Doors, Locked and Otherwise

florence-church-full_medDuring the Week of Guided Prayer, images of doors and houses came up every single day, which really isn’t all that shocking because I have a thing about doors, particularly closed, locked ones. One of the things that came up for discussion was a dream I had that was still haunting me. Two and a half years is a long time for a dream to stick with me. And it’s as real to me now as the night I dreamt it.

I was in the shadows across from a church door. A man came to the door and finding it locked, he began to beat on the door until his hands were bloodied and broken. He had his head against the door, crying as he pounded away in vain. I could smell the blood from where I was but could only watch, trapped and terrified in the shadows. I woke up still trying to scream and unable to.

I know this dream is something I need to work with, to explore in my writing. The imagery has become clearer and whatever was stopping me from moving closer is gone now. I learned the hard way writing The Gremlin and The Return of the Gremlin that sometimes my writing will not be under my control, at all, not even a little bit. This story of the man beating on the church door is one of those stories. It will not be writing. It will be more like watching and taking good notes. Knowing that, I started to doodle this morning and to piece out snatches of dialogue. Then I read today’s gospel. And what do I read? The man knocking on his friend’s door at midnight. Because, if nothing else, God is a stalker who likes to make sure He has my attention.

The obvious theme of that story is persistence. Keep knocking and the door will open. Keep asking and you will receive. And I realized that for most of my life, I’ve heard that story and pictured God on the other side of that closed, locked door, wishing I would go away and quit knocking. But what if this story is actually exactly what Jesus says it is: two ordinary people. And what if we look a little closer: there is a subtheme of indifference. A dialogue that could very well be something like this:

Knocker: Hey, I really need your help with this thing.

Knockee: It’s late. I’m tired. I worked all day. I’m in my pajamas, watching Netflix, and I literally just poured a glass of wine. Text me tomorrow.

See, it’s not the fact that the door is closed and locked. It’s the indifference, the active choice not to acknowledge that there is a problem that sets up the refusal to help. It’s a choice of the knockee to remain indifferent by making excuses that sound reasonably valid in hopes that the knocker will go away and figure out their issue on their own.

doorSo maybe the takeaway here is that the knocker isn’t pounding away on the door to get the thing, whether it’s a loaf of bread or money or advice in an emotional crisis. Maybe the knocker is pounding away at the door to knock down the indifference, to call attention to the excuses we make that only sound reasonable at midnight when you’re in your pajamas watching Man in the High Castle with a bowl of popcorn and a nice glass of Riesling. Would that same excuse sound as reasonable in the morning after your second of coffee? Or do you hear the knocker’s plea a little differently in the daylight?

There are an awful lot of people in this world knocking on doors that are closed and locked. Are we really listening to what they need or do we just want them to go away?

When Doors Become Walls

 

 

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As a part of my class in American Music, I was required to attend a concert in the school chapel. I’ve wandered past the chapel a few times but had yet to actually set foot inside. Why? No big spiritual issues there. I have to be on the other side of campus for my classes. And…well… I could never quite figure out where the door was, even from four feet away in broad daylight.  Yeah, I know how weird that sounds but it’s the honest truth. It’s a beautiful building with floor-to-ceiling panels of glass and wood, but no obvious door.

Thursday night, I headed across campus. It was dark, cold and starting to mist as I walked towards the chapel for the concert. I could see others through the windows but still had no idea how to get inside. So as I walked, I slowed down, hoping some other more savvy soul would arrive ahead of me and demonstrate the means of entrance.  I saw a young man in a hoodie and jeans wander near the building and turn away. Cue the unsettling feeling of deja vu. I found myself walking through one of my most disturbing watcher dreams.  As I got close enough, someone finally went up to the wall and disappeared so I figured I had to be close to a door. It wasn’t until I was two feet away that it became obvious that what had appeared to be a solid wall was in fact a door. Modern architecture at its finest.

Triumphant, I found a seat in the vestibule where the concert was to be held. I snagged my usual back corner of the room where I feel somewhat safe and hidden. I settled in and listened as other students arrived. From the conversations going on around me, most of the students had no idea how to get into the building and, like me, had waited outside in the dark and the cold, watching for someone to show them how to get inside. I also heard another very common theme, one I’ve heard all semester in my classes and communal gathering spaces.

“I know I should have been in here by now but…”

“I keep thinking about coming but…”

“I feel so stupid for not coming but…”

“I used to go to church and I want to go back to but…”

And all of those sentences ended with the same words: I don’t know how.

The theme of the concert was anti-bullying with songs and testimony from members of the choir. There wasn’t a dry eye to be seen by the end. A moment before the music started, the young man in the hoodie slipped inside. He kept his baseball cap pulled low and his hood pulled up over it. He slid into the last seat in the back corner opposite mine looking as if, given the opportunity, he would have liked to turn himself invisible. He was out the door at the end before the final notes had died away. I wondered if anyone even noticed him. He came in alone and he left alone.  It was then that I wondered why campus ministry hadn’t gone out of their way to make themselves visible, accessible and inviting.

How many more like him wandered close to the chapel and then drifted away, retreating into the darkness?  How many wander outside in the dark and cold, looking for a way in but see walls instead of doors?  How many are looking through the windows at those on the inside?  And how many on the inside mistake transparency for openness?

I don’t know how.

Other than children under a certain age, we can’t drag people kicking and screaming into church. Church leaders of all denominations see the fall off in attendance and a growing number of people, young and not-so-young, who are giving up on church. All we can do is show them there is a way in and trust that they will be drawn inside.

I don’t know how.

But if we  Christians truly want to be a beacon in this world, we must first acknowledge that people wander into our midst all the time and then wander back out into the darkness without ever being seen. And if they go back out into that darkness still feeling that they don’t know how, chances are, they won’t be back.  What’s more frightening is that that they may eventually give up trying to find a way in.

So long as doors remain walls and transparency remains a poor substitute for true openness, my awful watcher dream of the man in the hoodie banging on the church doors until his hands are broken and bloody continues to be a reality for many hurting people.

I don’t know how.

Showing people a way in is one thing.  Showing them how to be on the inside is another.

It can be done. I’ve seen it in my own dating church experience. I’ve spent some Sunday mornings at a small Evangelical Lutheran church and they go out of their way to eliminate I don’t know how.  As I walked up the sidewalk, the door opened for me.  A program with all of the responses, song numbers, readings along with the order of the entire service was placed in my hand. People intentionally go out of their way to introduce themselves. And throughout the entire service, the pastor announced the songs, the prayers and the pages on which they can be found. At Communion, the pastor and the ushers made a point of telling people that everyone is welcome at the table and instructions on how to receive were in that program they had handed me as I entered. Every service is conducted as if no one in the pews knows what comes next. I’m sure the regulars there know the Apostles Creed is in the back of the hymnal but as a newbie, it’s nice to hear it rather than fumbling awkwardly, trying to keep up. When the service is over, there is one way out and that is through the hands of the pastor herself.  She is easily one of the most gracious women I’ve ever met. While I still bail before coffee, I know if I stayed, I would be welcomed warmly. And I will stay eventually.  It just feels right to be in a place where anyone and everyone is welcome. Not just as a banner slogan, but in practice.

Are you ok?

I spent yesterday afternoon with a houseful of good friends celebrating St. Patrick’s day with good food, good whiskey and lots of laughter. I was chided for having not posted recently. I had promised my friend Frank that I would post 2 weeks ago and well… life got in the way. So in answer to the question that I was asked repeatedly yesterday: Yes. I’m okay. Really truly okay.

I’m not really in a church at the moment and yesterday’s party was full of people I’ve gotten to know through my parish over the years. It was a gentle reminder that I can’t stay without a community for too long. Do I miss it? Not yet. Will I? Yes, eventually. Probably sooner rather than later. But right now, I’m where I’m supposed to be. Where is that exactly? I suppose this is my desert, my time and space to be alone with God.

If you’ve been reading my scribbling long enough, you know I have my share of issues with God as well as my issues with Mother Church. Trying to separate the two finally became impossible to juggle. It filtered through my thick skull that trying to figure out where I stand as far church without understanding where I stand with God is quite simply a waste of time.

Life always comes down to the same question. Where am I with God right now? In a very strange new place. I’m not entirely sure that I like it but I haven’t run screaming either so I suppose there’s something to be said for that. I’ve spent so many years locked into a fight-or-flight stance with God that giving it up, is well…. a little terrifying. I’ve made my disquiet about it very well known, probably a hundred times a day. That level of honesty is something new for me.

It’s not like I’ve never let Him know when I’m afraid. Many a night I stayed up all night when the marriage went to hell, when Eugene was sick, when my eyes went haywire and I was afraid that one morning I’d just wake up blind. He’s heard about all of it. Not that I would dare to think He was going to step in to fix it but He was the only one awake and listening at 3 in the morning.

And it’s not like I’ve never let God know when I’m pissed off. I’ve cussed Him a blue streak. In several languages. But instead of hanging around for an answer, I’d usually end up screaming, “Go away and leave me alone!” I was so furious with Him, I kicked the door shut between us and slammed and threw things and broke things. Like a kid who had a really bad day, I threw a full scale temper tantrum.

And when I got tired of running, tired of fighting and tired of yelling, I sat there in the middle of the broken mess that I’d made of my life and realized that He was standing there at the door.
Waiting.
Patiently.
I don’t know what I expected exactly. Anger? Annoyance? Disappointment?Impatience at the very least. Compassion and gentleness weren’t exactly at the top of the list.

So for the last couple years, I may have opened the door but I’ve been pacing in circles. Watching Him. Waiting for even a flicker of trouble. Little by little the conversation became less one-sided. The anger, the impatience, the disappointment that I expected from Him never materialized.

Now, I’ve stopped pacing. I can say what I think. I can say what I feel. I still flinch. But at least I can say it. I could finally say the one thing I never would. “I’m afraid of You.”

There was no argument to the contrary. No attempt at persuasion. His response was simply, “I know.”

So here we are, in this strange new place where blatant honesty is not only acceptable but expected. It’s a little unnerving. But it’s okay. We’re okay.

See I have a thing about doors. I know where they are. Always. I know if they’re closed or not. I know if they’re locked or not. I know how many steps are between me and the door. Most importantly, when anyone is between me and the door, I how much I trust them.

He’s in the room.
We’re talking.
And I’ve quit counting the steps to the door.