Several years ago I was astonished to learn that a pastor can be locked out of a church—not by accident (I’ve done this to myself a number of times). I still remember the day my district superintendent (at the time) wanted me to accompany him to a meeting in a community of faith where the pastor had arrived at the church, just days earlier, only to find it padlocked. As odd as this may sound, such is the unpredictable life of people who claim allegiance to Jesus on planet earth. This particular group claimed steadfast allegiance to Jesus, but weren’t very enthused about some of God’s children whom the pastor was bringing into their church facilities. They were God’s children, but according to some of the congregational leaders they were the wrong color. This was the 1990’s not the 60’s. Regardless of the decade, a cancer is a cancer is a cancer. Foolishness is foolishness—no matter when it manifests. So my superintendent friend had to intercede and have the padlock and chains removed from the doors. Try picturing this, and you’ll come up as confused as I am even to this day.
I was reminded of this episode while reading ReJesus, co-authored by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The boys from Down Under reminded me of singer/songwriter Sinead O’Connor’s album from 2007 entitled, “Theology.” They note,
“Raised Catholic, the brunt of her attacks has invariably been borne by the church of her childhood, but the sting in her beautiful songs can be felt by any church or denomination that shuts Jesus out of its religious system. In her searing lament “Out of The Depths” she captures the Psalmist’s broken-hearted cry for mercy. It begins with a paraphrase of Psalm 130:1 In her song (O’Connor) imagines this lament being sung for a God who is locked out of (his) own church.
This is actually the same thing Vincent van Gogh was trying to say in the late 1800’s when he painted, “The Church at Auvers”. Take a close look at Van Gogh’s depiction and you catch a glimpse of a church with no doors, no light, and no life. Life flourishes outside the church, (a lesson many of us have been reminded of the last two years,) but that is in spite of the life-less church of Auvers. Many people may not realize that Van Gogh was at one time a student in seminary. His stinging criticism is subtler than O’Connor’s, but no less damning. It makes me think of another daughter of the Church, Flannery O’Connor who describes the church pastored by Reverend Haze Mote, in her novel Wise Blood. She describes that congregation as being one where, “the blind don’t see; the lame don’t walk; and what’s dead – stays dead!”
As frustrated as people like the O’Connor ladies and Vincent Van Gogh must be, try and imagine God’s frustration. Imagine the Creator God, witnessing the very humanity for whom God took on human form, died, and rose from the dead, claiming allegiance to God’s mission with their mouths, but perpetrating a foolish paradox with their living. Wasn’t it Jesus who once said, “They will know you are MY disciples, by the love you have, one for another.”? (John 13:35)
This is the risk God takes on us. Sometimes we seem to get it right, and sometimes we get it wrong. Truth be known, even on our best days we often never bat above .500. As Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us, “no matter how hard we try to do things right we’re always going to get some things wrong. And no matter how wrong we can be (at times) some things just keep turning out right.” I believe the “turning out right” has less to do with us than with the God who loves us—even if we try to lock God out of the church. And, for this, I give thanks …
Blessings & Peace!