Tuesday, June 5, 2012

You Must Be Mistaken; This is the Church Not the Bathroom

Instead of delving in depth into Scripture, I’ll share an analogy I find humorous although unsettling. These observations are based on almost forty years of church attendance. The opinions expressed are my own and I do so with a slight bit of trepidation. My hope, to convey my thoughts in a way that make you chuckle; to tackle a sensitive subject with a light hearted twist. If you say “ouch” may it be between laughs. My premise presented is this: people, including Christians, confuse the church with a bathroom. There are similarities, but they are definitely different.
First –both are identified with a specific, physical location. In every city and town, large or small you will find bathrooms and churches. They come in all sizes, shapes and décor. Homes, commercial and industrial complexes, business and retail spaces,  governmental and municipal buildings all have bathrooms. Churches are found in these same locations in addition to structures specifically built for their use.
The bathroom has come a long way. From the outhouse out back, to a room large enough to hold basic necessities, bathrooms can be spa-like retreats complete with whirlpool tub, oversized shower, custom fixtures and lighting, wrapped in marble and granite. Bigger is better with no expense spared. Churches have also evolved from simple structures with plain benches, pulpit, and funeral parlor fan climate control to high tech facilities with comfortable seating, educational and special event annexes and the latest addition (and my personal favorite), the coffee shop.
I’ve discovered an attitude about upgrades available for bathrooms and churches. I don’t recall hearing complaints about a well designed and appointed bathroom. However, I have heard individuals rant and rave over what is deemed money wasted on “luxurious” church buildings. It appears that finances are no object when our most personal needs are at stake. For spiritual matters, “spare the buck or you will spoil the congregation, not to mention the preacher!” (book of Contusions) That said there are probably instances when bathrooms and churches do go “over the top”. These are the exceptions and not the rule and who are we to judge?
Second – bathrooms and churches serve similar functions. Both provide opportunities for self improvement. We may need a simple splash of water on our face, a long relaxing soak in a tub or a complete scrubbing after a dirty job. When sickness hits, the bathroom is one of the first places we run. Many have spent time hugging a certain fixture like a best friend. Bathrooms are designed to receive and sanitarily remove all the waste materials our bodies output. When we are finished, we close the door and leave the mess behind us.
Churches work much the same way. Depending on one’s spiritual condition, state of mind and life circumstances the results of attendance varies. We may need a pick-me-up or a tweak that revitalizes a stale spot; an opportunity to collectively soak in the presence of God (Who does not live there but in each believer); or a cleansing from defilement that has attached itself to us. This accomplished, we leave and should re-enter the outside world a better person.
           Third – there is a popular slogan, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” which implies that behavior there is out of the “norm”, often of a nature not suitable for discussion in polite company. Innuendos are made, jokes are told off the cuff. Better to keep these activities to one self.
This can be applied to bathroom usage. Although humor about what happens behind its door peppers comedy routines and occasional conversations, we all know occurs there. Expounding on the details of one’s visit to the facility is TMI – too much information.
Some people classify church attendance in this catagory; “What happens in the church stays in the church.” Plenty of religious versions of bathroom jokes poke fun at the establishment and those who believe in it. Life inside its four walls is “private”, definitely not open for discussion.
Despite similarities the church and the bathroom are vastly different. Failure to discern this may explain attitudes directed toward religious institutions, especially Christianity.
First – bathrooms are tangible structures in physical locations, the church is not. Scripturally defined, the church is an assembly of people, not a building or structure. Where and how a branch of the church meets may impose an identity upon it. Groups gathering in established locations, or affiliated with recognized denominations may be looked upon as “official” or “real” churches, as opposed to home based fellowships without organizational ties. Value based on these criteria is worthless. Where the church meets is inconsequential. What happens when they do is what is important.
Second – in both bathrooms and churches our most intimate, personal and at times stinky and messy issues are dealt with. A bathroom contains equipment specifically designed for this purpose; inanimate objects devoid of feelings and emotions. The frequency of use is immaterial, physical condition unimportant (except to the user). Barring mechanical failure the system works flawlessly without complaint.
The church, however, is people and people have feelings and emotions. In a perfect world, all believers would act like Jesus all the time. They would handle anything thrown at them like a fine tuned piece of precision machinery operating on the high test fuel of God’s love and emerge unscathed every time (sounds like La-La Land). The church is expected to meet all types of needs: help, healing, restoration, reconciliation, etc. and failure to do so invokes criticism and judgment. Does this occur because most expect more from others as a rule, than from themselves? The statement, “I have a problem with religion and the church but not with God” makes me wonder. Were the speaker’s failed expectations the result of fatigue on the part of a church being treated like a bathroom? Believers have problems also that need to be addressed and ministered to. In order to give of themselves, they need time to be refilled. Pressing circumstances in someone’s life can blind them to the humanity and frailties of those who try to help. This could be the root of some of the dissatisfaction leveled at the church as a whole.
Third – “What happens in the church stays in the church” is only partially true. Those in distress, in need of salvation, help, healing, and deliverance etc. must know their “business” will be handled with compassion and confidentiality. Life is messy, the clean up process loving and sensitive. Corrective actions may be taken, but done in an atmosphere of respect for the individual and all other parties involved.
Church is not a place we check into once or twice a week to experience our spiritual side. Our life outside its walls is not separate from the one inside. The dynamic of corporate worship and fellowship, coupled with our personal discipline of spiritual growth and development, empowers us to face challenges encountered daily.
Some consider their relationship with God a “private” matter, not a subject for conversation. I disagree. Christianity is a lifestyle that takes place for the most part outside of the place we worship. Speaking for myself, at times I have not been open and vocal about my beliefs due to embarrassment. I want to be liked and accepted and not considered a religious wacko or fanatic. This is wrong on my part. My relationship with God is nothing to be ashamed of. I have not always acted as I should. Perhaps I was tired of being used as a depository for unsanitary stuff. Nevertheless, Who God is and what He has done for me is nothing to be silent or “private” about.
Everyone needs a Savior. If everything that happens in the church stays in the church how will those outside its walls, who don’t know God, ever learn He exists? How will they know He loves them, has a destiny for their lives and answers to the problems they face? Our role in helping those in need at times be unpleasant yet every individual deserves attention. Not always the cleanest or neatest job, the eternal benefits for others and for us outweigh the downside. God empowers individuals to deal with the mess in their lives and to come out smelling like roses, just like another bathroom staple, air freshener. 

1 comment:

  1. Excellent analogy Mary. How funny!!! Life is messy. Isn't it great that God can give us a message for others out of our messes?