Notes from Jan

THIS is the Church

June 16, 2023

One look at my crooked fingers left me wondering if I could still do it. Do what? Make a church with my hands. So I contorted my hands and fingers, then recited words from my childhood. “THIS is the church. THIS is the steeple. OPEN the door. SEE all the people.”

See all the people? I do. But not in church. Why? Like relationships, it’s complicated. But, simply put, in our current culture the church is neither good nor bad to most. It’s irrelevant, especially to the young. But for me, it’s not. Why? Because I believe it matters. Faith is not an individual matter. It’s not a secret between you and God. We need each other. So this morning, after reading the devotional booklet, FORWARD DAY by DAY, I kept thinking about the author’s question. “What parts of your church building remind you of the glory of God?”

His question grew from a visit to a Coptic Orthodox church. “The room was dome-shaped, with art covering every inch of the walls, depicting various symbols in Revelation.” Sounds awe-inspiring. And a far cry from the charts and diagrams on oilcloth that outlined Scofield’s dispensational views on Revelation that I heard as a child. Since then, I’ve learned not all questions are answerable and mystery matters.

But back to the question. When I look around my church, what reminds me of the glory of God? The people! What tempts me to leave the church? The people. But WHAT IS THE CHURCH? The people.

G.K Chesterton wrote: “The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world…The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.”

And as Philip Yancey wrote in Grace Notes, “The Christian church was the first institution in history to bring together on equal footing Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free. Then Yancey adds, “Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community.” And as Henri Nouwen reminds, perhaps with a twinkle in his eye, ““Community is the place where the person you least want to live with always lives.

So when I look at the state of The Church in the USA today, I weep, pray and hope. Not for buildings but for the people. For us and them. Sometimes we’ve followed the wrong leaders, championed lesser causes, manipulated the Bible to do our will not God’s. And sadly to our shame, we’ve turned the most inclusive model of grace into hideouts for the like-minded. Such a clubby- kinda-church may be safe for its members but it won’t change what’s wrong with this world or us.

And finally, thoughts from Buechner’s The Book of Bebb. Preacher Bebb with a shady past says, “We all got secrets. I got them same as everybody else–things we feel bad about and wish hadn’t ever happened. Hurtful things. Long ago things. We’re all scared and lonesome but most of the time we keep it hid. It’s like every one of us has lost his way so bad we don’t even know which way is home any more only we’re ashamed to ask. You know what would happen if we would own up we’re lost and ask? Why, what would happen is we’d find out home is each other. We’d find out home is Jesus that loves us lost or found or any whichway.”

So, come Sunday, I plan to get up and head to church. Not because it’s perfect but because it’s not. It’s a place built with living stones. Life’s chiseled us all. Some more rough cut than others. We’re an odd mix and we have disagreements, like any family. But come Sunday, I’ll pass the peace of Christ and mean it to whoever shows up. And, take a long and grateful look around at this hodgepodge of holy humans who, whether they know it or not, represent the glory and grace of God to me, each other and beyond, hopefully.

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  • Reply Ann Menzir June 16, 2023 at 11:54 am

    Jan This was such a relevant post to me. Last mont Highrock Lexington formerly Trinity Covenant closed its doors and those who choose to starting going to Highrock Arlington. The Church is modern not the typical New an england church that we have worshipped at the last 23 years But the Chuch seats 500 and there is easily 300 to 400 each Sunday. People are friendly and there are children running around. What a joy! Teenagers and 20 and 30 year olds abound as do family. Lexington and gone down to28 with the youngest being 60. Church is different but it brings joy to my heart that it thrives even in a new form. Thank you God.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg June 16, 2023 at 2:26 pm

      I’m grateful dear Ann, you found a place to belong. Some churches are growing.Many are not. Numbers tell a story, but not the whole story. The challenge remains, who and why we worship, not how or where. May God be pleased with the comings and goings of Highrock Arlington. And may a watching and skeptical world marvel at how you love each other and those outside the church doors.

  • Reply Jane Williamson June 16, 2023 at 1:10 pm


    • Reply Jan Carlberg June 16, 2023 at 2:29 pm

      What a fun surprise to see your name show up, dear Jane. I hear from Niffy now and then, which is always a treat. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. Your “amen” did my heart good, as did our time together as neighbors.

  • Reply Jane Williamson June 16, 2023 at 2:35 pm

    Hello Jan. Do enjoy your blog and can relate to much of what you say.
    I have great memories of when our girls were growing up together.
    I relocated to NC last year and soon will be moving to New Bern. If you are coming to NC this summer, I would love to get together for lunch.

  • Reply Jan Carlberg June 16, 2023 at 8:32 pm

    I’m coming and I’ll let you know details in case we can connect. I’m sure Niffy’s happy to have you closer.

  • Reply Alyssa Arnold June 18, 2023 at 4:57 pm

    “When I look around my church, what reminds me of the glory of God? The people! What tempts me to leave the church? The people. But WHAT IS THE CHURCH? The people.” & “It’s like every one of us has lost his way so bad we don’t even know which way is home any more only we’re ashamed to ask.” These lines resonates with me. Thank you for putting them into words.

  • Reply Jan Carlberg June 19, 2023 at 9:20 pm

    Me, too, dear Alyssa. It hurt to write them and yet, there’s hope embedded in the all us folks, so dearly loved by God. Jesus is still the GOOD Shepherd and loves his sheep. He keeps calling us to come home.

  • Reply Jo June 19, 2023 at 9:28 pm

    Timely truth with such a simple visual illustration…remembering too that the church is the bride of Jesus. How He loves us with bumps and warts and hunched backs and crooked fingers! How He loves us… so to church I go❤️

    • Reply Jan Carlberg June 19, 2023 at 9:40 pm

      For sure, dear Jo. We are dearly loved and whether we feel like it or not, we’re better off if “off to church we go.” God’s full of surprises and sometimes God shows up while we’re sitting in a pew, and a little kid giggles, and JOY starts spreading like a holy virus. Followed by a sense of peace that “all will be well.”

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