George: "No, but you...you... you're thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The, the money's not here. Well, your money's in Joe's house... that's right next to yours. And in the Kennedy House, and Mrs. Macklin's house, and, and a hundred others."
Recognize those lines? That's George Bailey calming down the hysterical townsfolk who fear that the banks have lost their money. George is explaining that their money in the Savings and Loan is invested in the homes of their community--that it's not liquid assets ready to be withdrawn at a moment's notice.
I got to thinking tonight about the church as a Savings and Loan, and particularly in light of what it means to be a "member" of the church. Why is this "church membership" such a solemn event to us--why not just have it be something where a person can come and participate (or not) as they choose? Why make "joining" such a big deal?
And the answer is . . . membership is not about the one(s) doing the joining.
Picture a set of 9 sticks all set upright (teepee fashion) leaning in on each other. Each member needs the others because they're all leaning in to the center. And as long as they keep leaning in, their structure is so much more stable than a bunch of sticks standing upright near each other. The term interdependence comes to mind, (and also its unhealthy cousin, independence, but that's material for another blog post).
I know that the others in my home church won't pick up and leave the church just because of a difference of theology or preference of when to take communion. I trust that when they become hurt/offended (and everyone does, given enough time and opportunity), they are "leaning in" enough to solve the problem some other way than by withdrawing their hearts.
It's that "ability to withdraw your heart" that we hope you'll give up to gain something greater. At a bank, you are anonymous and independent. You can come in any time and withdraw everything and close the account. At the Church Savings and Loan, your heart is not so easily liquidated, because it's invested in the other lives of your home church.
Back to membership, then. We need you to "join" us for a period of months without commitment so you can see--really see--who we are and how we live. Please-oh-please don't make a hasty commitment to us, because we want you to be sure you know what/who you're getting into. On the other hand, don't be a visitor forever, because the longer you stay in "visitor mode" the harder it will be for us to mutually invest in each other. I don't know of any way to prove this to you--it's just an observation I've made from years of watching people come, stay for months and years, and go again without ever having invested their hearts.
More thoughts on the process of becoming a member at the <SGF Website>.
The transcript from the movie (below) can be translated to any crisis where an invested community steps in to lovingly support. In the last three weeks, our home church has had two small crises where we stepped in like this. It's the reason we run a "Savings-and-Loan-style" Church:
Clarence: Go on home. They're waiting for you.
- George: Mary! Mary!
- Well, hello, Mr. Bank Examiner.
- How are you?
Mr. Bailey, there's a deficit.
- I know. Eight thousand dollars.
George, I've got a little paper here.
- I'll bet it's a warrant for my arrest.
- Isn't it wonderful?
- I'm going to jail.
- Wh-Where's Mary?
- Oh, look at this wonderful old drafty house.
- Mary! Mary!
- Have you...
- Have you seen my wife?
Merry Christmas, Daddy!
Merry Christmas, Daddy!
- Janie! Janie! Tommy!
- Oh, let me look at you.
- Oh, I could eat you up.
- Where is your mother?
She went looking for you with Uncle Billy.
- Zuzu! Zuzu!
- My little gingersnap!
- How do you feel?
Fine! Not a smitch of temperature.
- Not a smitch of tempe...
- Mary! Mary!
Where have you been?
Oh, George, George, George.
- Mary! Let me touch you.
- Let me touch you.
- Oh, you're real!
- You have no idea what happened to me.
You have no idea what happened.
Well, well, come on, George, come on
downstairs, quick. They're on their way.
- All right.
Come on in here now.
Now, you stand right over here, by the tree.
Right there, and don't move, don't move.
- What's happening?
- Who's gonna come?
I hear 'em coming now, George,
it's a miracle!
It's a miracle!
- Who's coming?
Who's gonna come, Daddy?
- I don't know.
Come in, Uncle Billy.
Everybody! In here!
Isn't it wonderful?
- So many faces!
Mary did it, George!
Mary did it!
She told some people
you were in trouble and then,
they scattered all over town
They didn't ask any questions - just said:
"If George is in trouble, count me in...
What is this, George?
Another run on the bank?
Here you are, George,
The line forms on the right.
- God bless you.
- Oh, Mr. Martini!
Step right up here.
I busted the jukebox, too!
- Mr. Gower!
I made the rounds of all my charge accounts.
- Violet Bick!
I'm not going to go, George. I changed my mind.
I've been saving this money for a divorce,
if ever I get a husband.
There you are, George.
I got the faculty all up out of bed.
And here's something for you to play with.
I wouldn't have a roof over my head
if it wasn't for you, George.
Just a minute.
Just a minute.
I just got this. It's from London.
Mr. Gower cabled you need cash. Stop.
My office instructed to advance you
up to twenty-five thousand dollars. Stop.
Hee-haw and Merry Christmas.
- Mr. Martini. How about some wine?
"Hark, the Herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born king.
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled.
Joyful all ye nations rise,
Join the triumph of the skies,
With angelic hosts proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem."