Last year when I was taking a class on revitalizing churches, we read Diana Butler Bass’ book Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith. Each chapter discussed one aspect of missional life or what she calls “signposts of renewal.” The chapter that caught me most off-guard was entitled “Beauty.” Even though my mind felt like it was caught in a whirling vortex of theological terms and assignment deadlines, I carried this question with me — how is beauty a part of God’s mission?
Six months later, I faced the most difficult Christmas season of my life as I dealt with the disappointment of not having a call during a time when many of my classmates were relishing their first Christmases as ordained clergy. During this time, I realized how important beauty was to soothe my soul. I created a combination Advent calendar/Christmas tree completely out of paper. When it was completed, every time I looked at my calendar tree, I felt like there might be hope for me and my family and my call. I understood how beauty can be missional. Beauty reminds the world of the good promises God has made.
At the same time, I have gotten to see a lot of different churches in a short amount of time, and I have been disappointed by how little beauty I have seen. Instead, I am greeted by these stodgy images of men hung on off-white walls. When I see these gray-green-brown prints, I do not feel like there is hope for me and my family. I feel like the church doesn’t understand what I am going through and doesn’t want to.
As I bring up this observation, I can hear the nay-sayers already: “Our churches are dying, and you want us to redecorate?” I do actually. It is like the church has become one of the run-down moms on “What Not to Wear.” They have been so consumed with everything else that they don’t find value or worth in themselves anymore. They just expect people to look past the mom-jeans and hand-me-down T-shirts to see their worth for them. Maybe it is time for a makeover.
Maybe it is time for the church to look at its beauty as a gift to hurting people in this world who need to be reminded that there is still goodness and hope for them. Now I am left asking — do the colors we paint on our walls or the pictures we hang in our gathering spaces really convey the beautiful Savior whom we worship?
Robert Zund, “Road to Emmaus”
Courtney Young, “Advent Envelope Tree”
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