Arriving in time for the Sunday service, the African American grandmother and grandson were not invited to join the white congregation. Undeterred, they went to the side of the sanctuary and sat beneath one of the open windows. From there, they could sing the hymns, hear scripture, and listen to sermons.
While such discrimination disgusts me on countless levels, particularly in religious circles, the image of the two sitting outside the church is a powerful metaphor for those of us who seek to live lives of faith in unconventional places.
I remember a seminary professor telling about a tombstone that read: “Here lies Samuel Elliot, a devoted servant of Christ who also made shoes.” His point about discipleship was that ministry is not limited to those who work in the Church. Whether as bankers, lawyers, garbage collectors or artists, the opportunities for being “devoted servants of Christ” abound. Too often we think ministry is for those with clerical collars, or those sitting in the pews. Sometimes the best ministers are sitting outside. They, too, sing the hymns, listen to scripture, and contemplate the meaning of it all.
But we like boxes . . . They contain things in neat and tidy ways. They help us make sense of what is otherwise vast, challenging, and confusing. They provide limited space and leave us feeling safe and secure. We can see all that is contained in the box. There are no surprises.
Boxes also exclude. They limit and simplify. While they may make us feel safe and secure, they also cause us to lose the magnitude and mystery of it all.
As I read about the boy and his grandmother sitting outside the church, in The Same Kind of Different As Me, I was reminded of the need to look beyond. Whether it’s our understanding of God, the Church, or what makes a devoted servant of Christ, we would do well by looking beyond the boxes, or out the windows.