I drive down Folly Road a lot for work and I recently noticed a sign that let people know that anyone 18 or older could get free meals over the summer through their participation in the CCSD Seamless Summer Feeding program at James Island Presbyterian Church. I thought how wonderful a work that is for a church. Then I thought about why a church feeding those in need was so extraordinary. My thoughts then took me to Oskar Schindler.
Thirty-five years ago Thomas Keneally released his famous book Schindler’s Ark. Most people are more familiar with the Steven Spielberg film entitled Schindler’s List which was based on Keneally’s book. The original title references the bible story of Noah’s ark which was a large boat that Noah was instructed to build by God and whose purpose was to save creation from a devastating flood that God would be sending. Schindler’s story was one of saving hundreds of Jews from genocide at the hands of the Nazis.
This was such a massive piece of history and an incredibly sorrowful time. As I reminded myself of the story by reading a simple summary, I was brought to tears. We live in much more peaceful time. At least, some of us.
But even now, we become lazy. On a day to day basis, it becomes easy to embrace “small immoralities” and the nuances of evil. We hide behind politics and social norms. Suddenly, you look around and the biggest church leaders in America justify robbing the poor of basic necessities such as food and healthcare. They celebrate a liar who uses power to molest women and cheat others out of money. They can somehow marry a divine appointment to be humble and love everyone with supporting politics that encourage racism and American superiority.
I am a Christian who questions church. There is an understanding among church leaders that young Christians are fleeing the church and they are asking why. They are developing solutions and investing in social media and other modern ways to reach people. The problem, though, is not that Christians today need to be entertained into church. The problem is that people are seeing decades of the church turning into a business, a scenario where the basic tenets of Christianity often take a back seat to economics and politics. If the church is treated like a business, the approach is about gaining customers. This is what I see when I look at church.
When I was young man, I attended a church in North Carolina. Every Wednesday, the church had an “open gym” where we could play basketball. I brought a large group of my friends who were not Christians. Before we played, they did a large group prayer in which everyone participated. However, after a few weeks we showed up and the woman checking us in pulled me aside and let me know that we would have to stop coming. They would be kind enough to let us play that night, but my friends couldn’t come back. They weren’t members.
I attended a local church when I was seeking a new one to attend after moving a few years ago and wrote an email to the pastor questioning the sermon which seemed more focused on accomplishing our own dreams than anything about God. I got a reply saying that I wasn’t a Christian, that he wasn’t interested in helping me understand and after bragging on some of the positive things his church does, that he would not even look at another communication from me.
Why does questioning a sermon result in being attacked by the pastor? Why is church “membership” more important than letting lost souls play basketball? Instead of showing them love, we were shown the door.
It is easy for the average person to look back at the Holocaust and tell right from wrong. You will approach the world differently tomorrow if you watch Schindler’s List tonight. But it won’t last. On a day to day basis, it becomes easy to slip back into a spiritual coma and I believe this is the biggest challenge for the church; acknowledging the spiritual coma that it creates.
At the end of Schindler’s List, Schindler is almost broke from his efforts to save as many Jews as possible and is shown appreciation by the survivors. However, he looks at the things of financial value about him and realizes he could’ve saved more lives. Despite being a hero and losing his fortune due to his efforts, he is saddened that he didn’t do more. This is an understanding of the value of a single human life.
I drive by James Island Presbyterian and see a church doing something right by feeding those in need. Shouldn’t that be the norm? No one is perfect, but if we could personify “the church” I wonder how it would feel if Christ returned today. I wonder if it would feel a little like Schindler, regretting what was left on the table. I wonder if they would even compare.