A House, But Not a Home
We are preparing to put my mother’s home on the market. We’ve had the entire interior painted in a nondescript color that no buyer should find offensive. The small repairs have been made. The hardwood floors have been polished. Today, I spent several hours steam cleaning the carpets. Next week will be a final cleaning of the kitchen, the appliances and the bathrooms. Finally, when we have a temperate day in the next week or so, I will power wash the garage floor and apply a final coat of paint.
Yet, I realized as I turned to leave today, this was no longer my mother’s home. It is only a house that she happens to own. She no longer lives there. The only sound in the place was the radio I had brought along to pass the time. The furniture and art work that reflected her personality are all gone. None of her favorite books are in evidence. There are no photographs on the mantle or tables that tell of her history or her journey. Even the familiar scents are gone. It’s been months since a meal was made in the kitchen and there is no lingering smell of her favorite perfume. It now has the unmistakable scent of a clean and freshly painted house, without the living presence of a person within.
It is a house, but it is not a home.
I recently visited a church. At least, I assumed it was a church, although from the name out front it might have been anything from a health spa to a nightclub or even, perhaps, a new trendy restaurant. As I walked in, everyone that I encountered was very casually dressed, as is the new custom of our age, except, of course, when something important is happening, like a date or a job interview or, even, for many, going into the office on Monday. Those are important, this is just church. There was no sanctuary, but I was directed to a multi-purpose auditorium with a stage. The color of the walls was nondescript and receded into the shadows. As I looked around the space, it was strictly utilitarian. Looking forward to the stage, no Christian symbol was in evidence. Indeed, there was no artwork of any sort to be seen. Three large flat screen monitors – left, right and center – showed the image of a sunrise overlaid with the word, “Welcome”.
The space seemed clean. We all had individual auditorium style seats, so there was no need to adjust oneself to other people, or to say hello, or nod and smile, as you might have to do in a pew. The physical experience was one of being a solitary spectator surrounded by other solitary spectators. This sensation was reinforced when the lights in the auditorium were dimmed and the lights on the stage came up. On the stage, in the center was an acrylic lectern which was the focus of three follow spotlights. To the left side was a full drum set behind an acoustic shielding acrylic screen, surrounded by amplifiers, guitars on stands and microphones. To the right side were four chairs set at an angle awaiting a group of casually dressed men who were talking to each other at the edge of the stage. No altar was in evidence. No familiar smell of beeswax from candles. Nothing that spoke of our journey through 2000 years of history. It was about “here and now”, but it could have been any time, any where.
It was a building. It was a building where music was performed and words were used to give explanations, but it seemed, at least to me, to lack a living presence.
Now, I know what you are going to say… “The church is not a building, it’s the people”. Yet, much of what I encountered, especially in the physical space, seemed to lessen the real participation of people. Whether we sang or not, the “worship leaders” would insure that the songs were sung. As the lengthy message was delivered, we sat in out seats in the darkened auditorium, and we were the passive receptors of what was said. Even the prayers being offered came from the stage and merely asked for our silent assent; unless, of course, we were asked for a hearty, “Amen”.
There is something that makes a house a home. There is also, I believe, something that makes a building a church. “Community” is not the mere presence of a group of people gathered in a single space. “Worship” is not simply the performance of certain songs. “Prayer” is more than silent assent to someone else’s words. What that “something” is, may be indefinable. Yet, we know it when it is there.