Though admittedly I’m pretty eclectic where this is concerned, I have to confess that as someone of my generation I tend to gravitate toward the music of the late sixties and early seventies; and any discussion of that particular era of popular music inevitably leads to the Beatles. Granted, my fascination with this seminal group began long after their official break-up in 1970 (though I do recall as a grade-schooler having had great affection for “Yellow Submarine!”), but over the years that have followed I have never ceased to be amazed not by the great number of iconic songs the Beatles brought to and still remain on the cultural landscape, but also by the sheer creativity in which that music was produced.
Take, for instance, the medley of songs that make up the bulk of the “B-Side” (as it used to be called back in the days before CD’s and MP3’s!) of Abbey Road, the final album that the Beatles recorded as a group. Starting with the plaintive piano notes that begin “You Never Give Me Your Money” to the wailing drum solo and soaring guitar flourishes that lead to “The End,” it’s sixteen minutes’ worth of music that is both memorable and genuinely moving. It’s a monumental work, and one of my favorites of all the Beatles’ recordings; but what makes it particularly special, for me at least, is that father than existing as one musical composition it’s actually made of a series of song fragments – several unpolished and unfinished bits of melody and harmony created by Lennon and/or McCartney for other songs or albums and then discarded – but which then ended up woven together into one powerfully unified whole. It might have seemed to many at the time to be a strange approach to making a record, but listening to it now, there’s no denying that musically the results were… miraculous!
It seems to me that much the same thing can be said about the church.
Every one of the churches I’ve had the privilege of serving as pastor has had at least one thing in common: each were congregations made up of people who were wholly diverse and decidedly different! As you might expect, there’s been the blend of generations from “Greatest” to “Z,” folks who represent a wide array of religious experience and background (from a few former Roman Catholics who couldn’t quite keep from calling me “Father,” to one very devout and wonderfully prayerful Charismatic who was moved on more than one occasion to “speak in tongues”), along with those who weren’t all that sure they bought all “the God stuff” to begin with, and yet week after week always seemed to be there, sitting in their regular pew; each one hungry for something they knew was real but couldn’t even name. Indeed, as the song we sometimes sing in worship puts it, “Children and elders, middlers and teens; strong eighty-fivers and streetwise sixteens:” they’ve all been, at one time or another, “part of the family” we call the church of Jesus Christ (“Part of the Family,” by Jim Manley).
Likewise, I continue to be struck by the sheer diversity of personality that’s found in your average congregation! Trust me here; in the church you eventually see it all: from meek and mild, to bold and outspoken; from joy to overflowing, to paralyzing fear; from gentleness in word and deed, to forthright bluntness in just about everything! To say the least, hang around any church family for very long, and you’ll quickly find out that there’s every kind of people that make up that church; not to mention every kind of attitude! And that means that even in the best of church families, the “good church folk” will sometimes find themselves not only at cross purposes, but also butting heads in the process. In all honesty, in my weaker moments as a pastor there have been times I’ve wondered if it might not be better – or at least easier (!) – if we weren’t quite so diverse, and perhaps a little more of one mind!
But luckily, I’m reminded time and time again that it’s precisely that kind of diversity keeps the church vibrant and alive, which I dare say is of vital importance in these difficult and uncertain times in which we live. The fact is, even as the church was gathered, we were never intended to exist as merely some homogenous group of like-thinking people; but rather as a gathering of the faithful; a wide array of individual people who may have been at different points along the journey but who now, by grace, have found themselves in the company of kindred hearts and in the presence of a loving and transforming God.
And what comes of that is nothing short of… miraculous.
Indeed, it can well be said that we are those incredible bits and pieces that, when woven together with care and infinite love by the Divine Creator, become a unified whole that’s even more beautiful and purposeful than it was before, full of untold possibilities and new opportunities for becoming a blessing unto others and likewise unto the world.
“And in the end…” I can’t imagine the church – and our very lives – in any other way!
c. 2016 Rev. Michael W. Lowry