Church: Inclusion or Exclusion?

” Listen, here’s what I think. I think we can’t go ’round measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.” – Pere Henri’s sermon in Chocolat

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Chocolat is one of my all-time favorite movies. I love the quirky, lovable characters.  I love the images of chocolate being sprinkled, melted, molded, and eaten. I love the movie’s wise and wonderful dialogue.  I love the setting. I love the… did I mention the chocolate? And I love the movie’s message.

If you’ve never seen the movie, Chocolat (or read the book it’s based on), let me give a brief summary: A young widow moves into a small French town with her daughter, and opens up a chocolate store.  During lent.  Yeah.  Kind of bad timing.  The mayor – a judgmental, and obsessively restrained and rigid fellow, inclined to want to control the behavior of everyone around him – is not pleased by her lack of obedience to the dogma of his church. He proceeds to make life difficult for her – trying to coerce the people of his town to shun her and her new business.

And this brings me to the gist of what I want to write about today: exclusivism; elitism; what I call “Country Club Religiousness.” In his wonderful sermon, The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond reflects on the Biblical analogy of the sheep being separated from the goats on Judgment Day : “I say the final test of religion at that great Day is not religiousness, but Love; not what I have done, not what I have believed, not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life. Sins of commission in that awful indictment are not even referred to. By what we have not done, by sins of omission, we are judged. It could not be otherwise. For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain.”

Why do you suppose we sometimes seem to have the need to cast judgment on others? Do you think we feel the need to put others down, shun them, exclude  them, and stamp them with labels because we don’t realize our own wonderfulness? – maybe we feel the need to put others down to somehow feel better about ourselves?  And do you think that maybe people who join organizations that promote exclusivity are people who have a need to feel like they belong to something “special?” I don’t know. I’m not a trained psychologist or anything, and I could just be (once again) full of baloney about this stuff.  Anyway…

We all know what Jesus said about judging others: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?  Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7)

In the Christian Science textbook, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy defines “Church” as “The structure of Truth and Love; whatever rests upon and proceeds from divine Principle.” She writes: “The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race, rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick.”

Note that Eddy doesn’t say that Church exists as a place to promote dogma, or to judge others. She doesn’t say that the Church exists only for the people who attend service in a material structure, or who obey rules of a human organization. She writes that the purpose of Church is to elevate the “race” – not just some members of the race, but all.  She doesn’t write that Church exists to serve itself, but that its purpose is to “raise the dormant understanding” of the human race.

Science is inclusive: The laws and rules of physics don’t belong just to those who call themselves physicists; A geologist can’t exclude anyone else from studying geology – nobody holds exclusive rights to the study of the earth’s surface; The principles of mathematics are universal, and available to everyone who chooses to use them.  And, just as geology, physics, and mathematics are inclusive of all mankind, so the Principle of the Christ-Science is universal, and belongs to everyone – nobody has exclusive ownership of Truth; Love, God, doesn’t belong to some people, and not others; A human institution doesn’t hold exclusive rights to Love’s healing power, and can’t prevent any of God’s children from being one with their Father-Mother, Love.

The healing truths found in Christian Science are available to everyone – not just card-carrying members of the Christian Science church.  And what good news that is for humanity! 🙂

May our physical housings of Church – our human structures – be perfect manifestations of the “structure of Truth and Love,” and may they be filled with a happy fellowship, inclusive of all.

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The members of this Church should daily watch and pray to be delivered from all evil, from prophesying, judging, condemning, counseling, influencing or being influenced erroneously.” – from Church Manual by Mary Baker Eddy

The Great Heart of Love

Come when the shadows fall,
And night grows deeply dark;
The barren brood , O call
With song of morning lark;
And from above,
Dear heart of Love,
Send us thy white-winged dove.

–Mary Baker Eddy

How wonderfully bolstering it is to recognize ourselves surrounded by the playful, joyful, comforting, cozy, warming, light-filled, splendid, unconditional and unchanging presence of Love. Our hearts are thirsty for it. To know we are loved, to know we are valued, needed, and precious gives us hope, bolsters our courage, and supports and inspires us to reach beyond our human sense of limitation and lack. Love gives us a mission, and gives us the resolve, courage, and wisdom to accomplish that mission.

We’ve probably all had times in our life when we’ve felt unloved, unlovable, and unloving. And maybe most of us have at times felt alone, or wondered if we’d ever find someone to share the joys and challenges of life with. I know I’ve experienced those times in my life. But what I’ve found as I’ve grown in my understanding of Love is that if I‘m not so concerned with whether or not people are showing love to me, but instead am focusing my energies on trying to show love to others, I find myself just naturally immersed in love – in a joyous universal celebration of Life.

Love is not dependent on other people, you know? We don’t have to wait for other people to love us, to express love to them. And we don’t have to wait for other people to be somehow “deserving” of our love. Every single one of God’s creations is deserving of love. No exceptions. And no matter what label people have stamped on themselves, or had stamped on them by others, everyone – young, old, monied, homeless, jobless, corporate executive, conservative, liberal, Christian, atheist, Buddhist, pagan, Muslim, Jew – was born deserving of love.

In his wonderful book, The Greatest Thing in the World, Henry Drummond writes: “God is love. Therefore love. Without distinction, without calculation, without procrastination, love. Lavish it upon the poor, where it is very easy; especially upon the rich, who often need it most; most of all upon your equals, where it is very difficult, and for whom perhaps we each do least of all. There is a difference between trying to please and giving pleasure. Give pleasure. Lose no chance of giving pleasure.”

And in the book of Matthew, Jesus admonishes us to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to do good to those who hate us, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 6: 45)

Now I’m not saying it’s always easy to love without discrimination.

I remember, for instance, that the first time I saw the movie Gandhi I was so inspired by the love Gandhi expressed to everyone around him that I decided to be just like him – I was determined that I’d go through the whole next day without feeling animosity or ill will towards anyone else – in the same way that Gandhi did. This lasted about twenty minutes. As soon as the guy in the blue truck cut right in front of me and then proceeded to go under the speed limit, I completely forgot about the pact I’d made with myself. Afterwards, I felt terribly remorseful and discouraged with myself.

But here’s a cool thing: If sometimes we mess up, worry not – Life provides us with limitless opportunities to love. Every moment we have a new opportunity to discover and feel and prove the power of love. Isn’t that awesome?!!!

Drummond writes: “The test of religion, the final test of religion, is not religiousness, but Love… For the withholding of love is the negation of the spirit of Christ, the proof that we never knew Him, that for us He lived in vain. It means that He suggested nothing in all our thoughts, that He inspired nothing in all our lives, that we were once near enough to Him to be seized with the spell of His compassion for the world.”

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You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love. – Henry Drummond

The vital part, the heart and soul of Christian Science, is Love. – Mary Baker Eddy

Happy Valentine’s Day! ❤