All Means All… Except for you… Oh, sales and you too—and I’m not so crazy about you in the corner, either. But otherwise, yeah, all means all.
We’ve been having an ongoing discussion in our church about how to describe ourselves to people we meet. Compared to my somewhat horrendous past experiences with churches, I find our church to be very different. Nobody ever believes that when I tell him or her so. Just the word “church” conjures images of hardwood bench seats and people dressed in fancy clothes, holding Bibles or hymnals while a preacher tells everyone why they’re unworthy of God’s love and going to Hell—except for the chosen, of course, and for some reason, I’m never in the chosen. Sound familiar?
Then of course we have the hurdle of being not just any old church, but a Christian church. So now we’ve got Joel Osteen, Creflo A. Dollar and every white-male on conservative television or in the Tea Party to contend with. However, these people don’t say or do anything that Jesus would remotely understand as part of his teaching. If flight had existed in the 1st Century, I doubt Jesus would have asked his followers for a $32 million dollar jet. He’s the guy who fed 5000 people with two fish and some stale bread, remember? Our job is to serve, not to be served. But now I’m just ranting.
All this makes the task of people actually trying to live up to Jesus’ ideals and integrity—people like Pope Francis, that much more difficult.
Other than the abusive history of Christian churches in general, there is another problem facing Christianity today. Really, this is a problem for all religious institutions. Churches, synagogues, mosques—religious institutions in general all tend to lack diversity. Just like neighborhoods, religious gathering spaces often reflect a specific demographic. So within the Christian church, there are white, black, straight, gay, Hispanic, Asian, etc. churches, but very few churches that are white, black, straight, gay, Hispanic and Asian all under one roof. This is a pity, and not at all reflective of the sort of God-connected unity through diversity Jesus was after.
It’s natural for similar people to gather together. That’s how we get vibrant neighborhoods like Little Italy and Chinatown. Yet, when the only people we associate with are just like us, it’s difficult to create peace, love, and understanding. Jesus never asked his followers to be the same. He traveled to all sorts of different places. He talked to people the rest of society had discarded, and told them they were all God’s beloved. For Jesus, all truly meant all, no exceptions. Jesus celebrated diversity because diversity is a reflection of God’s creative nature. Our churches might share in that celebration, but they are still largely homogenous congregations. I think this needs to change if the church is going to be an agent for peace and love in the 21st Century, as Jesus was in the 1st Century.
How do we ever get to know each other if we’re all celebrating God’s presence behind closed doors, with people who believe and think exactly like us? How does God change the world if not by getting all sorts of different people together so we have the opportunity to understand each other better? No war was ever started between people who took the time to get to know each other. No war was ever won until two people came to an understanding. That sort of awareness and insight can’t happen unless there is interaction. The same is true of our relationship with God. There is no awareness nor insight, no real change, until there is interaction.
The church—the movement Jesus started, and the Gentile/Jewish movement Paul propagated, was meant to be different from the rest of the world. Church is meant to stand apart from the values (or lack thereof) of our society. We’re supposed to be the voice of the disenfranchised, not the people who disenfranchise. We’re supposed to be the people who feed, not the people who take away food stamps. Like Jesus, we’re to be the people who heal, not the people who constantly wound others—emotionally and physically. Our church is trying to do something new by creating a space that is honestly open to everyone. Yes, we have disagreements, but thankfully, most of the time we learn from those disagreements and move on. Our task is to make space for everyone: a diversity of culture, a diversity of beliefs, in one space, one people of God. It’s difficult to describe, and even more difficult to accomplish. But even in our diversity there is one thing we all believe in common: With God, all things are possible.
Meditation: A different world is possible. One world, where everyone fits.