It’s funny when you ask some people, “what is the church?” and they may answer that it’s “the building that’s down the road with the steeple on it.” Some people will answer that it’s a group of people who “follow God” (whatever that means) and who like to wear t-shirts and bumper stickers to let everyone know that they “follow God” (kinda sounds like a political party to me). Other people believe that those who go to church are the Republicans. Or maybe it’s the cheesy Jesus people who always have an answer for everything, seem to wear a perma-smile, and have Christian music playing 24/7. Others may say it’s the people who can use the Bible to defend everything they do and say (which, by the way, is pretty easy to do, so beware).
But what is the church? Is it really that easy to define? What if it’s really not about a place or a title…what if it’s a movement? What if the church is not a building? What if it’s not a set of dogmatic, human-made beliefs? What if it’s a Spirit-led intangible presence that pervades whomever will accept it? What if the church is honesty? What if the church are people who are tired of religious zealots who claim to know God? What if the church are those that, because of the truth that speaks within them, cannot darken a “church” door any longer because of the religious games? What if the church is a culture of people who are tired of depending on mankind for their deliverance, who are tired of playing the political game of who is more “right” than the other, and who are ready to answer and grapple with the real questions of life? What if the church are those who choose to say “no” to selfishness cloaked in religion? Which brings up the question: Who are the real “pagans?” In fact, what if some who choose not to go to church, actually enter into the movement or culture of what church really is because it’s not happening at church?
Now before you grow all concerned on me, hear me out. I think these things are possible in a church building. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t go to church. But I think we way too many times jump to conclusions and put people in a box and label them a certain way, when maybe they are still spiritual even though they are not in religious church attendance. In fact, why do some people go to church?
For some, it’s a place where you wear your “Sabbath best” and perform for others. You can get a title, an office. In some churches, it can get really nasty around nominating time. People chomp at the bit to get voted in a certain office, as if it were high school class officer election time. Their self-worth and identity can become wrapped up in that church position. Sounds like a political party.
For some, church is a place where they can feel secure in their answers. No questions please. And if someone asks a hard one, they have the list of Bible verses and Ellen White quotes to silence the squirming doubts, to level the playing field – to keep the boat from rocking too much. Too many saints pat each other on the back for being right, when in reality, perhaps the right thing sometimes is to just listen.
For some, the church is a place to show up to, get “fed”, don’t feel any responsibility to contribute anything, and sneak away. Those who use church in this way are disappointed if the music is not their type, or grumble if the program was “not good” – as if the service was a movie that they now feel entitled to critique.
And for some, the church is a place to encounter God or grow in their understanding of the Sacred. They understand that God is not contained only within the walls of the church building, but that He is living within all of us and that He shows up all the time, if only we would recognize it.
In fact, when you think about it, what if the church was meant to rock our boats? What if the church was meant to be “out-side-the-box”? What if the church is you? What if the church is me? What if the church is raw honesty? What if the church is looking suffering in the eyes and giving it permission to grieve? What if the church is a good belly laugh? Or a chat with friends in a coffee shop? What if the church is having the honesty to say “I don’t know…” …and it’s ok.
What if, in reality, the Church is a movement? A culture? A lifestyle? And how do you gauge that kind of church attendance? Exactly!
Now, once again, I’m not saying don’t go to church. In all reality, churches need people who are living a radical lifestyle of love, justice, honesty, transparency and realness. However, many of these people who are in essence being the church, many times get kicked out of church because some churches care more about preservation than movement. Jesus got kicked out of His church. The man healed that had been born blind got kicked out of his church (John 9). Martin Luther got kicked out of his church. And the list could go on. The point is, just because someone does not go to church does not mean that they are not a part of the true church – the church, or culture of love, honesty, truth and justice. The followers of the Sacred. (Speaking of church attendance, these people just don’t go to church once a week, they LIVE church every moment of every day. Because they fight to see through eyes that discern the Sacred in every moment – even the seemingly mundane.)
In fact, what if this movement – this movement of love, justice, and honesty – this movement of following The Sacred – is happening both within the church and outside the church? What if this passion for love, justice, respect and truth is having a ripple effect beyond what we can see within the four walls of a religious institution? What if this movement is a choice we make everyday by how we live, how we love and who we are – especially around those we may disagree with?
Matt is a great example of this kind of movement. Matt loves to dance. You’ve probably seen the video of him dancing all over the world. He started out just doing his solo dance at random places in the world that were popular or well-known. Stride Gum heard about what he was doing and sponsored him to go all over the world and do his dance. But one day, as he tells it, he was in a village and children came out and danced with him. It changed everything. He realized that it’s not about the famous structures or places you visit and see, it’s about connecting with people – people who share this same earth, this same breath, that we do. And so he kept dancing – with people. And, as he puts it, “travel is important. It helps us learn what we’re capable of, that the path laid in front of us isn’t the only one we can choose, and that we don’t need to be so afraid of each other all the time.”
This is his latest video, made this year. He wanted to make it because he believed there was something still to say. As he says, “This video was made without a sponsor. You don’t have to buy anything. Just remember we need to take care of each other….” Notice the places he dances. Notice that he learns their dance, too. And together, the ripple effect of connection reaches out to you and me. Love, justice, truth, it’s all there. And it can’t be held within a box. It can’t be contained within four walls. In fact, when it is, it will die. The dance is happening all around us. Will you join this movement – this dance?
(To learn more about Matt’s story and see his first video, go to his website at wherethehellismatt.com)