Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Mud Room

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - a world away from rural America and the culture I now live in - Montana. There are many differences between eastern, city culture and western, rural culture. One of the main differences is pavement.

Our love affair with pavement on the east coast had left me totally ignorant of the concept of the mud room. After sixteen years (more accurately - sixteen spring seasons) I have learned plenty about this rural American phenomena.

And as I think about all of the nice houses I have been in I have come to a conclusion. The mud room is the least hospitable room in the house. There are shoes, boots, carharts, jackets, and yes mud all over the place. I pull my shoes off and get on out of that room as quickly as I can. Invariably, other people are also standing around trying to get their muddy shoes off and we are all bumping into each other and getting mud on each other - basically annoying the hell out of each other.

If you hang out for very long in the mud room you will notice that different people have different strategies for getting their muddy shoes or boots off. Some try to find a clean place to sit down, cleaning up a two foot square oasis of floor in which to deal with their muddy shoes without getting the rest of their clothes muddy. Some scrape as much mud off their shoes as they can onto the welcome mat and then continue into the house until the host politely asks them to remove their shoes.

My favorite method is the pogo stick. This is where we hop on one foot while trying to remove the shoe on the other foot and then repeat the process while trying to keep our sock out of the mud. I have seen some guests insist that they don't have any mud on their shoes at all. True or not, it's simple courtesy to take your shoes off in the mud room.

It's my contention that most Christian thought has spent all of its time in the mud room. We love to teach and talk about our battle with sin. We write books and hold seminars for the express purpose of dealing with all that is wrong in the world. Our fears revolve around moral failure, sexual deviancy and the polluting of our kids' minds.

If the kingdom of heaven was represented by a delightfully inviting mansion, filled with rooms for our care, our provision, and our intimacy with Jesus, it seems to me that the mud room, while necessary, would be the place I spent the least amount of time in. Why is the average Christian experience the exact opposite?

It's as if we think sin has more power than the cross. Maybe sin sticks better then forgiveness. If in Christ old things have passed away and all things have become new, if in Christ there is no condemnation at all, if God is not counting our sins against us, why do we spend so much time in the mud room?

Salvation, being born again, meeting Christ at the cross and trading him our sin for his righteousness is simply the entry point into the mansion. No one would want to live here, but we absolutely must pass through this room to enter the house. What would it be like if our books, our sermons, our conversations explored the rest of the house? What does the rest of the kingdom contain?

Remember, outside the kingdom when the unclean touches the clean, the clean is despoiled. But in Jesus, when he touches the dead man or the blind man or the man with leprosy they become clean. Why isn't this the experience of the average Christian? Maybe the answer is found in a different part of the house - outside of the mud room.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

1 comment:

  1. O.K., so there's a great Chuck Norris joke that goes like this: Chuck Norris is sooooo tough, when he jumps in the water, he doesn't get wet; the water gets Chuck Norris. (Thanks, Chris Rock, I think.) Jesus is God's solution to every human problem. He is the answer to every moral question. He is the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6). Jesus is soooo God, when Jesus became flesh, he didn't become human, humanity became Jesus (or something like that).

    In some ways I think the church (here I mean the building, the rituals, even the teaching) serves very well as the "mud room" to the Kingdom of Heaven. It is the place where we trade the dirt we accumulate in this world for fine, fleecy garments and slippers. And, like the reluctant or unruly house guest, it may actually take a host (or butler, really, a servant) continually showing us how muddy our shoes really are to convince us that we need to take them off in the first place. And the socks after that. And the coat, etc.

    But we would be idiots to hang out in the mud room all day. Church (again, the building and all its attendant services) is a portal, a doorway we must pass through. It is where we "check in" with our host. The Kingdom lay beyond. Thus, I don't think the church (you understand) IS the Kingdom any more than the mud room IS the mansion. We start there and move beyond. This is why it is so tragic that the vast majority of Christian enthusiasm is spent during a single hour a week in the mud room. I don't think this is the mud room's (the church's - get it?) fault; I think it is the failure of each individual guest to embrace his or her host's welcome to move about in the chambers beyond.

    On the other hand, it is equally short-sighted to move directly to the couch and preen over the new threads. The "butler," if He will forgive me, was Jesus. He was serving, welcoming us into the father's house. Once inside, it is our turn to find ways to serve. In other words, once clean, we must be willing to re-enter the muddy streets in the name of the welcoming host. Thus, to me, it would make sense that we would need to repeat the mud room ritual frequently, to shed the new layers of accumulated muck.

    The key is to resist the temptation to view church (the building) as the final destination and expect it to fulfill our longing for the Kingdom. I think this is why Jesus stressed that the Kingdom of God is within (or among) each of us (Luke 17:21). We ARE the Church. We are charged with bringing the fragrance of Heaven to the smelliest places on earth. The purpose of the fleecy robes (think spiritual chamois) is not to avoid getting the Kingdom dirty, it is to transform the world to look more like the immaculate halls beyond the mud room.