I stood transfixed. The humidity was about 100% and the temperatures were in the 90’s. We had just walked down Bourbon street and shot up a side street towards Jackson Square. It seemed that every step was a new experience of smells, sights, sounds, you name it.
From a bar that could have occupied any small town in America, and then suddenly a romantic wrought iron balcony encased with a brilliant array of flowers the sight of which caused you to stop and simply stare. Music was pouring out from most every business doorway: The Blues; Zydeco; Rock n Roll; Classic, every musical pallet was represented in full.
It probably shouldn’t have stunned me so much, but it did. My mind we rolling, configuring, wondering, pondering at what my eyes were absorbing.
On the far end of the square, looking out over Jackson Park with is luscious greenery and otherworldly feel that rolls towards the Mighty Mississippi River, standing defiantly and majestically is St. Louis Cathedral. This gal has been watching over the square since 1720, and is the oldest cathedral in North America.
Her position is grand, and she is buffeted on either side by two long buildings that extend the length of the square and were in their genesis the first apartment style buildings of their kind in the U.S. I stood taking in the beauty as my neck craned heavenward towards the top of the spire, but that isn’t what really arrested my attention.
All around the Jackson Square, and more specifically right at the front doors of the cathedral, numerous little tables had been meticulously set up. Some were grand with umbrellas for shade, and plenty of seats for clients to sit down. Others were basic and plain, a card table and two folding chairs. Most all had various paraphernalia scattered indicative of the persons trade.
You see, what had stopped me was the business that they were all performing. Table after table full of people getting their palms read; Tarot cards cast; bones thrown to reveal a preferred future, psychic mind readers; tea leave readers, voo doo practitioners; you name it, every type of spiritualist was in full force, and for the most part they kept pretty busy.
Now this still wasn’t what really grabbed me…it was really two things:
1. Their proximity to the cathedral. You could practically reach out and touch the front door from the little tables strewn about. I wondered how many more people would be out there in front of the cathedral on Sunday as people went in and out of church, hoping to snag a few and make some extra money.
2. The second thing which really stunned me was that while all the palm readers and psychics were busy talking to men and women about their future….the church was CLOSED. I thought to myself, "Man this is the problem. While people are struggling through life trying to find answers and get a human touch from anyone, even a huckster or worse, an occult diviner, the church is closed.
The one organism on this planet that has the hope, reality and truth of the future has closed its doors to the people seeking. And then the people seeking became prey.
In John 13:34-35 Jesus said…"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."
Isn’t that amazing. Of all the things and traits that Jesus could have pulled out to be the most compelling reason people would know that we were followers of His was the incredible, undescribeable, otherworldly and beyond logical way we love.
He could have said:
* They will know you are mine if you have memorized the Bible or at least some key parts.
* They will know you are mine by your clothing style. Not to sloppy, not to fine…just right.
* They will know you are mine by the cathedrals you build in my name.
* They will know you are mine by your unbelievable grasp of doctrine.
* They will know you are mine by your ability to discern heretics.
* They will know you are mine by all the things you stand against.
* They will know you are mine by the perfect behavior of your kids.
* They will know you are mine by the signs and wonders you perform.
* They will know you are mine by your hyper-spiritual language that only a select few understand.
…and the list could go on! I think you get my point. All the things that the church fights over, argues about, even dis-fellowships one another over are not what Jesus said is the defining mark of those who follow Him. In fact I would go as far as to say if we actually practice His one defining trait of love, we would have the maturity to work through differences of thought and practice, and instead of branding each other as wrong based on our finite understanding of God, we might actually come together under the one truth of Jesus Christ and reveal to the planet that love is possible even when there is a difference in thought.
You see, we are so busy trying to be right that people have lost interest, and they are going to those places where someone might say, "Oh come here honey, sit down, let me hold your hand and tell you what I see…hhmmm, oh you know what, it’s going to be all right."
Humans are created to love and to be loved. Most of our life journey centers around the fulfillment of this basic need in each one of us. God made us that way so that it could be filled by His indwelling presence…and He loves His people so that His love would flow from Him into us in order to flow out to a world that needs it…but the question is, "Are our cathedral doors closed?"
I watched as people listened…my neck stretching hard to hear the words that they had paid to hear from the street peddler of connection and future hope. Many acted as counselors, some simply read the traditional story from the lines in the palm…others seemed to have a much darker menacing aura about them. But the people came and the church was closed.
I then wondered if people would actually stop by the tables as they exited church on Sunday. If there was an abundance of love being delivered and shared inside, then they would have no need, except to offer it to those at the tables as they passed by.
This picture will reside in my mind for a long tme to come I can tell…Oh that we fully would reflect Jesus command to love people as He does. Oh that we would understand it is a command and not an option or something to do if we have time. Oh that we would grasp this in such a way that we would slowly morph into people who embody love as a natural expression of who we are, and not as something we do.
When we try to "do" love it will be shallow, empty and religious. But,but when we allow Christ to flood us with His life we become love even as God is love. This kind of love is undefinable…This kind of love doesn’t struggle to show affection because it’s root is giving…This kind of love is like the wetness of water…water is wet because it is. It doesn’t try to be wet, it is an inescapable conclusion and reality that water is wet. When we give our lives fully to Jesus, love is the trait that needs to be the base reality…we love not because we must, but because we can’t do otherwise.
A love like this will eliminate the categories and labels that mercilessly get affixed to people who are not like us…A love like this could literally end wars…what’s the secret? Jesus.
I loved New Orleans…I enjoyed the people…and I am still wondering what one man was thinking as he slowly got up from Miss. Lena’s table and walked away from my vantage point and her table down the stone street. Did he find what he was looking for? Did he hear what he hoped to hear?…or will he be back there tomorrow with a new question to ask, but really all he truly longs for is to know beyond knowing that he is loved.
May our doors never be closed as followers of Christ even when the church building is.
What are your thoughts eh?