What If….

One beautiful byproduct of this horrible pandemic is that the way we meet and gather is changing.

Yes, we all long for the time when the “6 feet apart” rule is ancient history and we once again can sit shoulder to shoulder at concerts, games, church services, etc. But have you noticed that when we’re shoulder to shoulder – we’re not face to face?

We’re doing a different type of gathering right now – and maybe that’s not all bad.

So… the other night I inadvertently conducted an experiment with 5 of us from my church’s small group as we gathered at my apartment community’s clubhouse for a little get-together. The room is so awesome and spacious that it is a “safe place” to gather during this strange COVID-19 pandemic season because there’s plenty of room for social distancing.

Anyway… before the group arrived – I didn’t set the room up in any particular way. I just told my friends, “Make yourselves at home.” One thing I noticed is that the furniture was neatly arranged in square formation sitting areas (barstools lines up at the bar, chairs around cute little square tables, and couches and comfy chairs in seating arrangements at about 90 degrees from each other).

I found it passingly interesting that we did not keep any of the furniture in tidy squares while actually using it. As we moved around the room chatting and enjoying food and drink throughout the evening, we always seemed to end up in loosely formed circles facing each other. It was just natural to do that. It was much easier to connect with each other that way than in the tidy and eye catching square formations throughout the room.

I didn’t think much about until the next morning when I picked up a book (moving it out of the way in my almost daily frantic search for the keys before work ritual). The book is called The Church Comes Home by Robert and Julia Banks. Because books are more interesting to me than searches for keys or commutes to work – I mindlessly flipped through the pages.

Well…. I “happened” to land on pages 36-37 and my eyes were drawn to these diagrams there:

A little backstory on why these pictures and thoughts of my small group gathering from the prior evening became significant to me…. You see, I think my life and the pages of days within it – good, bad, and ugly – has essentially been a quest for authentic community, a Ragamuffin Oasis. (Now you see where my blog’s title comes from).

Perhaps you are not unfamiliar with this longing for authentic community: a community that perhaps seeks not as much to form you as to hold you – as you are.

And…. having spent the largest part of my formative years at some church function or another – I think I automatically assumed that truest form of community and connection could be found at church. However, in my five decades I have not always found that to be the case.

In fact, though I’ve been a part of some incredible churches through the years of all different shapes, sizes, and denominations- I found, at times, that true connection with others was much easier to find in completely non-“churchy” environments.

I’ve been starting to wonder, though, if perhaps church itself isn’t the obstacle to authentic and relevant connection so very necessary for us to thrive. Perhaps our westernized institutionalized version of it is the problem.

When I saw those pictures – the first one

looking like most of the churches in the United States: pews or chairs in tidy front-facing rows with a stage or pulpit up front – I found it interesting that the home church/”early church” pattern of gathering was in natural relational circles.

And, in our informal gathering the other evening and many prior to that outside at a local park (we really have been trying to be good little social distances while trying to create community at the same time), we just naturally formed a circle where we could easily connect with each other. It would have seemed counterintuitive to for one of us to stand in front of the others and everyone else line their chairs up it a neat row facing away from each other and toward the “leader”.

So, why then has our “normal” as churches and other organizations that supposedly have the purpose of creating community been to set up meeting places that automatically take our gazes of each other and toward some stage?

Perhaps this is just one insight and example of why church has become so irrelevant to so many.

Because our current social-distancing circumstances have prevented us from gathering in our normally abnormal traditions, perhaps we are uncovering our true “normal” – our true North of connecting naturally and authentically embedded deeply in our souls by our Maker.

Also, I know a lot of us complain about Zoom meetings and such. But perhaps the reason why all those faces in those “Brady Bunch squares” make us weary and “creep us out” a bit – is that, with the exception of a select few in our inner circles, we haven’t spent a lot of time actually taking in the faces of those around us.

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” –Hebrews‬ ‭10:24-25‬ ‭

Perhaps we (church-goer types) have been “assembling” for generations – yet not really together…. All in one auditorium but never really connecting.

Maybe one blessing birthed from this pandemic season will be that we get our “together” back.

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