Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Big Mall

The world of churches used to be like a big mall, where there are many different kinds of stores. You choose one store–ONE–and you go there for everything you need. You are LOYAL to that store. You BELIEVE in that store and what it’s all about; in the way it does things. You persuade others that your store is the one and only store real shoppers patronize. You buy name brand merchandise at every opportunity. It’s your store. Yes, there is a mall, but you only need one store.
Remember when your dad said he was a “Chevy” man? And you mom said we buy all our groceries at the Blue Bell market? Remember when you decided your school, this college, that team were all “yours?” And you were ready to argue the point of your loyalty? Churches are like that. You choose, and you stay with your choice.
Here’s something I’ve noticed: It felt good to know what you were. It felt good to have a team, a brand, a store, a school and a church. You knew who you were and what you were all about. Things were simpler. Lots of decisions already made; lots of questions already answered.
I know many people who still live in this world. They are shopkeepers in the mall. They are employees and customers of their chosen store. Presbyterianism. Roman Catholicism. Southern Baptist fundamentalism. TBN Pentecostalism.
When you come in to shop, they are very happy. But when you say you are leaving and going to another store, or several other stores, they are unhappy. They want to persuade, convince and bribe. They may be nice or angry. They may insist that it’s wrong to go to another store, that you’re making a terrible mistake and wasting your money and time. They can make you feel very guilty and uncomfortable, like you are doing something wrong.
They believe, you see, that Jesus came to found their particular chain of stores. Jesus was the founder of their store. It’s right there in the Bible as they read it, and they can prove it to you if you’ll just stop and listen to their favorite teacher. There are people I know who have bought into this in one store, and another and then another. They are on their third or fourth final choice of a store to patronize. Why shouldn’t you do the same? Don’t you want to be right?And then there are those of us who, because God has ruined our shopping trip by showing us the good and the not so good in all these stores, are trying to shop in the whole mall and get back home. When God ruined everything for us by showing us the value and the limitations of all the stores, he didn’t give us the gift of feeling great about never really having a “home” of our own.
Do you know that feeling? It’s grown and grown over our lives. We’ve been Baptist and we are Baptist, but we can’t go all the way with Baptists. We’ve been Calvinists and Presbyterian, but we can’t go all the way. We love the Anglican and Episcopal churches, with their wonderful worship and liturgy. We find ourselves in Catholic churches a couple of times a year, and we’re deeply drawn by what we see, hear and experience, but we can’t go all the way and buy into it. Not with any of them.The more these various groups contend that Jesus is the exclusive sponsor of their stores, the less I want to do more than visit them. I love the whole mall. I feel I belong, in some way, to all of these traditions, but not wholly to any one of them. Michael Spencer


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