I’m kind of a weird protestant. I participate on the worship team with my electric guitar; I love contemporary worship music, but I also enjoy hymns, which is probably out of the ordinary for 30-something Christians. But it doesn’t stop there. (No sir.) Even though I’m learning to preach in what will probably be a modern evangelical-type church setting, I still love the order and rigidity of liturgical services (which I’d like to write about later,) so theology aside, attending a Catholic mass or a traditional Lutheran service wouldn’t make me blush at all. On top of that, I occasionally irritate my wife with Gregorian chant and ancient sacred music. Maybe I’m weird, maybe not. But what is true is that Christianity has an abundance of flavors, and while some people might view this as a handicap, I think it is a beautiful thing to behold. It’s like visiting an art gallery with hundreds upon hundreds of artists, styles, and subjects, each of them beautiful in their own way. And like any art gallery, there’s always something new to see.
But it makes me wonder. Are there some rooms in our theological art gallery that we refuse to enter? On Monday we celebrated the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King, whose bold non-violent movement paved the way for equality and civil rights here in America, said something very profound regarding the Church. “At 11:00 on Sunday morning,” he said, “when we stand and sing and Christ has no east or west, we stand at the most segregated hour in this nation.” It’s a shameful, but true, reality. You could stand behind the pulpit, fling a hymnal like a Frisbee, and chances are you’re going to hit someone who looks just like you.
I can understand why, to a point. We like to be comfortable. We want to blend into the crowd, and standing out draws attention to ourselves. (Perhaps this notion of desired anonymity is what draws people to mega churches.) I can understand why, not from an intellectual standpoint, but because I’ve experienced it firsthand.
I mentioned before that I play guitar on Sunday morning. As much as I love worshiping God through music, I spent a couple of years attending a Deaf church near Downtown Atlanta. I did not play guitar. Crusselle-Freeman Church of the Deaf (check ’em out) is small but established, and its parishioners are some of the most loving, friendly people you’ll ever meet. Unfortunately, when I started to attend with my wife (who was learning ASL at the time,) the only sign language I knew happened to be the most common non-verbal way of communicating to other drivers. It’s also not the appropriate response to “how are you?”
It’s scary being different. It’s scary not being able to effective communicate your thoughts and feelings to another person.
Now I’m not suggesting that I’m a super awesome person because I attended a Deaf church; I’m not bragging. What I am saying is that we should take a moment to look around us and realize that our willingness to connect to other people, regardless of demographics, is directly related to whether or not we are effectively communicating the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission. What creates racial divides amongst our congregations, I’m assuming, is an unwillingness to compromise how we “do church,” from the leadership down. What pushes the Deaf community into a church of their own is an unwillingness of churches to reach out to an often overlooked demographic of society whose needs are rarely met in the local church. And even if an ASL interpreter is offered, rarely are relationships nurtured, and very rarely are the deaf invited to integrate within the congregation.
It’s our duty to love people, and sometimes that is difficult. It takes work, and requires much more than an armchair activist can offer. Maybe you need to reach out. Perhaps you need to connect with a person who sits in an overlooked pew, or even your next-door neighbor whose driveway is always full when you leave for church. Then again, maybe it’s an entire community that would take a substantial investment in emotions and time to reach. I don’t think that’s out of the question. Not to take away from the legitimacy of international missions, but If we have the ability to learn new languages and cultures in order to carry the Gospel overseas, I think we can take the same amount of time to learn to reach the Deaf community here in America.
John 13:34-35: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”