Theatres and Hospitals: What is Church?

22 11 2015

What is church?  Is it a building?  Is it God?  Is it the people?  Is it a theatre?  Is it a hospital?

Is it a place where we play our perfect parts?  Where we paint on the make-up of righteousness?  Is it a place where we always say that everything is fine?  Is it a place where we fit in?  The place where we recite the lines and liturgy, like familiar scripts?  Where we’ve memorized by heart the prayers and the songs?  The catchphrases?  Talk to an actor, and they will remind you that once you know the lines by heart and repeat them often enough, they can utter the words with fake emotion and conditioned responses.  At first, the words meant something, but meaning has faded with time.  When they leave the theatre, the life-changing event that the audience has just witnessed, the spectacle doesn’t change them.  It doesn’t affect them.  If it’s not special,it’s just another performances, that was just another audience, and this is just another regular moment.  The performance winds down, and the audience leaves.  The actors put away their costumes and props.  The janitor begins pushing a broom around for the next time.  The lights are turned off and the doors are locked.  And without the context, it’s simply another building that is left alone.

Is the church a hospital?  Hospitals hold sick people.  Hospitals hold the sick and the wounded.  The hurting and the rejected.  They hold people on their deathbead and people just coming out into the world.  They hold accidents and attempts of suicide.  They hold lovers and they hold drug users.  They are both a safe haven and a place where people despise to be.  People don’t go to a hospital for companionship or community.  People go to a hospital out of necessity, out of need.  They don’t go there because they want to, but they go because they have a need.    People go because they need a doctor, and there’s where the doctor is.  Hospitals are also sterile, impersonal spaces for people to worry and wonder.  Once that healing is a reality, we tend to try to stay as far away from hospitals as we can.  We don’t darken the doorway until we are in need again.  In this incredibly consumer-driven world, we’ve driven our churches into impersonal spaces.  We have places where we’re so scheduled and performancy, that God couldn’t speak up if he wanted to.  Our churches tend to be a sterile, impersonal space where we raise our hands, paint smiles on our faces, and then leave the building.  We don’t realize that we are all so very sick.  We don’t need the hospital, we need a doctor, one who doesn’t care for those who are well, but those who are sick and in need.  Unfortunately, the doctor hangs in the front of the building, naked and mutilated, and we don’t recognize the suffering, we don’t consider the suffering that had to take place so that we could eat our communion wafers and pass the peace.  Instead of attending the doctor, we attend the hospital.  What good is an image of the doctor to the sick?  An image doesn’t have healing powers or properties.  THe worst of it all is not thate have the image of the doctor there, but htat we attend the hospitals, pretending to be well.  We attend the congregation, pretending to have no ills, pretending that we are not wrestling with our doubts and insecurities.  We take the pills of doctrine without questions or wrestling.  We don’t even know the difference between medicine or poison.  Churches are not a hospital, because we don’t use it so.

The reality is that our lives suck, a lot of the times.  If we are truly honest with each other, passing the peace is more like a chance for us to bear our hearts, our pains and our victories.  Instead of “just fine” when asked if our week went well, we have the opportunity to say “well, this week was really frustrating.”  There are times where we are hurting and almost clinging to a lifejacket in a hurricane.  And there are times that we are pretty happy and content.  More often than not, we’re just in the middle, floating along.  Meandering between the mountaintops and the valleys.  Most of our days are ordinary lives, and for some reason, the idea that we live ordinary life is too boring or common to think about and less important for us to talk about.

The people that hung out with Jesus, they lived ordinary lives.  Sometimes I just forget to remember that they were people, that the words on the pages and the names in the book are real people.  I like to imagine that these people were super special and super-spiritual.  But in reality, they were just like me.  They hungered, they had to take a poop.  Jesus had a headache at some point I’m sure.  I’m definitely sure someone had diarrhea.  And Jesus knew it all.  That’s the cool fact, he already knew it all, and he just chose them anyways.  He chose to walk around with these imperfect people, with these imperfections.

Yet, I attend a place where I don’t feel like I can be that imperfect person.  Because we’ve made our churches into theatres and hospitals without a doctor.  We’ve painted the happy, perfect blessed faces upon us, and an image of the doctor satistfies us.  And we leave the hospital unhealed, exhausted by the performance and unchanged by the spectacle.  If we want to be changed, and if we want our performances to be something real, then we’ve got to let the doctor appear.  How do we do that?  How do we stop acting and start being?  It’s actually quite simple.

I’m honestly not sure.  I think the answer lies somewhere in between taking off our masks and being openly honest with each other, and encountering the person of God in an intimate way.  I think the answer lies in stopping attending church, and starting to be church.  Church shows up when a friend is hurting, it’s present when you’re watching TV with a group of people.  Church is when you’re breaking bread together.  Church is space to be mad at each other, or at your beliefs.  Church is a place to question it’s a place to wonder.  It’s not a place that we feel guilty, but a place where we feel loved.  But it’s also a place we give.  We give of our time, of our love and our wisdom.  Church shows up in AA meetings, at gay pride parades, in soup kitchens.  Church shows up in game nights and movie theatres.  Church shows up in coffee places, where friends are neighbors and neighbors share a common interest in coffee.  Church is when we share our lives, our frustrations.  Church is when we bring a casserole to the hope of a dearly departed.

When we start to share our ordinary lives, and we wipe off the make up, we realize that we start to have church in us.  Then, we start to radically meet the doctor in the most normal way possible.  We read the scriptures and they provoke us, they love us and they grow us.  We read the words of the beloved one and they inspire us.  We hunger and crave moments of intimacy with the one who created us.  And the more and more we experience the intense connection with our creator, the more and more are we able to love people through the mundane and the horrible, the good and the valley.  The more we are able to handle honesty.  The more we are able to be nurses to assist the doctor.  The more we are ale to love people, and praise people on, encourage them.  The more we are open and honest, maybe we find the more people feel comfortable to be so open and honest with  us too.  I think this is church.