My family and I took a trip to Europe over Thanksgiving. From Germany, we visited Luxembourg, England, France and Austria. Planes, trains and automobiles took us to various sites including a few different cathedrals. These magnificent structures were centuries old, ornate and large.
We took a taxi to Notre Dame in Paris and I enjoyed a conversation with the taxi driver along the way. He asked where I was from and reacted consistently with other Europeans when I told him, “Texas.” Apparently, there is a perception of Texas that leads people to smile with familiarity from cowboy movies. There are gestures of riding horses and references to John Wayne.
We enjoyed talking about Texas, family, Paris and other little connection points along the ride. He asked where I work and I told him that I was a pastor, which required some discussion for clarity. As we pulled up to the huge and impressive Notre Dame cathedral, he presented it to me with a grin, “your church.”
What I found within me as we looked at these large churches was a bit of apathy. In fact, almost disregard. It wasn’t that they weren’t fantastic but instead that I wanted more. More connection, more interaction, more life. Less looking and admiring and more experiencing. More relationship and less religion. More taxi conversations and fewer lines to see stained glass.
I don’t mean this in any way to be disparaging about the structures. Instead, what I found was a deeper appreciation for church. I found a greater clarity for the value of people and recognition that the institution is for the sake of relationship. It’s there, by its original design, to connect those that are looking to connect. It’s intended for people to know God differently and they (we) know God differently by knowing each other.
Strip away stained glass, bulletins, programs, pews, etc. and what’s left is an opportunity. The opportunity is for connection to other people with similar questions, thoughts and beliefs as well as dissimilar questions, thoughts and beliefs. There you are, together in a building; work it out. Work it out together.
What I found at Notre Dame and Westminster and others was an appreciation for grace. Grace is necessary to live with people. No grace is required to sit in a building and participate in a service, but great grace is needed when relating to the flaws we find in each other. That realization of grace was stirred me and connected me to the One that the building was about in the first place.