The lobby area outside the exhibition hall, the House of Deputies, and the Worship Center at the Anaheim Convention Center has a wall of windows, with carpet at both ends and a shiny floor of some sort in the middle, with two-story escalators and an open staircase to add drama; it's all quite beautiful. The light patterns yesterday afternoon were fascinating, so I suspect you'll see another picture or two, either here or on my poetry blog, before the week is through.
But this image is actually two images, shot within minutes of each other, of exactly the same location, near the doorway across from the little park that connects the Center to the Hilton Hotel. I had originally decided just to use one image -- the one on the left -- but when I had finished altering it (I had to photoshop out a sign and do a little distortion to get the angles right) I flipped it horizontally so it would sit nicely on the left side of this page, and it was then that I realized how cool it would be if I paired it with the other image. It wasn't til I put them together, though, that I realized I would end up with what is essentially a gothic arch and the suggestion of stained glass windows.
But here it is, and now I hear a phrase from my childhood echoing in my head: When I was growing up my mom used to say with a shake of her head, "They gitcha comin' or goin'." I learned from the context that this was her way of describing a no-win situation, where you would find yourself at the mercy of someone else -- often an institution of some sort -- and you would find yourself the poorer for the connection no matter how you approached or left the situation.
So what does it mean when I look at this image and think, "The church'll gitcha, comin' or goin'?" As I ponder that thought, a host of possibilities come singing in; a celestial choir of angels and devils raising their voices to be heard. Some of the voices are negative, as I listen to the gossip and watch my former compatriots struggle with long hours and low pay, trying to put together news stories about what's happening here while at the same time fighting for what they believe to be right for the people out in the pews and worrying about job security. And some of the voices are positive: though I have learned over the years to be wary of the church -- the road to hell so OFTEN being paved with good intentions -- I am liking a lot of what I'm hearing here. The stories are amazing, the work of the artists I've encountered is often breathtaking, and the ongoing dedication and commitment of those who feel called to serve is inspiring.
So maybe that's it: the "comin' and goin" is all about my approach/avoidance issues with the church. I am proud to be part of a community which takes the needs and rights of humanity so seriously, that is so dedicated to doing the right thing -- and so I find myself being drawn in and eager to participate. But then I run up against the sniping and the hidden agendas and the posturing that goes on and I want to run screaming from the room.
I suspect the challenge for all of us is to stay centered and balanced in the tension between the oneness we strive for and profess and the egoic individualism that keeps tearing the fabric of community here. It's like the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury in that beautiful meditation he gave yesterday morning:
"Sin is our constant temptation to slip back into nothingness, into unreality – the void of our own individual desires and agendas, the void of a self that deludes itself into the belief that it is really there on its own, independent of God and of others. So when God in Jesus Christ restores humanity to its proper place in God's heart, Jesus has to face full-on the strange power of nothingness, the power of the terrors and dreams that are generated out of the self in its urgent attempts to keep itself alive by its own strength. Jesus dies because we don't want to die – to die to our fantasies and self-centered plans and dreams. To follow him is to risk stepping into life by recognizing that something in us must die – so that everlasting and true life may live."
And then he says, "Life is proclaimed not in our achievement, our splendid record of witness to God, but in our admission of helplessness and of the continuing presence and lure of death in our lives. To be able to speak of this, and not to retreat in fear or throw up defenses is part of true life; it is to know that our name is spoken by the Word of God and that we do not have to battle in resentment and anxiety to create an identity of our own. It is already there: we are already called friends. we are already bound to each other, and our life is invested in each other, in those we see and those we don't, those we like and those we don't. We are in the holy place with Jesus, a holy nation, a royal priesthood."
A life in the church then, will always be challenged by this tension between the coming and the going, between individual and corporate, between nothingness and oneness, between our own unique identities and our common call to view ALL of our compatriots -- at home, at work, in the church, in other churches, and in the whole world both in and out of the church -- with the compassion we would show our fellow children of God.
Yes, they got us coming and going. And to comprehend that and to walk voluntarily into that mix is, in the end, a truly holy thing.