When I was in college there was this old cemetery in a neighboring community which was legendary as one of the scariest places to visit in all of that part of Oklahoma. So being as I am, I ventured forth one evening with some friends to check out this place. I was convinced that a cemetery really could not be that scary. My personal history, theology, everything told me there was nothing to fear in a cemetery. By the end of the night I was proven very wrong.
You see what was so unique and frightening about this place were all the religious images throughout the location. In fact, there was an old gothic church which stood guard at the entrance of the place. The cemetery itself had many old broken down buildings, one of which was an old crematorium. I have to tell you there is something really unnerving about a building where bodies were burned to ash, particularly after dark!
My resolve and rational mind were overwhelmed that night. It seemed at every turn there was something else that was terrifying, largely because I didn't understand why such icons and statuary could provide comfort and peace in such a place - I was certainly not at peace in the presence of a life size crucifix holding sway at the entrance of the infant plot in the cemetery.
For the last several years I have been trying to get in touch with the huge cultural shift taking place all around me. In some ways I feel like I went to sleep in one world - a world familiar and known, only to awake to a foreign world. A world where not only did I not understand the language I didn't understand anything about what I was seeing. And I am supposed to lead fellow believers to engage, speak to and win this culture - a culture to which I was and still am blind.
I had a conversation with a friend who was encouraging me about our work at The Harbor Community Church. He told me it was great to see a particular individual worshipping with us. My response was more telling than I realized at the time. I said, "I thought I understand why some people didn't like CHURCH, but now I am learning that it is not dislike as much as it is fear."
FEAR of church? Yes! Not just fear of the unknown traditions and habits: when to stand, sit, sing 400 year old songs with rhythmns that are completely unfamiliar, give money, etc., etc. A deeper fear, a nightmarish fear. The fear of rejection.
- Rejection from 'good people'. To those of us on the inside of CHURCH we are ignorant of how intimidating we are. We look good, we act good, we dress good, we seem to have everything together. To those on the outside looking in we are intimidating, foreign, and unapproachable.
- Rejection from a 'holy God'. The darkest fear however is of God himself. You see we are all created in his image. There is something within all of us that tells us he is real and sometimes our brokenness creates the nightmare that he is to be avoided at all costs.
As a spiritual leader and fellow pilgrim it is time that I find a way to communicate, serve, and love to alleviate peoples fears. Thus, we need to step outside of our traditions, ego, architecture and return to our neighborhoods, our schools, places of business and learn how to proclaim the Gospel in this foreign land - the land in which we live!
It won't be easy, but assuming they must learn our ways, our customs, our secret handshakes is the epitome of spiritual pride and arrogance. Jesus has called us to be servants to the least of these not religious gatekeepers who dole out acceptance by the dropper full.
Maybe if we learned to relate and care - to invest and immerse ourselves in their world, maybe the world of Jesus will not be as scary as the world of CHURCH has become!