the up-and-down-sides of inclusion

kathyescobar church stuff, crazy making, incarnational 15 Comments

the other day i went to a catholic mass for a quincenera.  it was a lovely service in so many ways; i love these kinds of celebratory, sacred moments to honor life’s passages.  the priest was amazing and shared one of the best homilies i have ever heard about Jesus, the master teacher of Love.  it was very stirring.  i was really appreciating and enjoying the sacredness and beauty of the moment until it came time for communion. of course i knew it was coming before i walked in, but i think i got sucked into the priest’s lovely message about Jesus’ heart for people and forgot about the very strict guidelines around the eucharist.  he made very clear that it was only for catholics, and even then you also had to have gone to confession in at least the past year.  i respect their tradition, and of course they are entitled to their strong beliefs & practices about the way it should be.  i’m not here to challenge all the ins & outs about it, i am just writing about some of the feelings it stirred up in me, that’s all.

out of respect for the priest’s instructions, i chose not to participate in one of my most favorite things about gathering together in Christ’s name.  at the same time, i knew i could “remember” without walking in a line to receive it.  but as i sat there i noticed how icky and ugly and sad it felt.  to be denied Jesus’ blood & body because i do not profess a certain way of following Jesus, because i haven’t gone through certain steps “they” think i’m supposed to was really a drag.  i remember one time when i was a kid, sincerely seeking Jesus all on my own, and i went to church with a friend of mine.  when it was time for communion, i went to get in line and her mom stopped me and said “you can’t take it unless you’ve been baptized” (which i hadn’t). they all got up and took it and i sat there by myself.  i will never forget that moment; i felt so stupid, so ashamed, so confused. this time, of course, it didn’t feel anything like that.  my relationship with God is secure, and not taking communion in that moment certainly didn’t have any kind of impact on my life.

but it did make me consciously think about all the beautiful people who walk through the doors of churches around the world–which takes a lot of courage in the first place–and then are made to feel “out” or less than because they see things differently or don’t know the hoops to jump through (as in believe this, do this, be like this).  i don’t mind people deciding for themselves whether they want to participate or not; the freedom to choose feels critical.  the part i mind is other people in power deciding for them.

a willing heart feels like enough.  feet in action, walking toward receiving feels like enough.  a feeble attempt, no matter how awkward or “off” or whatever else you want to call it feels so consistent with God’s heart for us.  and extremely consistent with the gospels and the many, many people from the “out crowd” that Jesus seemed to have a special passion for.

a few days after the quince we had a lovely conversation at our house of refuge focused on the different emotional responses people had to words & traditions like “hymns” and “the sacraments.”  we ended up focusing a lot on communion & people’s experiences with it over the years.  i will openly and strongly say that i am in favor of an open table beyond just communion. non-controlled, radically inclusive, a come-eat-taste-see-that-the-Lord-is-good-approach. living in a community where people are all over the map in terms of life experiences & theology & a wide range of other differences has helped me see that God is B-I-G and that probably the hardest thing for all of us to learn has nothing to do with “right and wrong” and “good and bad” and “us and them” and “in and out.”

it has much more to do with what it means to love Jesus and others and be loved by Jesus and others.

and that’s tricky business, an art rather than a science guided by right belief.  i know there are so many people who believe that it’s their responsibility to be the gatekeepers of truth and make sure that those who are not-doing-it-the-way-we-think-they-should are “out.” but i just don’t see how some of that man-being-God’s-policemen-idea has turned out to benefit the kingdom much.  it seems to divide and hurt and interfere with experiencing Christ’s love in a tangible way. i’m not saying “conviction” isn’t important; of course i believe wholeheartedly in God’s spirit working mightily in people’s lives.  i’m just wondering why we’re so sure we’re the ones who need to gatekeep for God and decide who is in, who is out, who is worthy and who isn’t.

last week’s experience made me think a lot about inclusion & it’s upsides, it’s downsides.   oh, of course there are so many others, but here are just a few that come to mind in this moment:

upsides to inclusion:

  • we get to see, taste, and experience the beauty and freedom of what it means to let God be God.
  • a chance to meet and love and learn from interesting people who see things differently from us
  • grace extended reminds us of the grace we’ve received
  • we get to resign from our busy and distracting 2nd job as God’s policemen.
  • way less time spent worrying about all the things we think we are “supposed” to be saying but don’t really want to.

downsides to inclusion:


  • it means mixing with people who might make us feel uncomfortable
  • without our second job, we actually have to focus on our first one which is a little harder–our own life before Jesus.
  • no good escape clause from relationships
  • a painful realization that all that time spent on cultivating “right knowledge” might have been for nothing.
  • we might end up being labeled a heretic (i’m starting to see it as a compliment)

i know this barely scratches the surface, but i’d love to hear from you.  what are some of your thoughts on inclusion?

* * * * *

ps: happy thanksgiving.  enjoy.   i’m really looking forward to it & the beginning of advent this weekend!

pps:  if you haven’t read take this bread yet by sara miles, i highly recommend it.  it really fleshes out the beauty & power of an open table & the up and downsides of inclusion.  i wrote about it earlier this year on the refuge blog; it’s called bread.

ppss:  also, check out this lovely guest post by joy shroeder at communitas collective called “the church is here.”