Last week, I talked at some length about the meaning of “Going to church” and my efforts to understand its role in my life and its influence across society. I received a number of thoughtful replies that focused on the physical and tangible elements of church and several Catholics responded by expressing their points of view from that unique perspective. All of this generated some conversations and exchanges that were very valuable and important – and yet somehow didn’t reflect completely on my thinking in “Going to church…” Generally, this is a sign that I missed the mark a bit in my writing.
Thankfully, as is often the case, I was rescued by my next visit to church and a wonderful homily about the very essence of my faith. This was not a message about a particular Catholic practice or teaching, nor frankly was it something that was unique to any Christian religion. In fact it was much more about the essence of humanity and what it means to be a responsible, caring citizen. And the message wasn’t delivered by our pastor who is very thought-provoking, but by our deacon who often provides unique insights by approaching things from a different angle. The message boiled down to a phrase that was the echoing analog to my “Going to church” title – he challenged us to understand what it meant to “bring church home.”
Taken at face value, this is an important message because a faith that is only expressed within the walls of a building seems less than a complete expression of our human calling. While churches have sanctuaries and may in fact be a sanctuary during times of need, they are not intended to be a place where we shelter our beliefs. Instead, they should be a congregation where we reflect on ideas, learn from others, and develop convictions that play out each and every day in our lives outside of church. As the deacon pointed out, our best expressions of faith and belief are not the prayers we offer in church, or the following of specific religious traditions, or the way we bow our heads – but rather how we act and treat others when we are not at church. What we do “at home” is the brightest reflection of our inner beliefs and motivations.
I like to look under the covers a bit as I reflect on these topics, and that exploration led me to a deeper meaning to “bringing church home.” I’ve been very careful in these writings on church to never capitalize the word – not because it is unimportant but because I think of it in a broader context. I could easily go back and substitute synagogue or mosque for church in these writings without changing the meaning. This distinction is important given the on-going tensions in the United States and abroad that are attributed to religious affiliations and motivations.
To me, when we bring church home, what we really are doing is bringing our humanity home. We leave aside the trappings of religion and focus on what it means to live our convictions in the broader society. Following the golden rule by treating your neighbor as yourself is not a religious action – it is just the right thing to do. Honoring your spouse and caring for your children is not about the sacrament of marriage but rather is about the sanctity of the human family. And in a non-religious context, freedom of speech is not about a constitutional amendment but is rather about a willingness to allow others to have their own opinions and share them openly.
In a world where each day brings headlines of hate crimes based on culture and religion, where extremists dare us to be civil to those whose beliefs are different than our own, where torture and genocide are forms of “governing” – in a world that challenges us in these ways, the first thing we must do is remember to bring our humanity home. Church is a place where I can find that humanity and bring it to those around me each day in the best way I can – failings and shortcomings included. Whatever your religious affiliation – Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, atheist or something else – I hope you have a sanctuary where you can think, learn, and distill ideas to bring home and share with the rest of us.