By Rev. C. Richards
“In my Father’s house there are many rooms” - Jesus (John 14)
I built some “Peterson” Bluebird houses earlier this spring. Hung them up on some fence posts down the side of the yard. According to the interwebs, bluebirds like a field next to woods. This is a solid description of my yard - so I thought, “Lets make a birdhouse!”
Brief Confession, I know little to nothing about bluebirds.
Now as is usually the case, nothing is ever that simple, or if it is, its only simple for other people. (Usually people who post things to the interwebs.) Regardless - I built two birdhouses and spaced them far enough apart to satisfy the requirements posted on the birdhouse instruction page.
Fast forward four weeks - the birds are now returning. Almost all the bird species that local “birders” tell me are good to look for have now returned. I have not seen any bluebirds. I hear from a fellow who likes birds - bluebirds like suet, a kind of bird-food that I was unaware of. They also really like mealworms, a kind of bird-food that I now wish that I was unaware of.
I hang a seed bird-feeder. I hang some suet feeders and put suet into them. I do nothing with mealworms except shiver when I see them.
Now I watch the birds most mornings and some evenings. I notice so many more species with feeders out. I especially come to enjoy watching the swallows. They are magnificent fliers - speed demons and daredevils, creatures after my own too-fast and somewhat risk-taking heart.
During this time I find myself proud of my birdhouse building success! The interwebs told me that swallows (which I have now learned are actually ‘Tree Swallows’ from a birder) will probably take over the birdhouse, and how dare they do so, as they are not nearly as desirable as a bluebird. I believe this when I read it because it sounds authoritative.
I am proud of my houses because swallows have been landing on my birdhouses quite often. They perch at the entrance. But having followed the advice of the online gurus - I made the entrance hole small enough that only the elusive and wonderful bluebird will be able to enter and the ‘Tree Swallows’ will be barred from entrance. I am proud of my skill in building the proper birdhouse.
So what does this have to do with God - pastoring - faith etc. ?
Note the situation: I have built a birdhouse which no birds live in. There are birds who would like to live there. But they can’t get in. It isn’t really built for them. The birds that the houses were built for don’t want to live there or haven’t yet found the houses built for them. I am proud of a house that houses no-one, but properly rejects those that might actually have a use for it.
This is like the predicament of the post-modern church today. Our ancestors built houses of worship - many now sit empty. We do the same things we have done in the past because they are familiar. The meaning those things had for our grand-parents and great-grandparents is no longer immediately apparent to most of us. But we do those things anyway as they feel good and comforting and they are what the house is for.
Those practices also have the effect of keeping out those people who don’t know our traditions or customs, even if they are honestly looking for a house of worship, or a house where God lives.
And really, isn’t it easier if the people we see at the church are just the ones we usually see? It’s more comfortable. It doesn’t challenge us. We can feel good about our somewhat impractical and not quite understood worship service and house of worship, because it succeeds not as a house of worship, but as a home for the worshippers (who are decreasing) and at the same time it keeps out those for whom the house was not intended and protects us from having to explain ourselves.
I found out today from a friend that if the Tree Sparrows can’t get in to the bluebird house, it means I got the hole too small. He gave me proper information. Sparrows and Bluebirds are the same size.
My pride evaporated. My houses were built for the idea of a bird, not actually for a bird that I hoped to see. I was told that the bird was valuable. So I pursued it. But on my terms, and with bad information.
We do the same thing at church, unintentionally. We want to welcome in our neighbors. Come to our house of Worship! It is very nice here. We have good food. We have many friends here. It has been a good home to us! And all of those things are absolutely true. But it is a home that was built for others, at another time, and in a different era and culture. And, while we have made it our home, it isn’t really open to others, unless they already know the story, the rules, the patterns, and they look somewhat and speak somewhat like we do. We’ve built bluebirds houses with tiny doors, where there aren’t any bluebirds. We built them for bluebirds but we don’t actually know anything about them.
This afternoon I walked down to the birdhouses with a portable jigsaw. I cut the holes oblong and larger to the right size. Now Tree Swallows can get in. Bluebirds too. Maybe someday a Bluebird family will move in. But until then, I’ve changed my expectation. I’m hoping some Tree Swallows move in. I really like them, even though they aren’t as “desirable” to the bird gurus. Besides, I don’t want to touch mealworms so I may never see a bluebird anyway.
I wonder - how might we jigsaw open our expectations of church life? What if the house of worship was God’s house, not ours? What if our expectations of worship and ministry were current to our needs and the needs of our neighbors here and now? What if the people who were looking for God recognized our church as one of God’s houses? Not just another church? What if there are no bluebirds who ever move in, and instead it becomes a church filled undesirable birds? What a ruckus that would be:)
Christ’s Peace -