The Church I long for

A reflection by Lindsey

It is now the Wednesday after the Gay Christian Network Conference. I love this weekend when I gather with people so obviously different from me and so eerily similar to me at exactly the same time. Call it what you will, but I can’t help experiencing it as a feast of humanity that warrants its own octave of reflection.

Mostly I reflect because I’m angry and frustrated almost immediately after I get home. It doesn’t take long before leaving the protective bubble of GCN Conference before I get that cold cup of water to my face that puts me back squarely in reality. It doesn’t take long to remember that GCN Conference is a special place, simply because the GCN community has learned to say, “I’m so glad you’re with us,” to every single person who decides to come join us. I get frustrated and angry that few local congregations know how to extend that welcome.

Leaving conference is always hard for me because I catch a vision for what local churches could be… and what I think local churches should be. Don’t hear me wrong: the GCN conference community could be a complete farce; people could be on their best behavior for a weekend before returning home to say the things they wish they really could have said. I’ve come to believe otherwise though since I attended my first conference in 2008. The connections I’ve made through GCN have been shockingly supportive, loving, and amazing during some of my most trying times. GCN has been there for me as God has guided me along arguably one of the most counterintuitive spiritual journeys known to humankind. I wish that more local congregations encouraged people to be children of the Church where people could ask really hard questions within a community of faith. I wish churches were the kind of places where people could wonder aloud, learn how their Christian tradition approaches theological inquiry, and grow in wisdom and in strength. I mostly wish that more churches embodied Jeff Chu’s hopes and dreams for Christian community:

The table I long for—the church I hope for—is a place where we let others see where the spirit meets the bone and help heal the wounds. The table I long for—the church I hope for—has the grace of the Gospel as its magnificent centerpiece. The table I long for—the church I hope for—is where we care more about our companions than about winning our arguments with them, where we set aside the condescension that accompanies our notion that we need to bring them our truth. The table I long for—the church I hope for—has each of you sitting around it, struggling to hold the knowledge that you, vulnerable you and courageous you, are beloved by God, not just welcome but desperately, fiercely wanted.

It’s a bit odd for me to be writing this post because I belong to a closed-communion Christian tradition that I love incredibly. I strive every day to live into the fullness of what my Christian tradition teaches, however short I fall. Within my Christian tradition, I was able to find the space necessary to discern my own vocation. It’s certainly never been easy, but I’m so appreciative of the ways this tradition helps me look at God, Christ, myself, other people, and the world at large. And it’s hard for me to know that many people in my own tradition wouldn’t touch a space like GCN Conference with a 10-foot pole. Sometimes, I think that if my fellow parishioners spoke about GCN, their words would be dripping with contempt. That makes me sad because I wonder if people unintentionally close doors to others genuinely seeking Christ because they’re just different enough where it’s impossible for them to blend in with the woodwork.

Chu’s vision of the conversation table is marvelous, compelling, and inspiring in so many ways. But this vision only partially captures Christ’s radical welcome to the table. Consider what we read in Luke’s gospel:

When one of those who reclined at table with him heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ And the servant said, ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’”

This is one of those parables where I catch a glimpse of the radical welcome of Christ. I see Christ going out to the ends of the earth to bring every type of person who will permit themselves to be invited. I’m struck that Christ’s welcome goes far beyond the sea of humanity I see on any given Sunday, including the Sunday I spend attending the GCN Conference. I know that this parable also appears in Matthew’s gospel specifically as a wedding banquet, and I’m grateful for the way my Christian tradition has called my attention to the importance of a wedding garment. Nonetheless, the table I long for and the church I hope for is filled to the brim with the poor, the crippled, the blind, the lame, the near, and the far off. The table I long for and the Church I hope for constantly bursts at the seams because of the people already inside while simultaneously expands itself to add more seats at the banquet. The table I long for and the Church I hope for is full of people who consider themselves the luckiest people alive to be present at such a feast and so refrain from judging anyone else present.

And I can name that vision and ache because I can’t think of a single venue where we’ve managed to be this kind of community. I wonder if this kind of community can only exist at the end of time when Christ has come to restore all things. So many communities seem preoccupied with what people are wearing. In Matthew’s record, the king realized a man wasn’t wearing a wedding garment. The king exercised the judgment. Making decisions in the here and now about who can participate fully in the sacramental life is a fearsome task, and I pray daily for all those entrusted with this power to use it for spiritual good. I don’t want that job for an instant.

I find myself wondering how to live into how Christ has extravagantly welcomed me. I wonder if it’s right to view myself as still walking towards the feast, coming into the door, or sitting at the table. Perhaps I’m doing multiple things at once. I can’t help but wonder if it’s gratitude that compels banquet guests to throw on their wedding garments with glee. I can’t help but wonder if it’s gratitude that compels guests to squeeze just that much tighter to create room for more people. I can’t help but wonder if it’s gratitude that brings out the very best of human behavior.

How can we be a grateful and welcoming community? What needs to happen such that no surface-level qualification keeps people out of our local churches? How can we put on Christ who is Light, Love, and Truth? What can we do so that the Holy Spirit has room to guide, comfort, encourage, and convict us all as necessary? How do we create that much more room for others to join in the feast?

And so I continue to wonder…

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4 thoughts on “The Church I long for

  1. i struggle a lot with the idea of welcome. it’s easy for me to initially respond to jeff chu’s words with validation, saying, “see? jesus has welcomed ME to the table! clear off a seat!”

    the parable that has most resonated with me is the parable of the prodigal son, one in which i think people very quickly cast themselves as the younger son. but i think we all, in our own ways, are the older son. whether christian or not, whether heteronorm or not, we really think we’re the older son. in my context, the challenge is to imagine a church community in which i reach out those who’ve been considered to be the righteous ones. i disagree very much with many ideas held by conservative people, but i still must welcome them and value their humanity and autonomy over their ideas. don’t i want the same thing from them? if the gospel and its ramifications are true, i need to be hospitable to people i disagree with.

    i’ve even had the idea of writing a version of the story of zacchaeus in which jesus and his disciples are a poor group of liberals, and jesus wants to go to the house of a televangelist. there’s a lot of room for people on my side, the “side A” side, to grow, i think. if jesus would welcome me, He would also welcome the people i think are my enemies, yeah?

    but there’s also the question of how to extend welcome if one finds oneself in the position that hasn’t had the social and political power…

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I agree that it’s hard to imagine inviting people if one does not have social and political power. However, I’ve tried inviting people anyway.

      I really have a hard time with the way Christ charges Christians to practice hospitality. I figure it’s much easier for me to look at how I’m extending hospitality than to yell and scream that others are not practicing hospitality. Maybe people in power need to see lived examples of being welcoming.

      Or at least, such are the lines I try telling myself when I’m discouraged by the lack of invitation, welcome, and, hospitality… I can make places just that much more hospitable if I choose to be hospitable. But man alive, it’s hard. -Lindsey

  2. yueltahani, in my words I heartily affirm what you said about the story of Zacchaeus. In my heart I winced at the thought of the televangelist. This tells me just how far I have yet to go….

    • I think we all have groups of people where our heart asks, “Really Jesus? Are you SURE you want THEM too?” We all have so far too go. Lord have mercy.

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