Sunday, August 06, 2006

Whitewashed Churches

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” – Matthew 23: 27

I visited a local UMC church this morning for worship. Because my dress clothes are in the laundry, I went in a clean pair of jeans and a black polo.

When I entered the church, I looked around the congregation, and immediately felt out of place. I nearly turned around and left, even as the committed churchgoer and theologian-in-formation drove me forward, reminding me that even if they cared how I was dressed, God didn’t. My eyes found their way to the back of the sanctuary, to the one lone aberration in the scene: a teenager, with long hair that drooped over his face, a black t-shirt, a sweatshirt, and black jeans, sitting alone, in the very back corner.

If I, the lifelong United Methodist, felt out of place, then what did this scene say to him?  Would he know that God loved him even though he was dressed differently? Would he realize that Christians weren’t simply a group of whitewashed, polished people, that sat neatly in rows on a Sunday morning?

As the service progressed, I began thinking about all the little ways this church (and indeed, most UMC churches) put up walls. There were no signs to show people where to park, only a brief welcome, no explanation of what happened and why, and no invitation to partake after the Communion liturgy.

I began to wonder, if this is what the church is like, all across America, then who are we truly serving? If we all feel the need to get dressed up to the nines on Sunday morning, even at the cost of excluding those who don’t have it all together or perhaps simply can’t buy the dress clothes, what are we saying about who Christ came to save?

If we simply sit in rows, listen politely, and contentedly participate in the unexplained secret codes of the church (Communion, theological terms, navigating the hymnal and Bible, the Order of worship, even where to park), then are we truly church, or are we simply whitewashed tombs, giving the outward appearance of order and beauty, while all lies dead within?

If we, the insiders, cannot come to our churches, and be real, be brutally honest, be incurably broken, be slovenly, be not-put-together, be true servants, then where can we? If the church no longer serves Christ, then where will Christ go to find true disciples?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Engagement

     Well, I suppose this is the best way to commence a “Yes, I’m finally back after a four month absence” post.  Since Melissa did such a wonderful job telling you the general outline of the story in her blog (, I’ll fill you in on some of the behind the scenes details.

1) In many ways, I could not have picked a worse weekend to  propose- I was coming off an exhausting week volunteering at a music theater camp at Camp Mechuwana, had to work my regular job as Orientation Coordinator, and then, to make matters busier, play gopher-assistant for a worship conference at Drew at the end of the week. However, since this was the only weekend for the next month where someone important (e.g. family) was not gone, I decided to go for it.

     2) When Saturday morning came, I found out, to my dismay, that the Conference schedule had changed, that the lecturer was doing an question and answer session instead of  a talk, and therefore I had absolutely no clue when the conference was going to end (rather than a reasonable assurance that it would end around noon). Frantic, I dashed out of the conference as soon as I could, ran to my car, parked it next to Melissa’s apartment building, and hurried everything into the apartment.  
     I put everything up as quickly as I could, sweat pouring down my face (because, naturally, it was about 90 outside), finally finishing around 11:25. I ran to the bathroom, changed into some nicer clothes, turned on Norah Jones, and settled down to wait. It was only then I realized that I had locked Melissa out and that in order to return her keys, she’d see me dressed up, hence the unsuccessful ploy to prop the door with Melissa’s recycling, which, as you know, worked oh so well

     3) My parents were absolutely shocked to see us when we drove up to Amesbury on Saturday, since we didn’t tell them that we were coming. We walked straight in, garnered some surprised looks, gathered them into the kitchen, and told them the news. They were thrilled, to say the least. Dad got a big smile, Matt was grinning like a Chesire Cat (he knew beforehand), and Mom started crying, jumping up and down, and hugging Melissa and I all at the same time. I don’t expect I’ll see such a sight again (that is, until Matt gets engaged someday).