In a recent post I mentioned that I spent part of a weekend going around New Orleans looking at churches. There are some amazingly beautiful structures dedicated to God in that city. I’d recently gone to a Christmas concert at St. Louis Cathedral, and while the focus on imperialism and violence in that building left a bad taste in my mouth, it also left me wanting to see what else the city had to offer.
Christ Church Cathedral is home to the first Protestant congregation in the Louisiana Purchase, and the building itself is beautiful, sitting right on the streetcar line in the Garden District. The chapel just next door was constructed in the same style, and looks to be a seamless addition. I’d love to have gone inside, but alas, the church was locked. And the gate was closed. And the chapel was locked as well.
I found myself being angry that the church was locked and that the parking lot was gated. What right do we have to stop people from entering the Lord’s house? How can we decide “church is closed”? Are we not supposed to receive all visitors, to give to those who ask of us? Are we really limiting when people are able to use the church building for worship or prayer? If anything should be open to all at all times, it is a church. To quote Johnny Paycheck, “That’s the House of the Lord. That guy’s got a hell of a nerve.”
Churches locked, gates closed, no trespassing signs on cemeteries, everywhere people are being closed out of sacred space. As I saw more and more of this, I became more and more incensed. And saddened. How greatly are we failing the world if our doors are not always opened to all comers? These churches were doing it wrong!
As I sat with how upset I was with the people running these places I began to see them as a mirror. As I plan a guerrilla art project to mark mundane spaces as holy in their own right I started to ask myself how I was closing off Christ’s church to those around me. How often do I lock my car doors, or avoid the eyes of those asking me for help? How often do I close myself off, refuse to see Christ in my neighbor, or show my neighbor Christ in myself? I lock my front doors when I leave, pretending that “my” house is anything other than God’s.
Pete Rollins has talked about how people give themselves permission to have crises of faith. As long as someone in authority has faith, he says, they tell themselves its okay. They don’t have to actually experience their own loss, because they can hold onto someone else’s faith vicariously. I was doing that here. The crisis wasn’t in the closing of the church doors. It was in the closing of my own doors. I acted as though I could do that, I could fail to live up to Christ’s standard, as long as the Bishop did it for me.
My anger was misplaced. How can I expect others to respond to the call on my behalf?