“People often say that 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' and I say that the most liberating thing about beauty is realizing that you are the beholder. This empowers us to find beauty in places where others have not dared to look, including inside ourselves.”
I am guilty . . . but, I am not the only one. We are all guilty. I don’t think most of us mean to be guilty, but we are . . . it just happens. In the realization that it has happened, we know that we are guilty. What is it that we are guilty of? Well, we are guilty of being judgmental . . . guilty of being snobbish and non-inclusive . . . guilty of being prejudice knowingly and unknowingly . . . guilty of being incongruent between what we say we believe, what we say, and what we actually do. We are guilty of being hypocritical. I am guilty of it . . . most of us are guilty of it.
Whenever the congregations of the church gather for study, worship, prayer, and fellowship there is going to be a good time. The brothers and sisters are going to let it all hang out and get into the spirit of hospitality and fellowship. The Spirit is going to dance with everyone. People are going to feel good. There are going to be “hallelujahs” . . . “praise the Lord” . . . and smiles everywhere are people experience a sort of koinonia—a sense of community. Church gatherings are always a blast as the brothers and sister come together . . . and, this past weekend it was no different as the communion I am associated with came together for its annual meeting . . . there was a feeling of “common unity” or community . . . koinonia.
Yet, as perfect as that picture was . . . the body of Christ celebrating, worshipping, praying, and fellowshipping with as one . . . cracks were appearing from the git go. Cracks that as the weekend went on became more apparent . . . and the guilt came seeping in to my mind and my heart. As much as we all wanted to embrace this time of wholeness and holiness, the truth of the matter is that the edges of the picture was fuzzier than most of us would have imagined. In the shadows . . . what was that that was lurking in the shadows . . . or, more importantly, who was that lurking in the shadows?
From time to time I ask the congregation that I serve to take a moment and look around the sanctuary . . . to look around the sanctuary and see who is not there. I challenge them to look at the table—the Lord’s Table—and see who is not there. It is peculiar to me how the “church” or the “body of believers” can say one thing while something completely different is the reality. I cannot think of a “church” or “body of believers” that does not believe and state that they believe that Jesus and God loves everyone . . . EVERYONE. So, we need to be reminded from time to time to look around the table . . . to look around the sanctuary . . . to see who is not there.
For the most part I do not believe that this exclusion is purposeful . . . I just think that, for the most part, we are just not conscious of it. It might be because we live in pretty homogeneous communities where everyone pretty much does look and act like everyone else. It might be that we have old church structures that are inaccessible. Who knows? The facts are the facts and they show that our communities of faith are pretty segregated . . . by race, age, abilities, gender, income, education, and so on. Yet, each and every one of these communities of faith state that they welcome all to join them . . . to become one of the family. So, why are there empty seats at the table?
My guilt hit me as the wife and I were decompressing from the weekend festivities on our long drive home. She shared a conversation she had with another person who had been in attendance at this “family” gathering . . . how she and her husband had left their daughter home because they did not feel that she was “welcomed”. Their daughter struggles with mental illness . . . she can be loud, unruly, and at times seem inappropriate. This woman said that there was no place for her daughter in the church . . . the church could not handle her behavior, didn’t know how to respond, how to be hospitable to someone who was “different” than the rest. No youth retreats . . . no church camp . . . no church gathering. The crack widen.
I mentioned how there had been a call for help to those who were gathered. How I witnessed one offer her services to help . . . but was refused. She more than anyone wanted to handle. Now, she was not refused gruffly . . . but, denied anyway. I witnessed how others were embraced in their offers, while others were gently put off. The crack widened a little more.
The youth . . . the good ol’ future of the church . . . they were missing for the most part too. True, youth can be noisy, loud, rowdy, inappropriate, whiny, and more of a hassle than a help . . . but, aren’t we all? Oh, we saw glimpses of them here and there, but they were never really fully welcomed into the fellowship as full members of the group. For some reason they just sort of showed up for a few things here and there . . . didn’t really participate in the conversation . . . in the fellowship. The crack . . . grew a little more.
People of color . . . well, we were pretty lily white . . . and, we were pretty old . . . as the ones who gathered from around the state. Sunday morning, well the host congregation muddied up the waters . . . but, outside of the national speakers, there was very little color in our gathering . . . very few youth . . . it continued to widen this crack that started out so fine that the naked eye could not see it.
People of disabilities . . . again, few and far between. There were a few in wheelchairs . . . and, a few others. For the most part, we were a pretty healthy group.
I do not want anyone who reads this to think that this was not a wonderful event . . . a wonderful celebration . . . a worthy mark in the spiritual journey. It was. There speakers inspired . . . the music was beautiful . . . the hospitality was gracious . . . the fellowship fun . . . it was a great event. Probably one of the best that our gathering has thrown in a long, long time . . . but despite the wondrous joy of it all, there were cracks in our gathering, shadows on the edge, and people missing from the table. And, for the most part, it was unintentional . . . sins of omission. I do not think that anyone purposefully set out to exclude anyone . . . but, it happened. So, mixed in the joy I felt was guilt.
I like the quote above by Salma Hayek who reminds us that we are the “beholders” . . . we are the ones who hold the key to the gate. If beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder . . . the beholder is the one who controls the gate for who gets in and out . . . then what does it say about us as beholders when we look around and realize how empty the table really is? I doubt if many of us really take the time to examine our “likes” and “dislikes” as we go about our daily lives . . . to listen to our words and compare then to what we do. Are they congruent . . . or do we walk a different talk than we talk? As I said, we are all guilty of it.
The Spirit works in mysterious ways in each of our lives. Sometimes (if not a whole bunch of the time) we miss the Spirit’s prodding in our lives. It was a beautiful drive through the mountains and landscape of Montana as we returned from the church gathering. Yet, the Spirit was there working . . . poking . . . challenging . . . and, ripping open those cracks letting the sun shine through. Guilt should not be embraced, but should be explored . . . explored for its root causes . . . to open up what it is exactly about ourselves that we did not like. In the conversation of the journey, I came to realize that I still have a long way to go . . . I came to realize that the church has a long ways to go. There are still those in the shadows . . . those on the edge . . . those missing from the table. Sometimes I and others stumble into the kingdom, but more often than not we trip right over the opportunities without ever realizing it. Yep, that is the Spirit at work.
The theme of our church gathering was based on the story of the Good Samaritan and Jesus’ challenge to “go and do” . . . to “go and do” as the Samaritan did in the story. It was a rousing challenge and charge . . . one that I think many embraced . . . and, it scratched my heart and soul as it prodded me to reflect and pray . . . where do I “go and do”? Where do I start? I start with the Beholder . . . I start with myself. If there were those who were absent from the table then it is up to me to invite them, assist them, and to stand by them so that the other Beholders can begin to see them. It is my voice that must be the voice for those in the shadows . . . those who are forgotten. It is I who needs to start living koinonia . . . living in the common unity of being God’s creations and children . . . if I am to be honest is getting up to “go and do”. It is amazing what a little guilt can do to one’s spirit.
It was a wonderful weekend. It was filled with honest joy and worship. It had great fellowship. As one who beholds—as a Beholder—the journey begins with me as I begin to clear my vision to embrace the eyes of the One who Beholds me . . . the One who sees beauty in me . . . loves me . . . and accepts me for who I am. May all the Beholders find this same vision and beauty.