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The Memory Foam Church

by Mary Domb Mikkelson, Senior Editor Connecting Voices

     One of my favorite Christmas presents this year was a pair of memory foam pillows.  They’re funny looking things, rather like rippled potato chips with ridges for the neck and hollows for the head.  Attired in pillow cases they resemble youngsters togged out in ungainly hand-me-downs.  But, oh, one night on one (make that five minutes on one) and their true beauty is revealed.  They FIT you, molding themselves gently to your contours, changing with you as, enjoying their comfort and support, you settle in for the night.  Come morning they mushroom into refreshed fullness, ready to meet new needs at the end of day.

     As I thought on this my writer’s imagination took flight, picturing a memory foam church, a revitalized church flexible and supportive enough to embrace the needs of all who enter – or can be enticed to enter; one caring enough to give tradition an honorable retirement and open its heart, its doors and its arms to the searcher, the spiritually hungry, the unchurched, the outsider.

     And, in the process, save itself from the trauma of finding a “Church for Sale” sign outside those doors.   Think it can’t happen?  I’ve attended five churches in my 57 years in San Diego.  Two of them are now closed, one quite recently.   These aren’t oddities, unfortunately.  As reported in 2003 in the Barna Group’s “Twentysomethings Struggle to Find Their Place in Christian Churches,” 3500 – 4000 churches close their doors each year.  Pretty scary statistic, especially when coupled with two others conveyed in the same report:  1) one-half of all churches last year did not add one new member through conversion growth and 2) churches lose an estimated 2,765,000 people each year to nominalism and secularism. 

     I, for one, don’t want to find myself turning out the lights – or posting the for sale sign – when my church closes its doors.  I want it to be there long after I am, alive and kicking, loving and serving – filled to overflowing with people of all ages, interests and backgrounds, meeting ever-changing and ever more challenging needs.  I want it, in the words of Lutheran Bishop Mike Reinhart, “to care as much about those outside the church as it does those inside…to embrace relevance and let go of survival.”(1)   “Let go of survival:” a contradiction in terms?  Not when “survival” means desperately clinging to a picture perfect past that, quite possibly, never really existed.

     Might a memory foam church be the answer? 

     If I read Bishop Reinhart correctly, it just might.  At least it’s an intriguing option to consider, a thought-provoking concept on which to base discussion and change.  Postulating that “the world…is desperately in need of a church that offers a Way of peace, truth, compassion and hope” and “leaders willing to risk comfort, status and economic security for the life of the world and the outreach potential of the church (a church that looks less like the Pharisees’ religion and more like Jesus’ ministry),” he concludes that “It needs a church that is willing to sacrifice everything for those outside: buildings, budgets, sacred cows, traditions, structures. It needs a church that so loves the world, that she’d be willing to die for it.”   And that, he continues, would involve making “every decision, every single decision made by staff, council and every committee…on behalf of those not yet here; every sermon choice, every hymn, song and musical choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice…with outsiders in mind.”

     A big order, frightening in its comprehensiveness, inspiring in the breadth of its potential.  Bringing us back to memory foam.

     Memory foam, developed under contract by NASA’s Ames Research Center, softens in reaction to body heat, allowing it to quickly mold to a warm body – without destroying its physical integrity (think of those memory foam mattress commercials).  That – molding itself to those seeking its comfort – seems a worthwhile goal for an evolving church.

     Picture it, envision an outwardly oriented, always outreaching church.  Picture multiple services, manifold programs, age and youth joined in service and faith.  Imagine new, different, daring, even in-your-face agendas and promotion…music that speaks to today’s generation and evolves to attract tomorrow’s…classes that bring biblical living to life…food, clothing, shelter and aid to those in need (yes, right there in the church!)…religion that puts on its grubbies and boots and goes to work…religion that isn’t afraid of the big E word.

     In other words, picture a church with the motto, “Carpe diem.”  Think of it in memory foam terms – responding to and with the warmth of humanity, shaping itself to need, cushioning all who come with God’s love, following the teachings of the Christ.

Isaiah 2 (The Message)

Climb God’s Mountain

The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem:  There’s a day coming when the mountain of God’s House will be The Mountain— solid, towering over all mountains.

All nations will river toward it,
  people from all over set out for it.

They’ll say, “Come,
   let’s climb God’s Mountain,
   go to the House of the God of Jacob.

He’ll show us the way he works
   so we can live the way we’re made.”

Zion’s the source of the revelation.
   God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.

He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
   He’ll make things right between many peoples.

They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
   their spears into hoes.

No more will nation fight nation;
   they won’t play war anymore.

Come, family of Jacob,
   let’s live in the light of God.

 

(1) “Insiders and Outsiders,” Connections (http://tlgcconnections.wordpress.com/), 2/12/2011

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