“We humans are notorious for taking something Scripture describes as a reality, giving a term to it and thinking we’ve replicated the reality. Paul talked about the church that gathered in various homes, but he never called it ‘house church’. Houses were just where they ended up in their life together. Jesus was the focus, not the location.”
-Jack Colsen, So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore?
“19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.”
– Ephesians 2:19-21 (NIV)
akrogōniaios: placed at an extreme corner, the corner foundation stone
I try to go in quietly through the middle doors in the back. The few seconds in pulling the handle happen to be when the worship stops and the guitar echoes end. I’m late and all is still. The hinges squeak, their heads spin and my shoulders shrug a little because to say I’m sorry is asking too much.
I’ve been pushing myself toward Church lately. I want to keep going because I’m hoping, at some point, I’ll pass through this barrier and actually want to be here. Like wanting wine or black coffee, like an acquired taste.
There’s a row in the nosebleeds that’s completely empty, so I claim it. I need to have that escape route and breathing room. Spotlights are shone on the front and center and I know, within minutes, the room will be full light for the mandatory “meet and greet” moment. These are perhaps the most uncomfortable, tentative, interactions I’ll have all week. But I do it anyway because this is church and that’s how we get to know each other.
I am thinking about skin color. Out of the entire sanctuary I cannot spot a single person of color. Sunday, the Lord’s day, is still the most segregated day of the week. We have suburban white churches and urban black churches. Gay churches and non-affirming churches. Churches where women can preach and churches where that is ridiculous.
And suddenly, I start looking for the exits.
Then I shrug, simply because it was a 30 minute drive to get here. Thoughts continue to nuke and I am taking notes, not on the sermon- on everything I would change about this whole institution. Even though no one can see that I’m a pariah, I feel like they know. I feel like one of them is about to turn around and toss an ex gay brochure in my lap. I start seeing them in voting booths, I see them at dinner, I’m in their car listening to James Dobson radio, and they are so white and so suburban.
The sermon is lost on me and before I know it, it’s closing time with Communion and I’m not feeling up for it. Reasons for this mainly center around the fact that I spent the entirety of the service nit-picking every soul and sound effect in the room, and it’s not easy to shift from critique to confession. I’m not really feeling bad about it either. Partaking just seems to be in poor taste.
This night, once again, is a bust and I know its my fault because I chose to come here. They didn’t come to my house. They don’t owe me anything.
As folks file down the aisle to consume the elements, I lean back and listen to the lovely voices crooning. While I used to be a big critic of the mood altering music, I’ve become rather okay with it. It is enjoyable and even if it’s just for a few minutes, I feel more.
And there’s this song that comes on, the only one that has ever given me pause. Two seconds of that one verse and I am wholly undone. I am undone with face falling into fingers.
“We will overcome, by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony.”
We all fly and drop and believe and doubt and sometimes feel like we are teetering on a faith that’s one gust away from free fall. We all stand here hungry, wanting to want, drawn in by uncertainty, dying for clarity. We come imperfect with our prejudices and our need to please. We arrive all the way tired.
But we’re all connected to this cornerstone. We’re all a part of this.
Yes, they are so white and so suburban. They share the same skin and probably the same politics. But I cannot see their history, nor can they mine, not until we gather here around the cornerstone. This where we break bread with one another because we belong to one another. We feed into each other our stories so we can see how easy love can start.
And like them, I am mustering up whatever courage and energy I have left in me to sit through one more Sunday. One more week of fighting unbelief. One more night of giving grace a try.
Like them, I am forcing myself to come here because something in me says go. Join in the collective groan.
in this moment I understand Christ as cornerstone.
Masonry foundations start with the cornerstone, the brick that the rest of the structure is built in reference to. It is the most important part, and obviously, a fitting description for Jesus. Everything we do is in relation to Him, how we live in light of his Death and Resurrection, how we slip away like blocks in Jenga.
We’re all small bits in a body that is constantly looking for the Love of Jesus. Incessant in our desperation for it.
Trying to see where we stand, who we are, what we want to be,
Where He is, who He is and what He wants us to be.
And all the while, we walk through a world that is not fixed, that is always moving, where we are always changing and its difficult to discern what it means to stay in relation to Him. To find a faith that feels right as we live in a world that feels wrong, a church that feels wrong (sometimes). To angle towards Him. To stay tethered to His message. It’s not easy.
Everything hangs on this. On Christ’s death and resurrection. On Him being our Cornerstone. Our entire lives cleaved to an event that happened 2,000 years ago. That is a lot for the heart to hang on to.
Yet at the same time, it is He who is holding this whole mess together. He is the cornerstone. He holds this whole dying world in His hands. He is our cradle. Our nest. And that is a lot for the heart to grasp… but it’s kind of irresistible.
Overcoming is our desire and we need His blood to do it, but that cleanse comes through our connection with one another. When we finally understand that not everyone (or anyone) fits the straight, white, suburban family stereotype. When we celebrate the creative body surrounding our common Father. When we reach deeper to retrieve the sharp stories and those moments where God didn’t feel near. The days when the Church felt a world away. We start setting things right.
Somewhere inside those conversations and those prayers and those songs is a collective correction of the structure. A shifting of the earth. New bravery in our bones. More love lingering on our lips. We are living in each others’ stories, meshing and loving and tripping and falling all the way to the Holy. We trust timidly in the living Cornerstone to keep us standing. Daring to maybe… let us all stand together.