There was a rhyme my friends and I used to say in elementary school. I’m not sure where it came from or if children still clasp their hands together with interlaced fingers, making up the people. It went like this…
“Here’s the church (Hands with fingers intertwined, pointing down)
Here’s the steeple (Pointer fingers together and up)
Open the door (Thumbs come apart)
See all the people.” (Turn hands up and wiggle fingers still intertwined)
When we were a little bit older, we changed the verses to say,
“Here’s the church
Here’s the steeple
Open the door
Where are the people?
Across the street
in the bar
Open the door
There they are!”
We would all laugh, not realizing that one day we would be the very people, across the street, referring to the bar as our sanctuary.
Any time someone new visits my current church, they always say the same thing. “This doesn’t look like a church! Where’s the steeple?!”
“It doesn’t have one.” I reply. “I like it that way.”
The church I grew up in was what one imagines a southern church to look like. Beautiful. Big. Stained glass windows. Wooden pews. A tall pulpit where the preacher stands, adorned in a long black robe and satin collar. The organ plays while the choir prepares to sing hymn number 400 and something. The brass pipes stretch way into the ceiling releasing sounds both beautiful and intrusive. Not long into the service, my creative mind was far into a daydream of… singing on stage or writing my next bestseller from the back porch of my California home, looking out over the pacific ocean.
Things have changed a bit. I wear jeans and red lippy and when the band starts to play, sometimes I even close my eyes, embracing the goosebumps rising on my skin. The God I’ve been chasing my entire life is right here, so tangible I feel as if I could touch him. Praise pours from my lips more like a prayer than a monotonous canticle of which I had grown so accustomed.
When I least expect it, tears well up in my eyes, spilling over and down my cheeks. I cling to the promises spoken in the lyrics written by those who love Jesus and aren’t afraid to admit they struggle. People like me. Now when I’m in the service, I’m engrossed in the message. Sure, I tweet a quote or two, but for the most part I’m all in. I’m hearing stories that I’ve heard all my life, only now I get it. I’m there. I’m in Jerusalem when Jesus walked the road. I’m at the well when the woman unknowingly serves water to the Savior. I’m in line, waiting to be baptized by “John the Baptizer.” I’m in the crowd crying out in confusion as they nail the hope of the world to a cross.
I don’t think a church has to have a steeple to make it legit. Jesus didn’t wear a name tag that read, “Hello, my name is The Messiah.” And yet, people found him. They believed him. They followed him.
If anything, I’ve learned that sometimes the things with the most beautiful shell are rotten on the inside. Sometimes the things one might pass by at first glance are filled with life giving promise. Promise that we are all longing for.
So, I have a new rhyme. It goes like this…