Inviting doesn’t mean you have to like it

I don’t understand it when perfectly good-hearted people say things like “Well we couldn’t invite this drunk homeless man in to our church on Sunday because we don’t know what he’s capable of.”  Really?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are valid safety concerns and it certainly wouldn’t be one of those things where you let the person wander around un-escorted.  But why wouldn’t you invite the person in, let them get warm, offer them coffee or something warm to drink?

I guess for me it comes from having spent the last decade or so working in (and for some years, pastoring) a congregation that welcomed in people exactly like that to our Sunday morning services…still do.  It’s disruptive, it wasn’t what we planned on doing.  It hasn’t always been easy or comfortable.  We’ve had to call the police sometimes, but we keep doing it.  Because it’s Christ’s mission, it’s our mission.  To reach out to those most desperately in need of hope and reconciliation to the community.

When our congregation started, we spent time in groups determining what our mission, focus and name would be.  We thought we knew what we were doing and our name came from the neighborhood we lived in – Open Arms.  But living out the mission contained within that name has proven to be anything but comfortable or easy.

Living Open Arms, being a representative of the body of Christ means welcoming in those you would just as soon leave outside your doors.  It means welcoming the felon, the drunk, the homeless and more.  It means welcoming those who have never been to church before, who disrupt the service (either knowingly or unknowingly).  It means dealing with crisis, with people who have mental illness challenges.  It means not getting to sit in a pew, listening to the service for sometimes months on end as you visit and mentor and just sit with people for whom Christ is known more as a curse-word than a friend.   It means being around people who smell, who make you uncomfortable, that drive you nuts.  It’s draining and it hurts…and it asks a lot of you.

But if we are true to our calling, Christ didn’t call us to follow him to make it easy.  He didn’t say that come to church on Sunday, accept me and then you’re off the hook for doing anything else.  He lived an example that says we HAVE to do more than this.  We MUST do more than this.

Christ’s mission was to a world in need.  A world hungering for positive news of hope, renewal, a re-connecting.  That hasn’t changed.  We are still called to reach out, with Open Arms, to those who most need our love and support.  LGBT, bikers, homeless, addicts, abusers and abused, people in poverty, felons… people for whom whatever reason, society says are “less than,” these are our brothers and sisters.  These too are God’s sheep.

Dare to reach out.  Dare to invite in.  Dare to be vulnerable to Divine Grace and then let the Spirit breathe.

My Sacred Space

sacred space,

n space—tangible or otherwise—that enables those who acknowledge and accept it to feelreverence and connection with the spiritual.

I had to wonder about this concept earlier this week.  A friend and co-worker of mine had sent several of us a picture of a fantastic house for sale in our city.  It was a 17 bedroom, 17 bathroom castle going at a bargain price of only $2 million.  Unfortunately we would need something like  51 people paying on the mortgage or so in order to even consider covering that sort of money.  But the address for this place was on a similarly named road to another house that actually is and was special to me.  First, a little backstory.

My father’s parents came from hard beginnings.  Grandma was abandoned by her parents and left with her grandparents when she was young.  Grandpa came from a homesteader family out west when his mother and the kids had to move back here when his father died of TB at a very early age.  Both suffered loss of parents and family and as a consequence family was always very important to them both.

They married and had three boys, the youngest of whom was my father.  When my dad was young they bought this house and my grandfather started work on it.  They bought it from the son of the original owner, who had been a doctor.  The house had a back party house, three garage/outbuildings plus the main house on about 6 acres of land most of which was forest.  The tennis court in the back eventually was taken over by the woods but the peacock pens provided feathers that I still have in my house to this day.

My grandfather worked, along with help from my uncles, father and cousins, over 50+ years on building, improving and adding onto the property.  And every year for as long as they were alive, at Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays and birthdays, our families would gather together at that house.  It passed from my grandparents to one of my uncles to one of his children, staying in the family for almost 70 years.  Memories of four generations of our family center on that house and that property.  Prayer meetings, fireworks, picnics, swim parties (after the pool was added), and more color the images of my childhood.  As a child who moved a lot growing up, it was one of a very very few places that I felt like was home, a place to connect with the land of my family in a way only farmers of old understand.

My cousin eventually got divorced and they lost the house to foreclosure.  It’s up for sale again and while I thought I had resolved myself of the idea that I would never own the place, the thought of it going up for sale to someone outside my kin brought a surprisingly strong sense of loss to me and has in general hung over me the last day or so.

It’s not that I want the place, I know it’s a bit of a financial deathtrap for anybody who’s not really well off, which is certainly not this lower-middle class family.  But the assurance that if I wanted, I could go over to visit, to walk the paths of my childhood and share the memories of climbing through the woods, the secret places in the garage attics, my first apartment…all of that is going away and it surprises me how much that still hurts.  But maybe it shouldn’t surprise me.  For me, family is spiritual, family is sacred.

Family is the filter through which I have always looked at life.  It is the foundation to my understanding of God, creation and my place in it.  It is how I describe my best friends, my church companions, they are also a part of my family.  And for me, at least on my father’s side, my best memories of family are from that house, that property and with my grandparents now long gone it is like losing that last touchstone with them even if the more grown-up part of me realizes that’s not the case.  But it was home for a time… in a very special and spiritual way, it WAS sacred space to me.  A place where I stayed while doing church mission work, a place where I would share in morning devotionals with my grandparents, where I really felt close to God looking out and walking through the woods.

My understanding and sense of the divine has grown since those days, but this was a special place to me, kept in the deep recesses of my soul.  It is time to say good-bye to the place and perhaps, write down the stories from our time there as family.  After all, my children are growing and they do not have the connection to the place that I do.  They are developing their own sense of sacred spaces.  For D it will be radically different than Boo given the 15 year difference in their ages.  But I want to help nurture and create that same sense of affection and importance for them as they look to ground their journey with the Divine (in whatever form it takes) as they grow older.  And to help them learn, through my modeling, what it means to truly let something go if you love it.

So good-bye and God-speed to whomever becomes the new owner.  Know that you have big shoes to fill, and numerous opportunities to be blessed.