Room at the table.

I was in a pastoral care class last year. A guy from another church started talking about the Christian church today. He was really afraid for how far out the church had gone, trying to make it open to everybody. He was afraid that we “had pushed the boat out so far from the shore” that we couldn’t even call ourselves Christian anymore.

He was afraid that making the church “all things to all people” watered it down so much that the message was lost.

Deep down, he was afraid that anybody could do anything and still say they were Christian.

They could be women and want to be ministers. Not deaconess, not pastor’s wife, but honest-to-God minister. Women are supposed to support men in their ministry, not be ministers Women are supposed to be like children – sit down and shut up. They are supposed to cover their heads and be silent in church and be submissive to their husbands.

Or they could be gay, and not only gay but openly gay, holding hands with their partner in public. There is a bit of “don’t ask don’t tell” going on with homosexuality in the church. Some people are ok if you are gay, as long as you aren’t open about it. They may understand that homosexuality isn’t a “lifestyle choice” in the same way getting a tattoo is, but they still don’t want to see it. They want to at least pretend that you are gay, but celibate. They want to think that you have at least stopped acting gay.

While we are on the subject of tattoos, there is that too. For some people who go to church, they are uncomfortable with you saying you are Christian if you have tattoos. They know in the back of their heads somewhere that it is wrong. They can’t tell you the verse that mentions it, or explain it even if they knew it, but they know it is wrong, because they were told it was. So they want to close the doors to you.

I wonder how they would handle a gay woman with tattoos in the ministry.

The trouble is that Jesus didn’t give us any of those rules as to who was in and who was out. Those rules came from the Old Testament and from Paul. Not Jesus. Jesus leveled the playing field.

I wonder what their fear is? What are they afraid of if we open church up to everybody? If we are to find the lost sheep, who are we to tell this one that he isn’t good enough? This sheep is black, this one has a limp, this one is blind in one eye, this one has a strange smell, this one sounds different when he bleats. Sorry – you aren’t like the rest of the sheep that are here. You are out.

If Jesus calls them to him, who are we to stand in the way?

When Jesus multiplied the loaves and the fishes, he made enough for everybody there and lots left over. He didn’t feed just his disciples. He provided for everybody, no exceptions. Nobody was asked if they were worthy, if they were contrite, if they were holy enough.

Nobody was asked anything about their sins and what they planned on doing about them.

They were there for Jesus. They were there to hear his message. Jesus spoke to them all, and fed them all.

We are to do the same.

Instead of members of the church worrying about watering the message down by allowing “just anybody” to be a member, we need to worry about our own actions. Are we holding on to the bread, thinking it is ours alone?

Jesus hung out with the hooligans, the misfits, the has-beens and the never-was. He hung out with the outcasts, the lepers, the last on the list. He touched people he wasn’t allowed to touch. He broke all the rules.

He gave us a new kind of math. His cross is a plus sign, and an equals sign. Jesus is the centerpoint – where Heaven meets Human. Jesus is the epicenter, where God came down here, to be with us, as we are. No longer was God up there, out of reach, rarified and separate. No longer was there a division between God and us. This is the plus sign. This is the cross.

And he made us all equal – all forgiven, all blessed, all loved. We are all equal in God’s eyes. We are all his children, not the chosen few who look the part, but all of us, as we are, right here, right now.

Jesus made enough room for all of us at his table.

Mother Mary

There was a massive stature of Mary sitting in a throne holding baby Jesus at the convent I was at this weekend on retreat. When I say massive, I mean life-size. Their eyes were human-looking. Perhaps they were prosthetic. They looked real. Both Mary and Jesus looked a little sad though. They were right in the front, facing the door as you enter. You had to pass by them to get to the chapel or the dining room. There was a triangle tile area in front of them too, which set off that area even more. The rest of the area was carpet.

I spent a lot of years in a medieval reenactment group, so seeing this human-looking statue that looks like royalty kind of messed with my head. She’s in a throne. She’s wearing a crown. She looks real. Do I bow? Do I at least pause? How close can I walk to her? She was kind of in the way. There was no easy way to get around her. To just walk by like she wasn’t there felt a little rude. So I at least paused.

Here’s what you see when you come in, showing the statue and the tile area.
Mary 3

Here’s a little closer.
Mary 2

Here’s her sad face.
Mary 1

I was fascinated by her, and a little creeped out. Mid-way through the retreat I had run out of things to write and I was getting a little bored. I’d thought earlier about drawing her. But drawing her meant getting in the way. The best way for me to draw her was to sit in front of her, at the tip of the tile triangle. And that meant that I’d be sitting in the middle of everything.

I’d be obvious. I’d be in the way. People would have to go around me. They would know what I was doing.

Would this annoy the nuns? Would they be upset with me? They might get annoyed that I was in the way. They might get annoyed that I was drawing their statue of Mary and Jesus.

I thought about it some more. It was the middle of the day. Most of them spent their time in their rooms. It wasn’t supper time or chapel time, so there was a good chance that I’d have the hall to myself. And if they didn’t like me doing it they could tell me to move.

I’m working on this part of my internal dialogue. I’m trying to be mindful of other’s feelings, but also mindful of my needs. I’m trying to not let imagined censorship make me stop doing something. All too often I make up what people say before I even start something, and I assume they are going to say no so I never start. I’m pushing past that and finding out that they rarely say no.

Turns out, while I was drawing, the nuns smiled at me. A fellow retreat member admired my work. Sure, I was in the middle of the hall, but I wasn’t completely in the way, and I wasn’t there long. So I kept drawing.

Here’s the picture of what I drew. My paper isn’t big – maybe 4 inches by 6. I didn’t have space for faces.
Mary 4

I used watercolor pencils, but I’ve not added the water yet. This looks like regular colored pencil this way.

After I drew it, I sat there for a bit, and I talked quietly to Mary. “Should I draw your face? You look so sad.” And she answered. She told me to draw her the way a child would draw her Mom, if her Mom wasn’t around. She told me to not look at the stature of her, but see the image of her face in my heart. Imagine if you are in school and the teacher tells you to draw your Mom. You have to draw her from memory. But in this case, I’m drawing not my Mom, but Jesus’ Mom, but by extension, sort of my adopted Mom. It is hard to explain. Sometimes I realize that I didn’t get comforted by my Mom in the way I needed, and I’m realizing that Mary is there to comfort me. It is very soothing.

So I drew. I drew her the way I see her looking at me. She doesn’t look like any images of Mary I’ve ever seen before, but she does look beautiful and kind. And that is what I needed to see.
Mary 5

She said “My child, I am giving birth to you too.” She is nurturing me like my mother couldn’t. I sat there, in tears, drawing her, washed by her love and compassion. Her arms are wide enough for me too.