Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lift every voice and sing

I got to church about a minute late this morning. Actually, by my watch I was a minute early, but they were already well into the opening hymn when I arrived. I hurried up the path, eager to slip into a pew and find the right page in the hymnal while they were still singing.

I love to sing, and I especially love to sing in church. Though we don't cease to exist as individuals when our voices join in song, we truly do become part of something bigger than ourselves, and I wanted to take my place as part of that something. Yet anxious as I was to get inside, I paused to listen before I went in. There's something so sweet about the sound of a hymn that refuses to be contained inside the church and drifts away like a soft breeze on a summer morning. The sound was so pure, the essence of our prayers sent heavenward; in that moment it wasn't hard to believe that this church truly does embody all of our best ambitions for ourselves as a community.

Then I opened the door and the moment was over. I found myself fumbling to find my place in the hymnal, a little short of breath when I opened my mouth to sing. Heard up close, it turned out that some of us--myself included--were a little off key and off tempo this morning. Reality check: I am not Gracie Slick and this is not the Mormon Tabernacle Choir gathered around me.

And what about our best ambitions? We're not quite there, I'm afraid, but that's OK. We're only human, after all.

I believe that, I really do. I believe that the striving toward our ideals is what matters, despite the impossibility of achieving them. Though I like to think about what the perfect church would be like, I don't expect to find it here on earth. I believe church can bring us closer to God despite our shared imperfections. We may be only human, but we are inspired and guided and loved by God.

So why can't I let go and stop blaming the church I was raised in for being less than perfect? Why can't it be enough just to do what little I can to make it better? Why can't its great potential for goodness be what matters?

I ask myself those questions, and here's the problem I see: If I took my place in a pew and went along, even with my fingers crossed, wouldn't that contribute to making a statement that says it's OK to worry more about who we need to exclude from the table than about how to make all of God's children welcome, that it's OK to believe God gave more of his gifts to men than to women, and so on and on? And wouldn't that be wrong?


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