Wednesday, March 17, 2010

God, Life and Everything - Break In

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

This has been an interesting winter for the church. We had a break in last month. All the intruder got was some communion wine, but they broke an expensive window and damaged a wall in the process.

The worst part isn’t the physical damage; we have insurance to cover those sorts of things.

The worst part is the fear that such an attack instills, the feeling of violation. It’s hard not to fall prey to feelings of vulnerability and anger when someone damages you like that.

One of the immediate (and temporary, I hope) results is that we began locking the church all the time now. And the police patrol the area more often. And altar guild members are thinking twice about arriving early to set up the altar for worship. In other words, the damage is far greater than just a broken window and some missing wine.

But let us consider how else we might respond. As the church, we are intended to be an example of what it means to live in Christ. Living like Christ often doesn’t seem to make sense to the rest of the world. Jesus is the person, after all, who said love and pray for your enemies, turn the other cheek, give your shirt to the person who steals your coat. Not what your insurance company wants to hear.

What’s worse, one of Jesus’ favorite commands to us is, “Don’t be afraid.” For him, not being afraid doesn’t mean getting a bigger gun than your enemy, nor does it mean building an impenetrable fortress. Losing the fear means trusting that nothing that anyone does to us can ever separated from the Love of God.

It’s a crazy way to live, na├»ve in the eyes of many because it’s never based on getting even or even giving anyone what they deserve. It’s based on opening our hearts to God and each other – and not coincidentally, opening our arms to the same. This necessarily means sticking your neck out – but then, consider the turtle that never goes anywhere without sticking its neck out.

My point is, we are the church, commissioned to live fearlessly in a world where bad things happen. Churches have been targets of theft, vandalism and worse since the earliest days. The first church I served at in Peekskill recorded its first break-in before the American Revolution. To be the church means to make ourselves vulnerable if that serves the purposes of the Gospel.

So what do we do? Well, the first thing we did as a congregation (aside from calling the police) was to pray for the burglar. Our primary prayer was that he find a healthier way to get what he needs. Perhaps for a re-evaluation in his life of what he really needs, too.

Now we have to consider whether or not we will remain locked up all the time, or whether we will find a way to fulfill one part of our mission: to be a place of prayer and rest to those who come to us.

There are no easy answers and angles to consider. For everyone who experiences this sort of violation, they know it forces you to re-consider so many aspects of who you are. We will work on this for some time – and in the meantime, we will remember that nothing, not even a break-in, can separate us from the Love of God.