"Welcome to Duloc, such a perfect town
Here we have some rules, let us lay them down
Don't make waves, stay in line
And we'll get along fine
Duloc is a perfect place
Keep your feet off the grass
Shine your shoes, wipe your...face
Duloc is, Duloc is
Duloc is a perfect place"
Do you remember this scene from Shrek? The little singing dolls welcoming Shrek and donkey to the perfect land of Duloc. Shrek and Donkey's face after hearing the ridiculous song. I remember laughing my, well "...face" off the first time I heard it. I think the funniest jokes are the ones that have a ring of truth to them. And "under all those layers" of humor and laughter, there is a very good moral to the movie - a lesson that the church desperately needs.
In Shrek, Lord Farquaad (the ruler of Duloc) has rounded up all the fairytale creatures and banished them. His reasoning is that the "fairytale trash" is "poisoning his perfect world." He lays down the rules for Duloc, the perfect place... The bottom line is that those who don't look like him, act like him, and validate his opinions are not welcome in his kingdom and are ostracized. We go through the movie and fall in love with Shrek and his misfit friends, all the while laughing at Farquaad's ignorance of his extreme short comings. We easily recognize who the good guys are as we watch Shrek. Unfortunately though, in our own lives, we are more prone to act just like Lord Farquaad.
We look around us and see fairytale creatures who don't fit our personal definition of what is acceptable and we exclude them. Instead of seeing beings created and loved by God, all we see are ogres. Your "ogre" could be anyone. It may be a person with an emotional or physical disability, the homeless, a college student who wears dreads and smells of patchouli, a transgender individual, a lady with gold teeth and rings on every finger, an ex-convict, a co-worker whose favorite 4-letter word starts with 'F,' someone with a loud or quirky personality, a person who is overweight, a biker with a long beard and tattoos... the list could go on and on. Because of stereotypes and our own cultural lens, we quickly judge people by their appearance and/or lifestyle and ostracize them.
This is a problem that begins on a personal level and, because the church is comprised of many individuals, it becomes a church wide issue. I think most of us have heard sermons about how the church needs to be a welcoming place - a place where everyone has free access to love and grace. We nod our heads and say "Amen," while failing to see that WE (myself included) are the problem. We tell our fellow Christians that "the church needs to...." (you fill in the blank) but forget that WE ARE THE CHURCH. If we truly want the church to be a warm and welcoming place, then WE have to share God's love on a personal level. God doesn't call us to tolerate and be friendly with people, He calls us to love sacrificially and without judgement. So what's stopping us, church?
I think that Pride is the root of most of our problems, and this issue is no exception.
I want to describe two people to you, both of whom are Christians. (For the record, these two examples do not represent any specific individuals but rather are compiled from many people I've known over the years.)
She is middle aged always wears a dress and heels and looks her best. She's been a part of the church for as long as she can remember. She rarely misses Sunday school or church and participates in a Bible study with other Christian women weekly. She watches Christian networks and rarely anything above a PG rating. Cussing and alcohol is not acceptable and rock-n-roll music is sinful. She considers herself to be a good, moral person and occasionally goes above and beyond to help others. Every year around Christmas, she serves in the soup kitchen and, whenever the opportunity arises, she puts a little extra in the offering plate for special missionary projects. She has a nice, quiet life surrounded by good Christian friends, Christian books, and Christian music.
She is a young, single mother. She tends to wear shirts that are low-cut and jeans that are form-fitting. She lives with her boyfriend who is not her child's father. She wants to move out of his place, but doesn't have anywhere else to go. She attends church whenever she is not working to earn minimum wage. She drinks occasionally and struggles with an addiction to nicotine. Hang around her in a casual setting and you are likely to hear a few swear words slip out. She has several tattoos and enjoys punk and Indy music. She also frequently drives to the area of town where she can find the homeless living under the bridge and passes out food. On the Sundays that she can make it to church, she volunteers to work with the special needs' ministry. She loves volunteering so much that she sacrifices earning money she desperately needs by requesting a Sunday off from work so that she can. She is struggling to make it financially, but her love of people drives her to share what she does have.
Now, I ask you, which of these two individuals is more accurately demonstrating Christ's love?
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus compares a the prayer of a Pharisee and that of a tax collector (considered the scum of the earth by the Jews of Jesus' day). This is the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector:
"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'
But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."
Too often, I behave like individual 1. I get comfortable in my environment, feel good about walking the moral high-ground, and pat myself on the back for doing some good works. As a result, I've been the loud mouthed Pharisee more times than I care to admit. However, as I've grown in my Christian walk and have met more people like individual 2, I have been humbled over and over again. This person, whom I have judged for the way they dress or act is more accurately demonstrating God's love than I am. I have exalted myself with a puffed up, "I am more righteous than they attitude" and, in my pride, have missed out on building valuable relationships and getting to know the people that God loves. In the past, I've thought that I should invite people to become more like me. But as I've grown as a Christian, I realize that I have a lot to learn from the tax collectors.
I think many of us have been too "churched." We've worn our Sunday best for so long that we've lost the authenticity of our faith. What separates the Christian faith from so many others is grace. You don't have to have it all together to have a relationship with God. It doesn't matter what your social class, race, or lifestyle is... God's grace is for everyone! But we have muddled it all up. We expect people to come to church in their best dress and with their best behavior because it's where people who have it all together go to meet. But a church like this, is not Christ's church. I get wrapped up in behavior and appearances when I should be wrapped in the Father's accepting embrace and inviting others to join in.
I am so grateful that Jesus Christ is my Lord and that I am not ruled by a Lord Farquaad. God calls imperfect people to be in relationship with Him and He chooses the most unlikely characters to be a part of His story. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 says, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen." This is evident over and over again in the Bible. He called Moses (a man slow of speech and slow of tongue) to be his mouthpiece, David (a poor shepherd boy) to be a king, Matthew (a tax collector - considered scum by the Jews in Jesus' day) to be a disciple, and Paul (a pharisee among pharisees who was imprisoning and killing Christians with zeal) to become the greatest witness for Christ and write 2/3 of the New Testament. If these people were invited to be a part of God's story, is anyone excluded from his love and grace? What right have we to chose who is worthy to be a part of our lives and our church when the Bible is so clear that the invitation is open to everyone?
On most Sundays, I look at my church's leaders and feel hopeful. Our pastor preaches in jeans, a group of our elders love their motorcycles and drive them to church, and our worship leader has a tattoo, an earring and a heart for God. These are really small things that get me excited. I love that the church is moving away from an attitude of "wearing your Sunday best" and towards a "come as you are" mentality. But our church leaders can only do so much... As the church body, it is our responsibility to transform our church culture. At some point, we need to stop welcoming people to the kingdom of Duloc - a perfect place reserved for perfect people. And we need to start inviting people to be a part of the kingdom of God - where imperfect people are loved by a perfect king.
Disney: The Most Magical Place on Earth
Disney is touted as the "Most Magical Place on Earth." Before we finally decided to take our two princesses, I thought, 'This is going to be a disappointment. There is no way Disney is going to live up to the hype.' Man, was I wrong!