Have you seen the film adaptation of Dr. Suess’ The Lorax movie? We’ve seen it several times. My kids love it, and they’ve become obsessed with the songs. Nothing like hearing your 3 year old twins walking around the house singing “How bad can I possibly be?”
I can answer that, guys. Pretty bad.
But I have to admit that I loved the movie as well. As I watched it, though, something unsettling hit me as a pastor. Thneedville kind of reminded me of some churches today. And I realized that there’s a confession I need to make. That’s awkward though, so let’s get back to that furry little tree hugger.
At the end of the film, while all the residents of Thneedville are still in their oblivious, but unhealthy and tree-less lives, a young boy attempts to connect them with what once was. That’s when Ted, this kid who has been captured by the idea of getting live trees back in Thneedville, takes charge. The only way that he can get them to see the reality of the world around them is if he takes a bulldozer and busts down the stadium-type walls of the Thneedville city limits. When he does, the people are able to see that outside of their shiny city lies a wasteland of stumps, polluted water, and smoggy air. Ted has to show them that at one time, before the walls had been built, the whole region was teeming with life. Birds in the sky, truffula trees all over the place, and no one making a profit from basic necessities (air). It was almost impossible for the city-dwellers to imagine what could be, but finally they agree to plant the last remaining truffula seed in the city, in the hopes that it would be a new beginning…..and it is. It’s an opportunity to reclaim the beauty and life that once was.
The church as many know it today was not how it always was. The earliest generations of Christians, at incredible social, religious, and political cost to themselves, chose to completely lay down their lives to care for each other and bless all those around them. They created a radical community centered around the ethos of love that Jesus showed. Because they shared resources with tons of generosity and were so committed to relationships, they had a great reputation even among people who didn’t share the same beliefs. Whoa. That’s possible? (read sarcasm).
This was a group of people who sold all they had so that others had enough. A group of people who met secretly in houses, risking their lives because they had experienced a love so great and life altering that it was worth everything.
That was then.
And these days, we go to church.
These days, those of us who call ourselves Christians often alienate and remove people from our lives who don’t share our same beliefs or convictions, rather than learning how to love one another, and bless our larger community.
We kind of live in Thneedville, within it’s small religious city limits, missing out on the beauty and fullness that once was. What used to be our story. What still can be our story. What needs to be reclaimed. But it doesn’t look good.
That’s the word that the Lorax said… unless something changes.
There is a movement out there right now, a movement of faith communities that are desperately trying to relearn what it means to take Jesus seriously- to love our neighbors, to live generously, to be committed to one another in true friendship and community. To be people who seek to love the hurting, the broken, the oppressed. To trust God for our hope and direction more than a political party. My faith family is trying to be a part of that. We’re trying to plant some truffula seeds again.
All of this has nothing to do with making anyone feel guilty- in fact, it’s laying the groundwork for my own personal confession. I know how many people think of “church” as an irrelevant, hour long guilt tripping “thing” that happens each week, and people go to it to feel better about themselves, or to fulfill some unspoken religious duty to get good with God. I’m embarrassed that that’s the perception. But I understand where it comes from. I’ve seen it too.
Here’s my confession:
Because I know the common perception of “church”, I think that in our first year of planting a new church, I’ve been almost embarrassed to admit or talk about what we’re doing. Not because of what we’re actually doing, but because of what people assume “church” means.
But that’s not what we’re doing. And I really don’t want to be ashamed of it anymore. We’re starting a church- yes! And it’s centered around Jesus- Yes!
But what will make this thing a success?
Tons of people coming together for a service? No.
A big building with an electronic LifePath sign? Negative.
Great music? No.
Kicking sermons by some weird guy who loves craft brews and disc golf? Yes! Actually, no.
Here’s what will mean LifePath is doing what God’s called us to do. These are the truffula trees we’re planting, and I’m not ashamed of them in the least:
-Families in Delaware will get stronger- guys will learn how to love and romance their wives, and wives will learn how to love and trust their husbands.
-Parents…single, divorced, married…will somehow be able to survive the toddler to teenage years because there’s a bunch of other knuckleheads who have no clue what they’re doing… doing it alongside them.
-Our friends, neighbors, and coworkers will be loved and accepted, and welcomed into meaningful relationships. -The poor and homeless in our region will be served and loved well.
-Lonely people will find deep community.
-People without family nearby will find that they actually have a family, in every way.
-Broken people (we all are) will find a place of healing.
-People will start to explore together what God might actually be like.
-People with vastly different beliefs, ideologies, and backgrounds, will learn and grow from each other.
-People will eat together. A lot.
-The way of Jesus: forgiveness, loving our enemies, releasing worry, acting selflessly- those things will not be so strange to people in a few years… in fact, they’ll want to hop on and start doing them too.
-People will have a community in which they can be free. Free to sing to God, free to cry, free to express deep fears, free to doubt, free to ask questions about faith and the bible, free to admit faults and needs- and they will be met with all the love and grace of Jesus.
-People will become apprentices of Jesus, and want to go out and help others do the same.
That’s the stuff we’re into…imperfectly, of course. Jesus calls it the “kingdom of God.”
So yeah, we’re starting a church. But it might not be like you think.
And with these seeds, like they say in Thneedville: Let it grow, baby.