Hope Finds Feet in a Depressed Economy
We started the ritual of setting aside time together when we were in our first growing congregation. It did not take long to realize that we could minister to the community and end up completely missing each other in the process. So, Janice and I were on one of our early morning walks to Starbucks talking and praying about the day ahead when we walked past a lone figure sitting on a bench at the Metro link station.
“It is so cold out this morning,” Janice said as we walked up to the station.
“I can almost see my breath,” I replied.
As we drew closer to the pedestrian crossing leading to Starbucks Janice said, “We need to get coffee and oatmeal for the man on the bench, he must be freezing.” I looked over and saw the figure of a homeless man huddled beneath a blanket slumped on the bench.
“Ok,” I said.
So upon greeting the regulars who know us at Starbucks we ordered the needed coffee and oatmeal and walked back to the Metro link station.
The lone and shivering figure looked up as we approached and returned our smile. “Its cold out here we thought you could use something hot,” I said as we approached. He thanked us and we continued our journey into the day ahead of us.
I never noticed that figure in church on Sunday, he never enters the sanctuary, never sits on the church chairs that hold the saints who come to be refreshed and encouraged after their long and arduous weeks. But his absence in the church does not mean he, like so many others, don’t get to experience the church. We were the church for him that morning and it wasn’t even hard.
Faith as Activism Doesn’t Need a Program Just a Believing Response
Encounters like the one I described above are common among those who live faith…which makes it surprising when I run across those who do not “get it” – that are bored with religion. Chuck walked into my office one day and plopped down – without an appointment – on the side chair by my desk.
“I’m bored…this Christian thing is just not working for me. I just came by to say that I won’t be around any more,” he blurted this out in a way that told me he was nervous about making this pronouncement to his pastor.
“I get it Chuck, religion bores me to tears as well,” I responded. I continued, “I think you should scrap the entire idea of the Christian thing…but perhaps you should try something first.”
Chuck apparently had not anticipated my response. He looked like I had hit him. “What….?” His voice trailed off in a curious and apprehensive astonishment.
“Come on Chuck, let’s take a field trip,” I said as I motioned him to the office door. I alerted my secretary that I would be out for a while and to reshuffle my appointment calendar and headed to my car with Chuck behind walking like every step was becoming harder and harder.
“Where are we going?” Chuck’s voice was more than nervous.
“We are going down town, Chuck,” I replied.
“Because I want to see if you are bored or just uninitiated,” I replied.
“What does that mean?” Chuck’s voice struck me as funny. It was shrill which did not match the hulk he carried around. Chuck was a heavy equipment operator, a man’s man. To hear him nearly shriek in terror over what I had in mind was just a bit bemusing.
“It means, Chuck, that we are going down town and have fun meeting people, we may even engage someone in a conversation about our faith,” I replied. Chuck had stopped in his tracks and began to look at his watch and side to side in a clear non-verbal signal (that even I picked up) that he would find any other activity to fill his time than hanging out with me down town.
We never made it out of the church parking lot. We reentered the offices and turned into the sanctuary to sit on the church chairs and talk. “Chuck,” I said, “if the mere thought of putting faith to action makes your heart race like it obviously is now what would actually living faith do for you?” Chuck was taking deep breaths as though to keep from hyper ventilating.
Boredom was the symptom but the cause was a series of misconceptions about what faith and activism really looked like. Chuck thought he should jump up on a newspaper box and repeat sermons from some great preacher (I wasn’t on his list of great preachers). He had so buried himself in Christian masks that he wasn’t sure how to authentically love himself or others. As we talked Chuck experienced an epiphany – he only need be himself and have fun. He didn’t need to be a great evangelist or great example or great anything. He just needed to be himself, a big burly guy that understood that God loved him and that he hadn’t figured out all that meant yet.
Who Sits in Church Chairs Anyway?
Some times I think we need to ask, “Who sits in church chairs anyway?” We call them saints not because they have achieved a synthetic separation from all things petty or material. We call them saints because the word “saint” simply means the ones God has chosen or the ones to whom God has directed attention and who then respond to God’s attention. The saints in the chairs are people who experienced a change in their lives because of an encounter with God’s love. Literally people who sit in church chairs are just six degrees removed from the figure on the bench that morning or the figure on the bench is just six degrees removed from sitting in your church chairs.
Chuck figured out that he could be part of reducing those six degrees of separation for others. He quit being bored, in fact he became a different man to the point his wife asked what had happened to him. He became present at home, he became present to his children he became present to strangers. The fact is that people who sit on church chairs, like Chuck, are people who had a friend of a friend introduce them to the friendship of God.
Who is just six degrees away from sitting in the church chairs in your congregation?
Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.