Tuesday, October 26, 2010

"Churches and Nudist Camps" - My Article in the Southside Messenger

Spirit & Truth # 199
“Churches and Nudist Camps”
By Rev. Greg Smith

            Recently I shared the following story at a large gathering of Baptist women.  In his book, What God Wants to Know, Bruce Larson tells about a story from a family member who was a conservationist.  She and her husband and her five-year-old son were on vacation in Florida when they saw a sign saying “Naturist Camp.”  The conservationist assumed that a naturist camp was the same thing as a naturalist camp, so they stopped to check it out.  When they reached the beach, they learned their error.  The naturist camp was actually a nudist camp, full of vacationers in the buff.  Some swam, some rode bicycles—in all their glory.  Eyes wide, and pointing at the naked cyclists, they boy said, “Look Mom and Dad.  They’re not wearing safety helmets!” 
            The women who heard this story were delighted when I told them that I intended to compare a close-knit church with a nudist camp.  We don’t emulate naturists in every way (hopefully), but there are some ways that we’re similar.
            First, in a close-knit church as well as in a nudist camp, everybody knows everybody else’s faults, flaws, and embarrassments.  The Bible says “everything is naked and open to the God to whom we must give an account (Hebrews 3:13).”  When you’re in a faith community together, you realize you’re all equal before God.  No one person has more value than the others.  God sees us all the same.
            Second, because everybody knows everybody else’s blemishes and defects, nobody has any room to judge.  There’s only one judge, and that’s God Himself.  The good news is that while we see our faults, God only sees people who are made in His own image.  When we come to see one another through God’s eyes rather than the critical eyes of human judgmentalism, we truly begin to live in community.
            Finally, may it be true of the church, just as it was true of the nudist camp, that nobody wears any safety helmets!  Ministry is risky.  Ministry is dangerous.  Reaching out to care for people, ignoring their failings and imperfections, is a perilous proposition.  God doesn’t expect us to wear helmets in the ministry, keeping ourselves safe.  He expects us to go boldly into people’s lives and share His love.
            I knew a church full of elderly members that renovated its entire facility.  When the work was done, one member was so excited about the church’s ministry potential that he suggested they open the building up to be used by outside groups like Girl Scouts and such.  The church’s response was, “We’ve got this beautiful facility now—the last thing we want to do is have kids running around getting dirty fingerprints on everything.”
            The people we care for have faults, flaws, and failings.  But so do we.  We can’t stand in judgment of them—instead we need to charge headlong into ministry, unshielded from their humanity and dirty fingerprints.  We need to make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of their souls.  It is in this mutual self-exposure (of spirit—not of flesh) that nudist camps and churches have something in common.

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