Such a loaded word.
What do you think of when you hear it?
Happy people...or Hateful people. Hymnals...or hand-clapping. Silence. Sermons. Songs. Steeples. Prayers. Penance. Passion. A place to find peace...or a place to be proper. A place of hope...or a place of hurt.
It's easy to get disenchanted by the "church," by organized religion. The easy thing to do if you get hurt or become disillusioned is to call it all a farce and walk away. After all, people are sometimes harsh and unwelcoming. The sermons are sometimes - perhaps, often - boring and uninspired. Truth be told, the whole process of dressing up and sitting stiffly and shaking hands and shushing our kids seems exhausting.
I know. I really know.
Maybe the church isn't doing things right, by and large, across America.
After all, helping people - loving others - changing the world...those things should be anything but boring or ritualistic...or cold. It should all be a great adventure of growth and discovery. It should be fun and full.
My husband and I have thought long and hard about what we would want "church" to look like (side note: we are already a part of a church that we appreciate, but it's always good to dream about how to make things better, don't you think?). We've discussed it and debated it and written out ideas, over breakfast Cheerios and on long drives.
We would like it if we went to a place - met with a group of people - that was cheerful and compassionate, serious and reflective, intellectual and humble, light-hearted and socially active. It would be a multi-generational group.
And there wouldn't always be "sermons."
There would be discussions and deliberations - about how to make an impact, how to re-energize our families, how to change the world. But we wouldn't just talk. We would do. On some Sundays, we wouldn't have a "service." We would just go out into the community - to the soup kitchens, the food banks, the nursing homes, the schools, maybe even other churches - and we would serve. Everyone would have a part in it - from the tiniest baby to the oldest grandma. Perhaps we would do that twice a month. The other two weeks, we would meet for a meal and a short message from the Bible - short because the kids would all be there too. Babies would cry, toddlers would play, kids would listen, families would be there together. There would be no kids' classes - nursery here, 2-year-olds there, middle school here, etc. Every once in awhile (perhaps once a month...or less), the kids would have their own space to run and play games and listen to stories tailored specifically to them while the adults listened to a lengthier message or strategized ways to help the community. But it would be the exception, not the norm. The norm would be for everyone to be in one place. Crazy? Yes. Wonderful? Yes. Powerful? Yes.
Oh, and some weeks, everyone would just be encouraged to stay home with their families or to hang out with their neighbors or to visit their elderly relatives. Because, after all, we are the church and sometimes taking care of our own should trump attending services.
Would this format "work"? I don't know. But it would be fun to try.
Vincent Van Gogh once said that, "the best way to love God is to love many things." I agree. But I would change the phrase slightly: "The best way to love God is to love many people."
That's what my faith is about. My religion is love, remember? I want to live that out. I want to be love. I want the church to be that too.
AND I want my girls to be surrounded by people who want to impact the world for good. I want them to see love in action. The church - even in its imperfect state - provides that.
P.S. It is really hard to write about "church" because that word means so many things to so many different people. I wish we were having this conversation over milkshakes and pizza, with our kids running about.
P.P.S. Don't you just want to drive to that church in the picture right now and take pictures there? The architecture is spectacular.
P.P.P.S. Did I mention it's hard to talk about religion without clauses, explanations, and post scripts? It really, really is.
YOUR TURN: Do you go to church? Why or why not? What do YOU wish church was like?
*Image credit: Flickr, etrusia_uk's photostream