges us to tear those things down, clip away the barbed wire, demolish what we’ve built so whack, and have hearts that are free. Always two roads: try to build on our own or work hand-in-hand with God.
What compels me to keep trying (failing, and trying again) to run with option #2 is that the walls I build just don’t do much of a job. Do yours even do what you want them to do? Do they do the whole job, solve every problem, keep things in order, keep everything you want out or in? Puhhh. Mine fail. But our gospel, Scripture, meeting with God and other faithful ones, they consistently tell us that what we have in God is good, and will not fail.
Like today’s reading, Psalm 91.
Church home, like home-home, and I think ultimately like heaven, should be about dealing with these walls together. Not walling ourselves in as a group together, but doing well to have a screeching but easily-swinging back door that invites us to head back out into God’s great earth for whatever adventure we might find there.
It’s like a story I heard from a summer day at a beach near Jacksonville, FL. This particular day the wind and current were whacko out of control, and the lifeguard staff were totally vigilant, just going at it all day. They pulled 8 or 10 people out that day. One man couldn’t believe it, watched most of the day, and set out that evening to give the lifeguards his gratitude for an awesome job. When he walked up and into the head guard shack, he saw written there in huge letters the motto responsible for the day: “If in doubt, GO!”
We gather as Christians knowing that this is pretty well the state of the world around us. Why, “GO!”? Because life is at stake. We need Christ alive in us. We need others in whom Christ is alive. The rest of the other needs those in whom Christ is alive. So let the walls come a-tumbling down.