I’ve been having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit this season and because of this, I find that I can relate to old Ebenezer Scrooge before his conversion in Charles Dickens’ story “A Christmas Carol.”
I read the other day that cynicism stems from being hurt. Old Ebenezer was hurt throughout his early life and it made him cynical. He found his solace in money and in business; unfortunately, he used both to hurt many people. However, Scrooge changed when he found out that his life mattered and that God wanted to use him to help others.
For a long time, I’ve struggled with the pain of the church not being a safe place. During my childhood, it was safe and I loved it, but during my adult years I have found that church was not what I thought it once was.
The safety I felt during childhood created a bond that will never break, I’m sure. I will always seek to serve Christ through the church because I believe in its mission. Unfortunately, however, I believe that mission is in jeopardy here in the United States.
At the beginning of my master’s degree program on spiritual formation, I asked the question, “How can we make the church a safe place?” After much debate, no one in my cohort, including me, could not, or perhaps, dared not, answer that question even after two years of study.
Why is the church not a safe place? I believe this is because the church has failed to love. We are so anxious to get the message out that we fail to allow God to create a depth of character within us. At the root of that depth is love. Why do I think this? Because Jesus said that people would know that we are disciples by our love. Because of this deep, unconditional love for God, each other and for the world, people would either be attracted to us or afraid and I believe neither one is happening.
Some would say that the negative remarks against the church are because of fear, but I don’t agree. A lot of the remarks I hear and read are not full of fear, they are full of anger. People are angry at a church that doesn’t love, that looks down on people who believe differently (both inside and outside the church), that fails to love its own. This element of the church is making it difficult for those who are trying to follow Christ in love and for those who may want to follow Christ. Therefore, the church is not a safe place.
This is not a very chipper Christmas message, but it is something that needs to be said. Perhaps it will become a New Year’s resolution on the part of the church, that we will love each other and the world first. Before the world will hear our message, however, they will have to know that we are making a serious effort and this might take a while. This will only happen when we truly believe, like Scrooge, that our lives matter and that God wants to use us to help others.
God bless us, everyone.