Jim Wallis, former pastor and head of Sojourners, told a tale of his conservative Christian boyhood that I can relate to. He was a member of a church that taught it was a sin to go to movies. But his boyhood—like my own—was a time of social change. So the young Wallis, then a teenager, scanned the newspaper weekly hoping to find a movie tame enough to test his church’s complete ban on movies.
When the Sound of Music came to town, Jim was sure that he had at last found the perfect movie to please even his conservative church. He invited a girl from his church’s youth group to see the film with him. When time came to head to the theater, Wallis’s father stood in the door with tears welling in his eyes. He begged the two to reconsider and not reject the church’s teaching, but they went anyway.
“The ban against movies was a trivialization of the Christian faith, to be sure,” said Jim Wallis, years later. “But looking back over the years, when you see how much we Christians have compromised in our support for war, in our callousness toward the poor, in our worship of wealth and power, I wonder if maybe my father was more right than I knew. Is there anything for which the contemporary church would stand in the door for or against today?” He throws us into a vital dilemma.
I can relate. As a boy, driving to the farm where my father was raised, my mom gave us tactful instructions. Lee and I played Crazy Eights in the back seat to pass the time. My mother was careful to hide the cards from Grandpa Vernon and Grandma Gladys…As a second grader, I saw Disney’s animated Pinocchio. Please don’t mention the movie to grandma, mom instructed me. It will upset her.
Some dismiss my Mennonite grandparents as unmodern, dated, biased, narrow, intolerant, and behind the times. When I evaluate something today, whether it is moral and of God, I picture them as my touchstone of reflection and discernment.
This Sunday is Graduation Sunday. As we send them forth, these reflections are worth putting in front of them: as God’s beloved child, where are we all willing to say no where the rest of the world is saying yes? This query will serve them well.
Just remember, the New Testament word for church is ekklesia. Ekklesia refers to those called out of the world into the gathering of the body of Christ. We know, of course, that we are sent back into the world after worship for Christlike love and service. But the lines of church and world are necessarily drawn differently. If they’re not, the church will disappear, and it should well necessarily disappear.
I still recall a gospel hymn at church camp, “This world is not my home, I’m just a’ passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue. The angels beckon me through heaven’s open door and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.” We can’t let ourselves get too comfy in this world. Hugo of St. Victor said: “The man who finds his homeland sweet is still a tender beginner; he to whom every soil is as his native one is already strong; but he is perfect to whom the entire world is a foreign place.” What would you stand in the door for?