I’m reminded once again, by recent events, of one of the most foundational experiences I’ve had in understanding the church. It is true.
In one congregation, I visited a woman who was reacting to horrible images of tornado damage in the Midwest. A community had been hit directly by a powerful storm, and left destruction and devastation in its wake. It reminded the woman of her childhood in Berlin, Germany. She had been a child during WWII, and had huddled in the basement of her home during the carpet bombing of Berlin by Allied forces. During one of those terrible days, a bomb landed very close to the home, and shrapnel was flying through the air. Some of it found her sister, and caused a fatal wound. The woman recalled holding her dying sister in her arms as the bombing continued. We spoke for quite some time about the death of her sister, the destruction of her community, and the eventual move to the United States. Later that day, I was visiting with an older man as his wife lay dying in the bedroom of their simple home. He was reminiscing at their life together. They had been married just before he went off to military service in WWII. He trained as a bombardier, and was describing some of his feelings about participating in the carpet bombing of Berlin, where he knew that so many innocent people were dying because of the bombs the Allied forces were dropping.
My reactions after the jump …
This sent my mind spinning. Here were two people on opposite sides of the story. Some amazing life circumstances had not only led them to being members of the same congregation, but that I would visit them on the same day. I later very gently asked each of them, when I had figured out how to do it, if they were aware that there were people in the congregation that had participated on opposite sides of the story. They knew, and the woman’s comment was telling. She said that histories don’t matter in the church because we are all children of God, forgiven by Christ, and share the same holy meal.
That experience has been tremendously foundational for my understanding of the church. The church is not a collection of like-minded people (read any of St. Paul’s letters and that will come as no surprise). But it is a collection of people who share a common history of forgiveness. The church at its best is a place where people will disagree about everything except the grace of God. It also becomes a safe place, when that is true, for people to listen to one another and find ways to bridge the gap between the differences we tend to identify and find so quickly.