It is one of the most shattering things I have ever heard said about church.
It was not aimed at me personally. The speaker was not intending to be hurtful, judgmental, or even particularly critical. The words did not carry any tone of anger, bitterness, or resentment. They simply articulated the speaker’s experience.
But, the statement was crushing:
“I always felt that to go to church, I had to become small.”
How did a community birthed in the luminous spirit of love that powered the life and ministry of Jesus ever become a place where anyone might come to believe that, in order to join this fellowship divine, it was necessary to reduce oneself in any way?
Church does not exist to ever make anyone be less than they were created to be. Church exists to help all people connect with the deep inner reality of their true nature. Our deepest nature is the nature of God.
We are beings created “in the image and likeness” of the Divine (Genesis 1:26) We are beings in whom dwells the presence of love. We are containers for beauty, truth, light, goodness, and mystery.
As the Psalmist said to God, we humans are
fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well. (Psalm 139:14)
God has made human beings,
a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honour. (Psalm 8:5)
We are bearers of unfathomable, inexhaustible, and ultimately, inexpressible “treasure”. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
In this life none of us will ever live as big as we were created to be. That is why we need to gather with people who share our vision of the extraordinary magnitude of what it means to be human.
We gather to reaffirm the exalted vision of our humanity. And we gather, as the writer of the Letter To The Hebrews said, to
consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds. (Hebrews 10:24)
If there should be any place on earth that helps us feel bigger, it should be church which exists to to help all people encounter
the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:19)
If we find ourselves feeling that we have to make ourselves smaller in order to find our place, it is not because there is something wrong with us. There is something deeply amiss in any church that ever makes any person feel that in order to belong they must make themselves small.
A church that requires small people is a church that has given away its life to rules, regulations, and cultural convention. These pinched commitments have have no place in the Gospel of unfettered freedom and expansive love Jesus came to announce. The force towards small must be given no ground in the community that traces its heritage to the Messiah who embodied the bold truth and beauty of human nature.
This is not a small vision. It is mighty vision of the high calling of what it means to be human. We are luminous beings, sparks of light that have burst forth from the heart of the Divine Fire that is the source of all creation. As we gather in the luminous presence of a community of light, the flame burns brighter; the love grows bigger. Smallness is consumed in the fire of divine love. We find our true deep nature in the community of faith that gathers to share this mighty call.
in the words of Mary Oliver, church is a place for “headlong”
Your heart is beating, isn’t it?
You’re not in chains, are you?
There is nothing more pathetic than caution
when headlong might save a life,
even, possibly, your own.”
― Mary Oliver, from “Moments” in