So I'm here on a remote island outside of Seattle, in the US of A, about to spend seven days with 14 people I just met. We have plenty in common - all of us are passionate about advocating for those whom the world tends to push aside and discriminate against, and we all come to the table with stories and hopes of changing our cities and the cultures within them.
But I have to confess, I walked into the room tonight for our first meeting, and unconsciously gravitated towards people I judged were the most similiar to me in ideology and background, and away from people I felt might not understand me.
We do this every day - look for our "tribe", find ourselves most frequenting the places where we feel comfortable, like we belong. And really, this is natural - we long for home and place where we fit. Nobody likes being the outsider - our speech, our dress, our mannerisms, our purchases, our patterns of behaviour, our worship, can all flow out of a need to identify ourselves: we like to be among those we get along with, and see the world in a similiar fashion.
And then there's church. The place where we are forced to get along not because we have anything in common except Christ. This is reason enough for some people to quit church altogether - they feel like outsiders in a particular community, or more basic, they just don't like the people sitting next to them.
Others don't quit - but instead spend their time investing in a church's culture rather than its parishoners - if you can't quit church, the theory goes, you can at least surround yourself with people you like, people like you. You can make church what you want it to be. And we are guilty of doing this in a thousand tiny ways - from the finer points of debate about how we pray, what bible version we read, what songs we sing, what lingo we use, and how we serve communion, to the administrative practices, communication strategies, vision models, technology and doctrines that quietly alienate some groups and encourage others.
"He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance..." (Ephesians 2: 14)
It's good to be friends with people who are different than you. Not just tolerate them or do the Canadian thing where you nod and smile and let them have their opinion, but make sure you don't ever have a serious or personal conversation again.
To actually connect, converse, discuss, break bread, and really be friends requires some self-denial, and a willingness to change your mind and your dearly held opinions.
I'll say it another way: the more you relate to people who see things through a different lens, the more you see. Most powerfully, the more you see of God, and the infinite ways He works in the world through all of His people.
"The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." (Ephesians 1:23)
Let's be that church. The place where people belong, because of what Christ has done in their lives, and what he is and will do through them in the lives of others. He can fill everything with his presence through us. And yet, if we're honest, we are still scuttling around putting up plywood walls and making little rooms where some of us can come in and some can't, decorating them in our favorite colours and textures, and calling it church.
Take some time today to think about the people you call friends in our church body, and the people you avoid, and repent. This is no time to be putting up walls that Christ came to tear down.
And then ask the Lord to show you what kind of church He is buliding, and find your place in that pile of willing bricks:
"This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You're no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here...God is building a home. He's using us all - irrespective of how we got here - in what he is building....he's using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together."