Stained Glass

Because of the time change today, I had the pleasure of being at church this evening while the sun was setting rather than after it was already dark. Towards the end of the service, the light was shining through some of the stained glass windows, throwing patterns onto the walls. We were singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” and it was beautiful.

I was conflicted in that moment, though. There I was, surrounded by the beauty of the windows and the music and my church family, and yet I could not help being reminded of my recent struggles with the church. I love Jesus and I love the individual Christians that I work with and grew up with and sit in the pews with, but the church, y’all. The church, especially the American church, has been hard to love lately.

A big part of my struggle has come from seeing more clearly what the church looks like from the outside. Growing up, I didn’t really know anyone who wasn’t part of the church. Sure, there were plenty of non-Christians that I went to school with, but I generally wasn’t friends with them (and I don’t blame them – I was obnoxious). For most of my life, I was surrounded by other Christians and most of my best friends were the ones I made at church.

And I now find myself in a position where even though I work at a Christian school and attend church each week, most of my closest friends would not call themselves Christians. Especially in the online communities I’m a part of, I feel like I’m getting a chance to be a fly on the wall, to hear what people say about us when they don’t think we’re in the room (or alternatively, flat out don’t care if we hear).

And y’all, it’s not good. It can be easy to believe the world really does know us by our love when we exist in our church bubbles. And on the rare occasion we step outside that bubble, we love to interpret the negative things we see and hear as persecution aimed against us (I know I used to love to see it that way). But I’ll tell you this – those outside our church walls do not look at us and see love. They do not see grace or mercy or kindness or compassion. They do not see the beauty that I see inside the church.

There’s a church in Austin called Gethsemane Lutheran Church that I went on a field trip to when I was in elementary school (those are the kinds of field trips you go on when you go to a Christian school). We went there because they have beautiful stained glass windows. Here’s the thing about stained glass, though: it’s not beautiful from the outside.

Here’s what Gethsemane looks like inside:

img_7676

I loved standing inside of it. Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but as a girl who grew up in a nondenominational church with few windows and terrible carpet, those windows made me feel a whole lot of beautiful things.

But here’s what it looks like from the outside:

gethsemane_lutheran_church

You can’t see the colors or the pictures. It just looks like a jumbled mess of dark glass. Sitting inside my church tonight, I looked at the lit-up windows and knew that from the outside they would not be nearly as beautiful.

Those of us who have been a part of the church know how beautiful it can be. Yes, many of us have been hurt and wounded by the church in various ways. But if your stories are anything like mine, we have also been loved and cared for and supported. We have seen healing and redemption and reconciliation and all the other things the bride of Christ is supposed to be about. So why aren’t those things obvious from the outside?

We have to figure out a way to turn our stained glass windows around. We have to figure out how to make the light shine in the other direction as well. It’s not enough for the inside of our churches to be beautiful places; we should also be making the world outside our walls more beautiful too.

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  • A collection of ramblings and musings on Jesus, life, education, family, and anything else that pops into my head.

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