Tuesday, December 17, 2013

museum, hospital, or ? [pt. 2]

The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.

In the first part, I expressed my dislike of both the museum of saints and the hospital for sinners analogies.

so what are some alternatives?

The other "place-oriented" alternatives that come to mind are personal ones. This means that they might work for me, but you may have a very different experience of the same kind of place and thus, it may mean nothing to you or in fact have negative connotations.

These often depend on a personal experience that might mean the world to the person who experienced it, and very little to others, as it is especially hard to capture and describe those magical things that make the experience what it is.

Consider a night with friends at the pub. Some only associate this with excessive drinking. Others think of hanging out with friends to watch the game. For me, it meant spending time with others in a context of acceptance, honesty and trust, regardless of what we talked about.

Many churches have small groups, and these can be amazing for some, boring for others, and downright toxic for a few. The same could be said for most other place-oriented analogies. So what else is there?

an order of embrace and indestructible love

Place-based analogies are great, if they work, because they can be crisp and concise, easy to grasp at least in the literal sense. Museum. Hospital. Pub. But perhaps what I want to capture needs more than a place. Perhaps it needs a relationship.

Miroslav Volf, in his phenomenal book Exclusion and Embrace, discusses the relationships between the father and his two sons in the story of the prodigal. The whole section is worth reading many times over, but here's his conclusion:
The father's most basic commitment is not to rules and given identities but to his sons whose lives are too complex to be regulated by fixed rules and whose identities are too dynamic to be defined once for all. Yet he does not give up the rules and order. Guided by the indestructible love which makes space in the self for others in their alterity, which invites the others who have transgressed to return, which creates hospitable conditions for their confession, and rejoices over their presence, the father keeps re-configuring the order without destroying it so as to maintain it as an order of embrace rather than exclusion.
(p. 156)
Isn't this what the father does for us all?

the four arms of the father, drawing by robg

What would I like the church to be like? A place that reflects the kind of father who is described in this quote - a community guided by indestructible love and doing whatever it takes to remain a place of embrace rather than exclusion.

View an online collection of art about the prodigal son.

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