Have you been to Disneyland and taken the “It’s a Small World” ride? I have. And just thinking about it evokes the catchy, albeit annoying tune. It has a sentiment that wants to remind us that our world is really pretty small, that we are joined by the immediacy of technology, realtime news; even the effects of mass immigration have led to the creation of multicultural populations. It’s a Small World wants us to feel good about all of this. But not all of us want to feel good about this. A lot has changed in our world since the ride opened in 1966.
We could talk about the changing political landscape, the rise of terrorism, economic meltdowns, the shrinking of the middle class, the "isms" that have reared their ugly heads. My focus is on faith matters. Religion. The church.
The news isn’t good. 1966 was the year a great decline in church attendance began to the point that today a PEW study found that less than 20% of Americans regularly attend church. “What does this have to do with It’s a Small World?” you might ask.
During that same time there has been a sharp rise in conservative church plants. While that might not be a bad thing generally (Jesus Christ had some very conservative views), I think it was when some conservative Christians began to focus on a very narrow set of issues, ones that caused division within the Christian body writ large, that the smallness of our world took a turn from being a celebration of our oneness within diversity to a demonization of diversity.
The church got small minded. The inclusive nature of God’s kingdom taught by Jesus became exclusive. There was only one way to experience the fullness of life in God. Truth became absolute.
My Protestant theology is suspicious of absolutes. The Protestant Principle states that the redemption of creation by God is an ongoing thing, filled with surprises and unknowns.
We may know a lot about God, but there is a lot about God we don’t know. I think that’s why the prophet Micah warned us to act justly, love tenderly and walk humbly with God. There is little room for humility when one thinks they have the absolute truth.
I heard a story about a church called Heartsong and the dilemma their pastor felt when it became apparent that a Muslim community had purchased land across from the church in order to build an Islamic Center. Before simply reacting, the pastor prayed and searched scripture.
Next thing you know he had a banner sign put up in the church yard that said, “Heartsong Welcomes the Islamic Community.”
Several of the church members didn’t like the sign and threatened to leave. One of them, Bob, questioned the pastor, asking why they would welcome Muslims into their neighborhood. The pastor simply said, “Read the Gospels.”
And so, Bob did.
And he realized, and confessed with tears in his eyes that he was the problem. He had been the problem all along. And when the Islamic community needed a place to celebrate Ramadan, Heartsong let them use their fellowship hall. Friendships were made. Ministry began to happen together, serving the larger community.
In the midst of a celebration between the two faith communities Bob confessed, “My world got bigger.” I think Bob had entered God’s world. The God of all creation. The God of life. And love. And compassion. And grace. And justice. God’s world is not small.
Turns out it’s a BIG world after all.